Why Neuroscience for Counsellors?

Rachal Zara Wilson is a counsellor, social worker and author of the new Neuroscience for CounsellorsWe caught up with her for a quick chat about the book and why she wanted to write about such a complex topic. 

1.  Who do you think would benefit from reading this book?

Definitely counsellors, but also any other therapists as well.  The book is designed so that it has sections where the neuroscience is explained, and separate sections for counsellors and other therapists with suggestions on how to use this knowledge for the benefit of their clients in the session room.

Families of people who are experiencing mental health dysfunction may also be interested in the knowledge contained in this book, and also in the implications for how they can support their loved ones.

2.  Why did you write this book? Wilson_Neuroscience-fo_978-1-84905-488-1_colourjpg-print

I’ve always been interested in neuroscience; the brain is so fascinating and amazing, and capable of so much more than we’ve always been led to believe.  And of course, as a counsellor working with people, how the brain works has always been top of my mind.  The final motivator was having a child who was experiencing problems with their mental health, and I guess I just hoped to find something that would help him and others in a similar situation during the course of my research.

3.  So what’s so exciting about what you learned?

Probably the most exciting thing would be the brain’s capacity to change itself, known as brain plasticity.  The brain isn’t static, it’s more like a dynamic organ that is constantly changing for better or worse.  And what we do plays a huge part in how it changes.  How much stress we’re under, what we eat, the quality of our sleep, whether we exercise and how much, our living environments, and the presence or absence of early trauma in our lives are some of the things that contribute to the way our brain functions, and to its capacity for change, or plasticity.  I guess the most exciting thing is that we have control over this plasticity to a large degree, and we can therefore improve the quality of our brain function, our health and our lives.

4. Why don’t we know this stuff already?

Because neuroscience is a field in its infancy.  There’s a lot of learning coming through, but much of it’s wrapped up in scientific jargon, making it inaccessible to those of us who are not scientists.  And because there’s lots of different levels of looking at the brain, (both micro and macro,) different neuroscience specialties do not always integrate their specialist knowledge.  I think the benefit of this book is that it integrates the neuroscience into an overall big picture, while also drawing on this resource to come up with practical ways for integrating it into therapy.  It hasn’t been done before because it’s new, because it’s complex, and because integrating neuroscience with counselling and other therapies requires a knowledge of both fields.  I believe that in the future, all practitioners providing talking therapies are going to need to understand what neuroscience offers our professions, or risk becoming irrelevant.

5.  Why put it in a book?

This knowledge is meant to be shared.  All counsellors and therapeutic practitioners want best outcomes for their clients, and the more knowledge we have that can help people make positive change in their lives, the better.

6.  Is it complicated?

The neuroscience is complex, but the book is designed so that people who just want to know what it means for their practice can just read those sections, while those who want to understand how it all works can read up on the explanations for how all the scientific evidence fits together.  The book is written in the plainest English possible, and there is a glossary and diagrams at the back to help you fit it all together.

You can find out more about the book, read reviews and order your copy here.

Get children talking about Tourette Syndrome

ML blog image 4Meet Max – a boy with Tourette Syndrome (TS). Max explains all about what it feels like to have TS, what tics and triggers are, and how others can help him feel supported in new book, ‘Can I tell you about Tourette Syndrome?’ by Mal Leicester.

In this story, Max describes his encounter with a friendly dog and how it has helped him to manage his tics and feel more happy and accepted. There are some questions at the end to get discussions going on the topics raised in the story, and to help children understand more about living with TS.

You can also download a printable PDF version of the story here


A Boy’s Best Friend

It was Saturday morning and I was bored.  I had no one to play with and nothing to do.

“If we had a dog, I could take it for a walk,” I said.

Mum gave a big sigh. “You know why we can’t have a dog Max.  When you’re at school and I’m at work who would look after it?”

I sighed too and went off to the park where I saw some boys from my class.

“Here comes Ticcy,” one of them said. It was Jack.

“Clear off,” he shouted. “We don’t play with weirdos.”

I walked away.

I saw the black man from the shop in my street. He was throwing a ball for his big golden dog. I stopped to watch.

ML blog image 6“You throw it for him,” the man said. “He’s tired me out.”

I picked up the ball and threw it hard; a long, angry throw. I don’t think I cared if it was too far for the dog but he streaked after it, fast as the wind. He soon came running back with the ball in his mouth. He dropped it at my feet.  He looked up at me. His eyes were bright and he seemed to be smiling. He looked cute.

I was ticcing badly but I threw the ball again – not so far this time. In fact I threw the ball for ages. The dog loved the game and I enjoyed it so much that while we were playing my tics went away.

“We’ve got to go now”, the man said at last.

I began to walk back home. The man let me hold the dog’s lead until we reached his shop.

“I’m Mr Stuart,” he told me. “And your new friend there is Goldie.”

“I’m Max,” I said.

“Well Max,” said Mr Stuart. “If kids call you names, that’s down to them. Don’t blame yourself.”

Mr Stuart must have seen Jack being mean. I looked down feeling embarrassed.

“It’s because of my tics,” I mumbled.

“Well tics aren’t mean,” said Mr Stuart. “Any more than my black skin is mean. But if people call you names or call me names – well that sure is mean!”

Mr Stuart handed me a bar of chocolate.

“Payment for playing with Goldie.”


Goldie licked my hand.

“He’s not mean,” I said.

Back home I didn’t tell Mum about Jack. It would only make her sad.  Quickly I told her about Goldie instead.

The next day Mum and me called into Mr Stuart’s shop. Mum wanted to say thank you for the chocolate and I was pleased. I might see Goldie.

“Thank you for yesterday,” Mum said.

“Woof,” I heard from behind the counter.

“Goldie knows it’s you Max,” laughed Mr Stuart.

Goldie’s head appeared above the counter. I leaned forward and stroked him.

“He’s awesome,” I said.

The smile left Mr Stuart’s face. He looked sad.

“Yeah, he is isn’t he? But I can’t keep him much longer. My landlord won’t allow pets. Says I can’t have him back at my flat at night. He’s got to leave by the end of the week.”

This gave me such a great idea I jumped up and down with excitement.

ML blog image 5“Let’s share him,” I said to Mr Stuart.  “He could be with you in the daytime and with us at night.”

I turned to Mum. “Please,” I pleaded.

Mr Stuart and I looked at Mum and waited.

After a long pause she said, “It sounds like a good idea,” and there and then Mum and Mr Stuart discussed the arrangements for a shared dog.

It works really well. On my way to school I leave Goldie at the shop. I pick him up on my way home and he wags his tail like fury and his whole body wags. At home I play with him and give him his tea. At night he sleeps on my bed.

On Saturdays Mr Stuart and I take Goldie to the park and on Sundays Mr Stuart lets me help in his shop. I love helping in the shop and when I serve them, the other kids in my class are a bit jealous. Most of them are friendly, and even Jack has stopped being mean. But my best friend, who always will be, is my great, good-as-gold dog.


Points for Discussion

Now you’ve read Max’s story, what do you think about these:

(1) Why do you think that Jack says Max is weird?

(2) How can you tell that Mr Stuart is kind, generous and fair?

(3) Why did Max’s tics go away during the game with Goldie?

(4) Why didn’t Max care if his first throw was too far for Goldie?

(5) What does Mr Stuart say is mean and not mean?

(6) Why do you think he says all this to Max?

(7) Why do you think Jack has stopped being mean?

(8) What makes Goldie so special to Max?


Grandparenting the siblings of a child with special needs

By Charlotte E. Thompson, M.D., author of Grandparenting a Child with Special Needs

Having a brother or sister with special needs can create life-long emotional problems for the siblings unless they receive a great deal of one-to-one attention and love. If the parents have to spend long periods of time in an intensive care nursery with a new baby or at doctors’ or therapy appointments with a child or teenager, grandparents can play a very important role.

If the grandparents live close by, they can help by driving brothers and sisters to school, games, lessons, or special event. These trips offer a good opportunity for grandchildren to bring up things that are bothering them. Sometimes saying something like, “How are things going with the new baby or brother or sister?” will open the flood gates. In the many sibling groups I have held, it has been amazing to hear some of the children’s complaints. The two most common were that they were getting little attention from their parents and their siblings were never asked to do anything, even when they could.

Many of the kids had a feeling of guilt about being healthy, when their brother or sister was not. If the siblings know a grandparent or grandparents are always ready with a hug, something good to eat, are available to listen, or just to provide a safe place where they can get one-to–one attention, this can make all the difference in the world. Many siblings of a child with a disability will either act out to get attention or be very, very good. A large majority of siblings go into the healthcare professions as adults, which many professionals believe to be a way of paying for their own good health.

There are children with special needs who make manipulation a fine art. Often when a problem or accident happens, a way is found to make it appear that the healthy sibling is the offender. This can be a hard burden for a brother or sister to bear, particularly if it happens repeatedly. If grandparents see this occurring, they may want to bring it up with the parents. This can be a very delicate subject and one that should be approached with a great deal of tact and in the proper setting. If the parents deny this is occurring, there is nothing grandparents can do unless they have full custody of the grandchildren. Then some family therapy or individual counseling might be in order.

A grandparent who lives at a distance can still make a difference with frequent telephone calls, cards, letters, and small gifts. If a trip to visit can be arranged that would be an even bigger treat. Taking one grandchild at a time on a trip can be a memorable experience for both the grandchild and the grandparents. Planning the trip together and giving an older child a budget for the trip can help the grandchild learn about money management. A trip doesn’t have to be expensive, because even a one or two day trip can be fun and not too tiring.

The greatest gifts grandparents can give to the brothers and sisters of a child with special needs is to let them know how much they are loved, spend time and have fun with them, and listen to their joys and sorrows.

Summer Safety for Children with Special Needs

Photo: JKP author Dr. Charlotte ThompsonBy Charlotte E. Thompson, M.D.

Most parents and grandparents sigh with relief once summer is over and children are safely back in school. I know I certainly let out a big sigh. Now that another summer is here, one of the biggest worries is keeping our children and grandchildren safe. This is an extra responsibility for grandparents if they have the care of a grandchild even for a few hours or a day. If you have your grandchildren for longer periods, then you have to be even more vigilant and keeping up with an active child is harder as we get older.

Kids with and without disabilities account for about 40% of summer visits to the emergency rooms from May to August in the U.S., and I am sure the statistics are similar in other countries. Remember, however, that many ERs are not equipped to care for children and many ER doctors have little or no pediatric training. Thus, all grandparents should know how to do CPR and the Heimlich maneuver which would be used if a grandchild is choking and unable to cough up food or a foreign body. If a grandchild has a convulsion or seizure, 911 in the U.S, or the local emergency number should be called. Any sharp objects should be moved and the grandchild’s airway checked to be sure no food or a foreign object is obstructing it.

Ingesting poisons is always a concern and when kids are hungry or thirsty they will eat or drink almost anything. One patient of mine saw an open Coke bottle in a neighbor’s yard and took a drink. His feeding tube or esophagus had to be replaced. Thus it is important to have the number of the poison hotline posted near your telephone. For the UK, the number is 0845-4547. In the U.S., it is 1-800-22-1222.

Another recent cause of concern is that kids are swallowing small magnets found in many toys and other objects. These magnets can pierce the esophagus and result in death, unless prompt and aggressive treatment is received.

If an autistic child runs away, they can get into all kinds of trouble or accidents. Letting your local police know that your grandchild has a tendency to slip away before it happens can put them on alert if you need help in locating the child. If you are near the ocean, swimming pools, or a lake, drowning is of particular concern. All children should be taught water safety, particularly if they tend to run away. Even house bath water can be a problem. If the water is too hot, a child with impaired sensation in the lower extremities can be badly burned, so the house water heater should be turned down below 120 degrees Fahrenheit. No small child or a child with a disability should be left alone in a bathtub, wading or swimming pool. If the telephone or doorbell rings either take the child with you or just ignore the rings.

Summer picnics are lots of fun, but grandchildren must be watched to be sure they don’t get near an outdoor grill or another source of fire. Burns can be particularly severe if a child has impaired sensation. Having a first-aid kit in your car and house is a must. Playground equipment in the yard or in a park can be a problem if there are ropes or swings where a child can fall or become entangled. Window coverings can present a problem if there is any way a child can become entangled in a cord.

Household appliances, such as dryers, stoves, microwave ovens, irons and even toy chests with heavy lids can be a problem if a child decides to open one and climb in. Keeping your eyes on grandchildren can be hard particularly if they are hyperactive. Kids love to investigate and open sockets can also be a temptation. These can be covered with safety caps available online, in baby or hardware stores.

Medications should be under lock and key or up high and grandmothers’ purses can present a potential problem if medications are inside. Firearms, too, must be locked up. Garages usually contain all kinds of fascinating and potentially dangerous things and should be off-limits to a grandchild unless a grandparent is in charge and watching carefully. Kitchens usually have many dangerous things under the sink and these should be put up high. Open windows and open doors, particularly leading to a balcony should be closed and locked.

The list goes on and on…so my best advice is to walk around your house and yard before a grandchild visits and do this periodically to think about what could harm a grandchild. Grandchildren can also be taught about potential dangers and to warn you if there is a cause for alarm. When my son was about three he was playing with some neighborhood children in our back yard. The kids seemed to be happy and I could see and hear them through the back windows. Suddenly, Geoffrey ran in saying “Mommy, the children are going to need their stomachs pumped out!” I ran to the back yard and found a neighborhood child beginning to pass out medicine bottles from a big black purse. The boy had apparently filled an empty purse from a medicine cabinet and was playing doctor! How luck I was that Geoffrey had heard my many accounts of visits to the ER to care for children who had ingested medicines or poisons.

Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2012.

Orthopedic Care in Children with Special Needs

Photo: JKP author Dr. Charlotte ThompsonBy Charlotte E. Thompson, MD, author of Grandparenting a Child with Special Needs

Grandparents who have full or part-time care of a grandchild with spina bifida, cerebral palsy, or a neuromuscular disorder often have questions about what orthopedic care is needed and if appropriate orthopedic care is being received. Unfortunately, many orthopedic training programs place little emphasis on neuromuscular disorders, spina bifida, or cerebral palsy. Nevertheless, a knowledgeable pediatric orthopedist and a physical therapist are two of the most important members of a team caring for kids with these disabilities.

There are several ways that children with cerebral palsy can be helped. One is by injections of botox into spastic muscles, but this must be done by an orthopedist with wide experience in the technique. If a child has a spastic diplegia, where just the legs are involved, he or she may improve greatly with a surgery called a rhizotomy. This may be performed by a neurosurgeon and not an orthopedist. After the surgery, a pediatric physical therapist plays a most important role.

Back surgery for curvature of the spine or scoliosis may or may not help a cerebral palsy patient. The problem is that if the spasticity is severe the scoliosis may reoccur. Thus the pros and cons of surgery in these cases should be weighted carefully and often a second opinion is needed.

Arthrogryposis is a condition where one or more joints may be fixed. Surgery or serial casting can often be helpful, but this should only be done by a pediatric orthopedist with extensive experience in this disorder. Otherwise the treatment may be very painful and ineffective.

Neuromuscular disorders often present real challenges to orthopedists. Curvature of the spine in spinal muscular atrophy, muscular dystrophy, and some of the other conditions with muscle weakness can change a child’s life for better or worse. One of the principal problems is that many orthopedists do not understand that these patients must be mobilized as quickly as possible. They must never lie in bed for several days after surgery, but should be sitting up and receiving physical therapy as soon as possible. One of the most tragic cases I have seen was an orthopedist who technically was very good, but he kept a child in bed for several months and this changed her life forever. She became weaker and weaker and developed severe emotional problems. Some orthopedists insist on back braces for several months after the back surgery, but often this is not necessary.

Another problem with spinal muscular atrophy and some of the other neuromuscular problems is that because of weakness around the hip joint, the hip often comes out of the socket or is dislocated. Even when a child is not walking, orthopedists usually want to surgically put a hip back in place. I have seen cases where the hip dislocated one or more times after being surgically replaced. No surgery should be done unless there is severe pain and that usually does not occur.

Boys with Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) begin to start walking on their toes as their muscle weakness advances and their heel cords become tight. Surgery of the heel cord, called percutaneous surgery, is a specific way the heel cord tendon is cut. This procedure allows the boys to walk much longer. A short-leg brace or Ankle-Foot Orthosis (AFO) (caliper) may be needed after the surgery. With this type of surgery, physical therapy is mandatory the day following the operation. The boys must get out of bed and start walking quickly because if they are allowed to say in bed or use a wheel chair, they may never walk again. One orthopedist operated on a boy without my knowledge on a Friday afternoon. Fortunately, the mother and grandmother knew I had insisted that physical therapy should be started immediately. The child’s school physical therapist was a friend and made house calls over the weekend, so the boy would not stay in bed. He was able walk for several more years because of this. Thus, parents and grandparents must be very aggressive in order to be sure that appropriate orthopedic surgery is being done and physical therapy received, as needed.

Charcot-Marie-Tooth is quite a common disorder which affects the muscle of the feet, ankles and legs, and one of the worst problems for both kids and adults is to find shoes that fit. Patients may have quite high arches and other foot deformities, so specially made shoes may be necessary. In addition, braces or AFOs (calipers) may make a great difference, so a pediatric orthopedist should be seen periodically. Surgery on the ankles and muscles in the legs may be necessary to make a child’s walking much easier. Curvature of the spine or scoliosis can occur and should be checked for periodically. With good orthopedic care, kids should be able to ambulate for a long time, unless there is a rapid progression of muscle weakness.

Children with spina bifida often need back and other orthopedic surgeries. Ideally, these are done by an orthopedist who is connected with a spina bifida clinic and has treated many children. Braces or AFOs (calipers) are extremely important and back braces may be necessary. A good orthotist or brace maker plays a very important role in the lives of these children, as with many children who have both neuromuscular disorders and cerebral palsy. A poorly fitting brace can be painful and ineffective.

One of the important roles grandparents can play is to do a lot of research in order to find the best orthopedic care for a grandchild, if this is needed. Checking an orthopedist’s credentials is essential and in general I would never let an orthopedist who sees mostly adult patients have any involvement with these special kids. In the U.S., I refer to one pediatric orthopedist whose book is the only one published on neuromuscular disorders and I always call him when I have questions. Another orthopedist has a son with cerebral palsy and is an expert on botox treatment. I know some of the special clinics in England have orthopedists as part of their team, so the children in these clinics are very fortunate. E-mail me at cetmd@earthlink.net for more information.

Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2012.

Misdiagnosis in Neuromuscular Disorders – What Grandparents Need to Know

By Charlotte E. Thompson, MD, author of Grandparenting a Child with Special Needs.

Over the years, many grandparents have contacted me about how to be sure a grandchild with obvious muscle weakness received a correct diagnosis. Unfortunately, misdiagnosis often occurs because there are no diagnostic tests for many neuromuscular disorders and not enough pediatric neuromuscular experts world-wide. This is particularly true in the U.S., where the specialty is not a lucrative one. Also, where research grants are obtained in the U.S, the researchers involved are often not clinicians.

Physicians who are neuromuscular specialists have long recognized that there is a high incidence of misdiagnosis. Some surveys find the statistic to be as high as fifty percent – though my experience with children has been that the number is probably greater than fifty percent. An incorrect diagnosis can be harmful in several ways. If the diagnosis might be one where the patient is at risk for a potentially fatal condition called Malignant Hyperthermia (MH), this should be known so that proper precautions can be taken if an anesthetic is needed. If a child is a risk for MH, then close family members, including grandparents, should also be aware of potential problems with an anesthetic.

Another problem with an incorrect diagnosis is that when treatment becomes available for a specific disorder, it can not be started and the condition could rapidly deteriorate. I have seen several patients diagnosed as having muscular dystrophy when they actually had polymyositis or dermatomyositis. Both of these conditions will respond exceedingly well to steroids if the medication is started right away and given in appropriate doses. One child I saw, who was diagnosed as having muscular dystrophy, had obvious dermatomyositis and responded extremely well to prednisone or steroids. Fortunately, the parents and grandparents did not accept the prominent neurologist’s diagnosis and came from out of state to see me. The neurologist however, refused to accept the diagnosis even when the child was rapidly improving with treatment! Parents and grandparents need to trust their own instincts.

If a grandchild has been given the diagnosis of a neuromuscular disorder, I would first check to be sure the physician is a pediatric neuromuscular specialist. If not, I would look for a doctor who is an expert in order to be sure the diagnosis is correct. I currently refer to just one specialist in the U.S. and to one in London. You are welcome to e-mail me at cetmd@earthlink.net for their names and locations.

With all the research that is now taking place, misdiagnosis of muscle weakness in children should be improving and it certainly is in the pediatric neuromuscular centers located in the UK, China, Turkey, Kuwait, Tunis, France, Italy, and Germany. Unfortunately, when biopsies are obtained and the pathology slides are reviewed by doctors without neuromuscular training, the high rate of misdiagnosis still occurs. I think this is particularly hard on grandparents who may want the parents to get a second opinion but feel they can only push so far. Many parents these days are busy working one or two jobs, have financial or insurance constraints, and also have misplaced confidence in their local doctors. Grandparents, who have seen the deterioration in medical care, know that a second opinion is always needed when there is a serious diagnosis. My advice to grandparents is to do some research on your own, bide your time, and then present the research to the parents at a dinner out or a quiet time when the children are in bed.

Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2011.

Keeping your Grandchild with Special Needs Safe

By Charlotte E. Thompson, M.D., author of Grandparenting a Child with Special Needs

It is a great responsibility to care for a grandchild, particularly one with special needs. Keeping any grandchild safe, no matter what age or special problem can be a great challenge. One of the things I did when my children and my grandchildren were small was to do a daily or nightly check to see if there was anything that could cause harm.

As a practicing pediatrician, I have had patients swallow a razor blade, safety pin, dishwasher powder, bleach, cigarettes, and alcohol. Some caused considerable damage and required extensive surgery. Now, button or disk batteries and magnetic balls are being swallowed.

Open windows without screens, open doors leading onto second story balconies, garages, swimming pools, and even fish ponds can be dangerous.

Medicines in a bedside table, a purse, or cabinet may look like candy and be ingested by a child.

Car seats need to be appropriate for a child’s age and size and properly installed. In the UK, requirements can be found for car seats at www.childcarseats.org.uk/law.

Peanuts, hard candies, carrots, cubes of cheese, hotdogs, and popcorn can all cause choking in a small child or one with swallowing problems. Knowing how to give a child CPR can be life-saving. In the UK, on-line courses are offered at www.safekids.co.uk/CPRChildren.html. CPR is particularly important to know if a child has a seizure disorder. Posting the telephone number of your grandchild’s doctor by the phone, plus the numbers of an ambulance, the nearest hospital, and the poison center could be life-saving. Remember, too, that if you have to seek medical care for your grandchild, a letter from the child’s parents may be needed to give you permission to act for them.

Smoke detectors and fire extinguishers are important for every home as are fireplace guards and strong enclosures around wall heaters. Playpens, gates on playrooms and at the top of stairs can be life-saving. Remember to check toys for removable parts that can be swallowed. Some pacifiers can be pulled apart and having one on a string around the neck could cause strangulation.

Hot water heaters should be turned down below 120 degrees Fahrenheit (approximately 49 degrees Celsius), particularly if a grandchild has spina bifida or lacks sensation in the lower extremities. Electrical outlets can be covered with special covers and frayed cords should be replaced.

Always be aware of where the child is and what he or she is doing. Once you get into the habit of making sure your house, garage, and yard are safe, then you can sit back and enjoy your grandchild!

 Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2011.

Tips and Ideas for Grandparenting During the Holidays

by Charlotte E. Thompson, M.D., author of Grandparenting a Child with Special Needs

With the hustle and bustle of the holidays, parents often turn to the grandparents for help with their children. Then if grandparents have part- or full-time care of their grandchildren, the holidays can make the days extra busy, so fatigue becomes a real problem. Grandparents with medical problems have to be particularly careful that they don’t get overwhelmed.

Many parents and grandparents try to do lots of holiday shopping, have several holiday parities to attend and also might want to have a holiday party of their own. How do you accomplish all of this? I think the answer is that no one can do it all and you have to make conscious decisions about what is absolutely necessary and what you can omit.

I am a great list maker and by listing things in the order of importance a list can be very helpful. Of course if you are the caretaker, your very first priority should be the safety of your grandchildren. Remember that some holiday decorations are not safe. I would be particularly careful about candles and poisonous plants. Some Christmas holly, mistletoe, and other plants are poisonous. (The Internet or a gardening shop should be able to tell you which plants should not be around small children.) Breakable, special ornaments should be put away if there are small children or if a child with special needs gets out of hand.

A child with autism may find the holidays particularly difficult and meltdowns may be more frequent, as his or her routine is upset. You may need to find an extra pair of hands to help, as a near-by teenager or a college student home on vacation. If you are having a party in your home, you want to be sure someone is keeping their eyes on little children. They can quickly get into trouble. The other thing to be careful about is buying toys that are breakable or dangerous. Be sure that there are no sharp edges on the toys and no little pieces which can be pulled off. Little children will swallow anything. Books are my favorite gifts to give grandchildren of all ages.

One of the special things about holidays my children and grandchildren have always loved are traditions which are repeated each year. Perhaps your grandchildren like going to a special place, seeing the Nutcracker Ballet, making Christmas cookies or other holiday treats. When my son was divorced and became the primary parent, I started putting together a calendar with pictures of the children and their father appropriate for each month. These calendars can be made quite inexpensively and a copy shop should be able to do one for you.

Another idea is to have a party for your friends combined with a party for their grandchildren. When my children were growing up and I gave a holiday party, I would also invite my friends’ children and my two children loved being host and hostess. We had a small house but it was warm and big enough to set up games, fun food, and refreshments in the garden. You could have your grandchildren make party invitations to send ahead of time to their friends and also decorate paper napkins, a paper table cloth, and make party favors. Your grandchildren could probably come up with some other very creative ideas. The party could also have a theme. If you life in an apartment complex with a party room, it could be reserved ahead of time and the two parties could be held in different parts of the room.

There are many other traditions you can establish and these will be long remembered by your grandchildren.

Happy Holidays!

Read Charlotte’s blog post for Grandparents’ Day 2010.

Charlotte E.Thompson M.D. is a pediatrician and specialist in children’s muscle diseases. She founded and directed the Center for Handicapped Children in San Fransisco for 23 years and has worked as a consultant for six pediatric neuromuscular programs. She is a mother of two and a grandmother and lives in California.

Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2010.

JKP author Charlotte Thompson on Grandparenting a Child with Special Needs

Grandparents’ Day in the UK on Sunday, October third, should be a day to toast all grandparents who help with their grandchildren.

But the grandparents who care for a child with special needs, either part or full-time, should have very special commendations. It takes great caring and love to cope with the many problems of a child with special needs. Your patience needs to be unlimited and there are days when you want to walk or run away, but know that you can not do so.

It can also be very painful to see the challenges that the parents and child are facing. Not only do you, as grandparents, suffer for the family, but you have to find a way to handle your own pain.

The dreams you have had of just being able to love and have fun with your grandchild are gone. Instead, you realise that each day will mean new challenges, but also some worries. Yes, you can walk away, as many grandparents do. Yet in your heart you know that you are important to your grandchild and he or she is extremely important to you. The six years that I spent helping my son raise his children were often very tiring but the kids and I became extremely close and they taught me a great deal.

Remember though there will be moments of great frustration, there will also times be times of joy and triumph in overcoming some real challenges. Knowing that you play or played an important part in helping your grandchild achieve goals should give you a sense of great pride. You will also discover some unexpected sources of strength and competence of which you were not aware.

Each child is a unique, special human being. Some people are unable or don’t want to see beyond the autism or special problems and miss a child’s unusual qualities. Finding that uniqueness takes tremendous love, time, and effort, but the rewards will be great for you and your grandchild.

As grandparents, we can offer the wisdom and experience gained from raising our own children and coping with unexpected obstacles. It is important, however, that we find ways to take care of ourselves while helping with our grandchildren. Making time for some fun and exercise are essential. Otherwise the stress and worry of having a grandchild with special needs can be overwhelming. Living one day at a time and trying to find some special moments in that day can make all the days much easier and more pleasant.

Charlotte E.Thompson M.D. is a pediatrician and specialist in children’s muscle diseases. She founded and directed the Center for Handicapped Children in San Fransisco for 23 years and has worked as a consultant for six pediatric neuromuscular programs. She is a mother of two and a grandmother and lives in California.

Dr Thompson is the author of Grandparenting a Child with Special Needs, a unique guide for grandparents keen to make a difference to the lives of their children and their grandchildren. See below for details.

Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2010.

Interview with Paul Cooper – Part 4: The Innovative Learning for All series

Paul Cooper, BA, MEd, MA, PhD, CPsychol, AsFBPS, is the series editor of JKP’s Innovative Learning for All series, which features accessible books that reveal how schools and educators can meet the needs of vulnerable students, and encourage them to engage in learning and to feel confident in the classroom. This week, he’ll be answering some questions about the series and educating students with Social, Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties (SEBD).

Today, Professor Cooper gives an overview of the key resources for teachers in the Innovative Learning for All series.

What is the driving philosophy behind your Innovative Learning for All series, and how do these books work in tandem?

The Innovative Learning for All series is concerned with the fundamental need that all school students have for an effective educational experience that provides them with the resources necessary to enable full and positive engagement in 21st century society. The particular focus of the series is on those students who are at greatest risk of educational failure, particularly those with or at risk of developing Social, Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties (SEBD) and other special educational needs. The purpose of the series is to offer practical insights as well as stimuli for reflection on practice. Importantly, all the books in this series are evidence based and informed by contemporary, cutting edge theory, all of which is delivered in a style we intend to be accessible to the widest possible audience of workers in schools and anyone who is interested in ways of improving the educational engagement of children and young people who are deemed ‘difficult’ or ‘challenging’.

It is important to stress that these are not a ‘101 tips for busy teachers’ type books. Complex problems require careful and thoughtful analysis, and advice on intervention needs to be based on the solid foundation of good quality empirical evidence. Simplistic clichés, such as the idea that all students can and should be effectively educated in ‘mainstream’ classrooms are, where necessary, challenged. Whilst the books are driven by a vision of what the educational experience of students should be, they are also driven by an evidence based analysis of what we actually know about the actual day to day experience of students and their educators.

To date there are four titles in the series which kicked off with the Paul Cooper and Yonca Tiknaz book on ‘nurture groups’ (Nurture Groups in School and at Home). I will avoid the obvious temptation to eulogise the nurture group concept, other than to say that in many ways they embody almost everything that, in my view, classroom based education should reflect, with the adult-pupil relationship being at the heart of the whole enterprise. It is this empirically based insight that enables the nurture group concept to be increasingly popular (in an adapted form) in secondary schools. So whilst the first book in the series is concerned with the fundamentals of attachment, the importance of early life experience and how this can influence the development of certain difficulties later in life, the second book in the series is concerned with the concept of resilience. Carmel Cefai’s book (Promoting Resilience in the Classroom) is concerned with the ways in many individuals appear to transcend similar circumstances which are associated with the development of delinquency and SEBD in others, to lead positive and productive lives. Key themes here are school based support structures and relationships with staff in schools. Relationships revolve around communication, and Richard Rose and Michael Shelvin’s book (Count Me In!) is concerned with the vital role of the student voice in education. They show how the first hand testimony of students can illuminate the realities of schooling, as well as indicating some of the ways in which student voice can be employed in the service of improving schools. The fourth book in the series (Promoting Emotional Education) is by Carmel Cefai and Paul Cooper and is an edited collection of papers by a wide range of contributors, each of whom is concerned with different issues pertinent to the establishment of the kinds of adult-student relationship which are most likely to promote the engagement of vulnerable students. The final paper of this collection reflects on some aspects of the wider social context in which schools are embedded and highlights dysfunctions associated with this and their impact on children.

The general thrust of this book, and the series to date, is that education has a vital role to play in limiting and even overcoming the effects of social risk factors in the lives of the vulnerable, but that schools will only achieve their best when they have the support of the wider society.

Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2010.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s spotlight on Paul Cooper and the Innovative Learning for All series. Keep checking the JKP blog for more features on special education and related areas, and join our mailing list to get regular news and updates from JKP delivered straight to your inbox.

Paul Cooper, BA, MEd, MA, PhD, CPsychol, AsFBPS, is a Chartered Psychologist and has been Professor of Education at the University of Leicester, UK, since January 2001. He is also co-chair of the European Network for Social and Emotional Competence (ENSEC). Since 1989 he has held academic posts in the universities of Birmingham, Oxford and Cambridge, and has been a visiting professor and invited lecturer in many countries throughout the world, including: Japan, Taiwan, North America and several European countries. He has authored and edited over 100 journal articles and 14 books, and is the editor of the quarterly journal ‘Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties’.