Author Eileen Riley-Hall shares her story: Parenting Girls on the Autism Spectrum.


(Interview with Author Eileen-Riley Hall) 

 AANE BookHigh school English teacher and mom Eileen Riley-Hall co’ taught autistic children in college summer camp and has worked with special needs students for over 25 years. However, she had never suspected her own daughters’ diagnoses of autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Upon discovery, she knew her life had drastically changed.

The New York native Riley-Hall, rummaged store bookshelves for answers—something that would reassure her that it would be okay. She only found overwhelming clinical books and discouraging doom and gloom books, which left her dissatisfied. After researching the disorder and learning which therapies worked for her, Eileen began to jot down her findings. She learned that the diagnosis isn’t a prophecy; autistic children can go on living normal and fulfilling lives.

She committed herself to the goal of writing her own book in hopes that it would give support to parents in similar situations. She has done just that with her recently released book, Parenting Girls on the Autism Spectrum: Overcoming the Challenges and Celebrating the Gifts.

“One day, I went to a seminar at Albany Center for Autism and Related Disabilities,” said Riley-Hall in an interview. “There, I met clinical psychologist Shana Nichols, PhD who told me to e-mail her my manuscript. She sent it to her publishing company, Jessica Kingsley Publishers, and they liked it.”

Recently interviewed by anchor Stephanie Grady of FOX23 News, Riley-Hall describes her story of parenting girls on the autism spectrum given that ASD is much different from that of their male counterparts. The doctor diagnosed her youngest daughter, Caroline Grace, with autism at two years old. When Elizabeth Anne, Lizzie, was just five, the family also discovered that she had pervasive developmental disorder (PDD), now reclassified as Asperger’s syndrome (AS).

My first thoughts were that my children would be incapable of doing things that other children could do,” said Riley-Hall. Parenting special needs children, as Riley puts it, can leave parents feeling defeated. The doctor said Caroline had severe cognitive impairments and a below average IQ at three years old. Now at 13, Caroline displays a great deal of intelligence. Musical Theatre is one of her favorites in school; she plays the Trumpet and delights in musical therapy. She is also tackling school spelling bees and seventh grade long division. Caroline strikes their mom as a sweet girl, but her mom worries about her ability to live independently as an adult. Nevertheless, Riley-Hall remains optimistic. “It appears at this point, she will always need to be supervised. But she has taught me that anything is possible, so we keep trying and hoping,”  said Riley.

Her children have always been a part of the general education classroom. “Inclusion is not just helpful, it’s necessary,” says Riley-Hall in her book. Taking part in mainstream education helps autistic children develop social skills from their peers, which they wouldn’t have ordinarily developed in therapy. Finding the proper educational support from teachers and modifying the curriculum if necessary is imperative. Most importantly, the best way to help children reach their highest potential as well as uncover their gifts is by accepting the children for who they are. “Autism is a part of who my children are. I believe in helping them in the area of education and giving them unconditional love,” the Author said.

Parenting Girls on the Autism Spectrum gives readers a glimpse into the autistic mind, ironing out common misconceptions associated with the disorder—one of those misconceptions is that autistic children are detached.

“That’s not true,” explains Riley-Hall. “Autism is a communication disorder; autistic people feel just as many emotions as we do. They are capable of empathy. They may be slower to understand what’s going on in the world around them, but they are much more aware of what’s going on around them than we think. Always talk about them hopefully because chances are that they understand a lot more than they can communicate. They are connected to people and they feel real emotions.”

The Author says Caroline had a speech delay, but she recalls moments from her toddler years in which Riley-Hall had thought she was unaware. In their baby years, Lizzie and Caroline’s personalities were like night and day. A six pound one ounce baby Lizzie would often stare skeptically, while Caroline was so independent and energetic that she would climb like an acrobat–all the characteristics of ordinary children. She also guides parents through adolescent years, covering treatments and interventions, how to handle bullying, hygiene, and social problems. She writes a section on early symptoms and causes, a hotly debated topic. She also warns parents of the common mistake of treating children on an impulse, such as seeking Internet therapies. “Parents have to be cautious, so they don’t do anything risky. That’s why it’s important to have a good relationship with your pediatrician,” said Riley-Hall.

Parenting Girls on the Autism Spectrum can be recognized as more than just the common Autism resource or clinical book. The author integrates helpful passages and optimistic author quotes for parents instead of proving autism to be just another formidable diagnosis. Each chapter closes with a message for readers to turn to when they’re looking for comfort as she once did in learning of her girl’s diagnoses. She quickly learned that all autistic children are different and wishes everyone had a broader understanding of the variety of people who can contribute to the world. “Just because someone has special needs, doesn’t mean that they can’t contribute to the world around them,” says Riley-Hall. “We aren’t at a place of recognizing autistic people as whole people.” Her advice to other parents is:

“Don’t give up hope. Autistic children can do extraordinary things. Keep giving them opportunities to develop and try new things. Life will be different, but it can still be wonderful. She also adds: “God can do amazing things; faith has a lot to do with it.”

Related websitesAutism SpeaksAutism Society

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Trayvon Martin: another senseless death disturbs millions


Many are outraged as the heart-rending death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin has touched viewers nationally. Friday evening, Sanford, Florida police released 911 recordings of calls made by Martin’s shooter, George Zimmerman, and by frantic neighbors who heard a fight the night of Martin’s fatal shooting. The tapes expose some truth to the Martin case, after an ongoing dispute over whether Martin was killed in self-defense.

The recordings are shocking. Trayvon’s family and friends believe the tapes reveal the teen’s desperate cry for help in his last few moments of life; they speculate that it was Martin’s cry for help in a terrified attempt to escape Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer on duty that night. However, the entire story of what occurred that night is unknown. Zimmerman claimed, prior to the releases, that he shot the teen in self-defense, but Martin was unarmed. Zimmerman later told local officers that Martin approached him at his SUV, according to the Orlando Sentinel. He alleges that Martin asked if he had a problem, Zimmerman replied “no” and reached for his cell phone. He then claimed that Martin said “well you do now” and punched him in the nose.

In the tapes, Zimmerman, 28, can be heard complaining of a suspicious guy roaming the area along with the 911 dispatcher instructing him not to pursue the teenaged boy. Zimmerman followed Martin anyway. There were complaints also heard from neighborhood bystanders who informed police of a fight between men and gunshots fired.

A 17-year-old Martin was returning from the store to his father’s fiancée’s house in Sanford, Florida only to be gunned down, allegedly, by Zimmerman because of his thoughts that Martin was looking for trouble. The neighbors and the public accuse Zimmerman, who is white, of profiling a black teenager. 

CNN reported on March 14, before the tapes were released, that police officials had not charged Zimmerman with any crime because of  their inability to provide valid proof of what happened. Also, police aren’t sure what took place during “a one minute gap” between the shooting and Zimmerman’s 911 call, but the slow-paced investigation by the Stanford Police Department raises suspicion. Martin’s family members and many others are infuriated that Zimmerman remains free. In an effort to see justice served, nearly half a million people, including celebrities, have signed an online petition calling for Zimmerman’s arrest. (change.org.) While the issue remains unresolved, Martin supporters sport “hoodies” at “Hoodie Rallies” and speak out, nationally, in Martin’s defense.

Trayvon’s parents described him in the Orlando Sentinel as a normal teenager with a big appetite.

“He loved playing football. He loved watching football. He loved basketball,” said his mother, Sybrina Fulton. “He loved to eat everything in your house.”

His father said: “It’s sad as a father to have to bury your child. As a parent, you never want to imagine about burying your kids. And for me to have to bury my son is just sad.”

Many reporters and bloggers say the story of Martin’s death brings back memories of Caylee Anthony’s death—and all too soon. Just as the public begins to recover from Caylee’s death, another painful loss affects the nation.

 (CNN, Orlando Sentinel)

 

Note: I will update occasionally on the Trayvon Martin story as it relates to parenting, but view the sites below  for news updates and further detail:

Trayvon Martin’s family alleges racial profiling before Congress: U.S News–msnbc.com

What witnesses say in the Trayvon Martin case: CNN

The Tragic Case of Trayvon Martin: carolynedgar.com

How to let go: studies link forgiveness to better health


It’s incredibly easy to hold a grudge in such trying times: almost half of marriages end in divorce, mass layoffs last year compelled workers to cling to their jobs, and a host of other problems. Even dating is harder than ever these days. When transferring baggage from one relationship to another, often times, we find ourselves in a battle for our feelings. Anything can trigger resentment—no matter how well some are at hiding it—the truth is that everyone has a distinct story to share about their own sensitive pasts. Those who mask unforgiveness instead of handling it appropriately often end up bitter. Studies also show that this is unhealthy.

Maya Angelou compared bitterness to “a cancer that eats upon the host.” Caused by unsettled feelings, it has a destructive impact on our long-term spiritual, mental, and physical health. A study in the Oxford Journal suggests that forgiveness was positively associated with self-reported health over time for older African-Americans. But for any race, when we hold on to a wounding past with a tight grip (whether caused by a loved one, ex, or friend) the strain from it on our bodies leads to high blood pressure and other causes of chronic illness. In fact, forgiveness is used as a therapy to treat chronic illness. In the book, Forgiveness Therapy: A Clinical Intervention for Chronic Disease, it says forgiveness interventions are used and found in counseling therapy literature and may have an enormous personal and public health impact.

Moreover, forgiveness ties into our mental and spiritual health. Studies show a link between spiritual well-being and better health, and spiritual well-being may be “cardio-protective.” (Journal of Behavioral Medicine) It also helps to preserve mental and emotional health. If you watch Joel Olsteen, one of the most influential televised pastors in the country, he always emphasizes to his viewers and readers the importance of monitoring what we feed our spirits and how letting go of our negative pasts will support us in our spiritual growth. In one of his daily words, he wrote about how a bitter disagreement at a traffic light escalated to two furious drivers’ senseless deaths. Olsteen said that he had no doubt that both individuals were reacting from emotional baggage that they both failed to work on.

“When they least expected it, the baggage overwhelmed and destroyed them. They could no longer bear the weight of all the pain, bitterness, and the troubles of life,” said Olsteen.

Everyone’s situation won’t be as dramatic, but heavy emotions from our pasts need to be dealt with. Because that small seed matures into something worse and potentially harder to get rid of inside of us, such as bad habits, anger, depression, hate–anything you could imagine. Some people disregard the pain as something that will go away with time. The saying “time heals all wounds” is the common phrase of choice when consoling others.” However, time isn’t the best medicine. The pain that we feel from a hurtful past has shaped our perceptions in life and has changed how we respond to the world in general. We remain stained with its residue on our hearts until we take the first step of forgiveness and let ourselves heal.

How do we heal?

Feed our minds with positive messages and healing literature

Healing doesn’t magically happen overnight; it’s a process that takes place gradually as one feeds their inner self. Like our bodies, which need food to survive, our minds and spirits need food to stay alive and well. A few authors whose literature is helpful in these areas are Iyanla Vanzant, Joyce Meyer, T.D Jakes, and Joel Olsteen. They are inspirational writers with a vast repertoire of healing books worth reading. (the Bible is the main source.)

Forgive ourselves

A study on forgiveness stated that unforgiveness of self was largely associated with bitterness: “Forgiveness of self appears to be the most important to health, yet the most difficult to achieve.”  A lot of people continue hurting and harboring anger for years while the person who has angered them the most is the man/woman in the mirror. No one can love or forgive anyone while they are angry at him/herself.

Stop adding salt to the wounds

As regretful as some past experiences may be, none of them were in vain. Take advantage of the lessons you’ve learned from them and avoid making the same mistakes–going back to a bitter relationship, dating the same or same type of wrong person, positioning yourself for the same type of situation. How can the healing process begin when the same wound is reopened repeatedly?  Learn to grow from it and move on to a different route in life.

Pray

When we pray, we don’t have to worry about judgmental people, or negative opinions, or dealing with anything personal at all. Here is our time to release our thoughts and concerns as therapy—our creator is the greatest healer.

See a professional

A licensed professional is trained to work with these types of issues. They can guide you to find the best method of healing.

Talk to the person who has hurt you

Use your discretion before deciding to address someone about a situation that has been on your mind. Make sure that it’s with someone you trust, and that you are not transferring your hurtful feelings in order to hurt someone else.

Redshirting: does it work? Education professionals share their views on keeping children back from kindergarten


At one point in time, if parents so much as thought that their child would be held back in school, it wouldn’t have been a pretty picture. Apparently, holding children back has become an increasingly popular trend for parents of preschool-aged children who prefer them to be the oldest in their classes–The term for this is redshirting. Children with late birthdays are redshirted by their parents with thoughts that they will have an advantage over their younger peers and ultimately lead more successful lives.

The practice becomes a hot topic of parent conversation every year, but a recent episode on CBS’s 60 Minutes drew national attention to what Morley Safer called an “epidemic of parents holding their children back from kindergarten.” Parents are curious to know if the effects of redshirting their kindergartener will actually boost academic scores in later years and drive their children to soar among their peers. Much of the controversy from the segment derived from Malcolm Gladwell whose best-selling book “Outliers influenced these parents to hold their kids back. Gladwell talked about a concept called “cumulative advantage,” the idea that having an edge at six-years-old positions children to be ahead of the game at seven and so on.

Many states are cracking down on redshirting. While New Jersey laws require that children be five by the cut-off date, parents have the right to go to the district to discuss the issue. (Private schools are more lenient with the parent’s decisions to keep children in the same grade). Eight states including New York and New Jersey have varying cut-off dates depending on the district—most cut-off dates are Oct 1st. In a recent interview, early childhood professionals from different parts of New Jersey discussed their standpoint on redshirting. Some are for it, but others dispute the practice with the notion that several factors should be considered before crediting this theory for improved academic performance.

Director Farhang Nematallahi of a child center in Rahway, New Jersey worked with children from infancy to kindergarten ages for 25 years. The last thing she wants is for children to feel rushed into kindergarten before they’re ready.

I think it’s a good idea to hold students back in preschool if they are younger because when they finally get to kindergarten, they understand better than five-year-olds do, said Nematallahi. I had this experience with my daughter. I kept her back, and she was older in the first grade and more mature than her peers.  I didn’t have any problems. She is a doctor now—a Chiropractor. She was always advanced. I’m not for starting a child early because some of them aren’t ready.”

Nematallahi wishes she had held her son back in preschool. “My son’s birthday was a little before the cut-off date, and I sent him to kindergarten anyway. He’s is still successful, but the transition wasn’t as smooth as my daughter’s transition,” she said.

The age that children enter kindergarten isn’t the main focus for teachers working for the Rahway child center, but more importantly, they’re aiming to improve children’s language skills, physical development, cognitive development, and social emotional development in preschool. At such a young age, teachers want to protect children’s fragile self-esteems so they pay special attention to their emotional growth and needs. A kindergarten teacher sharing the same thoughts as Nematallahi agreed that pushing children doesn’t help their self-esteem especially since the No Child Left Behind Act was enforced in school systems, pressuring youngsters to take tests earlier in school years. The teacher claims to notice that a lot of children begin school earlier in age in Linden, New Jersey also.

“Lately, I see more children starting school in an older classroom setting earlier, and overall, they are being pressured to take tests too early,” said the teacher.

Both professionals make teaching these preschool skills  a priority so that academic gains are likely in the first grade and so on. Should it be assumed that improved scores are a result of redshirting? Other professionals in different areas of New Jersey disagree.

Ms. Damita, family worker for the State of New Jersey’s Family Outreach Program (FOP) supports parents and staff with educational and child development out of Irvington, New Jersey. She believes in ensuring that each child is equally developed in all domains listed in the New Jersey Department of Education  Kindergarten Implication Guidelines, and she says that demographics, culture, discipline, eating and sleeping habits, socioeconomic status, and parent involvement all influence the child’s performance. Hence, doing simple science, math, and reading activities at home aid kindergarten readiness.

 “The PTA (Parent Teacher Association) proves that parent involvement in the student’s lives improves retention rates,said Ms. Damita.

If a child is from a wealthier family, parents have more resources to contribute to their child’s education; studies show that the majority of children who enter kindergarten at six are from rich families, while lower to average income families begin children at a younger age. A local Newark resident and educational professional working in Newark, New Jersey describes what seems to be a rush of parents coming in schools to register children of all ages.

Most parents are trying to register their children before the cut-off date, even for kindergarteners,” she said.

But in the areas of Irvington and Newark, age isn’t always an indicator of how well the child will perform. To fully determine if children are actually advanced regardless of age is through assessments. Children behave differently at home than they do in school, so it can get confusing for parents, according to Ms. Damita. 

 “We have children who have already turned five by December 2011; they missed the kindergarten cut-off, but they are older than other preschool classmates,” said Ms. Damita. “When they are assessed with preschool tools–The Denver Developmental Screening Test, Brigance Early Preschool Screen, Early Screening Inventory and other tools—most children’s scores are either average or barely above the other scores. So are they really advanced?  She says in all her 23 years of working with children, she rarely sees a child that scores extremely over the advancement level who is five in preschool.

Redshirting has its disadvantages. One of the questions raised by professionals is: will this practice present a challenge for students, resonating Neuroscientists Sam Wang and Sandra Aamodt’s highly quoted article, Welcome to Your Child’s Brain: How the Mind Grows from Conception to College. It says delayed children aren’t as motivated entering grade school, and in fact, their lifetime earnings are reduced by one year. Being sent to kindergarten at age five or skipping a grade in school if students scores are above average forces children to work against competition at their own age level or higher instead of working alongside younger less skillful peers. Wang and Aamodt reported that the benefits of being younger are even greater for those who skip a grade, and more often, those children end up pursuing advanced degrees. Ms. Damita’s beliefs coincide with these points.

“We had a child last year. She left here for preschool at a normal age to go to first grade at a private school,said Ms. Damita. “They tested her first to see all of her levels. She was reading; her phonics, addiction, and subtraction scores were advanced. The aim is for the children to know more than they are supposed to,” she said. When children are skipped this is what eventually happens.

Furthermore, other studies from the National Education Longitudinal Survey prove that the long-term effects of delaying kindergarten on both “educational and social outcomes” don’t create any advantages for students. And the split in research results for both pros and cons of redshirting show that it works differently depending on the children’s personal situation. One group of children who benefit from it the most are the ones who honestly need it. A six-year Preschool Teacher Myrna Martinez explains why. 

A lot of children enter kindergarten knowing the basics, but socially and emotionally some are still not ready for that structure of a kindergarten classroom setting because they are still developing in a lot of areas, said Martinez who has a B.A in Early Childhood and Elementary Education. “I don’t agree with pushing children long before they are ready.” 

 

Where are we 100 years later?


 “How simple a thing it seems to me that to know ourselves as we are, we must know our mother’s names.” ~ Alice Walker.

When Author and Poet Alice Walker wrote this statement as part of an essay, In Search of Our Mother’s Garden: Womanist Prose, she was talking about discovering our identity by learning who our biological mothers and grandmothers are. This holds true for learning about women’s history as well because it is equally important in identifying who we are as women and where we’re headed in the future. How much do you know about women’s history? How much do you know about the history of the women in your culture and in your family? I ask one more question, is it important to you that you teach these histories to your daughter as well as your son, or that they learn about their past from others? This month, challenge yourselves to take part in this particular historical women’s movement and celebration that has existed for over 100 years: International Women’s Day, March 8th. On this special day, we honor so many courageous female leaders and activists, past and present, for what they have contributed to women’s equality in education and in the workforce. There are several events in which you can participate in throughout Women’s History Month. I posted this video to acknowledge those that fought for women’s rights so that we can dream without limits.

For related information and events check the following sites: internationalwomen’sday.org

National Women’s History Museum

Thank you for visiting and sorry for the delay


 As a writer, having readers who enjoy reading your work is encouraging, especially, when you can remember all those precious sleep hours spent finishing up a story before deadline. The life of a mother and a writer has its amazing moments, and then, there are just…those moments. During my writing career, I’ve learned valuable lessons from every editor that I’ve worked with, particularly, from one editor who I appreciate because she was hard on me. A simple statement that she said echoes in the back of my mind until this day. She said “in this business you have to pay your dues.” Nothing she said was super profound, but boy was she right. However, for anyone who is trying to accomplish a goal in life, expect that there will be good times and some rough times when you will have to be your greatest supporter. Continuing to persevere when things don’t go as planned is a testament to your strength. Thanks for all your support. I will continue posting shortly, and I will also alert the support team regarding RSS feed issues. Feel free to contact me tn.bennett34@gmail.com. Have a wonderful day!

The debate on contraception: religious liberty vs. reproductive liberty


The political debate between the Obama Administration and the Catholic Church on the contraception mandate is an argument that I’ve hesitated to touch on given the sensitivity of this issue. The mandate requires employers to provide healthcare that includes free contraception. As a woman growing up in a Christian based household, I can relate to both sides, which argue on whether the rule affects the “religious liberties” of the Catholic Church or women’s reproductive freedom.  

I am a firm believer in finding ways to prevent unwanted pregnancies especially after being raised in a time when sex was openly discussed and exposed to children at an early age through music and television—even some cartoons mentioned the topic. The prevalence of sex-related topics in school and at home made sexual abstinence difficult to maintain as a teenager, so I could imagine how it is for teens today. Then, there is the idea of using contraceptives to save money in healthcare costs, which is President Obama and his administration’s intention.  (A recent study shows that the costs for births from unintended pregnancies exceeded a half billion dollars in 2006).

However, some Catholic leaders and GOP presidential candidates like Rick Santorum believe that sex should be preserved for marriage, similar to the Christian belief. The mandate has drawn a storm of negative criticism from Stantorum and other conservatives who say that a federal requirement to pay for contraceptives is an attack on religious liberty and is morally offensive.  In response, Obama and his administration have compromised on coverage requirements to religious advocates who disagree with paying for contraceptives. President Obama stated “that the church’s and church administrations were exempt from paying for birth control and the insurance companies who offer their coverage would be required to offer contraceptives directly to employees at no additional cost.” He made it clear that the U.S Department of Health and Human Services would require insurance companies, not employers, to pay for the coverage. However, all employers even religious affiliated intuitions such as universities, hospitals, and charities will have to comply. Even after the shift, President of the U.S Conference of Catholic Bishops Timothy Dolan is still unsatisfied. He says the only solution to the birth control insurance rule is to rescind the mandate. But would that really be the best move?

A statement that I read in a story, Republican hearing on contraceptives was dumb politics, in the Los Angeles Times sums up the answer of why offering free contraceptives would be more of a realistic approach:

“Maybe among the rhetorical “American people” for whom conservative congressmen always claim to speak, birth control is a wicked thing that leads to promiscuity and wanton pleasure, but among the actual human beings who live in this country, contraceptives are more popular than apple pie.”

This is true. I’m certainly not promoting premarital sex, partly, because of the risk of contracting an STD. (one of the reasons some Catholics oppose the mandate). But if these old ways have been proven unsuccessful than it’s time to consider an alternative route in solving these problems. Offering free contraceptives just may cut the number of STD cases and unwanted pregnancies resulting in single parent families. What about married women? should their reproductive liberty be compromised? Controlling women’s reproductive freedom as a way to solve these problems is only limiting their freedom of choice. God himself gave everyone free will. No matter what a group’s moral beliefs are, forcing those beliefs on others won’t solve the problem. It never has.

Other Democrats feel strongly about keeping the mandate in place pointing out that women use contraceptives for medical purposes as well.

“It is our clear understanding from the administration that the president believes as we do, and the vast majority of the American women should have access to birth control, said Senator Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., “It’s medicine, and women deserve their medicine.”

 In conclusion, offering free contraceptives would benefit women who choose to use them. Officials and politicians are becoming too involved in women’s personal lives by imposing their beliefs on them. Instead, premarital sex prevention techniques and educational material on the risks of premarital sex should be presented to the public, leaving the personal choice of reproduction up to the women not the politicians.

Related Articles:

President Obama Birth Control Compromise Divides Catholic Leaders (huffingtonpost.com)  

“Why the Contraception Mandate Matters” (aclu.org)

First Lady Michelle Obama writes to CNN: “Working Together for the Health of America’s Children”


First Lady Michelle Obama writes, special to CNN, about the progress that she’s seen since the launch of her nationwide initiative, Let’s Move. It was designed to end America’s childhood obesity epidemic that affects nearly one in three of our children. With Let’s Move, the goal is to reach out to parents and school systems so that children will begin exercising and eating healthy during their earliest months and years. She says that people across the country have stepped up in making the changes needed to become healthier. Read More

“In the end, as First Lady, this isn’t just a policy issue for me. This is a passion. This is my mission. I am determined to work with folks across this country to change the way a generation of kids think about food and nutrition.”

- First Lady Michelle Obama

Tax season: tax breaks and tips for single parents to get the most out of their refunds


Around tax-season, the common goal is getting the most out of your tax-refunds, although, all the IRS  tax literature crammed with ever-changing tax laws, tax credits and deductions that you have to learn feels like an over-load of information. E-filing has made tax preparation simpler and is quickly becoming the norm–eight out of 10 taxpayers now e-file their returns according to the IRS. While professional advice  is helpful and ensures that you get all the tax breaks specific to your situation, e-filing saves the extra bucks and provides a more speedy and accurate refund. If you prefer the advice, H&R Block reviews refunds for free at some branches if it was prepared on their website.  Just in case, remember these quick tips from the (IRS) when e-filing for your taxes.

  • Earned Income Tax Credits (EITC) are helpful for low-income families earning $49,078 or less. The amount you receive varies depending on your level of income and the number of dependents you support. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) estimates that four out of five eligible workers and families get the credit. One in five people miss out on the credit because of failure to claim it or to file for taxes at all. Last year, the average EITC amount was around $2,200. Check the IRS website to see if you qualify by visiting IRS.gov.
  •  Child Tax Credits allows parents to receive up to $1,000 for each qualifying child. To qualify, a child must be a dependent, under the age of 17 before the end of the tax year and must have lived with you for half of the year. It is in addition to the Credit for Child and Dependent Care expenses (see below). An Additional Child Tax Credit is also available for individuals who get less than the full amount of the Child Tax Credit, and may give you a refund even if you do not owe any tax. Click on the following link for more information.
  •   The IRS reminds parents paying school expenses such as tuition and fees, course related books, supplies and equipment for their children to keep the receipts and learn about some of the tax benefits that can help offset college costs. These tax benefits include the American Opportunity Credit, Lifetime Learning Credit, Tuition and Fees Deduction, Student Loan Interest Deduction. Note: you can only choose to claim one of the credits per student in a single tax year. For more information visit the Tax Benefits for Education Information Center at www.irs.gov or check out Publication 970, Tax Benefits for Education, which can be downloaded at www.irs.gov or ordered by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).
  •  The Child and Dependent Care Credit can be claimed if parents pay childcare expenses for a child (your dependent) who is under 13 and is not able to care for him or herself while the parent is at work or looking for work. The childcare provider can’t be your spouse or anyone that you or your spouse can claim as a dependent. You will need to provide the name, address, and tax id number of the childcare provider (social security number) or of the childcare organization. Also, for information on a qualifying person for divorced or separated spouses view the Publication 503 (2010), Child and Dependent Care Expenses.
  •  The filing status determines whether you are eligible to claim other deductions and credits. If you are a single mother, instead of filing “Single” you may want to consider filing “Head of House Hold” to cut your taxes. The “Head of House Hold” is the person who provides financial support to one or more persons related to him/her by blood, marriage or legal adoption. View the IRS Publication 501 under filing status to see which one you should file under.
  •  Be sure to claim all taxable gross income–all money earned in the form of money, goods, property, and services that are not exempt from tax. It also includes part of your social security benefits, salaries, wages, tips, professional fees, other taxable employee compensation, net earnings from self-employment, strike benefits, any disability pay you report as wages and the amounts paid for scholarships See chapter 1 of Publication 970, Tax Benefits for Education.
  •  Choose a trusted and comprehensible site to file your taxes. The IRS professionals say that the fastest, safest and easiest way to get your refund is to e-file and use direct deposit. (IRS e-file, Turbo Tax, Jackson Hewitt and H&R Block )

A tribute to the Queen of Pop Music: Whitney Houston dies at 48


One of America’s most cherished and admired pop-queens, Whitney Houston, has died at the age of 48. Undoubtedly, her powerful voice and influential music will never be forgotten.

Houston, mom to 18-year-old Bobbi Kristina, was pronounced dead at 3:55 p.m. on Saturday. False rumors circulated of R&B Singer Ray-J, who had allegedly dated Houston, finding her dead in her room on the fourth floor of the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, California. CNN discredits these rumors. Houston’s bodyguard discovered her body says Courtney Barnes, publicist for artist Ray J.

On the night of Whitney’s death, an emergency phone call went out to the Beverly Hills police from the hotel security according to Lt. Mark Rosen. Hotel staff and fire department officials attempted to revive Houston, but it was too late. The cause of her death is unknown says Publicist, Kristen Foster. Additionally, there was no sign of criminal intent, but detectives are investigating the cause of her death.

Houston died on the eve of the Grammy Awards—a ceremony in which she was supposed to perform. But despite the loss of a legend, her longtime mentor Clive Davis announced that the show would proceed. Davis said that she would perhaps perform: “It’s her favorite night of the year” according to FoxNew.com. It was said that Houston had been at rehearsals for the show Thursday, coaching singers Brandy and Monica, by an undisclosed source.

Spectators who were around Houston in her last days say that she was slowly getting back to her roots of phenomenal performances. Sony will release Whitney Houston’s final Movie “Sparkle” in August 2012, a film in which she plays, the mother of showbiz sisters. Her executive producer had predicted that the 1976 remake film would have marked the beginning of a change in her career in the film industry.

“This would have been a big, big comeback. She is so brilliant in it,” said Howard Rosenman, the executive producer on the new film and original producer of the first movie. “I was just raving about her performance; she was so great in it. I’m just in shock,” he said in the Hollywood Reporter

The multi-award-winning star was notorious for being a double threat entertainer in acting and singing. Her top of the charts song, “I will Always Love You,” became the best-selling single by a female artist in history. She sold more than 170 million albums and hit singles across the world. Some of her hits included “Saving All My Love for You,” which won her the first Grammy, for best female pop vocal. Other classic hits like “How Will I Know,”, “You Give Good Love” and “The Greatest Love of All” are some songs that we will remember her for.

Whitney Houston started her acting career in The Bodyguard in 1992. She also starred in Waiting to Exhale in 1995 and The Preacher’s Wife in 1996. By the end of Houston’s career, her battle with drug addiction caught many of her fans and supporters attention and tainted her reputation. Her album sales plummeted and the hits stopped coming soon after she married R&B singer Bobby Brown in the early 90s. She later confessed to abusing cocaine, marijuana, pills and other drugs in an interview with Diane Sawyer.

“The biggest devil is me. I’m either my best friend or my worst enemy,” Houston told ABC’s Diane Sawyer in an infamous 2002 interview.

Houston, from Newark New Jersey, was born in 1963 into a family of entertainers—her mother was a gospel singer Cissy Houston, and her God Mother was Aretha Franklin. Houston’s death is extremely unfortunate to all of her fans and anyone who loves great music, but all of music will forever remain in our hearts.

R.I.P Whitney Houston “1963-2012″