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Chess and Reading? It sounds like a far fetched connection but it's actually true. Research has shown that learning chess in a systematic way helps build visual processing skills that then help kids learn to read too. From an Occupational Therapy perspective, yes it makes a ton of sense. Many of the visual perception training exercises that we use for children with dyslexia and other reading challenges are similar to the ones used in chess training that teach children to see patterns, diagonal and teach them visual planning. In chess kids learn the names of each square on a chess board (a1, a2, c1 etc.) and those help them practice scanning a space with their eyes, as they think about the way their piece is going to move. Skills that transfer back to reading as they need to track the words in line. As a homeschooling mom, I've seen the benefit too in my own child.

The best part about this is that Chess not only helps reading, but it helps grow skills in a range of other areas. It helps them practice logical thinking and problem solving- which is helpful with math and advanced science, but also so important for life. Chess teaches kids to not give up when they suffer a loss, but to keep going all the way till the game is over. It helps kids learn that we win some, and we lose some, but we don't stop playing. It teaches kids to fight fair, without getting angry, or violent.

I'm a big advocate for Chess and highly recommend it for kids. My son does his training with an awesome Chess school, Emmanuel Chess Centre, which is also run by my uncle who's a chess researcher and an international chess player. They have online classes too. We also love Chess Kids, a great app to learn and practice chess. You don't have to be a chess player to introduce it to your kids, and your kids don't have to be super-intellectual to enjoy it. So go ahead and give it a shot!

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Children with autism don't have the same needs and motivations for social interactions like the rest of the world does. While most 4 year olds are looking for their mom's approval and attention, a child with autism does not. So how do we connect? How do we build bonds?

I think the answer lies in meeting them where they are. Most kids with autism have some kind of interest, and sometimes it is their obsession. While in therapy we try to distract them, or get them interested in other things, we can only do that if we first have a bond.

Parents, teachers, and therapists struggling to create a connection with a child with autism can find games and activities based on the child's passions and interests. Sometimes the child may not even respond the first time. Children with autism feel safe when there is routine and they know what comes next. So introducing the same game at the same time repeatedly might help them feel comfortable enough to connect. Once they connect, if they discover that it is related to their interest, they will usually engage. As they engage with a person on an activity, the bond is built, and the teacher or the parent can start introducing other tasks and activities.

The thing to remember is to not force or create an unpleasant situation for the child. If the child is overstimulated or fearful, it delays the process of building trust. It's so important to give the child time and space to get used to the new location, people, materials at a pace that's comfortable for them. Trust takes time to build, but once built, it is such an authentic, beautiful relationship that will be life-changing both ways.

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A diagnosis of ADHD can be a hard thing to hear for a parent. Is my child going to be "normal?" Will they have a "normal" life? Will they be able to go to college? These types of questions flood their mind, and it can be challenge to work through them, and find the answers. Over time parents find medication, therapy, and learning strategies that help, and give their child the support they need.

But I've been considering a bigger question. What is "normal?" Why is it that when a child can't sit in class, it's called a disorder? Why is it considered a bad thing when a child can't do only one thing at a time?

What if ADHD just means that a child's brain is wired differently. That they need to be taught differently. That their skills are different, and their strengths are different. I've been discovering that adults with ADHD have this unique ability to run multiple businesses. They are able to hold so many different projects in their mind at the same time and multitask seamlessly. They have endless energy and can work double the amount an average person can.

Children with ADHD need support. But they don't need our pity, our judgement or our criticism. We don't have to force them to sit still for our own benefit. We don't have to label them as "naughty" or "hyperactive" or "disruptive." We need to give them the space to be themselves, teach them ways to focus, to learn, to grow, and help them channel this amazing energy and these brilliant multitasking abilities.

ADHD has been around for a while, but now it's time to start changing our mindsets. Changing our education systems to accommodate kids who can't sit. Changing our language to be more positive and encouraging. Cause these kids, with the right support, can change our futures.

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