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Ask Dr. Mike

May 2, 2012 by Blue Ridge Leader filed under Ask Dr. Mike, Columns No Comments
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Dr. Mike, My husband and I are taking our three children to Disney World this Summer. We’ve waited as long as we have because our youngest son has autism, and we know the experience may be over stimulating for him. He’s a great kid but reacts to long waits and loud noises. We certainly do not want to deprive our son (or other children) of the Disney experience, but acknowledge that we have to be careful with how we approach this. Do you think our 7 year old son can handle Disney, and do you have any tips for us? – S., in Leesburg

S., I’ve dealt with this several times as a psychologist with Disney and other theme parks, so I do have a few tips for you. While I don’t know your child’s level of functioning, I do believe he could have a wonderful time at Disney if you prepare yourselves in advance. The first thing you’re going to want to do is get a note from your son’s pediatrician or from one of his treatment provider’s (e.g., his psychiatrist or psychologist). The note should explain that your child has autism and the related difficulties in functioning from that condition. For example, you write that your son may become over stimulated by noises and long waits. Your doctor’s note should explicitly state then that long lines or waits alongside noise may be problematic for your son. When you arrive at Disney, you’ll bring your letter to the Guest Relations window and request a Guest Assistance Card. The Guest Assistance Card will be good for all four parks. You should also request the Guidebook for Guests with Disabilities, which will be further informative for you on how to have a great time at Disney with your child. You will also find the Guidebook on-line at www.DisneyWorld.com if you want to review it in advance. A few more thoughts. You may also want to investigate where you are staying before you book your rooms. A loud hotel or hotel room isn’t advised. Also, if your son has any dietary restrictions, make sure you know about what restaurants serve in advance, and call ahead for priority seating if needed. Also, taking breaks and/or naps to recharge is recommended – enjoy Disney over the course of a several small visits as opposed to long, full days. You may also want to have some earplugs on hand, as some of the attractions will have loud sound effects or music. Lastly, as parents remember that it’s all about having fun, and don’t try to do too much. If your older children get frustrated with your pace, maybe you can separate so that they can fit more in. Disney is a magical place for all children, and I hope you and your family have a fantastic and memorable experience.

Dr. Mike, I only allow my children to have sugar on occasion, as I know it causes them to become hyperactive and difficult to manage. My neighbor tells me that sugar does not cause hyperactivity, and that’s always just been a myth or wife’s tale. She’s wrong, right? Is there any research to support my position?
– T., in Purcellville

T., Hmmm … how do I say that your friend is right, kindly? There isn’t a single scientific study to date that supports a direct relationship between sugar and hyperactivity in our children. The idea that sugar or additives cause behavioral changes in children dates back to claims about food additives made by Benjamin Feingold, MD (the Feingold diet) in the 1970’s that mostly haven’t been supported. That’s why our mom’s were so adamant that sugar was a problem, but, as the old saying goes, “You can’t believe everything you read.” Researchers argue that parents tend to assume causation when really changes in behavior with sugar in children have more to do with proximity. For example, when your child eats a big piece of chocolate cake with ice cream at a birthday party and gets too revved up, he’s revved up because of the situation – lots of kids, noise, playing and having fun.

Dr. Mike, My husband and I do not believe in teen dating, yet our daughter is giving us a real run for our money. She is 15 and is attacking us hard with some great arguments – that all of her friends are dating, that we are too restrictive, that she gets A’s and B’s, that we don’t trust her (that one hurt), etc. While all of her points are valid, we just don’t see what good will come from dating at her age. To the contrary, my husband and I were once 15, and we are well aware of the problems dating at that age can cause – ranging from a broken heart to premature sex and pregnancy. She’s our only child, and we want to get this right. Got any advice?
–?B., in Leesburg

B., I agree that your daughter’s arguments for dating are valid, and I would also agree that yours are too. In most relationship disagreements, however, being right isn’t necessarily the solution, but rather reaching a place of acceptance and compromise is. At 15, it is normal for your daughter to be curious about and interested in boys, so I wouldn’t discourage that. My recommendation would be for you and your husband to initiate open dialogue with her on the topic with a focus on your concerns and not your restrictions or rules. In your discussions, I would emphasize the importance of developing sound friendships with boys first even if there’s also attraction. You seem like very involved parents, so I am sure you’ve already modeled a healthy intimate relationship for your child, and I would discuss those things with her; how you and your husband respect one another and have shared values. Perhaps you could agree to group dating initially to see how your daughter handles that. High School is also going to provide dating opportunities for her (e.g., homecoming and prom), and I would allow those moments to unfold. Look, your daughter will likely be headed off to college in a few years, and you will not be there to supervise or protect her as a young adult. This is your daughter’s time to slowly become more and more independent, and you need to let go enough for her to do that. Eventually your daughter will have her heart broken, and she will also probably make her fair share of mistakes in relationships, and she will also learn from them just like you did. It seems to me that what might be most difficult for you and your husband at this point is accepting the reality that your baby girl is growing up and is no longer a child with only childhood interests. This is understandably an anxiety producing time for you as parents, so be good to yourselves as you come to terms with adjustments that come with the territory of raising a teenager.

Michael Observantine “Dr. Mike” is the Founder and Director of Ashburn Psychological Services (APS), a private mental health clinic comprised of 12 MD and PhD level mental health clinicians. He and his team are here to serve our Loudoun children, teens and adults. To learn more about Dr. Mike and the APS team, please visit: www.ashburnpsych.com or call (703) 723-2999.
To submit questions, e-mail askdrmike@BRLeader.com.

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