Thursday, January 26, 2012

Dealing With Stress

Hi, I’m Dr. Sarah Graves, the School Psychologist here at Community ISD. Like Mr. Zach Snow and Mrs. Amanda Snow (no relation) I am housed out here in the TRIBE unit. Mr. Snow mentioned this blog and I thought it would be a great way to get information regarding mental health and behavior management topics out to our Community. So here we go…..

Stress. We all have it. We all know what it is. But how well do we really manage it?

For example, my daughter had RSV and was quite sick (and clingy and fussy) for about 10 days. I was home alone with her, because my husband is deployed. By home alone I mean alone with three loud, demanding cats, three energetic dogs (including our large, blind foster Mastiff dog who attacked any animal but human), and a fussy 14 month old. I was stressed and overwhelmed, but refused to relinquish my super woman cape and admit it. One particularly bad morning I yelled at our exuberant, annoyingly happy dog for howling in excitement about her breakfast. A minor blip, but since I had not taken care of myself or my stress levels, I reacted poorly. The point being, we all do this, and like me, we probably all feel some sort of regret when do overreact. But how do we prevent our stress from taking over our lives?

First, some information on stress:
Women report higher levels of stress than men and tend to say they are not doing enough to manage it. Whereas, men report being less concerned with managing stress and are more likely than women to say they are doing enough to manage it. Women are also more likely to use a multitude of strategies to manage their stress, but men tend to report relying on sports to manage stress. HOWEVER, men are more likely to report being diagnosed with chronic illnesses such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease/heart attack. All of which are highly correlated with stress. (Stress and Gender)

The older you are, the better you handle stress (Stress and Generations).
Stress can significantly affect your health, including raising blood pressure, weight gain, insomnia, endocrine system problems, and heart problems, never mind those worry wrinkles (Understanding Chronic Stress).

Acute (finding out at 3 P.M. you have a major report due tomorrow at 8 A.M..) stress can be good because it “lights a fire under our rears”, but chronic stress (poverty, abuse, despising your job or spouse), can result in poor overall health and even death (Stress: The Different Kinds of Stress).
40% of adults say they lay awake at night, and 44% report their stress has increased over the past five years (The Impact of Stress).
People worry most about money, work, and the economy (The Impact of Stress).

Children of all ages get stressed, but aren’t able to verbalize it (Identifying Signs of Stress in Your Children and Teens).

Stress in children manifests itself in behavior or mood changes and physical complaints (as it does in adults) (Identifying Signs of Stress in Your Children and Teens).

Things that Influence Stress:

Outlook on life, the more negative outlook (expect worst to happen) equates with more stress.
Eating habits

How to Prevent Stress from Running your Life

1. Get good sleep. No TV, computer, or other electronic device,(including your Iphone) ½ hour before bed. The lights on the screen stimulate the brain. Sleep in dark, cool room (again no tv!). No caffeine after 3 P.M., exercise, but not 3-4 hours before bed, go to bed around the same time every night and shoot for 7-8 hours of sleep a night. No alcohol, it interrupts the sleep cycle and can prevent you from entering the last stages of Non-REM sleep (that’s the deep, restful sleep that we crave).
2. Exercise. It releases those feel-good hormones, endorphins, which help battle stress.
3. Eat healthy. Comfort eating feels good in the moment, but is usually not healthy food, which can lead to feelings of guilt or shame and increased weight.
4. Be positive and compromise. Roll with the punches.
5. Take time EVERY DAY for YOU! This does not mean you and your husband or you and your 5 children. Take five minutes in the morning to enjoy your coffee or a brief walk around the parking lot at work. But do something, just for you. No one else.
6. Learn to say No when you are overburdened.
7. Learn to ask for help when you are overwhelmed (when you learn how, please tell me!!)
8. Learn to delegate, and realize it’s not going to turn out the way you would do it, AND THAT’S OK.
9. Use effective time management techniques. To reduce stress in the morning I get all our animals’ food made and ready, prepare my daughter’s lunch, and lay out both our clothes for the next day. That way when something goes wrong, I have fewer things to get done.

Brief Stress Relievers

1. Take a deep breath. Or ten. When your brain is deprived of oxygen it can’t think clearly and you are more likely to overreact.
2. Take a walk. Outside if possible.
3. Talk about it with a friend or a pet. Sometimes just saying “I’m stressed and need help” out loud, helps clear the mind and allow you to step back from the situation.
4. Laugh. Laughing relieves stress. Hang a picture or photo up that makes you smile.
5. Think of a happy memory involving a loved one. Thinking of the happy time can release endorphins (feel good hormones).
6. Pet an animal. Much research has shown that petting a cat and/or a dog lowers blood pressure quickly.
7. Ask yourself, “Can I control any of this situation?” If not, then let it go and work on the things that you CAN control.

From the website,, created by the American Psychological Association
“Our Health at Risk” “Stress and Gender”
“The Impact of Stress” “Stress of Generations”
From the American Psychological Association Website.
Pet Health Benefit
Other Resources:

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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Verbal Escalation Continuum

Verbal Escalation Continuum
Adapted from CPI’s, Non-Violent Crisis Intervention

2 Types of Questions:                                                   2 Types of Interventions:
*Information Seeking                                                   *Answer the Question
*Challenging                                                                *Redirect

***WARNING:  This is the entry point into a power struggle…Don’t pick up the rope!***

Characterized by:  Noncompliance, slight loss of rationalization
Intervention:  Set Limits

3 Keys to Setting Limits:
*Reasonable – this requires a case-by-case, kid-by-kid approach
*Simple – complexity can throw fuel on the fire
*Enforceable – you have to be able to follow through

Characterized by:  Acting out, emotional outburst, loss of rationalization, screaming, swearing, high energy output.

2 appropriate interventions for the release:
*Allow the person to vent
*Remove the audience (use your best judgment)

Intervention:  Take a few steps back (proxemics)


Tension Reduction
Characterized by:  A drop in energy, occurring after a crisis situation

Intervention:  Therapeutic Rapport, re-establish rational communication with the individual

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Thursday, January 12, 2012

Ten Tips to Build Self-Advocacy Skills

Self-Advocacy refers to an individual’s ability to effectively communicate, convey, negotiate or assert his or her own interests, desires, needs, and rights. It involves making informed decisions and taking responsibility for those decisions. (VanReusen et al., 1994)

Below are ten tips to help build self-advocacy skills: 

1. Role Play at Home; 
Before you go out into the world try role playing various situations at home in a comfortable environment.

2. Help them learn to problem solve; 
Use everyday situations to teach problem solving. You can start with basic life skills such as brushing your teeth or making your bed. What would you do if you ran out of toothpaste? How do you get the covers straight on the bed in the morning? Build up from smaller tasks and smaller problems.

3. Have them learn about their disability and their rights; 
Start by calling your local chapter of a National Disability Organization (i.e. Autism Society, Autism Speaks, National Center for the Learning Disability, United Cerebral Palsy, etc.) These organizations should have the most up to date information. Also, use the internet!!!! Let that search engine be your friend. That might even be how you found this article in the first place.

4. Build up their Self-Esteem; 
I have never met a child who didn’t have a million strengths. Make your child aware of these strengths and use their accomplishments to build up their self-esteem.

5. Find a Mentor; 
Try to find a mentor for your child that has the same disability. Again, start by calling your local chapter of a National Disability Organization. The benefits of your child having a role model with the same disability can be tremendous.

6. Help them learn to communicate their needs, wants, strengths and weaknesses;
Every child is different. Make sure your child is aware of their needs and the best way to communicate them. Peter Bell from Autism Speaks recommends making cards that your child can hand out explaining who they are and their disability. This way they have a method to communicate even if they can’t verbalize it themselves. This might come in handy during very stressful situations especially with local police who might not know your child has a disability.

7. Go out into the real world;
Take them to the grocery store, the bank, the mall, the post office, etc and let them take the lead with you by their side. For instance, make them a small grocery list and help direct them through the steps of getting a cart, finding the items on the list, unloading the cart, paying for the groceries and loading the car. At first you can use a lot of direction to help and as they get more comfortable in the future you can reduce your support.

8. Help them learn Social Cues;
If possible, try to teach them how to read social cues. There are many programs that might help in this arena including, Social Stories and Social Thinking.

9. Let them be involved in the creation or even lead their Individualized Education Program (IEP);
Student led IEP’s can be one of the first steps on the way to self-advocacy. It’s a great way to empower a child to take responsibility for their own life. Make sure the child is aware of the IEP structure and coach them through the process.

10. Stay Positive 
Sometimes all your child needs to believe in themselves is to have their parents believe in them. Stay positive, stay strong!!

Info taken from the following site:

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Thursday, January 5, 2012


Hello Community,
The purpose of this blog is to be a place of information for both staff and parents.  I see it as a small way to allow us to continue to work towards our overall mission.

Mission Statement

The Community Independent School District's Special Education Department's vision is to guarantee the superior preparation and performance of every child in school and in life.
Our belief is that every student will succeed at reaching his/her full potential by meeting their personal & academic goals in order to prepare for future endeavors. 
Using the District's Vision Statement, Mission, and Improvement Plans, the Community Special Education Department will strive to align all programs and services to promote student achievement and success.

To speak more directly to this effort, here is a word from our leader, the Director of Special Programs for Community ISD, Mrs. April Estrada:

Dear Parents, Staff, and Community of Community ISD:
I am very excited to welcome you to the 2011-2012 school year. It continues to be my honor and pleasure to serve as the CISD Director of Special Education. This district is now my home and I feel truly blessed to be a part of such an amazing community.

In the Fall of 2010, Community ISD became a single member district, meaning we are no longer a part of a special education cooperative (Collin County Coop dissolved in June 2010). Since that time, my staff of highly trained professionals and I have been working diligently to establish procedures and policies that will specifically address the needs of of our students while maintaining an excellent level of services for eligible students.

This year, my department will focus on acting as servant leaders while remembering our commitment to kids. This means that I expect my team to approach each situation from the perspective of "how can I serve Community ISD, its staff, parents, and most importantly, its students?" This also means we will be focusing on meaningful, research based instruction that addresses Individual Education Plans (IEPs), while making adequate progress towards grade level TEKS. Our focus for each student will be providing engaging instruction, supports and accommodations, and intense remediation with the goal of keeping students and/or returning students to the general education classroom with their non-disabled peers for the maximum amount of time that is appropriate.

I have enjoyed building relationships with the students and parents of CISD, and I hope to continue to meet and serve our new families.

Please do not hesitate to contact your campus team or myself at any time if we can be of any service or support to you.

Let's R.O.C.K (Remember Our Commitment to Kids)


April Estrada, M. Ed.
Director of Special Programming

I look forward to learning new things with you throughout this process.

For Our Students,
Zach Snow
Behavior Coach, Community ISD