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Autism and Birthdays: 5 Ways Elf on the Shelf Can Help

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014

This is a post in the weekly Autism Hopes series by Lisa Quinones-Fontanez, a mom who blogs  over at Atypical Familia.

We adopted “Elfie” two Christmas’ ago. Our Elf on the Shelf really helped Norrin understand the magic of Christmas. Norrin knows it’s September and he’s already started giving me his Christmas list. I love that Elf on the Shelf has been a part of his understanding of the holiday season.

When I heard about Elf on the Shelf: A Birthday Tradition – I knew it was something I wanted to do with Norrin.

Tomorrow is actually my birthday. When I was talking to Norrin about it he immediately started reciting his birthday wish list. I explained to him that on my birthday, I get presents – not him.

Norrin will be nine in January and birthdays have always been tricky for us. We haven’t had a birthday party since he turned three. It’s easier to celebrate in school. And January is always a hard month to plan for since the weather in New York can be unpredictable. But we still want his birthday to be special and build anticipation to the day. I know Elf on the Shelf: A Birthday Tradition will help!

Now I know some parents are hesitant about Elf on the Shelf and feel the Pinterest pressure. But Birthday Elf is super easy and fun.

The Elf on the Shelf®: A Birthday Tradition tells the little-known story of how Santa’s finest helpers celebrate birthdays at the North Pole—and how you can invite your scout elf to share that tradition with YOU! Each kit includes special instructions for inviting your scout elf for a birthday visit, and a festive birthday outfit for your scout elf to slip into before the big day! Also available—the Birthday Countdown & Game and the Birthday Chair Decoration Kit.

5 ways Elf on the Shelf: A Birthday Tradition Can Help Your Child With Autism Feel the Birthday Magic

Build Anticipation. Unlike the holiday season, your Elf appears only on the day of your child’s birthday. You can use the Birthday Countdown & Game (or any other calendar) to count down the days until your child’s birthday and their Elf arrives. It gives kids something extra to look forward to.

Understand Birthdays. Many kids – including my own – have difficulty understanding that everyone has their own birthday. If you have more than one child in the home, the Elf – along with the Birthday Countdown & Game – can be your family’s way of distinguishing birthdays.

Sparks Imagination. Imaginative play doesn’t come naturally to Norrin. But he is getting so much better! Still birthdays can be such an abstract concept for him to understand.  We’ll read the book, talk about Elfee and birthdays. It all helps to connect the dots.

Communication & Storytelling. While counting down, talk about the days of week, talk about the months and other family member birthdays. Talk about your pregnancy and how excited you were the days leading up to your child’s birth. Talk to them about the day they were born – even if you think they won’t understand. Let them hear the story.

Feel Special on Their Day. I love the idea of the Birthday Chair Decorating Kit along with the Elf because it really makes a kid feel special. We don’t have big birthday parties for Norrin and I’m not the mom to go crazy with decorations. The Birthday Chair Decorating Kit is easy and fun. It’ll be nice that we can do something a little extra to celebrate.    

Catch up with last week’s post: Prompting Conversation and Communication With An Autistic Child

And from my other blog:

 

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Prompting Conversation And Communication With An Autistic Child

Thursday, August 28th, 2014

This is a post in the weekly Autism Hopes series by Lisa Quinones-Fontanez, a mom who blogs  over at Atypical Familia.

My son, Norrin, has been working with a speech therapist for the last six years – ever since his autism diagnosis. At the time he was diagnosed, he had no language or communication skills. Recently, Norrin saw a picture of me that prompted him to ask me 5 appropriate questions in a row. I was beyond excited! Since then, I’ve been finding ways to build on his conversation skills.

Linda M. Reinert, speech language pathologist and author of Talking Is Hard for Me! Encouraging Communication in Children with Speech-Language Difficulties, encourages parents, teachers and caregivers to “expect communication.”

Tempting as it might be, stop trying to read the child’s mind. Consider what the next level of communication might be and expect that…expect the child to respond in a way that just a bit more difficult than [his or] her current means of communication.

I always try to keep that in mind when I talk to Norrin. He’s been much more expressive and so now I expect a little more each time we talk.

Here are my 6 simple rules for prompting conversation with my son:

Set the mood. Make sure your child is relaxed and ready to talk. Turn off all distractions so they can focus on you. And give yourself at least 10 – 15 minutes to commit to giving them your full attention. Go for a walk in the neighborhood and talk about what you see. Sit at the table while they are having an afternoon snack. I like talking to Norrin right before bed. He’s had his bath, he’s winding down and open to talking.

Keep it simple and specific. Don’t go into a whole monologue and/or fire off a bunch of questions. Use simple language and ask them one specific question at a time.

Follow up. Conversations are all about the follow up question. Build your conversation based on the answers your child provides.

Be patient and wait for response. Some kids need a few minutes to digest the question and think about the answer. So wait a minute or two.

Repeat and/or rephrase the question. If you’ve asked a question and too much time has passed. Ask again. If you have to ask a third time, rephrase the question. If they need help, provide two choices or use pictures and have them point.

Look for inspiration. There is inspiration everywhere. Show them a picture of something fun you did together and ask your child about it. Sometimes I’ll point out something as we’re walking around the neighborhood and ask him to tell me about the specific object.

It really doesn’t matter what you talk to your child about. The important thing is to take the time to talk to your child and get them into a back and forth dialogue. And with each conversation, always expect a little bit more.

And from my other blog:

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From Special Education Teacher to Autism Mom Blogger

Wednesday, August 20th, 2014

This is a post in the weekly Autism Hopes series by Lisa Quinones-Fontanez, a mom who blogs  over at Atypical Familia.

When Norrin was first diagnosed with autism, I didn’t know anything about the diagnosis or navigating the special needs system. I was able to talk to friend of a friend who was a speech therapist. She provided the emotional support I needed and helped me better understand the process. A few years later, her son was diagnosed with autism. She called me up crying and I gave her the support she needed.

Being a special education professional doesn’t always make the diagnosis easier to accept or understand.

No one knows that better than Mama Fry who writes the blog Autism with a Side of Fries.Written with honesty and humor, Mama Fry doesn’t pretend she knows all the answers – even though she once worked in special education. She even wrote a post about her experience sitting on the other side of the IEP table.

Earlier this month, I got to ask Mama Fry a few questions:

What did you know/think about autism when you were a special education teacher?

Not nearly enough. I haven’t been in a classroom for about 9 years now and much has changed. Back then it was more about getting kids to be all the same or “normal” rather than celebrating and tapping into their skill sets.

How did you advise autism/special needs parents?

My area was vocational training. I was thinking past school. Getting them ready for what real life job situations might happen. Most of my conversations with parents then was problem solving behaviors or trying to figure out accommodations that would suit their kid best.

What was it like when your son was diagnosed?

Surreal. It absolutely never occurred to me that he might have autism. I thought it was a speech delay and that’s it.  I was truly gobsmacked. I had recently stopped working outside the home because working with autism was burning me out. Surprise! It came to live with me instead.

How have you changed since? 

I understand how each kid is just so different. My son is not just a name on a page to me. He’s my heart.  I can’t punch out at the end of a shift. Behaviors are communication not just non compliance.

What advice would you give to special ed teachers who don’t have special needs kids?

Ask about what’s going on at home. Sleep is a huge factor. Eating too. Realize the student you have, their behaviors could be based on those two things a lot.  Ask what concerns the parents the most. Share what’s working in class.

Catch up with my last post: A Little Girl Gets a Second Chance at Childhood

Children with Autism: The Parents Perspective
Children with Autism: The Parents Perspective
Children with Autism: The Parents Perspective

And from my other blog:

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A Little Girl Gets A Second Chance At Childhood

Wednesday, July 16th, 2014

This is a post in the weekly Autism Hopes series by Lisa Quinones-Fontanez, a mom who blogs  over at Atypical Familia.

Kinsey Saleh was like any other feisty 5-year old girl who liked playing with her friends after school and eating ice cream. However, Kinsey’s mother, Nadine Morsi, said she knew “something was wrong” when Kinsey started experiencing shortness of breath, fatigue, decreased energy and unexplained bruising. When Kinsey complained of joint pain in her knees, Morsi insisted on a blood test. Both the doctor and Morsi were shocked when the test revealed Kinsey had developed a rare case of end-stage kidney failure. Kinsey’s condition was so critical, doctors feared the 5 year-old would suffer from a stroke or go into cardiac arrest.

Instead of playdates and ice cream, Kinsey’s childhood afternoons consisted of doctor’s appointments and dialysis. Kinsey needed a kidney transplant and was put on a waiting list. Kinsey’s mother, while a perfect match, was unable to donate due to congenital clotting disorder that made surgery risky. “I felt helpless,” Morsi said.

“I became a special needs mom overnight,” Morsi said. As a pediatric occupational therapist for the New York City Department of Education, Morsi was aware of the assistance her child could receive. Kinsey was able to attend school with the assistance of a full-time health paraprofessional.

Morsi admitted to wanting to keep Kinsey’s diagnosis a secret. But a close friend insisted Morsi share their desperate search for a kidney donor. Kinsey’s story was shared throughout Facebook and she quickly captured the attention of local media.

Morsi has used her experience to raise awareness and help others. Every day 13 people die waiting for a kidney. “We can all live on one kidney…please share your spare if you can,” Morsi urges.

Last month, nearly six months after her diagnosis, Kinsey received a kidney transplant. She is doing well and is gearing up for the 1st grade in September (without any special assistance). Kinsey can spend the remainder of the summer with outings to the park and the sweet promise of ice cream. Morsi is extremely grateful that her daughter has been given a second chance at a normal childhood. She recently shared: Every single day is truly a gift. Not a day goes by that Kinsey’s donor is not in our hearts for allowing her to be a kid again.

Keep up with Kinsey and her mom via Facebook - Kidney for Kinsey.

 

Catch up with my last post: How Not To Handle a Public Meltdown

And from my other blog:

Baby Care Basics: Choosing the Right Doctor
Baby Care Basics: Choosing the Right Doctor
Baby Care Basics: Choosing the Right Doctor

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A New Bike Built For Kids With Special Needs

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014

This is a post in the weekly Autism Hopes series by Lisa Quinones-Fontanez, a mom who blogs  over at Atypical Familia.

Jyrobike is the World’s First Auto Balance Bicycle that features a patented Control Hub in the front wheel that uses gyroscopic technology to keep riders upright, even when they tip or wobble.

Riding a bike has not come easily for my son, Norrin. After he was diagnosed with autism, we learned that he didn’t have the strength or the coordination to pedal. For years we’ve worked with therapists trying to build up Norrin’s muscle strength and teaching him how to balance. We’ve bought tricycles, big wheels and even scooters – hoping Norrin would be able to master one. Eventually Norrin learned to pedal but he still lacked the focus, tired easily and had difficulty maintaining balance.

Last spring, we bought Norrin his first real bike. And while he showed an interest in riding it, he still needed a lot of work. Even with the training wheels he still had trouble with balance and had difficulty turning. Now that bike is too small and we’re wondering whether or not we should buy another. Norrin will still need training wheels and it may be years before he learns to balance independently.

That’s when I heard about the kickstarter campaign for Jyrobike I knew I had to share it! It’s the ideal solution for kids like mine. “Jyrobike is built on the core principle that bikes become inherently stable at higher speeds because the faster the wheels spin, the more balanced it becomes.” While originally designed for 3 – 8 year olds, “one of [the company's] stretch goal rewards will be very popular with parents of older children.” There are also plans to launch an adult product.

Jyrobike will change the lives of so many families with special needs, especially kids with autism. It allows children to learn to ride a bicycle with confidence and a sense of security. It will provide the physical activity they need to maintain their health and it’s a social activity that can be shared with family and friends. Bike riding is a skill that can lead to a more independent life.

To learn more about Jyrobike visit http://www.jyrobike.com.

Catch up with last week’s post: How Not To Handle a Public Meltdown

And from my other blog:

 

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