Greta Thunberg is an amazing advocate for climate change. She is well spoken, passionate, knowledgeable, and will hopefully help to lead a worldwide movement to change our laws and policies and curb climate change. But that is not why she is important to my son. My son has a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. His diagnostic report reads “he has what used to be called aspergers”. Like my son, Greta Thunberg also has aspergers.[Read more…] about Beyond Climate Change: Why Greta Thunberg Matters For My Son
Swimming is a life skill. In our family learning to swim is not optional. My kids go to school, religious/Hebrew school, and swim lessons. Pretty much any activity other than those is optional. At some point a child will be around water and it is important for them to be safe. I breathed a sigh of relief when my oldest son could successfully fall in the water, roll to his back and float.
My oldest son has autism and for him swimming has been an especially useful activity. He had low core strength and swimming has helped to improve that. Ross learning to swim has also greatly increased his self confidence. He now has his sport. Swimming is the activity that he takes pride in and overall enjoys.
Find The Right Program and Instructor for YOUR Child
Now, getting to the point where Ross enjoyed swimming was a process. We tried swim lessons at three different places over the course of about two and a half years. Eventually we moved and decided to try our local JCC’s All in Swim program because that was where Ross was going to go to summer camp a few weeks later. It is a program that specializes in providing children with autism swimming lessons.
When we started Ross was scared to go into the pool area. It was loud and smelled funny plus it had a swimming pool! The program uses social stories but mostly a lot of patience to get him in the pool area and eventually in the pool. Having a program and instructors that understood Ross’ unique challenges was so important to getting Ross comfortable in the water.
We have also switched instructors several times. We switched because of scheduling and teachers moving on to other jobs but each time it turned out to be a good thing. Having a new instructor seemed to refocus Ross. Having a new teacher with new expectations was good for him.
After Ross’ second teacher we also realized that he did better with a male teacher. A great swim program director can find a great teacher for your specific child so be sure to change instructors as neccesary and give any feedback (like needing a male instructor) to the director so your child can have the best instructor.[Read more…] about Why and How To Teach Your Child With Autism To Swim
Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you I may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. Thank you for supporting my blog.
It’s time to go on vacation! And what a fun place Disney World is to go. Our oldest son Ross has autism and we have had several successful trips to Walt Disney World with him and his brothers. We have learned a few things along the way and I hope you will find some of these tips and tricks helpful as you plan your trip.
Prepare, Prepare, Prepare
That may be the motto of every parent of a child with autism. The more you can prepare yourself and your child for your trip the better. One of my biggest concerns with my son was getting through the airport. Our therapists prepared a visual schedule that walked Ross through the airport including potential pitfalls like putting his beloved stuffed panda bear on the conveyor belt to be screened. We also looked at pictures of the hotel and bus to the hotel ahead of time so the Ross would know what it looked like.
In addition we spent a lot of time researching which attractions he would probably like. While we let him and his brothers pick where they wanted to go we guided their choices knowing which attractions were the most likely to be successful. We used the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World and Disney World’s Attraction Details for Guests with Cognitive Disabilities to help us sort through the plethora of attractions at WDW. This second guide is a chart that shows the length of a ride, element of surprise and various other features. It is incredibly helpful to picking rides if you are new to the park. Disney World also has a planning guide with lots of tips for planning your trip as well.
Calm and Regulate
Travelling can cause dysregulation. Disney World can be loud and visually overstimulating. We brought noise cancelling headphones for Ross including a pair that hooked up to blue tooth (Worktunes) so that if he needed to totally escape he could watch a movie through the ear phones. These were awesome when he was just done and we were exiting the park or on the buses and monorail. We also used a stroller with a large hood, the City Mini, where he could essentially hide from the visual over-stimulation that Disney often is. Definitely also make sure to bring any other regulating tools such as fidgets and chewies that you usually use with you.
Keep Everything As Normal As Possible
This seems like a bit of an oxymoron for a vacation but the more that can stay the same as home the better. The first year we went to Disney we brought Ross’ stroller from home. The second time we rented the exact same model and prepped him that it might be a different color. Knowing that it would be his usual stroller was very calming to him. We also brought single serve milk boxes from home so that we were sure we could get his usual type, brought LEGOs that he loved and all our Captain Underpants books.
Get The Accommodations That You Need
Disney World offers a few great options for accommodations to help make your trip smoother. The first is the Disability Access Pass. Essentially instead of waiting in line you are able to check in at an attraction and get a return time. You can then return anytime at or after the return time. For us being able to return any time later in the day versus the two hour window of the Fast Pass was helpful in case Ross needed to take a break during the day. To get a disability access pass you go to Disney World Guest Relations and they will walk you through the process. The first time we went to Disney World I brought all our diagnostic paperwork but they never looked at it. It turns out the program is need based and not based on any particular diagnoses.
We have also used the stroller as wheelchair tags. It is helpful for Ross to stay in his stroller when he is starting to get overwhelmed or a little nervous and this tag allows the stroller to go wherever a wheelchair can. For going through the airport there is the TSA Cares program. We have not personally used it yet but those who have used the “walk through” program have found it very helpful.
Ask for Help
Disney cast members (what Disney calls all staff) can guide and help you and are always willing to do so. If your child needs to take a break from it all just ask and they will direct you to the nearest break spot (these are also listed here). Cast members can also assist in finding dietary options if your child has intolerances, allergies or other specialized needs. The can also sometimes bend the rules a bit. Our first trip we didn’t have a stroller as wheelchair tag (I didn’t know about it yet) but Ross couldn’t get out of his stroller due to anxiety at Chef Mickey’s. I asked at the check in desk and they were able to switch our table to one that was able to accomnodate his stroller.
Do NOT have FOMO
I’m saying this to you, the parent or caregiver. You are not missing out because you didn’t go on the newest ride and if you don’t tell your children how many characters or rides there are they won’t fear that they are missing out when they get tired and leave early. Disney World is hard because you have to balance being relaxed and go with the flow with also needing to be well scheduled both because of the needs of your child and the necessity of the Disney Fastpass system and reservations. Having FOMO (the fear of missing out on things) will not help you balance these already sometimes opposing needs.
Have a Plan B
Trips rarely go as planned. Disney World is no exception. Having a plan, or plans, in case your child turns out to be scared of Mickey Mouse (it happened to one of my twins the first time we went) or everyone is getting overheated is important. The same goes for knowing your exit strategy. When Ross is done for the day, he’s done. Sensory overload is not easy to overcome after a point and it is not worth pushing it for us. When that happened it was important to our family to know which parent would take him back to the hotel and for Ross to know too. We have two other children who also needed to know that plan.
Find Something Your Child Will Love, Even If It Is Off The Beaten Path, And Stick To It
Somewhere deep in a Disney chat room I heard about the Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom attraction. You check in at the Magic Kingdom firehouse, get playing cards (that you can also collect) and a map, and are then sent on quest to find various “portals” throughout the Magic Kingdom and eventually defeat a Disney villain. It’s an amazing interactive treasure hunt full of Disney Magic. Ross loved it! He cared far more about finding the portals then going on Space Mountain or any other ride and although it wasn’t the “average” way to spend a good chunk of day at the Magic Kingdom it was tons of fun and it was great to see him engaged and excited. I read a blog post by someone whose autistic son only wanted to go on the Dumbo ride. While the parent was a little bored he said he was happy that his son found something he really liked about Disney World so they stuck with it. We did the same with Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom. We searched all over the park for villains until it was time to go see Elena of Avalor, his other favorite!
Change Your Expectations
The first time we went to Disney Ross spent at least 75% of the time in the parks in his stroller. He engaged far less than I expected (at least in the traditional, neurotypical sense) and seemed far less enthusiastic then his younger brothers. But, he spent the next 12ish months talking about how great it was, telling stories and asking when we were going back. I had expected him to engage in a particular, more traditional way but he engaged and enjoyed it in his own way.
Also, from a caregiver perspective accept that you will likely come home far more exhausted than we left. I like to remind my husband (when he whines about vacation being tiring) that “it’s a trip not a vacation” for the parents sometimes. While Disney World is awesome there is a lot of work involved!
I hope you have an amazing trip to Disney World! I’d love to have you join our email list, and you’ll even get a free IEP worksheet when you join!
Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you I may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase on one of these back to school essentials for special needs children. Thank you for supporting my blog
Getting ready for school is fun and exciting! It also involves lots of coordination and prep (IEPs, new teachers, etc) and of course, new supplies. Here are some of my favorite school essentials for special needs children.
Backpacks are a little tricky with my autistic son. In preschool he became attached to a hand me down Thomas the tank backpack. The problem was it was a plastic, “cheap” backpack that already had a couple years of wear and tear on it. So pretty quickly it started to fall apart. Of course he was attached to it and having autism he struggles with change so we tried to sew it, tape it and do anything else to keep it functional. It made it through the year and he agreed to find a new one for the next school year but I learned my lesson if using cheap backpacks. We found him an awesome Pottery Barn Kids backpack with a panda (his favorite) on it. While it was expensive after two years it has shown very little wear and tear and I highly recommend getting a Pottery Barn or similar higher end backpack especially if your child struggles with change.
Basic School Supplies
Basic school supplies are, of course, dictated by what the school and teachers want. At my son’s school you have the option to buy a pack with most of the school supplies from the PTO (which I do because it’s readier) or purchase on your own from target, amazon, etc. One supply which was not included in the schoolpack were headphones. Because my son has some sensory sensitivities these were a little tricky. We decided to try one of the top rated amazon headphone, the LilGadgets Connect+ Premium Volume Limited Wired Headphones with SharePort for Children and just double checked we could return it as necessary. But, they worked! He tolerated them and they were rated highly for not breaking which made me happy. We’re a year into using them and no complaints by my son or me!
Every parent needs labels for their kids stuff (otherwise half of it would be gone, right?) What I particularly love about the Mabel’s Labels is that they have a wide array of icons that you can add. These are perfect for kids who can’t recognize their name but can instead find their stuff by using an icon. Having panda bear pictures on our labels really helps my son recognize his own belongings.
Fidgets and Chewies
Back to school means making sure you have adequate fidgets if they are a tool help your child. There are innumerable types of fidgets including my favorite (for myself and my son) spinners!I even found a panda spinner this year for my oldest!
Chewies are also an important tool for many children with special needs. I like any chewy that is on a necklace or bracelet (because it lasts a little bit longer). My son loves all things LEGO including a fun block chewy.
Lap Pads and Animals
Weighted lap pads are another item that may or may not be provided by the school but are often a back to school essential for special needs children. Weighted lap pads provide sensory input that can calm children and help them focus. Weighted lap animals are a fun alternative for younger children. My son has a “lap cat” that he adores. He no longer needs it at school but still likes it at home.
While most public schools provide any alternative seating required (and in the IEP accommodations) you will need to provide your child’s own at many private schools. At Ross’ first preschool our OT decided a cube chair would be beneficial. The school could not provide ont so we got him a cube chair from amazon and it was very helpful in his being able to sit and focus during stories and other group time.
Not every child needs an ID bracelet or tag but for many children having one for school, the bus or field trips can provide added safety and peace of mind. Mabel’s Labels recently came out with new silicone bracelets that have received great reviews for their comfort and staying power.
That’s my rundown of the back to school essentials for special needs children. What else would you add to the list? Also make sure to check out my article on what NOT to say to the parent of a child with Autism and also my best toys for fine motor skill development.
I am extremely open about my six year old son’s autism. Part of the reason is I find it is easier. Also I find that if I’m open about being the parent of a child with autism people can hopefully understand his differences and be supportive. I I am also open about it in order to support others. Often when my son’s autism comes up in conversation people will then feel comfortable telling me about their children’s struggles. We can share resources and support then. The problem is people say some weird stuff sometimes. Sometimes it’s offensive. Other times it’s confusing. I don’t think people usually mean to say something weird but they often don’t have a lot of experience with children who are not neurotypical and don’t know what the right things to say are. Here’s my rundown of some of the stranger things that I’ve been told.
Your Child Doesn’t Look Autistic
What does autism look like? My son looks like everyan almost seven year old boy. He doesn’t look different than the other kids in his class. The implication is usually that he doesn’t “act autistic”. He’s not stimming (usually) and he talks (a lot). He’s not the stereotype that people think a child with autism will “look” like so they are surprised. But it really should not be that surprising.
You’re So Great To Do All That You Do For Him
He’s my son. If he had a broken leg I would take him to the emergency room, then to the doctor, maybe physical therapy. I would do whatever it took to help it heal properly. I would do whatever it takes for him to live his best life. Every parent would. This isn’t to say that autism is at all like breaking your leg but the same rationale applies. I do whatever it takes for my son to live his best life with autism. Because I’m his mom, and until I got asked that question I never thought anything of it, and haven’t since.
But He Makes Eye Contact. He Can’t be Autistic.
Ross makes eye contact similarly to most neurotypical little kids. As a parent of a child with autism I know that struggling to make eye contact is not a prerequisite for being autistic. It is sometimes a symptom, sometimes it is not. Don’t tell me what my child can or “can’t be” based on your opinion of his eye contact. Try not to tell me what my child can or can’t be at all.
If Your Child Had Received An Autism Diagnosis Earlier Would You Have Had His Siblings?
This one floored me. After seeing my initial confused/ shocked reaction she added “or maybe waited a bit?”. My son was diagnosed when my twins were about nine months old so not ideal timing but that was just the diagnosis. He had always had autism. The label of autism did not in any way change my child. The clarity of diagnosis allowed us to better help him, but he was the same. So this person and I weren’t really talking about him having a diagnosis. We were talking about him being autistic. So would I not have more children or wait to have more because my first born was autistic? No. For us as a family it did not matter. For many families I can see how it would change their family planning. Either way asking someone this is still extraordinarily invasive.
Those are some of the more interesting things people have said to me about my autistic son. Sometimes these comments are hurtful, sometimes they are just sort of weird. What interesting things have people said to you? Let me know in the comments then be sure to check out my article on ways to know you are an autism mom.
Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you I may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. Thank you for supporting my blog.
My spunky, fun and incredibly intelligent almost 6 year old also has Autism Spectrum Disorder. I’ve read a fair number of books about autism and related symptoms a these are the five I found the most helpful in learning about the disorder as it pertains to our family.
Autism Spectrum Disorder by Chantal Sicile-Kira
Autism Spectrum Disorder is very much a handbook on autism. It is a great starting place if you or a love one is newly diagnosed because it defines the main terms, treatments and interventions that are commonly associated with autism.
The Out of Sync Child by Carol Stock
The title of The Out of Sync Child says it is for coping with sensory processing disorder but lots of children and adults on the autism spectrum also have sensory processing issues This book gives a great explanation of sensory processing and where it can go wrong It also gives advice on treating sensory problems as well as coping with problems at home and in school.
Bonus Book: The Out of Sync Child Has Fun
The Out of Sync Child Has Fun is an amazing resource for activities that engage and regulate the senses. It is organized by sense (vestibular, auditory, etc.) and then by sensory-related skills (oral-motor, motor planning, etc.) for easy reference if you are looking to work on a particular skill with your child. I have used activities from this book regularly with all three kids so it is definitely a resource for parents of neurotypical children as well.
The Explosive Child by Ross Greene
The Explosive Child was a game changer in how I looked at the behaviors of all three of my children. I started thinking of what i’d previously thought of as behavioral problems as what Greene called, “logging skilss and unsolved problems”. Starting there I could work on these lagging skills and unsolved problems and solve the behavior. This is a must read for any parent of a child, autistic or not, that have meltdowns, get frustrated or otherwise “misbehave”….so, pretty much all kids at some point or another.
The Sensory Child Gets Organized
In full disclosure, I’m not very organized and I didn’t really prioritize being organized. The Sensory Child Get Organized helped me develop realize I needed to prioritize developing organizational system for my son with Autism and gave me practical ideas in how to do it. This book literally goes room by room and tells you how to create spaces that are ideal for kids with sensory kids.
Thinking in Pictures by Temple Grandin
Thinking in Pictures is an amazing book by an absolutely an amazing woman. The combination of her scientific knowledge and first person knowledge on autism leads to a fascinating book. If you read just one first person narrative by someone with autism this should be it. It really helped me understand what it felt like to be on the autism spectrum.
I hope you find some of these books interesting or helpful! What other books have you found helpful on your journey as a parent of a child with autism? Let me know in the comments.[Read more…] about 5 Great Books for Parents of Kids with Autism