Archive for the ‘ ADHD ’ Category

13 Holiday Tips for Special Needs Parents

Thursday, November 20th, 2014

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

Another holiday season is upon us. And holidays mean family gatherings, parties, and shopping – it is sensory overload. Having a kid with autism this time of year can be challenging. But over the years it’s gotten easier for us, and I’ve learned some things along the way.

Today I’m excited to share 13 Holiday Tips for Special Needs Parents from Cara Koscinski, occupational therapist and author of  The Pocket Occupational Therapist Book Series.


  • Allow children who are overwhelmed by sights and sounds of shopping to stay home. Allow kids to have a pajama and movie night while you’re shopping.
  • If a child must attend the shopping trip, schedule downtime or breaks for children to de-sensitize. This can be located in the car with some crunchy snacks, a weighted blanket, and some calming music.
  • Encourage children to make a list of preferred toys well in advance.  Give family lists of toys to choose from.  I even purchase the toys my children will enjoy and provide them to my local family members ahead of time.  We sometimes have a “trunk sale” and everyone chooses which give they will buy and wrap for my boys.

Family Photographs

  • Go at a time of day when children are well-rested and not hungry.  Do not rush and arrive early.
  • Write a letter or speak to the photographer ahead of time.  Most studios will schedule extra time for children who have special needs.  Request a photographer who is patient.  If possible, schedule a photographer to visit your family outside of the studio.  We have found that this may be a more affordable option than a studio because of low-overhead costs.
  • Be flexible.  Consider that “fancy” clothes are often scratchy, have tags, and may contain textures that aren’t familiar to children.  Permit the child to wear comfortable versions of colors that you’d like the family portrait to have.

Visits with Santa

  • If children do agree to see Santa, create a social story with pictures of Santa, including his beard, velvet/soft red suit, and the setting in which Santa will be located.  Go to the location prior to the visit and watch other children.  Practice, practice, practice!

Family Gatherings

  • Create a “safe-zone” to which the child can go whenever they feel overwhelmed.  Set a password or sign that your child can use to excuse himself.  Place a bean bag, calming music, a heavy blanket, and favorite hand fidget toy in the area.  Practice ahead of time.
  • Create a letter to family members prior to family gatherings to explain your child’s wonderful progress toward goals and suggestions for conversation topics. For example: “Joshua’s had a wonderful year in therapy.  He’s learned how to tie his shoes, take one turn during conversations, and how to write in cursive.  Joshua likes Angry Birds.  Here’s a link to the Angry Birds’ website if you’d like more information.  Please know that even though he’s not looking directly into your eyes, he IS listening to you and loves you!”
  • At mealtime, make sure to serve a preferred food so that children who have feeding difficulties can successfully participate.

Holiday Parties

  • Give kids a job to do so that they will have a sense of belonging and success.  Even something such as helping to create place markers for seating or setting the table can give kids a feeling of accomplishment.
  • Remember that heavy work is generally calming.  Include activities such as moving chairs, picking up and placing dirty clothes into a basket and carrying it to the laundry room, or vacuuming are great ways to encourage children to help to prepare for the party.
  • Plan an “out” or an escape plan.  Even a short visit that is successful can create memories that last a lifetime!

The Holidays are meant to be fun. Enjoy them with your family!

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:

Understanding Autism: Developing Social Skills
Understanding Autism: Developing Social Skills
Understanding Autism: Developing Social Skills

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7 Surprising Signs Of ADHD In Toddlers

Thursday, June 19th, 2014

This guest post is by licensed clinical therapist Donna Mac, author of the new book Toddlers & ADHD. An early childhood teacher, school therapist and mother to twin toddlers diagnosed with ADHD, Mac has a broad range of experience. Here she shares the surprising signs of ADHD in toddlers.

ADHD is a disorder of self-regulation deficits, which trigger inconsistent attention, irritability and impulsive, and hyperactive or aggressive behavior. In the 1-to 5-year-old age range, the symptoms can be confusing because, as you may think, what toddler isn’t any of these things on occasion?! Due to this confusion, some children have been misdiagnosed with ADHD when they are actually just expressing “normal” variations of temperament (albeit not always acceptable variations of temperament, as when your three-year-old takes off her seatbelt in the minivan to dance while you’re driving on the highway).

ADHD is a genetic condition; if both parents have the disorder, the child has up to a 90% chance of inheriting it. Currently about 5% of the population has ADHD. It actually wasn’t even until recently (2011) that ADHD became an accepted diagnosis for toddlers. The latest research shows the onset is usually prior to age four, especially in severe cases, and it can actually occur as early as infancy. If your child shows any of these symptoms on a regular basis for at least six months, and they’re interfering with his functionality, it’s recommended to see a child psychiatrist, psychologist, or clinical therapist.

1. Other toddlers don’t like your kid

All toddlers are working on basic social skills, but it’s even more difficult for toddlers with ADHD to conform to social norms. For example, toddlers with ADHD interrupt people and talk loudly. They tend to get bossy and take over activities: “I like my idea better!” Waiting for a turn is a painful experience for them, and may result in pushing and shoving.

2. He struggles to get to place he’s actually excited to go to

You might think it’s hard to get a child with ADHD to go someplace they do not want to go (which is true). However, with ADHD it can also be the opposite: If the toddler is excited to go to the grocery store, he may actually overreact so much that he can’t calm down to make the transition from the house to the car. The child may begin running back and forth, jumping on the couch and running some more. It’s as if you just told your child he was going to Disney World for the first time.

3. She doesn’t watch TV 

Toddlers with ADHD actually have less stimulation in their brains, and therefore need more to get their brains to a baseline level of arousal. Watching TV does not give most toddlers with ADHD the right amount of stimulation, as would an action-packed video game an activity that involves her whole body. When people say to me, “Too much TV causes ADHD” I say, “I wish my kids would watch TV so I could get some stuff done around the house!”

4. He has the ability to pay intense attention to things he enjoys   

Some people with ADHD hyper-focus. This means that if a child really enjoys an activity, it will stimulate his brain so much that he will become engrossed in it. At this time, he will probably lose the ability to pay attention to things around him, like a parent calling his name, the dog scratching at the door to go out or the doorbell ringing. (Some of us have spouses like this.)

5. She tantrums excessively

These tantrums are a combination of cognitive, behavioral and emotional impulsivity—all three kinds happening at once, so look out! Many will be triggered by seemingly minor events that same-aged peers may not even react to, such as waiting in a short line for a bouncy house or the ice-cream truck, or not getting enough of the right color crayons at the restaurant. In addition, their tantrums are more frequent and intense than their neurotypical peers. ADHD tantrums can last 15 to 30 minutes at time, on a daily basis, and sometimes several times per day. During these tantrums, kids may lose control of their bodies and all rational thought.

6. He puts small parts in her mouth, and frequently chokes while eating 

Since toddlers with ADHD need stimulation, they may get it from putting things in his mouth. Even if a child is 3, an age when kids can start playing with things that have smaller parts, if he has ADHD he may frequently put small items in his mouth, which can be dangerous. He also may choke on food more frequently because of the cognitive impulsivity associated with ADHD, which leads him to rush through eating and other activities.

7. He can’t seem to get off the swings

Most people only associate running, jumping and climbing with ADHD because of the physical movement involved. Some people are unaware that swinging can be emotionally regulating for a child with ADHD, even though a toddler will not have that level of self-awareness to be able to say it himself. Twenty minutes of swinging can provide calming benefits up to four to eight hours after the child is done, because it’s a long-lasting form of vestibular input (the sensory system of movement and balance).

Obviously, if a toddler just likes to swing or just gets excited to go places, she may not have ADHD. Some toddlers with ADHD might watch TV or may not tantrum excessively. Each case is unique. Although many think that children with ADHD struggle all of the time, these children also have strengths and positive traits. If you think something’s not right, talk with a professional.

Life with ADHD and Sensory Processing Disorder
Life with ADHD and Sensory Processing Disorder
Life with ADHD and Sensory Processing Disorder

From my other blog: 

Kids with intellectual disability can learn to read, finds a new study

The best gifts to give a baby in the NICU

The Supreme Court ditches the term “mental retardation”

Life with ADHD and Sensory Processing Disorder
Life with ADHD and Sensory Processing Disorder
Life with ADHD and Sensory Processing Disorder

Image of toddler walking with arms raised via Shutterstock

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The Importance of Playdates and Kids with Autism

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014

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

My son, Norrin, playing with his friend, Dylan.

“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.” -  Fred Rogers

When my son, Norrin, was first diagnosed with autism he had no appropriate play skills. He didn’t even have much interest in playing with other children. Norrin was content playing by himself. I never pushed playdates because our schedules consisted of work, school and therapy. Most of the other special needs parents I know juggle the same kind of schedule. So working on socialization and playdates with peers wasn’t a priority for us especially since we knew it was being done at school.

A few weeks ago, I hosted a party and invited a few moms with their children. It was our first party in years. And it was the first time I had other kids with autism in our home. Unsure of how to host while entertaining children, I asked our ABA therapist if she could help out for a few hours.

I’ve seen Norrin at the playground. Sometimes he’ll run around with another kid but it’s never for more than ten minutes. I’ve seen him in school sitting beside a classmate but not really engaging. Watching Norrin interact with kids  in his own environment was eye opening for me. Norrin was talking and sharing and wanting to play with the other kids. He even read his guests a story.

At eight years old, Norrin is finally ready for playdates. And since our little party, he’s been asking for all his friends to come over and play.

I’m no longer tied to mainstream dreams. I just want Norrin to be happy and be as independent as he can. I also want him to have at least one friend. A friendship will never form unless I start cultivating the value and meaning of a friend now.

A few weeks ago I shared that I was ready to start cutting back on our therapy. I’ve spent the last five years focusing on all the skills I thought were more important, always putting socialization on the back burner. It’s time to take play seriously.

Do your children have regular playdates?


Have you heard about my #EverydayAutism Photo-a-day Challenge - go check it out on Instagram!


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How Autism Moms Parent Differently

Thursday, February 27th, 2014

Moms who have kids with autism are less likely to set rules than other parents, says a study published in the March issue of the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. These moms more frequently rely on positive reinforcement, encouraging good behavior rather than focusing on the bad.

Researchers asked 1000 mothers of kids ages 6 to 18 in Belgium and the Netherlands to complete a questionnaire about parenting tactics; 552 of them had a child with autism. Moms of kids with autism were more likely to adjust their approach to suit their children’s needs. They were also less controlling than other parents—yet more involved in problem-solving for their kids.

The results may come as no surprise to autism moms or to mothers of kids with other special needs. My son, Max, has cerebral palsy, and I’ve had to experiment to find the right discipline tactics. For years, Max didn’t yet cognitively understand a lot, and so threatening a punishment had no effect. Often the best approaches I found was to praise him for behaving well. When he said “No” instead of screeching in frustration, for example, I’d say “That’s great that you are using your words!” (Positive parenting also works well on feisty “typical” 9-year-olds who may or may not be my daughter.) What’s also worked for us in terms of setting rules is having a reward system in place. Max knows that if he finishes his homework, he is allowed to watch one YouTube video of fire trucks, one of his fascinations. Fellow blogger Lisa Quinones-Fontanez of Autism Wonderland finds it helpful to have a list of house rules (including “Walk nicely—no running” and “Listen to Mommy and Daddy”) that she can point to and go over with her son.

Recently, when Max refused to stop stomping his legs against the floor as he watched TV—a habit he developed months ago that showed no signs of abating—I decided to let him deal with the consequences. One framed photo had already fallen off the wall and broken, as a result. Then it happened again. This time, Max wailed for a long time.  ”I’m sorry!” he said, again and again. And you know what? He’s stopped stomping.

Parenting and disciplining kids with special needs has its special challenges. And yet, in many ways, it’s like parenting any kid: You have to adapt your approach to suit your child.

From my other blog:

The question I shouldn’t have asked about my child with special needs

7 ways to encourage play for kids with special needs

On giving in to your kid’s quirks

Photo of boy sitting in field via Shutterstock

Take our super-quick quiz and find out what your parenting style is.

Early Signs of Autism
Early Signs of Autism
Early Signs of Autism

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