Teaching Disability Acceptance and Awareness

by Amber Russell, Courier & Press, March 24, 2015 –

Ridicule — the act of making fun of someone or something in a cruel or harsh way; harsh comments made by people who are laughing at someone or something.

We have all seen someone poke fun at others, and perhaps we’ve even done it ourselves. How often have you said something like, “Listen to the way he talks” or “She is weird”?

As a Youth First School social worker, too often I work with children who have been called names such as “stupid” or “retarded,” or I hear about someone being made fun of because of how they walk, talk or look. Many times the targets are people with disabilities. Young children are often curious and don’t understand people or things that are different from them.

March is Disability Awareness month, which makes it the perfect time to teach kids that people with disabilities are more like us than they are different from us. They have hopes, goals, hobbies, family and friends, fears and anxieties just like everyone else. Use this month to increase your knowledge on disabilities and share the information with your kids.

Here are some tips to keep in mind to get the conversation going:

1. Talk about the Universal Access Symbol and explain that while the symbol is a person in a wheelchair, it really is a symbol for accessibility for people with disabilities. Explain that having a disability does not mean those individuals can’t do things; they may just need accommodations such as a ramp, wheelchair, hearing aide, extra help in school, or a voice activated computer or phone. See how many different places in the community you can identify the symbol.

2. When kids ask questions, try to be positive. For example, stress that hearing aids help others hear and wheelchairs help others move around, instead of using negatives (he can’t hear, she can’t walk, etc.). Your child may see a child who acts out and ask, “Why does that kid always act like that?” This may be a good time to explain how difficult and frustrating it is for kids with autism or other disabilities to communicate. You might tell them that some kids act out or have outbursts because they can’t express what they are thinking and feeling.

3. Visit the book store or library and read books about disabilities with your child. I really like the Special Kids in School series by JayJo Books. They have titles such as “Taking Tourette Syndrome to School” and “Taking Down syndrome to School.” Just ask your local librarian or book store employee for more suggestions.

4. If your child is not into reading, try using the Internet. Use the web to find movies or TV shows that feature characters with a disability or portray what it’s like living with a disability. Research celebrities who are disabled. There are a lot of great websites out there with a vast amount of information. Two of my favorites are: http://www.iidc.indiana.edu/cedir/kidsweb/default.html and http://www.parentcenterhub.org/repository/awareness.

Finally, remember that your child will model your behaviors. It is important that you model acceptance and inclusion through your own words and actions. Teaching them acceptance is essential for raising a sensitive and kind human being.

Spending Spring Break at Home

by Jana Pritchett, Courier & Press, March 17, 2015 –

Let’s face it. These days paying for college can be a financial strain on a student and his family. After footing the bill for tuition, housing, books, a meal plan, transportation, entertainment, study abroad and more, it really starts to add up. Sometimes there isn’t anything left for a spring break trip.

What’s a poor college student to do? Spending spring break week at home may not sound too appealing, but a spring break “staycation” doesn’t have to be meaningless and boring. It can be an opportunity to recharge, relax, and reconnect. It might even be fun!

Here are some ideas for making the most of your spring break time at home:

1. Recharge your batteries and give your overworked brain a rest. Sleep late, sip your morning coffee leisurely, eat comfort food and enjoy a more relaxed schedule.

2. Reconnect with family and friends. Plan a night out with friends at a favorite restaurant. Enjoy some quality time with your parents, siblings, and grandparents. Schedule a family night to see a movie or play board games. A grandparent might enjoy a fishing trip or going through old photos and videos together.

3. Take a camping trip. Get some friends together and check out a local campground or park. Pitch a tent and enjoy the great outdoors, and savor meals cooked over an open fire. Many state parks such as New Harmony have cabins, hiking trails, bike paths, planned activities, etc. Taking in the sights and sounds of nature can be a powerful stress reliever!

4. Take a short road trip to a bigger city. Evansville is within three hours of Indianapolis, Louisville, Nashville and St. Louis. Pick a city and plan to hit local landmarks and attractions. The possibilities are endless, from museums and parks to restaurants and shopping areas.

5. Volunteer for a nonprofit organization. It might require a little more advance planning, but volunteering is meaningful, rewarding and also a great resume-builder. Many nonprofits would be happy to have a college student willing to help out with office work, tutoring, event planning, or errands.

6. Job shadow. If you’re not sure what you want to do after graduation, spend some time job shadowing in an area of interest. Spring break can be an opportunity to step away from college and get a sneak peek into the real world. This may help you narrow down or weed out career possibilities.

7. Visit the local library or bookstore. Pick out a book to read for pure enjoyment. If possible, read outdoors in the sunshine and soak up some vitamin D. Or check out a classic video you’ve always wanted to see.

For most students, spring break is about getting away from school and hanging out with friends and family. Make the most of whatever you choose to do. Spend some time unplugged from the computer, recharging your batteries and reconnecting with loved ones. Pursuing past times put aside due to the demands of school will leave you feeling refreshed and ready to finish out the semester.

Parenting Through a Divorce

by Kate Thrall, Courier & Press, March 10, 2015 –

My mother is a wonderful role model, and I always wanted to be just like her. My hope was to marry the man of my dreams and have a house full of children. I think deep down most of us want to have a happy home with both parents present. However, sometimes it’s not meant to be and families are fractured.

I am now a divorced mom navigating the waters of single parenting. Honestly, divorce is one of the most devastating and damaging things I have ever experienced. Since divorce is a family issue — not just a marriage issue — and children can be deeply affected, I wanted to make sure I was still focused on parenting.

Through my own experience I have discovered a few ways to help children work through this difficult and trying time:

1. Have a positive attitude: Your children are looking to see how you respond. You need to be a strong, positive role model during this time.

2. Discussions with your spouse should not take place in front of the children: Children do not need to hear negative comments about the other parent or the situation.

3. Let your children know how much you love them: They may already be aware, but they need extra reassurance. They also need to know that they do not have to choose a side.

4. Find activities to do together: This will show your children that they are important to you, and they need to know you will always be their parent.

5. Create a good support system for you and your children: This could include friends, family, co-workers, people from church, or neighbors. You and your children need to be surrounded by positive, healthy people. Knowing there are people to help in your time of need will help reduce stress.

6. Try to keep things as normal as possible: If you can, keep children in the same school and attend the same church and activities. Surround them with friends and family.

7. Children often personalize the situation and feel responsible: Let them know the divorce is NOT their fault.

8. Structure is essential for all children, but it is especially important in this situation: Try to implement a schedule and stick to it. It is easier to start with small things. A bedtime routine was important to us. It was a time when my son could talk to me and freely express his emotions.

9. Practice healthy eating and sleeping habits during this time: This may be difficult, but it will make a big difference in how you feel.

For me personally, it took a few months before I truly understood that I was a single parent; I was used to doing everything as a family. After the divorce, I was overwhelmed with adjusting my schedule, providing the only source of income, and being the sole caretaker of our child.

For me each day as a divorced parent gets a little easier. It is still important to laugh and enjoy your children, because they don’t stay young forever. Remember, there is life after divorce.

Exercise Benefits Body, Mind

By Amber Russell, Courier & Press, March 3, 2015 –

At the beginning of the year, gyms and fitness centers are filled with individuals who have made resolutions to get healthy. Studies show that more than half of these people will have abandoned their New Year’s resolutions by June.

Exercise should be a way of life — not just about losing weight or making a resolution that falls by the wayside. Here are some ways in which exercise contributes to a healthy body and mind:

1. Exercise helps decrease disease and other health conditions.

Regular physical activity can help control or prevent a number of conditions. Exercise can lower your risk of heart disease and stroke, keep blood pressure in check and lower cholesterol levels. Research also shows that just 2 to 2½ hours of moderate aerobic exercise a week can help control glucose levels and lower rates of Type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome. Studies also show that physical activity is associated with the reduced risk of colon and breast cancers.

2. Exercise improves mood and boosts energy.

Exercise reduces levels of the body’s stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol. It helps produce endorphins, brain chemicals that act as natural pain killers and elevate mood. You might have heard the term “runner’s high” before, which is a feeling of optimism, relaxation, and energy after a good workout. This high is the result of increased endorphins.

3. Exercise can improve brain function.

Research has shown that exercise impacts the brain in numerous ways. The hippocampus, the part of the brain essential for learning and forming memories, is highly activated during exercise. Recent studies have also shown that with regular exercise, white matter in your brain becomes more fibrous and compact. The more compact your white matter, the faster and more efficiently your brain functions.

There is also evidence that regular physical exercise can improve cognitive function (a person’s ability to process thoughts) and brain plasticity, which is important in learning, coordination, memory and motor skills. A more plastic brain can reorganize itself and strengthen connections between nerve cells and different brain areas.

Here are some helpful tips to get started:

1. Find an accountability partner: It helps to have someone to meet at the gym, exchange motivational texts with, and share workout ideas/routines with.

2. Make it a competition: Set up a competition at work or with friends. It could be as simple as keeping track of points for 30 minutes of exercise each day.

3. Schedule it: Depending on your schedule you may have to get up earlier to get a workout in. If you are already an early riser with no time to spare in the morning, it might be better to work out on the way home from work or after the kids go to bed at night.

4. Set goals and rewards: If you exercise 5 out of 7 days for two weeks or beat a personal record in running, lifting, etc., rent a movie you’d like to see or treat yourself to something new.

5. Exercise for a cause: There are lots of affordable run/walk events that also help out a great cause. I have personally participated in walks for March of Dimes, Susan G. Komen Foundation, Suicide Awareness, and St. Jude.

6. Mix It Up: Find an activity you like. If running or walking is not for you, try yoga, Zumba, swimming, cycling, boxing, etc. Over time even activities you enjoy can become monotonous. Switch it up and try a new activity, class or workout video once in a while.

Once you are in a routine, the benefits of exercise for body and mind will be obvious. Get started, set small goals, reward yourself and stick with it. You can do it!