3 Second Delay

Inclusion is Happening!

Hoping to break ground later this year!

Yesterday Andrew and I had the good fortune of taking a private tour of the future Autism Nature Trail and Letchworth State Park. There are many, many, many reasons I’m giddy about this trail, and a day later I’m still buzzing about it. 

Andrew has always had a love of nature. When he was little he loved the Jamestown Audubon Society. As he got older, we put him in sports, which isn’t bad, but we didn’t encourage and develop his love of nature. I’m ashamed of that, though I know we had our reasons. I’m so glad we course corrected. He doesn’t always love to leave for a hike, but once we are there, he can spend minutes staring at an insect or a bird, and often sees things before anyone else. The best trails are wider, well maintained, and aren’t too difficult to manage. A trail with sensory issues in mind is amazing, and the features along the trail are right up his alley. 

The path as it appears now, July 2020.

Hikers can become ambassadors of the trail, which allows people with autism to feel more connected with it. Ambassadors don’t have to necessarily do anything-but Andrew feels a bit more connected to this trail. The trail is set to break down later this year, and we’ll definitely go back and take sneak peeks. Goodness knows Letchworth State Park has enough trails that you can go again and again and never see the same thing twice. That said, kids on the spectrum like repetition, so we’re likely to do the same trail over and over again. Which is fine with me! 

The one and only Dr. Temple Grandin acted as an advisor on the features and different aspects of the trail. That alone blew my mind-she’s amazing. But it also was great to hear how the creators are incorporating her feedback to make the trail perfect for people of various disabilities.

Probably what excites me the most, however, is that the Autism Nature Trail is proof that the world is changing. That inclusion is happening. Special education teachers, excellent educators, and parents of children have always known that what works well for people on the spectrum or various disabilities are good for all people. It’s not just people on the spectrum that will enjoy the trail. Yes, the design works great for those that are sensory challenged, anxious, have physical impairments, or have other various needs, but it’s also for anyone who loves nature, interacting with nature, or being outside. 

I definitely encourage taking a look by clicking on the links in this post. If you haven’t tried hiking in a while, give it a shot! It’s easy to social distance on a trail, and it certainly does a body good!

We loved the flowers and butterflies at the park!

Expanding my work

Now that we have relocated, adjusted to new schools and new stores, figured out how to live in a Covid world, and have made some friends, it’s time I get my writing career back on track! I’ve been lucky enough to write for amazing publishers in the education market, but I need to expand! I’m excited to learn about ghostwriting, as well as get back into writing articles for parents who are navigating the special education system. And on that note…..

Raising a child with a special need during Covid has been pretty challenging, as we struggled to understand modifications and plan alternate assignments. I’m not sure what the 2020-2021 school year will bring, but at least now we have a plan for any circumstance. Have you spoken with your child’s special education team yet? If not, make sure to do that as soon as possible! Teachers are required to read the IEP prior to the start of the school year, so now is a good time to review, discuss, and develop plans A, B, & C! Don’t wait until the week before school starts, however that may look! Here is what we are considering….

If online learning, A will alternate courses each day, so rather than take six classes each day he might do three, and do three very well. Whichever three subjects we don’t tackle first will be saved for another time that fits our schedule. Also, his special ed teacher will g-chat daily so he can see her!

If hybrid, we’ll tweak the schedule again. Those classes that are better suited to visual learning, such as geometry and science, will be done on property, while English and social studies can be online.

If on property, we’ll keep the supports we had last year, encouraging his organization skills so if school ends early we can easily maintain the assignments. Last year there were lots of tears over lost assignments-we don’t want that again!

Please reach out with your tips and suggestions for special education during Covid!

I Love Author Visits!

Most authors agree one of the best parts of our job is visiting with readers. I’ll admit I get butterflies before every event. I was terrified for weeks leading up to my first author visit. That morning I was truly freaking out. Will anyone show?

Will I be able to speak clearly?

Will I remember everything I want to say?

What activities should we do?

Once an event starts, however, I remember how much fun it is. It isn’t about the book sales (though that’s always nice!). It’s about the laughter, the curiosity, and the connection I make with readers. And, I always leave feeling inspired to start the next project so I can come back to see readers again. Kids are always growing as readers, and I’m always growing as a writer. Since then I’ve gone to schools, independent book stores, and even events at Barnes and Noble.   I’d love to learn what you like to hear authors talk about at author visits, as well as what you like to do at them! Drop me a line at julia@juliagarstecki.com.

What's next?

What’s Next?

One thing authors get asked a lot is “What are you working on next?” I’m jealous of authors that have answers to that. As a work-for-hire author I don’t always know! Sometimes, it’s difficult to find work. Other times, I’m flooded (happily) with assignments. I might be working on a textbook, comic book, or instructional reader. It can be about space, or the pancreas, or the Buffalo Soldiers.

Currently I’m in a dry period (fingers crossed it doesn’t last!) but rather than wait for projects I’m working on a few books to pitch to agents or publishers. Both are inspired by my late father. Not only does it help me move forward with my writing career while in a dry WFH spell, but it is helping me process his death. That is one reason I love writing-to make sense of things.

So, while I might not have any deadlines, I’m still plugging away, hoping to have some announcements soon!

The Release of Pick, Spit & Scratch

My first book is out in the universe and available at Amazon! Fingers crossed it will be sold in stores as well. I’m still learning how and why some places sell books and others don’t.

I’ve had other books published, but this is the first book I pitched and developed. My editor at Quarto, Dennis, was fantastic to work with. He understood my sense of humor, and our emails were always amusing. Just the subject lines alone had me giggling.

Pick, Spit, Scratch - Disgusting Habits Series Book 1

Once I saw this cover, I fell in love with the book all over again!

“Did you get my pinworms?”

“Is there too much farting?”

While I’ve happily written dozens of books for classrooms, mostly published with Black Rabbit Books, this one feels different. It feels so much like me. Which is a little scary, and brings back memories of junior high.

What if no one likes it?

What if no one thinks I’m funny?

Will my mom like it?

When I first pitched the idea to Dennis, I envisioned a sciencey book with photographs and facts, similar to the Guinness Books my kids bring home all the time. When he suggested it be illustrated, I was disappointed. But I so wanted to write the book. He talked me through what it could be like, and once he secured the amazing Chris Monroe as the illustrator, my excitement was back. Dennis was right!

When I saw the illustrations mixed with my text, I was downright giddy! Coming up with subtitles and new text was by far the most fun I have had in my writing career. The cherry on the cake was when Dennis asked about a sequel.

Wouldn’t you know my dog was eating her barf at that exact moment? I mentioned that to Dennis, and another series of hilarious emails followed. As much fun as Pick, Spit & Scratch was, creating Sniff, Lick & Scratch was even more better! I so hope everyone enjoys both books. And I hope readers learn a little as well! If you have yet to buy a copy, don’t delay!

Homework tips for students with special needs!!

Processing issues make school work a challenge for my son, and so of course, they make it a challenge for me (I know…this isn’t about me). He receives fair modifications, but that doesn’t always help.

He recently had a project due about polar bears-I was so impressed with how he researched, typed, and put his board together. Still, I was glad to see that project go.

Later that day, he came home with two more projects to complete in addition to his daily homework. As we read the directions together, my husband and I couldn’t stop laughing (wine may have played a factor). The projects weren’t hard, but they demanded time.

My son is very fortunate (or unfortunate, depending on perspective). He has a teacher for a mother, and his classroom teacher is AMAZING!! The kind you want to clone. She gets it, we communicate, she keeps her expectations high and yet notices when my son is truly struggling.

But what about all the not so amazing teachers out there? As a teacher/mom of a child with a disability, here’s what I’d like them to know about assigning homework:

  • Even if the assignment has been modified, it still might take us longer than you’d ever    guess. Sometimes there are tears, screaming, and occasionally self-inflicted pain. We might only get through the first three problems, but that might be a huge accomplishment.

  • The more time you give us to complete a project, the more success he’ll have. If he’s having an off day, no bribing, disciplining, or begging will work. And heaven forbid I have a late work day or three. Please provide ample time for completion.

  • Please give clear expectations, and please let us know how the work will be graded. Better yet, let us know the purpose of each assignment so we know what to focus our time and attention on.

  • If it’s math homework and the concepts are fairly advanced, allow the use of the calculator. Then at least we can focus on the skill. I promise we are still working on those basic facts!

From moms like me everywhere, we (and our children) thank you!

Need a therapist? Read this first!

Finding the Right Provider for Your Family

The therapy team you create has the power to catapult your child’s progress or cause it to stagnate. Choosing the right provider for your child is one of the most important decisions you’ll make.

First, discover if your insurance or school district requires you to work with a specific agency or therapist. Often times there are lists of highly qualified therapists to choose from.

If you do have options, consider your child’s needs.

What type of therapist is your doctor or school suggesting? What specific need does your child have? Then, be sure to understand what type of therapist is appropriate. For example, learn the difference between an Occupational Therapist and a Physical Therapist to make sure your child gets the appropriate help.

Ask for credentials, and get specifics.

Is the special education teacher also trained as a behavioral therapist? My son was a mystery for his first two speech therapists until we were paired with one who knew about Apraxia. Then we started seeing improvements.

Flexibility is important.

Is the therapist able to meet you in the morning, afternoon, and an evening? Will they meet at your home and the preschool setting? Ideally, the therapist will see your child at multiple settings to work in the environments your child will most likely be in.

Creating a team is critical.

Instead of each therapist working independently, we all communicated constantly. While we made each other crazy at times, we shared a common goal, which was Drew. We shared a folder of brief notes so everybody could overlap objectives. The speech teacher addressed sensory issues while working on his verbal skills, the OT would work on sounds while making clay shapes, and the preschool teacher worked with his special education teacher to learn which facial cues could be reinforced while he was with her.

Ask questions, but respect their expertise.

A trial period is a great idea, but you must also be patient. It can get frustrating when you don’t get answers or see immediate results. I wanted answers after their first session, but instead, Vicki did a thorough evaluation that took weeks. Had she rushed just to appease me, she may have missed something.

Staying involved in the therapy sessions will only strengthen your child’s progress, and will also help you determine if your therapist is a right fit. If you have concerns, talk with the therapist about it and see what he/she recommends. Don’t be afraid to ask for someone new. Ultimately, you need to do what works best for your child.

A not so little thing called Apraxia

As a teacher, I was familiar with Autism, Central Auditory Processing Disorder, and various other disabilities, but I had never heard of Apraxia. Now, as the mother of a son with Apraxia, I am learning! Here’s an overview:

After noticing many missed developmental milestones, I took my son to his pediatrician, who concurred with my worries. And so began the assessment process with different doctors and therapists.  He showed traits of Duchene’s Muscular Dystrophy and Autism, but we were told we had to wait and watch, wait and watch.

We met with an Early Intervention team that were devoted to helping my son communicate. Slowly, Drew and I began to “talk” to each other. It felt like we lived in our own world, and nobody else could come in. We went to therapy together, played together, and slept together because he woke up so often.

There are memories that still make me tear up, like the time he was trying to tell me something when we were driving home from the park. It was early in the therapy years.

“Muh! Muh!” he called out happily.

“Mommy?” I asked.

“No! Mluh!”

“Are you hungry?”

“No! Muhl!” The tears and anger began to come.

“I don’t know what you’re saying, honey. Did you have fun?” I was beginning to panic.

“No!” He was hitting his mouth. He wouldn’t stop. He just kept hitting his mouth and crying.

“Honey, take a deep breath. Can you find a way to show me?” I asked, trying to sound cheerful.

He pointed to the vehicle in front of me.

“Truck?  You were trying to show me the truck?”

He smiled and fell asleep. I cried the whole way home and then some more. 

He began seeing a very intense speech therapist named Vicki. Vicki exhausted me. She saw my son every day, called often, and she was relentless. I was instructed to make books and puppets, flash cards and worksheets. Just when I’d get the hang of something, she’d switch things up and set a new course.

Vicki introduced me to the word Apraxia, which was something I never heard of before. I began to visit www.apraxia-kids.org daily and found a support system, as well as research to review and conferences to attend. These conferences made me appreciate her even more, because Vicki was already doing everything suggested.

Vicki taught Drew to speak using ‘touch cues’. Slowly, ever so slowly, Drew began to talk. He began to form complete words. It was not an overnight success story by any means, but he did begin to talk. When he entered Kindergarten, he could say simple sentences. And by middle of first, he got in trouble for talking in music class! Now, there are times I wish he would be quiet while I try to get some writing finished or if I’m talking on the phone.

He still confuses pronouns, omits words, and has to think some sentences through before he can speak them. Sometimes he might have to start a sentence over a few times before he gets his thought across. Now that he is older, he gets impatient and frustrated with himself when the sentences won’t come. But he’ll stick with it, and we keep working. We continue to find strategies that help him, in thanks to the amazing teachers and therapists we’ve had the honor of working with.

Do you have a child with Apraxia? Want to compare notes or share a success story? Contact me! julia@juliagarstecki.com

To Summer School or Not to School: Why You Should Consider It

When I was approached about sending my son to summer school, my first reaction was definitely no! Did I want to have a schedule, force him to go to bed early, miss out on summer plans because of a routine?  No! But when it came down to it, Drew was put on the bus and sent to summer school.

According to Beverly Stewart, President and Director of Back to Basics Learning Dynamics, Inc., summer programs are crucial for children with special needs, as many children with special needs struggle to retain information. Here’s the advice that helped me last year:

1. Summer school can boost self worth. When students are successful, they feel better about themselves. Knowing they are prepared for the next grade can help students feel more positive about school come fall.

2. Summer sessions have less students, so tailored instruction is easier for teachers to do. Immediate needs can be addressed, so students can focus on target areas.

3.  Summer school is only a few hours in the morning, and only certain days of the week. Ms. Stewart advises offering something enticing for your child on school days. Brainstorm some of the fun activities your child is looking forward to this summer, and schedule them into the school day. Maybe those are the days you serve ice-cream for lunch. While parents might be hesitant about such “bribery”, Ms. Stewart reminds us we need to do what it takes to help our students succeed, and if these treats after school helps, then don’t hesitate to do it.

Ms. Stewart states that regardless of how you address academics over the summer, it’s important to be consistent. Commit to the routine that you create, and remember the payoff come fall will be worth it!

Gotta Problem Pooper? Musical chairs and sticker charts are no match for ABA therapy!

Potty training stinks. Both literally and figuratively.

Some moms race to be the first in their playgroup to get their kid toilet trained. Well meaning relatives may try to get the ball rolling.  But sometimes, there are other priorities, like hearing your three year old say ‘ hi mommy’ or, perhaps, walking.

When my son did show signs of being ready to hose down my bathroom with pee, we fell into the trap of buying one of those little plastic light up musical pots. My husband and I had more fun with it than he did. My guy never did take to that singing, dancing potty, and as my friends gave me tips and suggestions (because their kids were toilet trained within five minutes), I kept from rolling my eyes and tried their secrets.

For some kids, toilet training is a matter of pull down your pants, sit on the pot until the tinkle comes out, and put a sticker on the chart. A new friend of mine, Bonah Kono, reminded me that for some kids, toilet training is a series of numerous steps that need to be taught. While working with her son, she’s learned to be patient, as well as celebrate each step along the way. Cheers to moms like Bonah, who reminded me to relax and see the big picture!

Have a child who is a problem pooper?

Does he hate the feeling of having his feet off the ground?

Does she have low muscle tone in her abdomen?

Not all of our kids are going to toilet train in a week, no matter what some programs may claim! Read my article about toilet training children with special needs from the spring edition of Thrive Magazine, it just might save your sanity!




And, if you need a good laugh (or cry) about toilet training your child with a special need, click over to my recommended reads and order Kim Stagliano’s All I Can Handle: I’m No Mother Teresa. It’s a great read!

Customizing Your Child's Education

For many parents of ‘typical’ children, choosing the educational path of their child is a fairly simple task. We might move to neighborhoods with quality schools, attend teacher conferences, and do our best to keep up with the new strategies used to teach math or writing.

Families with children receiving special education services know there is a lot more to it than that, and the more we know about the options available to us, the better schooling our children receive.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act makes it clear that all children are entitled to the best education available. More specifically, the concept of Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) is in place to ensure that all students, to “the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities…are educated with children who are not disabled…” (Sec. 612 (a)[5]).

The available settings for your child’s education are numerous, from being integrated with students in a general education classroom all day, to highly segregated, in which schooling takes place in a special care facility specific to the needs of your child.

With so many options, it can be overwhelming, especially when the needs of your child may constantly be changing.

Cindy Miller, a parent of a child with special needs, teaches special education in the Arlington School District, and believes the Least Restrictive Environment is critical to ensure the correct placement for your child. “As a parent, I have always wanted what would best meet my child’s needs emotionally, physically, and intellectually in just about that order. I looked at LRE as a way to protect my son from environments that I felt were too overwhelming or too stimulating for him. In those instances, my request was that he receive adaptive PE and music therapy which would be more beneficial and better able to address his goals and objectives.”

As an educator, however, Ms. Miller is careful when determining the Least Restrictive Environment for a student. She talks with parents to determine what their goals are for their child, both currently, and for their future.

“I need to make sure the data that is collected is extensive.” She warns parents that students who are engaged in special education courses may not end up with the same credits as their non disabled peers, therefore resulting in a different diploma. “If the student is college bound this can cause issues with admission or disqualify them for admission to a college at all.”

Ms. Miller also reminds parents that although it is tempting to have an aid spend the day with our students with special needs, it isn’t always in the child’s best interest. The hope is that our students with special needs gain more independence, and if an aid is constantly with them, this may not necessarily happen.

As students grow older, their needs may change, and with this, the Least Restrictive Environment will change as well. While parents can view this as disruptive, Dr. Salend reminds teachers and parents that this is a good thing. To move from a highly segregated environment to one that more resembles those of their nondisabled peers means the student is evolving in one or more area. At the same time, some students that may not be having success in a mainstream classroom might do better in a more restrictive setting.

So what should you as a parent do for your child’s education? Ask questions. Research. There are no easy answers in education even in a general setting, but if your child is receiving or may need to receive special education services, decisions should not be taken lightly. As Ms. Miller stated and Mrs. Hughes learned, the long term outcome of decisions made, even in elementary school, will have life lasting effects.

Ms. Miller sums it up this way: “You, as the parent are the consumer, even of an educational career for your child. Your job as a parent is to get involved, find out what supports are in place for your child and investigate what the Least Restrictive Environment looks like for your child. Ask questions and follow the progress of your child’s IEP. If no progress is being made, find out why. If there doesn’t seem to be challenges, find out why. Is your child in the right program? What else is available? You don’t get any do-overs for your child and their school career. Make this one count by being the most informed about your child’s Least Restrictive Environment.”

To see the entire article, visit http://www.dfwthrivemagazine.com/showarticle.asp?artid=169. It explains the many options school offer for students with special needs, as well as questions parents should ask themselves when determining their child’s placement. For more information, email me at julia@juliagarstecki.com

Thrive magazine is a Dallas based publication that focuses on children with special needs. It is available on the web at www.dfwthrivemagazine.com

Siblings and the Child With Special Needs

Comparing our children is a no-no, but we all do it. In passing conversations, we might say “Oh he’s my quiet one.” Or “He took all of the athletic genes and left her with none!” Siblings whine about the injustices of life, and keep a keen eye on which child gets what and when. If one child has a disability, however, and one child doesn’t, a unique set of questions arise. How much information should you share with the “typically developing” child? How do you talk to your child with the special need about their disability? As limitations become more apparent, what do you do about house rules when they simply can’t be equal? Below, both experts and experienced parents share what has worked for them when navigating with such delicate issues.

All experts agreed that open communication is a must for all siblings. Toby Glick, a school psychologist in Pelham, New York, presents workshops titled “Sibling Relationships in Special Needs Families” and consults with parents regarding this issue in Westchester, New York and Bergen County, New Jersey. Because most children sense that they are developing differently from their siblings, she suggests parents discuss the disability to the typically developing child early on. Explain why the brother or sister with a disability may need extra help or attention in certain areas. As the children get older, the parent can start to discuss the diagnosis and what the diagnosis means. By talking openly about it, Glick says feelings of anger, guilt, shame, and fear can and should be recognized and accepted.

Laura Shumaker agrees. She has discussed her oldest son’s autism with his younger brothers from a very early age. She kept things simple in the beginning, explaining that their older brother’s brain “worked differently and that it made it hard for him to learn and make friends.” By discussing what their older brother may need help with and why, she clears up any questions or misconceptions the children may have. She then teaches her younger sons how to assist their older brother.

Play up the strengths. Mary Calhoun Brown, award winning author of There Are No Words, has a son with Asberger’s Syndrome and Sensory Integration Dysfunction. She and her husband were always very up front with her son about his disability. Though she was concerned when play dates and invitations were not reciprocated, “our oldest son was so confident in who he is and the life he had settled into that he was very supportive (of younger siblings being invited to parties)…he has wrapped his self-esteem up in being an excellent student, and even attended Harvard Summer School this past summer as a 15 year old.”

Many parents advised finding one thing that each sibling has a passion for, and is competent at, whether it is theater, building, or sports. The goal is not perfection, it’s finding a natural love and talent so each child has something that gives them fulfillment.

Celebrate the differences. Considering the world we live in, teaching empathy and diversity in a real world setting will give your child a head start in a multi cultural world. Mother of an autistic son, Mary Gardner encourages her family to expect, welcome and appreciate the differences in people. “My son knows he’s different. But he knows that everyone is different.” Kirk Martin, Behavior Therapist and author of Celebrate! ADHD! whole heartedly agrees. As a Behavioral Consultant to school districts such as Fairfax County, VA, he has encouraged the 100,000 plus teachers he’s worked with “to proactively celebrate each child’s gifts and passions…rather than focusing on the disability.” When people are taught to focus on “what each child can contribute with his particular gifts”, Mr. Martin states that it keeps the focus on the positives.

Give siblings tools just in case they have to deal with teasing. Whether the disability is visible or not, there may be times when teasing may occur. Though this is unfortunate, it is also the reality, as teasing is not isolated to children with disabilities. Laura Shumaker believes in helping children cope if and when this takes place. Not only does she keeps lines of communication open so her boys can discuss it, but she also helps them with active phrases (“takes one to know one”)to help her sons use at the time the teasing occurs. She also encourages her nondisabled sons to educate others about her son’s disability.

Make time for each child, and don’t let the disability run the house. Ms. Glick has noticed that there may be times the needs of the typically developing child might go unnoticed because of the demands of the child with the disability. This can cause resentment and anger, and it just shouldn’t happen. Ms. Shumaker is careful not to let any of her boys get lost in the shuffle of autism. Whether it is making sure to attend sporting events or have a one on one dinner, all children in the family need to feel special and unique simply by being themselves.

All siblings will compare rules of the house, but there is no denying that if one of your children has a disability, unique situations will arise. Keeping communication lines open, focusing on skill sets, and modeling mutual respect will help the entire family.

Holidays and Special Needs: Here's some Help!

‘Tis the season of holly jolly parties and extended family visits. Calm? Not a chance! Bright? Absolutely! The gathering of friends and families are more likely to look like reindeer games than resting gentlemen. And, for families that have children with a disability, however mild or severe, there is more planning that goes into a fun, peaceful holiday season. Unfamiliar cousins, culturally diverse foods, and adapting to time zones can be a challenge, but with some simple advice from parents who have been there, it is possible to deck the halls without wanting to jump off the housetop. The following tips will help you too.

EDUCATE Inform relatives about the nature of your child’s disability before the trip. Consider the most important information you want to share, including possible safety concerns and how the disability may affect the tone of the visit. As a caregiver, you know how a change in routine or certain behaviors can act as triggers. Offer age appropriate information to other children, and explain what they can expect to see. Answer any questions and offer any support websites if your friends and family are open to it. It can be a low key conversation, with or without the child with the disability present. Speaking of presents, is it necessary to clear certain gifts ahead of time? While some people find it takes away from the spirit of the holiday, so can inappropriate gifts. While some things are obvious to the caregivers, they may not be to the Aunt who has never met your child before.

SCHEDULE If there are medications that need to be given on schedule, make it clear to the host ahead of time so they can be prepared. If your child benefits from routine, stick to it as much as possible. If your child is overactive, is there a pool, ice rink, or sledding hill nearby? If an overtired child is prone to becoming angry and easily agitated, stick to bedtime routines and times as much as possible. Because three time zones might be represented at the family get together, consider keeping “quiet hours” that benefit those who are late nighters and early birds. Then provide quiet activities, such as coloring books, crafts, or designated favorite videos only to be watched during these hours.

PLAN FOR SUCCESS There are some activities that a child with a disability may not be able to participate in. Always have an equally enticing option available for every child. For example, if the disability is physical and some children are going sledding, have a plan in place for your child as well. Perhaps take a trip to an aquarium or a movie, and recruit some family members to come along. If lack of rules will keep Johnny feeling insecure, choose games with specific instructions that everybody will enjoy. Kids won’t know what they couldn’t or didn’t get to do unless you make it a point to tell them. Maybe a favorite cousin or grandpa can think of something special to do with your child, like a trip to a favorite restaurant or store. One on one time might be just what your child needs.

FOOD If your child has a severe peanut allergy, make it clear there will be no chestnut roasting. It needs to be clear to the host prior to accepting the invitation, and offer to bring “safe” foods to share. Extensive visits get trickier, especially if some cousins are allowed to eat sugar plums for breakfast and candy canes for a snack. It is necessary to have this conversation prior to driving twelve hours for a visit so that everybody can agree on the menu. Again, offering to bring Gluten Free snacks is a great opportunity to be a hospitable guest.

Here are a few last minute tips that may help keep the holiday merry and bright:

Bring toys and videos you know are slam dunks. If your child gets anxious, familiar objects can bring comfort.

Ease up on rules if possible-it is vacation!

Don’t be afraid to say no if things get stressful. With so many different families expecting to create the perfect Christmas, you might have to be Scrooge. As hard as that may be, stick with the big picture. I see my parents the week after Christmas, and though it seemed strange to be away from my family first year, each of my siblings can make this time work, and we all stay for several days. With no pressure to get to other places, we relax and have a ball.

Finally, accept the help other people may offer. One of the best gifts you can give and get is accepting help from others. While it is easy to believe moms know best, you might be pleasantly surprised by your friends and family. This means you may have to give up control, hold your breath a little, and just see what happens. You just never know when a Christmas miracle may present itself.

What do you want family members or strangers to know about raising a child with a disability?

A screaming child in a grocery store, an anxiety ridden child refusing to speak to other kids at the park, or watching your child scream when the lights go down at an overpriced children’s concert. For most of us, these moments (Thank God) are rare. For some families, however, these “moments” are daily struggles as a result of raising a child with special needs. In conjunction with physical and/or behavioral issues, some families of children with disabilities also know the challenge of well meaning (and not so well meaning) people offering advice. As most people truly want to help, here are some tips parents of children with disabilities would like to pass along:

Please do not Diagnose My Child

One mother shared an experience of being in a store when a woman came up to her and yelled, “Oh my God! Your child has Downs Syndrome!” Guess what? She already knew! Another father shuddered at the memory of a complete stranger telling him his son looked autistic. The best thing to do if you are curious is to ask. My son has Apraxia, and it can confuse people. When polite strangers ask, usually in a round about way (He’s so cute! Is he a shy guy?), I relish the opportunity to share information about his diagnosis. This usually leads to the stranger bending down to my son and complimenting his smile. My son will beam and start laughing, and we all walk away from a positive experience.

Unsolicited and Unhelpful Advice

Telling me you could straighten my child out is not helpful. Neither is telling me my child needs a good spanking, or that I am spoiling him. Equally off putting are questions such as What’s wrong with him? Why does he look that way? Have you contacted a lawyer? Isn’t autism just the correct term for poor parenting? After some such comments, one mother left the store and sat behind her steering wheel, crying for thirty minutes. It can be a devastating blow.

Michelle Turner, Movement Integration Specialist and Educator from Peoria, Arizona, agrees. “Just saying ‘What a great smile’ or ‘he has your eyes’ would be a brief comfort.”

Laura Shumaker, author of A Regular Guy: Growing Up with Autism shared a moment when her son was struggling in church and she managed to quiet him. “A woman behind me tapped me on the shoulder and said, ‘I admire you so much.’ I’ll never forget it.”

Reach out to Me, Even though I May Not Ask

“One of the hardest aspects I believe…is that of isolation. The feeling that you are the only one who is facing this because others just don’t understand. I am the father of three children, the oldest has autism. I am always concerned about giving attention to all the priorities-my wife, my job, my community, my children, my friends, and myself-in my life without becoming emotional and physically spent, which has happened to me on occasion.” Michael J. Carrasco and other parents also mentioned the exhausted efforts with therapies, insurance companies, and the extra cost of having a child with a disability. What can you offer? If you have a family member or close friend dealing with this issue, the answer is easy. Patience. Understand therapy sessions might be rearranged at the last moment, money might be tight, or the child might be having an off day. Keep calling though, because even the invitation makes us feel included!

Another way to reach out is offering meals and free child care for siblings. Parents of children with disabilities may spend hours or days in hospitals, run around crazy with therapy, and/or exist on minimal sleep. After spending another scary night in the hospital with her child, one mother came home to a basket of muffins and fruit on her porch. The love and support she felt from such a simple gesture was immeasurable.

Teach Empathy!

Award winning author Mary Calhoun Brown is a parent of a child with Asberger’s Syndrome. “The three hardest things about being the parent of a special needs child: 1. Accepting the diagnosis. 2. Accepting the disability as part of your child. 3. Dealing with the thoughtless, hurtful behavior of others.” Her son has dealt with bullying issues, as many children do. While all parents love to believe their child isn’t the bullying kind, think again. Many parents had heartbreaking examples of very nice children giving in to peer pressure and teasing “different” children. If your “typical” child wets the bed, or trips in front of a group of strangers, this is the perfect time to discuss empathy.

Leilani Haywood echoes a sentiment I have heard from many parents. “I wish, wish, wish, parents of typical kids taught their kids how to deal with children that are different or disabled. I think learning these skills would take them far in life with all types of people.” Her daughter (who has Down Syndrome) has not been invited to parties and/or play dates, which is a common issue children with disabilities face. Many parents of special needs children will happily explain why their child may not be able to play basketball, but they can play video games, or tell you that even though she isn’t talking to you directly, she is still enjoying your company. A play date as short as fifteen minutes can have a lasting positive effect. Often times, strong friendships form as a result of minimal effort.

So there you have it! Four simple things you can do to help a family in need. When you get right down to it, it’s about seeing everybody as an individual. While some children might have a disability in one area or another, it’s not their definition. My son has Apraxia, he is not my Apraxic son, and yes, there is a difference!

Birthday Parties And a Child With Special Needs

Birthday parties can be a bit tricky if your child has special needs. You may worry your child will have melt downs, not participate, or not have any friends show up. With careful planning and realistic expectations, however, a great time can be had by all. Here are a few tips if you are hosting a party!

Let your child guide the planning. If they do not like chaos on a daily basis, a party with tons of kids amped up on cake and ice-cream will probably not be a good choice. Better to invite one or two well known kids and keep it simple. A cake and some simple decorations can make the event special.

Consider inviting a small group to a sporting event or favorite place, but make sure your child is comfortable and happy with the selection. Ideally, it would be a place you’ve visited before.

If you are inviting an entire class, consider what activities would be appropriate for all invited. Contact parents ahead of time if they haven’t responded to the invitation so you know what to expect.

Be realistic about the time frame! It doesn’t have to last three hours!

For more ideas, head over to www.gvparent.com/articles/2011/11-02-special-parties.html for the complete article!

What's the proper terminology?


Titles and labels are always changing, and it’s hard to know the appropriate way to talk about a child or student who may have special needs.

My son has Apraxia, and it greatly affects his expressive language. Think of a time the word you wanted to say was on the tip of your tongue and you couldn’t grasp it (which is called Aphasia, by the way), so you couldn’t express your thought the way you wanted to. Or, think of a time you used the wrong word for something, and everybody around you rolled their eyes and corrected you. That is what my son deals with daily. He sees a speech therapist, as well as an occupational therapist to help him. So it’s fair to say he has needs that other kids don’t. I’m fine with saying my son has ‘special needs’, but don’t go calling him a ‘special needs kid’. Also, don’t say he’s an “Apraxic child”, because he isn’t. He’s a lot more than that. He’s a child that has Apraxia. See the difference? It’s called ‘person first language’ and it’s important to know the difference.

Some parents don’t like labels attached to their child. If your son or daughter plays soccer, is that how you refer to them?

Have Them Shake Their Groove Thing!

Looking for some time to spring clean without the kids underfoot? One reason I stopped thoroughly cleaning my house is because I noticed the more I cleaned, the more I had to clean. It left me feeling exhausted, frustrated, and I freaked out whenever the kids wanted to play with their toys! So, I stopped trying. Which wasn’t hard, because I have never been a neat freak.  I am at peace with “good enough” being, well, good enough.

Recently I started cleaning the kid’s closets, hoping to make a little extra cash from a local consignment store. My youngest kept trying to “help”, which as you know, means I was getting nothing done. I took my little peanuts to the library to pick out DVDs. My kids are not fans of sitting and watching television, so I picked out dance instruction videos and exercise videos. When we got home, I popped them in and we started getting our groove thing on! Once they were having a blast and laughing, I snuck away to dig through a closet. I could hear them laughing and bouncing around, while I sorted through clothes and mope over how big they’ve gotten. The bonus was that throughout the week I enjoyed doing the videos with my kids as well. We had some laughs, got some exercise, and I made enough money from the consignment store to splurge on dinner out with friends and have change left over.

So, hit the library, find some videos to hip-hop your way to a firmer core, and watch your kids have fun so you can accomplish something!


Julia Garstecki

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