The Power of Parents

Yesterday (March 21st, 2018) I had the honor and privilege to speak on World Down Syndrome Day to a few hundred folks in Bucharest, representatives of Down syndrome organizations and parents and therapists from around Romania. It was a wonderful group who were all anxious to learn and to help their children. From speaking with many of the parents after my presentation, they appeared to universally know that they needed a lot of help, were very receptive, and were more than ready to take control of their children’s lives.

There are a number of important points that I have been trying to communicate to parents, educators, therapists, and doctors through the years that were all pertinent and well received by this group, including:

  • Parents are the experts on their children.
  • In order to be successful, we need to work with the “Whole Child,” which requires acknowledging the parents’ expertise and giving them the training and authority to take the lead in their child’s development and education.
  • If we are to maximize neuroplasticity, we need to provide the child with very targeted input on a daily basis, the reality of which is that it generally requires if not the direct involvement of the parent, then at least the supervision of the parent.
  • Parents everywhere in the world can be empowered to help their child regardless, or even in spite of, the available “professional” help or lack of the same.

As I have worked around the United States and internationally, it has been wonderful to see parents realize that they uniquely have the power and ability not only to help their children, but that they can actually generally do a better job on their own, given a targeted neurodevelopmental program designed just for their child—a program designed to help them fulfill their vision for their child.

Perhaps it’s time for a bit of a parental revolution! If not a revolution, perhaps at least a paradigm shift.


Wheat and Gluten: Parents Beware


In recent years it has been interesting to see how the word “gluten” has gained such a huge level of public awareness. As an example, there is a standardized word recognition test we use that includes the word “glutton.” Ten years ago it would have been unheard of to have a child read that word as “gluten,” but today the majority actually do. It’s almost humorous to think that many of these same children have a gluttonous appetite for gluten.

There is some confusion as to what “gluten” is. Many people use the words “wheat” and “gluten” pretty interchangeably, so there needs to be some clarification. First of all, all wheat contains gluten, but gluten is found in other grains as well, including rye and barley. But the vast majority of gluten we consume is from wheat and products containing wheat.

So, what is the big deal? Humans have been eating grains for over 100,000 years. How could wheat and other gluten-containing grains be bad for us? And aren’t they on the food pyramid? Science does have a way of catching up, and truth be known, there are a whole lot of things we have been doing for a whole lot of years that are not good for us.

There are many issues with gluten. Some of the problems caused by gluten include digestive issues, such as constipation, diarrhea, gas and bloating; as well as fatigue, brain fog, depression, and just feeling tired. If we add to this list additional common symptoms of wheat allergy, such as nausea and vomiting, hives and rashes, nasal congestion, eye irritation, and difficulty with breathing, we are starting to build a pretty good case for avoiding wheat and foods containing gluten.

The case builds. Let’s talk about celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder that affects about one in a hundred individuals. In celiac disease gluten produces an immune response that attacks the small intestine and adversely affects nutrient absorption. If unaddressed celiac disease can lead to very serious health problems, such as Type I diabetes, multiple sclerosis, osteoporosis, infertility and miscarriage, short stature, intestinal cancers, and neurological conditions like seizures and migraines—serious stuff!

One of the benefits of seeing many thousands of children over many decades is that it affords me the opportunity to see patterns. Some jump right out at you and others emerge over years. One of the more graphic examples of the impact that such experiences can have, and which strongly reinforced some of my concerns of gluten, occurred on one of my trips to Cincinnati. In Cincinnati I stay at an Embassy Suites Hotel that offers made-to-order breakfasts. On the first day of the trip I went down to the big open area where they serve breakfast to get a cup of coffee, and I spotted my first family of the day. The child I would be seeing shortly was happily eating her breakfast of pancakes. This child, a pretty typical teenage girl, and her family came into my meeting room at 9:00. At about 9:15 while she was in the middle of taking a math test, she actually dozed off and literally fell off her chair! Her breakfast had kicked in, and rather than giving her energy it put her to sleep. As fate would have it, on my second morning I had virtually the identical experience, seeing my first child of the day eating pancakes and again falling off her chair while taking the math test. Wow! When I think of all of the children starting their school days with pancakes, biscuits, and cereals, all of which are generally accompanied by dairy and sugar, it’s no wonder that teachers have to work hard just to keep their students awake. I’ll talk about diary again at another time, but have you noticed how they have changed the dairy commercials? They no longer say, “Milk, it does a body good!” because the data has forced them to modify their statement to, “Got milk? Good for you!”

As a group I have notice that many of the children with Down syndrome who have gluten in their diets tend to have more issues with constipation and other digestive issues, congestion, low energy, and weight problems. Sadly, many parents just perceive their child as being “low energy” kids, when what they are seeing is just a reflection of their diets. Many kids on the autism spectrum and those labeled with ADHD tend to exhibit a wide range of issues that appear to at least partially originate with gluten-related gut issues which increase their stimming, DSAs, hyperactivity, distractibility, and even aggression.

I work with one teenage boy on the spectrum who generally functions very well with his academics, processing skills, and behavior who craves wheat to such an extent that he searches the cars of workers on his family farm, looking for crumbs; and if he finds even a crumb, he crashes for up to two weeks. (“Crashes” as in becomes almost non-verbal and wants to stim 24/7.) If so little can produce such a neurological crash, it makes you wonder if even a little gluten could be harmful.

I mention these kids as examples of specific responses with specific kids. I caution families all the time that the example of one can be a disaster for the many who jump on a bandwagon because one parent, or even a few, provided anecdotal reports of apparent cause and effect with a specific “treatment.” But collecting clinical data from many hundreds, if not thousands, of individuals and evaluating that against the research is what science is all about.

A very noteworthy additional piece to this puzzle is that many children crave wheat and/or gluten to such an extent that it has a very significant negative impact on their diets and nutrition. In all my years of seeing kids, without a doubt the number one food I see children crave is wheat and crave it to such an extent that it’s difficult for many of the parents to get the child to eat a variety of healthy foods. A child who is permitted to fill up on bread isn’t going to be highly motivated to try spinach. Often, the only solution is totally eliminating wheat/gluten from their diets, at least temporarily, before we can get the children to significantly expand their palates and their diets.

Are processed gluten-free alternative foods healthy? What they add to these “Frankenfoods” to make them taste good is probably not “healthy.” Check out the labels and see all the stuff they added to make the food taste good, not to mention all the added sugar. Would you believe that there are over 60 different names for sugar used on your food labels?

Bottom line: It appears that for many, if not most, of our children foods containing gluten or even “gluten free” foods are not a great choice. If you choose to keep these foods in their diets, please keep your parental antenna up and be mindful of all of the possible associated issues. It should also be mentioned that the foundation that you are working from in helping your children develop is their health. The physiology affects the neurology, and the more issues your child has, the more important it is for them to have the best diet that you can possibly provide for them. A vitamin pill isn’t going to compensate for a lousy diet.

If you choose to have a poor diet yourself, so be it; but you, not your children, are responsible for their diets.

—Bob Doman

Natalie Kling on Gluten

Natalie Kling is a Certified Clinical Nutritionist and she talks about an important subject—gluten. Natalie is one of our valued NACD nutritional advisors and consultants.

The Little Things That Shape Lives

Lincoln Logs & United States Puzzle Maps

by Bob Doman

Great Gift Ideas for Holidays, Birthdays & Special Occasions from NACD

Our staff at NACD has been busy creating lists of toys and gifts that we can recommend for parents. We have been asked time and time again to help parents find toys and gifts that will be fun, useful and that will hopefully help advance their children’s curiosity, development and education. As we have gone through this process of researching toys and gifts, we have all thought back to the gifts we bought for our own children at various stages of their development and gifts we received as children as well.

As parents, we are often in a quandary as to what to buy. Sometimes there is something our children are begging for that we may reluctantly purchase, but more often than not we wander through the stores, catalogs and websites looking for inspiration. Sadly, within days or weeks of having purchased gifts for a birthday or holiday, we find these gifts neglected and start deciding what closet to relegate them to.

Pondering the parental dilemma of what to buy for the child, I decided to look at the word “toy” and to see if we were perhaps starting off with a quest grounded in a misconceived perception. Going to the trusted Merriam-Webster Dictionary, I looked up the definition of a toy and discovered perhaps part of the problem. The significant pieces of the definition included: “something for a child to play with, something that can be toyed with, something (such as a preoccupation) that is paltry or trifling”. If this is in fact our underlying perception of a toy—a paltry, trifling thing to be toyed with—it’s no wonder most of what we buy for our children could fit under a general heading of “garbage” and often sadly, expensive garbage.

I believe what we want to do as parents is find things that are fun and entertaining, but also things that actually do something for the child. Learning can and should be fun, exploring can and should be fun, creating can and should be fun, building, designing, imagining and thinking can all be fun. These things do not sound like “toys”. What perhaps differentiates a “toy” from what we really want is a new educated perspective. What can I give my child as a gift that will be fun, but significant?

When I was a little boy, my parents, my little sister and I would often go visit my maternal grandparents. My grandfather was the custodian of his church and my grandparents lived very modestly. Throughout my childhood, there were only two toys at their house for us to play with. One was a set of Lincoln Logs and the other a United States Puzzle Map. Lincoln logs for the uninitiated are wooden dowels of different lengths notched at the ends so that they can be stacked like the logs in a log house and other various pieces that could be used for roofs, windows and such. The puzzle map had each state as a puzzle piece and on the piece, you could find the capitol and some symbols that indicated anything from what they grew or did in the state to historic landmarks. I wouldn’t want to guess how many hours I spend with these two “toys’. But, I can tell you that I built many different structures with the Lincoln Logs and enjoyed being creative and seeing how many different things I could design. I believe that because of my Lincoln Log experience I spend time as a teen designing houses and actually went to college with the plan of becoming an architect and designing energy-efficient, economical semi-subterranean houses. I was perhaps a little ahead of my time in 1965. A summer job working with special needs children changed that direction, but I have designed and build three houses, one of which is my present home. That inexpensive “toy” actually helped in making me who I am today.

I suspect that I could identify where every state was by the time I was four or five and could have drawn a map of the United States from memory by the time I was six—I can still do it. I never had an inclination to be a map maker, but I did develop a strong interest and knowledge of geography, which became a subject in school at which I excelled (there weren’t many) and has led to my traveling to all 50 states and seeing a lot of the world and being much more intellectually and socially conscious and aware than I would have otherwise been. I still remember as a child being amazed that so many of my friends had virtually no interest or curiosity about the rest of the country, let alone the world. I suspect their grandmothers didn’t have puzzle maps at their houses.

The right things at the right times can have very big and significant impact.

Parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, take some time and give some serious thought before purchasing a gift. See it as an opportunity to help shape a life—that certainly is not a paltry or trifling thing.


To view the list of gifts our NACD staff has put together, visit:

Chores: An Integral Part of Your Child’s Development & Education

Toddler issues a chore challenge.

August 2017
Ogden, Utah

Twelve-month-old Arielle is challenging other children to raise the bar and get to work.

Today’s children are doing fewer chores than ever before, and as a result we should not be shocked to realize that many teens and young adults have missed some very important lessons.


Having specific jobs that the child owns is a fundamental building block to learning how to be responsible.


Learning to do things that don’t appear to directly help you is vitally important. Those children who learn to contribute and help others or the family are generally not going to be those who grow up feeling entitled. Doing things for the family helps connect the child to the family and helps provide some needed perspective. Self-centered children can lead to self-absorbed teens and adults.


The more children learn how to take care of themselves, their homes, and their families, the more independent they feel and become. Children who learn independence develop confidence and initiate doing more and more themselves, while those who are dependent fear and often fail to move themselves forward.

Highly Capable

Learning how to take care of your living space, your room, and your home not only teaches independence, but also teaches an appreciation for clean, organized, and pleasant surroundings. Learning how to do your laundry, prepare your own nutritious food, take care of the yard, and even learning how to fix and repair things around the house all lead to confident, highly capable adults. These apparently simple skills help develop the perception and the capability that permits you to take on challenges, confront problems, and address them.

Work Ethic

Many teens and adults sadly never develop a strong work ethic. A good work ethic is exemplified by the basics, including reliability, dedication, productivity, cooperation, and strength of character.

I hear many parents today say that their children do not have time for chores, their day is full of schoolwork, sports, music, dance lessons, etc. If your children don’t have time for chores and all of the vital lessons that come with it, I suggest you reevaluate what they are gaining from the sports and the “lessons” and think about the real basic lessons they are missing

A few years back I had the opportunity to participate in a meeting with five couples. These five couples were part of an organization of young presidents of companies. They invited me to the meeting because they were having a discussion about how they were “screwing up their children.” The couples had children ranging in age from about 10 into their 20s. As I began the discussion, we started talking about the lives of these company presidents. We all quickly learned that four of the five men had grown up in pretty typical middle class families and had chores from early ages and had jobs through high school and college. In addition, the four went to state colleges and excelled in life because of hard work, a good understanding of who they were, and a strong work ethic. All of the couples realized that their present standard of living had not helped, but had hindered their children’s development. The families were able to afford to hire help to clean their houses, take care of the lawn, and even help with food preparation. The couples had mistakenly thought that freeing their children from chores and giving them more time for sports and various lessons was providing them with an advantage. What was learned through the discussion was that the families were universally disappointed in their children’s basic characters, sense of responsibility, and their lack of a strong work ethic. They had been at a loss to understand how their children, having been given “every advantage,” were not developing into the adults they had hoped and worked for.

The meeting with these couples was very enlightening. You don’t need to be the president of a company and wealthy to make the same mistakes as these couples. As I was leaving the meeting that night, I made a discovery. Four of the five men were presidents of companies and one was not. In fact, despite having graduated from Harvard, the fifth was unemployed. His wife was the president of a company.

Building the foundation

Here are a few helpful guidelines to help you get your children heading down the road to more chores and a better character.

  1. Little children like 12-month-old Arielle can be helpers; and the sooner they learn, the better. For young children helping is fun, as is learning. Little children almost universally love learning most anything if it is done in a positive manner. Look for opportunities to let them help. View each of these circumstances as an opportunity for your child.
  2. Helping is great, but it is only the very first step; and by two or three years of age, you want to have taught your child how to do tasks all by themselves. There are many things these little people can do if you teach them how and if you provide the right tools and use the right methods.
  3. Reverse chaining: Reverse chaining is a great way to teach new skills. A close cousin to chores is self-help skills. Self-help skills include all of those things that permit you to take care of your basic needs, including things like dressing, undressing, toileting, bathing, self-feeding, brushing teeth, etc. As important as these self-help skills are, they should not be confused with chores, but in many way these first steps help start the foundation of independence and self-reliance. Reverse chaining is a great way to teach many multiple step tasks. Typically, if you are trying to teach a multiple step task, you start by teaching the first step and progress from there. There are a number of disadvantages to this approach. With first step forward instruction, the child just starts a task; they don’t finish it. Often after they have completed their piece, they tune out the rest of the steps. With first step forward instruction, the child tends to become prompt-dependent, meaning that they do a step and wait for a verbal or physical prompt to do the next step. And finally, the reward of doing a task is in the completion of the task, not doing the first steps of a task. First step forward teaching lacks the foundation of motivation that moves progress forward.With reverse chaining you start by completing a task up to the very last piece, and then you teach the child how to do just this last piece that completes the task. Then you complete all of the steps up to the next to last and teach that; and then the child is able to do the last two steps and again complete the task. As a simple example, let’s look at teaching a child to take off a sock. With the first step forward approach, you would start by teaching the child how to put their fingers between the sock and their leg, followed by step two, which is trying to them pull the sock down. The child would then typically mentally disengage while you completed the task. With reverse changing you would start by pulling the sock down so it is hanging off their toe, and their job is simply to pull it off their toe—it’s easy and the task is complete. Step two is to go through all of the steps until the sock is half-way or more down their foot. The child can easily accomplish this step and complete the task. Completing the task is much more rewarding than starting the task. It also teaches the child that they can, in fact, take their sock off. Proceed with pulling the sock down so it is just off the heel, then just over the heel, then a bit above the heel, and then up the leg. Reverse chaining can be used with virtually any task that requires learning a number of steps.
  4. If you are sharing a job, you are still just helping. The goal is for the child to own the chore. A common mistake in homes where parents are consciously trying to teach their children to be responsible for chores is to share or rotate chores. Parents generally do this in an attempt to be fair and avoid arguments between children as to who has the toughest job. Probably the most common situation involves mealtime. The sharing of the task goes from one child washing, the other dries, one sets the table, another clears the table, one does the dishes this week, the other next week. The problem with this approach is that no one owns the job. The more you can delineate responsibilities and provide ownership, the better. Owning a job means that you are responsible for that job. If you own it then you can take satisfaction in that job being done well, consistently, and in a timely fashion.
  5. Do not underestimate what you children can do. Most children, by the time they have reached the developmental level of a ten-year-old, can do most any cleaning or organizing task within the home, as well as most cooking and outside tasks, with the possible exception of using some power tools. If the mother of two or more children over ten is still doing a lot of the housework and cooking, they are probably depriving their children of important opportunities.
  6. The proper tools can make a big difference. Most fairly young children could vacuum a house or mop or clean a floor if they had the proper tools. Your six-year-old might not be able to lug around a big vacuum cleaner, but they probably could use a lightweight battery operated vacuum. Brooms and dustpans aren’t really terribly efficient for anyone, let alone a child; but there are little electric dust busters, Swiffers, etc. that work reasonably well. One way to compensate for a child’s inability to do an expert job that satisfies mom’s critical eye is to compensate with time and frequency. You might vacuum your house once or twice a week; a child could do it many times a week. You can also have them learn to use a timer so that they are spending sufficient time to get the task accomplished well. And remember to use reverse chaining to help teach them how to do the job properly in the first place.
  7. One of the most common errors in getting children to do chores is setting them up to fail. The more ambiguous the time requirement for the completion of a chore, the more likely it will not be accomplished without intervention. The best/easiest chores are daily chores that occur at a very specific time. If a chore is a weekly chore, it needs to be attached to a very specific time or as part of a chain of events. Scheduling chores around specific time-related events should help tremendously. Look at the child’s day and identify the events that occur at fairly exact times, such as meals, going to school, or soccer practice. Use these events as the foundation for scheduling chores. Think about a list of chores before or immediately after breakfast or dinner as places to start. Speaking of places to start, one of the very basic things that teaches responsibility, self-reliance, and maturity is getting oneself up in the morning. Try to have a specific time your child needs to get up, and once that time is established, your child should have an alarm clock that starts their day. If your child doesn’t get up when the alarm goes off, be creative and come up with some responses that will teach them to do it—quickly.
  8. There is a question as to whether to directly reward/pay children for doing their chores. Some families choose to use a token economy system in which the child receives a token, check, or star for every chore that is completed, and then the tokens are exchanged for money or special privileges. Many families find that this approach works. I honestly do not prefer the token system because it basically implies that the child is doing something extra or special that should be rewarded beyond just a verbal acknowledgment. I would generally prefer to see the child receive a set allowance that is essentially an acknowledgment that they are a contributing member of the family, and then some form of natural consequence for not completing their chores. It may be necessary to start with a reward system to get things started, but if you do, try to phase out the system as soon as possible. I do think that providing a list of things that children can do above and beyond their chores, such as washing and waxing dad’s car, is appropriate, along with a specific dollar amount to be earned.
  9. One of the realities of developing, orchestrating, and teaching your child how to do chores properly involves looking for and providing the opportunities and scheduling. We could lump these pieces under the general term of management. Management is a reality of running a home or raising children. A vital role of management is oversight. I have spent the majority of my adult life traveling around the country and the world meeting with families. All of this travel involves more hotels and restaurants than I would care to recall. Staying in all of these hotels and eating at all of these restaurants makes the role of management incredibly relevant and obvious. When you observe people at the hotel desk who don’t know what they are doing or who get your reservations confused, or poorly prepared food that is late and cold at a restaurant, it is an issue with training, oversight, and management. Do not expect your children to function in their jobs without oversight and management; it isn’t going to happen. If most adults can’t function without it, don’t expect your children to. Ultimately, with proper oversight and management, your children will learn how to be responsible, how to pay attention to detail, and how to complete tasks well without supervision. But until they have been taught, don’t expect a miracle.
  10. If you have a child who is mentally and physically capable of doing chores and you cannot find time in their day for these tasks, you should re-evaluate priorities. The lessons learned from doing chores, such as becoming responsible, learning to serve, being unselfish, independent, highly capably, and developing all of the aspects of a good work ethic, are vital to building a personal foundation for your child that will serve them well throughout their lives. The role of chores in the development of typical children is vital, however all of the benefits of chores are magnified for those with special needs. One of the greatest issues for those with developmental issues is dependency. The greater the issues the more dependent the individual. It is important to try to find appropriate chores commensurate with the abilities of the individual and taking the time to find the proper tools and offer the proper training is so that they can contribute and learn all of the associated lessons.

Many parents neglect to realize that one of our jobs as parents is to raise our children to be functional adults, responsible, competent members of society, and perhaps parents themselves, who will need all the tools they can get to help the next generation succeed. There are far too many big children out there who believe they are adults.

Potential is a refection of opportunity. Let’s provide our children with all of the opportunities we can to build their personal foundations.

 —Bob Doman

P.S. In the spirit of full disclosure, Arielle, the Big Helper, is my granddaughter, daughter of my son, Laird, and his lovely wife, Sadie. I have issued the challenge in her name. The videos were shot the week of her first birthday. She is a beautiful and, of course, smart little girl whose proud grandfather is going to have to exercise a great deal of self-restraint not to spoil.