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6 Summer Activities

6 Summer Family Activities for Children with Developmental Disabilities.  

at-the-beachSummer is the time to slow down and enjoy simple family fun while you have small children, big children, and even children with special needs. The schedule is a little more relaxed and it is okay to take a little off your routine. However, you know our little ones thrive on their routines and do not handle getting too far off course. Sometimes, other family members do not understand our world of “sanity structure”.  But I have tested my daughter over the past several years on this theory and sure enough, the structure and routine keeps her sane, which makes mommy sane.

During the summertime we only allow for an extra 30 to 60 minutes here and there and it seems to be okay. If we try this too many days in a row, then yikes! Watch out! Here are some of our fun summer activities which we love to do without tearing the house down… too much.

  1. playing-with-bucketCan’t go wrong with some water playFlorida’s hot and humid summers mean you better be cooled off somehow. I have found that anything will do… jumping in the pool, turning on the sprinklers, blowing up water balloons, or even just simply filling up some spray bottles. Of course, the mommy therapist in me uses these activities to help strengthen hand grip and increase shoulder strength. I do this all while laughing and having fun, you can never forget that. Finally, there is never a wrong time to teach pool safety because you never know when you will need it.
  1. Explore with food and cooking.  We all know how difficult children can be with their picky eating.  Some children gravitate to salty, sweet, crunchy, or softer foods. There is usually a reason for this like oral motor weakness or sensory aversions, but cooking and playing with food can lead to trying new things. I like to take a flavor my daughter likes and mix it with a new texture. For example, she loves peanuts so we made peanut butter oatmeal pancakes. You take instant oatmeal and mix it with one tablespoon of peanut butter, 2 egg whites, and a dash each of cinnamon, milk, and vanilla. You can mix it up and bake them or you can pan sear them, delicious! Every Friday has become our cooking fun day.
  1. Bowling during off hours.  Bowling alleys are air conditioned and they have sinful snack foods like french fries, popcorn, and pizza. They can also entertain the whole family which is something that I find very important. I have to admit the first time we went to a bowling alley it was super overwhelming for my daughter… the lights, the sounds, the other kids.  Now, I learned to go during those off hours in-between camps and bowling leagues like around 4ish or 5ish on weekdays, Sundays are good too.  Let your child focus on one thing at a time either bowling, eating, or video games.  Try to limit multi-tasking at first, these seemed to work better for us.
  1. Local Performing Arts Shows.  Summer time is great for finding local performing arts shows hosted by cultural camps or little playhouses.  They usually have a day for home school kids who are chaperoned by their parents and well behaved compared to some of the other larger organized camp days.  You can choose your seat based off how your child is best able to watch the show. I like these days because it helps my child avoid getting overstimulated and having a meltdown. But if my child is having an off day, most people wouldn’t even know and I can slip out if need be. Actually I have never left a show, instead I use a bathroom break as a time to re-focus. Over the past ten years my daughter has enjoyed each show more and more and they get better every time. Her attention span has definitely increased and she has gained an appreciation for the arts.
  1. Obstacle Courses and Scavenger Hunts. Here comes the mommy therapist in me again. Great gross motor skills, visual attention, and processing are all great skills or attributes my kids learn from activities like these. As a result of this, our summers are full of weekly obstacle courses and scavenger hunts in the house, with air conditioning of course since I am in Florida. This does take some planning, but you can help yourself out by finding shortcuts and simple ways to do things. You can take pictures of household items around your house to place in different spots. These photos lead your child around the house to find what is next. You can also use different furniture, pillows, and stairs as obstacles.  A simple household scavenger hunt could start with a picture of a refrigerator. Ask your child to find the refrigerator in order to find the next clue. Inside the fridge is another picture of a TV, and so on. I would suggest making the very last picture their favorite item or treat.  The obstacle course example would use Mardi Gras beads, my daughter’s favorite, and place them around various obstacles while stepping up, stepping down, veering to the left and right, and moving all around to collect the beads and play with them in a big bucket.   You can get creative and use any of their favorite items.
  1. Eating out.  During school days, we are almost always on a time crunch. It is easier to cook and make pre-planned meals during weekdays, but summer is my break time. I can let my brain rest a little and bring the family out to go grab a bite to eat.  We can catch up with friends and family members during the summer. We can try new foods and eat dessert. This has been a family practice of ours for forever now and I have come to realize my daughter enjoys it as much as I do. She is more aware of the restaurants decor, she is socializing with everyone, and she is enjoying new foods too. I even kept her out an hour past her bedtime and she behaves perfectly. One restaurant had live music and she did not get overstimulated. I believe practice does make it easier on her and it always makes it easier and more convenient for everyone. My expectations are always realistic, but sometimes she surprises me.

I wish you and your family a memorable summer. Hopefully you were able to get some new ideas or perhaps you would like to share your favorite summer activity.

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No Judgement

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Last month, Abi’s Place, a facility who services children with ASD and other specific disabilities, opened their doors to some young leaders in our community to focus on accepting those who might be different. These teens were encouraged to engage with children who have physical and mental disabilities.

3They embraced their new friends by doing such things like playing games, sharing a smile, giving words of encouragement, and helping where they were needed. Afterwards, one teen commented how nice it was to see that our students enjoyed the same sports and music that they did. Another teen recognized how much they take being able to fully use their hands for granted when other children with disabilities cannot. There was definitely a new found appreciation.

It really only took a few minutes to slow down and get to know each other to realize how alike they really are.

In today’s media, people are so quick to judge one another. What kind of message are we sending to our kids when we do this?  You think that you would never make fun of someone with a disability, but you would be surprised. I am proud to have shared this time at Abi’s Place with these teens who might think twice in the future before judging somebody for who they are.  Hopefully this exposure created some sensitivity on the subject of judging others.

Taking a moment to reflect on myself, I very rarely express myself as I feel these are my thoughts, my opinions, and I might as well just keep them to myself for the most part. I feel no need to share, but lately I find myself saying something to others that I truly believe. I do not judge! Being a woman of faith might have something to do with it, but I know my life is not perfect.  I have a child with mental and physical disabilities and simply never take anything for granted.

If people choose to share stories with me that might be personal, funny, embarrassing, or traumatic, who am I to judge? They are confiding in me orally, releasing stress, fear, and shame. In many ways, I am sure it feels good to let these inner thoughts out. It might give clarity to a silver lining or take some weight off their shoulders. At least that is the way I choose to think. Again, I would never judge.

I do not try to walk in anyone else’s shoes, but my own. I try to be the best I can be while juggling everything life throws at me. God knows I am doing the best I can. Life is busy… juggling being a wife, a mom, a friend, a professional, a volunteer, a sister, a daughter, a mentor, a cook, personal shopper, planner. Hopefully you get the point. We all wear a lot of hats, but I do not walk in anyone else’s shoes nor would I really want to. I have enough on my plate and we are all are doing the best we can.

1So it puzzles me when people choose to mock or judge others, whether that happens on social media, television, or even within close intimate groups.  Why does everyone feel a need to comment or cast their opinion these days?  Did your mother not teach you that if you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all?

I ask as you read this blog today, please do not cast your opinion on others.  You have no idea what someone is really dealing with on a day to day basis. Instead simply smile, say hello, and be friends.

 

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Tips on Raising a Child with Special Needs

By Danielle Zimmerman

During my journey raising a daughter with special needs, I have had some self-revelations I’d like to share with other parents and professionals. Most of all, I want to let other families know they are not alone.  Everything you are feeling and thinking is normal…. we all go through this at some point. Here are a few do’s and don’ts that helped me along the way.

*Remember a diagnosis doesn’t define your child. Don’t get wrapped up in the Internet facts and stories. Every child is different and will progress at his/her own pace. Focus on the ability not the disability.

 *Write your own goals for your child’s progress. Remember to be realistic. Have a family meeting to discuss what accomplishments your child could make this year. Consult with therapists or teachers to help write and develop a plan of  action. Goals may include language skills, movement and strength, socializing with others, emotional well-being, daily living skills, and nutrition. Create long-term and short-term goals, and see what steps you can divide into smaller steps.  Consistency is key; everyone must help follow through with the goals at school, home, and therapy to ensure progress.

 *Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You need a support system. Push for anything and everything: more services, programs, benefits, guidance, and family support. However, remember to be thankful and grateful for what you do get. There is a   fine line between asking for more help and showing appreciation. You can’t hold it all in and try to do everything because that will lead to being resentful, bitter, and exhausted!  You need a team. It takes a village to raise a family.  Your village just might include doctors, therapists, teachers, state financial coordinators, spouse, siblings, babysitters, and grandparents.

 *Acceptance. This topic is hard to hear, but allow yourself to go through the stages of grief to reach acceptance.  You will go through denial, you will be angry and maybe even depressed at some point when you realize your child isn’t healthy.  This is okay to admit, but try not to dwell.  When you reach the point of accepting your child for who he/she is, the doors will open to being creative, proactive parents – living in the moment, but planning for a future, happier life. Don’t be shy to ask for professional help to guide you through this process.

 *Don’t lose yourself in your child.  Sometimes having a child with special needs consumes you like no other identity. You still need to be your own person,  spouse, and friend. Finding balance is your peace of mind. You can easily forget who you really are, what you enjoy, and what makes you happy. Remember, you need to make time for all of your roles.  Make time to be you; go to the spa, read a book, have dinner with your spouse, take a class, visit friends, or go on a vacation.

*Get Creative: As parents of children with special needs, we need to create the right environment, modify toys, make clothes, buy unusual products, and even print books to accommodate our children’s needs.  You can search special needs websites for products and get ideas to either purchase or make yourself. Several of these products are made by parents for parents out of necessity. I have gone as far as sewing elbow pads for chair arms to avoid sore elbows and sewing pant legs together to avoid problems while sleeping. Think outside the box!

*Don’t forget your spouse: Recent studies found that 35% of all marriages end in divorce regardless of having a child with special needs. I know first-hand, having a child with special needs does add extra strain on a relationship.  We must remain strong and put our relationship high on the priority list because, in my mind, these are the ones that must last!  You need to lean on one other and be understanding emotionally, physically, and romantically. Make time to be romantic and feel sexy.

 *Normalcy: We all need some normalcy in our crazy, unpredictable lives.  Try to create routines that you would for any of your children and apply to your child with special needs. For example, include him/her in sports, extra-curricular activities, and family time around the dinner table.  Include the whole family in games like hide-n-seek, pillow fights, Simon says, etc.  There might be a few modifications to be made to include everyone, but with a little creativity, everyone in your family can play together!

Read more in the book, A Challenged Life: Raising a Child with Special Needs found on Amazon.com

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Holiday Gift Ideas for the Differently-Abled

It’s that time of year again to shop til we drop for the holidays. One of the biggest challenges for parents, family and friends of individuals with special needs is figuring out what to buy for that special child.

Since 1995, Toys R Us has been creating an annual “Differently-Disabled Toy Guide.”  The guide is online and can be searched by age, gender and best of all–by skill category such as tactile and auditory.  The majority of the toys can be purchased in stores and online.  If there are typical siblings, many of these toys may interests them and encourage playing together.

Check it out!

Toys ‘R Us “Differently-Disabled Toy Guide”

Here is another good link from Parenting Specialneeds Magazine: “17 Mom Approved Gifts for Kids with Special Needs” 

Happy holiday shopping from Abi’s Place

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