Serving Consciously and The Art of Language

How often do you really pay attention to your choice of words as you express yourself?

Do you believe in the power of language to create an experience?

Constructive Use of Language

I have long believed in the power of language and the energy we create when we choose our words carefully and what happens when we don’t.

In health care and human services, for example, we are bombarded with labels, diagnoses, syndromes, and a plethora of academic and organizational language. Within the system we currently live in where funding for services is of great focus, this kind of terminology works in our favor when we are seeking access to services and supports.

We use this language to prove that the service is needed.

Destructive Use of Language

On the other hand, much of this language serves to perpetuate stigma, prejudice, discrimination, marginalization, and ultimately separation. We tend to become reliant on certain words and jargon in order to get our point across quickly. But is this really what it’s all about?

When I began my academic preparation for human services work, I was accepted into a program that was called Mental Retardation Counselor. Shortly, after the first semester began, the program was renamed and became Developmental Services Worker. We were encouraged right from the start to always think in terms of “person first.” So, instead of saying the “autistic child,” it was preferable to say the “child with autism.”

Feels like a step in the right direction, however, if we look closely, there is still an emphasis on “autism.” And while it is so important to be aware of and honor the unique characteristics and needs of each person we are serving, it is equally crucial that we do not use these terms and diagnoses to create a limited identity for people.

For example, if you are familiar at all with the word, “autism,” there are likely a whole slew of images, ideas, and interpretations you make almost automatically about the person I am describing. And whether you would describe these images as positive or negative, affirming or destructive, the jump to the conclusion is the real problem here. At that moment, intentional or not, we have put this person inside a particular “box.” We also do this when we refer to mental health, substance abuse, survivors of childhood trauma, and on and on.

Conscious Use of Language

The challenge is to continue to open our minds so that we learn from each individual we serve and those we are blessed with in our personal lives what it means to be them. How does this person live their identity? What ELSE makes them who they are?

How can I use language to demonstrate my openness and willingness to learn about the people who come into my life? How can I speak in ways that show my deep respect for humanity and my commitment to acceptance?

This is an ongoing challenge for those of us involved in Vocations of Service. It is a continual process of integration of new knowledge, self-reflective practice, and engagement with others.

It is about being conscious as we choose the words which will best express our clearest and deepest intentions and beliefs. And if we get tongue-tied, we can always come back with something new to say.

What do you wish to see in your Service to others? How can you communicate with others so they know what you are all about?

What do you intend to create and contribute to this world? How would you explain this to a child?

If you could imagine the best possible scenario in your communities, what language would best describe it?

This is just a glimpse of a much larger discussion.

Join Us

I dove more deeply into this material in this episode of Serving Consciously with my guest, Valerie Marks.

Valarie Marks is a retired public school teacher who left her career at the age of 32 to start an educational services organization grounded in the principles of Abraham Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs;” an organization providing parents and educational institutions with resources to best nurture, protect, and educate the generations here to Re-create our world.

During her time in the classroom, Valarie also developed an English Language Arts curriculum which uses rhythmic thought patterns to teach academics, not only to build analytical skills within Common Core, but also to open up the student’s psyche for creativity and receptivity.

Valarie is also a mother to three children of her own, ages 10, 8, and 6. Because one of her sons was identified as autistic just months after her leap of faith into retirement, Valarie’s life mission in creating the “Maslow Educational Services Organization” took a sharp turn, pulling her out of the classroom entirely and deep into the world of Autism. With a population each so uniquely divine, this new chapter deepened her understanding of the needs and challenges facing the youth of today.

Valarie is currently stepping back into the classroom through her new company, “Marks Education,” where the mission is to teach children how to look at the whole English language for its individual parts, so they can craft their own words to accurately express their ideas, thoughts, and feelings, as well as to keenly understand the words and intentions of others.

She also speaks her Truth to a more intellectual audience through blogs on her Facebook page ~ Valarie Marks, through writing and short videos on topics about self-acceptance, intimacy, and unconditional love.

Valarie is here to talk about how she is serving consciously through her life mission: teaching adults how to nurture, protect, and educate a generation here to deconstruct our current world not just to restore it, but creatively recreate life as we know it into a beautiful future.

Valarie’s work is so important for those of us who wish to be actively involved in recreating the world.

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Does language have energy and power in your books? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Medicaid Waivers Help Parents of Children with Autism Stay in the Workforce

PENNSYLVANIA— Medicaid waivers that improve access to home and community-based services for children with autism also help their parents keep their jobs, according to research from Penn State College of Medicine and collaborators.

Previous research found that families of children with autism spectrum disorder experience more challenges obtaining child care and other services compared to families of children with other special needs. Medicaid waivers that target children with autism spectrum disorder help families obtain expensive services they may not have otherwise been able to afford.

Parents of children with autism are also encouraged to commit significant time to participating in their child’s treatment.

“When you’re spending all that time just trying to help your child, there’s less time for work,” said Douglas L. Leslie, professor of public health sciences and psychiatry, Penn State College of Medicine.

When these two factors are combined, the reality is that one parent often significantly reduces their work hours or stops working altogether, increasing financial stress on families that may already be struggling to pay for costly services.

Leslie’s team, along with collaborators at the Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania and the RAND Corporation, set out to determine if Medicaid waivers affected parental employment in families of children with autism. The study appears today (Feb. 6) Health Affairs.

Historically, private health insurers have not covered services for children with autism, Leslie said, putting the onus on school systems. That help can come too late, because research shows that children with autism benefit from interventions that begin before school-age.

“There’s been a lot of policy work over the last decade or so to try and improve insurance coverage for kids with autism,” he said. “One of the main mechanisms they’ve tried to do this through is Medicaid waivers.”

Many states have introduced home and community-based services waivers that expand eligibility for Medicaid-reimbursed services and provide services that are not covered under the standard Medicaid benefit.

“We’ve done some research looking at the effects of these waivers on things like access to care and unmet needs, and we thought it would be useful to see whether they’ve had an impact on parent’s labor market decisions,” Leslie said.

Leslie and his collaborators used information from a nationally representative survey as well as Medicaid waiver data to determine how waivers impacted parental employment from 2005-2006 and 2009-2010.

They found that waivers were effective at allowing parents to remain in the work force. When cost limits and enrollment limits for waivers were raised—giving more families access to more services—the likelihood that a parent had to leave the workforce also decreased.

Characteristics of waivers, such as how much can be spent per child participating in the waiver and how many families can receive services under the waivers, differ from state to state. In the study, the characteristics of a state’s waiver program determined who was helped by that program.

Waiver programs that increased cost limits—making waivers more generous and putting more services into homes—helped the most in lower-income households.

Waiver programs that increased enrollment limits—allowing more families to receive benefits—made the biggest difference in higher-income households that would not otherwise have qualified for Medicaid services.

“Characteristics of the waivers matter,” Leslie said.

He noted that although waivers can help parents of children with autism stay afloat financially, keeping these parents in the workforce goes beyond monetary considerations.

“Caring for a child with autism is difficult,” Leslie said. “Having an outlet through a job can be very beneficial to the parent’s mental wellbeing. It gets them out into the community.”

Leslie hopes his findings will provide more information to policy makers who hold the purse strings for assistance programs such as home and community-based Medicaid waivers.

“The policy landscape with respect to autism services is very much in flux right now, especially with talk of healthcare reform potentially being reversed,” Leslie said. “I think we need as much information out there as we can get about the benefits of some of these programs so that policy makers can be informed about which policies work and how we can ensure that these vulnerable populations can remain protected as we continue to think about healthcare reform.”

Leslie is continuing to research how waivers affect families and children with autism. He is currently investigating whether waivers are effective at getting more children with autism into evidence-based care and if they reduce problematic outcomes, such as hospital admissions and emergency department visits.

Other researchers on this study were Khaled Iskandarani, research data analyst, Diana Velott, senior instructor and Edeanya Agbese, research project manager, Department of Public Health Sciences Penn State College of Medicine; Bradley D. Stein, RAND Corporation in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Andrew W. Dick, RAND Corporation in Boston, Massachusetts; and David S. Mandell, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania.

9 Mobile Apps for Social Workers

Apps-Image-600

Add digital skills to the many skill sets we wear as social workers. Our clients are carrying around devices that can serve as a secondary tool to support practice and our primary connections. Many practitioners feel that technology is taking away from the human interaction. However, technology can actually enhance our practice and empower our clients while scaling our efforts.

For instance, we can reach people in rural areas we weren’t able to reach before, empower clients to monitor their moods outside of sessions and have real time data to discuss in session, make connections with children on the autism spectrum that is difficult for a human to make, assess suicidal ideations, alert authorities/contact of domestic violence situations in real time, and the list goes on.  We must not fear technology as it is here to stay.  In fact, they are now moving into the world of the Internet of Things (IOT) such as wearable technology.

The social work practice will not progress by chance, we will have to embrace and educate ourselves on technology in order to most effectively advocate for our clients and the profession.

  • “Most social workers have no access to data in the field, even though worldwide global mobile access is above 87%.” Northwoods Business Brief
  • “Smartphone owners use an average of 24 apps per month but spend more than 80 percent of their [in app] time on just five apps.” Forrester Data
  • “To date, 85.5 percent of the world subscribes to mobile phone services…” Technology for good: Innovative use of technology by charities

Mobile apps are a wonderful tool, however they are just that: a tool.  They should not replace the relationship but rather enhance and augment the work you are doing.

1.     PTSD Coach – “The PTSD Coach app can help you learn about and manage symptoms that often occur after trauma. Features include:

  • Reliable information on PTSD and treatments that work
  • Tools for screening and tracking your symptoms
  • Convenient, easy-to-use tools to help you handle stress symptoms
  • Direct links to support and help
  • Always with you when you need it

Providing you with facts and self-help skills based on research.” (iTunes, Google Play)

Tags: Veterans, Mental Health

2.     Northwoods Compass CoPilot – “It’s the ideal solution for mobile social workers at child and adult protective services agencies, and other workers who visit clients in their homes or other locations. Social workers in the field use Compass CoPilot to access all case and client information, forms, and documents, just as they would in the office. It’s the only social services software to ensure that social workers are never without the files and information they need while they’re on the road. During client visits, social workers can use Compass CoPilot to record interviews, take photos, document, and notate their findings — all while they are in the field. Being able to accomplish all of this with a tablet makes the information gathering less intrusive, which helps put clients at ease and allows for better interactions. Our innovative social service software syncs the new information with the agency’s Compass® system back at the office.” (iTunes)

Tags: Child Welfare, Case Mangement

3.     Classdojo – “Easily encourage students on participation, perseverance, or something else? Customize ClassDojo to work for your classroom.  See a timeline of students’ progress, share a beautiful timeline of all the wonderful things your students do. Students love how positive classrooms are and it saves teachers valuable class time, too.” (iTunes, Google Play)

Tags: School Social Work, Autism

4.     TF-CBT Triangle of Life – “new [free] mobile game app helps children who have experienced trauma by letting them use their tablets or smartphones to practice life skills they have learned in the therapist’s office. With the tagline “Change how you think; change your life,” the TF-CBT Triangle of Life game is designed to help children age 8-12 better understand their thoughts, feelings and behaviors, and move toward a better quality of life. During this game, the player takes the role of the lion in a jungle story, guiding other animals toward more positive experiences and relationships.” (iTunes,Google Play)

Tags: Mental Health, Trauma, CBT, Therapist

5.     Aspire News – “A domestic violence app is disguised as a normal icon and even has a decoy home page, so you’ll be safe if your abuser takes your phone. The most important feature of the Aspire News app is called the GO Button, which you can activate the moment you are in danger. Once activated, the GO Button will send a pre-typed or pre-recorded message to multiple trusted, preselected contacts, or even 911, saying that you are in trouble. Additionally, once the app is activated, your phone will begin recording audio of everything that is going on in the room, which can be used as evidence for any legal proceedings that may stem from the incident. Robin emphasizes that it’s important to always have your location services activated, as many of the app’s features require it. For example, the app can be used to locate the shelters and resources closest to you.” (iTunes, Google Play)

Tags: Domestic Violence

6.     The Savvy Social Worker – “Trying to stay abreast of developments in social work and human services practice? Few practitioners have the time to identify all the key sources of information on the web. This app, developed by the University at Buffalo School of Social Work, will help you stay current with new developments in social work practice, especially evidence-based practices and best practices. We bring information about key practice resources and practice research findings to you all in one place, in an e-news reader format. You select the information providers (channels) that you would like to monitor, and we do the rest. Included in our list are key sources such as the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the Cochrane Collaboration, the Campbell Collaboration, ad Information for Practice.” (Google Play)

Tags: Social Work, Resources

7.     Suicide Safety – “Suicide Safe, SAMHSA’s new suicide prevention app for mobile devices and optimized for tablets, helps providers integrate suicide prevention strategies into their practice and address suicide risk among their patients. Suicide Safe is a free app based on SAMHSA’s Suicide Assessment Five-Step Evaluation and Triage (SAFE-T) card.” (iTunes, Google Play)

Tags: Therapist, Suicide, Social Work

8.     The DBT Diary Card – “DBT Diary Card is the only DBT iPhone app designed and created by a licensed and DBT intensively trained psychologist.” (iTunes)

Tags: Therapist, Social Work, DBT

9.     Dialysis Finder – Dialysis Finder App quickly identifies your location and lets you choose the nearest Dialysis Clinic as well as get other information about the location. A convenient way to find a US Dialysis Clinic near you. (iTunes)

Five Fun Sensory Activities To Engage Children and Adults

Sensory Toys
Colorful shiny jelly set on the dark background

Sensory toys, games and activities have so many benefits to children with various additional needs owing to the multitude of ways these resources can be used. they can promote language development and reinforcement through storytelling.

Elevate Musical Instruments Percussion Kit for Children with Autism, Special Needs, Child Development plus Sensory Toy Activity Card
Elevate Musical Instruments Percussion Kit for Children with Autism, Special Needs, Child Development plus Sensory Toy Activity Card

For children with sensory processing difficulties sensory toys and equipment enables them to explore and encounter new sensations in a limitless but safe way. Gradually over time engaging is such activities can be used to help a child who is tactile defensive to explore different types of sensation.

Try some of these sensory toy games and activities with children or make suggestions to foster carers, parents and teachers to use some of these activities and games safely.

Learn Colours With A Sensory Bath

A Yellow water bath (or any other colour) can be the ideal way for your kids to learn colours.Having some sensory fun and learning the colour yellow in the bath with yellow water balloons and yellow bath water. The excitement and joy of this activity is priceless!

To add colour to the water you don’t need a lot of food colour, just a lid full under the the running water. Alternatively, if you do not like the idea of food colouring in your child’s bath you could use a bath bomb to colour the water. So much fun can be had from the children as they squeeze the water balloons into different shapes and drop them in the water.

Giggles and laughter all round as your child is learning colours. You could also place some of your child’s yellow coloured toys in the bath with them for further understanding.

Fluffy Snow Sensory Play

Making Fluffy Snow using soap flakes is a fun and messy sensory play activity. It is also a great way to incorporate a Christmas theme, especially if you live somewhere where it doesn’t snow. But it is fun and encourages a lot of learning, which is what it’s all about!
Kids will have the time of their lives finding fun ways to explore the fluffy mixture; squashing, feeling and playing with it.

To make fluffy snow you will need:
1 cup of Soap Flakes
3 cups of warm water
and a large mixing bowl

As you beat the mixture it multiplies, kids love to watch the transformation of the clear watery liquid mixture to a thick white blob. Then you  and your kids are free to play, explore and learn with the Fluffy Snow!

Scented Rice Sensory Play

This activity is a great way to create a sensory play table with all kinds of tools to explore with.

To do this you will need:
Rice
Strawberry essence and food colouring
a range of scoops, shovels, sifts, funnels or anything else
and a large container

This sensory play is unconstructed and allows kids to explore freely. It is great for all ages, from the very young to the big kids. It’s even therapeutic for the adults, we all love to play! This can be a several person activity which requires teamwork, social interactions and problem solving. Experimenting with new things to see what happens and exploring cause and effect are very beneficial.

Garden Water Park

Kids absolutely adore water parks, so with it approaching the summer holidays, a garden water park is an upcoming must! They are a lot of fun for kids, it gets them outdoors and active also secretly encourages many learning opportunities.

You can set up a range of different themed stations for kids to play and explore. One of these can be a Water Balloon Pool, a sensory toy play pool which includes about 35 balloons filled with water. Cheap paddling pools can be purchased from local stores. You can also purchase water squirters for as cheap as cheaply or you may already have a few hidden in the shed! Another popular ideal sensory toy is to use a long sheet of plastic such as a shower curtain and add washing up liquid to create a DIY slip ‘n’ slide.

With little money you can turn your back garden into a water park!

Sensory Play With Jelly

Ooey, gooey, slushy and messy! Playing with jelly!

Playing with Jelly is a sensory activity for kids to explore their senses the many wonderful textures and qualities of jelly. Yummy too!

You will need:
Jelly
An assortment of plastic containers
Tray or container (to put the mess in)

Explore the senses with your child, talk about all the wonderful describing words of how the jelly feels in your hands; squishy, sticky, slippery, slimey, sloppy and smooth. You can explore other senses too: how it smelt, what it sounds like and how colourful it is. This is a great way for your child to learn some new describing words.

We provide sensory activities and products for social workers, parents and carers in the UK and USA to support work with children and adults with special needs including trauma. Visit Elevate Training and Development for more information and our Social Work Continuing Professional Development Online service for more ideas about direct work with service users.

Funding Free Tracking Devices for Children with Autism

Mom with Son Wearing Backpack 1Last week, the Justice Department announced that it would promptly make funding available to provide free tracking devices for children with autism.  The devices will be provided to families with children who are at risk or have a history of, wandering and elopement.  U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder stated that the Department already has the funding needed to make this technology available.  Police departments have been given the green light to apply for funding; departments can use the funding awarded to pay for tracking devices to be allocated to families that want them.  This new plan is modeled after the federal program in place that supplies similar devices to families of those with Alzheimer’s disease.

The wandering and elopement of children with autism have gained much attention due to the tragic passing of Avonté Oquendo, a 14 years old teen who went missing in New York in mid-October.  So many across the nation had hoped and prayed for Avonté’s safe return to his family, including yours truly.  Avonté’s story shone a spotlight on the thousands of children with special needs who are reported missing each year in this country.

The numbers regarding those with disabilities who are reported missing are astounding.  In 2012, there were 30,269 individuals with disabilities who were reported missing, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (the FBI) National Crime Information Center (NCIC).  Of that figure, 3,570 were those under the age of 21, and 26,699 were those age 21 and older.  The number of children missing in 2012 was noticeably less than what was reported in 2011.  In 2011, 6,340 of those reported missing with a disability were under the age of 21.  If we were to combine those figures, almost 10,000 children with disabilities were missing within the past three years.

The focus on those with autism is dire because children with autism spectrum disorders have a higher risk of wandering and eloping than children with other special needs.  It has been noted that about half of children with autism will wander and elope; close to one-third of these children are nonverbal, and are unable to communicate their identities to someone if they are spotted.  Children with autism who wander from safe environments such as their homes or school grounds have a tendency to seek bodies of water or may have interests in active highways, trains, and the like.  Any of these predicaments or fascinations could cause the child to place her or himself in harm’s way while they attempt to “explore” these new surroundings.

The action taken by the Justice Department and U.S. Attorney General Holder is encouraging; the needs of people with disabilities, especially our children, are in the consciousness of those on the federal level.  This new technology has the potential to save the lives of our children, as well as others who may wander from their safe environments.

What are your thoughts about this new initiative?  Is your family one of many in this country who could benefit from using these tracking devices?  If you are currently utilizing a tracking device to keep your loved one(s) safe, what benefits or drawbacks of this technology have you experienced?  Share your thoughts and stories regarding this subject with me.

(Featured headlining image:  Courtesy of Digital Trends.)

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