Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Five Extracurricular Activities That Can Benefit Kids With Special Needs

With back to school season on the horizon, many parents are busily scheduling their children’s extracurricular activities. Extracurriculars like sports, performing and fine arts classes, computer clubs and youth groups can do wonders for children’s self-esteem, social lives and skills development. Children with special needs can benefit from activities geared toward their strengths, talents and interests. Increasingly, recreational, arts-based and socialization programs adapted for children with disabilities, are cropping up across the country. Here is a sampling of some of the newest and most innovative extracurricular activities we’ve come across. While the programs mentioned here are not necessarily in your neck of the woods, most likely, you will find similar programs in your own community.  

1. Adapted Dance
More and more cities are now offering adaptive dance classes for people with disabilities. Ballet for All Kids, with studios in New York City and Los Angeles offers classical ballet instruction for children with mobility challenges, autism spectrum disorders, blindness, deafness and ADHD using the Schlachte Method, developed by Bonnie Schlachte the program’s founder.

The Music in Motion program, part of the Maryland Youth Ballet in Silver Spring, Maryland offers two classes for children with disabilities, one for children who are able to walk and another for children who use wheelchairs and walkers.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Eight Tips To Ease the Transition Back to School

It’s that time of year again. Time to think about heading back to school. While some children greet the beginning of a new school year with excitement, others, especially those who face academic, behavioral and social challenges, are typically more anxious about returning to school. While you can’t promise your child or yourself that everything will go perfectly this year, there are strategies you can use to make the transition go more smoothly. We’ve compiled a list of tips to get the new school year off to a positive start.

1. Create a social story
Help your child be better prepared for school and the situations that are likely to arise there by creating a social story.  According to the Head Start Center for Inclusion, “Social Stories are short stories, often with pictures, describing a situation from the child’s point of view… Social Stories are designed to help children to gain a better understanding and have consistent reminders of the expectations in challenging social situations.”

Typically, social stories focus on an activity such as walking down the hall in school, having appropriate manners while eating lunch with peers, sharing or being a good sport. For more information, visit Carol Gray Social Stories. You can find sample social stories on Child-Parent-Autism-Café.com.

2. Take your child for a school visit
If at all possible, arrange to visit your child’s school and teacher at least once before the beginning of the school year. Having a chance to talk with his teacher, see his classroom, and walk the halls will go a long way toward making him feel less anxious about the first day. This is particularly true if your child will be attending a new school in the fall.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Mouthing Off


As the summer winds down, many parents are turning their attention to back-to-school preparations. According to the American Dental Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, those preparations should include a trip to the dentist.

Regular dental visits are important year-round, but a back-to-school checkup is key in fighting the most common chronic disease found in school-age children: cavities. In fact, dental disease causes children to miss more than 51 million school hours each year,” say the ADA and the AAP.
If your child has special needs, she may have special dental needs as well. Based on statistics gathered by the National Museum of Dentistry in partnership with the Kennedy Krieger Institute Center for Autism and Related Disorders and the University of Maryland School of Dentistry, 

  • Children with special needs have higher rates of poor oral hygiene, gingivitis, periodontal disease than the general public
  • Medications, special diets and oral motor habits can cause oral health problems for many children with special needs
  • Dental care is the leading unmet health need among children with special needs
  • Across all income levels, children with special needs are almost twice as likely to have an unmet oral health care need than peers without special needs


Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Nine Tips to Create a Playgroup

Being the parent of a special needs child can be isolating.  So many activities are off limits due to accessibility concerns, behavioral problems and communication challenges. It’s hard enough coping with your own loneliness, but knowing your child struggles to make friends is heartbreaking for most parents.  One way to break down barriers and find social opportunities for you and your child is by hosting an inclusive playgroup where children with special needs and typically developing children play together. Children with special needs may benefit from observing typically developing peers, and those without developmental challenges will learn from and come to appreciate their peers with special needs. 

We’ve put together some guidelines for making playgroups successful.

1.                  Organize playgroups around developmental age
If your child has a disability, she may not be functioning at the same level as typically developing children of her own age. Your child may have more success playing with children who match her developmental, not her chronological age.

2.                 Keep it small
Children with special needs can be easily over-stimulated and overwhelmed so it’s wise to limit the number of children in the playgroup to no more than four or five.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Nothing Comes Between Stephanie Alves and her Adaptive Jeans

For 25 years, fashion designer, Stephanie Alves worked for large companies like Ann Taylor Loft and small companies like The Harari Collection.  She even owned a boutique in the East Village of New York City where she sold her own designs. Yet it was only after a family member endured two failed back surgeries and ended up using a wheelchair that she discovered her true calling.

“I went to visit my step-sister after the surgery and she told me that she didn’t even feel like getting dressed. It was just too hard,” recalls Alves. “So I said, ‘What if I just opened up the pants so they were easy to get on?’ After that, I started adapting clothing for other people with disabilities and I realized, ‘This is what I should be doing.’”  She started a business called the Able Tailor in 2010.

Over the next several years, Alves tailored clothes for customers with a range of disabilities, altering their clothing according to their individual needs. Finally, she felt she knew enough to design a line of adaptive clothing.

“I already had a small clothing line, so I knew about manufacturing and having my own design business.”

But Alves didn’t want to take on too much too fast.  ‘I’m going to focus on one clothing category,’” she said.  In order to determine what type of clothing she should offer, Alves asked her customers, ’what is the clothing you most miss wearing?’ Everyone said they most missed wearing [comfortable] jeans.”  Alves founded ABL Denim with the help of a kickstarter campaign in 2013.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

DIR Floortime: What’s it all about? Q & A with Sima Gerber, Ph.D.

Experts agree—when diagnosed with a developmental disability such as autism, early intervention is crucial. Yet, the same experts don’t always agree on which interventions are most effective.  With some professionals favoring behavioral approaches such as Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), Pivotal Response Training (PRT) and Verbal Behavioral Analysis (VBA), others believing in developmental models such as P.L.A.Y. PROJECT, SCERTS and DIR (Developmental, Individualized, Relationship-based model) Floortime, and still others recommending a combination of interventions, parents have their work cut out for them. It can be overwhelming to decide what therapies will best meet your child’s needs.

In this week’s blog post, we learn about the DIR Floortime approach and speak with Sima Gerber, Ph.D., CCC-SLP, a trained DIR Floortime practitioner, speech/language therapist and professor of of Speech-Language Pathology in the Department of Linguistics and Communication Disorders of Queens College, City University of New York. Gerber specializes in working with children on the autism spectrum and has been using the DIR Floortime model in her therapeutic work with children for the past 25 years. She has worked as a speech-language pathologist for 40 years.

E.D.: What is the history of DIR Floortime?
S.G.: The DIR Floortime model was conceived by the late Stanley Greenspan, a child psychiatrist and Dr. Serena Wieder, a child psychologist.  In the 1970s Dr. Greenspan was working on the Clinical Infant Development Program, an NIMH clinical research study research study and he asked Serena to join him in 1978. In those days, autism was [at least thought to be] relatively rare.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Rainy-Day Summer Fun

When rain keeps you trapped indoors, keeping the kids occupied can be a challenge. No worries, though. Sensory play will engage kids for hours!

1. Why sensory play?
According to child development experts at PBS Parents, sensory play “helps children develop cognitively, linguistically, socially, emotionally, physically and creatively.”

While all children learn about the world through their senses, sensory play can be especially valuable for children with special needs who may have greater difficulty tolerating and integrating sensory stimuli.  For example, children on the autism spectrum are often uncomfortable with loud noise, bright lights, unfamiliar tastes or smells that they find offensive. Others have strong preferences when it comes to the clothes they wear, because certain textures bother them. Some children on the spectrum are overly- sensitive and react negatively to being touched while other children go out of their way to bump into walls and furniture in order to feel deeper sensations.

Sensory play is also important for children who don’t have full use of all of their senses. According to Wonderbaby.org, a project of Perkins School for the Blind, “It's important for children who are blind to participate in sensory play because it will help build their other senses and allow for sensations that may be directed by one sense (like sight) to be directed by another (like touch).”