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Emily Vujicic, Psychologist
Christmas seems so far away now, and we are already back in full swing at school. Most children will be settled back into routine of the school term with bed times, after school activities, and being responsible for home learning activities.

For many children and parents, it can still be a very tiring and tense time. There may be extra adjustments like a change in friendship groups, an unfamiliar teacher, or things in their family life that are affecting them. This may lead to difficulties with sleep, tears in the morning, and possibly reluctance or refusal to go to school.

I have put together a small collection of ideas could help ease the transition process.

Being organised can help take the load off the mornings. Making lunches, packing bags and
getting clothes out ready the night before can all mean there is less to do in the morning when there is more time pressure. This helps make the morning the most relaxed and positive it can be. Utilising check lists can help give your child independence in these tasks, and help prepare them for the following day.

Routines can be helpful to get the children settled, and having a nice balance of activities
and rest times. It is important not to have all of the fun things at home, and school is then seen as
missing out. This might mean ‘fun’ snacks are for school, not letting the children know what
interesting things you will be doing while they are at school, and not using school or teachers as a negative or threat.

As you go back to work and your children are back at school, you may need to make
additional effort in having positive time with them, giving them opportunities to talk. Often, children and adults alike, worry right before we go to bed, when we don’t have things around us to distract us from our thoughts. Many families find that after dinner time is a good time to check in and see if there is anything to talk through.

If there is something troubling your child, be optimistic, realistic and empowering. It may
mean that you spend some time helping them to think realistically about a situation, or find the
positives if they can only see the negative. Helping them to come up with their own strategies to
cope is a good life skill that can be strengthened in all of us. It may even lead to activities you do
together, like some deep breathing or a calming walk.

Dr Ross Greene encourages the idea that children are doing the best they can. If there is a
problem, lets try teach them the expectations, and make sure they have the skills to do it. By talking with children proactively and collaboratively, we help instil a sense of responsibility in them. It helps children feel heard, and like they are a part of changes, rather than changes just happening to them.. If you are interested in this, I encourage you to read any of his books, or The Explosive Child for more depth info.

It is also important that everyone is giving the children the same message, so communicating with the school can help ensure that your child may need a little extra TLC, encouragement or support as they transition into the year.

​Emily Vujicic
 works with adults, children and families to assist with a range of difficulties including the management of stress, anxiety, depression, school difficulties, emotional development, behavioural and parenting challenges.  Experience as a School Psychologist has helped her develop an understanding of the challenges that can be experienced by school aged children, and the feelings and behaviours that can develop.
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When you wake up in the morning, your level of arousal can vary. You may be feeling just right and bounce out of bed, you may be feeling low / slow and lethargic or you may feel irritable or in a bad mood.
 
The light may be blazing through the window, the alarm is ringing in your ear, you can feel how cold it is outside and all this sensory information is overwhelming for a moment. However, you have had many years of experience, you know what you need each morning to be able to adjust your level of arousal to the ‘just right state’ that allows you to function, concentrate and perform. Having a hot shower, drinking a cup of coffee, listening to the radio or going for a run are just some common sensory strategies that we have learnt to use to enable us to begin our day right.
 
Now consider what it would be like for your child, who may have an existing diagnosis, who is still very much developing physically, emotionally and mentally, coupled with the fact that they do not yet have their own sensory strategies to use when first waking up. Now that would be a challenge!  
 
So, what are sensory needs?
 
The way we make sense of the world is via our senses. Sights, tastes, textures, sounds, smells and movements turn into information that our body requires to regulate, develop and learn. And in that order. If our sensory system is not processing sensory information efficiently and effectively, higher processing skills like learning, behaviour and skill attainment will not happen.  
 
Our sensory system, to use an analogy, can be likened to a set of cups. Each cup represents one of the seven senses and the goal is to keep each of them at a just right level of fullness so the body stays regulated and calm.
 
Having too much stimulation in one sensory cup can cause it to overflow and therefore would create dysregulation. Further to this, once a single cup does overflow, it is highly possible that the others will become unbalanced and then the effect of this is a downward slope of distraction, negative feelings and behaviour.
 
The same then holds true for cups that have too little stimulation. If a child doesn’t receive enough sensory input, the cup will be under filled and may then cause a child’s focus to be diverted to filling that cup i.e. seeking input to establish a more balanced level.
 
Often over the course of a typical day at school or kindergarten, our children’s sensory cups can be flooded and or deprived which, as you can imagine, will create a chaotic and challenging day for them.
 
So how can we make the mornings, easier for our sensory children?
 
1. Make your Mornings Predictable
 
If your child is a sensory child, majority of the time they may feel overwhelmed and not in control. Therefore, it is important to give your child a greater sense of power so they feel less anxious about the day ahead.
  • Create routines that your child can achieve, i.e. wake up, have breakfast, get dressed. You may like to try using a visual schedule to help support your morning routine.
  • At night, talk about the events of the day ahead so that they know what to expect.
  • Give your child options where possible (like what to have for breakfast, what colour toothbrush to use or what cup to drink from).
 
2. Remember Behaviour is a Form of Communication.
 
Next time your child is acting out, take a step back and try to understand what it is your child needs. For example, if your child is jumping around, then they are likely craving more opportunities for movement or if they are continuously clinging to your leg they may be seeking tactile stimulation. Understanding your child’s sensory preferences will enable you to use strategies to readjust their levels of arousal and prevent a tantrum from occurring.
 
3. Add Sensory Experiences to Existing Practices
 
You may not have an existing ridged routine but have tasks that you and your child attempt to complete each morning. Making these tasks more sensory focused and specific to your child’s preferences may provide your child with what they require to self-regulate.
 
Some examples of sensory routine experiences are:
  • Eating crunchy cereal or drinking a cold smoothie through a straw
  • Using a vibrating toothbrush
  • Jumping on the trampoline
  • Playing the piano
  • Completing exercises or stretches
  • Giving your child a big bear hug
  • Having a warm bath or shower
  • Listening to music while getting dressed
  • Reading their favourite book/ colouring in a picture/watering the garden or going for a walk, as a reward or opportunity fully in their control if time allows.
 
4. Practice and Persistence
This will take practice, trial and error and you probably won’t achieve a smooth sailing morning each time. However, with good insight into your own and your child’s sensory preferences, you will be able to help enhance their ability to self-regulate their sensory demands throughout their day.
 
If you wish to meet with one of our occupational therapists to help you and your child with sensory regulation and create a sensory diet, please contact 5241 6462.
Alexandria Emmett is a compassionate, down to earth and driven occupational therapist who strives to achieve the best results for clients. Her love for working with children is motivated by her understanding of the important links between childhood participation in occupations and their physical and mental development. Alexandria consults Monday to Friday from our Belmont clinic.
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Stella Franzese, Psychologist
In a funding based educational system, it can be challenging for teachers to adequately support students who they have identified as having significant educational needs, however were not eligible for funding under their education system.

Without dedicated funding and limited resources to support the particular student, teachers often report feeling somewhat helpless. In these cases, teachers tend to feel that the demands of the curriculum are forever exceeding the level of the student’s abilities and that the child is not receiving a satisfactory amount of support in accordance with their educational needs.

In addition, the students themselves begin to feel discouraged at school, as their academic successes are inconsistent and subpar compared to their peers. This can lead to feelings of stress, poor self-efficacy and poor self-esteem.

While acknowledging that each student and their circumstances are unique, there are some simple steps that school staff alongside parents can take to facilitate discussion about the student’s needs and begin planning for appropriate interventions within the resources available.

1: Be self-forgiving. In most cases, it is a reality that the level of adjustments required to extensively support this child may be beyond what you as one person (with 20+ students to simultaneously support) can achieve in a classroom setting. Be prepared to accept that your absolute best efforts as a teacher may only account for a portion of the adjustments that the child requires.

2: Assessment. The first step to providing individualised support to a student with educational needs is to understand what their unique learning needs are.

The type of assessments that will be completed/sought will depend on the presenting concerns (medical, language, cognitive, sensory etc.). For example, children who experience difficulties with comprehension/with their expressive vocabulary may benefit from a language assessment.

It is more than likely that if a child has been identified as having significant educational needs that standardised assessment would have already been completed to identify the specific strengths and targets for intervention of the child.

Usually children with identified difficulties in school systems are referred for a cognitive (or psychoeducational)/language assessment (depending on the presenting concerns) which is usually completed by the Psychologists/Speech Pathologists in the Student Support Services team.

This service is of no cost to the family/school, however waiting periods may vary. Once school staff and parents are aware of the child’s level of functioning in the relevant areas, individualised support planning can commence.
 
3: Plan. A collaborative support system (containing teachers, parents and external service providers if any) for these children is essential in supporting the student’s unique needs. It is important that this support system discuss each area of development and who/what will be responsible for this aspect of intervention.

For example, if it was identified that the child has complex sensory needs, then a classroom sensory diet can be developed in conjunction with an external Occupational Therapist and implemented by the classroom teacher daily. In addition, a Psychologist may suggest appropriate social-emotional strategies that can be implemented in a classroom setting.

To facilitate discussion about the unique needs of your student, I have summarised just a couple of general examples of recommendations that may be suggested in a planning meeting. However, it is important that the support team maintain their unique goals to one or two important objectives at a time and do not overwhelm the student with too many interventions at any one time. 

Communication
  • It is recommended that the student’s teaching team be very realistic as to what the child is expected to comprehend and what level of work they can achieve. Students may take twice the amount of time to grasp certain concepts and there may be some things that they will not be able to learn. At this point alternative curriculums may be considered.
  • It is recommended that teacher’s aim to reduce the overall amount of visual information to be stored in visual and verbal memory across all areas of the classroom to ensure that the student’s limited short-term memory does not become overloaded. For example, cut down the amount of pictures on worksheets for them, amount of text to read or highlight the important parts of the text for them to quickly locate.
  • It should be the aim of the teacher to allow the student to meaningfully encode and retain information which can be achieved in a number of ways:
    > sitting the student away from distractions to minimise competing sensory information
    > weaving their interests into the curriculum to increase engagement and meaningful understanding of the information.
    > using concrete and real life examples from the student’s own life and relating it to the concepts being discussed.
    > using a multi-sensory approach to learning rather than simply verbal discussion
  • It is recommended that the student be provided with repetition of concepts and examples with every discussion.
  • These students can create a ‘self-help guide’ that’s meaningful to them which can outline how certain tasks are tackled and they can refer to this when they are expected to complete something similar in the future. Eg: Youtube is popular with children these days, so the child could film a self-help video with their teacher on their iPad that they believe is a ‘Youtube tutorial’ that they can refer to later.
  • Students should be provided with more time to complete work or complete even simple class transitions. During class discussions, is recommended that he/she be allowed to take photos of the board with his iPad to alleviate pressure to rapidly take notes OR record sessions so that they can listen to sessions, pause, rewind and review sessions. Transitions can be visually mapped or pre-discussed before the class begins.
  • If additional time cannot be provided, it is recommended that the quality of work be the sole focus of the teacher rather than quantity.  
  • The student may benefit from being provided with practical alternatives to abstract tasks.
  • It is important that the student’s parents provide the student with opportunities to practice and work on their area of development at home (for example, placing word cards around the house or implementing a ‘word of the week’ for students with limited vocabulary).

Sensory
  • It is usually recommended that the student’s teacher collaborate with an Occupational Therapist to assess the student’s motor and sensory needs. Should the child exhibit sensory seeking or avoidant behaviour that inhibits their ability to participate in the classroom, it is recommended that a sensory diet be developed as well as remedial writing strategies if required. 

Social-Emotional / Behavioural
  • Creating boundaries that are clear, predictable and implemented consistently.
  • Blending difficult academic tasks with rewarding activities that the child has selected.
  • Discussing the child’s behaviour with a collaborative strengths based approach or if the child is triggered by “getting into trouble” a role play or discussion around the behaviour with the entire class may be helpful.
  • Individualised learning plans may seek to contain goals around the theme of self-esteem and self-efficacy if they are exhibiting poor self-efficacy and avoidant/anxious behaviours towards academic tasks.
  • It is recommended that the student be provided with a safe place to co-regulate with a staff member of choice.
  • When deemed developmentally appropriate, it is recommended that the student engage with a Psychologist in an individual or group therapy setting to target their emotional and behavioural difficulties.
  • Enrolling the student into an extra-curricular activity that they enjoy/are good at (such as soccer) would greatly benefit the child, as it maintains a sense of mastery and sense of self-efficacy. 

Educational
  • External tutoring can assist students in grasping the foundational skills that they may have missed. Tutoring can allow the student to attain particular skills in an area of academic difficulty at his/her own pace in a 1:1 supported environment. This is particularly recommended for children who are suspected to have a Specific Learning Disorder.
  • If possible and available to the school, the student can spend time with a Learning Support Officer to receive support for particularly challenging school tasks. 

4: Review and Revise
Pay attention to how the student is responding to the planned interventions and seek to implement these consistently for a minimum of four weeks. Review the student’s progress with the support team and make revisions to the approach/interventions as required. It is also important that progress is reflected on and the interventions evaluated by the child themselves. Overall, it is vital that the support team work hard to ensure that the student feels supported and successful in order for them to thrive from appropriate intervention. 

Stella Franzese is a Hopscotch & Harmony Psychologist who is particularly passionate about working with children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and children with academic difficulties. Her love for working with children is fuelled by her belief that quality early intervention significantly improves a child’s functioning and sets children up for their future.
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Sarah Gatt, Psychologist
As we come to the end of the school year, it brings about excitement for many. The end of school year also brings many change – change in routines, end of school year events, end of year excursions, celebrations, step-up days, going away on holidays. For some children, these changes can be unsettling and can make them feel anxious.

Here are 5 tips on helping your child through the holiday period:

  1. Maintain routines. Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder generally cope best when they have routines. Routines create structure and predictability, which helps children know what to expect. Where possible try and maintain routines, such as bed-time routines or eating breakfast at the same time each day.
  2. Schedule down time during the day. As mentioned above, the holidays often bring about many changes for a child. Scheduling some down time into the day may help your child regulate their emotions and sensory challenges. Down time activities can be activities that your child finds soothing. For example, these might be blowing bubbles, reading a book, or listening to music.
  3. Use visuals. Visuals can help a child understand the changes that are going to occur. Visuals, unlike our words, remain constant for children to refer back to. There are many different types of visuals that you can use depending on your child’s needs. Some examples of visuals that could be used are: a calendar (this can show your child when they are going back to school), daily schedules (these show what is going to happened during the day), and social stories (these are short stories that clearly explain a social situation). A speech pathologist or psychologist can help you understand how and when to use visuals.
  4. Prepare your child for trips. If you are planning on going away, it is often best to let your child know what to expect. Travelling away from the family home also brings many changes for a child; for example: a different room, a new bed, and different foods. Explaining what to expect can be done using a social story. Having some soothing activities (such as a book, snacks, comfort toys) may help your child regulate their emotions during the travel time.
  5. Have quite time. Visiting relatives or friends and/or attending holiday events can be overwhelming for some children. Let your child know about safe places they can go to have some quite time during these outings. Also, prepare them with some strategies they can use to help them self-regulate, such as taking deep breaths or using noise cancelling headphone.
We hope you and your family enjoy the school holidays! If you wish to meet with one of our psychologists to help you and your family during this period, please contact 9741 5222.
Sarah Gatt is a Hopscotch and Harmony Psychologist passionate about providing early intervention services to young children in order to help aid their development and reach their full potential. She creates a warm and safe therapeutic environment for children by providing therapy in a creative and individualised manner. Sarah consults from our Werribee practice.
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Kate Hardiman, Psychologist
Dad’s mental health matters too. Dad’s have a unique and great impact on their child’s social and emotional development. Listed below are five starting places for Dad’s to explore their role as a parent and caring for their own mental health.

Dad’s are an important member of the parenting team. The Centre for Perinatal Excellence (COPE) have developed a number of resources with valuable and down to earth advice for fathers and partners on adjusting to life with a baby. COPE explores topics such as what to expect during pregnancy, birth, and life with a baby. Information is included on the signs of anxiety and depression to look out for in men. There are also tips for maintaining positive wellbeing during this transitional time.

Dad’s can understand what skills and difficulties are age-appropriate. The Raising Children Network and KidsMatter websites provide information on what to expect from children at different ages and when to seek advice regarding a child’s development. Through learning about typical development, dad’s can feel more confident about understanding the many changes that happen as children grow up and how to support their relationship with their child.

Dad’s have strengths that make them great parents. Take a moment to reflect on what qualities are important to you as a parent. Consider how day to day interactions with your child may or may not display these qualities. It can be easy to miss the remarkable moments of strength, kindness and wisdom that all parents share with their family.

Dad’s can seek support for parenting skills. Participating in a group program can be a great opportunity to connect with other people who may be experiencing similar challenges to your family. It can also offer a chance to hear different strategies and ideas that might work in your family. Evidence based programs include Tuning into Kids, Triple P, and Health Dads Healthy Kids. Sometime attending a program isn’t feasible. Luckily, there are online options such as ParentWorks that can be done at home and at your own pace.

Reach out to employers for organisational support. Balancing multiple priorities such as family, friends, work, and leisure activities can be a stretch. If you are feeling stressed or down you may be able to access an employer assistance program (EAP) giving you access to short-term counselling. Alternatively, it may be possible to have a conversation with an employer around family friendly work arrangements. ​

​Kate Hardiman
 is a Hopscotch & Harmony psychologist who works closely with children, teens and parents to support behavioural challenges, emotional outbursts, social withdrawal, or fears and worries about everyday things.  ​
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A story for families of young children diagnosed with neurodevelopmental conditions.
Stella Franzese, Psychologist
Gracie and Stella
As a Psychologist in private practice, I regularly assist a paediatrician in diagnosing children and adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and/or Intellectual Disability (ID). Diagnoses are communicated to parents within a feedback session, where I outline the assessment findings, convey my rationale for diagnosis, its implications on their child’s functioning and provide specific recommendations that I believe will be beneficial for the child moving forward (whether it be educational adjustments, resources, additional services etc.). Although every feedback session is as unique as the individual being discussed, I often receive the same questions from parents of children with a recent ASD/ID diagnosis: 
Does this mean my child will never thrive or become a functional member of society?”
“Does this mean they will never get a job or be independent?”
Depending on the severity of the neurodevelopmental disorder/delay, this may be a reality for a minority of families, yes. However, for a lot of children this diagnosis does not dictate whether they will be a fulfilled, functional and successful individual.

​I explain to parents that every child has the ability to learn and succeed. However, it is emphasised that these children may acquire new skills differently than their peers and at a different pace.

I encourage parents to be mindful that we all have our strengths and areas that require development (for example social skills/communication for ASD) and that the appropriate recommendations will seek to maximise their child’s opportunity to participate in the world in a way that is meaningful to them.

We discuss short-term goals with a reflection of their strengths, transition to increased independence and generalisation of learnt skills. With every diagnosis, my admiration of parents who transform their anxious energy into proactive and action-focused forces for their children never fades.

It is common to see families initially overcome by a sense of hopelessness, or for some families grieving a future they initially envisioned for their child. In these moments, the anxiety and uncertainty can overshadow other information provided by professionals.

My goal was to write a blog post that would instil hope in our families and what better way to achieve this than to hear from a family that has walked in their shoes. I also wanted our families to hear about a wonderful local business that supports and positively contributes to our local community, ‘Gracie’s Boutique’ in Point Cook.

For this blog, I had the honour of interviewing Kerrie White (owner of Gracie’s Boutique) and her 17-year-old daughter Gracie White, who has a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder. I also had the pleasure of briefly speaking to Gracie’s younger sister Mia White. We spoke about Gracie’s journey from diagnosis to schooling, intervention, Gracie’s life now and goals for the future. Kerrie and I also spoke about Gracie’s Boutique and its wonderful contributions to our local community. 
The early years…
Alike to the reports of most parents whose eldest child receives diagnosis of ASD or ID, Kerrie reported that she did not have much experience or knowledge of appropriate developmental milestones and behaviours in early childhood, however noticed “some warning signs” as Gracie was approaching 18 months of age.

Kerrie recounted that following the birth of her younger daughter Mia and the family’s transition from North Sydney to Victoria, she approached Gracie’s new Maternal Health Nurse with concerns regarding her development and “felt that something wasn’t quite right”. Following the nurse’s observations of Gracie, she was referred for a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder and for multiple external services (Speech Pathology, Paediatrician, and Early Intervention). Kerrie stated that the family “got on the path pretty quickly” and commenced Speech Pathology and Early Intervention therapy immediately following referral.

From Kerrie’s descriptions, it seems that the Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnostic process has evolved significantly over time. Kerrie reported that families were being placed on a 12-18 month wait list for a public diagnostic assessment in Regional Victoria (let alone Melbourne). Alternatively, families could pay a costly fee to have this assessment conducted privately with little to no wait time, however as a young family it was uncertain whether this was financially viable at the time. Kerrie noted that the diagnostic/intervention process was not the same for any one family and luckily Gracie was able to be assessed within 3-4 months via a Medicare claimable service. “We met a lot of people who were in the same age group as Gracie who later went on different paths with the same result”.

When describing the diagnostic assessment itself, she relayed that it was conducted by a panel of professionals who would observe a child for the majority of the day. In hindsight, Kerrie described Gracie as “classically autistic” and she “ticked a lot of boxes” throughout the diagnostic process (spinning, several repetitive behaviours, echolalia, behavioural compulsions). The diagnostic assessment resulted in a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder provided by a Psychiatrist. “For us, it was the best outcome because at that point we said to ourselves ‘right now we know where we’re at, let’s move on and do whatever needs to be done for her’ ”. 

By the time Gracie was three years of age, she was participating in intensive early intervention therapy (otherwise known as Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) therapy) five afternoons a week in Gracie’s home therapy room (that the family constructed themselves). Kerrie stated that Gracie’s early behavioural therapy was managed and reviewed by a Psychologist who would collaborate with the family as co-therapists. Kerrie stated that early behavioural therapy and implementing PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) at home “made a massive difference”, however it wasn’t always smooth sailing. Despite this, the family’s ‘take things one day at a time’ approach assisted them in coping throughout these challenging periods when Gracie’s behaviour escalated.

Contrast to current funding systems, Kerrie detailed that families were financially responsible for any services required for their children, as there were no funding frameworks and scarce support groups when Gracie was young. She estimated that the costs of Gracie’s combined services reached an annual total of $40,000, which was a worthy but costly commitment for a young family.

Kerrie reported that Gracie commenced 3-4 year old Kindergarten at a Montessori centre, which promoted Gracie’s independence and play based skills. At the time, Psychologists from the Department of Education conducted assessments with children in their Kindergarten environment to determine their eligibility for entry into specialist schooling. According to Kerrie, given the inconsistency of Gracie’s engagement throughout the testing process and scoring technicalities, she did not meet criteria for entry into a special school and commenced her first term at her local mainstream government school.

Gracie’s first term in a mainstream school was described to be highly distressing for Gracie and the family. “What we thought we had in place was no longer working” “there were a combination of things that did not work for her” “at the time she was distressed and non-verbal”. “Her anxiety was manifesting in her behaviour, such as head butting walls and becoming overwhelmed”.

On one occasion, Gracie reportedly refused to pass a wire fence when requested during a school excursion, as she was adamantly adhering to her family’s rule to not pass wire fences from her grandmother’s property. Following a taxing term, Kerrie obtained exemption from the Department of Education to enrol Gracie into Western Autistic School. This enrolment was conditional provided that the family moved into the local catchment zone and with no hesitation the White family moved their life to the Wyndham area in 2005.

Gracie’s initial enrolment and experience at Western Autistic School was described to be positive. Kerrie reported that “It was a very safe environment” “it made me feel comfortable to have her there”. She recounted that although Gracie gained a lot of life skills from Western Autistic School, the family felt that Gracie would thrive from a specialist setting with more of an academic focus in addition to life skills. In 2009, Gracie was reassessed to determine her eligibility for enrolment into another specialist school. Despite being deemed unassessable as she “put her head through the wall” in distress, she was granted entry into Warringa Park School, commencing in 2010.

“Moving to Warringa Park has been a fantastic move for Gracie...she loves it there and has lots of friends”. “They’ve developed a high level of behavioural management of students, an impressive security protocol and great ratios of teaching staff to students”. “They provide a diverse curriculum for the varying life skills that young individuals want to learn”. Kerrie reported that due to the significant amount of progress made, Gracie had stopped behavioural therapy in 2010.  
Kerrie’s advice for parents:
1: “Bring everything back to short term”.
2: “Be prepared to make change, it’s not ideal but it’s not the end of the world”
3: “Take a pause, take a breath”
4: “Celebrate the small wins and surround yourself with people that understand how significant the small wins are”
5: “You are your child’s best advocate, it can be overwhelming but it’s a cause worth fighting for”.
Kerrie’s advice for parents:
​Gracie reported that Mondays at Warringa Park School consist of her favourite subjects (Literacy and Mathematics) and that the rest of the week is dedicated to work experience and other specialist classes. Gracie reported that she has previously participated in work experience at Caley’s Café, Gervey’s Kitchen in Tarneit, Vinnies and Red Cross. This term, Gracie stated that she is completing work experience at Plants Galore in Werribee South. She noted that she’s completing “Travel Ed” and recounted that she recently practised a train commute from Werribee Station to Flinders Street Station, a tram down to Albert Park, as well as tram to Brunswick. She reported that she also learns makeup, skincare and hair grooming/styling at school. Gracie expressed that she enjoys her hospitality classes and stated that she has mastered several recipes including pasta, pancakes, omelettes, spanakopita, apple cinnamon cakes, steak sandwiches, mac and cheese, burritos, curries and noodles (I was tempted to stop her from listing any more recipes before I started drooling, yum!). Gracie reported that she loves to cook and creates a number of dishes at home using the safe knife skills taught to her at school.

When asked about her career aspirations and future goals, Gracie stated that following the completion of Year 12 in 2019 she would like to begin working at Plants Galore. Mia and Kerrie admiringly shared that Gracie is relentlessly dedicated to whatever goals she sets. 
​If the inviting storefront, charming pieces or ABSOLUTELY irresistible homewares (I’m serious, you won’t leave there empty handed) isn’t reason enough to visit Gracie’s Boutique, allow me to briefly capture its involvement with our local community.

On the occasional Saturday, Gracie will work at Gracie’s Boutique. She reported that she films many promotional videos for the store on social media, steams clothes, creates stickers and stamps store bags. In addition to her many talents and achievements, Gracie creates the beautiful artwork that’s printed on greeting cards that are sold at Gracie’s Boutique (pictured in this blog post). Kerrie reported that Gracie’s passion for drawing and birthdays is what birthed the idea of her greeting cards.

When Gracie isn’t at school or working at Gracie’s Boutique, she enjoys dancing, shopping and is a member of ‘Team Strikers’, a bowling team in her local area. Despite her achievements, it was noted that Gracie still experiences challenges from time to time. Her reported best way of coping on days when she is angry, confused or when she doesn’t understand something is to “take a deep breath”. 

​Gracie was a vivacious and hilarious young woman who was a pleasure to interview. The photo of the two of us at the top of this post is a selfie that Gracie took! (Permission provided by Gracie’s mother to post photo). 
  • Gracie’s Boutique collaborates with 15 Wyndham based suppliers and local businesses (some of which partnerships result in 100% of the profits being donated to charity).
  • Gracie’s Boutique has provided employment opportunities to young students and four of its employees are mothers of children who have Autism Spectrum Disorder.
  • Gracie’s Boutique supports small local businesses in Uganda and personally visited their suppliers this year!
  • Gracie’s Boutique is a mentor within the Enterprise in Wyndham program, supporting young talent to structure and grow their entrepreneurial ideas.
  • Gracie’s boutique won the Mayoral Wyndham Business Award in 2017. 
Gracie’s Boutique can be found in the Point Cook Town Centre, closest to the Woolworths entrance next door to Rebel Sport. 

This story is a shining example of how the perseverance and dedication of a family paired with the right intervention can make a significant impact on a young person’s life. I’m looking forward to hearing of Gracie’s future notable achievements to add to her successes. Thank you to Kerrie, Gracie and Mia for their time and for sharing their inspirational journey. 

Stella Franzese is a Hopscotch & Harmony Psychologist who is particularly passionate about working with children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and children with academic difficulties. Her love for working with children is fuelled by her belief that quality early intervention significantly improves a child’s functioning and sets children up for their future.
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Hilary Sanders, Psychologist
Life as a teenager can be tough. We all remember what that was like, right? Your hormones are racing, your body is changing, you're juggling competing and increasing demands at school and at home, perhaps also sport and work commitments. You want to be unique, yet at the same time fit in. Impress your friends, your parents, your teachers — There's a lot going on!

Now, imagine on top of this, you are also questioning your sexual orientation. You have noticed you're not attracted to the opposite sex in the same way as your peers. However, attraction to the opposite sex (heterosexuality) is the most commonly expressed sexual orientation in society, so what does that mean for you?

Sexual orientation (or sexual identity) refers to the enduring or evolving pattern of one's sexual, romantic, and/or emotional attraction to a particular sex. Commonly used terms to describe one's sexual orientation include, amongst others, heterosexual/straight, homosexual (gay, lesbian), bisexual, queer, asexual, and pansexual. The acronym LGBTIQA+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, Queer, Asexual, and others) incorporates sexual orientation, gender identity and intersexuality, and is often used to refer to sexual identities that differ from heterosexual. It is important to note that these "labels" do not rigidly or personally apply to everyone, and some would prefer to not use labels at all. Sexual orientation is diverse, and unique to the individual.

Living in a heteronormative society can accentuate a sense of difference when you do not identify as heterosexual. Feeling "different" is especially challenging during adolescence because this developmental stage prioritises social belonging and acceptance. The threat of judgment, ridicule, or rejection from others can be overwhelming for young people during this time, and can influence how they express their sexuality, if at all. Research has also found that non-heterosexual young people are more likely to experience mental health difficulties, such as anxiety and depression, compared to other young people (see this link for more information).

We want to ensure our young people feel supported as they learn about themselves and their emerging sexual identities. How we approach sexuality can have a lasting impact on their relationship with us, and their emotional wellbeing, so it makes sense to reflect and think about it.

It’s never too soon, or too late, to begin the conversation!

If you've been asking yourself "What should I say? What if I say the wrong thing? How do I approach my teen, if at all?", the following tips may help.

  1. Create an environment in which your teen feels loved, safe, and respected. Without this stable foundation, they may not feel comfortable opening up to you, or they may doubt your capacity to be emotionally supportive.
  2. Seek opportunities to discuss sexual orientation. For example, if something relevant arises in conversation or in the media (such as the same-sex marriage debate) talk about it. Ask about your teen's views one-on-one, or facilitate a respectful discussion as a family. Treat this as an opportunity to model and explore values of equality, openness, and appreciation of diversity. Make your stance clear: everyone has a right to experience love, and homophobic attitudes are not acceptable.
  3. It is not always about what is said, but what is NOT being said. Avoiding a conversation about sexuality or changing the subject when it arises, even for good intentions (i.e. you assume they don’t want to talk about it), can inadvertently send the message that it is "taboo", which can feed a sense of shame. Further, one conversation about sexuality is not enough; it is an ongoing, evolving conversation. Remain open and approachable.
  4. Do your research, but learn from your teen. Thanks to the Internet, there is endless information available if you wish to expand your knowledge, however at the end of the day, the only expert on your teen's experience is… them! Be gently inquisitive, and seek to learn from your teen by listening, asking questions, and clarifying your understanding.
  5. Express gratitude for openness. A fear of rejection or negative judgment can motivate kids to keep quiet about their sexuality. The sheer fact they have opened up to you is a good sign they feel emotionally safe and trust you. Affirm this! (for example, "Thank you for sharing this with me. It means so much that you trust me. I am always here to listen").
  6. Respect your teen’s privacy. Seek their permission before you choose to share information about their sexuality with others. Establish boundaries together (what they feel comfortable sharing, and who with, etc).
  7. Don't expect to get it "right" every time! Talking about sexuality with your teen might feel awkward or confronting, or might conflict with your beliefs. You might fumble. You might say or ask something that they disagree with — It’s OK! As long as you come from a place of love, respect, and non-judgment, the rest will work itself out.
  8. All this talk about sexuality… Don’t forget the other stuff! Sexuality is only one part of a person. Your teen has so many other aspects that make up who they are. Embrace their strengths, interests, passions, as well as their fears and insecurities… celebrate everything that makes them who they are, and express your love and pride.
  9. Do they need extra support? Support from loved ones is essential for your teen’s mental and emotional health. Encourage help-seeking behaviour by ensuring they have others they trust and can confide in (friends, family, a teacher, etc). Online services and apps are aplenty, and appeal to their age group (for example, Headspace.org.au or ReachOut.com). If you have concerns for their wellbeing and coping, seek the guidance of a mental health professional, such as a doctor, psychologist, or school counsellor.
  10. Ensure you have support too! Parents often get so caught up focusing on their kids' needs they forget to prioritise their own, but we need to ensure we are emotionally healthy too! For tailored support, speak to a mental health professional as suggested above, or check out the services and online information provided below. 
Helpful services and links:

- Q Life: QLife is Australia’s first nationally-oriented counselling and referral service for LGBTIQA+ people, offering peer supported telephone and web based services between 3:00pm and midnight every day of the week, all around the country. You can call them (between 3pm and midnight) on 1800 184 527 or chat online: https://qlife.org.au/

- BeyondBlue 'Families Like Mine' resource: 'Families like mine' is a multimedia guide that offers practical advice to families of young gender diverse people, same-sex attracted and bisexual people, and those who are questioning their sexuality or gender identity: https://www.beyondblue.org.au/who-does-it-affect/lesbian-gay-bi-trans-and-intersex-lgbti-people/families-like-mine

- Kids Helpline: Kids Helpline is a free, private and confidential 24/7 phone and online counselling service for young people aged 5 to 25. Kids can call on 1800 55 1800. Their website also has information for parents: https://kidshelpline.com.au/parents/
Hilary Sanders is a psychologist at Hopscotch and Harmony Werribee and Belmont who is passionate about supporting people of all ages, however has a particular interest in working with adolescents and adults. Hilary values diversity, and encourages individuals to celebrate their uniqueness- she believes human difference is what makes life interesting! An LGBTIQA+ advocate, Hilary acknowledges the complex nature of sexuality, and is driven to support individuals experiencing challenges arising from sexual diversity
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Sarah Gatt, Psychologist

​What is body image?

Body image refers to the thoughts and feelings that a person has towards their body and body parts.

There are a number of things that can influence our body image, including: media, culture, family, and friends.

Why is body image important?

Having a healthy body image can lead to better self-esteem, happiness and confidence among children.

On the other hand, having a poor body-image has been linked with a number of difficulties, including poor self-esteem, withdrawal from physical and social activities, low mood, and disordered eating.

While there has been an emphasis on body image in females, it is important to also be mindful of body image in males
.
How can parents promote a healthy body image in children?
  • Lead by example. Children learn so much by watching others. It is important that children see their parents and carers being kind and accepting of their own body.  By accepting of your own body, maintaining a positive attitude, and model healthy eating and exercise, you are modelling a positive body image to your child.
 
  • Focus on what their body can do. Rather than talking about weight and appearance, focus on how our body works and how it changes. Talk about the importance of having a variety of food, in helping us grow and be healthy. Appreciate all the things that our body can do for us.
 
  • Exercise Regularly. Find a sport or physical activity that your child enjoys. Focus on health, social interaction, and fun as the reasons for exercise, not losing weight. Take the time to be active with your child.
 
  • Talk about mental health and communicate. Teach and encourage your children to express their feelings. Let them know that it is okay to show all emotions, such as sadness and anger. Take the time to listen to their concerns about their body image.

If you would like support regarding your child’s or your own body image, please contact us at Hopscotch and Harmony to discuss further with our psychologists and dietitian.

​Sarah Gatt
 is a Hopscotch and Harmony Psychologist passionate about providing early intervention services to young children in order to help aid their development and reach their full potential. She creates a warm and safe therapeutic environment for children, by providing therapy in a creative and individualised manner. Sarah consults from our Werribee practice.
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Shu-Lin Pook, Dietitian
People who struggle with body image or an eating disorder can find it difficult to eat. Some families or individuals can be so consumed with the message of healthy eating that the thought of food can provoke a range of emotions, such as feeling anxious when meals are not pre-planned to fit the current “diet”, or feeling guilty from eating the “wrong” or “bad” food.
 
So comes the million-dollar question: What is healthy eating?
 
Society has now accepted that being on diets are normal to achieve that perfect body. There are unlimited messages from social media, friends, and articles about what food is good, or what is healthy for you. It is not surprising for me to see families and children being confused about what they should or should not eat.
 
Let me start off with my top 5 red flags of what is NOT normal / healthy eating:
  1. Avoiding whole food groups
  2. Having the feeling of guilt when it comes to eating
  3. Not knowing how or when to start or stop eating
  4. Not able to enjoy meals out or meals related to spontaneous eating
  5. Fixated on being a certain weight or what the numbers on the scales say about you
 
1. Avoiding whole food groups
 
Avoiding whole food groups is my number one red flag as it can put a person at risk of nutritional deficiency. From a dietitian point of view, eliminating a food group completely can have detrimental effects on children. Here’s a summary on the 5 main food groups, and a brief summary as to why they are important for health:
 
  • Breads & cereals: Main source of fuel for the body in the form of carbohydrates. Wholegrain variety can be a good source of fibre, vitamins and antioxidants over refined grains.
  • Fruits: Important source of fibre and vitamins, especially vitamin C. Also provide a good source of carbohydrate to fuel the body.
  • Vegetables and legumes / beans: Good source of a variety of vitamins, minerals, and fibre. Having a variety of vegetables can help reduce risk of some cancers, heart diseases and help prevent rapid weight gain.
  • Meat & meat alternative: Important source of protein, iron and zinc. Protein is important for building, maintaining and repairing our body tissues.  Vitamin B12 is found ONLY in animal-based products, so vegans should have their vitamin B12 checked and supplemented if low.
  • Dairy & dairy alternative: Good source of protein and an essential source of calcium. Important for strong bones and teeth especially in growing children.   
 
I encourage parents to talk about food as fuel or energy for your body. The 5 main food groups above are essential in our diet and we should have them regularly on a daily basis. To find out more about the main 5 food groups, check out the Eat for Health website.
 
2. Having the feeling of guilt when it comes to eating
 
Food should be enjoyed in moderation, and I strongly discourage labelling food as good/bad, or healthy/unhealthy. Children should be enjoying a variety of food and rather than feeling guilty when it comes to eating a certain “bad” food. This can be tricky as lots of adults and parents label food as well.
 
Teaching your child on how to eat as according to their hunger cues is an important part of healthy, normal eating (see point number 3).
 
All foods can (and should) be enjoyed in moderation. Only actively avoid a certain food when that food is dangerous to the health of your child. For an example: a child who has peanut allergy warrants the need to actively avoid peanuts in that child’s diet.
 
3. Not knowing how or when to start or stop eating
 
When should we eat is another common question I get from families. Should my child have 3 set meal times? Should they eat whenever a food is offered?
 
In a way, yes, we should eat according to a set meal time to discourage children from skipping meals. If your child is still young, I encourage parents to decide when and what they would like the child to eat, and the child to decide how much they would eat. This is important for the young child to learn about their hunger cues, and to stop eating when they are full. Children should have 3 main meals and 2-3 snacks in a day. Try not to use food as a way to coax children to eat food that they don’t like, as it can encourage children to eat more even though they are full. This can lead to over-eating, which can cause rapid weight gain in children.
 
Some older children or teenagers can have irregular meal times. This may not be ideal as they can sometimes ignore their hunger cues as they are too busy with other stuff, such as hanging out with friends. Initially, it may be worthwhile to remind them to have something to eat every 4 hours. This helps to regulate their hunger/satiety cues, and with time, they should be eating when they are hungry, and stop eating when they are full.
 
For those who eat out of stress, boredom, or those who eat to regulate their emotions, I strongly suggest working out on mindful eating strategies (which will be covered next week ??) which can be found here:
4. Not able to enjoy meals out or meals related to spontaneous eating

Part of normal, healthy eating is to be able to be spontaneous when it comes to eating. Your child should be able to enjoy having meals out with friends or family. If your child is anxious about eating out, try to work out what is bothering them. Does your child have a certain food ritual, such as “my food cannot have any sauces as they are bad for me”? Are they avoiding a certain food / food group?
 
Again, the key here is to teach your child that all food can, and should be enjoyed in moderation (see point number 2).
5. Fixated on being a certain weight 
 
A classic example for this is: “I have to be exactly 63kg because XXX says so”, or “my friend YYY is 39kg, and I want to be at his / her weight”. Most people, including children can work out that one can control their weight by controlling what they eat. This can then spiral into an unhealthy obsession of what and how much one can or should eat to get to this “ideal” weight. This unhealthy obsession can then lead to dieting, obsession with food, and negative body image, which can be difficult to manage especially if left unmanaged.
 
Rather than to focus on what food will do to the numbers on the scales, try to encourage the child to focus on other positive aspects of themselves. A good way to talk about food is to talk about food groups and why variety is important to provide different macronutrients and micronutrients to nourish the body. For a growing child, it is important NOT to discuss about weight loss. If you are concerned about your child’s weight, talk to a health professional such as your GP, paediatrician, or you can to talk about how to manage your child’s weight.
 ​
​​​Shu-Lin Pook is a Paediatric Dietitian at Hopscotch & Harmony. She supports the nutritional needs for children, from infancy through adolescence. She understands that management of complex food allergies/food intolerances can often be difficult, and also works with young people who have prior negative feeding experiences, autism, or poor/negative body image.
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What a fabulous night the Hopscotch & Harmony team had at the 2018 Wyndham Business Awards! A great evening to have fun and socialise in a setting away from the practice, and so interesting to learn of all the achievements from other local businesses. Wyndham Council to a terrific job putting on this event and we are so grateful to have won the Best Professional Services (Small) category. 

Winning an award like this provides us with a platform to speak about mental health and to de-stigmatise the seeking of support for mental health issues.

​Go team!  
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