How to prepare your child with special needs for Chanukah

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Chanukah is one of the more exciting holidays for children. With the lighting of the Menorah, an abundance of potato latkes, jelly donuts, games of Dreidel and plenty of Chanukah Gelt whats not to love?

For children with special needs, Chanukah may not be something to look forward to. Any change in routine can be stressful for those on the spectrum, because it changes what they have come to expect daily. This can cause much anxiety which can be terrifying rather than bringing fun and joy to the family celebration.

Here are some tips for preparing your child for Chanukah.

Social Stories

The most important thing to do for your child is to prepare them for what will be happening. One great way for doing this is the social story. This stories can be repetitive and simple. It is helpful to include pictures.

Create social stories about:

  • Lighting the Menorah
  • Attending services at a synagogue
  • Participating in a Chanukah Party
  • Chanukah Gelt and gifts
  • The tastes and smells of Chanukah (oil, sugar and some more oil!)

One Story Per Day

Prepare a visual schedule for your child for each day during the holiday so they can follow and understand what to expect. There are a number of great Chanukah Resources and social stories available at
Parties for children with special needs can be very difficult. Follow some these guidelines to make your child more comfortable at the event.


Prepare your child for a Chanukah Party

  1. If you know your child will not eat the food at a party or celebration, take along a familiar food for your child.
  2. Allow your child to bring a familiar comfort item to the party, or their own camera as their way of interacting.
  3. Do not force your child to do anything at the party that they are unsure of. Let them just observe. If your child becomes upset-take them to a quiet place to calm down.
  4. Allow your child to dress in what is most comfortable for them.
  5. Do not put unusually difficult demands on yourself. Come late or leave early if you need to. Be flexible about your schedule and keep the night a relaxed one.
  6. Tell your friends and relatives ahead of time that you will be bringing your child. This will give them time to prepare both emotionally and physically. This is a sure fire way to reduce tension at the party.
  7. Be realistic about what your expectations are. Do what you can do to make sure you and your child will enjoy.

By: Lissie Rothstein 


Adapted with Permission from

He Made Their Day!



Most of us are thankful our trash gets collected regularly, but don’t usually pay attention to the hard working sanitation crew out there in all weather conditions keeping our city clean.


Matthew, a friendly 14 year old boy with Autism, feels very differently.  Matthew loves the sanitation and recycling trucks and has their schedule memorized. “It’s the first thing he asks about each day, says Melanie Bercovici therapist at the Friendship Circle’s Lounge program where Matthew attends daily. Matthew even has the job of emptying the small garbage into the larger one at the program that focuses on life skills and creating inclusive friendships for teens and young adults with special needs.  


Just yesterday, during the lounge program, Matthew spotted the sanitation trucks outside. Seeing his excitement, Friendship Circle staff member Boruch Edelkopf accompanied Matthew outside for a closer look.

What happened next amazed him!



Matthew greeted the workers excitedly and asked them their names and if they’d be willing to take a photo with him. They were surprised to be greeted like celebrities but quickly warmed up to Matthew’s enthusiastic and humorous personality.


It’s wonderful to see what an impact our friends with special needs can make, says Boruch. Today, Matthew taught me the importance of acknowledging the hard working individuals around us.

Matthew hopes to work on a recycling truck one day and we’re sure it’ll be the perfect fit!


12 Activities to help your child with social skills

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Reading and understanding social cues don’t come easy for children with special needs.

Here are twelve activities that you can do with your child to help improve his or her social skills.

If you have any resources or ideas to help a child with his or her social skills please add them in the comments.

Eye Contact

Good, solid eye contact show others that we are both interested in what they have to say and that we have confidence in our ability to listen.

1. Have a staring contest
Making a contest out of making eye contact with you can challenge some kids (especially if they have a competitive streak).

2. Eyes on The Forehead
When you are hanging out with your child place a sticker of an eye or a pair of eyes on your forehead.  Encourage them to look at the stickers.  It may not be exactly looking at your eyes but it is training them to look in the right direction in a funny, less threatening way.  (Idea  from: Children Succeed)

3. Swinging
Try making eye contact as your child swings on a swing.  Make a game of it where the child tries to reach you with their feet.  The sensory input may be calming and allow them to focus more on you.  Compliment them on how nice it was to have them looking at your eyes.


Idioms, even in typical children, are very confusing. For Children with ASD it can drive them crazy (is that an idiom?).
Activities that can help kids with idioms include:

4. Books about Idioms
There are many great books that illustrate and explain idioms.  Try In a Pickle And Other Funny Idioms by Marvin Terban.  It gives a funny literal illustration and then explains the history of the phrase.  Use such books as a launching pad.  Have your child make their own book of idioms that they hear.  When you use one regularly such as “That’s a piece of cake” have children make their own page.

5. Online
There are many websites that list idioms or have games to try guessing what the idiom really means. Check out  Idiom SiteFun Brain or

6. Memory or Matching Game
write down idioms on one set of cards and their meanings on another.  Have the child try to pair them up.  You could also add in the literal picture of the idiom to visualize what the idiom that is being used actually looks like.

Reading Faces / Interpreting Emotions

This skill is important at home, in school, and on the playground. Many misunderstandings arise from kids misinterpreting the emotions of others. Sometimes kids can be confused by what a particular look means. They may easily mistake a look of disappointment and think someone is angry, or they may mistake a nervous expression for a funny one.

7. Emotion Charades
Instead of using movie titles, animal or other typical words, use emotions.  Write down feeling words on pieces of paper – or, print out and cut up the worksheet below. Take turns picking a slip of paper and then acting out the word written on it. You could substitute written words for pictures showing the emotion. If kids prefer, you can draw the emotion rather than act it out like in the game Pictionary.  You can make it harder by setting a rule that you cannot draw the emotion using a face. Instead, they have to express the feeling by drawing the body language or aspects of a situation that would lead to that emotion (e.g. for sadness, you can draw a kid sitting alone on a bench, or a rainy day, etc.)

8. Face It
Face games are a way to work on social interaction. Like in an acting class, you can try “mirroring” with an autistic child: Touch your nose or stick out your tongue and have him or her imitate you. Make funny faces that the child can copy. Kids with social skills deficits often have trouble reading expressions and interacting socially, so activities that get them more comfortable with these situations are a great idea.

9. Bingo/Matching Game
You can use the pictures from the printable emotions game as bingo boards.  You can also cut them up and make a matching set of words written or other similar faces and then you can play a matching or memory card game.

Staying On Topic

When people have a conversation, they pick a topic to discuss. Each person adds something to the conversation until the conversation has finished or the top has changed. Sometimes it is hard for children to stay on topic and take part in a regular conversation. Here are some activities to help with staying on topic and carrying out a conversation.

10. Topic Game Play a game of the alphabet where every letter has to be the beginning of a word in a theme such as fruit or vegetable: A…apple, B…banana, C…carrot

11. Step into Conversation

Step into Conversation is a learning tool that provides children with autism with the structure and support they need to hold interactive conversations. Cards provide 22 basic, scripted conversations with areas for the child to fill in the blanks. Icons with labels run along the top of each card and remind the child to Stand, Look, Talk and Listen. They are reminded to listen after they make each statement.

12. Improvisational Storytelling

To play this game, put pictures of different emotions face down on the table. Then players decide together on some story elements must appear in the story (e.g., an arctic wasteland, a lemur, and a banana). The goal is for the players to take turns making up the narrative, building on each other's ideas and (eventually) making use of all the required story elements.

To begin, the first player picks a card and starts the narrative. He can take the story into any direction he likes, but he must incorporate the emotion depicted on the card. After a minute or two, the next player picks a card and continues the narrative. Players continue to take turns until they have used all the required story elements and reached a satisfying conclusion.

By: Emma 

Emma is a 37-year-old mother of two. One of the two, son Ian, has autisim. She is also currently earning her master's in special education with an autism endorsement.

Adapted with permission from

Recharging, it's a necessity


Another Full Time Job

Parenting is challenging enough, add any type of Special Need/disability and you have another full time job on your hands that you need to recharge from! I remember when my son was first diagnosed with ADHD and Autism Spectrum Disorder at the age of 7, I felt so overwhelmed, alone, and confused at the time. I didn't know where to start, what path to take, and I was "mourning" the child that I had lost at the same time. It took us a long time to get him diagnosed, and once it was "all over", I fell into a depression from sheer exhaustion. What seemingly was the end, was really a new beginning for my husband and I.

So Much to Manage

Special Needs parenting is very difficult to explain to others unless they are going through it themselves. Isolation, guilt, anger, resentment, and the chronic worrying and fatigue of it all can really wear you down. Then we have: the IEP meetings, the struggle with teachers, constantly advocating for their rights, finding the right doctor (I am on my 4th Pediatrician now), choosing the appropriate therapies, and finding a way to pay for the therapies (I sold my house and borrowed money). All this while preventing constant bullying and keeping their already low self esteem in check. And don't even get me started on the fear of their future! To add, most of us have full time jobs and other children to care for as well.

My Mistake

I have been in the field of Special Needs for over 20 years and have been the parent of a child with Autism for 10 years. I should also mention that my 13 year old has an ADHD diagnosis as well. So, I consistently have my hands full at work and at home. I have often made the mistake of not putting myself first, and have paid the price. This only led to misery, heartache, burnout, resentment, and an inability to help either of my children in the end. I am here to tell you that you NEED SOMETHING ELSE! You need to recharge and NOT feel guilty about it either (this took me a while). Otherwise, you may end up losing yourself, losing your own identity, among other things.

Time Out

I am not suggesting that you need to escape your life. Personally, I try my best to live a life that I don't need a vacation from. But I absolutely need a time out from it all in order to recharge so I can better help my kids. Even on a daily basis, if only for 20 minutes. If not, I just get mentally drained with it all and then it transfers to me physically, and then emotionally. It is ALL interconnected whether we want to admit it or not. Your body is always sending you signals. Many just choose to ignore the signals until it's too late.


Of course you have to find what works best for you, but here are a few of the things that work for me: I spend time with my dog, I run, I go for a walk in the woods, I have coffee with a friend, I go shopping ALONE, I eat my favorite dark chocolate while sipping on coffee, I keep a gratitude list, I practice 60 seconds of deep breathing (meditation sessions longer than 5min are not necessary...and who has the time?), and I often wake up earlier than everyone else just so that I can have some quiet time and spend time with myself!

Love Yourself First

The point is that you cannot just go on and on without loving and taking care of yourself first. It just doesn't work out for the best. It is not selfish, or egocentric. Instead it is vital and necessary to your physical, emotional, and mental health. In the end, if you are well..your child is well! 


By: Angela Maciocia

Angela is a Mother of 2 awesome boys, wife, athlete, runner, dog lover, clean eating cooking fanatic, and an adult special education teacher. Angela blogs to share her journey, life experiences, training, meals, & health/wellness tips in hopes of  helping, guiding, inspiring and most of all connecting with others. Angela has two boys ages 14 and 11. Her youngest is on the Autism Spectrum and her oldest has an ADHD diagnosis. She’s been in the field of special needs for over 20 years! She currently works for the Lester B Pearson school board with the endeavour program at Place Carter in Beaconsfield. You can follow Angela at

14 Fall Sensory Activities For Your Child With Special Needs


“Falling” Into Sensory Strategies

Fall is a great time of year to provide your child with sensory input. With a month or two of school under their belt, most children start to feel the effects of an increased work load and longer periods of sitting in school.

Taking advantage of the weather and fall activities can help to organize and regulate your child for continued success at school and home.

Here are a few fall activities recommended by the occupational therapy department of the Kaufman Children’s Center that provide a variety of sensory input:

Sensory Activities With Leaves

1. Rake The Leaves

Raking the leaves into a pile is great heavy work for your child. It helps to provide proprioceptive input to their muscles and joints, increasing body awareness and strength.

2. Jump In The Pile

Once you have a pile, allow your child to run and jump into the leaves. This provides both some movement (vestibular input) as well as crashing (proprioceptive input).

3. Hide And Seek

Hide familiar objects in a pile of leaves and have your child try to find them. This provides your child with tactile (touch) input as well as works on some discrimination skills. To make it more difficult, have them try to find the objects with their eyes closed and guess what the object is.

4. Create Works Of Art

Have your child make a rubbing of a large leaf that they found. Place the leaf under a piece of paper and have them color the paper, transferring the image of the leaf. Have your child use small or broken crayons to facilitate a tripod grasp.

5. Make A Leaf Race

Have a leaf blowing race. Give your children a straw and instruct them to blow a leaf across a table or across the sidewalk. This activity provides oral motor input as well as heavy work through their mouth.

6. Make A Leaf Person

Make a leaf person. Have your child glue different shape leaves on a piece of paper to make a person. Draw on arms, legs and other body parts. This is a fine motor activity that also works on promoting body awareness.

7. Nature Hunt!

Go on a nature hunt! Provide your child with tweezers or tongs. Have them pick up acorns and pine-cones using the tongs. This activity will work on increasing grip strength and precision.

Sensory Activities With Pumpkins

8. Carve A Pumpkin

Carving a pumpkin (with assistance) facilitates fine motor skills as well as providing a great wet tactile activity. Have your child scoop out the inside and play in the mess. Picking out the seeds to toast works both on a pincer grasp as well as provides a great snack.

9. Pumpkin Bowling

Use pumpkins as bowling balls. Bowling with pumpkins provides your child with heavy work through lifting the pumpkins as well as some object manipulation skills through rolling the pumpkin towards a target.

10. Pumpkin Races

Have your children compete in pumpkin races. This requires them to race (through obstacles if desired) while carrying a pumpkin. This activity will help with motor planning and agility as well as provide your child with vestibular and proprioceptive input.

Biking & Walking Activities

11. Bike Rides

Bike riding is a great activity while the weather is nice and is a great way to provide your child with movement. It also works on bilateral coordination and balance.

12. Wagon Pulling

Pulling a wagon is a great form of proprioceptive input through heavy work. Placing heavy objects in the back of the wagon intensifies this as well as works on strengthening.

13. Scavenger Hunt

Have a scavenger hunt. Make a list of common fall objects and have your child look for them. More than one child can race to see who can find the most objects. This activity works on visual perceptual skills and discrimination.

Sensory Input Through Finger Painting

14. Create Fall Colors

Finger paint is a great medium to provide your child with tactile input. It can also be done outside to minimize the mess.  Have your child make a tree trunk by putting brown finger paint on their palm and forearm and pressing it on the paper. They can then use various fall colors to put “finger print” leaves on the branches.

For children who are more sensitive to tactile input, allow them to use a paintbrush or have a towel ready for them to clean their hands.

Hopefully with these fun filled fall activities, your child can receive adequate sensory input for continued success in school and home.

Tell us what your favorite fall activities are in the comments below!

Adapted with permission from

This post was put together by the occupational therapy department of The Kaufman Children’s Center for Speech, Language, Sensory-Motor, and Social Connections. Kaufman Children’s Center provides individual speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, sensory integration therapy, social skills instruction, and applied verbal behavior therapy for children from birth to 17 years old. 

Everything you need to know about Walk4Friendship 2017

Friendship Circle's 9th Annual Walk4Friendship will take place on Sunday, October 1st, at the Old Port of Montreal. join us and walk to promote friendship and inclusion for those with special needs. 

If you haven't registered, Register here

How to get to the walk site?

Sure it's an exciting new location but what's the best way to get there?
We're offering free shuttles from Walmart on Decarie to and from the walk - click here to reserve a spot. RSVP is a must.

Where can I Park?

 You can park at the onsite parking lot at the Clock Tower Pier 1 Quai de l'Horloge St, Montreal, QC H2L 5C1.  All those who fundraise $100 or more will receive complimentary parking tickets.

What is the exact location?  

Registration and Festivities will take place right beside the Playground at the Old Port, 1 Quai de l'Horloge St, Montreal, QC H2L 5C1

Click here for the walk and run routes

What will the walk celebration offer?

the exciting post walk festivities will include face painting • reptile zoo • glitter & airbrush tattoos • caricatures • circus acts • carnival games by Everblast • scooter racing • archery • pool soccer • horse hops• pizza • cotton candy • popcorn • drinks • & more! All for no charge thanks to generous sponsors!

After the festivities enjoy the wonderful activities the Old Port has to offer.  Anyone wearing a Walk4Friendship t-shirt will receive 50% off ziplining!

All Walk4Friendship participants will receive complimentary tickets to Montreal's new "Giant Ferris Wheel" following the walk celebration! Thanks to La Grande roue de Montréal!

Are there Matching Funds?

 This year we do not have a matching funds donor! We ask you to step up and match your usual donation or give a bit more to help us reach our goal!

Can I volunteer?

Yes! We'd love to have you volunteer at the event. Please fill out the volunteer form and select which role would best suit you.


The Eclipse, a lesson about special needs


This week we saw an eclipse.

The moon blocked the sun, totally or partially depending where you were.

We've been warned that it’s dangerous to look at it but we all want to see it! So we don special glasses in order to watch.

Every one of us has a shining soul within. It is brilliant and bright. It is overwhelmingly powerful. But we don’t or can’t always see it. So we must don special glasses to allow us to see the light we each share with the world. These glasses are the glasses of depth and meaning and the knowledge that every person was created by g-d with a unique contribution to make. 

When we put on these glasses, we are able to see the special and beautiful light in another. Another who might seemingly be living a life where this light is concealed, A life where we only see darkness at the moment. with these glasses you can look up at them and you will see their light. With these glasses, you can see through the blockage and concealment and see how special and overwhelmingly bright they really are.

Learn to look wisely at individuals with special needs. Seeing their challenges as darkness, partially or even totally is a mistake. Put on the glasses and look deeper you will be amazed by the bright light that you will find in them.

8 Ways to Help Young Kids Make Friends This Summer

For young children, especially those who have finished their first year in school feeling emotionally and psychologically bruised, summer break can be a really important time to de-stress, rebuild self-esteem, and get some extra nurturing from family. After a week of chill time, some parents might be ready to reflect and ask themselves, “What might make next year better?”

If you are reading this and quickly putting your fingers in your ears, saying “Nah, nah, nah, I can’t hear you,” I totally get it. It is more than okay to take a real break from it all and simply enjoy the time. Feel free to dig your toes in the sand, sip your fruity drink, and turn up the radio! No judgment, no pressure, no guilt.

If you are reading this and thinking summer is a less busy time in which you can focus on what might make the next school year better, then here are some ideas to help your child connect with peers and, hopefully, begin to nurture some friendships that will extend to the classroom.

1. First and foremost, play with your child for a set period of time every day.

It is easiest for kids who struggle with making and keeping friends to develop play skills they need with adults first. Good ideas for encouraging cooperative play include simple activities that require taking turns with high-interest toys, such as racing each other with two ramps and two Hot Wheels, taking turns with one Hot Wheel and a ramp, playing games like Pop-Up Pirate or KerPlunk, or building things together (such as forts).

If your child needs to learn to include others’ ideas in play, you can help by following your child’s lead (that might mean you don’t get to be Moana) but gently expand the play to include some of your ideas too. If your child needs to learn to solve social conflicts without yelling, abandoning, or hitting, you can practice gently changing a rule or taking an extra turn and provide opportunities for your child to learn to find a space to calm down, offer a trade, compromise, or explain the situation.

2. Go to your neighborhood park regularly—preferably around the same time and day.

You are hoping to connect and establish relationships with other age-matched children in your community. Parks provide primarily sensory (sand, water, etc) and physical play that developmentally tends to be easier for young children struggling to connect and play with other kids. The best parks are those that are enclosed, and if not enclosed, not spread out so much that the kids aren’t really close enough to each other to facilitate interaction.

You might have to start an awesome game of lava monster or avengers or whatever with your child to get other kids to notice and want to join in (think Pied Piper). Once momentum has gathered, try to work toward getting another child to take over your role and step out as soon as you can.

Bring awesome toys that will draw other kids to your child. That might mean you bring a parachute, or a beach ball, or a big dump truck, or two big shiny shovels … or a really cute puppy. Whatever it takes! (You can, of course, just borrow the puppy.)

Oh—and good snacks. If all else fails, everyone likes popsicles. Even if it just ends up to be you eating them. So be sure you like the snacks you bring …

3. Go to summer camps that are hosted by local businesses, community centers, or churches.

The strategy here is to find connections that are close to home so that your child can develop friendships that have “roots” in their community. Ideally, camps you choose would have a low staff-to-child ratio and provide activities that hit just the right sensory balance of activity and rest and a good, predictable routine.

4. Consider hiring a babysitter/peer mentor.

Think child labor … I mean, the opportunity to develop responsibility and good work experience. You are preferably looking for a neighborhood child three or four years older than yours. Older children tend to be able to fill in the social gaps of younger kids and provide additional social practice for your child. This is mindful social engagement practice—meaning you will need to do some planning to ensure that your child is learning skills at the level he or she is at.

Try planning out with your child activities that the two of them can do together. To keep the time positive, keep visits short—an hour or so. Encourage making a snack together, some outside time, and some special play time. To make sure your child wants to interact with this person, consider buying or borrowing some special activities that are used only when the mentor comes. Maybe a special Lego kit they do together (older child finds the pieces, your child puts them together) or a craft bin or Shopkins.

5. Try to establish a connection with a child or two who will be in your child’s class in the fall—and then playdate the heck out of them!

Your goal is to help create a friendship with roots. Research indicates that kids who have even one friend who has their back are more protected from bullying because that friend is likely to be physical with your child, and more likely to defend your child.

That willingness to stick your neck out for someone else does happen when special unicorn children just inherently do the right thing for others, even when they don’t know them. Thank God for them! But more often than not, standing up to a bully happens when true friends don’t want their buddy hurt.

Just like adults, kids need fun, positive time with another person that is consistent over time. Otherwise, what we adults call “friends” are really just acquaintances (sorry to tell you, the little boy your child met at McDonald’s playland never to be seen again is not a “friend”). A real friend knows what your child’s room looks like. A real friend knows what your child likes to do—and mostly likes to do the same things.

6. Practice recess basics with your child.


Start with just you, and then add more people. If your child has difficulty tracking who is “it” when there are multiple people, consider videotaping the game (five minutes should do it). Then, at bedtime or a quiet time, review the video, pausing when a child is tagged. Ask your child who is “it.” You would be surprised how many children leave kindergarten not really sure who is “it” when playing tag.

Physical games

Your child needs to be able to take turns during activities, such as kicking a soccer ball in a net or shooting a basketball. You might also want to practice sabotaging the activity by taking an extra turn or two to enable a conversation about fairness and kids advocating for their own turns. Practice being a good sport by complimenting each other on good shots, good tries, etc.

7. Turn off the Wi-Fi. Unplug this summer.

Seriously. If your young child is experiencing challenges connecting socially, it means that this is an area of struggle. It also means that your child needs extra practice playing and interacting with people. Real people, doing real things in real life.

Many older, socially challenged people describe gaming, texting, and social media as the main way they connect with peers. The pressure to socialize digitally increases with age, which means that when kids are young in this electronic-pushing world, we need to protect the space of real time, dynamic, face-to-face interactions. This learning is sacred to being able to interpret the nuances of communication, such as body language, and to tune in to other people in action. Kids need to able to cope with boredom to create new ideas and to deal with not constantly being stimulated. Your teachers will thank you for this in September!

Don’t worry; I don’t believe that any of us are now able to escape the digital landscape as we get older. Your child will certainly gain those skills, but when kids are young and vulnerable, they need to plug into their families and other kids more than anything else.

8. Strengthen your relationship with your child.

School is not always the easiest place for some of society’s most interesting and needed people. Children build the strength and resilience they need knowing that they have a place at home and people at home who just “get them” and love them for themselves. This means creating an environment where you are free to say yes way more than “NO!”—where your child’s interests are encouraged and praised specifically (i.e. “I love watching you jump on the trampoline. You make it look so fun!” rather than “You are a good human.”)

It also means recognizing when kids are doing their best, that they may have some challenges that other kids don’t, and that they need your patience and compassion even more than other kids. Try to find the good where and when you can—even if on some days, because you are human, you can only muster, “Hey, he breathed in and out consistently all day! That’s something!”


By: Shonna Tuck

Shonna Tuck is a mom of two, and a speech-language pathologist who has been in practice for more than 20 years working with children. She has particular expertise in helping socially vulnerable young children whose communication issues are related to attention disorders, sensory needs, autism, and executive functioning challenges. She is the author of a new book entitled Getting From Me To We: How To Help Young Children Make And Keep Friends. This book was written to help parents and professionals support young kids who are having trouble fitting in their classrooms, with connecting with their classmates and with children outside of school. Contact Shonna at:


Adapted with permission from

Five Goals to Work on This Summer with Your Child with Special Needs

“Hi, Greer! Any ideas? What do you guys do in the summer?”

That’s the text a friend sent me. And I understand her concern. Summer is precious, the days are scarce, and we want them to matter. Some of our kids are in Extended School Year programs. But whether or not my own kids have ESY, I like to look at the summer as a time to work on some other goals I have for my them. Here are a few examples, and what I plan to do to get the most out of summertime.

1. Work on life skills.

There may not be time during the school year, but summertime offers a great chance to learn some skills that will help kids become independent. I like teaching my kids to make a simple meal—with my help, of course. It’s amazing how proud a child feels when she sees she’s made her own dinner. Start small: my daughter loves frying eggs in the microwave. There’s a real sense of autonomy kids can get from knowing they can make their own burger and contribute by helping to make a meal for the family.

2. Develop talents.

I know that school requires a lot from my kids, in terms of mental energy and time. But they, like all kids, have other interests and talents that they need the opportunity to develop. I’ve signed one of my sons up for a comedy improv camp. My daughter is begging to go to a cooking class. Whatever my children expresses an interest in, I try to acknowledge that instinct by doing something to help them chase that interest.

3. Volunteer

Okay, maybe I’m the most annoying mother in the world, but when my kids tell me “I’m bored,” I tell them to go find something they can do for someone else. It’s never too early to learn to give back, and kids get to feel competent when they are the one helping someone else. In school, our kids can get the feeling they are in need of so much help; it’s nice to be on the other side of that interaction for a change.

4. Gain work experience.

There is nothing like real work experience to convince kids that it does matter whether or not you get up on time or brush your hair. Temple Grandin, autism advocate and speaker, extols the virtues of real-life work experience as soon as possible, and I agree. It’s not about the money—unpaid internships are a great way for kids to get their foot into a real-world experience. One of my sons helped out in a local pizza shop for a day. Use your connections with people in your world to open up opportunities for your child.

5. Get a head start.

It’s never a bad idea to get a jump on the next school year, but aim low. I like to pick one skill or activity that will help my kids be ready for September. Before the bell rings in June, ask the school to tell you the first book your child will read next year. My son asked me to start a “book club” with him. For another student, taking trips to a new school just to get familiar with the playground or the school garden can ease the transition come September.

Most of all, summer needs to be about fun. I know my kids work awfully hard for ten months … and so do I! So whatever we do to make the summer a learning experience, I also make sure that it involves plenty of family time—even if we are just walking the dog—so that we all have time to learn from each other and make memories together.


By: Greer Gurland

Greer Gurland Esq., a Harvard Law School graduate and a mother of children with special needs, is the author of the 2016 multiple award winning How To Advocate Successfully for Your Child: What Every Parent Should Know About Special Education Law, available in English and Spanish. 

Adapted with permission from

Happy Father’s Day to a Special Needs Dad

My husband doesn’t want me or the kids to acknowledge Father’s Day – because he’s a father every day.

My husband doesn’t want me to announce that he works straight through breakfast and lunch without eating on most weekdays, comes home exhausted after a day of technical meetings, and then plays with our children and reads them stories until bedtime.

My husband doesn’t want anyone to know about his anxiety over our disabled son’s long-term care and quality of life.  He won’t admit to anyone except myself that he stays up late researching financial decisions, and that he lies awake in bed with his pulse racing over these decisions.  His anxiety is the reason he works so hard all day.

But he did smile the time I told a family friend that my husband is the only reason we are able to do so much for our son: finding the right educational and recreational opportunities, getting extra therapy outside school, creating an enriched sensory environment at home, introducing him to new experiences in the world.

My husband was indignant when I suggested that the Kinect was really for him and not for the kids.  He had learned about therapeutic uses for that type of video game system, and wanted to see how it worked for our son.  I apologized.

My husband doesn’t talk about the heartache of knowing that certain family members won’t visit us and that we are unwelcome in a certain family member’s home because of our older son’s special needs.

My husband often talks to his manager at work about taking time off to attend school meetings and to stay home with the kids so that I can go to doctor’s appointments.

My husband hates it when I tell friends that he becomes so consumed in playing with our kids that he forgets to take care of himself – even forgetting to eat or use the restroom.

My husband takes pride in not mowing our lawn for several consecutive weeks because he is too busy playing with the kids.

My husband never admits it when he desperately needs a nap on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon.

But he does admit that he sees himself sometimes when he looks at our sons’ faces.

My husband doesn’t understand why other parents don’t just drop everything to help their children – after all, he didn’t hesitate to jump at the idea of selling our house to pay for therapy.

My husband always keeps his cool at IEP meetings, so I’m the only person who knows how passionate he is about every detail that is discussed – and the details that are deliberately not discussed.

My husband grudgingly allows me to post pictures of him riding roller coasters with our disabled son on Facebook, but anyone who has ever visited us knows that our home is a shrine to Cedar Point.

My husband did not let a single tear fall on his birthday when I gave him a photo book titled “Boys Only,” filled with all the snapshots ever taken of him with our sons.  He later said that he was overcome by emotion because it was the best gift he had ever received.

My husband is going to be really angry when he reads this.

Maybe you know someone like him.

Happy Father’s Day.


By: Karen Wang 


Adapted with permission from

How Training of Special Education Teachers Has Changed to Prepare Them for Inclusion

Among the many things required to make inclusion work in today’s schools are teachers who are trained to do it right. Friendship Circle asked Dr. Dusty Columbia Embury and Dr. Laura Clarke, associate professors of special education at Eastern Kentucky University, to answer some questions about how teacher training has changed to accommodate diverse learners in a single classroom. This month, they’ll give some insight into the current state of training; next month, they’ll consider how things could improve.

How has the training of special education teachers changed with the increase of inclusive classrooms?

Dusty: To respond to this, we need a little background. There have been changes that have come about from the outside in. What I mean by that is that the changes that have occurred have really been prompted by legislation. That legislation changed what happened in districts and schools, and as a result of changes happening at the school level, universities needed to make changes in how they prepared teachers to be successful.

When NCLB came out in 2001, there was a much stronger push for students with disabilities to receive instruction in the “core” content areas of literacy, math, science, and social studies. Students with disabilities who might have previously been receiving that instruction from a special education teacher in a resource or self-contained special education classroom were moving to the general education classroom. What we collectively saw was that many general education teachers weren’t prepared to teach a class with more diverse learners, and many special education teachers didn’t always have the content knowledge needed to teach to the level of their general education counterparts.

Special education teachers now need to be “highly qualified” in a content area in order to teach a resource or self-contained content area class. With this in mind, some universities, like the one where Laura and I teach, offer dual-certification programs that allow prospective teachers to get certified in both general education and special education. That way, regardless of what setting they teach in, they will be prepared to teach all students.

The other change that can be directly linked to NCLB is how we include students with disabilities in the general education classroom. The most common method for inclusion is co-teaching between a general educator and a special educator. Because of the emphasis on co-teaching in P-12 classrooms, university programs are introducing co-teaching as a part of their curriculum. In our program, our special education teaching students learn about co-teaching in their methods course, where they have the opportunity to write co-taught lessons and even practice co-teaching with their classmates.

Of course, co-teaching takes practice to master, and many university students don’t get the chance to really dive into co-teaching until they are hired by a district. However, they are at least learning about it while in their teacher preparation programs. In fact, some universities and state departments of education are having student teachers engage in apprentice teaching, using the strategies of co-teaching with their cooperating teachers during student teaching placements, to help prepare them further for this practice. Other universities offer opportunities to learn more about how to co-teach in summer institutes or collaborate with community partners to introduce co-teaching to practicing teachers.

Laura: Our focus today, in training both general education and special education teachers, is on the requirement to use “evidence-based practices” (EBP) in instruction, so a lot of our focus has been on defining EBP and helping everyone (teachers, administrators, and families) understand what EBPs are and how they should be used to provide instruction in the classroom.

We’re also trying to address Response to Intervention (RTI). In the past (prior to our focus on inclusion), we used a “wait to fail” model where everyone would wring their hands and complain about how far behind a student was until he or she was so far behind as to require intensive intervention outside of the general education classroom. Today, using the RTI model, we assess all students and immediately begin to intervene with research-based strategies to support learners in their areas of deficit. This includes continual support and assessment to gauge progress.

Only when progress is not being made do we consider a referral to special education and more intensive supports and interventions. This RTI focus helps support all students—including those with disabilities—learning in inclusive classrooms.

Do general education teachers also get training for co-teaching in an inclusive classroom?

Laura: Some states are doing a better job at providing pre-service general education teachers with training in co-teaching. In Kentucky, all teachers are trained in the models of co-teaching and are encouraged to use co-teaching as one of the research-based practices that should be used to increase both student engagement and student achievement. At the university level, different programs have different practices. Where we teach, we’ve introduced co-teaching to general education candidates in their differentiated instruction course.

Dusty worked on a grant-funded project that allowed her to spend two years co-teaching middle grades methods courses with general education faculty at one of our regional campuses. It was a rich experience for teachers and students, because the teachers got to practice planning for and then actually co-teaching every day, and the students got to see effective co-teaching modeled.

Where training and practice seems to be catching up is in using the more effective models of co-teaching. By this, we mean that many co-teaching partners are very comfortable using the one teach-one assist and one teach-one observe models of co-teaching, but these models don’t lend themselves to increasing student achievement because they do not increase opportunities for engagement, specific instruction, or feedback. While these strategies for co-teaching certainly have a role, we encourage our students and the practicing teachers we work with to move away from them when possible, because they don’t encourage parity between teachers and can sometimes encourage stigma for the students working with the assisting teacher.

The models of co-teaching that actually increase student engagement (and therefore achievement) are: station teaching, parallel teaching, and alternative teaching. These models have a lower student-to-teacher ratio and allow for more opportunities for teachers to provide direct instruction to a smaller group and for more students to engage directly with the teacher.

Have you seen any resistance to the idea of inclusion—people who want to go into special education to work in self-contained classes or schools, or want to go into general education and not work with kids with disabilities?

Dusty: While many teachers have embraced inclusive classrooms and instruction, there are still teachers—both general education and special education—who prefer for students with disabilities to be educated in separate classes. Sometimes this attitude is one of protecting the students with disabilities and sometimes because it is perceived as being easier for the teachers. Some teachers simply don’t understand the nature of disability or feel that they don’t have the strategies necessary to teach certain populations of students.

We’ve found that with training and practice, teachers feel more empowered and supportive of inclusive instruction. Teachers who have the right training and resources (adapted equipment, technology, or additional people support) are most likely to embrace inclusive instruction and to provide the appropriate instruction using a model such as Universal Design for Learning.

Dr. Dusty Columbia Embury and Dr. Laura Clarke

Dr. Dusty Columbia Embury is an associate professor of special education at Eastern Kentucky University and former special education teacher. Mom to two girls, she’s learned how to be a better special education teacher by participating in IEP meetings as a parent. Dr. Laura Clarke is an associate professor of special education at Eastern Kentucky University and mom to four amazing children. Her experiences as a parent of a teen with a significant disability have shaped her teaching and research.


Adapted with permission from

Museum Hopping with FCCONNECT

FCConnect is part of Friendship Circle of Montreal. The group, made up of students and young professionals meets once a month to participate in social events with their special needs friends so they too get the chance to experience and explore their city, just like their peers. 

Some past outings included a brewery tour and a pool hall night. Greg Sigler, a medical student and board member of FCConnect says

"FCConnect works to integrate special needs adults with their peers and build relationships that will manifest organically and have a lasting impact on society. "

This month FCConnect and their special needs friends are taking part in Montreal Museums Day.   

Montreal Museums Day, where some of Montreal's best museums are free for the public's enjoyment, is taking place on Sunday, May 28th. More then 30 museums will be open to the public and the city is also providing free shuttle service.

The shuttle bus departure is located near Place-des-Arts Metro's Jeanne-Mance exit, on the edge of Place des Festivals, at the corner of Jeanne-Mance and de Maisonneuve. 

Some of the museums open to the public include Montreal Biodome, McCord Museum, Redpath Natural History Museum, and the Biosphere. We will be starting the day at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts followed by a picnic and we'll end the day at the Montreal Museum for Contemporary Art.

Be sure to follow us along on Sunday, May 28th. We will be posting on Instagram @fcmtl. See you then!

By: Nina Sloma - Communication Intern at Friendship Circle

Celebrating Special Moms!

The bond between mother and child cannot be fully understood until it is felt. It is a bond of overwhelming compassion, of the most nurturing love and the greatest support a child could ever receive. Becoming a mom is the hardest job on earth. It is a life changing experience that doesn’t come with any training manuals or ‘How To’ books. Every child is different, every situation unique and mom’s have to become household CEOs, referees, medicine specialists, best friends and the roles go on and on, all without ever taking a day off or calling in sick.  


Today is a day we celebrate our mothers, all mothers and reflect on the impact their nurturing love and overwhelming compassion has made on our lives.


We have asked moms of special needs kids for some love and advice to share with us. Here is what these wonderful women had to say!


What is the most rewarding aspect of being a mom to a child with special needs?


“I realized so early that my daughter was not going to be me.  That my experience of being the smart kid in the - Jennifer Gann, daughter Hollis, age 12class, was not going to be hers. I didn't know before she was born that what I wanted for my child was to live life without making my mistakes - I think that most parents do this and struggle with letting their kids be themselves, and recognizing them as individuals.  My daughter was an individual from the get-go.  Not only was she not me - she was not any of the kids in the childcare books.  It's allowed me to support her in being her more easily and earlier than I think I would have otherwise”. 


“Appreciating every moment. My daughter wakes up and greets every day with a smile... she is a free spirit, a pure soul”- Louise Roy, daughter Brittany, age 17


“How much they humble you”- Joan Gottman, son Alex, age 17


“...the rewarding aspect of being a mom to a child with special needs is that I can help others with their awareness.”- Ericka Tencer, daughter Atara, age 21


What advice would you give a new mom of a child with special needs?


“Don't stop believing. Don't be afraid to break down barriers. Don't be afraid to open doors. Just go for it no matter what”- Louise Roy, daughter Brittany, age 17


“For any new mom, be flexible, for the new mom of a special kid - follow your kid. Parenting is often about pushing your child to the edge of their capability without tumbling over.  You want to challenge but not frustrate them. Our daughter has over and over again shown us what she's ready to learn at different stages. We don't feel the need to push on something she should know, or we'd like her to know.  We're ready when she's ready.” - Jennifer Gann, daughter Hollis, age 12


“Be proud and follow your heart” - Liliane Ouaknine, son Max, age 44


“To take a picture of each doctor or volunteer that works with their child with name, title, dates.  Keep one log with medical, and other issues pertaining to their child, so everything is in one book/folder/binder and not in various folders.” - Nechama Dahan, daughter Bracha 


“Bring them home, love them, hug them, kiss them, get to know them.  Don't be attached to any expectations of what you know, be attached to the journey that truly is a unique experience for you and your family.  Know that you will be okay.  Know that there is a whole world of support that you may not even know existed.  Know that your child will bring you wisdom and joy.  And again, know you will be okay.” - Joan Gottman, son Alex, age 17


“Try your hardest to shed your expectations. The words of others may distract you.” - Ericka Tencer, daughter Atara, age 21


What have you learned about yourself, since becoming a mother?


“That I could juggle more balls than I  ever imagined possible and keep them all from dropping, rolling away and being lost forever.” - Joan Gottman, son Alex, age 17


“Hah! Prior to motherhood neither I nor anyone who knows me would have called me a patient person. I am now, and it extends (sometimes) beyond my daughter!” - Jennifer Gann, daughter Hollis, age 12  


“I think that it’s a privilege to have these two precious children. No, I will not deny it. It’s really not easy, but my kids teach me such valuable lessons. My older son teaches me about love for Judaism. My second son teaches me resilience and how to adapt to any situation in a positive way. They both teach me many more important lessons like patience and responsibility to name a few.” - RR, sons Dovid, age 10 and Yosef Shalom, age 5


“I am stronger than I thought ” - Liliane Ouaknine, son Max, age 44


“Being a mother is not easy but worth every smile and hug you get from the one or ones who gave you that title!” - Florence Fried, son Morgan, age 21


What gifts has your special needs child brought into your life?


“My child faces the world with joy and wonder. He is empathetic to all people, regardless of ability, class, age, race, attitude etc. He enjoys and will participate in anything. He is never attached to the result of “success” but rather always enjoys the ride” - Joan Gottman, son Alex, age 17


“She helped give me awareness and capability.” - Ericka Tencer, daughter Atara, age 21


“Patience. The understanding that life is fragile and precious and should not be taken for granted. Difference – we are all different and that is good.”- Florence Fried, son Morgan, age 21


“Acceptance. Tolerance. Understanding” - Louise Roy, daughter Brittany, age 17


How will you be celebrating this Mother's Day?


“...I do know that somebody else in my home will make the coffee that morning” - Joan Gottman, son Alex, age 17


“Don't know - it's a surprise. My daughter is a real conservative about holiday celebrations, so i suspect it will involve flowers and breakfast in bed.” - Jennifer Gann, daughter Hollis, age 12


“with my mother with all her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren” - Liliane Ouaknine, son Max, age 44


-Friendship Circle wishes all our moms, a very Happy Mother’s Day-

By: Nina Sloma, Media Intern at Friendship Circle

Our top special needs stories from April 2017

There are so many great stories and resources online that it's easy to miss some great ones. Here's a look back  to help you catch things you missed, find things you meant to look at, and share the whole batch with others who need some information and inspiration.


1. How Apple Is Honoring World Autism Acceptance Day & Month

From The Thinking Person's Guide to Autism: "Explore our updated Autism Acceptance collection on the App Store, as well as iBooks and podcasts, including some great AAC apps like Proloquo2Go which help non-verbal children and adults communicate."


2. Why Barbie has no friends with disabilities, but needs some

From Love That Max: "Barbie has friends of different races and, as of November 2016, a plus-size pal. But Barbie has no BFFs with disabilities. That's not just sad, it's a disservice to children of all abilities."


3. The Rebbe’s Approach To Individuals With Special Needs


4. After an Autism Diagnosis: 13 Necessary Next Steps For Parents

From The Thinking Person's Guide to Autism: A parent shares what she wishes she'd known when her son was first diagnosed



5. When getting out is twice as hard 

It's important to get our kids out and using public services so the public knows those services are needed. But that doesn't mean it's easy.


6. Woman with Down syndrome to compete in Miss Minnesota USA pageant

From Star Tribune: "Pageant directors say they saw more of Holmgren's talents, goals and self-confidence than they saw of her disability. They accepted her application without hesitation."



Adapted with permission from

Friendship Day promoting inclusion


Friendship Circle launched a new initiative Friendship Day, aimed at promoting inclusion and friendship between typical and special needs's students in Montreal. The program achieves it's goal through bringing together classes from typical schools and special schools for interactive exciting activities. 

Too often, typical students have no interaction with peers who have special needs which unfortunately leads them to feel uncomfortable around those with special needs limiting their opportunity to appreciate the uniqueness of those who are different then them.  

Students of Summit School & Selwyn House School visited the Friendship Circle to participate in Friendship Day. The program focuses on discovering how much we all have in common as well as embracing and appreciating each student's uniqueness and differences.  Participants enjoyed pizza making, creating art with the friendship circle's talented art instructors, and activities promoting team building. 


A Sensory Friendly Passover Seder

This year, when I am planning my Passover seder, I have been thinking of ways to make it more child and sensory friendly.  As you may know, Part of the Seder includes a lengthy amount of time spent on reading the Hagadah and retelling the story of the Jewish people’s exodus from slavery and the land of Egypt.  On Passover an effort is made to engage the children. We encourage questions and make sure the children are part of the seder. For children with special needs the Passover seder can be very difficult to sit through and can also be very overwhelming.

My own children can barely make it through ten minutes of a regular dinner before they are out of their seats.  If I offer vegetables, one child is likely to gag.  If I ask the other one a question, I may never get her to stop talking and eat her dinner.  Needless to say,when it comes to Passover this year, I have put a lot of planning and preparation into making sure my children stay actively engaged.  Below I have provided tips to making your passover seder a child and sensory friendly one.

Hoping your Passover is a “Sensational” one

(The story of Passover is long and detailed and unfortunately we can’t give you all the details here as this post would be 9,000 words long instead of 900. Terms and practices that you may not be familiar with have been linked to content from where you can learn more about Passover at your convenience)



Make sure your child has a Seder plate. Before the seder begins show him or her where each item belongs on the seder plate.

Give your child a haggadah not one with just words but with many, many pictures and just a few words.

Make a visual schedule of the Passover seder so your child knows what to expect and when to expect it.

Use passover boardmaker style pictures from to let your child visualize the story of Passover.


Passover brings many new foods and many new smells. On Passover we refrain from eating any leavened products derived from wheat, barley, oat, spelt or rye. So that rules out bread, cakes, pizza and much more. Many different types of food are made which causes some unfamiliar smells. One of the strongest smells is the Maror – Horseradish Root. Prepare your child for the different smells they may encounter especially when it comes to the maror


The seder is full of new objects to touch and feel.

As part of the seder we dip a vegetable into salt water. Make sure your child gets a chance to do some dipping as well

Matzah comes in many forms. Try and get some Shmurah Matzah for a different look and feel. There is a part of the Seder when we break the middle matzah. Make sure you give your child the opportunity to break their matzah in half!

Before we eat the Matzah we wash our hands. For many children with Sensory Processing Disorder playing with water has a great calming effect.

Korach Time is sandwich making time. Help your child create a sandwich of Matzah, Marror and a little bit of Charoset.

To keep busy during the seder make sure to pick up some Passover Toys.


Traditional Passover songs are usually sung by the seder. Try and practice some of the more popular ones ahead of time so they are more familiar and more comfortable. Aside from the singing, your child will hear some of the traditional Hebrew prayers being recited at the seder


There are a number of different foods eaten on Passover. If you have a child who is a picky eater, ask if you can bring foods you think your child might eat or have them try some of the foods ahead of time such as Matzah, gefilte fish, charoset or even horseradish.  If they decide that they don’t like it, you won’t feel obligated to make them try it.  Better yet, they will have gotten that fear of tasting it out of the way ahead of time and may enjoy the meal all the more so.


The vestibular system contributes to balance and to the sense of spatial orientation. It is the sensory system that provides the leading contribution about movement and sense of balance. As we drink the four cups of wine (or grape juice) and eat the Matzah it is customary to lean as a sign of freedom. Show your child how your are leaning and ask him or her to copy you  Make sure that your child understands just how far they should lean.  Provide them with an armchair to limit them from encroaching on someone else’s space.


This sense refers to how we move and where our limbs are in relation to our own bodies.  Keep in mind that seder is probably the longest time your child will sit at a table all year.  They are not expected to sit that long at a desk, even at school. Provide them opportunities to get up from the table and walk around.

Have your child help serve food or clear the table.

Ask your child to act out being a slave by carrying a heavy bag of books over their shoulder and pretending that it is bricks.

Act out the plagues such as jumping like frogs or falling over like cattle.

Re-enact the splitting of the sea. Hold up blue sheets and have children walk through them.


By: Emma

Adapted with permission from


WISHING YOU AND YOUR FAMILY A Kosher & Happy Passover!

Breaking "Down's" Barriers

Some would say that the best friendships often bloom in the least expected places. This is exactly the story of Brittany and Lauriane, friends who now share more similarities than differences, but things weren’t always easy.

Lauriane is not one to sit aside when it comes to giving back. What started out as a compulsory program in high school became her own initiative to always look for new ways to give back to her community. Lauriane often participated in volunteer programs through her work but when she joined the Friendship Circle of Montreal it became a real game changer for her.

Each volunteer at the Friendship Circle gets partnered up with a special needs buddy for different activities like drama, music and even karate. Lauriane was a new face at Friendship Circle and worried if she would have a hard time fitting in. She wondered if the students would welcome an unfamiliar face and how long it would take before she was considered part of the team. While these are hesitations we have all experienced at one time or another, they can be especially heightened when meeting someone with special needs because it can be unfamiliar.

When in doubt, add sparkles!

When Lauriane was partnered with Brittany, a trendy 18 year old who happens to have Down Syndrome, she was a little bit nervous. Lauriane did not know what to expect and wondered if Brittany would feel comfortable because she was a new face in the program. They met on a Monday, during the art and yoga program. Lauriane had never met anyone with Down Syndrome much less hung out with them or made art together and especially never bonded over the Downward dog before.

When the girls first sat down together to make some art, Brittany did not seem that responsive. Lauriane tried to chat her up but Brittany was concentrating on her art and seemed too shy to answer.  Brittany loves her art projects and concentration is a must, so finding a way for the friends to bond was probably the most challenging part for them.

It was Brittany who broke the ice when she started pointing out the similarities between them. Both Lauriane and Brittany wear trendy glasses, have long brown hair, share the same taste in clothes and love to get their nails done. Lauriane says that Brittany pays attention to the smallest details, and will notice the funniest things. One day Lauriane had her nails painted a neutral colour, a change from her usual sparkly colours. Brittany noticed Lauriane was missing sparkles so she took some glue, glitter and added sparkles to her nails and fixed the problem.

Lauriane and Brittany have become great friends and hang out together outside the Friendship Circle too. The girls will make plans to grab a bite to eat, catch up and of course go and get their nails done together. Lauriane says she doesn’t feel like she’s volunteering. She sees Friendship Circle as a place she goes to hang out and have fun with her friend Brittany.

Friendship Circle offers programs and organizes events for anyone with special needs, regardless of age. Lauriane finds working with individuals with special needs really rewarding. She thought she could contribute and give back to her community, but it has given her so much in return. “The Centre is really inclusive. No one judges you there and everyone is your friend. The happiness is really contagious.” says Lauriane.

Lauriane often posts pictures and videos of her time at Friendship Circle. This has caught the attention of her other girlfriends, who see how much fun she is having and ask if they too can get involved. Lauriane says she is lucky to have met Brittany but knows that all the kids at the centre, are so welcoming, smart and creative.

There are many misconceptions surrounding individuals with special needs. Lauriane says that to some people it may sound like it must be really sad to be around those with special needs but it is actually the most rewarding part of her day. Knowing that she will see Brittany at the end of her day makes going into work on Monday’s that much more bearable for Lauriane. Friendship Circle is her happy place.

Lauriane said that hanging out with Brittany has made her realize we are much more alike than we are different. It is important to break down old ideas and perceptions we may hold about others. We may look different on the outside and come from different backgrounds but when we are together the difference is hard to recognize. We laugh at the same jokes, we like and dance to the same music, we all have the same desire to be accepted and have friends who like us.


By: Nina Sloma 


4 Ways to Help Your Child with Special Needs Share About the Day

Those of us who are parents are all too familiar with this scenario:  Upon picking up your child from school or camp you ask excitedly, “What did you do today?”  Your child responds with an unenthusiastic, “I don’t know.”

It may not be that your child does not want to share or did not have a good day, but that he does not know how to share.  The problem is with that open-ended question; it is not specific enough and has too many possible answers.  To get more information and fewer shoulder shrugs, try this proven strategy.

1. Talk to the Teacher in Advance

Speak to the teacher or counselor and get the day’s schedule. Pick one to three activities or people you plan to ask about.

2. Ask the Questions before the Day Starts

At drop-off time, prepare or “pre-teach” your child by telling him the question(s) you will be asking when you pick him up at the end of the day.

3. Know the Answers in Advance

Speak to the teacher or counselor to get the answers to your questions prior to asking your child.  It is difficult to determine the accuracy of your child’s responses if, for example, you do not know the name of the friend or the type of activity you plan to ask about.  Also, the teacher/counselor can act as a facilitator in recalling and retaining information, by reminding your child about another student’s name or about the sequence of events throughout the day.

4. Start the Conversation While Everything is Still “Fresh”

As soon as you have your child in the car, away from the distraction of others and while the information is fresh in his mind, ask him your question(s):

  • “What is your new friend’s name?”
  • “Who was your partner during reading/game today?”
  • “What did you eat at snack time?”

Try asking the same questions every day for the next several days.  Eventually, you can ask different questions or fade away the pre-teaching step at the beginning of the day.  As time goes on, your child will begin to anticipate these questions at pick-up time.

You may find that it becomes easier for your child to share the details of the day, given less reminders and facilitation for recall.  You may also discover that your child begins to offer up information that was not predetermined or rehearsed.  At the very least, it will help to add a little more chatter to your ride-home routine.


By: Jennifer Hill

Adapted with permission from


10 Ways to Survive Winter Blahs with Your Child Who Has Autism

It’s that time of year again. Winter is on its way out some days, and other days we are hit with the cold and white and don’t know how to get around it. If it’s challenging for us parents, think of our children with autism who have more challenges with sensory issues, noise, and temperature changes in some cases. Often times we are overwhelmed ourselves and wonder, what are good activities that can help our children regulate as well as have fun? With Spring Break right around the corner, if we are stuck in town for the week and the weather is iffy, it’s always a good idea to have some ideas of how to keep our special needs kiddos busy. Here are 10 ways to survive the Winter Blahs with Your Child Who Has Autism:

1. Snow games

If your child is tired of sledding, building snow men and snow angels, there are always things like making snow forts, playing hide and seek behind snow banks, snow shoeing or hiking. Getting them some fresh air when it is mild is good, plus these activities are a change from the usual ones.

2. Outdoor Skating

If they can’t handle the noise of an indoor rink and the weather conditions are good, they can go skating with you outside. You’ll have to bring your own walker though, as outdoor rinks don’t provide them for kids. They can also hold your hand. 

3. Building an indoor fort at home

This uses simple things like blankets, pillows and other common household things. You can have them turn the fort into a tent, roast marshmallows and make popcorn. If they are older and enjoy cooking/baking, kids can help with this. It’s a great way to spend a morning or an afternoon.

4.  WI Games

I know. Most of our kids play too many video games or spend too much time on the computer. But after they’ve had a chance to burn off energy sledding, skating, or playing in the snow and have had a snack and rest, this is a great way to keep them moving. They get to practice fine motor skills (manipulating joystick), and gross motor with movement. This is also done in teams, so social skill practicing can be done.

5. Simple board games that are developmentally appropriate

Board games will only work if parents find the ones that are DEVELOPMENTALLY appropriate for their child. Remember, age wise our kids may be a little behind their peers intellectually or socially. You know your child best so make the decision based on their likes and dislikes and skill level. Games that are always hits: “Snakes and Ladders,” match games, “Hungry Hippos,” “Candyland,” and “Connect 4.” These would be good choices for the younger set. “Operation,” “Monopoly,” “Perfection,” and “Guess Who,” would be good choices for the older set.

6. Swinging on indoor swing

These are great activities to keep special needs kids busy, meet their sensory needs, AND have fun. An indoor swing can be an expensive purchase, but it is well worth it if you have a child who needs the vestibular movement. It is also possible to make a swing and put it up in your basement. As long as you make sure the ceiling is reinforced for it, no problems.

7. Indoor trampoline

An indoor trampoline is also something good to have for kids with need to jump. It helps stabilize them and meet their sensory needs. It is also great exercise

8. Blanket Swing

And, for very little ones who don’t weigh too much, a great game is the blanket swinging game. The child lies in the middle and a parent takes either end gently swinging them. This not only meets sensory needs for rocking and squeezing, but parents can practice language and social skills by prompting the child with “Up” and “Down” and then doing the motion after child says it. If non-verbal, the parents can model the word and any time child makes a noise, reward them by doing the motion.

9. I Spy With My Little Eye

 This is a great game to play at home or when you are inside somewhere else. It is helpful if the child is verbal and/or has some language, but you can try to adapt a version of it with pictures where you try to get them to see what you are describing, and make it a kind of charades. Charades would be a good game to do with the older set.

10. Movie and Popcorn at home

 If a parent chooses an age appropriate movie and makes some popcorn or fruit, watching a movie with your child can be a great way to work on sitting skills, listening, both expressive and receptive skills. After the movie is over, parents can talk with kids about their favorite part of the movie.


So there are 10 simple things parents can do over the winter time and even on Spring Break to keep the kids busy. Remember, you know your child best, so use your parenting gut to adapt and have fun with these everyday types of activities. Here’s to a happy rest of the winter!


 By:  Joanne Giacomini

Joanne is a writer, editor, speaker, parent coach, and the mother of a  little boy, Michael, who just happens to have autism. Her personal blog,“Exceptional Mom/Exceptional Child” chronicles their  adventures!  


5 Ways Inclusive Classrooms Are Different from Self-Contained Classrooms

Are you the parent of a student with disabilities in the public school system? If so, it’s likely that your child is educated in either a self-contained or an inclusive setting. It’s important to know the difference between self-contained classrooms and inclusive classrooms, and why it matters. Families can help schools identify which educational setting works best for their child. They can also expect schools to provide the most appropriate education possible.

Self-Contained Classrooms

Self-contained classrooms were established decades ago when students with disabilities were first placed in the public school system. Prior to self-contained classrooms, most children with disabilities were educated in separate facilities. 

The purpose of the self-contained classroom is to give students with disabilities specialized interventions and support. The class is sometimes smaller in size than a general education class, with a lead teacher and several paraprofessionals who provide assistance. Students spend the majority of their day in the self-contained classroom. While beneficial for some students, self-contained classrooms have limitations that inclusive classrooms do not.

Inclusive Classrooms

Inclusive classrooms educate students with and without disabilities. Studies since the 1970s have proven over and over again that students with disabilities who are taught alongside typically developing students make tremendous gains in all areas of personal growth and development. As such, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (a federal law that governs how people with disabilities are educated in American schools) states that children need to have access to the general education curriculum in the regular classroom to the maximum extent possible.

Benefits of Inclusive Classrooms

Here are five specific ways in which inclusive classrooms are different from self-contained classrooms:

1. Students with disabilities are given the same educational opportunities as their typically developing peers.

This is because they spend the majority of their day in the inclusive class together. Specialty services and supports are brought to the student, curriculum is modified, and accommodations are made for learning. Wherever possible, the student remains with his or her class.

2. Inclusive classrooms give students the opportunity to interact and learn with others who have a wide variety of abilities and backgrounds.

Students learn about one another, develop respect, and gain a deeper understanding of diversity. They are socially prepared for a future beyond school.

3. Inclusive classrooms are hubs of activity.

Teachers use a variety of research-based teaching methods, resources, and learning materials to reach the span of ability levels and learning styles. Group work, discussions, and demonstrations are seen daily in an inclusive class. Students are given a variety of ways to learn and show what they know.

4. Inclusive classrooms create a greater sense of community for all families.

Parents and siblings share common experiences with others. For example, they see one another at assemblies, celebrations, school activities, and fundraisers. As a result, families of children with disabilities become more integrated into school life.

5. Inclusive classrooms provide a rich education with high standards.

Students have the input and support of numerous learning specialists, such as a special education teacher, occupational therapist, counselor, and speech-language pathologist. In addition, they have the benefit of a classroom teacher who is well versed in teaching and learning methods. This collaboration of education professionals ensures that all students have their educational needs met in high quality environments.

Promoting Inclusion

While inclusive education is not a new concept, it is unfortunately not a common one either. Many schools across the U.S. have yet to adopt the inclusion model, favoring self-contained classrooms instead. However, from the examples above, you can see that inclusive classrooms are very beneficial to students with disabilities. This knowledge can help families give input into educational decisions made about their child and advocate for inclusive opportunities.

By: Nicole Eredics

Nicole Eredics is an elementary teacher who has spent over 15 years working in inclusive classrooms. She is also a parent, advocate and education writer. Nicole is creator of the blog The Inclusive Class, where she regularly writes about inclusive education for teachers and parents. She can also be found on Twitter at @Inclusive_Class, Facebook at The Inclusive Class, and Pinterest.


Adapted with permission from