The Dragonfly Forest

They have been given names such as devil’s darning needle, ear sewer, horse stinger, skeeter hawk, and the snake’s servant. Actually, Dragonflies are beneficial, peaceful, and stunning. You are a Dragonfly if you are: ADD/ADHD, dyslexic, dysgraphic, Asperger’s, NLVD, autistic…

Friday, September 9, 2016

Depression in school-aged children especially those with disabilities

 Please share & here's a link about WHAT TO DO ABOUT SUICIDE!  

A true story about depression – this could be you:

A student, "Thomas." has a learning disability and an IEP (the type of LD doesn’t matter as any will fit here for this story).  He knows that he doesn’t learn like the other students, is often excluded by his peers (bullied as well), and feels overwhelmed in the school environment.  Over time Thomas became depressed, he refused to attend school, and eventually he contemplated suicide.  His parents have always been strong advocates for their son and contacted the school seeking help. The parents were surprised when instead of receiving support they were attacked and blamed for his current situation.  The school principal became defensive and stated that the parents are at fault and they “need to work with them, not against them.”  The guidance counselor also condemned the parents stating as a counselor she is too busy to address all the needs of the students and she has done nothing wrong.  The parents got help for their son outside of the school district but was not able to obtain appropriate support at the school which was the source of problem. 

The Facts:

September is Suicide Awareness week and October is Depression Awareness Month so I want to address an issue that is often brushed aside and minimized.  It is depression.  Depression is one of the most common mental disorders and according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) 1 in 11 children will experience clinical depression before the age of 14.  Furthermore, the risk for depression increases as a child gets older and is the leading cause of disability among Americans ages 15-44 according to the World Health Organization (WHO).  Depression affects a person’s entire physical and mental well-being. 

Did you know that students with learning disabilities (LD) have statistically higher accounts of depressions than their peers without LD?  Having a disability makes attending school challenging.  Students with disabilities know that their lives are not under their control, they are painfully aware that they don’t fit in, have academic failures, and experience a number of social rejections. Unfortunately, depression is not addressed in schools (another forbidden “D” word).  Many if not all kids with learning disabilities experience Learned Helplessness and this does NOT mean the child is coddled by their parents! Read this article to educate yourself on Learned Helplessness!

One of the reasons depression is not discussed, is shame.  Parents already experience a number of emotions regarding having a child with a disability.  To make matters worse, teachers, counselors, school psychologists, and administrators often blame parents for the child’s academic struggles and behaviors.  I am frequently in meetings where school staff members give parenting advice and have blatantly stated that the child wouldn’t have these difficulties if the parents would only…“read with the child, help with homework, stop doing the child’s homework, discipline consistently, stop cuddling the child, reduce their social/sports schedule, increase their social/sports schedule”, and the list is endless.  When parents already feel responsible for their child’s struggles these comments only make the situation worse, not better.  This “blame the parents” approach makes it more difficult for the parents to bring up concerns about depression and the school staff perceiving the symptoms of depression as a parenting problem.

The second reason depression is not discussed is because people don’t know the symptoms of depression in children and adolescents, especially ones with a disability.  The symptoms of depression are often common signs for other problems and the severity of these symptoms is not taken seriously.    

The following are some symptoms of depression (these will be unique for each person):
  • Irritability, anger, angry outbursts  
  • Continuous feelings of sadness, hopelessness, helplessness – feeling melancholy or sad most of the day
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Over clinging to parents
  • Feelings of anxiety, phobias
  • Increased sensitivity to rejection or criticism
  • Changes in appetite - either increased (weight gain) or decreased (weight loss)
  • Changes in sleep (sleeplessness, too much sleep)
  • Crying, temper tantrums, or sulking
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Memory loss
  • Fatigue (tiredness) low or decreased energy
  • Physical Complaints or chronic pain (stomach aches, headaches) that do not respond to treatment (possible real physical problem or feigning illness)
  • Digestive Disorders
  • Reduced ability to function during activities at home or with friend, in school, extracurricular activities, and in hobbies or interests
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Getting into trouble, increased behavior problems
  • Inability to experience pleasure or excitement even when doing activities that were pleasurable
  • Mania or putting on a good front by being over happy
  • Experimentation with drugs or alcohol
  • Thoughts or talk of death or suicide
To get a direct perspective of what depression it is like for a popular non-learning disabled student watch this video of Kevin Breel (Confessions of a Depressed Comic):  Watch one of the two - sometimes phones do not allow a video to play so you have two options to choose from but they are the same video!

Embedded video 

Youtube upload video

What can be done:

Depression can be treated and children experiencing depression MUST be treated because if they do not get help it will only get worse.  According to the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) once a child experiences depression, the child is at risk of developing another depression within five years.  Eventually, the child may contemplate or attempt suicide.  Did you know that according to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, suicide is the third leading cause of death for 5-15 year-olds?    

If we continue to minimize depression we risk losing children to suicide.  Is this a risk we want to take?  NO!

So, make sure you, as a parent know what to look for regarding depression.  Ask the school staff members to also be educated on depression and look for signs and symptoms in all children.  The earlier this is caught the easier it is to treat. 

(Image: a figure sitting with their hands clasped and their head down and the words "Did you know?  1 in 11 children will experience clinical depression before the age of 14 & suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death for 5-15 year-olds?  It's time to talk about depression")

Monday, September 5, 2016

Happy Birthday Freddie Mercury

Needing a little Freddie Mercury in my life today!  Here's some videos so you too can watch the talent this man had.  He is on my list of people I admire!  I have a lot going on in my life right now & these songs are what I needed to get through my day.  Amazing how someone who is no longer with us can make me feel like I have to power to be who I am and keep going even when I don't want to!  Enjoy...

"Somebody to Love" 

 "Don't Stop me now!"

"We Will Rock You & We are the Champion"

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Cartoon Saturday! Humor in life

Sometimes we need to laugh at life - here's the cartoons I posted on some of the Facebook pages I admin. for Cartoon Saturday!

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Spiritual Sunday: What to do about Suicide

Today is August 14, 2016 and I could write almost the exact same words today as I did on May 18, 2014.  I was thinking about writing something positive and motivating for a Spiritual Sunday post because I've been so busy with work I have not been able to post as often as I want.  Instead, I logged on my computer and saw about a young boy who committed suicide... again.  He wrote in a note that he was bullied and teachers didn't help. Here's that article: "'I gave up:' 13 - Year-Old boy commits suicide after he claims school 'Didn't do anything' to stop his bullies." 

This breaks my heart!  I just don't understand how adult who have the power to make life better for children do not step in and really make a difference.  Sometimes adults are the bullies as well.  My biggest concern about this article is it seems the child failed his grade in school.  I see this way too often - students getting failing grades and adults at the school do nothing but let the child fail.  The student is the one blamed for the failing.  This makes me so angry because adults have the power to step in and work on figuring out WHY the student is failing. I will write more on this topic but in the meantime here's an article I wrote in May 2014~~

From May 18, 2014:
I woke up today thinking about what I wanted to share on Spiritual Sunday.  It has been a while since I posted a Spiritual Sunday because I've been struggling spiritually.  I just can't seem to understand why people lack empathy. Now, I wake up to read an article in the Columbus Dispatch newspaper about a teenage girl committing suicide and bullying was reported as one of the factors.  Here is the article: Pickerington teen's suicide raises concern: How much was bullying to blame?

My heart is breaking.  I did not know this girl but I know her pain.  I have felt this pain many times myself.  I work with people who feel this pain or have felt this pain in their past. I have written about Bullying and Suicide on November 19, 2013 after another teen suicide.  I have been making a plea to educators to STOP teaching "Anti-Bullying" programs and start teaching EMPATHY!   What we focus on we expand so if we are focused on bullying we will get bullying if we focus on empathy we will get empathy!  I wrote Empathy is the Antidote to Bullying on January 29, 2013 in hopes that we can start making this change.  I'm saddened that we now have lost another unique and beautiful person to suicide. 

Many people struggle with empathy when it comes to a person's depression and/or suicidal ideations.  These topics make people uncomfortable and often the person feeling these ways stays silent, puts a smile on their face, and suffers alone.  They know that no one will really understand or the other person will minimize their feelings.  People need to realize that the person often doesn't really want to die they want the pain to end.  When other's show empathy the pain can end!!!

(Image: picture of a black & blue dragonfly & quote from Orson Scott Card's book 'Ender's Shadow' - "In my view, suicide is not really a wish for life to end.'  'What is it then?'  'I is the only way a powerless person can find to make everybody else look away from his shame. The wish is not to die, but to hide.")

So what can you do about suicide?  You can start paying attention to those around you.  You can start showing REAL empathy.  Know the difference between empathy & sympathy- here's a quick video to help you understand this: 


Remember that you do have the power to make the difference in someone else's life.  You can prevent a person from committing suicide and you may never know that you did because the person will not tell you they were wanting to escape this pain (world).  Often people, like this recent teen, Cora Delille, didn't share her pain overtly with family and friends.  She kept most of her pain silent but if others have empathy they will see that she is struggling with something and reach out to her.  If covert bullying (relational aggression) was happening in school then teachers need to be more diligent by watching students interact- there are signs of relational aggression (name calling, excluding, teasing, avoid behaviors, mean looks...).  
(Image: a silhouette picture of a person sitting holding their knees with their head down and a quote titled 'Be a friend save a life' - "Suicidal thoughts happen when pain exceeds the amount of resources needed for coping. Family and friends are often unaware of the suicidal ideations. If a loved one is depressed or under a great deal of stress, be a resource. Listen to his/her worries, stressors, and fears.  Make no judgements.  Just listen and provide support.") 

Please start paying attention to those around you (especially if they are a student who has learning disabilities - see picture below)! Practice empathy on a daily basis.  Let's teach all our children to be emphatic so they will be kinder to one another.  Please pass this on to help save the life of someone in pain.  Finally, remember I really do care about the lives of everyone and always here.  If you are in pain, know you are not alone!

Here's a link to a recent post about Asking for Help.  This is another very important post for parents!

(Image: student sitting at a computer desk with books in front of him and he is holding his head in his hands looking down as if defeated and a quote from Stephanie Sergent Daniel's article 'Reading Disabilities Put Students at Risk for Suicidal Thoughts and Behaviors and Dropping Out of School' - "In our study, poor readers were three times more likely than typical readers to consider or attempt suicide ant six times more likely to drop out of school.  Educators and parents should be aware of the risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors among adolescents with reading problems.")

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Spiritual Sunday - Define Success

What is your definition of success?  I mean really think about how you perceive someone who is successful. Are they someone who has achieved high career status, academic status, or is it about how much money and material things they have?    

Are you sure that is success?  I'm not going to tell you what success is because that is really for you to explore within your own self.  It is very important that you evaluate your life and decide for yourself (NO ONE ELSE) if you are living a successful life.

Here's one of my favorite quotes I read when I start feeling like I am not being successful:

So, now how do you think about success?  Have a blessed Sunday!  

Jill Marie-Grandstaff Lam

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Dr. King & Lessons from A Class Divided

Re-sharing today (7/21/2016) because for some reason people just do not understand discrimination.

In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day I want to talk about discrimination.

To start watch "A Class Divided" 

Yes, Jane Elliott’s Brown Eyes/Blue Eyes is a powerful video on racism.  It gives insights in to the personal experiences of how we discriminate based on the attribute of the color of eyes or the color of one’s skin.  Let’s think outside of the box on this one and see how this is also a great lesson on how we treat people with learning disabilities (Dyslexia, ADHD, Dysgraphia, Asperger’s….) and other types of disabilities (physical, deaf, blind…) in school settings. 

To help you understand this I’m going to explain it as “Butterflies” vs. “Dragonflies.”  Butterflies are “typical” students who learn easily; have athletic and/or academic talents; and viewed by others as beautiful.  Dragonflies on the other hand are students with disabilities and challenges (with or without IEP/504’s); they struggle academically, athletically, socially, and/or emotionally; and are viewed by others as scary, not fitting in, and different.   In school environments it is often assumed that “Butterflies are better than Dragonflies.” 

The Butterflies are more likely to be given extra opportunities in school such as crossing guard or member of student council.  Teachers are concerned if they give Dragonflies positions of responsibilities they will not be able to handle the job so they can only be given to Butterflies.   

Butterflies are picked more often for awards and accolades because they are “easy to teach” and “well-liked by their teachers and peers.”   For more details on this check out my post on Stop the Shaming: why ceremonies and graduations need to change.  The Dragonflies are not often not given these awards and accolades because: they are so challenging to teach; they may be experiencing Learned Helplessness (explained in the linked post) from the years of discrimination, shame, and pain that they have just given up trying; they just don’t fit in socially.

Butterflies are given positive reinforcements in the classroom while the Dragonflies often receive negative reinforcements.  When you observe an elementary classroom room where a teacher has a Colored behavior chart more Dragonflies are on Yellow and Red than Butterflies.    The Butterflies are most likely on Green and get to run special errands for teachers or get to sit in special places in the room. 

As you can see the list of the differences can go on and on but the key point here is how Dragonflies are not just discriminated against by their teachers but this treatment is seen as acceptable to their peers as well since the students will model the behaviors of the teachers. 

So when thinking about Martin Luther King Jr. today think about how we still treat students who learn differently (academically or socially) as less than the students who are “Mainstream” learners.  Dragonflies are often excluded from classes that Butterflies receive automatically such as gym, art, and other electives because the Dragonflies need extra teacher support to learn. Schools require students to take these foreign language classes and although students with learning disabilities would benefit from American Sign Language it is too much trouble to make this happen so they just have to struggle (causing emotional pain) or not participate (excluded from a class open to non-disabled peers).  For some reason it seems acceptable to the adults to take away opportunities from Dragonfly students using the reasoning that teachers can’t work beyond school hours, it would cost too much to provide the services, or they don't want to make a specific accommodation.  For more details on this visit the following post: Dr. King’s Legacy Regarding Discrimination in Education.

So here is my question to you: What are we really teaching our children in schools?  Are we teaching them empathy or are we teaching them discrimination?  By excluding the Dragonfly students from the events and opportunities that are freely given to Butterflies we are condoning discrimination.  I am often told that the Butterflies have “earned” these privileges but the Dragonflies have not so they do not deserve them.  So you really think that because Little Johnny can’t read that he should have to be pulled from gym, art, or recess so he can be taught to read?   By the way, maybe we should go back to teaching student using the Orton-Gillingham reading program- look for this scene in the movie!

Maybe you think it is safer to not have Little Sarah as the library helper because she has impulsive ADHD and may get lost in the hallway or forget what she was doing (or is it really because it would just be easier for you to not have to supervisor her so you will send the “responsible” student).   Then there’s the student who is socially awkward and wanted to be a “student leader” but you think that a different student would be a better role model (the 'popular' student).  By denying students these opportunities you are discrimination against them and perpetuating the belief that there really is something wrong with Dragonflies.  

We need to practice lessons we have learned from Dr. King:

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

We all have Bias - learn to stop being so judgmental

Re-sharing - a post I wrote back in June 2013 but think it needs to be addressed again!  

There has been a lot of discussion in the media about racism, sexism, homophobia, equality… (There is no need to identify these stories because they could be any story; even your own story of being oppressed, discriminated against, of judged).   I will address these issues because they are vital to making the world a better place; so we can do better now that we will know better!  To do this we must first understand implicit bias and confirmation bias.  EVERYONE makes judgments based on both of these biases.  They are rooted in our upbringing and may be so deep you are not aware they exist.  But do not think that you are not prejudice or bias because we all are; it’s human nature. 
Understanding Bias:
Implicit bias is the unconscious attitudes and beliefs that can be expressed overtly or covertly.  These implicit biases develop early in our lives and can occur even if we believe we have no biases toward others.  Implicit bias can be measured (Harvard has done some great research in this area).  These biases are not only about race but also about: age, disabilities, religion, gender, and so on. 
Watch this video of Alan Alda taking this test and explain implicit bias.


Here’s the link to check your own implicit bias: Implicit Bias Test 
People do not base their decisions and opinions on fact but instead on confirmation bias.  Confirmation bias is the process of paying attention to information about a person/topic/issue that confirms (validates) your belief/opinion and ignoring, minimizing, or rationalizing the information that does not support your belief/opinion.  The more emotionally charged an issue or topic is the more this bias occurs.  The recent political race is a perfect example of confirmation bias.   If a person liked one presidential candidate then most of the things that candidate said or did was spun in a positive light.  The other candidate could have done or said the exact same things but these would have been seen in a negative light. 
 Here’s a quick video that explains confirmation bias:


Our brains automatically engage in low-effort information processing which consists of stereotyping and judgments (implicit bias).   We then look for information that validates these beliefs and opinions while we ignore or minimize information that disproves these beliefs and opinions (confirmation bias).  This happens with EVERYONE!  
This can change only if we do a few things:  First, we need to acknowledge and accept that we have biases.  We need to be openly admit these to ourselves.  Second, we need to willingly look at all the evidence and use our OWN critical thinking skills.  Decisions need to be made based on evidence (not only the evidence you want to look at - that's confirmation bias).  This is not easy because your biases will get in the way.  We expect others to be emphatic  to understand us, our points of view, and accept our values and beliefs but we often don’t practice empathy to others. 
Remember that empathy is NOT feeling what another person feels it is UNDERSTANDING the other person’s emotions, experiences, situations…  It does not mean that you have to agree with the person but that you understand why they believe what they believe and feel what they feel.  When you have empathy you don’t try to change another person’s belief to your belief.  You don’t judge others because empathy is the antidote to bias, bigotry, and bullying!
When people become aware (conscious) of the potential for prejudice, they often attempt to correct for it and are less likely to exhibit bias behaviors (overt and covert).  Nevertheless, just understanding implicit bias and confirmation bias is not enough.  Actions, with the intent to do better, must occur on a daily basis.
Please watch the final video of Oprah speaking about Maya Angelou words “when you know better, you do better.”  (If you have not watched any of the other videos than please watch this one.)