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Kathy Marshack News

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, ( 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.

Parents – Do You Want to Talk with Your Teen? But Feel Shut Out

Friday, March 14, 2014

parenting tips for talking with teensAs parents, we love our children and we do whatever we can to make their lives happy and healthy. So to wake up one morning and discover your teen is shutting you out is heart wrenching. The closeness you once had seems to be gone for good. Having raised two children and counseled hundreds of adolescents I understand how hard it can be.

Remember that teenagers are going through huge transitions within their bodies, emotions and minds. They are also experiencing external pressures from peers and the world they’re trying to fit into. So now more than ever, your children need you to be in their corner looking out for them. However, the challenge is that the very changes they are experiencing makes them push you away as they learn to become independent of you.

Is it possible for parents to maintain or regain good communication with their teens? Yes! I was pleased to see a recent CNN article that recounts the experiences of many parents who successfully reach their teens. They shared their advice, including the following tips:

  • Try to keep serious discussions as "light" as you can. (At the same time, avoid making them think it’s trivial to you.)
  • Don’t be afraid to tackle any subject. (They will learn it from you or someone else.)
  • Be willing to reveal your own vulnerabilities and mistakes. (This helps them see you as a real person not just as “mom” or “dad”.)
  • Learn to keep your face expressionless and think before you speak. (You don’t want to over react when you hear something you don’t like.)
  • Don’t micromanage everything for them. (They need to be given responsibility they can handle and made to feel like you trust them to do the right thing.)
  • Communicate in a way that’s comfortable for your teen. (It’s easier to talk when doing things together like cooking dinner or driving in the car.)
  • Start talking when your children are young. (But know that it is never too late.)

Be sure to check out the slide show at the top of Kelly Wallace’s story. These parental suggestions contain some real gems of wisdom.

If you’d like some more parenting tips, check out the five key skills all parents need on my website – Am I a Good Parent.

Please join me on Twitter and share your thought about how you keep the lines of communication open or things you remember your parents doing that really made a difference in your life. Please use #parentingtips and @KathyMarshack so I will see your comments.

Robbie’s List of Helpful Back to School Resources for Kids with Special Needs

Thursday, March 06, 2014

back to school resources for special needs kidsRecently I felt so honored that one of my young readers reached out to me because, after reading my article, Help Your Special Needs Child Prepare for the New School Year, he wanted to share additional helpful online resources that parents and teachers can use to benefit children with special needs. (His tutor, Kelly Campbell, from helped him.)

This young man clearly wants to make a difference in the world that he lives in. His name is Robbie. He chose to do research for a school project called “How to Prepare for the Start of School”. While doing his research, he compiled a list to share with me, so I could share it with you. I am very happy to do so today.

Robbie’s List of Back to School Resources for Children with Special Needs

Back to School Resources This is a list of links from to learn about resources for health (checkups, immunizations, healthy eating, physical fitness) and school (school bus safety, financial aid, homework help, supplies).

20 Apps for Play-Based Learning This is a list of 20 (apps) games with a brief description for each, pricing, and which device they work on.

Homework Help This offers a comprehensive PDF that lists why homework is beneficial and how special needs children can get the most from it. School-Related Information on a Safe Site This is a list of links for information that teachers and parents can use when teaching children about Art, Exercise, Fitness and Nutrition, Government, Health and Safety, History, Jobs, Math, Money, Music, Online Safety, Reading and Writing, Science and Social Studies.

Parent's Guide to Finding Safe Online Communities for Kids These are guidelines that alert parents to potential dangers online as well as tips for finding safe online sites that comply with Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).

I’m sure you’ll agree that Robbie has compiled some very helpful information that parents and teachers can utilize when teaching children, especially those with special needs.

When a young person takes this kind of initiative I am very impressed. Clearly Robbie is one of those people who will make a difference in the world. It only takes one small kindness such as his to make a difference.

Please leave a comment below (simply click on the comments link below and submit your comment) or share your thoughts on my Facebook page so Robbie can see how all of you feel about his very much-appreciated contribution today.

What Are You Really Teaching Your Children About Money?

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

When children are young, they don’t understand the concept of what money is and how it works. Offer a little one the choice between a dull dime and a bright shiny nickel, and they’ll pick the nickel because it’s pretty and bigger.

When a child doesn’t learn the real value of money, as an adult they will struggle with money problems, which may escalate into relationship problems. Either they’ll undervalue it and squander it, thinking they can just ask for more. Or they’ll go to the other extreme of attaching too much importance to it sacrificing their own health or relationships for it.

A healthy view of money sees money as a means of exchanging what you have for what you want or need. To get money, you expend resources, such as time, accumulated knowledge and energy, to earn it. How can you instill good financial habits in children? What money values do you want your children to live by? An article written by a financial advisor, Wayne Von Borstel, made me think about this topic today. He had some very good advice.

First and foremost parents teach by example. Your children will copy your attitude toward money and the way you handle it. This is especially true if you run a family-owned business

You can discuss with your partner these questions to determine what model you’re giving to your children:

Do I argue over money with my spouse? Do we have a budget? Do we spend beyond our means, wracking up huge credit card debt? Do we make monthly deposits to a savings account? Do we make charitable donations? Do we keep funds especially earmarked for emergencies that can’t be dipped into for any reason? Do we save money for a vacation as a family? Have we set up a college fund for our children? Do we require our children to contribute toward any of these?

Helping your children see the real value of money also involves actively participating in making and spending money. When they earn the money they spend, they’ll make the connection that the amount available is limited by the time and effort put into earning it. This contributes toward creating a good work ethic. And as you guide them in how to spend money wisely, perhaps entrusting them with a specific amount for buying school clothes, or saving a portion in a savings account or college fund, they learn good financial habits.

What do you do when you want to train your children in money management, but your spouse has different ideas? Are you searching for conflict resolution techniques that really solve the issues over money in your family? If so, then contact my Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA office and set up an appointment.

If you’re an entrepreneuerial couple I address parenting and financial disagreements in my book, Entrepreneurial Couples: Making It Work at Work and at Home. You can also read Wayne Von Borstel’s entire article, 8 Ways to Maximize a Child’s Financial Potential, here.

Medication or Therapy? Which Treatment Is Best for your ADHD Children?

Friday, February 07, 2014

best treatment for adhd childrenThere has been a decades long debate whether medication or behavioral therapy is the best long-term treatment for children with ADHD. So an article written by Alan Schwarz in the New York Times caught my eye. He reports that the original findings of the Multimodal Treatment Study of Children With A.D.H.D were taken to mean that medication was hands down the best option.

Now, some of the authors of this study are worried that these findings were skewed because they tested primarily for reducing the hyperactivity and lack of focus, which medication is designed to remedy quickly. How children perform in school and on a social level was not addressed in the study.

He reports that one of the study researchers, Stephen Hinshaw, a psychologist at U.C. Berkeley said, “My belief based on the science is that symptom reduction is a good thing, but adding skill-building is a better thing. If you don’t provide skills-based training, you’re doing the kid a disservice. I wish we had had a fairer test.”

Medication can treat the symptoms of hyperactivity and improve the ability to concentrate. This makes a person more receptive to learning new behaviors. But life-long improvement in interpersonal relationships must include learning, through therapy, social skills among which is empathy. Kids with ADHD are not just impulsive and distractible they also often ignore the feelings of others.

Behavioral therapy, emotional counseling and practical support are all needed to improve the child’s self-esteem and ability to cope with the frustrations of daily life. Some children release this frustration by acting contrary, starting fights or destroying property. Some turn the frustration into body ailments, like the stomachache before school. Still others hide how badly they feel.

Over time a therapist can help people with ADHD identify and build on their strengths and learn to cope with daily stresses in a constructive way. If you live near Portland, OR or Vancouver, WA, and would like assistance for your child, please contact my office and set up an appointment.

You can read more about Parenting a Child with ADD/ADHD on my website.

Pharmaceutical Ad Campaigns Influence Over-Diagnosis of ADHD

Monday, January 20, 2014

boy with ADHD is very activeAt one time they were labeled as “bad kids.” Thankfully over the last two decades doctors, educators and parents have come to recognize that children with ADHD have a very real neurological disorder that needs treatment. But are we swinging too far in the opposite direction? Is ADHD being over-diagnosed?

A recent New York Times article draws attention to what Dr. Keith Conners, psychologist, professor emeritus at Duke University, and early advocate for recognition of ADHD, had to say about this alarming trend. He noted that recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that the diagnosis had been made in 15 percent of high school-age children, and that the number of children on medication for the disorder had soared to 3.5 million from 600,000 in 1990. “The numbers make it look like an epidemic. Well, it’s not. It’s preposterous. This is a concoction to justify the giving out of medication at unprecedented and unjustifiable levels.”

This highlights the problem of over-diagnosis and over-medication of ADHD. The pharmaceutical companies are vigorously marketing their drugs to doctors, parents and even children through various ad campaigns. This article goes on to report, “The Food and Drug Administration has cited every major A.D.H.D. drug — stimulants like Adderall, Concerta, Focalin and Vyvanse, and nonstimulants like Intuniv and Strattera — for false and misleading advertising since 2000, some multiple times.”

Because of side effects and danger of addiction, medication cannot be viewed as harmless. It’s important for parents to educate themselves before consenting to drug treatment for their children. After a proper diagnosis, medications can be prescribed to temporarily control the symptoms, but they cannot cure the disorder.

Psychological help is also needed to improve self-esteem and to instill life-long coping skills. Behavioral therapy, emotional counseling and practical support are essential for lasting improvement. After discussing with a doctor ALL treatments available, as a parent you ultimately need to make the final decision about what’s best for your child.

If you are searching for the best diagnosis and treatment for neurological disorders such as ADHD, consult a psychologist or psychiatrist. A thorough evaluation of the person’s medical, academic and family history is essential for a proper assessment of type and severity of the disorder and other associated emotional problems. Contact my Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA office to schedule an appointment.

Learn more on my website – ADD & ADHD.

Why Wandering Away is a Serious Concern for Parents of Children with ASD

Monday, December 30, 2013

young girl with autism spectrum disorder wandering awayFor most parents being away from your children, like sending them to school, is something that doesn’t normally cause undue fear. However, parents of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder live with an unimaginable, daily fear that their child will go missing.

Drawing awareness to this problem, executive director of the National Autism Association, Lori McIlwain, recently wrote in the New York Times about when her 7-year old son with ASD went missing. As more children are diagnosed with ASD, the spotlight needs to continue to shine on this problem so that there is more awareness.

What causes children with Autism Spectrum Disorder to wander away? Usually it’s one of two reasons: they are searching for a personal fascination (bodies of water and busy roads are at the top of the list) or they are bolting from a situation that caused fear. According to a recent article in Pediatrics, “49% of children with autism have attempted to elope at least once after the age of 4, 24% were in danger of drowning and 65% were in danger of traffic injury.”

Whether you call it wandering, bolting, eloping, or running away, the fear that your child will go missing is a very real and daily stress for parents of ASD children. Usually the children who are most severely affected by ASD are the ones that go missing. Since ASD causes impaired communication and social skills, they are also the ones least capable of coping with the situation. If your child can’t answer to his name and avoids strangers, the search becomes extremely difficult. The Pediatrics article concluded: “The results (of their study) highlight the urgent need to develop interventions to reduce the risk of elopement, to support families coping with this issue, and to train child care professionals, educators, and first responders who are often involved when elopements occur.”

Parents are quite literally lying awake at night, because they don’t know how to keep their children safe from wandering. There have been few resources for support or information on how to prevent this type of behavior. In addition, the common and uninformed misperception in the community is, “It’s your fault. If you were a better parent you’d keep an eye on your children.”

If you find yourself in this situation, you are not alone. Seek out a therapist who specializes in autism disorders. They will be able to help you find ways to develop your child's cognitive skills as well as help you to cope with the stress caused by a constant state of vigilance. Contact my office for an appointment if you live in Portland, Oregon/Vancouver, Washington.

For more information on Autism Spectrum Disorder, visit Asperger Syndrome Frequently Asked Questions.

What Parents Need to do to Prevent Cyber Bullying

Thursday, November 14, 2013

prevent cyber bullyingA bully used to be the big kid on the playground who pushed the littler kids around, stole their milk money and bloodied their noses. Times have changed and bullying is not only much more prevalent but also more insidious. Nowadays bullying takes the form of insulting rumors and gossip. These vicious verbal attacks are happening via social media and text messaging.

Rumors boost social status and is an effective method that bullies use to climb the social ladder. Young people don’t control the impulse because they don’t stop to think of the consequences. They think it’s all harmless fun. But it isn’t. As we’ve all heard recently, online bullying has led to teens committing suicide because they felt there was no one to help them and they couldn’t handle the embarrassment.

The perceived anonymity of the Internet is greatly responsible for people feeling free to post comments and photos that they might not otherwise. As Lesley Withers, a professor at Central Michigan University, said in 2008, "In the (pre-Internet era), you had to take ownership. People think what they say won't have repercussions, and they don't think they have to soften their comments."

Your child may think it’s a private and innocent moment to be sexting to a boyfriend or girlfriend, but those embarrassing photos and comments can go viral and cause irreparable damage. Once they are posted, they are out there forever. They can’t be retrieved. Not only does this affect your child today, but it can also negatively impact their future.

The truth about the Internet is that no one is anonymous. It can always be traced back to the sender, leaving both the victim and the bully wide open to further bullying. It creates a vicious cycle that often ends in tragedy.

Forty-nine states have laws against school bullying and some websites like Facebook and Twitter are instituting policies against this kind of abuse. Educational programs have been started by parents of bullied/suicide victims to help other students and their parents learn how to cope with it. Many teens don’t know how to talk with their parents or persons in authority about this abuse. My advice is that as a parent you need to start talking with your children about this rapidly growing problem. You may be surprised to hear your child’s response. I also recommend that you read the CNN article, How to Counter Online Bullies.

If you notice your child’s behavior has changed negatively and can’t find out why, don’t delay in getting help! A family therapist can help you communicate openly and begin to heal the hurt your child is experiencing. If you live in the Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA area, contact my office and schedule an appointment now.

For additional information visit my website: Parents - Be Alert to Signs of Bullying.

Parents – Is it a Good Idea to Bribe your Children?

Friday, November 08, 2013

should you bribe your childrenYour child is important to you and you recognize that you have an important obligation to raise your child to be healthy, confident, and independent. Virginia Satir, a noted family therapist once said that parents are in the business of "people making."

Most children will have a very difficult time developing the strength of character required to live a happy and productive life if they haven’t learned how to conquer challenging tasks that no one else can do for them. Due to a natural lack of maturity, they want to avoid “unpleasant” tasks at home or school, so the challenge for parents is how to get them to do these difficult tasks. No one wants to nag and fight all the time with their kids. It’s exhausting! So, parents may resort to the quick fix of bribing their children. “If you let mommy talk on the phone, we’ll go for an ice cream.” Or, “I’ll pay you a dollar for every homework assignment you turn in.”

Some call this rewarding good behavior. A thought provoking discussion on the pros and cons of bribing your children was covered in the New York Times recently. It helps parents think carefully about the consequences of using this tactic. Two debaters offered their different points of view.

Both debaters did agree that if the activity you’re trying to promote in your child is an important life skill then you don’t bribe to do that activity. You “bribe” or reward your child’s promptness and pleasant attitude in doing it.

As a parent you’re faced with many choices beyond whether to bribe your children or not. You have your personal parenting style, your spouse’s parenting style and the personalities and needs of your children to consider. Most parents are astounded at how wildly different each one of their children are. While a permissive style may be appropriate for one child, another may require more authority.

Sometimes families need help sorting out the best parenting style for their family. Do not be ashamed if it’s necessary to find a family therapist. If you’re in the Portland Metro area, contact my office and set up an appointment. Being a good parent means doing whatever you have to do for your child and that sometimes means getting a professional involved.

For more information on parenting, visit my website: Am I a Good Parent.

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