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Kathy Marshack News

Parents – Have You Weighed the Risk of Football?

Friday, October 31, 2014


parents have you weighed the risks of footballWe can’t keep our children in bubble wrap. Living involves risk. Responsible parenting means we’re on the lookout for potential hazards that can harm our children. That’s why we teach them “look both ways before crossing the road” or “don’t get in a stranger’s car”. We naturally want to protect our children.

But what if your children WANT to do something that you KNOW will harm them? Do you give in and let them decide to do it? What if it’s an activity that is viewed by many as “harmless fun” or touted as “building character”? Specifically I’m thinking about football…

Is Football Safe for Children?

Recently I watched a heart wrenching YouTube video that I think all parents should watch. The handsome, grinning face of twenty-one year old Owen Thomas is followed by a photo of his tombstone. He looked so happy being a hard-hitting lineman from 9 years old and onward. Yet, out of the blue, he committed suicide.

Concussion is a leading cause of CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) in football players, which in turn has caused some players to commit suicide. Surprisingly, Owen had never experienced a concussion during all his years of playing football, so there seemed to be no explanation for his death.

It was shocking to discover that when Dr. Ann McKee, neuropathologist at BU CTE Center, examined his brain, he had advanced CTE! She concluded that the CTE had resulted from sub-concussive hits he’d experienced throughout the years of playing the game. Just from playing the game.

When you sign your child up for a sport, you know there’s a physical risk. They can sprain an ankle or even break a bone. Are you prepared to deal with the brain damage that results from playing football? I urge every parent to do the research and weigh the risks. Dr. Robert Cantu, Neurosurgeon at Boston University said, “No one under 14 should play football. The youth brain is lighter in weight, so it takes less to put it in motion. You tap a youth brain and it moves much quicker than an adult brain.”

While Dr McKee would not make a blanket proclamation for all, when asked if she had a child who was 8, 10 or 12, would she allow that child to play football, she emphatically said, “I would not, because of the way football is being played currently. It’s dangerous and it could impact their long-term mental health. You only get one brain. And you want your kids to succeed in life and be everything they can be. If there’s anything that would infringe on that, I wouldn’t do it.”

Watch the Frontline YouTube Video: Is Football Safe for Children?

Read on my website: Depression – How To Recognize The Symptoms.

How Having a Child Changes Dad’s Brain

Friday, September 12, 2014


dad bonding with his daughter

There are a growing number of stay-at-home dads – up to 2 million in 2012. According to Pew Research Center 8% of homes have single fathers. Can a father bond with his child as strongly as the maternal bond at birth? And does it matter if the child is his biological child?


These questions were asked and answered in CNN’s story, Dads' brains are ready to bond with kids. It discusses the finding from the largest parental brain study to date. The scientists wanted to determine how male and female brains function differently as parents, and more specifically, how men's brains are changed by fatherhood. What did they discover?

The amygdala, which regulates emotional response and allows the maternal bond to occur quickly, became highly active in mothers after giving birth. The months of pregnancy accelerate this connection.

Secondary caregiving fathers' brains showed a strong response in the neural network that regulates social cognitive processing.
Primary caregiving fathers activated both of the above-mentioned areas of the brain after a short time.

Being the primary caregiving parent activated the most response. Professor of psychology and lead researcher, Ruth Feldman concluded, "There's something really strong that makes mothers bond with the infant right when they're born. Fathers need a little more work for that to happen."

Across the board, they found that fathers, whether primary and secondary caregivers, increased amygdala activation when they increased their time taking caring of the child. It didn’t matter if the child was biological or adopted.

Ever one of the five key areas of being a good parent takes time – listening, consistency, teaching, modeling, and loving. Now we have scientific proof that it takes time to change the brain in order to form that close bond with your child. If you don’t feel close to your children today, perhaps it would be good to ask yourself, “How much time am I spending with each child?”

Read more on my website: Adoptive Families and Parenting.

What’s the Legalization of Marijuana Doing to Our Teens?

Thursday, September 11, 2014


teens and marijuanaThe legalization of marijuana is a hotly debated political issue. Recreational use of marijuana is legal in Colorado and Washington State. At this date, medical use is legal in Oregon as well as 20 other states, plus DC. I appreciate that in The NY Times article, Legal Marijuana for Parents, but Not Their Kids, they discuss not the legal or ethical issues, but the more important health issues attendant on this subject.

How is the legalization of marijuana affecting our children? It certainly sends mixed messages to our children. At the very least they’re going to ask, “Why is it okay for you, but not for us?” It concerns me that they may perceive that it’s now a harmless substance for them to use. However, that is far from the truth. Evidence shows that the brains of young people are still developing until their early 20s and youths who start using marijuana are at risk to long-term problems. Their likelihood of addictive behavior increases and their cognitive functions decrease.

A long-term study based in New Zealand found that “teens who smoked marijuana heavily and continued the practice into adulthood lost an average of eight I.Q. points by age 38 that could not be fully restored”. A Canadian study published in 2002 agrees that heavy marijuana use by teens results in lower cognitive abilities.

The article quotes Mr. Pasierb, the chief executive of the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, “We know that 90 percent of adults who are addicted began use in teenage years. They programmed the reward and drive center of their teenage brain that this is one of those things that rewards and drives me like food does, like sex does.”

As a psychologist who specializes in the holistic health approach, I see daily evidence that what people choose to drink, eat, or smoke greatly affects the complex interactions between mind and body. I urge parents to discuss this issue seriously with your adolescents. They need to learn how to take control of their lives and learn how to achieve optimum mental and physical health and wellness.

If your teens are struggling with the pressures of life and you’re afraid they’re turning to unhealthy means of coping, please don’t hesitate to contact my Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA office and make an appointment today. What they chose to do now will affect the rest of their lives. Let’s help them make positive choices that support them in building happy and productive lives.

Read more on my website – Holistic Health.

Caring for Someone with Autism? Make Time for Yourself

Friday, September 05, 2014


Out of Mind Out of Sight Parenting with a Partner with Asperger ASDHow do you blunt the stress of parenting a child with disabilities? Do you feel like you can’t take time for yourself? A recent NY Times article, When the Caregivers Need Healing, reminds us all that it’s vital for caregivers to make time for themselves so they have enough emotional and physical strength to continue to care for others.

All parents experience stress-filled moments when raising their children. However, parents of children with autism often experience more stress, depression and anxiety. That’s in part because the care for their autistic child is relentless – day in and day out for the rest of their lives. Plus there are the worries over how to pay for the necessary therapies.

Dr. Fred R. Volkmar, the director of Child Study Center at Yale University School of Medicine sums the situation up, “Having a child that has a disability is all-encompassing. You can see how people would lose themselves.” The article reports that researchers at Vanderbilt University tested the effectiveness of mindfulness training and positive adult development as solutions for the stress of being a caregiver.

The study did not focus on sharpening parental skills, but rather on teaching parents to tackle their stress in positive ways that helped them accept life as it is. Both methods resulted in significant reductions in stress, depression, insomnia and anxiety. Which method worked best?

The ones in the mindfulness treatment group who practiced meditation, breathing exercises, and qigong saw greater improvement than those who received positive adult development training on curbing negative thoughts, practicing gratitude and reclaiming life as an adult.

What solution is best for your specific circumstances? Enlist the help of a trained psychologist to help you create a strategy for managing the stress you deal with daily. I also share in both of my books invaluable, practical tips that I’ve drawn from years of experience helping families to thrive despite the affects of Asperger’s. If you haven’t grabbed your copies yet, now would be a very good time to do so.

Life with a Partner or Spouse with Asperger Syndrome: Going Over the Edge? is available on Amazon and AAPC Publishing.

Out of Mind – Out of Sight: Parenting with a Partner with Asperger Syndrome (ASD) is available in Kindle edition and paperback.

Read more on my website: Depression and Stress.

Are Your Teens Getting Enough Sleep?

Tuesday, September 02, 2014


teenage boy going to school after getting too little sleepDo you have a hard time getting your teens out of bed? Especially with a new school year beginning, getting enough sleep can become an issue. A recent CNN article, “Doctors: Early school start times unhealthy for students”, suggests that schools shouldn’t start before 8:30am. They support this by a recent statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics, which recommends that adolescents get 8 ½ to 9 ½ hours of sleep per night.

They link sleep deprivation in adolescents to poor academic performance, traffic accidents, depression, and obesity because they tend to eat more carbohydrates and fats. Children have even been misdiagnosed with ADHD when it’s really a sleep disorder.

They’ve found that students who get to sleep before midnight and have a later start time at school tend to be more alert and emotionally and mentally stable. They also have better attendance and academic performance and fewer car crashes.

What can parents do to help their teens get enough rest?

  • Provide a nutritious diet, which supports your child’s mental and physical health.
  • Ensure they get enough exercise during the day.
  • Set a firm bedtime and enforce it.
  • Remove TV and computer screens from the bedroom.
  • Limit the use of electronic devices and phones in bed.
  • Set up a central charging station in another part of the house.
  • Encourage routines that encourage sleep right before bed, such as reading.
  • Schedule social activities to end well before bedtime.

If you feel your child has sleep problems, consult your physician or a mental health professional, because it could be a signal for other health problems. As a psychologist, one of my major concerns is the long-term effects that can escalate into psychological disorders such as depression and anxiety.

Click here to download the NHLBI’s “Healthy Guide to Sleep” PDF.

Read more about relaxation techniques on my website – Psychotherapy Options.

Thinking About Turning Over the Family Business?

Wednesday, August 27, 2014


father grooming son for family businessAfter years of building a successful business, many owners want to keep it in the family. That brings up the difficult issue of succession. Perhaps your children and grandchildren have grown up with the business. And as they’ve gained abilities, they’ve become valuable members of the family firm. While your children may be highly skilled in their particular specialty, do they have what it takes to lead your team to excellence in your industry?

The qualities of a leader are many. And to some extent the type of leadership style that works in one setting may not work in another. What is common to all successful leaders however, is the ability to communicate with his or her subordinates, colleagues and superiors. The confident leader communicates this confidence and encourages the best from others.

Leaders of family firms who want the best for their families and their business confront the problem of cultivating leadership openly and honestly. They insist on training the next generation in the development of problem solving skills, communication skills, confrontation skills as well as the skills of the specific product manufactured. They also need what I call “the resilience factor", which embraces the qualities of flexibility, a win-win philosophy, quality over quantity, toughness, and foresight.

There are a variety of strategies for ensuring that the second generation in family firms is prepared. The strategy that fits for you depends upon the business, the parent's skills and personality and the skills and personalities of the children.

The child needs an environment where they must prove themselves capable of leadership in the family business. For some this means leaving the business for awhile and working elsewhere. For others, it means getting an education before returning to the family business. Another child may benefit by working their way up from the "mailroom" with no preferential treatment from the parents. Finally, some children will be better family members and more capable adults if they never return to the family business.

There are two goals in family firms. One is to develop a thriving business. The second is to develop healthy independent adults who can contribute to society.

Keep in mind that the business can be successful without the child and the child can be successful without the business. That is, set your sights on accomplishing both goals independent of each other, and you may be surprised how they come together in the long run.

Often it helps to get an objective view of your family and business. A psychologist is skilled at helping you sort out your choices and get clear on your objectives when making big decisions in life. If you’re ready to gain that kind of clarity in your own life, make an appointment with my Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA office.

How Can Families Thrive When It’s Mom Who Has Asperger’s Syndrome?

Tuesday, July 15, 2014


mom has aspergers syndromeEven though it is more common for a husband to have Asperger’s Syndrome, it’s quite possible for a mother to have it too. Recent statistics from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention show that five times more males are diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome (AS) than females. And while males can reliably be diagnosed as early as 18 months to two years of age; females are often not diagnosed until adulthood.

This presents a real challenge to family happiness, because culturally women are revered as the nurturers of the family. And while women with Asperger’s generally accept that it is a woman’s duty to care for the children and maintain the household and in general keep the family happy and healthy, they just are not very well equipped to handle this role. As a result they are viewed as cold, uncaring, and selfish because they can’t live up to what’s expected of them.

Because women often go undiagnosed, dads are clueless as to why their family dynamics aren’t working. Nuero-Typical (non-Asperger) men need to learn about Asperger Syndrome and be able to talk about their experiences in order to learn how to cope and indeed help themselves and their families to thrive under these challenging circumstances.

How do many Neuro-Typical (NT) dads react when they are faced with a spouse that has Asperger’s Syndrome?

On the surface their reaction is the same as many NT mom’s. They’re angry and hurt. And since they see their wives as neglectful of and abusive to their children, because they expect their wives to be the more nurturing parent, these feelings are magnified for an NT dad. Without help, the NT father gets angrier and angrier. This clouds the real problem—his undiagnosed Asperger’s wife and her limited parenting skills. Anger and withdrawal are common ways NT dads deal with parenting problems associated with marriage to an Aspie wife.

NT dads should recognize the anger for what it is, depression. They feel trapped by the double bind of wanting to protect their children and wanting to be free of the emotional neglect in their marriage. Even in our contemporary society, the role reversal for NT dads is hard. Besides working full-time, these dads must come home and do much of the cooking, cleaning and caring for the children.

Something that exacerbates the problem is that many NT dads grew up in families with members who are autistic. These men may unconsciously have sought out an Aspie spouse, because it is a dynamic with which they are familiar. If they have not learned how to cope with Asperger’s in their childhood, which is very likely the case, they will carry this dysfunctional behavior into their married lives.

What can NT dads do to help their families to thrive?

Recognizing the problem is an important first step. If you’re a dad dealing with an AS spouse, get professional help immediately for your own sake and that of your family. Trust that your anger is not without reason, and realize that staying angry will only make you sick and destroy the family. Family counseling is good, but it’s also advisable for dads to find a personal therapist, separate from the marital therapist. NT dads need a safe place to talk and resolve their feelings of anger without being destructive.

Read a free chapter of “Our of Mind – Out of Sight: Parenting with a Partner with Asperger Syndrome (ASD)”. This book discusses the science behind Aspie behavior and how you can initiate the rules of engagement that help your Aspie give you and your children the emotional support you need.

Studies Show How Fathers Influence Our Decisions

Thursday, June 19, 2014


father's influence on childrenDoes a father’s presence really make a difference in whether or not his children have a successful life? For years, the father’s influence on the family has been overlooked in scientific research. Now that family dynamics are changing, this is an important question to revisit. Paul Raeburn’s recent article in Scientific American discusses some studies that are shedding new light. Here are a few of the findings:

Richard Koestner, a psychologist at McGill University, looked back at 75 men and women who had been part of a study at Yale University in the 1950s, and he concluded that the one factor that affects a child’s ability to show empathy isn’t how affectionate the parents are, but rather how much time the father spent with the child.

Melanie Horn Mallers, a psychologist at California State University, Fullerton, found that sons who had good relationships with their fathers handle day-to-day stresses better.

A team at the University of Toronto found that when a child views his or her mother’s face, there’s activity in several parts of the brain. However, viewing father’s face caused activity in the part of the brain associated with feelings of love – the caudate.

Ronald P. Rohner of the University of Connecticut thinks that parental acceptance from both the mother and father influence their children’s personalities. Those who feel accepted are independent and emotionally stable, have strong self-esteem and hold a positive worldview. Those who feel rejected are hostile, feel inadequate, and are prone to instability and negativity.

Bruce J. Ellis of the University of Arizona found that when girls are close to their fathers and spent a lot of time with them during the first five to seven years, they enter puberty later and show more sexual restraint.

Psychologists Sarah E. Hill and Danielle J. DelPriore, both at Texas Christian University discovered that a father’s absence, physically or psychologically, accelerates the daughters’ reproductive development and increases the likelihood of engaging in sexually risky behavior.

It’s one thing to understand the facts in these studies, it’s another thing to see how to improve the dynamics in your family. Parenting is too important of a job to wing it so don’t be afraid to ask for help. A family counselor can help you – if you live near Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA, contact my office and set up an appointment.

To learn more about being a good parent visit – Parenting.

Are You Using Tablet Apps to Help Children with Autism?

Wednesday, June 04, 2014


tablet apps for children with autismAs a parent, you know how much your autistic child struggles to communicate and learn. Whenever we discover new tools that can make this easier, we’re happy to share those with you. Recently the CNN story by Kelly Heather, “Using tablets to reach kids with autism,” brought to my attention different apps that, while they weren’t necessarily designed for those with autism, are proving to be very useful.

Tablets can be very entertaining as children play games and watching videos on them. But when you use the right app, they can do so much more to help those with autism to communicate and learn. Here are a few apps that you might find useful:

Puppet Pals allows you to recreate social scenes in a play format, so everyone can discuss how a situation can be improved. The article gives an example of when two boys who were playing together turned to hurtful behavior. Their speech therapist used this iPad app to recreate the incident using photos of the classroom and the kids involved to set the scene. As they watched it together they discussed what went wrong and how they could avoid a situation like that in the future.

Flummox and Friends is an app and a TV show that appeals to 6 to 12 year old children with autism. It uses humor to teach social skills. Inventors and their friends guide kids as they invent new ways of dealing with tricky social situations so your child discovers new solutions for themselves, too.

Siri is an interactive app that can help children with their articulation. A person speaks in a normal voice and it understands what is said and can send it as a message. It can even talk back.

Tablets are easy to use, since they can be held in the lap and don’t need a mouse. Your child simply touches the screen instead. They are relatively inexpensive tools that help parents and educators communicate with and teach those on the autism spectrum. For children who aren't speaking, there are even a lot of different voice-output apps available.

Sometimes to reach someone with autism you need to be creative. In my practice, I’ve discovered that use texting within the session helps autistic adults and youth who struggle with communication to be relaxed and actually enjoy our conversations. Have you found an app that would benefit those on the autism spectrum that you’d like to recommend? If so, please join me on my Facebook page, (https://www.facebook.com/Kathy.Marshack.Ph.D) and let us know what it is.

Confused about which app to use? Check out Apps for Autism, a new Australian website designed to help you choose.

Are Mental Disorders More Prevalent in Children of Older Fathers?

Tuesday, April 22, 2014


kids of older dads may be more prone to mental disorders such as bipolar disorder, autism and schizophreniaMany men postpone having children until they are financially established. As a result, they are becoming parents in their 30’s, 40’s and even 50’s. We’ve known for years that women aged 40 and over run a greater risk of having children who are autistic. Now, according to a recently published study, the age of the father may also be a factor in the increase of mental disorders such as bipolar disorder, autism and schizophrenia.

Science reporter, Benedict Carey reported on this hotly debated issue in a recent New York Times article. The study was conducted in Sweden and compared siblings within families. The children born when the father was young differed from the children that came years later. They found that the risk for mental disorders rose as the paternal age increased.

Why may this be happening? The article explains:
“Any increased risk due solely to paternal age is most likely a result of the accumulation of genetic mutations in sperm cells. Unlike women, who age with a limited number of eggs, men have to replenish their supply of sperm cells. Studies suggest that the cells’ repeated reproductions lead to the accumulation of random errors over time, called de novo mutations. Most such mutations are harmless, geneticists say, but some have been linked to mental disorders.”

Should you be concerned? This certainly shouldn’t panic you. We have to be careful how studies are interpreted. It would be unfounded to jump to the conclusion that producing children after the age of 30 means they are certain to having mental disorders. But it’s good to be aware that this may be a contributing factor. And it should be included in your discussion as a couple about whether or not you want to have children.

There’s no guarantee that any child will be born without serious health problems. The issue is how will you handle the challenge if your child does suffer a birth defect or has a mental disorder. My advice is not to worry excessively, but if you see indications that your child is not responding as he or she should be, seek the advice of a professional who is trained in diagnosing such disorders. Working closely with your child’s pediatrician, these professionals will be able to assess the situation, educate you on what the diagnosis means and help you and your child to cope as a family.

Are you looking for guidance regarding your relationship with a family member with Asperger Syndrome? For further Autism Spectrum Disorder resources see Remote Education Asperger Relationships.



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