2014 Military Special Needs Network Holiday Guide Winter 2014 - Page 21

Imagine if you will, the busy-ness of the winter season. A season filled with fun and anticipation. Winter includes family holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukah, New Years and many other special family events. Families gather around food and traditions. You might spend the whole day planning for every detail, then Grandma comes late, you burn the pumpkin pie and the whole plan changes. You quickly shift gears and the merriment continues. Shift gears? Merriment continues?

Not in your house!

Having a child with special needs makes changing gears and shifting plans a mere impossible feat. It simply doesn’t happen. One small change effects so many aspects of your lives that it is can be hard to recover. A small event in our adult minds equals a catastrophe to our children. Our unique children simply don’t do well with change and unpredictability.

At Springall Academy in San Diego, we work with children age six through twenty-two with a variety of special needs. One tip that I would like to share with you is the use of the terms expected and unexpected. We work with the students on what to expect in certain situations. For example, What do you expect on the first day of school? Reponses could include, I will meet my new teacher, I will find my new desk. I will meet new students. The same is true for the unexpected. The response could be I don’t expect the class to be the same as last year. I don’t expect to sit next to the same student. We then discuss how it feels to experience what you expect as well as the experience of the unexpected. Whether the child can verbalize the feelings or not, it is a meaningful conversation to have with the children. Prompts and guidance about how someone might feel will be helpful for everyone.

You can use a similar structure in helping to prepare your student for the holidays. Review through conversation or even a role-play in your own home; What is expected on Thanksgiving? Who do you expect to be there? Who can you expect to sit next to? Having this conversation will help alleviate both your worries and those of your children.

Conversely, like fire drills in schools, talk about and practice what to do if something unexpected happens. What if dinner is later than expected? What if you have to wait for Grandma to get there? What if your favorite cousin can’t make the dinner? Having a plan for the expected and unexpected will go a long way. This direct practice of planning for disappointment or change has proved successful at Springall during the school year and I am confident it will help you too!

As you enjoy this holiday season, I have great expectations of the sharing of love and the building of memories. I wish you all of that and more.

Dr. Dierolf joined Springall in the fall of 1994. She began as a support staff member and was our first guidance counselor before transitioning to administration in 2005. Over the last 15 years, she has brought many programs to Springall, including the Guidance Department and Club 45, and was a founding member of the CAPSES Sports League. She earned her BA in psychology from San Diego State University in 1994, her master’s in counseling from the University of San Diego in 1999, and her doctorate in leadership from USD in 2008. Dr. Dierolf is also an Adjunct Professor at the University of San Diego, teaching in the School of Leadership and Education Sciences’ Masters in Counseling Program. She brings a variety of experience to the Springall program, such as her lifetime membership and volunteer status with the Girl Scouts. She is dedicated to maintaining the integrity of the program first started here in 1972 by Dr. Springall, along with adapting to the changing times and current research in special education. She believes in educating the whole child while providing a safe atmosphere for kids to be themselves.

Great Expectations

Dr. Heather Dierolf