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What I Learn From My Special Students

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I have been working with adults with disabilities for over twenty years. I started off as a Specialized Educator working for a Readaptation Centre. Then I was hired by the Lester B Pearson school board as a Special Education teacher in the adult sector five years ago. I am very blessed to do something that I love, working with these special students. Especially now, I have the opportunity to work at a local college where I teach work/social/life skills to a group of adults with a variety of disabilities. Rather than working in a conventional classroom, I use the entire college and surrounding community as my classroom! I work mostly one to one or in small groups. Although it can be a challenging environment at times, the teaching opportunities are endless! And most of the time, I believe that I am learning more from my special students that they are learning from me!

What I Learn From My Special Students

By working with this special population, I learn how to "think out of the box". Especially, if the student is not progressing and I need to adjust my teaching method. I learn patience while respecting their rhythm and speed of processing information. I learn to never underestimate my nonverbal students, they often have the most to say. By watching my students struggle at times, yet overcome their fears and anxieties, I learn resilience. I learn to focus on their strengths, helping them shine while trying to improve their weaknesses.

What I've learnt Most

There are two things that I learn most from my special students. I learn to see them as individuals like any other. I see passed their disabilities and focus on their abilities instead. Most of all, above all else I learn gratitude. One of the attributes that stands out the most with this special population is their sense of gratitude and appreciation for the little things. Over the past twenty years, this has always stood out for me. From them, I learn to be grateful every day for the most common things that most of us take for granted.

A New School Year

Back in June, I reflected on all the curriculum we covered and all the fun we had. I always really enjoy my last few weeks when things start to really wind down at the college and we enjoy walks on campus and visit the nearby community of Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue. I always end the year off with a celebration lunch where I say my goodbyes until the end of August. Now that August is here, I start to get excited for a new school year where anything is possible! I especially look forward to seeing my special students again. I am welcomed back with the biggest smiles and loudest greetings! For this, and so many other things I am grateful to my students for teaching me so many important life lessons and helping me become the teacher that I am!

 

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. You can follow Angela at www.Angelamaciocia.com

One day discount for La Ronde's Autism Awareness day!

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We love seeing businesses and attractions accommodate people with special needs but it's even more wonderful to see establishments go out of their way to attract and welcome our special friends! 

On Sunday, August 5th La Ronde will be offering individuals with autism and their families special priced tickets of $27 per person ( Regular walk-up price for a one-day ticket is $65.99 plus tax) as well as free admission for one accompanying person. 

*Go to guest relations for an ATTRACTION ACCESS PASS to allow you to board the rides through the access ramp, so you won’t have to wait in the regular ride queue. 

 

Buy Tickets Here

What Dads of Kids with Special Needs Really Want for Father’s Day

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Father’s Day is upon us, and if you’re like many people, you’ve probably put your shopping off to the last minute. I am both a father and a son, so I am familiar with, and have made grudging peace with, the reality that if you forget Mother’s Day, you’re garbage offspring and deserve scorn, but forgetting Father’s Day probably merits an “eh, what are you gonna do?” We’re not too insulted. Most years, all I really want is an obscenely big meatful lunch at my favorite barbecue place, and I’ll even drive if need be. Once a year I participate in culinary atrocities against the critters of the barnyard, and that’s about all I require.

But it’s not too late to do a little special somethin’ somethin’ for the dads in your life, and one group that gets overlooked perhaps more than most are the fathers of kids with disabilities. Special needs dads deserve some particular rewards this Father’s Day. Here are a few suggestions, if you’re still shopping. (Neckties are the noose of capitalism, you know. Unless they have funny things printed on them.)

1. Special Fix-It Tool

There are some clichés about fathers in general that are outdated and stupid. (Homer Simpson does not represent the vast majority of us, except perhaps where beer and/or donuts are concerned.) But honestly, there are a few that have their roots in reality. One of those might just be our impulse, rooted in millennia of tradition and cultural programming, to fix things that are broken, or inefficient, or perhaps just working differently than we’re accustomed to.

For the special needs father, this impulse can be particularly frustrating. It’s not always in vain; my own impulse to provide a solution for my nonverbal daughter’s obstacles probably led me to become an even stronger advocate for assistive technology than I might have otherwise been. And I’m struck by the large number of accomplished and innovative men in the field of assistive technology, even as the larger world of disability support trends decidedly female. It’s a stereotype, the fix-it father, but it holds some truth, I think.

For that special needs dad, I’d like to recommend a very special fix-it tool. This tool doesn’t fix our children. They don’t necessarily require repair, nor is it ever that simple anyway. This tool fixes the world. It fixes a society that doesn’t easily accept our kids. It repairs schools that don’t understand or embrace inclusivity. This tool will adjust the expectations of employers and open doors to opportunity and understanding that have been jammed for years. And most of all, this tool will unlock personal depths of acceptance and understanding and patience in fathers like myself.

I’m working on that tool. It seems like it has taken roughly seventeen years to assemble, and it’s not finished yet. But it’s a work in progress. I’ll let you know how it goes. (Accepting pre-orders now.)

2. A Hat Rack

One of the lessons I have learned as I’ve grown older is that advocacy has a lot more gray areas than I ever imagined. The most recent lesson came when my teenage daughter was subjected to some pretty awful sexual harassment by a classmate of hers. The situation became more complicated when it turned out that the young man in question had an intellectual disability as well.

The statistics for young disabled women and the sexual harassment and sexual assault they experience are horrifying. As we strive to build an inclusive environment, special needs fathers are faced with some uncomfortable truths, and one of the most difficult is that when young people with disabilities are learning to navigate the complex world around them, some of the failures can be awkward and even dangerous. As special needs fathers, we are tasked with protecting our kids, and sometimes protecting other vulnerable people from our kids. And sometimes the lines, and our responsibilities, can be hard to discern.

So for my fellow special needs dads, might I suggest a hat rack for Father’s Day. Because try as you might, there will be days when you simple cannot wear your Advocate Hat and your Dad Hat at the same time.

3. A Club Membership

This parenting stuff is hard. It really is. It’s hard for the obvious reasons, but for the special needs parent, there are some special circumstances. It’s isolating. It can be exhausting, and there is absolutely no guidebook. There are a lot of resources online (how did parents do this before the Internet?), but fathers will quickly find that the majority of these communities are dominated by mothers, and it can feel like we’re not part of the discussion.

The whole “Why aren’t special needs dads statistically more involved in the care of their kids?” discussion is maybe one for another time, but there’s definitely a chicken and egg quality to it. Do disability parenting resources focus primarily on mothers because fathers are hesitant to participate, or are dads stepping back because the resources can often feel exclusionary? Like the owl and the Tootsie Roll Pop, the world may never know.

Regardless of the why, special needs fathers can be particularly isolated. That’s why I suggest a club membership. Find your people, in the real world or online. (Let’s be real, though; probably online.) Find your dad tribe, and embrace each other. Hugging’s okay. Sadly, few people are watching us anyway.

4. An Air Horn

For those moments at IEP meetings when dads feel invisible and unheard. (Honestly, isn’t that the best mental image ever?)

 

By: Robert Rummel-Hudson

Robert Rummel-Hudson is the author of Schuyler's Monster: A Father's Journey with His Wordless Daughter (St. Martin's Press 2008). He is a regular contributor to Support for Special Needs and lectures on assistive technology and disability rights. He lives in Plano, Texas, where he watches many monster movies with Schuyler.

 

Adapted with permission from www.FriendshipCircle.org/Blog

Special Mom creates a Special Business

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It has been just over a year since Susan Cohen created Once Loved Toys, a business which specializes selling gently used toys. The company primarily operates out of her Facebook page, where anyone can request to reserve a toy. Once the toy has been reserved Susan will drive to the toy’s drop off location, removing any time or travel burdens from those purchasing the toys. What is special about Once Loved Toys is that by buying used items and receiving toys through donation, Susan is able to sell the toys at prices everyone can afford.

 

Susan is also mother to Friendship Circle participant Mathew, her 13-year-old son who is nonverbal and has an intellectual disability. Before running the business seven days a week, during the day Susan was often left feeling lonely and quite depressed as she found she was not busy like other parents were.

 

“I was in my house a lot and I didn’t have much to do and when you’re a special needs mom with one child you don’t really connect with that many people,” said Susan

 

That's when the idea for Once Loved Toys began when Susan’s son was in need of books for a book drive for the school’s library, so she reached out to everyone she knew to get as many books as she could, and even spent her own money on the drive. In the end, the school did not need most of the books, and as a way to get rid of them, Susan went to VerageSale, an online garage sale platform. She began to post different items including some of Matthews old toys and shares that she noticed the toys were the items which sold the fastest.   

 

“I said to myself. because I was looking to do something with my time because my mind was thinking about my son and his special needs and all of that, I said ‘I’m going to open a buy and sell toy business’ just like that,” says Susan.  

 

Once Loved Toys has five core values. Help families declutter, save time and money, help the environment, and give back to the community.

 

Upon recieveing a donation, Susan asks clients to name a charity they wish to donate to. Then, every few months, she gives to the charity which she chooses at random, out of pocket.  “Three or four times a year, I take all the names of the charities into a charity bank. Then I pull out a name, and I give a monetary donation. I think this is part of the reason why the business has flourished,” says Susan.

 

“I want to make life as easy as possible for families,” said Susan. The desire to make life easy is one of the reasons Susan shares is behind why Once Loved Toys has taken off within the past year. The organization has been particularly successful for the fact that through the power of word of mouth, her business now has begun to gain revenue. Susan says that this is mainly because there is no longer a need for any marketing costs as the business is gaining notoriety in many neighborhoods across Montreal and as well as at the events which she attends to promote the business.

 

“It’s amazing because I was at an event this weekend doing like a booth, and I said ‘oh have you heard about me? I’m once loved toys,’ and she was like ‘oh my friend talked about you,’” says Susan, “it’s really cool.”

 

Through this experience, Susan has been able to meet many interesting people from her community and from around Montreal including a speech-language pathologist. The spread of Susan’s social circle goes in hand with the final, and arguably most important value of Once Loved Toys is to ‘help spread smiles.’ From charitable donations to low-cost toys that all families can enjoy, Susan’s business spread smiles to people all across the city and is yet another example of a mother of a special needs child who is doing amazing things. Not only does Susan spread smiles but Susan now says that she is far happier than before and that bringing smiles to young families has completely changed her life for the better.

By: Caitlyn Yardley, Intern at Friendship Circle

What I Learn From My Special Students

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I have been working with adults with disabilities for over twenty years. I started off as a Specialized Educator working for a Readaptation Centre. Then I was hired by the Lester B Pearson school board as a Special Education teacher in the adult sector five years ago. I am very blessed to do something that I love, working with these special students. Especially now, I have the opportunity to work at a local college where I teach work/social/life skills to a group of adults with a variety of disabilities. Rather than working in a conventional classroom, I use the entire college and surrounding community as my classroom! I work mostly one to one or in small groups. Although it can be a challenging environment at times, the teaching opportunities are endless! And most of the time, I believe that I am learning more from my special students that they are learning from me!

What I Learn From My Special Students

By working with this special population, I learn how to "think out of the box". Especially, if the student is not progressing and I need to adjust my teaching method. I learn patience while respecting their rhythm and speed of processing information. I learn to never underestimate my nonverbal students, they often have the most to say. By watching my students struggle at times, yet overcome their fears and anxieties, I learn resilience. I learn to focus on their strengths, helping them shine while trying to improve their weaknesses.

What I learn Most

There are two things that I learn most from my special students. I learn to see them as individuals like any other. I see passed their disabilities and focus on their abilities instead. Most of all, above all else I learn gratitude. One of the attributes that stands out the most with this special population is their sense of gratitude and appreciation for the little things. Over the past twenty years, this has always stood out for me. From them, I learn to be grateful every day for the most common things.

End of the Year

As the end of the school year approaches, I reflect on all the curriculum we covered and all the fun we had. When June comes around, things start to wind down at the college and summer planning starts. We enjoy walks on campus and visit the nearby community of Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue. I always look forward to our end of the year celebration lunch where I say my goodbyes until the end of August. Then when end of August rolls around, I always look forward to seeing my special students again. I am welcomed back with the biggest smiles and loudest greetings! For this, and so many other things I am grateful to my students for teaching me so many important life lessons and helping me become the teacher that I am!

 

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. You can follow Angela at www.Angelamaciocia.com

 

Harnessing your child’s interests to teach them life skills

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As all parents know, our kids go through phases of LOVING some (insert name of game, toy, show, activity here), to never looking at it again. It can be the bane of our existence to try and keep up with whatever they feel the “cool” thing of the moment is.

Now, let’s imagine you have a child on the autistic spectrum. Just like a neurotypical child, you will be introduced to a plethora of things that interest them (and often make no sense to you). As I raise my kids, special needs and neurotypical side-by-side, I see some differences in how their interests play out.

Where neurotypical kids go through “phases”, special needs kids will often take those interests and hold onto them for the long haul. In some cases, this will be great. A music buff who knows every detail of The Beatles discography, personal histories and political views can actually make for very interesting conversation with people outside of their inner circle. They can apply this interest to social settings, and it will help them integrate into different situations.

The perfect knowledge of Pokemon, with all their strengths, abilities and evolutions is a bit more limiting. For example, it may be very cool to know that Eevee has 8 different evolutions (Vaporeon, Jolteon, Flareon, Umbreon, Leafeon, Sylveon and Glaceon.. don’t ask!), but that information is not as easy to apply to a potential future career, or to help them become competent adults (or competent at “adulting”, as my kids will say).

As parents of special needs children, what is our ultimate goal in helping them nurture these interests?

Do we help guide their special interests?

As I write this, I don’t even like the way it sounds “to guide their special interests”. Sounds a bit controlling, no? As parents of special needs kids we are able to clearly see that, no matter their ability or where they fall on the special needs spectrum, our kids all have such distinct characters and interests. Music or dance may light up their souls. Building blocks or numbers may spark creativity beyond OUR wildest imaginations. Colours, art and textures may bring calm and peace to a world that is loud, confusing and, sometimes, frightening. Each of these interests can be what guides US to help them navigate this loud, confusing and, sometimes, frightening world.

Helping them learn necessary skills with their special interests as a guide

Here are a few helpful tips for harnessing the magic of your child’s interests to help them learn valuable life skills that will serve them well down the road:

1. Choose an area/skill to focus on (for example: Personal hygiene).

2. Use examples of people, characters or situations associated with their special interest to help your child see the practical application of the skill that you’re trying to teach them. For this part, you will need to learn details about the interest so you can truly speak your child’s “language”. (Vaporeon is a Pokemon who can freely control water. While bathing them - or encouraging them to bathe/shower - let them use the idea of Vaporeon to have a bit of fun!)

3. Consistency is key. Whether you’re speaking about your special needs or neurotypical kids, consistency is the magic key. Make working on the focus area or skill a daily thing. Creativity will help, but by using their special interest as your guide, you will automatically have a pool of ideas to get started. What is your child’s special interest? What skill do you want to focus on with them? I would love to hear from you. Brainstorming ideas with those around you can be a big help! Leave a comment below, or email me at chaviva@puttingmomfirst.com

 

By Chaviva Lifson

Chaviva Lifson is a mom to 3 amazing kids, that are growing up far too quickly. She is the creator of PuttingMomFirst.com, a website that helps remind moms that they have to take care of themselves if they want to be of any use to the ones they love. She is also a giver of hugs.

10 Alarm Clocks for Children with Sensory Challenges

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Alarm: Increasingly strong light, in your choice of five colors, accompanied by either nature sounds or FM radio

Manufacturer’s description: “The wake-up light gradually brightens from 1% to 100% at the set time to gently bring you out of a deep sleep, refreshed and ready for a new day. [Choose from among] 6 realistic nature sounds including ocean waves, river, birds, farm, rain forest, bubbling brook. Or choose to wake up to your favorite FM radio station. Choose your favorite color for the light from warm white- green- red- blue- purple or have them fade from one to the other. You can easily adjust the brightness of the light to suit your needs as a lamp or night light or in between.”

Cost: $23.99 on Amazon

Consider it for: Kids who are sensitive to sounds or who respond more to visual cues than sound cues.

2. Ok to Wake! Alarm Clock & Night Light

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Alarm: A green glow when it’s OK for your child to get out of bed

Manufacturer’s description: “At bedtime, a soothing yellow night-light comforts children as they fall asleep. In the morning, it glows green when it’s OK for children to get out of bed! If children wake up before the green light comes on, they know to go back to sleep or quietly play in their room until ‘green means go’! Why does it work? Well, children enjoy the feeling of accomplishment that comes with completing a job well done. And, Ok to Wake! is something that can be completed successfully every day! The clock also features a convenient nap timer and alarm clock with snooze!”

Cost: $44.99 on Well.ca

Consider it for: Kids who may wake up early and need a prompt for when it’s time to get up. May be particularly useful for young children or those who enjoy cute characters and animations.

3. Wake-Up Light With Colored Sunrise Simulation

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Alarm: Colored sunrise simulation, along with natural sounds or FM radio. Also provides dimming lights to ease into sleep at night.

Manufacturer’s description: “Select the time you want to wake up, and let a gentle sunrise ease you into your day. 30 minutes before your chosen wake-up time, the light will come on, very gently at first, and getting gradually brighter and brighter. By the time the 30 minutes is up, you should be fully awake, gently and naturally. You can adjust the brightness to a level that suits you. Why choose a Philips Wake-up light: easier to get up in the morning with colored sunrise simulation; no replacement light bulb needed; cool to touch — safe for children; simply plug and go — no assembly required; large, easy to read LED display, FM radio and tap snooze function; pleasant, natural bird song alarm; sleek, modern design.”

Cost: $117.73 on Amazon

Consider it for: Kids who don’t react well to changes in time and light, or those who respond to visual cues and may be upset by loud sounds.

Alarm Clocks That Wake with Smell

4. Olfactory Alarm Clock

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Alarm: Scents like Seaside, Espresso, Croissant, Chocolate, Cut grass, Toast, and Peppermint, from capsules you stick in the top.

Manufacturer’s description: “Progressively, within 2 minutes, your sense of smell will get you out of dreamland. A capsule lasts for 30 awakenings. 100% recyclable. The perfume molecules detach and are transported by the air flow from the capsule (dry-air diffusion); a process without heating, keeping the molecules unchanged. [Capsules] comply with the highest air quality standards (REACH certified, CARB certified and IFRA certified).”

Cost: $109 (with 1 free capsule for 30 wake-ups; additional capsules are $5.45) on the Sensorwake website

Consider it for: Kids who are sensitive to sounds or who respond more to smells than sounds.

Alarm Clocks That Wake with Motion

5. SmartShaker

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Alarm: Vibration under pillow

Manufacturer’s description: “The SmartShaker is an award winning app-enabled wireless smart wake up alarm. Place this thin alarm pod under your pillow and schedule it to wake you up through vibration subtly … Waking up to a vibrating alarm is way more soothing than waking up to the standard audio alarm. … If you have hearing loss or are deaf, a heavy sleeper, senior citizen, someone who does not like a traditional alarm clock or someone who wants to wake up without disturbing [others], then the SmartShaker is the alarm for you.”

Costs: $37.49 on Amazon

Consider it for: Kids who respond well to tactile or vestibular stimuli rather than sound, but will not be freaked out by something big and hard under their pillow. Also helpful for kids with hearing or vision impairments.

6. Clocky Alarm Clock on Wheels

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Alarm: Beeps and frenetic movement — if you don’t turn it off, it jumps in the air and rolls around the room, demanding that sleepyheads get out of bed and chase it.

Manufacturer’s description: “Clocky is the alarm clock on wheels that runs away beeping! You can snooze one time, but if you don’t get up, Clocky will jump off of your nightstand up to 3 feet high, and run around your room as if looking for a place to hide. You’ll have to get out of bed to silence Clocky’s alarm. Clocky beeps in an R2D2-like robotic pattern so that you are sure to hear him. He’s kind of like a pet, only he will get you up at the right time! Clocky is perfect for those of us who have trouble waking up in the morning! He is compact, clever, and playful.”

Costs: $63.00 on Amazon

Consider it for: Kids who respond well to humor and games and situations that catch their imagination, especially when you’re tired of being the one who has to provide that over and over every sleepy morning.

Alarm Clocks That Wake with Sound

7. Reminder Rosie Talking Alarm Clock

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Alarm: Personalized voice messages

Manufacturer’s description: “Reminder Rosie is a 100% Hands Free Digital Alarm Clock Memory Aid with Revolutionary Speech Recognition; Records & Announces Multiple Loud Personalized Voice Alarms at a Specific Time and Date; Everyday, Weekly, Monthly & Annually. … The reminder keeps being repeated intermittently for up to 30 minutes. Rosie can also announce loud (you control the volume) personal messages preset to go off when you want: daily, weekly or at a certain date during the year. This is done in your own voice so it can be in any language. This is truly a talking reminder clock!”

Cost: $143 on Amazon

Consider it for: Kids who could benefit from a gentler sound, a personalized wakeup you don’t have to run in and deliver, or a reminder prompt for morning routines. Since it can be turned off by a vocal command, it may also be helpful for those for whom turning an alarm off may be a fine-motor challenge.

8. Sense with Voice Sleep System

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Alarm: Sounds based on a system that analyzes sleep throughout the night, masks noises that might be disturbing, and wakes during periods of light sleep.

Manufacturer’s description: “Being woken up from deep sleep leaves you feeling groggy and tired. Smart Alarm can wake you up during the lightest phase of your sleep, leaving you feeling refreshed and ready to take on your day. Get the most out of your sleep with personalized Insights tailored to your sleep patterns. Find your optimal sleeping environment, and learn how your daily routine impacts the quality of your sleep. Ambient sounds can mask disruptive noise, helping you fall asleep and stay slumbering through the night. Drift off to sleep with a selection of calming Sleep Sounds like White Noise, Fireside, and more.”

Cost: $149.00 on Amazon

Consider it for: Kids who have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, and waking up. Information gathered by app may be useful in finding solutions beyond a better alarm clock.

9. Ruggie Talking Rug Alarm Clock

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Alarm: A pep talk — and you have to get out of bed to make it stop.

Manufacturer’s description: “Ruggie’s alarm needs to sense your pressure for at least 3 seconds before it shuts off! By then, you would have accomplished what millions struggle to do, getting out of bed! Need more than 3 seconds? No worries! The time is programmable to suit user preference! … Ruggie can play any custom sound you wish it to play. Simply connect it to your computer via USB, and then drag in the sound files you desire! Have it Say positive affirmations, daily motivation, goal reminders, your favorite song, a funny recording… the possibilities are endless! Ruggie’s bright LED display activates to your touch, it works also as a night light! Perfect for when you need to get up late at night for a trip to the bathroom.”

Cost: $79 on Indiegogo

Consider it for: Kids who have trouble self-motivating in the morning and making the transition from bed to starting the day. Pretty much everyone could use some positive thoughts right from the start.

10. Moshi Voice Interactive Talking Alarm Clock

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Alarm: Normal alarm sounds, but it can be set by voice instead of pushing little buttons.

Manufacturer’s description: “The Moshi VC Alarm Clock is the first ‘listening clock’ that allows you set the time and alarm by your voice alone. No more small buttons and no more impossible programming. Just speak, and Moshi listens. Moshi works so well that it is recognized by the World Blind Union and was awarded the VisionFree Award by the Stevie Wonder Foundation at the Consumer Electronics Show in 2009. Features 3 Alarm Sounds, 3 Sleep Sounds, Temperature.”

Costs: $45.90 on Amazon

Consider it for: Kids who want to be in charge of their own alarm clock but lack the fine-motor dexterity, motor planning abilities, or vision to do that on a regular alarm clock.

Helping Your Child with Special Needs Develop Empathy

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All parents want to see their children grow up to be as happy, successful, and productive as possible. But perhaps even more important to most parents is to see their kids — including those with special needs — develop empathy for others. Empathy is what helps children recognize and understand the feelings of other people.

When you empathize with someone, you can put yourself in that person’s shoes. No matter how far our children go in life or what they choose to do, the ability to empathize will be essential.

Empathy vs. Sympathy

Many people confuse empathy with sympathy. Empathy can help someone understand how it would feel to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. Sympathy is simply feeling pity or compassion when someone else suffers misfortune. Sympathy is good, but empathy is more all-encompassing. Without empathy, maintaining healthy relationships with a spouse or partner, friends, and coworkers can be extremely difficult. Empathy has also been found to be a driving force in the following:

• CourageStudies of children ages 11-13 show that children who possess more empathy also find more courage. They are then able to do things like stand up for children who are being picked on.

• Happiness: Empathetic people are able to form stronger interpersonal connections.

• Problem-solving: When solving problems, empathy allows for better cognitive collaboration in order to help others. This is true whether problems are related to a job, family matters, or something else.

• CreativityFascinating studies have identified empathy as an essential part of creativity.

Instilling Empathy

So if empathy is so important, how can we instill that quality in our children? Whether your child has special needs or is more typically developing, there are some simple things you can do to encourage empathy. Here are a few ideas:

Talk about feelings.

When conflicts arise with friends or family members, encourage your child to step back from how he or she is feeling to consider how the other person feels, You can ask how your child feels, but then ask, “How do you think Jake feels when you hit him, or when you won’t let him use your basketball? How would you feel in his shoes?” Help your child understand the “golden rule” of treating others in the way he or she would want to be treated.

Read together.

Reading stories together, even fiction, actually promotes feelings of empathy towards characters in the book. Through books, kids essentially learn to see the world through the eyes of someone else.

Play pretend.

Pretending helps children learn how to recognize and regulate emotions, both positive and negative. When they get into different characters, kids face issues that result from their play situations and are essentially feeling the feelings of someone else, which can help them learn to empathize.

Make face time a priority.

Components of emotional literacy, like empathy, are developed and enhanced in part by the interpretation of facial expressions, tone of voice, and other things you can only get through real, human interaction. Social media doesn’t count.

As parents, we can help our children develop a healthy ability to empathize with others no matter what their own challenges. Even children with special needs such as ADHD, depression, or anxiety can learn and use empathy to some extent. Empathy can help them form and strengthen relationships, enhance learning, and improve their overall quality of life.

 

BY: Tyler Jacobson

Adapted with Permission from www.FriendshipCircle.org/Blog

Successfully Feed your Picky Eater with Special Needs

Picky eating is common in children with developmental delays. In fact, as many as 80% of children with special needs are identified as picky eaters at some point in their development.

Although many children “grow out” of their picky eating phase, there is a large percentage of children that continue to struggle with picky eating later in life. With the right support, most children can expand their diets, grow optimally and develop a good relationship with food and their bodies.

 

Here are some simple tips that will help your family move towards more pleasant mealtimes.

 

Cultivate independence and trust your child’s appetite

Determining parent/child feeding roles and responsibilities can help build better structure around mealtime. It also allows children to feel secure and makes mealtime routine more predictable, something children who experience anxiety around eating can benefit from.

In general, parents get to decide what, when and where the child will eat and It is the child’s responsibility to decide how much food he wants to ingest at a given meal. Parents need to respect and trust their children’s hunger and fullness cues. Allowing children to have full control over their meal intake can be very frightening for some parents especially when they are dealing with children who are “underweight”. However, this is a crucial step towards gaining your child’s trust. A piece of broccoli is not worth damaging parent/child relationship. Patience is the key to feeding children!

Offer one to two safe foods per meal

Parents need to take their child’s likes and dislikes into account when serving meals. This doesn’t mean that every single recipe you make has to be your child’s favorite. You can simply add some “safe sides” on the table such as bread, cheese, yogurt or any other side you know your child will be able to consume happily. This way, your child will not be leaving the table hungry. These “safe sides” should be an integral part of the meal that everyone at dinner table has access to consume. Pre-portioning these foods onto your child’s plate makes him feel different and validates the point that he cannot eat like the rest of the family. Hence family style dinners are a great option! If the child doesn’t consume much during meals, rest assure that you can always offer a nutritious snack at a later time.

Make mealtime “family time”

Mealtime should be about having fun in a relaxed environment altogether. Don’t focus too much on what and how much food your child is eating. Mealtimes need to be enjoyable as feeding is not always easy for some children. Many children have anxiety around eating food and increased stress hormones can decrease appetite in some children. No one wants to be pressured to eat, in fact studies suggest that adults who were pressured to eat certain foods in their childhood are less likely to consume those foods later in life!

Get support when needed!

It is important to note that children of all body types can be picky. If your child meets on or more of the following criteria, you may consider getting professional help.

 

Eats fewer than 20 foods

Refuses to eat foods from certain food groups

Refuses to eat foods from entire categories of texture

Won’t tolerate new foods on their plate and is not willing to touch or taste the food

Cries or throws a tantrum when a new food is offered with a need for sameness and rituals around food and mealtime.

Is not growing his growth curve and has trouble gaining appropriate weight

Is unable to eat age appropriate textures

Is unable to attend social gatherings due to fear of food

 

 

By: Naureen Hunani

Naureen is a Montreal-based registered dietitian, feeding therapist and a mom of two! She has been featured on CBC radio, Breakfast Television, Huffington Post Canada and Laval Families Magazine.  She takes great pride supporting parents raise healthy and happy children.

Connect with Naureen on Facebook: Naureen Hunani Nutrition

www.naureenhunani.com

 

Our Top Picks for Special Needs Friendly Trips in & Around Montreal

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We all love having the chance to enjoy the great activities Montreal has to offer. But what if a member of your family has special needs? It can be challenging to find enjoyable family friendly spots that also accommodate and welcome those with special needs.

 

At Friendship Circle we’ve had the opportunity to explore many activities around the city with our special friends! Below is our top picks of establishments that offer a great time  and accommodate & welcome people of all abilities

 

 

Outdoors

Quinn Farm

Quinn Farm is a perfect trip for the summer or fall. Check in advance to see what’s in season for picking! A tractor ride takes you to the field which our friends loved (alternatively it’s not too far if you want to walk). Then,  you have a chance to fill your bag or basket with the season’s goodies. Afterwards, your child can enjoy seeing the farm animals and playing on the farm themed playground. There’s also a nice indoor shop with bathrooms. We found the farm to be an affordable and great time with accommodating staff.

Granby Zoo  

Granby Zoo is a Friendship Circle’s yearly grand trip! There are so many great animal exhibits divided by country and continent so you can experience animals around the world. There’s lots of walking involved so be sure to wear comfortable shoes and take advantage of the strollers they offer at the entrance if your child has trouble with long walks! In addition to the zoo animals there’s a nice size amusement area with a variety of rides, many of which are included in the zoo fee.


 

Cap-Saint-Jacques Nature Park

Cap-Saint-Jacques is a perfect trip to enjoy Montreal’s glorious summer! They offer a wide variety of activities so you can plan ahead based on your child’s preferences and abilities.

Our favorite activities include archery, canoeing, swimming, and making sand castles on the private beach! The Park also has a large dining area and awesome staff!

 

Indoors

PI-O Amusement Park

PI-O is a an amusement park just for children and it’s indoors too! It’s great for a variety of ages and perfect for a cold winter day. The staff is cheerful, energetic, and friendly. When a child had a hard time getting on and off a ride or wanted to stay over and over the staff easily accommodated them in a respectful and understanding manner.

 

Skytag

Skytag’s wall-to-wall trampolines offer several activity areas and a foam pit! It’s suitable for all ages and fitness levels! (They also have laser tag for those who don’t have sensitivity to laser lights)

We were most impressed by the staff who went out of their way to converse and welcome our friends with special needs! The manager at Skytag is extremely accommodating so feel free to call ahead if you have any concerns!


 

Musee Pour Enfants

The children’s Museum in Laval is great for children! So great in fact, that most of our special friends refused to leave:)  The museum features a mini city including a grocery store, restaurant, school, construction zone, fire truck, ambulance, farm, theater and more! Definitely a favorite of ours:)


 

IMAX TELUS Montréal Science Centre

Montreal Science Centre is great for a rainy day and open on holidays! The Science centre exhibits are beautifully made with lots of opportunity for hands on activities and experiences. We found it to be great for all ages. Additionally the Imax can be a great experience if your child is comfortable in a theater.

 

*Winter Fun

 

Village du Pere Noel (Val David)

 

A great and affordable Winter experience that really has something for everyone to enjoy!

The village has a farm area where you can enter and interact with the animals, snow tubing, play area, mini electric train, and trampolining! We loved how the staff interacted with our special friends!  They have a large chalet which is a great place to warm up and relax in a friendly environment.

 

Mont Avila

Mont Avila has quickly become our favorite snow tubing adventure! It’s a great time especially if you’re looking for something a bit grander than tubing around the city. We love that they have a smaller hill with a belt lift in addition to the bigger mountains, making it a great trip for all ages. They also offer rafting (a tube that accommodates about 10 ppl!) which is great for pilling the whole family in!


 

What’s your favorite family outing? Please comment below :)



 

*** Please note that the above is based on Friendship Circle’s experiences with children, teens, and young adults with and without special needs, and not a professional recommendation. Keep in mind that depending on your child’s challenges, you may have a different experience. We recommend always doing a bit of your own research while keeping your child's needs in mind!

Inviting the "Different" Kid

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Never Invited

I can count on one hand how many times my younger son who sometimes seems "different" has been invited to a birthday party or a play date. He is eleven years old! Children on the Autism Spectrum (in my case) will often have difficulty in social situations. Especially when they are younger and haven't had many opportunities to learn and practice social skills. Although they really want to participate, a  birthday party or play date can often add even more stress and anxiety for the child. 

The Younger Days

When my son was younger, he had a lot of meltdowns at school. Unfortunately, the first school he attended was not equipped to support nor understand him (putting this mildly). He was alienated, stigmatized, and rejected by some of the teachers and from many of his peers. Then came the teasing and bullying. Word spread about how he was "different", "aggressive", "out of control", and how "there must be something wrong with him".

Fast Forward

Although things have tremendously improved all around once we moved and changed schools, he still doesn't get invited much. Yes, he is a little different, and he is still "over-reactive" at times when he is experiencing sensory overload or when being teased. But that doesn't mean he should be judged or excluded. Just last month another child in his class said to him "I am inviting all the boys to my birthday party except you because my mom said you have rage problems". He came got off the school bus at the end of the day in tears.

Fear and Ignorance

I am sure there are many parents out there who can relate to this. I think that some people are still "afraid" of the kid who is different, whatever the disability or challenge. They don't know what to think, what to believe, how to react, what to say. My advice; don’t judge, ignore, and exclude the child out of fear and ignorance, instead have the courage to ask questions.

 

Examples 

Here are some examples of appropriate questions to ask: What is his diagnosis? How does his disability affect him? Does he require anything specific to get by? Are there specific foods he requires? Does he have sensory issues regarding food? Is a 2 hour playdate too long for him? Does he like birthday parties? What are his main areas of interest so that we can better try to connect with him? Can you come over with him for the first time just to make sure he is comfortable? What do I do if he has a meltdown? What should I do if he gets anxious?

 

Hopes and Dreams

Am I dreaming and hoping for a world where no child is segregated, excluded, nor rejected? You bet I am! I will continue to educate, spread awareness, advocate and fight for the rights of the "different kids" everywhere. I hope you will join me. Look out for the different ones, reach out to them. Reach out to their parents. They may be fighting battles that you can't even imagine. A show of support, an act of kindness often goes a long way. Thanks for reading!  

 

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. You can follow Angela at www.Angelamaciocia.com

FC of Michigain launches Marketplace for Special Needs Products

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Parents of children with disabilities are often faced with the unenviable task of searching all over their local stores and online for the specialized products that would best serve their children’s needs.  They are often not found in big box stores or websites or are subject to confusing search terms.

As a result, the process that parents or family members go through to procure products is a tricky one.  

Merchants, likewise, struggle to reach their desired consumers.  Many are faced with the intricate dance of figuring out the relevant digital marketing strategy and determining how to navigate the world of google or facebook advertising.  Merchants who serve niche markets are often small to mid-sized, sometimes even operating out of their home offices.  The learning curve for marketing specialized products for a wide variety of needs is steep.  

The Friendship Circle Marketplace is working hard to step into that intersection of merchants and clients for products that serve the disability population and their families.  It should be an easy process.  

With this marketplace hub, merchants can create an account where they can add products and make sales to the customers who are most interested in their products. Friendship Circle does the marketing and outreach to those families and individuals with disabilities who may be most interested in these products. Friendship Circle marketplace seeks to connect as many merchants to clients as possible as easily as possible.

How It Works  

If you’re a buyer, all you need to do is sign up for free, find a product you like or need, and purchase the item with your credit card.  It will be shipped to you post haste.

If you’re a seller, you’ll need to sign up, add your banking information and then build out your dedicated marketplace with your products.  You’ll have the ability to answer customer questions and offer a high quality of customer service through the Friendship Circle Marketplace platform.  

There are multiple product categories, which are geared towards the main areas that clients often search for.  Buyers who are looking for information can find books or apps that help streamline the process.  People who are looking to buy goods themselves can find toys, clothing, medical supplies, or sensory products at the marketplace.  

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact support through the chat interface on the marketplace page itself.  

 

Running for Friendship

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On Jan 28th hundreds of runners from Friendship Circle chapters worldwide formed Team Friendship and ran the  Miami Marathon in support of friendship & inclusion for our friends with special needs. Shira Perton, a longtime volunteer and runner shared her thoughts about the weekend! To learn more visit www.TeamFriendship.org

 

This past weekend I ran in the Miami Marathon for my third time, so you can imagine that I thought the weekend would be pretty routine. There was nothing more that I could learn, nothing more that I could see that would really leave a lasting impression on me. Thankfully I was very wrong, as they say the 3rd times the charm. This was a weekend that I could not have predicted. There were many conversations about friendship but the one I'd like to share only  happened once the weekend was over.

I went on a walk the day after the race, because most normal people do that right? Anyways, I was on my way out of a coffee pit stop when a boy walked by me and said “hello!” Now I want to preface that I usually don't talk to  strangers, but every part of his smile made it seem like this was okay. We exchanged hellos and I wished him a good day, as I began my walk again he asked me “Do I know you?”

“I don’t think so, what’s your name”

“Eric”

“Hi Eric! I’m Shira, how old are you?”

From our beginning exchange I learnt that Eric was from Miami, 24 years old and was autistic. Sorry, I meant to say artistic. In the most literal sense, because within his hands he was holding a comic book that he was creating titled Wheelain Rescue Warriors! I asked him what he was creating and he told me all about his rescue series, as we sat down he agreed that he could draw something for me and it gave me a chance to look through his soon to be famous book. As I flipped through the colorfully drawn pages I realized that his book was the way he viewed the world, there were people depicted as numbers, glue bottles and so much more. One page in particular that left a lasting impression and really left the entire weekend full circle was one page, where we saw a girl sitting with the glue bottle and the number eight and the page read:

“Together we can discover what our powers are made of” says Tain.

“You mean like superpowers and stick it up a notch?” Asks Patrick

“Si! We can stop the dark force and restore peace” Says Juanita

These pages allowed me to look right into the lenses that Eric used to look at the world, and he was seeing some pretty magical things. And that is when it hit me, we all know that we are each uniquely different, there is no way that even identical twins are 100% the same and that is what makes us all so special.

This weekend we talked about the concept of friendship and I realized how lucky I was that Friendship Circle taught me what it means to be a friend.

Friendship is about the ability to feel like an equal amongst each other, where we can be vulnerable to learn and grow alongside each other, some of my greatest and truest friendships were made within the familiar walls of Friendship Circle.

Starting a weekend where I met so many people who were doing this for something as simple as friendship that we all sometimes take for granted, to then running a marathon and having the support of a million strangers I realized that this is what it’s all about.

Doing good feels good, and even though running didn’t always feel great, the support that I had from every single person who was wearing the same friendship jersey that I had or any other type of running gear made the run feel like a breeze. Eric, had no idea who I was, yet he was able to look at me and see an equal, the unique thing about friendship is that you can still notice the strengths within your friend and realize that we are each so special and unique in our own way. Eric let me into his artful world, where the entire world was unique, and not cookie cutter as most societal norms endure, he was apologetically himself. I don’t know if Eric will remember our interaction this past Monday, but it is something I keep reliving every day, and I challenge each and every one of you, to think of your Eric.

Think about how you can improve your interpersonal relationships somehow so that we can get the most out of what friendship and the world around us have to offer. It’s crazy to think that just a week ago I thought I was going to go to Florida, run a marathon and then go back to my everyday life, you can’t just accept ordinary; especially when Friendship is involved. 

 

By: Shira Perton 

Homework with your special needs child, tips to keep you sane!

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Homework presents a challenge for all parents. However,when a child has a learning disability, it can require extra thought and attention. The good news is with the right tips and tricks it can become manageable and enjoyable for the both of you!

Here are some pointers from Friendship Circle’s team therapist to help you  reach homework success!

 

1. Set up a distraction free work zone

It’s important for your child to have a designated quiet area with all toys and electronics removed. Having an assigned space can also help with creating a predictable homework routine.

 

2. Be Positive

Support your child by showing positivity and using encouraging statements. Your child can feel if you’re tense or frustrated so take a breather if you need to!  Kids perform much better in an encouraging environment!

 

3. Take Breaks

It can be hard for your child to sit and concentrate long enough to finish all their work. Therefore, short intervals followed by a predetermined reward or reinforcer can be very effective.

 

4. One idea at a time

Break up each part  of their work and be sure they understand it well before moving on.

 

5. Let them do the work

If your child is struggling on something particularly challenging it can be tempting to jump in and do it for them. Instead, be patient so they can learn the skills they need! Sit with them to help motivate them but let them do the work.

 

 

By:Melanie Bercovici 

Melanie is a behavioral therapist who runs Friendship Circle’s daily lounge program where teens & young adults learn life skills, social skills, and volunteer in a laid back enjoyable setting!


 

What Not To Say To Parents Of A Child With Special Needs

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Autism...A Journey

I have been an Autism parent for eleven years now. A journey that has not always been easy, especially when my son was first diagnosed at the age of six. Although I knew that he was on the spectrum when he was 18 months, no one else believed me. His Paediatrician didn't see it, our child Psychologist missed it and diagnosed him with ADHD and ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder) instead, and everyone else around me thought I had lost my mind. But eventually we fell into the right hands, he was diagnosed at the JGH Day Program and I was able to get him ALL the support he needed from then on.

Over the past five years, I have had the pleasure of finding some of the best people to work with my son. I have also come across those that just didn't cut it. Luckily, we moved on quickly from the latter and didn't waste too much of our time. Since Autism has become somewhat of "a business", it's not so easy to find good help in the private sector and the waiting lists in the public sector are horrendous.

 

Another Side of the Journey

Another side of our journey has been the often inappropriate things that people have said to me, and still say to me from time to time. I am sure that other parents can relate. Believe me, you are not alone! I do not believe that any of these comments are said maliciously. I believe that some feel so uncomfortable, they don't know what to say, some don't think before they speak, and some simply don't have any knowledge nor understanding about Autism. The following is a list of what NOT to say to a Special Needs parent, EVER...please!

 

What Not To Say

"He doesn't look Autistic, he looks normal to me...”  Special needs doesn't have "a look". And what does "normal" look like anyway? Think about that for a minute!

"Will he be cured...does it go away?" Autism is not a disease that needs to be cured. In a nutshell, it is a developmental disorder characterized by challenges with social interaction and communication, often including restricted and repetitive behavior.

"Oh no, it can't be. Are you sure?" Now, imagine in my case. Having to fight for 6 years to have him diagnosed properly, and someone says this to me! When first diagnosed, parents are going through unimaginable emotions, they don't need to be questioned and made to feel as though a mistake was made.

"I am so sorry to hear that". My son did not die, he has a disability. He is NOT less, he is just different.

"He will outgrow it". No one "outgrows" Autism Spectrum Disorder. With proper interventions, therapies, direction, and sometimes medications (natural or otherwise), the person is better equipped to "handle" their disability. As time goes on, maturity and neuroplasticity also help.

 

More of What Not To Say

"Does he go to a special school?" Not all children with disabilities need to go to a specialized school. Many are fully integrated in a regular public/private school. Some require an aid with them during school hours and some don't.

"He behaves like that because he doesn't get enough discipline at home". Discipline does not "cure" Autism or any other disability. Every behavior has a function. Most behaviors that are negatively perceived stem from severe anxiety, sensory overload, and inability to communicate. They have nothing to do with being spoiled or lack of discipline.

"I think your standards are too high for him". An educational consultant actually said this to me when my son was in grade one. My son is now in grade 5 attending a mainstream private school, with above average grades in all subjects. The only subject that has been adapted for him is French. He is now mastering the breaststroke in swimming, made the school soccer team, and has recently started boxing and martial arts. No one has the right to tell any parent what their child's limits are. Everyone shines in the right light!

"You are making him a different meal? My kids eat whatever I make or else!" Many people on the Autism Spectrum struggle with sensory issues surrounding food. The textures, smells, and tastes of certain foods are simply not tolerated. To add, please do not comment nor judge people's diets. There could be a list of reasons why a person eats a certain way, it is not for anyone to judge.

More Awareness

Although I think people are generally more aware, accepting and educated now, we need to teach more! I think that people are still "afraid" of people with a disability. Most of the time, they freeze and don't know what to say. A Special Needs parent needs constant support, encouragement, respite, and validation that they are doing the best job possible on a daily basis. It's 24/7, 365 days/year, and does not end at the age of five! To add, we have our chronic worries about adulthood and what will happen to our kids when we are gone. Especially those with children who are nonverbal and not as autonomous.

 

What to Say

Most of the time we just need to be asked "How are you doing?" "How is your child?" "Can I do anything to help you?" And please...there is nothing wrong with being curious and genuinely wanting to learn. I would rather someone admit that they know nothing about Autism and ask me to teach them a little about it than not ask me, assume the worst and make judgments.

 

 

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. You can follow Angela at www.Angelamaciocia.com

 

 

Prepare for New Year's with your special child

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Winter has arrived and New Year’s is just around the corner! Here are so great ideas to help your child understand and prepare for the big day.

Reflect

 

Create a Time Capsule

Together fill a jar or box with photos and items from favorite events or moments from the past year. On New Years, relieve those memories through going through the box.

Create a Collage

Make a collage using  pictures of 2017. Take out large sheets of paper and assist your child in attaching pictures from last January and on. Sequence the events in order and ask your child questions about what they remember from each function.

Fill out a Questionnaire or Survey

Assist your child in  filling out a questionnaire or survey about the year. It can become a fun family tradition to read these sheets and see how their answers have changed over the years. You can find great printable templates on Pinterest.   

Look Ahead

Use a dry erase board and ask your child to describe what they hope 2018 will look like. They can write down or draw future successes like doing better at school, learn a new skill etc.

Celebrate

Here are some ways to prepare for the celebration, work on important skills & have a great time!

Noise Makers

Have your child practice fine motor skills by making their own noise maker. Use a plastic bottle and let your child fill it with beans or rice, They’ll develop their fine motor skills by picking up the small objects. Then have fun decorating the bottle with any craft supplies you have on hand.
 

Happy New Year Cake!

Bake a Happy New Years cake together is a great way to connect and learn. Make the activity multisensory by encouraging your child to touch, smell, taste (when appropriate) and look at all of the ingredients. You can discuss measuring amounts while baking and colors and shapes when icing and decorating



 

He Made Their Day!

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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!

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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

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 vocabulary.co.il

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 www.FriendshipCircle.ca/Blog

Recharging, it's a necessity

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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.

Recharge

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 www.Angelamaciocia.com

14 Fall Sensory Activities For Your Child With Special Needs

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“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 www.FriendshipCircle.org/Blog

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.