A note from Felicity:

Listen up!

Parents of atypical kids and kids of atypical parents!

I am thrilled to introduce the WTF community to Dr. Rita Eichenstein, a rock star in the world of pediatric neuropsychological assessments, which is fancy wording for diagnosing the relationship between brain health and behavior in children. Which means, when you have a kid with developmental differences (like I do!), and have Rita in your corner, you’ve grabbed the gold ring. After 15 minutes of sitting in her office, I felt a huge weight lift off my shoulders. Rita has the intuition of a crystal ball reader and the intellect of a scientist. She “got” my kid and knew just how to help her AND ME.

Rita just published a book, Not What I Expected: Help and Hope for Parents of Atypical Children which sits on my nightstand now with Post-it Notes stuck all over it. But this is not just a book about atypical kids themselves, but how best to parent them and take care of YOURSELF on the journey.

I asked Rita if she would share her genius and charm with us at WTF and she said, “yes!” It’s great to have a specialist who believes that the gifts of parenting come in packages you least expect. And that Good Parenting doesn’t come in perfection, but in compassion and understanding, both for yourself and your kid. 

It is such a relief to hear from an expert that doesn’t sound like a clinician, but like a caring friend.

And to give you a taste of her book, here is a really wonderful, practical excerpt from Not What I Expected, called, “Your Self-Care Menu.” 

You can learn more about Dr. Rita from her website.

Welcome Rita!

Enjoy WTF,

Love, Flicka

When counseling parents, I help them assemble a customized “self-care menu.” The idea is that you brainstorm activities that appeal to you and give them a try in whatever amount you like. You may choose an “appetizer” portion in case you only have fifteen minutes, a “main course” that gives you a larger dose of relief or relaxation, or a “dessert” that you use as reward for a particularly rough day. If you are a full-time working parent, this applies to you as well. In addition to wearing two hats, the home hat and the office hat, you deserve to find some space you can call your own. What would it look like for you?

In putting together your personal self-care menu, you will want to think about your life before you became a parent. What got you out of bed each morning? What was your joy, your favorite hobby, your dream activity? What nourishes your soul, even momentarily? Everyone has interests that can be powerfully healing. Look back and recall the activities that were the most fun or meaningful. Was it laughter and wine with friends? Taking your dog to obedience class? Going to concerts? Cooking a great meal? Playing softball? Repairing bicycles? Playing your guitar? Zumba class? Reading a great novel? Or just having some solitude? Customize the items on your self-help menu so that even reading your list will give you a little lift. Here are the categories that the parents I work with have found to be most helpful.

Connect with Nature

The Japanese have a phrase for the healing effects of nature: shrinrin-yoku or “forest bathing.” Something as simple as taking a walk outside, breathing in the air, and appreciating the wind in the trees can be restorative.

Move Your Body

Look for a physical activity you really enjoy and might even come to crave – riding your bike, dancing, walking, hiking, playing volleyball, boxing. Many people find that it’s more fun if you do this activity with a friend or partner. A great many people practice yoga and there is research to support the treatment of depression with specific types of yoga, although you might find ballroom dancing to be more to your liking.

Master Just One Thing at a Time and Then Celebrate It!

If you learn to master just one thing – that has nothing to do with your child – it can restore your sense of power. It does not matter what this one thing is; it can be anything from learning to knit to running a marathon. A side benefit to mastering just one thing is that competence at one thing leads to great competence in other areas of your life. By mastering that one thing, you prove to yourself that you are still learning, growing, becoming.

Find a Special Place for Yourself Outside the Home

All parents should be able to get away from the house and the role of mom or dad, and have a place where they can feel a glimmer of their old selves. Maybe you need solitude and can locate a special meditative spot in a forest or park near your home. Maybe you enjoy your local health club, where you can work out and also connect with other people who aren’t necessarily parents. Being outside of your home at a place that is not work related, even for a short burst of time, is invigorating.

Join a Group – Support or Otherwise

Joining or forming a support group comprised of other parents of atypical kids is an excellent way to share experiences and reduce your feelings of isolation. Learning form others about what has helped them will show you that there are more paths toward hopefulness than you may have imagined. If you feel the need for a community of people who are not parents, where you can share other interests, that is every bit as legitimate as a support group.

Make Date Night a Top Priority (with Your Partner or Your Friends)

Before you became a parent, you had dates with your partner or your friends. It’s time to revive that enjoyable custom.

Help Someone Else

You might think you are burned out with helping, seeing as you are already a caretaker for your child. But I’ve found in talking to many families that the one thing they are most grateful for is the opportunity to give back. It may seem like a terrible thought to ask you to give even more than you are giving, but the funny thing is, seeing people (or animals) in terrible situations that are different from your own can trigger some positive, meaningful feelings inside of you.

Reprinted from Not What I Expected by Rita Eichenstein, PhD, by arrangement with Perigee, a member of the Penguin Publishing Group, a Penguin Random House Company, Copyright © 2015 by Rita Eichenstein.

Rita will be speaking and signing copies of her book in Los Angeles at The Grove’s Barnes and Noble today, April 22 at 7pm.

I have a long-standing disagreement with punishment. When I was a child I would think to myself when I was punished, “Geez! You don’t have to punish me. Just tell me what I did wrong and what to do instead!” Punishment always seemed like an overreaction. It was only when I became a parent and a therapy graduate student that I realized that, indeed, it was an overreaction!

I know you are asking, “Well, how are children suppose to learn what to do and what not to do if we don’t punish them when they do the wrong thing?” To that I say, “Children will learn what to do and what not to do by your example and by consequences.

Defining punishment and consequence is important here. Dictionary.com defines the words as follows:

Punishment: a penalty inflicted for an offense, fault, etc.
Consequence: the effect, result or outcome of something occurring earlier.

When I worked as a family therapy intern, I would encourage parents to stop punishing (and rewarding!) their children and start letting consequences teach their children what to do and what not to do. It’s a tough paradigm shift, however, in a society where we as parents feel that if we don’t make our children feel badly when they misbehave that we will raise criminals. I get that. It was a tough shift for me to make, too, and I even now, I flirt with the idea of punishment from time to time in order to punctuate my point when dealing with misbehavior.

Usually the question I get when discussing “no punishment” is “What on earth do we do instead?” I’m glad you asked!

Here are my no-punishment parenting tips:

1. Utilize consequences.

Let logical and natural consequences teach your children. Understand that no-punishment parenting is not permissive parenting. Permissive parenting is as dangerous to the emotional health of your child as overly-strict parenting.

Make rules and enforce them. The key here is to have consequences set up ahead of time and to be consistent. What things do your children currently face punishment for most often? Do these things already have natural consequences attached? If so, then there is no need to heap punishment on top of that. If not, then think of a logical consequence that fits.

2. Seek to understand behaviors.

Children who feel well, behave well. If your child is misbehaving there is usually a reason. Sometimes that reason is nothing more than boredom. A bored child who has chosen to entertain himself by picking on a sibling doesn’t need to be grounded. He needs more things to do. I’m sure you can think of a chore that would keep him busy! That’s a logical consequence.

A child who misbehaves in school might have underlying issues that need to be addressed by a medical or mental health professional.

A disrespectful child needs to be given a script of the right words to say instead and not merely grounded or lectured.

3. Teach your child how to make amends.

Children should not be allowed to misbehave or hurt others. It is important that your child make amends to those he hurts with his misbehavior. Did she speak rudely to you? Then she needs to give an apology. This can be verbal or written–which ever way your child is the most comfortable expressing herself sincerely. Did he break something that belongs to someone else? He needs to replace the item or pay for it.

At first, simply making amends may not feel like enough. You expect that your child will make amends and face a punishment, right? The truth is that the punishment goes beyond what is necessary to teach your child and adds nothing of value to the situation.

This post was originally featured on Allison’s blog, Our Small Hours. Photo via

Dear Teachers,

It’s that time of year again.

It comes every winter with the first snowfall. I can read it between the lines of the emails you send letting me know my son’s failing every subject. I can hear it in the exasperation when we speak on the phone and you carefully craft your sentences, trying not to let on that you have no more solutions and have run out of patience. You’ll never say the words out loud but I see them there behind everything you do say: you’re giving up on my kid.

My son has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). He was only diagnosed with it late last year but we’ve been struggling with his inattentiveness, disorganization, and lack of focus for much longer than that. We’ve had years of missing homework, unreadable handwriting, half-assed projects, and almost-failing report cards. But you? You’re still new here.

Every September we start fresh — a new grade, a new curriculum, a new set of teachers, sun-kissed and ready to help. We meet with you sooner than you’d prefer to have to deal with parents but we want to make sure you understand the saga that has been his school career thus far. You promise to work hard and are confident that together we’ll be able to fix him. He’s not the first kid you’ve encountered with ADHD, after all. The summer vacation has evidentially erased your memory of exactly what it means to deal with a kid with ADHD though because you seem a little too hopeful and you look at me with concern when I seem skeptical about your ability to perform miracles.

At first, things go okay. You go above and beyond, checking his agenda book religiously, offering extra tutoring, keeping me up-to-date with his progress while using words like “encouraging” and “proud”. He does his part, completes his assignments, studies for quizzes, and appears to make progress. We try to stay on top of him at home with charts and medicines and pep-talks. We all sigh and pat ourselves on the backs. Then slowly and quietly, things fall apart.

It always happens right around this time of year. We’ve all gotten a little too comfortable in our roles and no one sees it coming until the panic of two C’s, three D’s, and an F in health class hits us all and you and I and his father are in full-fledged “what the hell are we going to do?!” mode. The only one, it seems, who is still relaxed at this point, is my son, who appears to not realize or care that things aren’t going as the grownups had planned.

So there we are, the “village” charged with raising this kid, flailing about, trying to make this work, until one day I look around and see that it’s just me standing there holding on to him for dear life. You won’t admit it now, but you’ve given up on him.

Don’t get me wrong, I get it, and I don’t blame you. You’ve got dozens, if not hundreds of other kids to deal with. You don’t have the time to focus all of your energy on saving a kid that doesn’t care to be saved. Shoot, he came out of my vagina and I still want to throw in the towel regularly. So I get it. But, I’m begging you, please hold on a little longer.

You see, my son is completely content to fall through the cracks. He waits for it actually — that blessed moment when you give up on him and he’s free to slink down into that comfortable dark crevice where he can hide out quietly and peacefully until the end of the year, free from the overwhelming pressure to focus on things that bore him and unencumbered by the stress of having to achieve something he sees as out of his reach. He waits all year for you to let him go and finally, right now, he’s getting away with it. I try to pull him up out of that crack on my own but he’s getting bigger and stronger and my arms can’t hold him as tightly as they used to. I need your help.

I need you, his teachers, his “village”, to continue to believe he can do better, to expect better, to demand better from him. I need you to encourage him and forgive him and have faith that he’s worth the time and energy he’s taking from you because what you’ve forgotten from the beginning of the year is how much his smile charmed you the first time you met him. You’ve forgotten how kind and polite and wonderful he really is underneath that blank and frustrating shrug he gives you when you ask why he didn’t hand in his homework. You’ve forgotten that he’s lovable because he’s stopped acting lovable.

But he is still lovable and he is still worth it. I haven’t forgotten it and I need you not to either. So I’m begging you here, please remember that and please, please, please — don’t give up on my child.

Sincerely,

His Mom.

This post was originally featured on Eve’s blog, That’s My Apple.

I remember watching Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo and laughing hysterically when Deuce picked up a date (played by the lovely Amy Poehler) who happened to have Tourettes Syndrome. In the particularly funny scene, Amy goes on a profanity laced tirade in the car, screaming epithets like “shove it up your ass!” or “ball sweat, anus!”

At the time, I didn’t know my youngest son, just a toddler when I saw the film, would later develop Tourette Syndrome, or that we would have to come up against this problematic and untruthful stereotype time and time again, in an effort to find acceptance for a disorder few know anything other than “Shit! Ball sweat!” about.

The diagnosis came in 2011, when my son was just about to turn 12. For the past few years he’d been dealing with strange, although easily explained symptoms that didn’t respond to treatment.

The first tiny window into the disorder came in 2006, shortly after my son fell awkwardly on a trampoline and strained his neck. For the next year he would whip his neck back, as if trying to pop it in an abrupt manner. When I took him to the doctor, they found nothing physiologically wrong, so sent him home with a neck brace and ibuprofen, though neither seemed to help.

Eventually, his neck-whipping faded and a different, seemingly unrelated symptom took its place. It was barely spring in North Carolina when my son took to sniffling repeatedly, as if his nose were a machine gun with unlimited ammo. This minor annoyance co-occurred with throat clearing, little “ahems” that eventually drove me nuts. Once again, we went to the see the pediatrician who said it was allergies and prescribed a once-a-day pill to control his symptoms. When that didn’t work, the doctor added a nose spray, too.

By the time my son was 9, he was labeled the mouthy-kid in class and teachers would call or email me, exasperated because my son would say humorous (although situationally-appropriate) words and phrases during instruction time.

It wasn’t until he was 11 that I noticed something strange. One evening while we were talking, I noticed the right side of my son’s neck was contracting, and the right side of his mouth and chin seemed to continuously grimace.

“What are you doing?” I asked him.
“I don’t know,” he replied.
“Well, stop,” I said.
“I can’t!”

After my son went to bed, I decided to play Dr. Google and figure out what was going on.

I typed: “grimacing, neck flexing, causes” into the search engine. Instantly, I was given link upon link for symptoms of Tourette’s.
I’m not going to lie, but my very first thought was “What? Tourette’s is the cussing disorder.”

I clicked the first, second, third down through the fifteenth link, and found, to my surprise, lists of symptoms that my son had been dealing with for years.

It turns out that neck throwing, flexing, grimacing, sniffling, throat clearing and other contortions are all common expressions of Tourette’s, and we had never put the pieces together.

I called my son’s doctor the next morning and scheduled a visit.
When he evaluated my son and listened to the list of symptoms, he gave a preliminary diagnosis of Tourette’s, but also a referral to a pediatric neurologist at Walter Reed hospital.

Less than a month after realizing my son’s strange, seemingly disconnected symptoms were most likely clues to a bigger issue; we were given the final, difficult diagnosis of Tourette Syndrome.

Like most parents do, I devoured information about the disorder in an effort to understand what was happening to my son, and why.
The hardest part wasn’t accepting that my son had a neurological disorder with no known cure, but the lack of understanding or compassion from others.

Teachers, even after they were informed of the disorder, took to pointing out my son’s odd movements in front of the class. One even yelled at him to stop, which he couldn’t. My son also continued to talk in class, and although it was not the same blurting commonly attributed to Tourette’s, it was a facet of his neurological problem, which makes filtering himself difficult at times.

Family was kind, but understandably clueless – thinking (much like I had) that Tourette’s was the funny disorder where you got away with cussing and gave everyone a good laugh. What they and the teachers and fellow classmates didn’t understand was how painful Tourette’s can be – with continuous, repetitive movements called tics, creating muscle strain and discomfort, and uncomfortable stares from strangers who genuinely have no clue why someone is making strange faces or gestures. In a sentence: the disorder is no laughing matter.
What started as a joke soon became a burden.

Over the past few years, I have had numerous heart-felt conversations with misinformed people about the realities of Tourette’s, and how difficult it can be to find understanding when the majority of people believe it is nothing short of hilarious, or worse: something that can be controlled.

The reality is that Tourette’s tics are as involuntary as blinking. Sure – you can try to prevent your eyes from closing, but in the end, your autonomic nervous system will take control and force them shut whether you want to or not. The same is true with breathing.
And the cussing? Well – that’s called coprolalia, and it is so rare, that only ten percent of Tourette’s patients exhibit the classic outbursts so fondly reproduced on the cinematic screen. Think about that. For every ten people diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome, only one will have repetitive vocalized outbursts (not always curse words, either) while the other nine will express the disorder through recurring movements.
When we go to the movies or watch television shows, ninety percent of Tourette’s patients are not represented even if the name of their disorder is. That’s got to change.

These days the vast majority of us know it is wrong to use the word “retarded” to allude that someone is slow or stupid, but we haven’t crossed the bridge where we know it’s not okay to blurt out curse words and happily suffix that with “I must have Tourette’s!”

Stereotyping a disorder is much like stereotyping an individual because it devalues the person. Oh, you’re Asian? You must be good at math. Oh, you’re Mexican? You must be here illegally. Oh, you have Tourette’s? You must blurt out cuss words all day long. See how disturbing that actually sounds?

So I ask you, readers, the next time you hear, see or are compelled yourself to misuse the Tourette’s label, think about my son, about stereotypes and media misrepresentation. Allow yourself to discover what something is before laughing at it, and open the door for more dialogue about this widely misunderstood syndrome.

Photo via

My son was diagnosed in April of 2014 with Autism. We already knew but now he is official, it’s like he got the Good Housekeeping Seal of Autism Approval. Yay us.

Since coming out with our exciting diagnosis people have offered condolences (he’s not dying, but thanks), some have asked who diagnosed him (a random dude at the bus depot, he seemed legit enough), and others have pointed out that we needed a holistic approach to his issues (trust me I have tried, and short of having a Shaman at my house there is nothing left).

I do realize everyone is trying to help, because that is what people do when they don’t know what to do – they offer advice. I truly appreciate 99% of that advice, it takes a village after all. My family has been blessed with being surrounded by those that care and want the best for our son. That being said it is hard for those who do not have an Autistic child in their lives to understand. So here ya go…

1.) You cringe at the last 3 seconds of any sporting event that has a buzzer cause you are astutely aware of loud noises and their impact on your child.

2.) The demise of the Guest Assistance Card at Walt Disney World means you can’t visit without a major pain in the ass. Thanks for ruining the most magical place Disney, that was awesome.

3.) You watch other kids celebrate a team win at the local ice cream joint and realize your child probably won’t ever experience that, it might bring a tear to your eye (if you are human that is).

4.) You have same clothing pieces in multiple colors because finally you found something that is comfy and easy to get dressed in.

5.) You own books called: Parenting Children with ADHD, The Out of Sync Child, We’ve Got Issues, etc.

6.) You can spot another child with Autism a mile away, sometimes even before their own parents can spot them.

7.) You have accepted that the noises and movement that comes with your child is just the way it is, deal with it other people and please stop staring.

8.) You have named tics funny things – like ‘The Gary Coleman’.

9.) You see other kids playing together and wish your kid would participate.

10.) You are slowly accepting that your kid is ok not participating regardless of how much you want him too.

11.) Your kid loves his house, more than someone with Agoraphobia.

12.) You spend a lot of time talking to their teachers about things that most parents never dream of having a conversation about – could you please just STAY IN THE GOD DAMN CLASSROOM?! (BTW the answer is no because the sounds and lights are overwhelming and he gets hot, and sometimes he just needs to get up and walk around…sigh)

13.) You have all sorts of tools at your house – wiggle chairs, weighted blankets, T chewers, etc. You have since abandoned 99% of these but at one time you had hope that it would be the magic bullet (it wasn’t).

14.) Your child has a special connection with their pets that no one else in your house has.

15.) You child has a deep sensitivity to issues that surprise you every time they come up.

16.) Your kid may break down in tears of frustration over something simple, like writing a Thank You card – which is why you won’t get one from us, sorry I just don’t have the patience to suffer through this hell. Just know he appreciates your gift, really.

17.) You now have watched every documentary on Lincoln, The Civil War, Shipwrecks, etc.

18.) Shark week is a national holiday.

19.) You have vacationed at places like – Whitefish Point because the Edmund Fitzgerald sank there, duh.

20.) You have listened to the Gordon Lightfoot song about the Edmund Fitzgerald so many times that at the height of this obsession you were contemplating throwing all music playing devices out.

21.) Your child has a Jekyll and Hyde personality.

22.) Your other kids get invited to parties and events all the time, but your Autistic child doesn’t. It breaks your heart every time.

23.) You have searched high and low for everything and anything that may help your kid, devoting hours and major dollars. By now we could have circled the world.

24.) When you see your kids teacher walking your way you clench your jaw and brace yourself.

25.) You are beyond shocked and delighted when you hear a positive thing about school from your kid or their teacher.

26.) You can ask your kid a question and will most likely get the truth, life is black and white. There is no grey area.

27.) You constantly feel guilty because your Autistic kid takes more of your energy than your other kids do.

28.) Your Autistic kid has a deep love for you that warms your heart beyond your wildest dreams. They may not show it all the time but you have caught glimpses of it.

29.) You became scuba certified because your child loves the water, it is completely inconsequential that you don’t.

30.) You spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about the long term success of your child.

Autism is a part of our lives, and even though it brings with it many challenges it also brings many amazing things that we would have never have experienced if it weren’t for Autism. Life gives you all sorts of shit, you can choose to find a work around or just keep stepping in shit. We are always building bridges over the many piles of shit, if nothing else it keeps us on our toes.

This post was originally featured on Alyson’s blog, The Shitastrophy. Photo via

I went to the Children’s Museum this morning here in town and had an experience that I will probably never forget. My son and I were in the elevator (daughter is at camp – a wonderful invention – I would like to kiss deeply the person who thought of camp). Anyway, my son and I were getting into the elevator when a woman came in looking a bit frazzled. She had a big double stroller with a boy in the front seat around 7 years old, and then 3 other children around her, slightly older.

Looking very frustrated, I couldn’t help but hear her arguing with one of the children about something that happened that embarrassed them. I didn’t hear the story details so I’m not sure what they were referring to. However, at the moment the elevator stopped, the boy in the stroller started banging his head against the front of the stroller, then against the elevator hand rail. He was yelling that he wanted to go to the play area. Yelling loudly and banging over and over again. She struggled with getting him to stop and I helped her push the stroller out of the elevator so we all could exit.

I looked at the mother, then at him, then back at the mother. She had tears in her eyes. I realized when I looked at the son that he had down syndrome. I smiled at the mother and said, “There’s just rough days being a mother, isn’t there?”

Her reply is the reason I will never forget this story.

She replied with a shaking voice and tears coming down her face, “Every day is like this for me.”

I then decided to do what goes against every fabric of my New Yorker’s body. I walked right up to this woman I have never met before and I hugged her. And she cried in my arms. Then I said that words that I think every mother needs to hear, even me.

“You are a good mother.”

I repeated this about 10 times to her. I told her that we are all doing the best we can do in life. Then, I told her that she was definitely a better mother than I was because I hardly ever brought just 2 kids to the museum, let alone 4. She laughed and I told her that I hoped she had a good day. Though, I knew the chance of that was hard for her to imagine.

My heart has been hurting for that mother ever since I walked away from her.

My hats are off to all of you with children with extra needs. I hope you all know that you are good mothers. And it’s ok to cry. Even at the children’s museum.

Originally posted at Danielle’s blog.