Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Keeping Your New Year’s Fitness Resolutions

“Although no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending.” – Carl Bard

It’s almost the new year and that means most people will vow to lose weight, exercise and eat healthier – the most common New Year’s Resolutions.  Resolutions are easy to start; the challenge is sustaining them.  One month later, have you adhered to your good intentions?
Statistics show that, at the end of January, approximately 64% of resolvers are still hanging in there; six months later, that number drops to 44%, according to John Norcross, University of Scranton psychologist and author of Changing for Good.

Making resolutions is the first step, but you’ll need a plan and a healthy dose of perseverance if you want to succeed.
Here are a few points to remember as you create your New Year’s Resolutions:

·         Set realistic expectations.  You will not lose 10 pounds in a week – not even if you eat only fruit and drink water (which would be very unhealthy because your diet would lack vital protein).

·         Create mini-goals.  If you want to become more physically fit, instead of trying to complete 100 sit-ups on January 2, attempt 20 sit-ups and add 5 sit-ups each day.  Small increments add up and, within a few weeks,  you’ll not only feel better but you’ll also have increased endurance.  Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day.  So, unfortunately, you won’t get an ab 6-pack in the first week of the new year.

·         Celebrate small goals.  Don’t place added pressure on yourself to be perfect.  No one is perfect and no one has a perfect diet or exercise regimen.  It’s important to reward yourself for reaching halfway or mini-goals.  If you want to lose 20 pounds, celebrate losing the first 5 pounds by buying yourself flowers or getting a massage. 

·         Believe in yourself.  You have the willpower and perseverance to succeed!

·         Good health is a marathon, not a sprint.  A realistic resolution is one you can sustain for at least a year -- not just for a few weeks.

If you’ve totally run out of steam when it comes to keeping your resolution by mid-February, don’t despair. Start over again! Recommit yourself for 24 hours. You can do anything for 24 hours. The 24-hour increments will soon build on each other and, before you know it, you will be back on track.
I wish you a healthy and happy new year! 

To learn more about Fitness for Health’s exercise programs or how we can help you accomplish your fitness goals in 2014, visit www.FitnessForHealth.org.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013


Now that the Holidays are upon us, everywhere you go, you see happy families spending time together.  So, in honor of Christmas Eve and its celebration of family togetherness, the focus of my blog today is the importance of family.

Family is the most important aspect of society.  Family is not only the basic societal building block, it also provides invaluable life skills and forms the people we will become as adults.  It teaches us child-raising, patience, basic communication skills and how to love – while being the all-around fun and friendship unit. 

In our families, we love, serve, teach and learn from each other. We share our joys and our sorrows. Family ties may bring us difficult challenges, but family also gives us strength and some of our greatest happiness.

While we cannot choose the conditions of our birth, we can choose each day to make our families stronger and happier by spending quality time together having fun and playing.

Families need to work – and play – together to enhance and build stronger relationships.  With an integrated, team-building approach, parents, grandparents and children can have fun playing games that also increase self-esteem – and help families bond. 

So, take this holiday and school break as an opportunity to play as a family.  Set aside one night to play Scrabble, go ice skating or take a walk around the neighborhood to view the holiday lights.  If you feel more adventurous, create your own family games – while also creating new family traditions and memories.  Your only limit is your imagination.

I wish you and your family a happy holiday!

For more ideas about family games and “family playtime,” read my previous blogs.  For additional information about Fitness for Health’s programs for children and families, visit www.FitnessForHealth.org.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Power of Laughter

Knock-knock.  Who’s there?  Boo.  Boo who? The healing power of laughter is nothing to cry about!

We were born with the gift of laughter.  Laughter is a natural medicine. It lifts our spirits and makes us feel happy. Laughter is a contagious emotion. It can bring people together. It can help us feel more alive and empowered.

Medical studies have found that laughter may also provide physical benefits, such as helping to:

  • Boost the immune system and circulatory system
  • Enhance oxygen intake
  • Stimulate the heart and lungs
  • Relax muscles throughout the body
  • Trigger the release of endorphins (the body’s natural painkillers)
  • Improve sleep
  • Ease digestion/soothes stomach aches
  • Relieve pain
  • Balance blood pressure
  • Improve mental functions (i.e., alertness, memory, creativity)

According to HelpGuide.org, laughter is a strong medicine for the mind, body and soul:

Physical Health Benefits:
  • Boosts immunity
  • Lowers stress hormones
  • Decreases pain
  • Relaxes your muscles
  • Prevents heart disease
Mental Health Benefits:
  • Adds joy and zest to life
  • Eases anxiety and fear
  • Relieves stress
  • Improves mood
  • Enhances resilience
Social Benefits:
  • Strengthens relationships
  • Attracts others to us
  • Enhances teamwork
  • Helps defuse conflict
  • Promotes group bonding

So, as the holidays approach and stress levels rise, just remember to take a moment and giggle.  As laughter, humor and play become an integrated part of your life, your creativity will flourish and new discoveries for playing with friends, coworkers, acquaintances and loved ones will occur to you daily. Humor takes you to a higher place where you can view the world from a more relaxed, positive, creative, joyful, and balanced perspective.  And, best of all, it’s FREE.

For more information concerning Fitness for Health and our programs, visit www.FitnessForHealth.org.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

“12 Days of Christmas” Workout

Happy Holidays! 
It's easy to let your workout routine slide during the holiday season. It's more fun to spend time eating at the buffet and drinking egg nog with friends and family than it is to make time for fitness.  But, fitness is a yearlong endeavor and New Year's resolutions are right around the corner.  
I recently heard of the "12 Days of Christmas" Workout and thought, although challenging, it is a fun way to infuse holiday spirit into an exercise routine.
Here’s how it works.  It’s a little different from the song.  For this workout, you’ll be going in reverse order from the song.  Normally, you’d start at the first day, the small number, and go to the last day, the big number.  For this workout, you’ll start with the 12th day and go down from there.
For example, you’ll start with 12 repetitions of the first exercise.  Then, you’ll go for 12 of the first exercise again, 11 of the second, etc.  Start over with 12 reps of the first exercise, 11 of the second, and 10 of the third.  Keep repeating just like that until you’ve done all 12 exercises.  When you’re done, you will have completed 650 total reps. 
Here are my thoughts for a "12 Days of Christmas" Workout routine along with a link to a video explaining how to properly complete each exercise:

11 butt kicks (1 minute)

6 chair dips (You will need a chair or ledge.)

5 laying down bicycles (5 intervals of 20 seconds)

3 V-sit (30 seconds)

Have a fun - and fit - holiday season!

For additional information concerning Fitness for Health's individual or small group training, visit www.FitnessForHealth.org.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Low Fat Holiday Treats

Too many holiday treats can easily derail your diet. Fortunately, if you bake smart, you can enjoy dessert.

To add onto my “Tips to Curb Holiday Overeating” blog from earlier this week, I want to share my favorite dessert recipe in time for the holiday buffet season.

For times, when you need a healthier dessert, try incorporating flax seed.  Flax seed is high in most of the B vitamins, magnesium, and manganese, but it is also rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, high in insoluable and soluable fiber, and is perhaps our best source of lignans, which convert in our intestines to substances that tend to balance female hormones.  In addition, lignans may help prevent Type 2 diabetes.

A delicious way to incorporate flax into a daily diet is to mix flax powder into oatmeal for a satisfying snack or even to "cheat" every once in awhile and place them into brownies!

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: 35 minutes

Total Time: 55 minutes


·         1/4 lb butter (1 stick)

·         2 cups erythritol (powdered, not granulated)

·         1 Tbsp vanilla

·         4 eggs (room temp is best)

·         1/2 cup cocoa

·         1 tsp salt

·         4 oz unsweetened chocolate, melted

·         2 cups flax seed meal

·         1 Tbsp baking powder

·         1/3 cup cream

·         2/3 cup water

·         1 cup artificial sweetener

·         1 cup walnuts (optional)


Preheat oven to 350 F and grease a 9 x 13 pan.

1) Cream the butter until fluffy.

2) Add the erythritol to the butter and cream them together until fully combined (aim for a fluffy texture).

3) Add the vanilla and beat the eggs into the mixture, one at a time.

4) Add salt and cocoa, beat well.

5) Add chocolate, beat until fluffy.

6) Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well to combine.

7) Pour into a pan and bake for 35 to 40 minutes until top springs back. (You can also test if they're ready by sticking a toothpick in the brownies. If it comes out clean, or almost-so, they're done.)

8) Cool, then cut into 32 squares. If you cheat and eat one warm, know that the texture will be different once completely cool. That's when they become like real brownies. (They are even better the next day.)

Nutritional Analysis: Each of 32 brownies has 1 gram effective carbohydrate, plus 3 grams of fiber, 3 grams of protein, 10 grams of fat, and 107 calories.

So dig in without the guilt, because you won’t break your calorie bank with these delicious treats!

Happy Holidays!

For additional information about Fitness for Health and our fitness offerings, visit www.FitnessForHealth.org.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Tips to Curb Holiday Overeating

The holiday season means feasts, festivities and lots of food.  And, if you're naughty, Santa might bring you an extra five pounds around your waistline.

Now that the Holidays are approaching, how can families ensure that they don’t overeat?

1.       Exercise more in weeks before the Holidays. This will help you burn extra calories that you may eat during holidays or periods of stress.

2.       Eat breakfast. This will help control your hunger throughout the day and help you avoid overindulging. 

3.       Lighten up the recipes. Try using fat free or sugar free ingredients in your favorite recipes to cut down on the calories.

4.       Watch your portion sizes. Skip the temptation of a second helping and enjoy a desert instead. There will be leftovers for tomorrow to enjoy again!

5.       Slowly saver your food. Eating slowly will help you to feel full and satisfied without over-indulging.

Everyone overeats sometimes.

If you eat too much, wait until you are hungry again to eat.  Rather than continuing to eat out of guilt or by the clock, listen to your body.  It probably won't need food as soon so you may not be hungry for your usual snack or even your next meal.

When you get hungry again, ask yourself, "What do I want?" and "What do I need?"  Don't punish yourself or try to compensate for overeating by restricting yourself.  If you try to make yourself eat foods you don't really want, you'll feel deprived and fuel your eat-repent-repeat cycle. Trust and respect what your body tells you because it's likely that it will naturally seek balance, variety, and moderation.  You might notice that you're hungry for something small or something light-maybe a bowl of soup or cereal, a piece of fruit or a salad.

Lastly, don't use exercise to punish yourself for overeating.  Fitness is a fun way to maintain your weight year-round while adding muscle and increasing self-esteem.  Be active all the time and use the fuel you consume to live a full and satisfying life.

Happy holiday eating!

Visit www.FitnessForHealth.org for more information about Fitness for Health’s exercise programs for adults and children.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Preventing Juvenile Diabetes

According to the American Diabetes Association, about 1 in every 400 children and adolescents now has diabetes.

Diabetes is one of the most common chronic diseases in children and adolescents; about 151,000 people below the age of 20 have diabetes.

When diabetes strikes during childhood, it is routinely assumed to be Type 1, or juvenile-onset diabetes. However, in just the last two decades, Type 2 diabetes (formerly known as adult-onset diabetes) has been reported among U.S. children and adolescents with increasing frequency.  This is due to the childhood obesity epidemic and the fact that children have decreased physical levels.

What can be done to help children ward off diabetes and begin to enjoy healthy, active lifestyles?

Parents Magazine recently printed the following five tips from two pros - Toby Smithson, RDN, CDE, founder of DiabetesEveryDay.com and coauthor of the new book, Diabetes Meal Planning and Nutrition for Dummies, and Hillary Wright, MEd, RD, author of the new book, The Prediabetes Diet Plan

1. Eat at home. According to Smithson, “Fast food equals more calories and fat, less fiber and nutrition. Eating at home offers opportunities to teach kids about cooking and also offers great communication opportunities.” Wright adds, “Sharing healthy meals as a family is critical to balancing out the non-stop messaging kids are exposed to outside the home encouraging them to buy junk food and eat on-the-fly.  Kids learn by example, so demonstrating what healthy eating looks like while they’re living under your roof is a critical self-care skill they’ll need for life.”

2. Snack smarter. When it’s after-school snack time, Wright urges parents to offer their kids a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables, yogurt, or cheese sticks instead refined crackers or nutrient-poor packaged snack foods. She says, “Hungry kids may be more willing to try something new, so take the after-school time to introduce new foods to your kids since they may be more receptive to them then.”

3. Plan it, buy it. Encouraging your child to plan a meal (like dinner), write a grocery list for the items needed and then selecting those items when at the grocery store can be very empowering for children, says Smithson. She adds, “Giving them a say in what’s served, and in what new foods they (or the family) should try may make it more likely that they’ll take a taste when dinner time comes around.”

4. Help them read between the lines. Smithson says it’s key to teach kids, even from a young age, to be food media literate. “It’s important for parents and children to understand food advertising and to take a stand against it by not always giving in to it, Smithson says. Because children are exposed to thousands of hours of targeted advertising for fast food, snacks, and sugar-sweetened cereal, Smithson urges parents to help their kids read between the lines of food marketing strategies. (You can learn more about food marketing and children by checking out Food Marketing to Youth and other info from Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity.)

5. Play Actively. Wright says it’s key to keep your kids moving throughout the day as much as possible (and to join in on the fun when you can). She says, “Physical activity naturally stimulates chemicals that help clear glucose out of the blood and prevent diabetes.” Smithson agrees, and encourages kids not only to increase play time, but to make sure it’s active play. For most kids, 60 minutes or more of physical activity is recommended daily. (For more ideas to help your kids - and entire family - stay fit, check out Tips for Getting Active by the National Heart Lung, & Blood Institute (NHLBI)).

How can parents encourage their children to be physically fit?  In my opinion, make physical activities and games FUN for the whole family!  The key to successful participation is creativity and positive reinforcement as well as scheduling a regular time during the week as “family playtime."  Families need to work - and play - together to enhance physical fitness while building stronger relationships.  With an integrated approach, parents, grandparents and children can create fun, recreational games that also increase self-esteem - and help families bond - while increasing kids' physical activity.

To learn how Fitness for Health can help your child enjoy physical fitness, visit www.FitnessForHealth.org.

To learn about creating games that encourage "family playtime," read my bi-weekly blog.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Holiday Fitness for Families

Now that Thanksgiving is a fond memory and we are in the middle of celebrating Hanukkah, the Holidays have officially begun!

For most families, life is hectic all yearlong.  But, schedules become even crazier in November and December as parents and children add holiday parties, recitals, shopping and entertaining to their daily to-do's.  This means fitness can easily take a backseat to the "fun."

It's essential to find ways to fit in family holiday fitness, and I promise there are ways to do it that won't turn you - and your kids - into a Grinch.
  • Planning on displaying a Christmas tree in your home?  Cut your own!  Not only will you skip the crowded tree lots, you'll have the opportunity to get fresh air and a great arm and core workout by acting out your childhood dreams of being a lumberjack.
  • Make the most of your shopping trip and hoof it around the mall. Print off your local mall's online store map and plot out all the stores you need to visit. Instead of planning to hit the stores in the most convenient way possible, plot out a way that requires you to walk the greatest distance between each store. You'll get your shopping and your cardio workout in at the same time.
  • And don't forget to take the stairs and park in the far end of the lot. Those extra steps add up too. How about walking a lap around the parking lot before you go home? Extra points if you're carrying heavy bags!
  • Drive to the neighborhood in your city known for having the best holiday lights, then spend an evening walking around the neighborhood while enjoying the scenery.
  • Feeling ambitious?  Plan a family day trip to go ice skating, skiing, snowboarding or sledding. 
  • Sign up a holiday-themed run or walk in your area.  Washington, D.C., offers holiday-themed events with names like "DC Jingle Bell Run" or "The Snowman Stampede." There are even children's courses with elves and reindeer!  Spend a Saturday morning enjoying exercise as a family while raising money for a great cause.
The trick to staying healthy during the Holiday is to plan ahead and make the season work for you. You may not be able to hit the gym for your regular Zumba class, but that doesn't mean you have to forgo exercise altogether. And, as the seasonal saying goes, "The more, the merrier!" So, add your children to your workout routine and add fun.

To lean more about Fitness for Health and our seasonal fitness offerings, visit www.FitnessForHealth.org.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Giving Thanks

Everyone looks forward to Thanksgiving for its wonderful food, family get-togethers and exciting football games.  Thanksgiving is also a time to reflect on the previous year(s) and to be grateful for the people who have bettered our lives. 

Today's blog will focus on why I am thankful this year.

As Thanksgiving approaches, I am grateful that I have a wonderful family.  My wife and young adult children have helped me create an indoor "playground" where families can have fun while improving their fitness together, and I am lucky that my family shares my dream of helping special needs children maximize their physical potential.  In fact, many of you have met my family members in the gym as they assist families during Open Gyms on Friday nights, Open Houses and play with the children during special events.

I would be remiss if I did not recognize and thank my Fitness for Health family.  I have the best staff, and my fitness trainers and occupational and physical therapists are not only experts in their fields, but share my dedication to our local community.  Their innovative and creative approach to fitness has helped kids - and adults - of all ages and abilities enjoy the benefits of physical activity while conquering their fear of trying new activities. 

I am also thankful for you - my Fitness for Health friends.  As many of you know, a few years ago, our facility experienced damage from a building fire and it took us almost a year to rebuild our gym.  We tried to take the tragedy in stride and used the opportunity to make Fitness for Health's facility even better.  Due to your children's comments and suggestions, we are now the only glow-in-the-dark, kids' fitness facility in the Washington, D.C, area that offers rock climbing, exergaming and a laser maze.  And, recently, we have added occupational and physical therapies to our list of family amenities to create a timesaving, one-stop-shop for family seeking multiple services. 

During this time of giving gratitude, I'd like to thank you again for your continued support and patronage.

From our Fitness for Health family to yours, I wish each of you a Happy and Healthy Thanksgiving!

For more information about Fitness for Health, visit www.FitnessForHealth.org.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Holiday Stress Busters for Parents of Autistic Children
One of the happiest – and most stressful – times of the year is right around the corner.  Although the Holidays are known as the time of the year when families get together to catch up, dine and tell one another how much they care for each other, the Holidays also bring cramped parking at the malls, endless shopping to find the best deals on the hottest toys and trying to find the time to clean and decorate the house before out-of-town family arrives.  Oh, did I forget to mention sleep? 
Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and Christmas can provide memories that last a lifetime, but, if your life is already stressful, the Holidays can become overwhelming.
In honor of the upcoming holiday season, I’d like to take this opportunity to give parents of autistic children a few ideas to beat seasonal stress.
·         The Holidays are a time of marvels and sensations.  Connect to your sense of wonder.  Does your child find peace in the tranquility of looking at holiday lights?  Try the Garden of Lights at Brookside Gardens where kids can walk quietly to admire the light displays if they need time for inner reflection or can run through the gardens if they need physical activity to regulate themselves.  This family favorite can be as quiet or as loud as your child needs.  Let’s face it.  If your children are happy and having fun, you’ll be less stressed and can take time to enjoy the seasonal lights too.
·         Keep track of holiday schedules.  Families’ day-to-day schedules are hectic, but adding holiday recitals, family dinners and school parties can be stressful for everyone.  Keep a calendar displaying events for each family member.  This will help children to mentally prepare for the outing and will also help you limit activities.  If your calendar is becoming too much to handle for you and your child, don’t feel guilty about declining invitations.  Instead of trying to pack three parties into one day, clear your schedule for a night and stay home to play a family game or watch a movie.  Nothing can help you feel better about your family’s holiday season than to watch America’s favorite, dysfunctional family, the Griswalds, in “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.”
·         Know that you’re not alone.  Many families of autistic children find that speaking to parents of other special needs children gives them much needed support and a sounding wall for ideas. Check out these organizations that offer family services and support groups – Autism Speaks, The Autism Society of America, The National Autism Center and the National Autism Association.  Additionally, visit these resources on Facebook to learn about community events, family meet-ups in your area or share your personal experiences – AutMont, Autism Discussion Page, Autism Sparks, Autism: Different, Not Less and Autism Awareness.  If you live in the Washington, D.C., area, join this great parent group – Maryland Moms of Autistic Children.
·         Define success for your family.  Every family doesn’t have to have a Martha Stewart holiday season with a perfectly trimmed tree, beautiful buffet centerpieces and songs happily sung by an open fire.  Don’t place undue stress on yourself and your family by trying to live up to unrealistic expectations that you place upon yourself.  As long as your family has fun and shares a few laughs, the Holidays will be a great success!
I want to wish you and your family a wonderful Thanksgiving and holiday season.  And, I hope you join me at this blog for lively discussions and ideas to bring fun and happiness to your families.
For additional resources for special needs families, visit www.FitnessForHealth.org.


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Heart Healthy Holiday Eating

Thanksgiving is only a few days away and it’s time to start thinking about our holiday eating habits.

The holiday temptation of cookies, cake, pie and sweets begins at Thanksgiving and doesn’t end until after the new year when many people vow to lose weight as part of their New Year’s Resolutions.

A new study published in Journal of the American Medical Association gives us yet another reason to eat healthy and avoid obesity this Holiday season. 

People with an irregular heart rhythm could see an improvement in symptoms if they lose weight in addition to managing their other heart risks, says the new study.  Researchers found that people who steadily lost more than 30 pounds and kept their other health conditions in check saw greater improvements in atrial fibrillation symptoms than those who just managed their other health conditions without trying to lose weight. 

Atrial fibrillation (AF) is a type of rhythm disorder affecting the heart's upper chambers.  It can be caused by a number of issues - including heart attacks, infections and heart valve problems.  Obesity is a risk factor for AF, as are high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.

Is it possible to eat “heart healthy” at Thanksgiving dinner and eat well?  Yes!

·       Control your portion size.  How much you eat is just as important as what you eat. Overloading your plate, taking seconds and eating until you feel stuffed can lead to eating more calories, fat and cholesterol than you should.

·       Understand serving sizes. A serving size is a specific amount of food, defined by common measurements such as cups, ounces, or pieces—and a healthy serving size may be a lot smaller than you’re used to.  Remember this at the buffet - the recommended serving size for pasta is ½ cup, while a serving of meat, fish, or chicken is 2 to 3 ounces (57-85 grams).

·       Eat more fruits and veggies.  Vegetables and fruits are good sources of vitamins and minerals. Vegetables and fruits are also low in calories and rich in dietary fiber. Vegetables and fruits contain substances found in plants that may help prevent cardiovascular disease. Eating more fruits and vegetables may help you eat less high-fat foods, such as meat, cheese and snack foods at the holiday party.

·       Limit unhealthy fats.  The best way to reduce trans fats in your diet is to limit the amount of solid fats — butter, margarine and shortening — you consume. You can also reduce the amount of saturated fat in your diet by trimming the fat off your holiday steak.

·       Change your holiday habits. The best way to avoid saturated fats is to change your lifestyle practices. Instead of chips, snack on fruit or vegetables as hors d’oeuvres. 

As the Holidays approach, be realistic. Now is probably not the best time to start a diet.  Instead, try to maintain your current weight and make a promise to lose any extra pounds after the Holidays. 

Plan time for exercise. Exercise helps relieve holiday stress and prevents weight gain.  A moderate and daily increase in exercise can help partially offset increased holiday eating. Try 10- or 15-minute brisk walks twice a day.

Most importantly, enjoy the Holidays with your family and friends and make healthy eating choices without denying yourself your favorite foods in the buffets!

To learn how Fitness for Health can help you make time for exercise this season, please visit www.FitnessForHealth.org or call 301-231-7138.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Bullying in the Special Needs Community

As I wrote about earlier this week in my blog, bullying – whether face-to-face, nasty notes, harassing cell phone voicemails or cyber – has become an epidemic. 

There are numerous statistics about childhood bullying and its growth in the computer age.  We know with certainty that bullying of children with disabilities is significant but, unfortunately, there has been very little research to document the harassment of this population segment. 

Only 10 U.S. studies have been conducted on the connection between bullying and developmental disabilities, but all of these studies found that children with disabilities were two to three times more likely to be bullied than their non-disabled peers.  According to PACER’S National Bullying Prevention Center, one study has shown that 60 percent of students with disabilities report being bullied regularly compared with 25 percent of total students.

This should be disheartening to each of us and should act as a wake-up call to government legislators, educators and parents.

Because bullying involves an imbalance of physical or psychological power, students with disabilities are especially vulnerable and frequently targeted.  For example, in the fall of 2009, responses to a Massachusetts Advocates for Children online survey asked about the extent of bullying against children on the autism spectrum.  Nearly 90 percent of parents responded that their children had been bullied. These findings are applicable to most students with disabilities.

All children deserve to feel safe in school.  The Federation for Children with Special Needs lists a few ways parents can support a special needs child who is being bullied:

  • Tell your child that this is not his or her fault, and that your child did nothing wrong.
  • Gently emphasize that above all, your child should not retaliate or attempt to fight or hit the bully.
  • Role-play ignoring the bully or walking away.
  • With your child, make a list of adults in school he or she can go to for help, such as counselors or administrators.
  • Arrange for him or her to see friends on the weekends, and plan fun activities with the family.

Children and young adults with learning disabilities and special needs are undoubtedly at increased risk of being bullied.  And, unfortunately, a person’s disability can make it difficult to identify the type of bullying that is occurring. It is important for both teachers and parents to take the time to clearly define and describe bullying behaviors for children with disabilities, so they can identify bullying and notify adults if they experience or witness bullying.

We, as a society, have somehow moved away from teaching our children about empathy and compassion. We, as parents and educators, have moved far away from teaching kids that, just because someone is different, it does not mean that they are a target to bully and tease.
We need to relearn and re-emphasize respect and human decency for everyone. It is every parent and educator’s responsibility to speak to our kids about why some people are different and answer any questions that they have openly and honestly.  Only then, we may have the opportunity to create happier and healthier kids at school and less bullying.

Visit us at www.FitnessForHealth.org to learn more about our therapeutic services for the special needs community.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Warning Signs of Bullying

Within the last week, bullying has again been in the national news.  Although, the unusual aspect to this story is that it involves professional athletes from the Miami Dolphins.

Rookie Jonathan Martin received numerous racist voicemails that allegedly came from one of his teammates, fellow offensive lineman Richie Incognito.  Martin decided to quit the team in order to make the harassment stop.  The unfortunate part is that he never told his coaches the real reason that he left the team. (His agent contacted the Dolphins after he quit.)  Martin was worried that complaining about being bullied might damage his NFL career and lead to retribution.

If a professional athlete is scared to tell his team management that he is being harassed, how can we expect children to tell their parents when they are being bullied at school, on the playground or on their sports teams?  Parents and caregivers need to recognize the warning signs. 

To ensure our children remain safe from bullying, I want to share these tips from StopBullying.gov.

Signs a Child is Being Bullied

Look for changes in the child. However, be aware that not all children who are bullied exhibit warning signs.  Some signs that may point to a bullying problem are: 

  • Unexplainable injuries
  • Lost or destroyed clothing, books, electronics, or jewelry
  • Frequent headaches or stomach aches, feeling sick or faking illness
  • Changes in eating habits, like suddenly skipping meals or binge eating. Kids may come home from school hungry because they did not eat lunch.
  • Difficulty sleeping or frequent nightmares
  • Declining grades, loss of interest in schoolwork, or not wanting to go to school
  • Sudden loss of friends or avoidance of social situations
  • Feelings of helplessness or decreased self-esteem
  • Self-destructive behaviors such as running away from home, harming themselves, or talking about suicide.  If your child is feeling hopeless, helpless or knows someone who is, please call the LIFELINE at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
If you have determined bullying has occurred, learn how you and school or community officials can work together to support your child - whether the child has been bullied or witnessed bullying.   Also, learn about considerations for specific groups.

Bullying is a serious issue that needs children, parents, educators and community officials to combat and de-stigmatize. 

For additional tips concerning how to prevent bullying, visit www.StopBullying.gov.

For additional information concerning Fitness for Health, visit www.FitnessForHealth.org.