Special Needs Now

2015: What a Year for Kids with Special Needs!

We've taken a look back at 2015 and picked 30 of our favorite special needs news stories of the year.

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2015 has been a great year for kids with special needs! We've been thrilled to cover many exciting stories, hear from many kids and their parents, learn more about better ways to communicate and help kids with special needs, and we've seen acceptance grow in wonderful ways.

Autism voices grew louder.

We were lucky to hear from many autistic people this year! Emma Zurcher-Long and Phillip Reyes, two teens who type as their primary communication method, told us what it's like to be autistic, and we checked back with Emma when we learned she's co-directing the upcoming documentary Unspoken Meanwhile, other autistic kids are using RPM to express their thoughts and feelings, and several young self-advocates told their classmates about autism, and I had a wonderful dialogue with an autistic adult.

Kids with disabilities became more visible.

We also got to see many beautiful faces of kids with special needs through posts like 21 Beautiful Faces of Down Syndrome from around the World and 20+ Amazing Kids with Autism from around the World.

The "Changing the Face of Beauty" movement really took off this year and we saw many models with special needs landing contracts, doing photo shoots, walking runways, and being included in mainstream ad campaigns. Kids with special needs also got to hang out with rock stars like Adam Levine, and sing with Dolly Parton and Weird Al Yankovic.

More research is being done than ever before.

It was also a good year for research. We learned that kids with Down Syndrome are growing up healthier and that reading is possible for kids with Down Syndrome. Many autism studies taught us more about the different neurology of autistic people, including how "noise" affects processing and that autistic kids need more than repetition to learn.

Acceptance and understanding have continued to grow.

We also covered a lot of stories meant to raise acceptance for kids with special needs and help us better understand how they move through the world. We met the Inions, a family of 11 who is traveling the world with their children, five of whom have special needs. We talked about maintaining a narrative of hope, celebrating the abilities of people with disabilities, discussed why we should get rid of high/low functioning labels for autistic kids, and explored how behavior is an important form of communication for kids with special needs.

We're building a better world.

It was also a year for building a better world for kids with special needs. We saw the passage of laws that paved the way for saving for kids' futures with ABLE accounts; President Obama pushed to include kids with special needs in preschool; the book Neurotribes raised awareness for neurodiversity; and Sesame Street launched an autism initiative and introduced an autistic Muppet. We also talked to people who have built schools for autistic kids, who run nonprofits dedicated to decreasing stigma and helping refugee families affected by autism around the world, and we saw parents running business that employ autistic adults and building fantastic costumes for kids in wheelchairs.

These are just a few of our favorite stories, but many others have touched our hearts, made us think, and inspired us to keep building a better world for our kids with special needs. Happy New Year to you and yours, and we can't to see what 2016 brings!

Jamie Pacton lives near Portland where she drinks loads of coffee, dreams of sailing, and enjoys each day with her husband and two sons. Find her at www.jamiepacton.com and Twitter @jamiepacton.