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Ask Rachel Wise, CEO and Founder of, a question related to learning, behavior, autism, ADHD, learning disabilities, special education, or any other related topics.

Rachel is a certified school psychologist and licensed behavior specialist with over 18 years experience working with individuals with learning, behavior, and social-emotional needs.

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Questions and Answers

1. 10/21/2015

Category: Behavior

Submitted by Anonymous

If a student continually hits other students when he doesn’t get his way can you allow the other child being hit to give the hitter a taste if his own medicine?

That is a great question! You cannot control the momentary reaction of another student. If they hit the “hitter,” which is a natural consequence, there may be nothing you could have done to stop it, and the “hitter” may not hit that child again. However, I do not feel it is right in any setting, but particularly a school setting to allow any child to hit. Allowing them to defend themselves by blocking or moving away would be more acceptable. We need to get to the core of why the child is hitting? Likely he does not have the appropriate mechanisms or skills to express his feelings or he thinks hitting is the only way he can be heard.

Working with the child on coping skills such how to identify his frustration, how to assertively express his frustration, and how to cope when others do not get or validate how he feels is crucial to seeing improvement. If the child stops hitting because he is afraid of getting hit by the other students, than the negative behavior will probably manifest in another way. You need to figure out the purpose of the behavior and address that at its core. We don’t want this child who hits to become an adult who hits so we need to find a way to work with the child and possibly the child’s family to improve the behavior before it gets word. Is the guidance counselor involved?

It sounds like you need an action plan to keep the other children safe as well, such as seating the child away from anyone he might hit, having an area for the child to safely calm down, and having regular discussions when the child is calm about appropriate coping skills. Other children should know that they are allowed to block themselves and/or move away. I recommend reading this article as well. Top Five Reasons Your Kids Don’t Behavior and What You Can Do About It!

2. 10/21/2015

Category: ADHD/Behavior

Submitted by Anonymous

What are some strategies a teacher can use to get a student with ADHD to check back in after the student has shutdown in class?

This is a 9 yr. old boy with ADHD in 4th grade. Non-medicated. Teacher complains that sometimes he shuts down (zones out) during class when doing class work. She tried to talk to him and he doesn’t listens or respond (looks dazed out).  She labeled him as being disrespectful , lazy, and thinks he doesn’t care about doing the work. Threatened to give him a zero, take away recess. She said she can’t make him do his work. Please provide strategies that I can get her to try to get him motivated/engaged to focus in again after he has zoomed out. Thanks.

Thank you for your question! There are a lot of factors involved here and it is not as easy as providing strategies to get the student to check in.

If the student is zoning out and shutting down during work, there is a valid reason. All behavior serves a purpose and when students do this it is generally because they are trying to meet an internal need. If that need is not met, it is unlikely the student will independently refocus.

Several things need to be in place to allow this student to excel. Here are some things to consider:

Is the work presented on the students’ academic level?

Is the student able to follow instructions and the content presented by the teacher?

Is the student suffering from any kind of anxiety or depression?

Does the student feel comfortable in his environment (is there any bullying, social problems, etc. that the student might be facing)?

Is anything going on at home that could lead to resistance at school?

Does the student need mental breaks or movement breaks to sustain attention throughout the day?

Does the student feel intrinsically motivated to complete work or deem the content valuable?

Does the student have the opportunity to make choices in the classroom?

These are the questions that need to be addressed first. Let’s get to the root of the shutting down behavior and teach the student ways to cope when the school-work is confusing, overwhelming, under-stimulating, etc. Punishing the student will likely not solve the problem (taking away recess, giving a zero). We need to find out how to help the student and keep in mind that no matter how hard we try, we can’t solve every situation.

This student should also be encouraged and praised for the little steps. Emphasis should be on building and focusing on strengths, rather than thinking of ways to use punishment to change the behavior. The teacher is right when she says she can’t force him to do the work. No one learns well when they are being forced into it.

I recommend two articles 12 Effective Strategies for Children with ADHD and 18 Break/Privilege Ideas to Increase Student Motivation/Participation.


3. 11/29/2015

Category: Handwriting/Fine Motor/Pencil Grip

Submitted by IFFY

Please what can I use as teaching materials while teaching about gripping fingers when writing?

There are several tools you can use to improve pencil grip such as rubber grips that go on the fingers or on the pen/pencil. You can check out some great examples here! You can also have the student hold a small item like a penny or piece of play-doh in their palm while they write.

Here is an article with some great ideas to help you as well. How to Help Your Child with Handwriting and Pencil Grip


4. 1/29/2016

Category: Behavior/Family Conflict

Submitted by Shelly

I have a 20 year old niece that rents a room from her grandfather (my father). He has informed me that she has brought her boyfriend over late at night and that they have sex in her room but because the walls are thin, my father hears everything. My father will not say anything to her, he never liked conflict. His way of dealing with it is to avoid her and neither talk to each other. I have told my brother about this and he wants Me to talk to her. I was just wondering if you could give me some suggestions on how to approach this with her.

This is a tricky situation. Since she is an adult and is renting the room, she kind of has the right to do what she wants. On the other hand, I get that it makes your grandfather uncomfortable. It sounds like if she were made aware of the situation, she could decide what to do at that point (keep it down, go somewhere else, do it at another time, or continue to do it). If she doesn’t stop, then your grandfather needs to decide if he can live with that or not. However, I do not feel it is your responsibility to bring it up to her. Your father can say something if he chooses. He can even write a note just saying that it has been noisy at night and he is trying to sleep so please keep it down. But…If you really don’t mind saying something to your niece, I would just be honest and tell her exactly what you said in your question (the walls are thin, he can hear it, and it makes him uncomfortable).


5. 2/25/2016

Category: Autism/Behavior

Submitted By: Susan

My granddaughter was recently diagnosed within the Autism Spectrum and is healthy and thriving. My daughter is working so hard to meet the needs of this darling little 4yo. However, Sarah chronically will repeat herself. This happens when she gets something new, or when her daddy goes off to work, etc. Is there a way to acknowledge her and help to redirect Sarah, otherwise it goes on for hours? I see such sadness in my daughter. Any suggestions will be much appreciated.


This is a great question! How kind of you to reach out for your daughter. I can tell how much you care in your words.

Repeating words or phrases over and over is something seen in many people with autism. It is difficult to get into their brain to understand why this happens, but we can make some hypotheses based on observing their behavior.

1) People with autism often repeat words or phrases over and over when they are anxious
2) People with autism often repeat phrases over and over when they are excited
3) People with autism find comfort in repetition, so there may be some pleasure associated with repetition

Repeating words/phrases may be enjoyable for your granddaughter or indicate excitement. Although it may seem odd to us, it may feel perfectly natural to your granddaughter, so you do not necessarily have to stop it. The more you try to stop it, the worse it may get. So if it is not a big deal and you can just let it go (without worrying about what others think), then I think that is fine. However, if she has anxiety, I think it is important to try to reduce that. I also think there are some ways to redirect her and prevent this if you feel it is necessary.

If your granddaughter is feeling anxious about a new or upcoming situation, try to prepare her for the change as much as possible ahead of time. If you can, use visuals/picture to help prepare for changes. A steady routine often helps alleviate some anxiety which may decrease the repetition. People with autism often get anxiety with unexpected changes or when they don’t know what will happen next.

Also, repetitive behavior will be less likely to happen if you can shift your granddaughter’s focus or keep her engaged in activities as much as possible. People with autism often like hands on, visual, and/or movement-based activities (doing puzzles, drawing, utilizing IPAD apps, watching tv, jumping on a trampoline, bouncing on a yoga ball). Listening to music is often helpful as well. Exercise has also shown to reduce anxiety, which can be related to repetitive behaviors.

I also agree completely with validating and reassuring her. I would not do it more than three times and then would redirect to something engaging. You can say something like, “Yes, Daddy is going to work and will be back after _________, to give her a sense of when he is coming back. You can also empathize (“I know you miss him”). A picture book that reviews the routine of Daddy leaving may be helpful, just to get her more comfortable with the situation. You can take photographs, get them laminated at an office supply store and make a “Daddy Going to Work” book.

Depending on how verbal she is and how much she understands, bringing this up to her in conversation when she is NOT repeating herself, anxious, or excited may help too. It might not make too much of a difference, but making her aware of it may help. Just don’t do it in the moment when the behaviors are happening.

I am not sure if she gets speech or play therapy, but they may be able to work with her on this as well.


6. 3/9/2016

Category: Behavior/Classroom Management

Submitted by: SB

How do I deal with rowdy students that are from different cultures and don’t have any discipline or boundaries at school?

This is a tough situation for you. Students from other cultures may have had a completely different school experience. Expectations, learning methods, and topics may have been nothing like their experience here. It is important to recognize that you may never have your students all sitting quietly, listening and doing their work. However, there are some strategies you can try to improve the situation and I believe they can be successful with at least some of your students if done consistently and correctly.

Students do better when they are creating, doing, making, moving, and seeing. Sitting for prolonged periods listening to information that you are not interested in is difficult for anyone, but especially for students who do not have internal motivation to be successful in school or do not believe there is true value in education. It is also difficult for these students to focus for prolonged periods on reading and writing assignments. Especially if there is a potential language barrier and this is something they were never expected to do before.

For these students, you need to tap into their interests and help tie their education to meaningful experiences that connect to their own interests and desires. If they are loud and rowdy that tells me they should be up and moving. Try to find out what their interests are and tie this into your lessons. Allow opportunities for students to participate in more natural learning experiences.

Here are some examples:

If you are working with high school students you can set up a pretend job fair and have students practice interviewing/interview skills.

If you are working with elementary students you can ask them to make words out of play-doh. Give each student a word that when all strung together creates a message (For example, you can use the famous quote by William J. Clinton “If you live long enough, you’ll make mistakes. But if you learn from them, you’ll be a better person. It’s how you handle adversity, not how it affects you. The main thing is never quit, never quit, never quit.”). After making their words, have each student take a picture of their word, print them out and paste them together to create their message.

These are just some examples. Feel free to do whatever hands-on, real-life experiences you think would suit your class.

I also think it is important to use classroom management strategies such as varying the types of activities you are doing and keeping them relatively short. You want to hold their attention so watch how long you are staying on a topic/activity.

I would also give breaks throughout the day and choices to give students a sense of control. You also need to have set rules in place and a plan for what to do if those rules are broken.

I would also make an effort to understand their culture and see what their previous learning experiences were like. If there is anything they particularly like about their culture, allow them to share it with you and the class. See if there is anything you can learn from their culture that you might want to incorporate in your classroom.

I recommend two articles for you:

How to Motivate Your Students and Get them to Listen to You

18 Break/Privilege to Increase Student Motivation and Participation


7. 3/10/2016

Category: Social-Emotional/Divorce

Submitted by: Rickd6

How does the school system help with children who’s parents are going through a divorce? And when is it best to inform your children about a pending divorce -during the school year or wait until the summer?

In my experience, school guidance counselors and in some cases, school psychologists, can monitor the student (e.g., ask their teacher how they are doing, check in with the student to see how they are feeling and if they want to discuss anything). If there is a concern that the student needs more, a school counselor/psychologist may agree to talk with him/her more regularly (e.g., weekly/biweekly). In some cases the school might feel the child needs more such as support from a private counselor or a support group and may provide you with a list of providers in your community. Some schools may have support groups for kids of parents who are divorced/separated, but it is not something you will find at every school. You can talk to the guidance counselor or principal and ask what they have to offer.

As far as when to tell the child, I don’t think there is any set answer to this. I would tell the child at least one month before the actual physical separation so there is some time to for him/her to prepare. I would not say anything unless it is definite and you have a physical plan in place as far as exactly what will happen. Do not share anything vague. Have a plan, be honest, and let your child know exactly what the changes will be. Be there to answer any questions and give your child the attention and empathy he/she needs during this difficult time. You might want to check out 9 Things to Consider Before Telling Your Child About a Divorce by Armin Brott.


8. 6/6/2016

Category: Potty Training

Submitted by: Dayna P

What is the best way to teach a 3 year old boy to use the potty? He hates the bathroom. We have gotten a portable potty but have to provide him the ipad to get him to even sit on it.

Thank you for your question about potty training. Although the average age for potty training for boys is around 2 1/2 to 3, it is very common to take a bit longer. He just may not be ready. One approach is to simply wait until he is ready (he will get there) and in the mean time, encourage it but don’t push it and subtly talk to him about it to prepare him for it (e.g., soon you won’t be wearing a diaper, when you get bigger you will use the potty and wear underwear). You can also talk to him about body awareness, letting him know that if he feels pee or poop is about to come, he can sit on the potty to let it out. If talking about potty training upsets him, let it go and try bringing it up another time. If he is able to express it, you can ask him his thoughts about potty training. Reading books about the potty is also a fun way to encourage potty training. Below are some examples:

Potty (Leslie Patricelli board books)

books for potty training

P is For Potty!

potty training boys


There are even some really fun free highly rated potty iPAD apps with interactive activities such as Nico Explore your Bathroom – Potty Time

training boys to use the potty








If you want to try some actual training, you can try taking the diaper off for a few hours at a time while you have him at home and prompt him every 15 min or so, giving a special prize for sitting and something else for going. There is no harm in having him hold something he enjoys, such as a book or special toy that he only holds while on the potty. Gradually increase the length and frequency of sessions as he improves. The iPad can be used as a reward for potty or you can choose another reward that is highly motivating. You should make a big deal and act very excited about any small successes (sitting, going, showing interest). Praise and attention is often better than any toy you can give. You could try having him sit for 30 seconds to a minute and use a visual timer so he knows how long he will be sitting. You can gradually increase the time as he improves with sitting. A visual timer is helpful for children who do not yet understand the concept of numbers. You can go to the app store on any smart phone, iPhone or iPad to find a free visual timer app. Below is an example of what one might look like (when the red is all gone the timer is done).

visual timer for autism

‘I would also suggest that a male family member show him how to stand and urinate if possible, but he might be more comfortable sitting at first. Remember, that it simply may be a matter of waiting until he wants to do it. He just may need more time. If you have concerns about any other areas of development you could always consider a free evaluation through early intervention and they can work with your son to improve his independence. To find out more, check with your pediatrician or do a Google Search for Early Intervention in your area. If potty training is the only concern you have, he probably just needs more time. I know you would like him to be trained sooner than later though.

A really good link that has similar tips, plus additional ones can be found at How to Potty Train in a Week

For another approach that talks about body awareness, prompting your child to go at particular times during the day, and using training pants (these are cloth and different from pull-ups) check out the video in the popular post How to Potty Train in 3 Days.
9. 7/16/2016

Category: Bed Time

Submitted by: Anonymous

Is it better to have the kids get up and go to bed everyday at the same time also on weekends? I say yes but my other half says no cause he wants to sleep in on the weekend.

There is no conclusive research on whether or not it should be the exact same time, but research does suggest a consistent routine and schedule is best. Allowing your children to stay up an extra hour (or hour and a half) on the weekends isn’t going to hurt them; but it shouldn’t be much later than that.
I would also make it a contingency plan. As long as they are doing what they need to be doing (e.g., caring for themselves, going to school on time, doing their work, treating others respectfully, handling their emotions, etc.) then I think it is perfectly fine. If not, I would start there and once they are making some progress, consider the flexibility on the weekend. If you need any more support let me know. We have a lot of information on how to reduce challenging behaviors. We also have academic and social-emotional support. Thanks again for your question.

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