My Student is a Self-Described “Sheldon Cooper”

Big Bang TheorySheldon Cooper, Ph.D. is, of course, a fictionalized character from the comedy series The Big Bang Theory, which explores the friendships between four young scientists and their ability to navigate sticky social situations together. From dating to work related politics, it is very difficult for Sheldon, a genius who exhibits tendencies of Asperger’s Disorder, to know what to say and how to say it.

In contrast, his friends know the importance of social conformity and provide guidelines to help Sheldon sidestep social pitfalls. Leonard, Raj, Howard, Bernadette, and Penny often call him out when he’s engaging in behavior that is not up to social standards. His girlfriend,  Neurobiologist Amy, gives Sheldon social “due process” in a way as she is more apt to indulge him by listening to his point of view and trying to explain the way of the world in his language.

Teaching Social Skills for Those with Context Disorders

Underlying the comedic shenanigans that Sheldon often finds himself in each week is the real life issue of teaching social skills, especially when it comes to helping those who are diagnosed on the Autism Spectrum. The DSM-V has bundled Autistic Disorder, Asperger’s Disorder, and PDD-NOS into one umbrella diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) separated by various severity levels. Due to this new way of diagnosing, we will see more kids labeled with ASD and there will be more of a need to teach social skills in the mainstream classroom. This means incorporating Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) into daily lesson plans, as Common Core recommends.

High-functioning Autism, formally known as Asperger’s, is really an overall context disorder, meaning that it is difficult to naturally decipher and pick up on social cues. Rather, the person must learn these relational tools just as someone would learn math or physics or any other structured subject.

The problem with teaching social skills, however, is that there is not one formula and not one correct answer. Every social situation presents a different nuance. So how then do kids really learn social skills?

My Student is a Self-Described “Sheldon” & Uses Social Thinking to Understand Patterns in Behavior

My student is diagnosed with Asperger’s and is a self-described “Sheldon Cooper”. She identifies with his character because reading social cues and exhibiting appropriate social expressions can be trying. It does not come naturally to her but she has learned to compensate by using social thinking– applying a set of social standards to various like social situations. She is very bright and independent. For example, when I was a young girl reading “Anne of Green Gables” she was a young girl reading “The Origin of Species”. But for all her intellect she can seem lost when it comes to relating to others on a social level.

Sheldon provides her some context. Although somewhat exaggerated, his character is ultimately relatable. Sheldon’s love for physics overcomes his love for people. Why? Physics makes sense. People don’t. My student would agree. Her favorite thing is Paleontology. Why? Paleontology makes sense. People don’t.

To navigate her way through real-life social situations, my student has developed social thinking skills, whereby she looks for patterns in social behavior and then correlates those behaviors to appropriate responses. For example, when I’m smiling, she mirrors that facial movement back to me by smiling too. When I’m telling a story, she knows that her response should be something related to my story to show empathy and understanding. Oftentimes though, the conversation quickly reverts back to paleontology because that is the thing that she can most relate to. We’re still working on that one.

The Best Way to Learn Social Skills is Through Your Peers

The fact of the matter is that there is not a one-size-fits-all social formula for every situation because every situation presents different variables. But through pattern recognition and good old-fashioned trial and error, a student can learn what to do and what not to do. With my younger students who are diagnosed with Non-Verbal Learning Disorder or ASD, we spend a lot time deciding what is appropriate and inappropriate in social situations. I cannot prepare my students for every social encounter but I can arm them with an arsenal of social tools that they can use to decipher an appropriate response in a new social situation.

The best way to learn social skills, however, is by way of a student’s peers. Mirroring and social cues will come more naturally if a student’s peer is teaching them through modeling. This is simply because students can relate more to someone their own age rather than an adult. The best social thinking groups are those who intentionally have designed the group for both typical and atypical developing children. (Here are some recommended Social Thinking Skills Groups in Los Angeles.)

Just like Sheldon, everybody can learn something from their peers and social thinking is no exception to this social rule.

A funny but true moment: Sheldon “Masters” the 3 Big Social Expressions

 

Christine Terry, J.D., is a Special Education Advocate & Founder of Terry Tutors. She created the One Comprehensive Support Service for The Struggling Student by combining Academic, Behavior, and Advocacy support. Want to Know More? Head on over to TerryTutors.com.

Are Labels Really So Bad?

labelOne of the most common concerns I hear from parents who are considering testing their child for learning differences is the fear of labeling. Will this label follow my child around for the rest of their education or even their life? Will my child be known by their label alone? Will it define who they are?

Our Society Labels Everything & Everyone

These concerns are real and should not be taken lightly, but the fact of the matter is that in our society we label everything, and that’s how we choose to collectively define and describe ideas, things, and, yes, even people. When a child is born they are labeled by their gender. When a child excels or is challenged by a task or developmental stage they are labeled by their parents as a “natural talent” or “late bloomer”. These labels follow us around forever and contribute to who we are as adults. For example, I will always be labeled as the child whose first bite of food was a chocolate chip cookie– forever labeled as the girl with a sweet tooth.

The Unmeasureables & The Unknowns

A parent’s fear of having their child tested is exacerbated by the unknown and the what-if’s of the process. But a test is not indicative of a child’s long-term potential. In fact, that’s why the IEP requires a Triannual Review, a new assessment every three years.  See, a test or assessment measures only where the child is in relation to his or her peers at that moment in time. It cannot measure how a child positively compensates for their challenges or their fighting spirit or how a warm, supportive household will shape a child’s meter of self-esteem, aiding them in their battle to win over any learning differences. These are the unmeasurables and the unknowns. These are the natural and environmental influences that cannot be tested.

To Test or Not to Test? That is the Question

When considering whether to have your child assessed for a learning difference, there are two factors to think about: (1) Do I want to know the root cause of my child’s challenge?, and (2) Do I want federal dollars to help my child if there is a problem?

I encourage parents to seek out testing because, like anything, if we don’t understand the root of the problem we can’t seek out the appropriate solution. Whether it be a Functional Behavior Assessment or Psycho-Educational Assessment, knowing the underlying cause of an issue can only serve to help figure out the right path to achieve individual success. Additionally, the fact of the matter is that if you are seeking state provided services through the public school system or the Regional Centers an assessment is mandatory to determine such needs. Federal dollars are apportioned via an objective standard of measurement–a test. Where your child scores in relation to his or her peers will determine what type of help and how much money the state offers to support your child’s needs.

Your Rights

As the parent or legal guardian, you ALWAYS have the right to refrain from having your child tested. No one, not even the state, can make you do this. Never feel that your only option is to sign that piece of paper and check the box that says “yes”.  Many parents supplement support (OT, SLP, PT, Behavior, Academic, Psychological) through private outside providers. Some choose to collaborate with the school without a formal IEP or 504 Plan in place by coming up with their own version of support. Others choose to home-school or enroll in private schools or charters with smaller class sizes. Whatever choice you make, know that it must be your choice because you are the ultimate decision-maker for your child’s needs.

If you’re refraining from having your child tested for fear of labeling, however, I ask that you think about which is more important: A label or getting the help your child needs?

We all come to the table with different viewpoints, different experiences, different family dynamics, different struggles and achievements– different labels. We label ourselves and we label each other. It’s not the label itself that will determine your child’s success though, but rather your ability as the parent to help your child shape their success by defining their own labels for themselves and the world around them.

Christine Terry, J.D., is a Special Education Advocate & Founder of Terry Tutors. She created the One Comprehensive Support Service for The Struggling Student by combining Academic, Behavior, and Advocacy support. Want to Know More? Head on over to TerryTutors.com.

The Terry Tutors Annual Report: 2013

2013-annual-reportThank You for Making Our First Year a Success!

Here are some stats that will warm your heart:

  • 1 New Comprehensive Support Service: We’ve streamlined our Private Tutoring, Family Coaching, and Education Advocacy services into One Comprehensive Support Service Designed Specifically for The Struggling Student. We saw a need to bridge the gap between home and school support and took it upon ourselves to create a boutique, in-home and at-school program designed specifically to help students who are struggling in school due to ADHD, Autism, Anxiety, Twice-Exceptional, Learning Differences, Behavior Challenges, Social Skills Needs, Family Dynamic Concerns, Trauma, Depression, and Low Confidence and Low Self-Esteem. Read more about our program here
  • 5 Trainings: To keep our General & Special Education skills in tip-top shape, we’ve attended and gained membership to 5 conferences, trainings, and workshops with well-respected national and local organizations, such as the Council of Parents, Attorneys, and Advocates, Autism Partnership, and DirectEd Specialized IEP Services. Read more about our passion for learning new skills here
  • 6 Support Team Members: We’re proud to work with 6 Terry Tutors Support Team Members, who are trained and passionate about providing support services focused on the child with learning differences, behavior challenges, and social skills needs. Learn more about our Team here
  • 70 Service Providers: In order to make sure our families and students know of the best educational support resources around, we’ve personally met with over 70 Support Service Providers, including Specialized Schools & Academic Services, Education Advocacy Organizations, Therapists, Psychologists, and Assessment Evaluators, Autism Support Providers, State Regional Centers for Children with Qualifying Disabilities, Special Needs Financial Planners and Attorneys, Domestic & Nanny Agencies; Pediatric Support Services, and Behavior Intervention Services. Find all of our recommended Support Service Providers here
  • 700 Service Hours: We’ve completed almost 700 in-home and at-school service hours specifically in the areas of Academic Support through Private Tutoring, Behavior Support through Family Coaching, and IEP Education Advocacy for typically and atypically developing students in both private and public schools throughout Los Angeles.
  • 3,000 Dollars Donated: In keeping with our commitment to global education we’ve donated nearly $3,000 to Pencils of Promise, and we’re on our way to building a school abroad! Read more here

What can you look forward to from Terry Tutors in 2014?

More greatness, of course! We’re excited to continue with our Mission of Collaboration for the Next Generation. With the expansion to Orange County, our One Comprehensive Service for The Struggling Student will be able to help more students and their families move forward successfully in school and in life!

Christine Terry, J.D., is the Founder & Owner of Terry Tutors and creator of the One Comprehensive Support Service for The Struggling Student. Want to Know More? Head on over to TerryTutors or contact us below:

Links We Love!

Resources1If you’re a parent of a child with Learning Differences, Behavior Challenges, or Social Skills Needs then you know that one of the most difficult things to search out is a trusted service provider– a “child whisperer” who has their “finger on the pulse” of the L.D. community at large, and, above all else, treats your kid like their own.

We’ll, you’re in luck because this past year we, at Terry Tutors, have spent the bulk of our time researching, meeting, and compiling resources for our clients. Throughout this process, we’ve found ways to seamlessly work together with teams of providers for each of our students and families in need of a little or a lot of help. We happily collaborate because that is the only way to coordinate proper care and ensure that needs are met and things get done! We work not only in the home but at the school and with the state too, providing cross-over services because a child’s challenge doesn’t magically go away when the bell rings.

Anyone who has tried to find special education services or the like has received the run-around more than once, where frustration ensues and time is inevitably lost. We’ve been fortunate, however, to make this process as painless as possible for our students and their families, working diligently to create connections so our kiddos are not the ones who lose out in the end.

For example, SSTs and IEPs are often thought of as nightmarish meetings, laden with government bureaucracy–stretching for days on end with little accomplished. But that has not been our experience. Instead:

  • We do our homework! We’re educated, knowledgeable, and passionate about advocating and providing the right support for our students and their families.
  • We extensively prepare our clients for realistic goals, being mindful of the emotion involved throughout the process of evaluation, social/emotional/academic findings, and the tough decisions parents must make.
  • We make it a priority to respectfully maintain open communication with Teachers, School Psychologists, OTs, SLPs, Resource Specialists, Principals, and Administrators.
  • We followup in a professional, timely manner to ensure what is written on paper is implemented in the classroom.

It is through this process that we’ve been able to meet all of these amazing service providers, who are passionate about serving your child and helping you support and advocate for their needs.

Review all of our Free Resources & Recommendations:

  • Terry Tutors: Serving the Whole Student with Private Tutoring, Family Coaching & Education Advocacy
  • Links We Love: a free resource list of providers we’ve met and services we recommend
  • Terry Tutors Facebook: Resources galore for the typical and atypical developing student
  • Terry Tutors Twitter: Connections with like-minded outlets for education: reform, inspiration, and know-how
  • Terry Tutors Blog: Honest Approaches to Serving the Whole Student
  • Terry Tutors Pinterest: Hundreds of pins from healthy kid-friendly snacks to education case law
  • Terry Tutors YouTube: A Series all about the psychology behind school and how you can do better just by changing your mindset

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Christine Terry, J.D., is the Founder & Owner of Terry Tutors, a Private Tutoring, Family Coaching, and Education Advocacy service dedicated to supporting the whole student. She writes this blog as an effort to help Moms & Dads Navigate Generation Z, Honestly. Want to Know More? Head on over to TerryTutors.com

Miss America’s Dream and Its Positive Influence on Young Girls

Miss AmericaI have very vivid childhood memories of my mom, my two younger sisters, and myself sitting around in our pajamas watching the Miss America Pageant year after year. We watched that Pageant religiously throughout the ’80s and ’90s, even holding our own pageants complete with makeshift tiaras and sashes in the basement of our Bel-Ridge house. We coveted that crown and thought, perhaps, one day it would be us on that stage, crying and waving as we walked down the runway to the famous song: “There she is… Miss America…” Alas, my dream of becoming Miss America was not meant to be but that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the positive influence it has on helping young girls realize their own dreams.

Suffrage & The Miss America Pageant

The Miss America pageant began in 1921, just a couple of years after Congress passed the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote. Since then, Miss America has been a symbol of beauty, grace, and oftentimes politics–a symbol of the times, really. Our new Miss America, like our re-elected President, is a reflection of an America longing for role models who look different than our Founding Fathers.

The Racial & Ethnic Diversity of the Miss America Pageant Throughout The Years:

  • 1984: Vanessa Williams, succeeded by Suzette Charles, First and Second African-American Miss Americas
  • 1990: Debbye Turner, Third African-American Miss America
  • 1991: Marjorie Judith Vincent, Fourth African-American Miss America
  • 1994: Kimberly Aiken, Fifth African-American Miss America
  • 2001: Angela Perez Barquio, First Asian-American Miss America
  • 2003: Erika Harold, Sixth African-American Miss America
  • 2004: Erica Dunlap, Seventh African-American Miss America
  • 2013: Nina Davuluri, First Indian-American Miss America: Check out her eloquent response to those who are upset by her win: Miss America’s Nina Davuluri talks about being a new face of the Miss America organization

Contestant Diversity & Acceptance

The Miss America Pageant and its public have openly accepted many types of diversity over the years, albeit not enough by any standard. For example, Alexis Wineman, Miss Montana 2012, competed in the 92nd annual Miss America Pageant. She was the first contestant diagnosed with Autism. During the latest Miss America Pageant, Miss Iowa, a 23-year-old vocalist born without her left forearm, competed for the crown as well. In 1995, Heather Whitestone, became the First Deaf Miss America. So I find it surprising that there are a group of outspoken Americans who are angry about the crowning of the new Miss America. Their vitriolic comments lead me to believe that it’s not a concern over accepting diversity but a concern over accepting racial diversity. That’s a sad realization in the year 2013 but a realization nonetheless–one that we should be aware of, acknowledge, but not accept as a guide for our moral compass. What they fail to understand, however, is that by discrediting the new Miss America they are directly contributing to our children’s lack of self-esteem and identity, especially that of young girls.

Young Women, Self-Esteem, and Identity

It’s no secret that our society still struggles with race, culture, and what it means to be diverse. Much of that burden falls on the shoulders of mothers, teaching and encouraging their children to reach for the stars in true American spirit but with gentle caution about the reality of how race effects the reality of their dream. I imagine that mothers to young girls take extra care to ensure their daughters don’t fall victim to self-esteem and identity issues, especially when it comes to race. So when girls are able to see an older, successful version of themselves it makes their dreams feel that much closer and the color of their skin becomes secondary. As such, when the new Miss America, an Indian-American, was crowned a winner I bet there were suddenly a whole lot more little girls who realized that their dreams of becoming a scientist, doctor, or even Miss America were not so far-fetched after all.

Thank you Miss America for helping the next generation of young women rise above the naysayers to realize their own dreams, just like you did.

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Christine Terry, B.A., J.D., is the Founder & Owner of Terry Tutors, a Private Tutoring, Family Coaching, and Education Advocacy service dedicated to supporting the whole student. She writes this blog as an effort to help Moms & Dads Navigate Generation Z, Honestly. Want to Know More? Head on over to TerryTutors.com