The World’s Okayest Mom Page 20
The real story of Mother’s Day Page 18
Cancer Wife, Part 1 Page 16
Special Needs Issue Helping kids embrace differences Page 36
Your ‘high needs’ baby Page 14
Inclusive in Edina: One school’s story Page 40
Diagnosis: Gifted Page 30
Adult autism Page 26
Wyatt, 2, Plymouth
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A T I N G
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mnparent.com â€¢ May 2018
VOLUME 33 /// ISSUE 5
Profoundly gifted A Minneapolis mom explains how her son ended up attending college at age 9.
Photo by Sarah Karnas
Success story Students at South View Middle School have become champions of kids with special needs.
36 Beyond bias Teaching children to welcome diversity starts during the preschool years. 6
May 2018 â€˘ mnparent.com
On the cover Name: Wyatt
City: Plymouth Parents: Shane and Jennifer Miller Siblings: Nicholas, 15, Jack, 13, Lillian, 9, Ella, 5 Personality: Sweet, loving and funny Favorite toys: Play-Doh, ball popper and building blocks Favorite book: Oh, the Places You’ll Go! Favorite activities: Playing with his brothers and sisters, playing chase Favorite foods: Grapes and macaroni and cheese His story, as told by Mom: Wyatt was full of love and joy from Day 1. He was always so friendly and all smiles. But he never spoke and rarely met his milestones. At almost 2 years old, Wyatt was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Wyatt has struggled with communication, and he struggles with transition and adjustment. Over the past several
months, however, he has shown so much improvement and progress with communication — both verbally and with sign language, thanks to an early diagnosis and treatment through Fraser (one of Minnesota’s largest providers of autism services). As a family, we struggled at first with the diagnosis and it was hard to explain to our other children that their younger brother was “special needs.” They said, “How could he be special needs? He looks normal.” After learning more about Wyatt’s diagnosis and needs, we came to better understand him and we have rallied around him with support! We attend walks and raise money for more research and awareness around ASD. Autism doesn’t define Wyatt; it just happens to be a part of who he is. He is so much more. We are so proud of him! Photo by Nichole Laase / Special Focus Photography. Laase, who is also a Minnesota mother to a boy with autism, specializes in autism and special needs family photography.
mnparent.com • May 2018
MAY 10 FROM THE EDITOR
Talk to kids about the differences they see. Don’t ignore them. 12 CHATTER
20 WORKING GIRL Meet Katie Dohman, a work-at-home mom of three — and our new columnist!
This could be a new way for SAHMs to make extra cash! 14 BUMP, BIRTH AND BABY
Not all babies are the same, despite what Grandma says. 16 THE UNCENSORED TODDLER
No bad days?
Right now, I can’t accept cancer as a precious ‘gift.’ 18 SCHOOL DAYS
Celebrating Mom Go beyond cards and gifts this Mother’s Day. 22 #ADULTING
Estate stuff Should you set up a trust for your child with special needs? 24 ASK THE PEDIATRICIAN
Three factors can help determine if your child is truly ready now. 26 ON BEHAVIOR
Adult autism Having a child on the spectrum triggered one mom’s own diagnosis. 28 IN THE KITCHEN
Super seeded! Sunflower seed butter is the key ingredient in these cookies. 50 FROM OUR READERS
Your kids have a passion for digging in the dirt!
May 2018 • mnparent.com
Photo by Cadence & Eli Photography
& About 44 Out CA L E N DA R
MN Zoo MNP 0518 H2.indd 1
4/13/18 10:46 AM
mnparent.com â€¢ May 2018
FROM THE EDITOR mnparent.com
PUBLISHER Janis Hall email@example.com SALES MANAGER AND CO-PUBLISHER Terry Gahan firstname.lastname@example.org GENERAL MANAGER Zoe Gahan email@example.com EDITOR Sarah Jackson firstname.lastname@example.org CONTRIBUTORS Abbie Burgess, Dr. Gigi Chawla Rachel Connors, Megan Devine, Katie Dohman Ed Dykhuizen, Nichole Laase, Shannon Keough Rachel Schromen, Dr. Rachel Tellez Amanda Webster, Jen Wittes CREATIVE DIRECTOR Valerie Moe email@example.com SENIOR GRAPHIC DESIGNER Micah Edel GRAPHIC DESIGNER Kaitlin Ungs CONTRIBUTING DESIGNER Haley Anderson CLIENT SERVICES Delaney Patterson 612-436-5070 • firstname.lastname@example.org CIRCULATION Marlo Johnson 612-436-4388 • email@example.com mnparent.com/find-a-copy ADVERTISING 612-436-4360 • firstname.lastname@example.org 45,000 copies of Minnesota Parent are printed monthly, available at news stands statewide. Get Minnesota Parent mailed to your home for just $18 a year. Call 612-825-9205 for more information.
Minnesota Parent (ISSN 0740 3437) is published monthly by Minnesota Premier Publications. POSTMASTER send address changes to: MINNESOTA PARENT, 1115 Hennepin Ave. Minneapolis, MN 55403. Minnesota Parent is copyright 2018 by Minnesota Premier Publications. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or part without written permission is prohibited. Address all material to address above.
Blind to diﬀerence W
hen our son was in preschool, he didn’t seem to see race. His dad and I were always so proud when he would describe a black person as “the purple guy” because of his purple shirt. His best friend was, in fact, black, and a girl. What a wonderful world, I thought. Our son, who attended a school far more diverse than I ever did, appeared to be free of gender and racial bias. What a win! Then, when he was about 4 years old, he came home from preschool talking about Martin Luther King Jr. He had spent the day celebrating the man who tried to put a stop to separate drinking fountains Photo by Tracy Walsh / tracywalshphoto.com — and so much more — for white and black people. His dad and I were disappointed. Had the daycare teachers — with their well-intentioned curriculum — introduced our son to racial bias? Why did they have to take away his innocence even before kindergarten? Oh, well, I thought, this is an important history lesson. It wasn’t until editing this issue — our second-annual Special Needs edition — that I fully realized the daycare teachers were, of course, doing the right thing! We should have been talking about race and other differences, such as special needs, all along. In fact, exposing kids to differences and talking about those differences is the first step in fostering the values of acceptance and inclusion in your family, according to Dr. Rachel Tellez, who shares some sage advice in this issue (Embracing different, Page 36): “The thing is, a lot of us grew up in an era in which we tried to make the case that everyone is the same. We swept difference under the rug and tried to say that we were blind to it all. And now, because of that, we don’t know how to talk about difference and diversity!” “So,” Tellez writes, “when your child sees difference and talks about it, that’s OK. In fact, if your child (by the time he’s 3 or 4) hasn’t brought up that he’s seeing differences, you as a parent should actually make a point to bring it up.” Right! In other words, not talking about differences (and discouraging our kids from talking about them, too) can backfire. Doing so “sends the message that the topic is taboo — even though it’s not — and makes your children feel ashamed. It will cause them to stop talking about their feelings with you, and instead keep them inside. It’s when thoughts and emotions become internal that we start developing biases.” Check out Tellez’s full article to discover tips on how to explore — and celebrate — differences. Because, as Tellez says, “Indeed, we are all different. Everybody is unique and special and important in who they are.” Sarah Jackson, Editor
May 2018 • mnparent.com
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New play groups Nature is the ideal classroom.
That’s the thinking behind Tinkergarten, a new
because they can offer the hour-long classes based
outdoor-based, play-focused program for ages
on their schedules (and can even bring their own
18 months to 8 years, now being offered at select
children for no charge). Founded by two parents — a
locations in the Twin Cities.
former school teacher and a tech-industry veteran —
Classes, organized by local leaders who are
the Maryland-based company estimates that its 1,574
trained online, typically run for eight weeks and cost
leaders (now operating in 49 states) earn between
participants $17.50 to $20 per class.
$300 and $1,000 for each eight-week class.
Around the country, stay-at-home parents have jumped at the opportunity to become leaders
Learn more at tinkergarten.com, where you’ll find a free creative list of DIY outdoor activities for kids.
Photo by Tinkergarten
May 2018 • mnparent.com
Families facing autism needed! SPARK, the largest genetic study of autism ever in the U.S., is seeking DNA from individuals with autism and their family members to expand the understanding of the genetic aspects of the disorder. Enrollment is simple, non-invasive (a saliva sample) and can be done from home. The University of Minnesota is one of 25 universities, hospitals and autism research centers across the U.S. partnering with SPARK (Simons Foundation Powering Autism Research for Knowledge), an online research initiative collecting DNA from at least 50,000 individuals with autism plus their biological family members. Autism is known to have a strong genetic component. Research suggests there may be 500 to 1,000 genes involved; about 90 have been identified so far. Launched in April 2016, SPARK has already enrolled 10,000 complete â€œtriosâ€? (individuals with ASD and both biological parents). The U of M is currently looking for more families to participate by the end of May. To learn more or get involved, go to sparkforautism.org/uminnesota or call 612-624-0116. Science Museum of MN MNP 0518 2-3.indd 1
4/12/18 4:53 PM
mnparent.com â€˘ May 2018
BUMP, BIRTH AND BABY
Your ‘high needs’ baby Y
our grandmother, or even your mother, may scoff at the term “high-needs baby.” We didn’t pseudo-diagnose our children. Babies were babies. We didn’t overthink it. And we played outside and drank Kool-Aid and ate mud pies and lived in houses with lead paint and were better and tougher and poorer and smarter, etc. etc. etc. Listen. The truth of the matter is, your baby might feel high needs to YOU, and in reality, some babies really are more intense.
The signs Here are some signs your baby might be high needs or highly sensitive: • Unpredictable schedule and patterns. Even when you try to nap him at 10 and 2 consistently, he has his own ideas. • Sleeps restlessly and wakes easily. May be fussy about how loud the house is — or how quiet! Babies might prefer to snooze to a white noise machine, the hum of the fan or the dishwasher. Or they may wake to the slightest sound. • Constantly craves attachment. Baby NEVER wants to be put down! • Doesn’t like to be passed around. The same baby that wants to be held all the time might not be cool with being held by just anyone. Mom, please. • Easily over-stimulated. Cries to loud noises, melts down and can’t settle after dinner out at a busy restaurant. • Described by others as fussy, needy, intense, difficult, demanding. All of this might be true. But this is your baby, and hearing your deepest, darkest thoughts from the mouths of others can make parenting a high-needs baby particularly overwhelming.
May 2018 • mnparent.com
A grain of salt
What to do
In a way, Grandma is right — all of these characteristics basically describe a typical baby and a baby’s basic needs. All babies prefer their parents, become over-stimulated, can be unpredictable, have a hard time self-soothing and would prefer to be held. The true high-needs baby, however, takes all of these tendencies to the next level. Her cries are piercing. She’s quick to react. She barely gives the caregiver a moment’s rest. You would never describe her as mellow or easygoing. But you know what? That’s OK. This isn’t some old-fashioned “good baby” or “bad baby” label. This is YOUR baby. Just like there are intense adults, there are intense babies. It’s just who they are — and the people who love them need to learn how to interact with them.
Here’s how to care for your high-needs baby: • Look on the bright side. You know what your baby wants, because she tells you. You can appreciate her strong, assertive personality. • Go with the flow. Be flexible. Be ready to leave the restaurant. Drive around the block an extra time or two to extend the nap. • Set yourself up for success. You’ll hear grownups say, “Nothing good happens after the third glass of wine,” or “Nothing good happens after 3 a.m.” Your high-needs parent version of this might be, “We’ll have hell to pay if we start the bedtime routine after 9 p.m.” This won’t be your life forever, so do what works. • Babywear like crazy. Invest in every comfy, awesome sling, wrap or carrier. Baby doesn’t want to be put down?
Award-winning game Wee Society’s compilation — An Incomplete Book of Awesome Things — is now a matching game! And although it’s a bit young for babies, this game’s 40 cards are perfect for little hands (smooth and sturdy) and impossibly cute and funny, too. Fireflies, lava, tacos, science and yellow? All are included in A Box of Awesome Things! $14.99 • weesociety.com
You can still have a life with the right equipment! • Let yourself feel it. I’m taking about the frustration, exhaustion, resentment and even the awe you might feel toward the babies who sleep 20 hours per day and wake up giggling (to their smug parents). • Take breaks, take turns. Feeling your frustration and rage can be healthy — but expressing it fully with babe-in-arms, not so much. Reaching your wits’ end and a state of total depletion is a real risk.
When to worry If your baby seems pained or truly inconsolable, check in with your doctor to rule out any medical problems. Trust your gut on this. Moms and dads usually know when something’s really wrong. Jen Wittes is a certified postpartum doula and writer who now works in marketing and communications. She lives in St. Paul with her two kids, her two cats and her husband. Send questions or comments to email@example.com.
EXERCISE PREGNANCY STUDY The University of Minnesota is seeking women who are currently less than 20 weeks pregnant to participate in a research study examining the effect of exercise and wellness on mood following childbirth.
ESTUDIO SOBRE EL EJERCICIO DURANTE EL EMBARAZO La Universidad de Minnesota está buscando mujeres con menos de 20 semanas de embarazo para participar en el estudio de investigación que examina los efectos del ejercicio y la salud del estado de ánimo posterior al parto
• Program delivered to you via the mail and phone
• Programa ejecutado vía correo o teléfono
• Must be 18 years of age or older
• Debe ser mayor o igual a 18 años de edad
• Must not currently exercise regularly
• No debe hacer ejercicio regularmente
• Must not take antidepressants
• No debe tomar antidepresivos
• You will receive $100 & a FitBit for your time (you will be allowed to keep the FitBit after the study is over)
• Usted recibirá $100 y un FitBit por su tiempo (será permitido quedarse con el FitBit después de la culminación del estudio)
• Program can be delivered in English or Spanish
• Debe considerarse de bajos ingresos, lo cual se define como:
• Must be considered low-income, defined as: - Enrollment in any government assisted program (e.g., WIC, SNAP) AND/OR - Annual income that is considered low (less than $45,510 for a family of four, less than $30,044 for a family of two, and less than $22,311 if single). English: Call or TEXT to 612-345-0325 or firstname.lastname@example.org to see if you qualify for this research study.
U of M - Kinesiology Dept MNP 0318 S3.indd 2
- Inscripta en cualquier programa asistencial del gobierno (por ejemplo, WIC, SNAP) Y/O - Ingresos anuales considerados como bajos (menos de $ 45,510 para una familia de cuatro, menos de $ 30,044 para una familia de dos y menos de $ 22,311 si es soltera). Español: Llamada o TEXTO 612-237-1004 o email@example.com para ver si califica para éste estudio.
2/14/18 11:13 AM
mnparent.com • May 2018
THE UNCENSORED TODDLER
Cancer Wife, Part I W
hen my first baby was about 2 months old, I went to visit my coworkers. They invited me to a lunch meetup so they could see the baby. It was one of those things that had been carefully planned in advance. In other words, it had been planned in the worst possible way for someone with an unpredictable infant. My baby was a colicky, screamy, up-allnight sort of baby. In fact, I’d been awake for well over 24 hours when I staggered into my old office building, baby in tow. The memory of that luncheon is cloudy and nightmarish. But I do remember someone asked me about new parenthood: What had surprised me the most? Wild-eyed and crazed from sleep deprivation, I blurted, “Well, I was pretty surprised when I discovered I’d be up all night with my baby — like seriously, all night! Night after night! It’s relentless! What gives?” There was an uncomfortable pause. Then my coworker Eric (not his real name) offered up his own earnest assessment of parenthood: “Becoming a parent has made me so much more grateful for all the things my own parents have done for me,” he intoned. “I really have a new perspective on generosity and unconditional love.” Other people in the room nodded soberly in agreement. I felt ashamed of my own bitter response.
The ‘gift’ of cancer? I feel similarly shameful now when I read accounts of fellow cancer caregivers who describe the caregiving experience as “transcendent” and “a gift.” For example, I recently read an essay by Tracy Grant in the Washington Post titled, “I was my husband’s caregiver as he was dying of cancer. It was
May 2018 • mnparent.com
the best seven months of my life.” Of course, there was more subtlety to the story than the headline suggests. But I just can’t get over her insistence that, “For me, there were no bad days.” Really? Like not even one? Look, I get it — gratitude, finding the beauty in the mundane, living each day like it’s your last, etc. But you can’t cop to one bad day? Am I too meant to have only good days?
The slog So here it is: My husband, Nick, was diagnosed with cancer (tonsil, Stage III) in December 2017. Ever since then, it’s been an unending blur of scans, biopsies, operations, visits to the ER, radiation, chemotherapy and more. The oncologists don’t call it one of the most brutal cancer treatments for nothing! Although he finished his treatment in early March, the recovery is proving to be slow and frustrating. His prognosis is good, but waiting
three months to find out if the treatment actually worked is less than relaxing. I’ve often heard the cancer experience (diagnosis, treatment, etc.) described as a “journey.” This idea, and the way it’s often presented, brings to my mind an image of a strong and steadfast couple holding hands, bravely venturing together into the great unknown (an ocean or a spectacular sunset is usually involved). For me, the cancer experience has been more of a slog than a journey, similar to an experience Nick and I had on our honeymoon that we refer to as “the sakau hangover death march.” That is, it’s been more like hiking through mud endlessly with no desirable destination anywhere within sight. It’s like that, but with feeding tubes and life-threatening blood infections.
Finding meaning But I need to remind myself: Think positive! It’s a journey. I am growing. I am grateful.
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The problem is, right now, I’m not feeling grateful. I’m feeling irritable. I’m thinking, why the hell did this have to happen to Nick? I’m imagining all my friends and their seemingly happy and healthy family lives. Have they ever been woken up by a loud crash only to discover their husband unconscious on the bathroom floor? But as we Minnesotans like to say — it could be worse! So many people are going through so many unthinkable trials. And if anyone can find meaning in the madness, I think that’s great. I can imagine there might be a time when I’ll look back on all this as a deeply meaningful experience. But for right now, everything just sucks. And I guess the point I want to make is this — if you find yourself in some crappy circumstances, it’s OK to acknowledge that everything is cruddy, and leave it at that. You’re not obligated to create “meaning.” The meaning can come later.
cdc.gov/ActEarly Institute on Community Integration MNP 0518 S3.indd 1
Learn more at cdc.gov/MilestoneTracker To order FREE developmental materials for your child, check out www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/ actearly/freematerials.html 4/3/18 12:57 PM
Shannon Keough lives in St. Paul with her husband and two children. Send questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. mnparent.com • May 2018
Love, kindness, renewal M
other’s Day has been a national holiday in the United States for over a century. It was founded by Anna Jarvis, who organized the first informal observance of Mother’s Day in 1908 in honor of her mother’s wish to start a day to memorialize and honor mothers for their work and service to others. Anna’s mother, Ann Reeves Jarvis (often called Mother Jarvis), gave birth to 13 children, but only four of them survived to adulthood, including Anna. Mother Jarvis — an activist and community organizer during the American Civil War — lived in an era in which disease and bad sanitation often led to premature death. In addition to serving wounded soldiers on both sides of the Civil War, Mother Jarvis worked to provide assistance and education to families to reduce disease and infant mortality by organizing Mother’s Day Work Clubs, which brought together local mothers to promote cleanliness and sanitation in their communities. After Mother Jarvis’s death in 1905, Anna worked to honor her mother’s wish to start a day to pay tribute to mothers. She succeeded, and in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson signed a congressional resolution officially making the second Sunday in May the national Mother’s Day. (That day wasn’t chosen to coincide with spring flowers or gardening-oriented gifts, however. It was because Ann Reeves Jarvis died on the second Sunday in May.)
Commercialization All of Anna’s good intentions to honor her mother’s wish, however, took a turn in the subsequent years when the holiday started to become heavily commercialized with the
May 2018 • mnparent.com
sale of flowers, cards and candy in the 1920s. Anna became quite resentful and vocal, protesting, organizing boycotts and even getting arrested for her public outcry that companies were misinterpreting and exploiting the idea of Mother’s Day. Anna argued that people should appreciate and honor their mothers through handwritten letters expressing their love and gratitude, instead of buying gifts and premade cards. In 1948, Anna died at age 84, confined to a mental asylum, having lost her wits as well as numerous legal battles over the holiday. She never made money off the holiday and never had children of her own. More than 100 years later, it’s easy to see Anna’s resistance didn’t disrupt the flow of commercialism surrounding Mother’s Day. This time of year, it’s easy to find opportunities for Mother’s Day brunches as well as cards, gifts, jewelry, candy and flowers with a Mother’s Day theme.
Love and kindness Despite all this, every Mother’s Day I take time to enjoy the feeling of being
recognized by my loved ones — as well as the opportunity to celebrate others — even if it is with the help of commercialized products. I’ve made it a habit to approach Mother’s Day with a mindset of both giving and receiving. I do this first in my classroom. If Anna Jarvis were still alive today, I bet even she could appreciate Pinterest — and the inspiration that one quick search for “Mother’s Day crafts” can provide! I go out of my way each year to make the mamas of my kindergarten students feel special by facilitating the production of some crafty handmades from their little ones. What mother doesn’t appreciate these little treasures that come home from school? I hope they know these gifts include a little bit of love and kindness from teacher mamas as well. On Mother’s Day, we can all send love and kindness not just to our own mothers — but also grandmothers, mothers-in-law, step-moms and even mama friends — by spending time with them and/or giving cards, notes or even gifts.
I hope and pray that someone, sometime, will found a memorial Mother’s Day, commemorating her for the matchless service she renders to humanity in every field of life. She is entitled to it. — Ann Reeves Jarvis
SATURDAY JUNE 16, 2018
at the Lake Harriet Bandshell
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And if you know a family member, friend, colleague or acquaintance who has lost a child or a mother, you might offer a caring gesture, kind words or a simple outreach of support. It can mean a lot.
And what do you want? This May 13, honor yourself, your work and service of caring and love to others by doing a little something for yourself. It can be the perfect occasion to give yourself permission to recharge your batteries with some type of self-care practice. Maybe that means getting a spa treatment, going out with a friend, taking some time alone, creating art or engaging in your favorite hobby. Remember the words of Jarvis: “She is entitled to it.” I think both Jarvis and her daughter would be pleased if they knew Mother’s Day had evolved into a holiday where mothers everywhere acted upon the opportunity to spread love to other mamas and also to do something a little special to take care of themselves. After all, we need energy to help and support others in our lives and in our roles as mothers. I encourage you to make this Mother’s Day one that spreads love and kindness and also one of renewal for you. Megan Devine is an elementary school teacher who lives with her husband and four school-age children in Northeastern Minnesota. She blogs at kidsandeggs.com.
mnparent.com • May 2018
WORLD’S OKAYEST MOM
The art of chaos
MEET O UR NEW COLUM NIST!
his column — my debut in Minnesota Parent! — was turned in late. Here’s why: Working motherhood is kind of for the birds. I’m a freelance writer and have three kids under 5. I know. If you look up “total chaos” at Dictionary.com, my family’s photo is riiiiiight there. My 3-year-old, the middle kid, was going through the final throes of some speech evaluations, a staggeringly emotional and personal experience that feels not unlike doing open-heart surgery on yourself as you fill in the circles on Scantron sheets: Always, sometimes, never, always, sometimes, never. Asking yourself: Would he hop on one foot six times in a row? Does he jump off the stairs with both feet (I don’t know, I typically discourage him from jumping off the stairs at all, EDUCATION PROFESSIONALS!) Can he stack more than eight blocks? Can he name 20 objects in the house? (Yes, and no. He knows them, yet cannot speak them. But there’s no circle for that.) What day, time and hour did he sit up unassisted for the first time? What’s his rising sign? What is the rate at which his fingernails grow, in microns? While pondering these questions, I absentmindedly slid into the driver’s seat of someone else’s minivan after dropping my daughter off at preschool. Then the baby came down with a 104-degree fever: Roseola. Daycare hours changed. In the meantime, I was trying to stay on top of the laundry a five-person family creates. Sitting on hold with our insurance company over another mystifying letter. Squeezing in a so-overdue haircut in which I went from a legit Cousin Itt to a person who still has hair halfway down her back despite jettisoning two feet of it. Even my
May 2018 • mnparent.com
Photo by William Dohman
library is pressuring me: Two of my requested books came in and the due date is tight, man. So … without further ado, here I am, tapping away at my kitchen table while my 1-year-old plays in a tiny, waterless inflatable pool, stacking cans of Play-Doh, the 3-year-old snoozes upstairs, and I’m about to pick up my 5-year-old at preschool. So, what is there to know about me? Well, I keep thinking things will chill out soon, but the abovementioned is turning out to be a pretty typical week. From the first “Mamaaaa? Daadaaaa?” morning call, some kind of existential countdown clock hovers over me in grayscale, hands whizzing around — like in those old silent
movies — in which I have to hurdle All The Things, including Unanticipated Ones, until the kids are peacefully tucked in bed again. And we all know that is rarely a peaceful process! I feel like there’s this overarching judgment: Working mothers aren’t attentive to everything — that we can’t be, that we use our kids as an excuse AND our work as an excuse as to why things aren’t done. And on my bad days, that’s the line I buy into as well. But when I think about the sheer amount of decisions I make and tasks I accomplish on a daily basis, I feel like Wonder Woman. I mean, I have grown and fed three humans from my body through four Olympics. And, drumroll
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please … I’ve forgotten to pick up my daughter from preschool … only once! Every time I think I’m going to circumvent The System, something else pops up. I’m dating myself as being of “advanced maternal age” by saying it reminds me of that John Mellencamp refrain, “I fight authority; authority always wins.” I’m fueled almost entirely by Peace Coffee’s Guatemalan Blend, which runs like a blessed river through my professional espresso machine directly into my bloodstream, thanks to my incredible husband, William, who gave me the gift that keeps on giving. If that makes me a cliché, just know I’m a cliché who also wears red lipstick to distract you from the dark circles under my eyes, that I support you as a parent and that I’m here and ready to talk about anything. But know this first: You don’t have to be the best. You just have to be okay. Katie Dohman lives in West St. Paul with her three kids, two dogs and one husband. She loves them a lot, which is good, because she can’t remember the last time she slept a whole night through. (Her columnist photo — up top, in the circle — is by Cadence & Eli Photography.)
mnparent.com • May 2018
Planning for peace of mind E
nsuring the financial future of a child with special needs is an important task. An effectively designed plan can provide the support and maintenance needed to help your child live a full and happy life. Many children who have a special need or disability will at some point qualify for and receive public assistance — such as SSI (Supplemental Security Income) or Medicaid. To qualify for public assistance, an individual must have assets below an amount established by the government. Benefits received through public assistance can be extremely helpful, but they are rarely enough to maintain an ideal quality of life. More often than not, parents and even other family members assist in providing financial support for children with special needs. However, parents and others must be careful in providing such additional financial support, so as to not disqualify the individual from receiving public assistance. Outright gifts or savings accounts will be counted as assets or income for the individual with special needs, which can lead to a cut-off of government benefits.
Supplemental Needs Trust Parents of children with special needs can plan to provide for their children, however, without disrupting the children’s benefits. One option that exists in Minnesota is setting up a Supplemental Needs Trust (SNT), sometimes referred to as a Special Needs Trust. SNTs allow for additional financial
May 2018 • mnparent.com
support to individuals without affecting their eligibility for public assistance benefits. And they can be set up by anyone who wishes to provide support to someone with a disability — whether it be a family member or friend. These trusts exist to supplement the government benefits the person with the special need or disability might be receiving. While government benefits are used for primary/core/basic needs, the SNT can be utilized for additional needs above and beyond what government assistance is providing to give a higher standard of living to the beneficiary other special benefits. SNTs can hold a variety of assets — including bank accounts, stocks,
bonds and real estate — for the lifetime of the child with special needs. Any remaining assets in the trust at the time of the special needs child’s death can be distributed to other living children or a nonprofit organization, for example. Inheritances may be left to a SNT as well without disrupting the public assistance a child may be receiving. Further, parents can name a trustee who will administer the trust and oversee the financial wellbeing of the child with special needs.
One family’s approach I recently worked with a couple in writing a will that established a SNT for their 4-year-old son who has autism. In their
Keep your child safe.
Benefits received through public assistance can be extremely helpful, but they are rarely enough to maintain an ideal quality of life.
More than 60,000 young children end up in emergency rooms every year because they got into medicines while their parent or caregiver was not looking. Always put every medicine and vitamin up and away every time you use it. Also, program your poison control center’s number in your phone: 800.222.1222.
To learn more, visit UpandAway.org In partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
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estate plan, the parents also named a person to serve as their son’s guardian, an individual who understood his unique needs. The SNT provides a place for his parents and others, including his grandparents, who would like to leave money for his long-term care — without fear of it disrupting government benefits. Any money left in the trust for their special needs son at the time of his death will be left to their other son who doesn’t have special needs. They now have peace of mind knowing a plan is in place to provide security for their son should something happen to them. Supplemental Needs Trusts can be relatively complex to set up, and there are also a number of guidelines that must be followed when administering distributions from the trust. Depending on your unique situation and estate, there may be additional or alternative planning that would best meet your goals and circumstances. Meeting with an attorney experienced in this area of law is a great starting point for planning for the security of your children with special needs. Rachel Schromen of Schromen Law in St. Paul specializes in estate planning and elder law. She was voted Favorite Woman Estate Planning Attorney by Women’s Press in 2018. Learn more at schromenlaw.com. mnparent.com • May 2018
Potty readiness 101
What are the signs that a child is ready for toilet training? My twin boys — age 21/2 — don’t seem interested at all! There’s a wide age range — 18 months to 4 years! — for when most children are ready for toilet training. Physical readiness, behavioral readiness and personality can all play a role as well as the mindset of the caregivers involved. Some of the physical signs that children
May 2018 • mnparent.com
who are ready to begin toilet training display include awakening from a long nap (two hours) with a dry diaper, thus demonstrating bladder capacity to hold urine; ability to take their pants and underwear down in order to use the toilet; ability to position themselves appropriately on a toilet; and/or mobilization to their “favorite spot” in the house to have a bowel movement in their diaper. Signs of behavioral readiness include children who are very interested in what grownups are doing when using the toilet, including wanting to explore how toilets work (flushing and watching toilet paper vanish). They may also appear to be motivated by a positive reward system or the incentive of a new item, such as underwear. Personality also plays a role. Some children are fierce with their independence and proud of their accomplishments, while other kids are happy to have grownups do everything for them. Some kids are more swiftly swayed by following what other kids are doing during bathroom activities, and others aren’t motivated by group behavior. Of course, the personality of parents can also play a part. Some parents want more perfection associated with toilet training, and other parents worry less about accidents of urine or stool. Both types of personalities are easy for kids to perceive. All of these factors play a role in determining when children are ready. Success will come more easily when the physical, behavioral and personality factors are all considered and the child feels like he or she isn’t being forced into potty training.
How long before bedtime is it OK to give a bedtime snack? At what age should these snacks start and stop? A snack before bedtime can serve important functions — such as preparing little bodies for a 10- to 12-hour night of solid sleep; solidifying a routine that gets kids ready for sleep; and cutting off any potential sleep-procrastination plans with the classic complaint of, “I can’t sleep. I’m hungry,” usually about 10 minutes after lights out. This routine for snacking before bedtime starts in infancy when babies are feeding every 3 to 4 hours. Parents can quickly see how a feeding lulls a baby to sleep, promotes bonding and correlates with the reduction of nighttime awakenings. Those same patterns exist in toddlerhood as parents recognize that a bedtime snack with a slightly full tummy can potentiate sleep and prevent nighttime arousals. As children get older, they’re less likely to need the caloric portion of the snack to prevent night time awakenings, but may still enjoy the routine. Keep in mind, however, that the routine — of parent-child interaction and subliminal recognition by the child that bedtime is approaching — doesn’t need to be tied to the act of eating. Bath time, reading and other activities can help children transition to bedtime as well. Into teenage years, often kids’ sleep cycles and mealtimes are altered due to the complexity of their daytime schedules. For teens, bedtime snacks can help ensure they get enough calories when they’re busy
with after-school activities, including evening sports programming. Additionally, more calories may be needed to support rapid growth during the teenage years. If bedtime snacks are used, they shouldn’t be a substitute for a poorly eaten dinner. These snacks are best offered about an hour before bed to allow teeth-brushing afterwards and the other parts of the bedtime routine. Snacks should be small, not overly filling and should be balanced with protein, carbohydrates and a small amount of healthy fats. Thus, cheese and crackers, granola and yogurt and apple slices and peanut butter are a few good choices. Dr. Gigi Chawla is a board-certified pediatrician and the senior medical director of primary care at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota. Send your questions to email@example.com. MacPhail Center for Music MNP 0518 2-3.indd 1
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mnparent.com • May 2018
Sally J. Pla
Autism as an adult W
hen I tell friends I was recently diagnosed with autism, some of them scoff and call it nonsense. They say I function fine, that I smile, laugh and socialize; I’m a mother who’s active in the lives of her three sons; I’ve published two novels; and I have spoken publicly at conferences and schools across the country. In sum, I don’t fit the preconception. I can understand where they’re coming from. Many, when they think about autism, picture an awkward teenage boy who has trouble making eye contact and is obsessed with gaming. But, as the old saying goes, if you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism. When I was little, I felt like I watched the world from inside a glass box. It never occurred to me to try to connect with what was happening outside it. I didn’t really think of myself as having any sort of role to play. I was just a set of eyes and ears. Time passed, however, and by age 10 or 11, I started to want to connect. I observed more carefully. I studied others, their body language, their laughter. And I tried to copy it. My mimicry was, for the most part, unconscious. Other times, it was deliberate. For example, one of my teachers had this bright, happy way of saying “Hi!” that made me feel good inside. I remember deciding to say “Hi!” to everyone I knew in that same happy way. Sometimes, I’d get things wrong and be bullied — even by “friends,” which was tragic and bewildering. I desperately wanted the world to be a decent, clear, golden-rule-following sort of place. Of course, I learned it wasn’t.
May 2018 • mnparent.com
Children of my own Eventually, I more or less shed the glass box. I grew up, got a job, got married and had three wonderful sons. One of them was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome at age 11. It took me until my kids were practically full grown for me to get it — to look back on my life with a clearer lens and realize that it might not be just my son who was bringing the joys and challenges of autism into our family. I started to figure it out while I was writing The Someday Birds, my first novel. It’s about an autistic boy on a long journey in search of his father, and how he learns to feel more at ease in the world. At first, I thought I was writing the story as a heartfelt gift to my son. But I soon realized that the voice emerging from the pages sounded an awful lot like that little girl from long ago. So-called “higher-functioning” autistic women are relatively rare birds. Scientists aren’t sure if this is because of true rarity or if there’s a real issue with the under-diag-
↑↑Author Sally J. Pla remembers feeling different than her peers as a child.
nosis of girls on the spectrum. I believe women and girls fly under the radar. How? Growing evidence is telling us that autistic women are sometimes deeply empathetic, and eager to be involved in the world. We observe social cues more carefully than males. We camouflage our symptoms. We don’t fit stereotypes. We can be champion chameleons. But life as a chameleon can be exhausting.
↑↑It wasn’t until after motherhood that Sally J. Pla received her own autism diagnosis.
Moms We Specialize in Them
↑ Sally J. Pla’s books feature protagonists with autism (The Someday Birds) and anxiety (Stanley Will Probably Be Fine).
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I need a lot of downtime in which to “detox” from public events. I jump with panic when my phone rings — then take a deep breath, and answer so calmly, you’d never know. Trips to the store often end with me heading home because I can’t take the sensory overload. Those are just a very few of the daily surface challenges. But I love connecting out in the world, so I go, and do. I’ve just got to find the right balance, to learn when to push and when to recoup. It’s not always easy.
My own mother’s assessment
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The only one who wasn’t surprised by my recent diagnosis was my mother. She took my hand and said, “I always suspected it was something like that.” My mom is an extremely sensitive introvert who also had issues as a child. Between you and me, I suspect she also might be somewhere on the spectrum. But here’s the thing: It’s a wide spectrum. Autism takes as many different forms as the people it affects. Autism is a human condition — emphasis on the word human. I hope we can learn to expand our definitions of all the various, beautiful, different and/or challenging ways that autistic brains work in this world. To accept them, and make room for them all. Sally J. Pla is an award-winning author and mother of three who of believes autism is “not a spectrum, so much as a constellation.” Her next book — Benji, The Bad Day & Me, a picture book — is due out in September. Learn more at sallyjpla.com. mnparent.com • May 2018
IN THE KITCHEN
May 2018 â€¢ mnparent.com
Made with candy-coated sunflower seeds!
SUN BUTTER OATMEAL COOKIES 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
GRILLS THAT THRILL
1/2 cup packed brown sugar 1/4 cup and 2 tablespoons white sugar 1/2 cup sunflower seed butter or creamy peanut butter 1 egg 3/4 cup flour 1 teaspoon baking soda 1/2 teaspoon salt 2/3 cup old-fashioned oats 2/3 cup chocolate-covered sunflower seeds or mini chocolate chips Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream together butter, brown sugar, white sugar and sun butter until smooth. Beat in the egg until well blended. Combine the flour, baking soda, salt, oatmeal and chocolate-covered sunflower seeds and stir into the creamed mixture. Refrigerate for at least two hours or up to five days in a bowl covered in plastic wrap. Scoop mounds of dough (about the size of golf balls) onto a baking sheet and space them about 2 inches apart. Bake for 10 minutes or until the edges are set and the middles are just beginning to set. (Don’t over-bake.) Cool on the baking sheet for 10 minutes, and then transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling. (They should be soft.)
FYI • Sun butter is sold at most grocery stores. You can find it at Trader Joe’s, which also carries chocolate-covered sunflower seeds. • The chlorogenic acid (chlorophyll) in sunflower seeds can react with baking soda/powder during baking, which can cause a green color when the cookies cool. Though the strange hue is harmless, it’s a good idea to reduce the baking soda/ powder by about a third when substituting sun butter in other recipes. Find more tried-and-true recipes at sunbutter.com. Adapted from Bakerita.com Photo by Bakerita.com
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Diagnosis: Gifted A child with unusually high intelligence can bring awe and pride — but also huge challenges — for parents BY AMANDA WEBSTER
May 2018 • mnparent.com
PHOTOS BY SARAH KARNAS
Elliott Tanner of St. Louis Park, a highly gifted student, has struggled to find the right educational fit for his exceptional intelligence.
↑ Elliott Tanner of St. Louis Park started attending Normandale Community College in Bloomington at age 9. His advice to fellow college students? “Always carry a backup calculator.”
May 2018 • mnparent.com
Elliott Tanner looks like your average 9-year-old kid. He’s tall and gangly, with long brown hair and wide brown eyes. He smiles easily and loves talking to people. If you met him on the street, you might be struck by how easily he can carry on a conversation, but you might not guess he attends a local community college. “My favorite part about school is just being able to learn every day,” Elliott says. With no other children to compare him to, Elliott’s mom, Michelle, and dad, Swedish punk rocker Patrik Tanner, didn’t think it unusual when Elliott lifted his head at birth or rolled over consistently at 4 weeks old. “We were proud parents,” Michelle said. “We didn’t know any different.” The questions began when Elliott’s development never quite matched up with BabyCenter emails. All the milestones he was supposed to be reaching were things he’d been doing for quite some time. “It really clicked,” Michelle said, “when he taught himself how to read … at 18 months.” By 3, he was reading chapter books.
It’s easy to be in awe of a child who begins reading at a time when many of his peers are learning their first words. But the reality of raising a kid like Elliott can come with challenges that aren’t always obvious to outsiders.
Becoming an advocate In an effort to give Elliott a chance at a normal school experience, the Tanners, who live in St. Louis Park, enrolled him in a Spanish-immersion preschool and kindergarten. They assumed he’d at least benefit from the second language and social interactions. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. “He definitely didn’t fit in,” Michelle said. “At 5, he had memorized the periodic table … and the other kids didn’t know what he was talking about.” Michelle said Elliott spent much of his time in those years feeling socially isolated. “In hindsight, [keeping him in school was] pretty harmful for us,” she said. At the time, though, she was determined to make it work. After kindergarten, the Tanners had Elliott tested using the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children. They wanted to find out exactly where he was academically. They also wanted to get ammunition to advocate for his skipping a grade — at least in math, if not the entire academic year. They met with the school armed with test results placing Elliott’s IQ in the 99.9th percentile, hoping that would be evidence enough. The school’s response? “They literally laughed at us,” she said, adding that they were made to feel like over-zealous parents who thought their kid was exceptional and in need of special treatment. The school, which did not offer the option of gifted and talented programming or accelerated learning/grade skipping, dismissed the test results and told Michelle
that Elliott could make school as hard as he wanted to by making his IB (international baccalaureate) projects more difficult. They suggested he find further enrichment outside school hours and suggested the Tanners join a group of parents who were paying for a math tutor for their math-advanced kids. Either way, Elliot would still be expected to complete a curriculum that was painfully easy for him. They said if he finished his work early in class, he could read. “There was no way they were going to work with me,” Michelle said. At that point, the Tanners decided to homeschool Elliott full time. However, Elliott’s interest in mathematics was something of a mystery to Michelle, who works as a photographer. To provide him enriching educational opportunities, she relied heavily on her network of friends and family. Through crowdsourcing, she was able to find mentorships and field trips that gave him hands-on experience in the STEM fields and fueled his passions even more. At age 6, Elliott became a member of Mensa International; he was also awarded high honors from the Johns Hopkins University Center for Talented Youth; and he was accepted into the Stanford University Gifted and Talented youth program and the Davidson Young Scholars program for profoundly gifted youth.
From fourth grade to college Homeschooling allowed Michelle to tailor Elliott’s education to more closely match his abilities, but his academic needs quickly outpaced what she could teach him. After he aced two high school-level co-op classes at age 8, Michelle tried the school system once more: This time she approached the local high school. They were willing to enroll Elliott, but they wanted to observe him in his agegrade first.
“We would have had to put him back in fourth grade for eight weeks,” Michelle said. “We didn’t want to subject him to that.” Simultaneously, Michelle received advice via an online forum recommending Elliott skip high school altogether and go straight to the local community college. Michelle was nervous, but emailed the president of Normandale Community College, Joyce Ester, who surprised her with an enthusiastic referral to Cary Komoto, the dean of the STEM department. Shortly afterward, Michelle and Elliott sat down with Komoto and Mark Ahrens, the head of the mathematics department. Within a few minutes, Michelle knew it was the right place for Elliott. “The three of them started laughing hysterically at these math jokes that I did not understand,” she said. “Elliott was laughing so hard he was snorting. I thought, ‘These are his people.’” The college’s only concern was that Elliott would be too short for the chemistry-lab tables. “My heart was so relieved,” Michelle said.
The downside of high intelligence Michelle is thrilled that Elliott is finally challenged and surrounded with people who share his interests; and she feels lucky they’ve been to be able to accommodate her son’s needs. But it hasn’t been easy. “I could never have done this with a full-time job,” she said. Michelle said her initial research into giftedness led her to some fearful places. “Some of the first stuff you find is that the suicide rate for gifted kids is super high. That scared the heck out of me,” she said. That information, coupled with a family history of depression, led the Tanners to prioritize Elliott’s mental health above all else, which ultimately led them to Normandale in Bloomington.
mnparent.com • May 2018
Diagnosis: Gifted Though research on mental health in the gifted community is limited, a new study published in the journal Intelligence found that gifted individuals experience anxiety, ADHD, autism spectrum disorder and diseases related to immune dysregulation at two to four times the rate of average Americans. Researchers theorize that may be due to something called “hyper brain, hyper body.” Since the gifted brain takes in stimuli at a significantly faster rate than the average brain, it can easily become overwhelmed and produce an anxious physiological response. Teresa Boatman, a Plymouth-based psychologist who’s worked with the gifted community for more than 20 years, says she sees evidence of this phenomenon all the time. “When your brain has extra neural firings, you have this hyper responsiveness to the environment, which might lead to an anxious response,” she said. Something as innocuous as a mildly irritating inseam or a faint unnatural sound in the distance can be excruciating for a child whose brain is hypersensitive. Another theory that attempts to explain this comes from the work of Polish psychologist Kazimierz Dabrowski. He identified five areas of intensities, called overexcitabilities, which gifted kids tend to experience at a higher rate. These include psychomotor (a surplus of physical energy), sensual
↑ Accelerated learner Elliott Tanner of St. Louis Park has a passion for math, science and computer programming. He hopes to one day teach math or astronomy.
(heightened experiences of the senses), intellectual (an intense need to seek truth and knowledge), imaginational (a heightened imagination) and emotional (intense feelings, complex emotions and heightened empathy). Kids who experience one or more of these may be perceived by others as overly intense.
Trouble ﬁtting in Many gifted kids also struggle to fit in with their age-group peers. For example, sense of humor is a product of cognitive age, not chronological age. “So if you’re a 9-year-old and the other
My favorite part about school is just being able to learn every day. — Elliott Tanner, 9, who attends Normandale Community College 34
May 2018 • mnparent.com
9-year-olds stare at you blankly when you make a joke, you feel awkward and out of place,” Boatman said. This can lead to social isolation and more anxiety. Additionally, because they often misinterpret social cues, gifted children sometimes assume their peers are being mean when in fact they’re goofing around. Boatman helps kids develop skills around what she calls “locker room talk,” or the ability to have casual conversations and correctly interpret social cues. Of course, not all gifted kids struggle socially, and not all gifted kids experience anxiety. But among those who do, such symptoms are often a product of simply being in the wrong educational environment. “It has nothing to do with the teachers,” Boatman said, “It has everything to do with the curriculum.”
She likens the experience of being in the wrong-level curriculum to sitting through a professional-development class that covers topics you mastered years ago in your career. She asks parents to imagine how painful it would be to return to that class every day: That’s what regular school is like for many gifted kids. It’s no surprise, then, that they can develop unhealthy coping behaviors in response. According to Boatman, if the educational environment can be improved, many of those psychological symptoms will begin to disappear.
Educational options Though homeschooling can be a good fit for exceptionally intelligent children, it’s not the only option. In Minnesota, most public schools begin gifted and talented programming around second or third grade. This may include weekly pullout classes, grade skipping or clustering.
Resources Support: The Minnesota Council for the Gifted and Talented (MCGT) is a support and advocacy organization for parents and educators of gifted children. At mcgt.net, parents can find articles, event listings, local support groups, links to gifted programs in Minnesota, a directory of mental health professionals who specialize in assessment and therapy for gifted individuals, and more. Conference: Minneapolis will host the National Association of Gifted Children Annual Conference Nov. 18–21 at the Minneapolis Convention Center. Parents and families are invited to attend information sessions, hands-on activities for kids and presentations on the social and emotional needs of gifted kids and their parents. Register at nagc.org.
For those who might benefit from earlier intervention or full-time programming, there are several options sprinkled throughout the state. Some exist as specialized classrooms within regular schools, while others are offered at private, magnet or charter schools. Some even accept children as young as 4 years old. (See mcgt.net for details.) For the Tanners, sending their radically accelerated learner to college at age 9 was the right decision. But even community college may not be enough for Elliott in the short term, Michelle said. Recently one of Elliott’s teachers called a meeting with the Tanners and described their son as “an outlier among outliers.” “You hear about these minds,” the teacher said. “It’s incredible to actually meet someone like this.” After that meeting, Michelle realized: “The current schooling situation — that we thought was working — isn’t going to work for much longer. He needs more. He’s always going to need more.” In a Facebook post on a public page for Elliott, Michelle wrote: “We try hard to achieve balance for him and accommodate his desire to learn, while being acutely aware of depression and self-harm tendencies that can come hand in hand with the profoundly gifted population.” She said she’s also committed to giving Elliott — who’s exploring post-secondary enrollment options at the University of Minnesota — the “normal” life of an elementary-school-aged boy. “We also schedule play dates, trips to the amusement park, have lemonade stands and race bikes with the neighborhood kids,” she said. “Just because he has a different educational journey, it doesn’t mean he doesn’t get to be a kid.”
IT’S NIGHT & DAY AFTER BRAIN BALANCE
Amanda Webster lives in Roseville with her husband and two kids. She’s currently working on a book about creativity and childhood. Learn more at theworkofchildhood.com. mnparent.com • May 2018
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May 2018 â€¢ mnparent.com
Talking to kids about how we aren’t all the same is the first step in building a culture of inclusion By Dr. Rachel Tellez
t’s a situation that happens almost inevitably in every family, including mine: You’re at the grocery store with your 3-year-old when, with a fully outstretched arm, he points his finger at the man picking up milk across the aisle and says (at top volume), “That guy is in a wheelchair!” It’s embarrassing. And you have absolutely no idea of what to do, which makes it even more uncomfortable. The thing is, a lot of us grew up in an era in which we tried to make the case that everyone is the same. We swept difference under the rug and tried to say that we were blind to it all. And now, because of that, we don’t know how to talk about difference and diversity! But, indeed, we are all different. Everybody is unique and special and important in who they are. So when your child sees difference and talks about it, that’s OK. In fact, if your child (by the time he’s 3 or 4) hasn’t brought up that he’s seeing differences, you as a parent should actually make a point to bring it up. Here are three keys to fostering the values of acceptance and inclusion in your family.
Expose your kids to difference.
It’s key to start doing this by preschool age. You’re usually spending more time with your kids when they’re this age than when they start school. And that makes it a prime time for talking and introducing them to what they’ll encounter in the years ahead. Ask yourself: Are my kids experiencing
differences in their day-to-day life at this age? Do they have exposure to different races, ethnicities and religions? Have they met people who have disabilities, visible or not? Do you know any families with different family structures than your own? If the answer to those questions is “no” or “kind of,” I would urge you to seek out opportunities that will change your answer to a confident “yes.” Find out what cultural fairs, concerts and museum exhibits are happening around town, and check them out as a family. (See mnparent.com/global or mnparent.com/calendar for ideas.) Also be purposeful when you’re reading and watching movies or TV. Make it a point to choose stories with characters who might not look, sound, act or move like your kids. I highly recommend exploring commonsensemedia.org. As a parent myself, I use this site all the time. It helps you judge how appropriate the media your kids consume really is. And, it has dozens of lists that identify specific books, apps, movies and TV shows that can be used to teach your child about a variety of topics and values (all sorted by age) — including books that promote tolerance and diversity; books with characters of color; apps and games with diverse characters; movies that defy gender stereotypes; movies that inspire compassion, empathy, humility, integrity, communication and courage; TV shows with diverse characters; and TV shows that inspire compassion, empathy, humility and integrity. (Find this story at mnparent.com/different for tons of links!)
Talk about difference.
And keep talking about it. It’s really important that we resist the urge to shush our kids when they bring up difference. Shushing sends the message that the topic is taboo — even though it’s not — and makes your children feel ashamed. It will cause them to stop talking about their feelings with you, and instead keep them inside. It’s when thoughts and emotions become internal that we start developing biases. And sadly, as you know, much of the violence we see today in our world is based in biases. Instead, encourage your child to describe what she’s seeing, what she thinks about it and how it makes her feel. The first conversation you have is going to be the awkward one. But once you establish that it’s OK to talk about differences, the follow-up talks get easier. They just become part of your daily life. When your children start seeing how their friends treat others and what beliefs other children hold, you want them to share those things (and what they themselves are believing) with you. And if you’ve set the groundwork for open conversation, they will. So, going back to my opening example: What should you do when you and your child encounter a man in a wheelchair at the grocery store? First and foremost, acknowledge that, yes, he’s different. But also expand the conversation (reading off the man to judge if you mnparent.com • May 2018
Embracing ‘different’ should have this talk right in front of him, or if you should move it to the side). Talk with your child about how being in a wheelchair might affect the man, and also about who he is in our world. Point out how he’s at the grocery store shopping, just like your child and you are. Show your child that the milk in his cart is the same as the milk you drink. And, if the man seems like he may be receptive to talking, ask your child, “Should we go chat with him and see how he’s doing today?” When these situations come up in our family, we talk briefly in the moment, and then we follow up on what happened again later. Often that means a conversation at dinner that gets the whole family talking. It’s our job as parents to ask questions that bring the conversation to the next level and encourage our kids to talk more. ⊲⊲Why do you think he might be in a wheelchair? ⊲⊲What if there was a kid at school in a wheelchair? ⊲⊲What if your friends were bullying or being mean and saying he couldn’t play with them because he looks different? Oftentimes kids already know the answer to these questions. They’ve already learned basic rules at school and how to treat people. But it’s important to help them know how to stand up and say, “He’s a kid just like me and you and we’re going to play with him.” Finally, a note on your child’s develop-
mental stage: Remember that even though older kids, teenagers and adults are able to talk about these topics on a more complex level, younger children are not. State things simply, and be open to answering lots of questions.
Model appropriate interactions.
Each of us has internal biases, as hard as they can be to acknowledge. After all, we were all raised in different ways and exposed to different things. We need to be honest with ourselves that these biases exist. And we need to be aware that they can affect our reactions to the people we come in contact with. Our biases are why we need to be so purposeful in how we interact with people. Our kids notice when our reaction to someone is different. And they’ll mimic those reactions. So we need to work hard to be friendly to everyone. And we need to make a point to always use positive language that’s not offensive. We also need to be hypervigilant of stereotypes. There are plenty of them that play out in the media. And when we see them we need to call them out. We need to be specific about what they are, so that our children can learn to identify them themselves. And, we need to model how to speak up (and out) against them. We need to verbalize how stereotypes can make us and others feel. Similarly, if Grandma — or another relative or friend — says something that’s biased or offensive in a family conversation, we need to speak up. We need to say
It’s really important that we resist the urge to shush our kids when they bring up difference. Shushing sends the message that the topic is taboo — even though it’s not. 38
May 2018 • mnparent.com
what she said is not OK — and make it clear it’s OK to say so. If you brush off what Grandma says, your child learns that the way to deal with these kinds of remarks is to simply ignore them. That’s not a lesson you want to teach. Your job is to model what it looks like to stand up for what’s right in all situations. Because the skills you model will be the skills your children pick up and practice themselves. As a pediatrician, I’ve worked with diverse patient populations, including people who are Latino, African-American, Asian as well as white. Some — like my own two children — are a blend of multiple ethnicities. Some come from well-to-do families, and some are from families living in poverty. Some of my patients have disabilities. Others are a family member to someone with a disability. Not all of the kids I see in clinic have a mom. Not all have a dad. Some have neither, some have two of each and some have parents that don’t look like them — whether that’s because they were adopted or because there’s simply not a strong family resemblance. Diversity is broad. And those examples don’t even cover the half of it. Preparing your child for our diverse world — including people with special needs — isn’t about giving them a laundry list of differences they might see. Rather, it’s about being intentional in the conversations and interactions you have with your child and with everyone else. No matter what our background or experiences, we all need to be preparing our children for encountering and accepting differences. And to do so, we need to be purposeful. Dr. Rachel Tellez is a mother of two who has practiced pediatrics since 1998. She began working at Park Nicollet Clinic– Brookdale in Brooklyn Center in 2017 and was drawn to the job in part due to the value the organization places on diversity and inclusion. She speaks Spanish fluently, as does her husband, who grew up in Mexico. This article was originally published on HealthPartners.com.
Peer Insights A middle school program in Edina is fostering friendships and support between students of all abilities
indsey Gorski’s shopping trips are frequently interrupted by middle schoolers coming up to say hi to her 14-year-old daughter, Kiley. “She has more friends than I do, and I’ve lived here my whole life,” the Edina mom said. It’s a scene you’d expect for a lovable, social eighth-grader like Kiley — except that she is non-verbal, so can’t respond to her friends using words. Gorski knows the secret to her daughter’s popularity. Through the Peer Insights program at Edina’s South View Middle School, Kiley has made friends as well as strides in her development.
May 2018 • mnparent.com
By Abbie Burgess
← Peer Insights students at South View Middle School in Edina held a flash mob during lunch to kick off a Spread the Word to End the Word campaign, which aims to replace the R-word with the word “Respect.”
In fact, the program has been the highlight of her daughter’s three years in middle school. “Being around peers is so important,” Gorski said. “These are friendships she couldn’t make on her own.”
Getting started The Peer Insights program began in 2010 with a simple idea: Why not send students with free time during the school day to volunteer in the school’s special education center? So they came to the center, known as Aspire, and they played games, assisted with academic work and, best of all, provided opportunities for special needs students to practice basic social skills. Special education teacher Jessica Cherne saw an immediate impact on all the kids involved — and saw the potential to grow the program. “I knew our students had a lot to add to the community,” she said. The Peer Insights Student Leadership Team was formally founded the following year. Every year, more students express interest in becoming Peer Insights student leaders.
Despite the school’s ninth grade moving to Edina High School in the fall of 2017, involvement is still high with 50 general education students, who must apply and interview for the program. Once accepted, students receive training in how to interact with students with disabilities, including how to use appropriate and respectful language. They then join their peers with special needs in school-sponsored events, spend time in each other’s classrooms, walk together in the homecoming parade, enjoy community-based outings and even have a spring dance. “There’s always going to be a little bit of awkwardness as they are figuring out the intricacies of our students,” Cherne said. But that challenge soon gives way to true friendship. Peer Insights students also participate in unified sports activities with their friends competing in events with Special Olympics Minnesota. In 2015–2016, South View Middle School was one of just 20 schools in the state to be named one of Special Olympics Minnesota’s Champion Schools, thanks in part to the Peer Insights program.
Beyond the classroom Brenna Pruden, whose 12-year-old daughter, Karlee, is part of Aspire, said the kids in the program are “dedicated, patient and kind.” Peer Insights gives students who
↑ Kiley Gorski of Edina, 14, has made important social connections through the Peer Insights program at South View Middle School, including her friend, Emma Sebek.
normally wouldn’t be with each other during the school day a chance to interact and make friends. Those friendships often grow beyond the confines of the academic calendar. Karlee developed a special bond with a Peer Insights friend who now sometimes rides the bus home with Karlee to wait with her until her parents get home. “It’s branched off into so much more beyond the school day,” Pruden said. Karlee was disappointed to miss the school’s Winterfest party when she had surgery. Her friend from Peer Insights offered to bring ice cream and hang out with her to cheer her up. Karlee’s family cheers on her Peer Insights friends in their extracurricular activities, such as participating in the Polar Plunge. “They do so much for us,” Pruden said, “We like to give back.” The student leadership initiative has had a ripple effect in the community: It’s not just the Peer Insights group getting to know the students with special needs, Pruden said. mnparent.com • May 2018
Peer Insights After Karlee connected with one participant through the program, her friends — and friends of friends — got to know Karlee, too. “Peer Insights is amazing during the school year,” Pruden said. “But it really does branch out to a much bigger impact in our lives.” Special education teacher Jennie Schaefer has been impressed by how the program has set a tone at the school. “It literally brings so much joy to my life to see our students sitting with the student body, having those experiences with typical middle school kids,” she said.
A new dynamic Riley is a happy 13-year-old who loves being wheeled in races her family runs to raise money for Rett syndrome, which has affected her life since she was 11 months old. Her parents, Erin and Mitch Bleske, are grateful she’s so healthy, despite not
↑↑Riley Bleske, a sixth-grader who participates in Peer Insights program at South View Middle School, poses in Pittsburgh with her siblings, Morgan, Lucas and Addy.
being able to talk, walk without assistance or use her hands. She laughs, giggles and cries to communicate. “People who are around her get to know her,” her dad said. “But you have to have patience and dedicate the time.” Fortunately, Peer Insights students are getting to know her, a fact that her family appreciates deeply. Before middle school, Riley’s parents could count the number of birthday parties she’d been invited to on one hand. But these days the phone frequently rings with invitations for her. “It’s a new dynamic for us as a family,” Mitch Bleske said. “It’s pretty special. We know that Riley isn’t going to have what some may call a normal life, but we do want her to have friends and be happy.”
In the schools
↑↑Karlee Hestad, a seventh-grader at South View Middle School, has grown in her development and made friends with help from the Edina school’s Peer Insights program. Photo by Ashley Ann Photography
May 2018 • mnparent.com
Although Peer Insights is unique to South View Middle School, Cherne said other schools are trying similar programs. “We just went in our own direction with it,” she said, adding that it takes a really supportive administrative team and group of teachers.
For the most part, the response to the program has been positive, the special education teachers said. The only criticism it receives is backlash for sometimes taking students out of the general education classes to participate. Cherne and Schaefer said they understand the importance of balancing Peer Insights activities with academic schedules. But no one denies the success of the program. Pruden said Karlee doesn’t need a paraprofessional to be with her all day like she did in elementary school. And Bleske said it’s Peer Insights students who help Riley exercise by walking around the school halls — a role that used to be filled by an aide. Gorski said Kiley’s strides in development have been made possible by the inspiration provided by her Peer Insights role models.
A judgement-free zone The Peer Insights experience is equally valuable to students on both sides of the program. It gives general education students a place where they can be
We know that Riley isn’t going to have what some may call a normal life, but we do want her to have friends and be happy. — Riley’s dad, Mitch Bleske
themselves, where the pressure to maintain a perfect image falls away. “That’s the gift that our kids give,” Cherne said. “Middle school is so hard for all kids.” A “safe space,” and “judgement free zone,” are what Peer Insights students have described finding amongst their friends with special needs, Cherne said. “Deciding to join Peer Insights was one of the best decisions that I have ever made,” a former student wrote on an online blog. “Sometimes, if we were feeling overwhelmed or needed a break, we would be able to go down and hang out with the kids, which was an instant pick-me-up.” All this is to say nothing of the valuable volunteer experience the general education kids acquire through the program. And then, of course, there’s a ripple effect on the parents of the children with special needs. Bleske said it makes him emotional: “To know that a student at that age has taken the time and appreciates and enjoys spending time with Riley — from a parent’s perspective, it just means a ton.” And all those friendly middle school kids interrupting Gorski’s shopping trips don’t bother her in the slightest. “It makes me proud when people know Kiley and say hi to her,” she said.
g n i m a Dre
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Out & About
MayDay ⊲ In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre’s 44th-annual parade, ceremony and festival features hand-built puppets and masks — some more than 10 feet tall — plus music and performances in the street. When: May 6 Where: Minneapolis. The parade begins at the corner of 25th Street East and Bloomington Avenue South, and travels south on Bloomington to 34th Street, where the parade turns west toward its endpoint, Powderhorn Park. Cost: FREE Info: hobt.org
Kaleidoscope ⊲ All month long, check out this free enriching performing arts series for preschoolers at St. Paul Public Library locations. When: May 1–24 Where: Various Cost: FREE Info: sppl.org/kaleidoscope
Festival of Nations ⊲ This long-running indoor cultural celebration includes ethnic foods, music, demonstrations, exhibits and dancing, featuring nearly 100 ethnic groups. The Wee World Wanderers Club (10 a.m.– 1 p.m. May 5) is geared toward younger children with family-friendly dance
May 2018 • mnparent.com
performances, storytelling and puppet shows. Strollers welcome. When: May 3–6 Where: RiverCentre, St. Paul Cost: Tickets for adults are $11 in advance, $13.50 at the door. Admission is $8 for ages 5–17, free for ages 5 and younger with a paying adult. Info: festivalofnations.com
Minnesota State Yo-yo Contest ⊲ See yo-yo pros of all ages from around the Midwest displaying their skills, followed by an awards ceremony. When: May 5 Where: Can Can Wonderland, St. Paul Cost: FREE Info: cancanwonderland.com
⊲ Explore the history and future of passenger train travel with a wide variety of free transportation-inspired activities.
⊲ Kids, teens and adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder or sensory sensitivities and their families are invited to make art together, explore the galleries, watch a short film and just hang out before other museum patrons arrive.
Union Depot Train Day
When: May 5 Where: Union Depot, St. Paul Cost: FREE Info: uniondepot.org
When: 8 a.m. May 6 Where: Walker Art Center, Minneapolis
Cost: FREE Info: walkerart.org
Trucksploration ⊲⊲Vehicle fans, this one’s for you. Check out emergency vehicles, construction equipment, classic cars, military vehicles, the Minnesota Twins Food Truck, city and party buses and more at this fourthannual “truck petting zoo.” When: 11 a.m.–2 p.m. May 6 Where: Beth El Synagogue, St. Louis Park Cost: FREE Info: besyn.org/trucksploration
MAY 7–8, 15–16
Crossing Bridges ⊲⊲As the culminating event of CTC’s education program — Neighborhood Bridges — this festival involves more than 600 students from 11 elementary schools, performing stories written and adapted solely by the students. Students choose stories from the Bridges curriculum and then reimagine them using their own perspectives, complete with costumes and scenery. When: May 7–8, 15–16 Where: Children’s Theatre Company, Minneapolis Cost: FREE Info: childrenstheatre.org
Beauty and the Beast ⊲⊲This Twin Cities Ballet production features an original story adaptation and musical score. When: May 10–12 Where: Ames Center, Burnsville Cost: $20–$36 Info: ames-center.com
Wild Kratts Live! ⊲⊲Animated wildlife enthusiasts Martin and Chris come to life through hilarious pratfalls and amazing animal “wow facts,” while rescuing their favorite invention from Zach’s clutches. MacPhail Center for Music MNP 0518 2-3_2.indd 1
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Out & About
When: May 12 Where: Orpheum Theatre, Minneapolis Cost: $33.75 to $103.75 Info: hennepintheatretrust.org
Cardboard Creations ⊲⊲Discover how a simple material like cardboard can be transformed into almost anything at this Family Day event.
When: 11 a.m.–5 p.m. May 13 Where: Minneapolis Institute of Art Cost: FREE Info: artsmia.org
When: Through June 10 Where: Children’s Theatre Company, Minneapolis Cost: Tickets start at $15. Info: childrenstheatre.org
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Photo by Manuel Harlan
⊲⊲Experience one of the most revered environmental tales of all time, designed for the stage with all ages in mind.
Rock the Barn ⊲⊲Celebrate spring with a farm and music festival. Meet live animals and experience a day in the life of a farm by taking part in chores and old fashioned games, plus enjoy live music, face painting and ice cream.
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When: May 19 Where: Dodge Nature Center, West St. Paul Cost: $6 in advance, $8 at the door Info: dodgenaturecenter.org
Adaptive Sports Discovery Expo ⊲ This first of-its-kind showcase will include dozens of organizations that provide adaptive sports and recreation opportunities in Minnesota. When: May 19 Where: University Recreation and Wellness Center, Minneapolis Cost: FREE Info: disabledsportsusa.org
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Holz Farm Spring Festival ⊲ Check out barnyard animals, field plowing, corn grinding, vintage tractors, bread baking/butter churning, honeybee lessons, toy box tractors, pony rides and more at this annual event. When: May 20 Where: Holz Farm, Eagan Cost: FREE Info: cityofeagan.com
Dandelion Day Celebration ⊲ Honor Harriet Godfrey’s introduction of dandelion seeds to the St. Anthony area with dandelion necklaces, bracelets and crowns. Get a dandelion painted on your cheek or get a temporary tattoo. Take home a complimentary booklet with recipes for dandelion tea, salad and wine. Tour the charming yellow Ard Godfrey House with guides dressed in 1850s costumes. When: May 20 Where: Ard Godfrey House, Minneapolis Cost: FREE. Donations are welcome. Info: womansclub.org
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Out & About JUNE 1–2
Flint Hills Family Festival ⊲ Local, regional and international professional artists will represent more than 25 countries on various stages, indoors and out at this popular annual event, including music, theater, food trucks and more. When: June 1–2 Where: Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, St. Paul Cost: FREE. Indoor performances cost $8. Info: ordway.org/festival2018
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FROM OUR READERS
Aww, just look at your little horticulture fans! Now who’s ready for actual spring?
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