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.
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!
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.
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!
This Saturday, Pope Francis will make history: He will meet with autistic children and their families to raise awareness about the condition and help end the stigma. The visit will cap a week-long international conference on autism hosted by the Vatican’s health care office, reports ABC News, which is bringing together more than 650 people from 57 countries.
Even with the significant attention paid to autism in the United States, where an approximate 1 in every 68 kids is on the spectrum, there continues to be stigma. It is far worse in other countries—including in Italy, noted Dr. Stefano Vicari, head of pediatric neuropsychiatry at the Vatican-owned Bambino Gesu hospital in Rome. In some countries, children with autism and other special needs are hidden away by their families out of shame. In Bangladesh, for instance, there is a common false belief that autism and other mental disorders are caused by ill spirits.
During the visit, the Pope will deliver a speech to hundreds in the Vatican audience hall, complete with music and movement for the children. The attention this visit receives should hopefully send a worldwide message—to people of every religion—that kids and adults with autism deserve acceptance and respect.
If I were at this conference, I’d have one request for Pope Francis: To publicly encourage places of worship to welcome children with autism and other special needs. As I know from my own experience, and from that of other parents I’ve met through social media, places of worship of all denominations are not always accommodating to kids with special needs. One survey found that a third of caregivers of kids with special needs say their church does not have a Sunday school program for their children. Per another statistic, an estimated 9.6 million caregivers of kids with special needs have no services to send them to. Some places of worship aren’t even open to including kids with special needs. As I’ve said before, you’d think that churches, temples, and mosques would feel compelled to answer to a higher authority when it comes to spiritual accessibility.
Just a few words from Pope Francis could make a difference in how places of worship welcome kids with special needs. And that would surely answer a lot of special needs parents’ prayers.
Wings for Autism, an airport “rehearsal” that helps kids with autism feel calmer about flying, held a program at Piedmont Triad International Airport in Greensboro, North Carolina this weekend. Run by The Arc of the United States, and using a Delta plane, it allowed kids with autism to experience what it’s like to go through the hustle and bustle of an airport and security, and to sit on a plane with their families. Here’s a video of the program in action at another airport:
If you have a child with autism (or sensory issues, as I do), you know how stressful plane travel can be. Max went through a phase in which he repeatedly kicked the back of the seat in front of him; it helped calm him down, though it did anything but for the nearby passengers. We had to cushion his knees with our winter jackets and, once, switch seats so that I was the one in front of him. Thankfully, he grew out of it.
What’s doubly awesome about Wings for Autism is that it gives airport, airline and security staffers the chance to observe and interact with kids with autism, and better understand them. Unfortunately, you’re on your own for dealing with the glares you occasionally get from fellow passengers. Once, we sat near a woman who remarked to her kids about the “annoying noises” Max was making (basically, his form of speech). I leaned over and said, “That’s his way of talking.” And she still gave me a look. Nice!
There are five more Wings for Autism program dates coming up, in Boston, Washington and Anchorage (here’s the schedule, with a link to registration information).
If you have a child with special needs, you know what an uphill battle it can be getting people see the ability in disability. Now imagine that your child is an adult—and the challenges both of you will face convincing people to hire him. I don’t dwell on this too much, since Max is still a kid, but it’s there in the back of my mind. The stats aren’t very reassuring: About 85 percent of adults with developmental disabilities did not have a paid job in the community between 2012 to 2013, per the most recent figures from National Core Indicators.
Aiming to change all that: the I’m In To Hire campaign that seeks to raise awareness about the lack of employment for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities—and get companies to take a pledge to support them. The campaign is spearheaded by Best Buddies International Founder Anthony K. Shriver and billionaire business magnate Carlos Slim. “People with IDD are incredibly talented, loyal, hard-working and driven individuals who have the ability to contribute to the workplace but unfortunately they are disproportionately unemployed in our nation and beyond,” said Shriver. “The impact individuals with IDD have made on our society is beyond exceptional and the workplace should be no different.”
Employers may be further convinced by the findings of a 2014 report, Employing People with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, done by the Institute for Corporate Productivity. Researchers surveyed major organizations who currently employ people with IDD. Their findings:
• 57% reported the addition of highly motivated employees who are good talent matches
• 43% said it produces measureable and observable business benefits
• 47% reported an inclusive culture attractive to talent pool
• 60% said it supports their diversity and inclusion strategy
Employers can pledge their support here, and Best Buddies will follow up to facilitate the hiring. You can show your support by tweeting or Facebook-posting one of these messages:
It’s more than the right thing to do. See the business benefits of employing people with intellectual and developmental disabilities: bit.ly/ImInToHire
I see people with special needs as skilled and employable and #ImInToHire for an inclusive workplace. RT to join me! bit.ly/ImInToHire
People with w/ intellectual and developmental disabilities build fantastic friendships and productive businesses. #ImInToHire, are you?
Our kids may be years away from job interviews and collecting paychecks, but we need to support initiatives like this for the sake of adults with disabilities and the adults our children will someday be. But it’s also an initiative that can benefit our children now. Anything that helps people better understand that people with special needs are capable brings us that much closer to a world that accepts and respects our kids.