Helping Children with Neurological Differences
He looks so normal, but is awkward, unique, and stumbling. If you’ve ever had those thoughts about a child you met, or perhaps one of your own children, you might also be encountering someone with a neurological difference. Maybe as your child starts a new year of school you will hear about a boy in class who always talks out of turn, doesn’t make friends very easily, and who frustrates the teacher. You might just be hearing about a child with a neurological difference. Asperger’s, High Functioning Autism (HFA), Nonverbal Learning Disorder (NLD), and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) are just a few of the conditions that can bewilder adults and make life for children struggling with these conditions more difficult.
The Normal Mask of Asperger’s, NLD, HFA, PDD-NOS
Perhaps one of the most challenging pieces when working with children who have neurological differences such as these is that they look normal. My daughter would probably chastise me for using the word normal, as she is quick to quote that normal is just a setting on the dryer. However, it is what usually runs through peoples’ heads when they interact or live with these children. When it comes to conditions such as NLD, HFA, and PDD-NOS, looks can be so deceiving, and detrimental to being able to provide caring support and have healthy interactions. Kids who have neurological differences might appear to be socially awkward –
- monopolizing conversations
- repeating information
- appearing to have no interest in the ideas of others
- acting in what we might consider to be rude behaviors
- appearing to lack empathy
- getting frustrated easily over small things
- speaking in ego-centered ways (constantly one-upping another person)
- ignoring the ideas or concerns of others
Whether you have never met a child who might fall into one of these categories and display any of these symptoms, or you yourself are raising a child who is learning to live with a neurological difference, take the time to discover how you can be a benefit to these kids. I recently read Children’s Thinking and Behavior, by Leslie Holzhauser-Peters and Leslie True – a heartwarming and practical tool for helping to understand children affected by things like Asperger’s and HFA. When we learn to understand how these children perceive the world, we can build better relationships with them and help their families along the way.
The STAT Approach
The authors of Children’s Thinking and Behavior developed an approach to working with children who have neurological differences called STAT – the Systematic Tool to Analyze Thinking. This method is based on the idea that once we understand how a child with a neurological difference perceives the world, we can improve our interactions and have positive impacts. The basic steps to the STAT include:
- Assess the situation – This involves the who, what, where, when issues that surround the situation, as well as the emotional state of the child (tired, feeling vulnerable, etc.).
- Develop a hypothesis – The STAT uses 12 possible categories of answers for why the child acted a certain way – what they might be thinking to themselves. In brief those include:
- Abstract language
- Mental flexibility
- Thinking about others thinking
- Social communication
- Executive functions
- Spatial orientation
The book further explains each of the 12 issues listed above that can be challenging for children with neurological differences, and gives great personal and real examples of how these affect their daily lives. Throughout the book there are flowcharts to help parents, teachers, caregivers, and community members make choices based on the STAT that will improve relationships and the lives of these kids.
Even if none of your own children are struggling with neurological differences such as Asperger’s, NLD, or PDD-NOS, chances are your children know someone who is or maybe it is the girl next door. There is no telltale mark across the forehead or armband kids wear to designate themselves as neurologically different. Families go through constant struggles with criticisms of their children’s behaviors, exhausting explanations, and worries about what are usually typical childhood situations. Nothing is typical with these disorders.
However, if we take a few minutes to educate ourselves about the signs and better ways to react to them, we can see that these kids often just need a patient and unique approach. It is a fabulous lesson we can teach all of our children to see beyond what looks normal and learn ways to improve our interactions, actions, and relationships by learning ways to react to and interact with these kids who struggle with neurological differences.