Parenting Children With Special Needs

When I first considered this topic for my radio show, I thought about it approaching it from the perspective—What happens when you learn something is wrong with your child?  My initial thought behind that was that this is the way parents first feel when they receive any diagnosis ranging from hearing impairment, cognitive processing difficulties, behavior issues or physical challenges.  The very phrasing is problematic, however.

While most parents first think of their child’s challenge(s) as a wrong, that thinking often shifts into something much more hopeful.  How can you turn a feeling of loss into one of hope that spurs action?

Sue Mayer shared her experiences with me about the challenges and joys associated with raising children who have special needs.  As a mother of three children, two with special needs, Sue says, “I have had the opportunity/privilege to learn/experience with my children how each of them learns differently. My oldest son has introduced me to the joy and challenges of ADHD/Dyslexia/LD in Reading/Writing/Spelling. My daughter allows me to experience a typical child with an exceptional personality. My youngest son has educated me on the many aspects of Down Syndrome/Brain Injury/Apraxia/Dysphagia/Bi-Lateral Conductive Hearing Loss.”

Sue blogs about her experiences.  Her blog is an honest account of both the emotional highs and lows that make up her life. It’s become a fantastic resource for parents of special needs children and those who just want to understand how to help be more empathetic. 

Sue is a woman of action.  Not only does she home school her youngest child, help her oldest son to advocate for himself, encourage her daughter’s natural enthusiasm for nurturing, Sue works hard to better her community as well.  Sue was one of the founders of Possibility Playground. It is a universally accessible playground for children of all physical abilities located in Port Washington, WI. 

One the greatest things about Possibility Playground is that it was not built by any government program. It was built entirely through $450,000 in donations raised by the community. The playground was built in just six days with the help of more than 2,800 volunteers.  That’s right, no government red-tape, no government funding and it’s a fully functioning playground where all children can play together. 

For more information, listen to my interview with Sue Mayer at

The Next Decade Does Require Honest Conversation

This morning on Meet The Press, Newt Gingrich made an excellent point when he said, “The next decade will be a decade of honest conversation.” In order for that conversation to take place, however, we need to find the language to do that.

Words matter. We change the way we speak to indicate a change in the way we think. It works the other way too. Words influence our views. It comes down to a difference between denotation and connotation. A word’s dictionary definition is its denotation. The feeling or image a word evokes is its connotation. The spirit behind political correctness is an admirable one because of this.

The era of political correctness has held us back in some ways because it seems to justify an absence of critical thought. There is a War on Terror even if President Obama refuses to call it that. The events of recent months prove it. Just consider the attack at Fort Hood as well as those recently arrested in Denver, Detroit, New York and Pakistan in connection with potential threats to American’s safety. There are threats, but who or what is the enemy? Why is it politically incorrect to call them Islamic extremists? What unifies these terrorists if not their religious fanaticism? Can you be tolerant of religious differences while still distinguishing when one group hides behind a religion to push forward a criminal agenda? Yes, we must be able to do that in order to have that honest conversation Gingrich so rightly called for.

Let’s start talking.

Public Figures and Their Affairs: It’s All About Credibility

Public figures enjoy tremendous fortune and have high visibility.   It’s in their best interest to safeguard their favorable status with the American public.  Then they are rewarded with celebrity endorsements from companies eager to form a partnership with them.  When that happens, companies hope consumers will associate the goodwill they feel for the celebrity with their product.   

Michael Jordan is a much sought after public figure and enjoys lucrative celebrity endorsement deals with Hanes, Ball Park Franks and many others.  These companies pay Jordan very well for his positive image.

Endorsements like these can also be taken away, however.  If a company no longer deems that celebrity worthy of representing its product, the celebrity loses the endorsement.  This is usually clearly spelled out in morality clauses.  There is a choice.  No one is forcing anyone to accept the contract.

Tiger Woods has been the focus of countless news stories this week as a result of an accident and belated apology for personal indiscretions.   Many women have since come forward claiming they participated in his infidelity.  Woods has asked for privacy and that has engaged a lively debate over whether public figures can have private lives.  Does it go both ways?  Can a public figure ask for privacy when it’s convenient? 

If a celebrity wants the endorsement contracts, he or she must meet expectations.  That means celebrities must not only excel in their professions, but behave without reproach in their private lives as well because everyone is watching and millions of dollars are at stake. 

America loves a comeback story.  With hard work, credibility can be rebuilt.  Just look at Kobe Bryant and Tylenol.  Both the basketball star and the product line faced credibility crises and have not only rebuilt their reputations, but have exponentially surpassed their initial level of success.

Give Generously, But Be Smart About It

Even the most generous must be critical thinkers. Critical thinkers must question everything they are told as well as what they believe and even that which they consider to be common sense. As the holidays approach many requests for charitable donations will reach us through email, over the phone, at the mall, outside the grocery store and in church. It’s important to investigate before giving, however. That may sound very Scrooge-like, but it’s important to give intelligently. Not every charity is worthy of your hard-earned dollars.

Just because a charity has the words “national,” “American,” and “cancer” in its name doesn’t mean it is legitimate. Ask for more information and verify the claims before you hand over your cash or credit card information. It’s not Grinch-like to question things. It’s smart. For every bogus charity that gets your money, a legitimate organization is missing out.

Stick to what you know and those organizations close to your heart. Consider thinking ahead about how much you want to donate this season and where you can make the most impact. A donation of time in this tough economic situation could make a significant social contribution. Involve the whole family. This is an opportunity to set an example of critical thinking and social responsibility for your children.

Do you want to focus on feeding the hungry? How about contributing to research for a cure? Would you like to visit a nursing home? How about helping build a home for a needy family?

The possibilities are endless. Do some critical thinking and some research first and then contribute. Happy Holidays!

Happy Birthday Sesame Street!

Today Sesame Street turns 40 and once again, the show is making news and stirring controversy. It is so timely that critics now claim its storylines reflect bias. A recent re-airing of a two year old show featuring a news channel parody, today’s scheduled guest host, First Lady Michelle Obama, and this season’s emphasis on the environment are the reasons for this latest controversy.

Recently PBS re-aired an episode from two years ago where Oscar the Grouch started a news network called Grouchy News Network or GNN. A puppet character caller complained that GNN wasn’t grouchy enough and said, “From now on, I’m watching Pox News. Now there’s a trashy news show.” This is just another very clever parody that Sesame Street is famous for and not an attack against conservatives or Fox News as some might claim. It is a simply a fun and smart show. Sesame Street is famous for its parodies. Other clever parodies include Desperate Houseplants, A’s Anatomy, Law and Order: Special Letters Unit, Preschool Musical and 30 Rocks. Parents can look forward to newer parodies of Dancing with the Stars and even a Mad Men parody in which a Muppet Don Draper pitches an ad campaign that makes him feel mad, sad and eventually glad.

Today First Lady Michelle Obama will appear as a guest star on Sesame Street to help celebrate its birthday. Sesame Street has a history of inviting celebrities on the show to delight parents and children alike. Guest stars, like parodies, are another staple of the show. They serve two purposes. Guest stars make the show current and since co-viewing of parents and children is encouraged, featuring celebrity guests succeeds in entertaining parents along with their kids. Three other first ladies have also appeared on the show. In fact, this year more celebrity guests are scheduled than ever before. Watching them cut loose on Sesame Street is sure to be a treat.

Could it be that Sesame Street is promoting a liberal agenda by focusing on the environment this year? It’s more likely that Sesame Street is doing what its always done and that is incorporating trends into its shows. As we all know, the “green” movement is present in nearly every aspect of modern culture. It would be odd if Sesame Street didn’t follow suit.

Happy Birthday Sesame Street! I’ll be watching and hope you’ll be around for many more years to come.

Technology in Today’s Classroom

As a college writing and communications instructor, I frequently utilize resources from YouTube, iTunes and Hulu in my classes. Today’s students demand media’s integration into the classroom.

Gone are the days when instructors lectured with slides or even more recently Power Point. Watching an instructor read every word on a 68 slide Power Point presentation is just as painful as sitting through an instructor ‘s lecture as he or she stands behind a podium and reads notes for more than an hour. Students don’t want to be talked at, they want to spoken to and then invited to discuss. Traditional lectures leave little room for student participation or discussion and have fallen out of favor with today’s students. Plus, they are just boring.

Modern classrooms are equipped with laptops or desktop computers, Internet access, SMART Board interactive whiteboards, overheads and LCD projectors. All this equipment begs to be utilized. Instructors must be up for the challenge of frequently updating their course materials and the best ones do just that.

I teach in a specific program tailored for working adults returning to school to earn their associate’s, bachelor’s and master’s degrees. The program is accelerated and the students are highly motivated. Each class has to have real world application. I’ve found that weaving carefully chosen media into my lessons helps achieve my goals–to educate and entertain. There are those who find fault with the combination of education and entertainment (edutainment), but I think it makes perfect sense. How can you educate if you haven’t succeeded in engaging your students? You can’t.

When teaching students about the power of persona in persuasion, I show a clip of The Oprah Effect from the MSNBC special. Then we read the famous essay by Judy Brady entitled, I Want a Wife. Afterwards, I facilitate a discussion and ask for other examples. Students understand persona much better this way than they would if I just lectured about persona.

There are almost as many resources out there as there are opportunities to use them. I recently spoke with Dennis Carter, assistant editor for eSchool News about teacher resources that help instructors make education much more interactive and entertaining.

Click here to read the article.

A Link Between Educating Women and Fighting Terrorism

Could it be that a key to fighting terrorism is to educate women?

Oprah recently did a show on the topic and it was both moving and thought provoking. In the past, I’ve always tuned out coverage of the atrocities women face in developing countries because it was too horrible for me to hear about it when there was nothing I could do. Something about this particular show and the teaser about a link between women’s education and terrorism drew me in. I was awed by the hope in this piece.

Through the profiles on Oprah’s show of women in Africa where rape is used as a weapon and women in India where male oppression suffocates and objectifies females as rule, there are women who emerge as heroes. With only small assistance, many women emerge as survivors and leaders. I learned that when one woman is educated, she teaches her community. Additionally, I was intrigued by the concept of how small loans, called micro loans, often as little as $65 could change lives.

Perhaps these problems I thought were hopeless are solvable, however. Many of these women are not people to pity, but to admire. Despite relentless oppression and abuse, these women persevere. Investing in the education and health of women worldwide is the key to making a difference. Change happens on the local level.

An August New York Time’s article entitled Saving the World’s Women: The Women’s Crusade focused on the connection between educating women and fighting terrorism. While many have argued that Islamic teachings have encouraged and justified the disproportionate amount of terrorism in Muslim countries, a closer look reveals that a lack of female education and lack of female participation in the labor force are the common factors. Male dominated cultures create a breeding ground in which terrorism flourishes. Empowering women helps to stop the spread of terrorism.

As a woman and a teacher, I find this prospect most exciting.