PSA: Holidays are not always fun for children with special needs! via jennyherman.com

PSA: Special Needs & the Holidays

Just a little PSA…

If you know a special needs mom or dad, more than likely their child has hit a rough patch. It may have started with Halloween and the sensory overwhelm and the extra excitement, perhaps some fear of the holiday.

Then a time change came, which is hard on the systems of kids with special needs. Then a full moon. These sound like small things, but they add up. Each one is enough to disrupt a child’s balance.

And now we’re into two months of holiday time, where routines are messed up, anxiety goes on high alert, sensory issues become more than unbearable, and many other challenges arise.

So if you see a special needs parent over the next couple months, give grace. They may not answer you enthusiastically or even smile. They may be holding onto sanity for all they’re worth, running on little or no sleep, wondering what one tweak would make a huge difference for their child, imagining how they’re going to afford Christmas gifts when therapies and medical supplies are so expensive…

They could use your smile. Your quiet support. A cup of coffee. A, “You’re doing great.”

And now you know. And maybe you can pass this along and spread the awareness. And thank you for reading.

If you’re a special needs mom who’d like to get encouragement and support from other moms who “get it”, check out the Facebook group Special Needs Moms Network!

 

PSA: Holidays are not always fun for children with special needs! via jennyherman.com

When Christmas Isn’t Fun: Special Needs & Holidays [FREE Printable]

“There’ll be parties for hosting, marshmallows for toasting and caroling out in the snow. There’ll be scary ghost stories and tales of the glories of Christmases long, long ago. …It’s the most wonderful time of they year! With the kids jingle belling and everyone telling you be of good cheer!” Can you hear Andy Williams crooning?

Unfortunately, for many special needs families, Christmas (or other holidays) are not the most wonderful time of the year. Many of the things mentioned in the song overwhelm their children. Parties become more of a challenge to navigate than a gathering to enjoy. Consider this article a little public service announcement.  What follows is a combination of personal experience, stories of friends, and input from the women of Special Needs Moms Network (more…)

Discover how special needs parents ruin holidays via jennyherman.com

7 Ways Special Needs Parents Ruin Holidays [FREE Printable]

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May I tell you a secret? For many special needs families, the hustle and bustle of “the most wonderful time of the year” is not so wonderful. From Halloween through Valentine’s Day, and the time change, other holidays, and family events in between, these families face challenges others don’t realize exist. While other children enjoy throwing snowballs, some sensory kids all apart if cold, wet snow touches their skin. Huge families enjoy gathering and playing games, exchanging gifts, and eating a feast. Children with crowd anxiety become sick with dread over facing such an outing. Friends wonder why a family declines an invitation to a New Year’s Eve party, not understanding that the child with autism needs a break from too many events. Some children with severe medical issues wear out quickly and cannot handle too many extra activities. See what I mean? I could expand the explanation even more, but I won’t.

I have another secret. Many of those families screw up. I speak from experience. I have made my share of holiday messes. Consider this list a cautionary tale of things to avoid over the next four months. How do parents of children with special needs ruin the holidays?

  1. They have wrong expectations. Have you ever been in a situation where your daughter falls apart and later you realize you were asking too much? Your daughter simply wasn’t able to handle it. You didn’t have realistic expectations. During this holiday season, I recommend you keep asking yourself, “Can my child really deal with this today?” It could change even hour by hour, minute by minute. When you have realistic expectations or lower your expectations during a stressful time, it helps both you and your child. Your stress level goes down because you understand it’s just not the right time, so you’re not pushing to make it happen.
  2. They don’t trust their gut. You know those times when your gut says, “I don’t think this is a good idea…” and then you forge ahead anyway. Despite the fact your child is afraid of heights or tired or hungry or hates crowds or…you get the idea.  Remember to trust your gut.
  3. They neglect to overpack. That may sound silly, but being without an allergy-friendly snack when you got stuck in holiday traffic and your son is HANGRY! well, it’s just not pretty. Pack extra clothes, extra calming items, favorite little toys or games, extra medicine, anything that can help your child succeed should you end up being out longer than anticipated.
  4. They forget to leave “white space”. Think of empty space on your calendar as mental health space. This applies to both you and your child. More than likely your child needs time to recuperate after a busy family gathering. You will, too. You were busy watching out for her, making sure she had what she needed. You were on high alert. Leaving blank space lets you both reset and better handle the busy holiday season. For example, it may not be the greatest idea to expect your child to go Black Friday shopping the day after Thanksgiving.
  5. They push too far. One of our jobs as special needs parents is to get our child out of his comfort zone. If we didn’t, they may never grow. However, we also need to be careful how we do that, particularly during a time of the year that already adds extra stress on their systems. When your child is overwhelmed and going inside himself, that is not the time to push. That is the time to leave or accommodate with a calming space.
  6. They leave out others. Sometimes we’re so focused on solving problems and helping our child have a good holiday season on his terms we special needs parents exclude others. Maybe we don’t explain our child’s preferences (Make sure you read all the way down to find your FREE printable to help with this!). Perhaps we don’t take the time to educate family so they understand our child’s challenges. Whether it’s due to fatigue, being in hypervigilance mode, or just plain laziness, we could probably all improve in this area.
  7. They beat themselves up. Ah, guilt. The ever-present nagging voice inside a special needs parent’s head. “We should have left sooner. I should have stuck up for him more. Maybe if I had picked a different time for the party…” You can do this all day, and many of us do. As much as you’d like to be the perfect superhero, you’re not. Even the best of us are going to make wrong calculations. Give yourself the Christmas gift of less self-criticism this year.

Autism mom Annie Eskeldson takes readers on a tour of the holiday season through the eyes of autism and sensory challenges. If you’re looking for a picture book to help others understand some of the things your child faces, I recommend her book Ashi’s Birthday and Other Dreaded Days. (affiliate link)

Would you like a way to help others understand your child this holiday season, to reduce overwhelm and increase positive interactions? I’ve created a freebie to do just that. Many times our friends and family want to spend time with our child at holiday gatherings, but they don’t understand how and they don’t understand the extra pressure the holiday activities put on your child. Use this free fill-in-the-blank “About Me” type page. Fill it out and hand it to others so they can have fun with your child! It will be a win-win-win. I made three styles–two with picture backgrounds and one without for those who like to reduce printing cost. I’ve had many people tell me they love it. What are you waiting for? Just complete the form below and tell me where to send your freebie!

What do you think? Is there another way parents of children with special needs ruin the holidays? Tell me in the comments!

One autism mom's thoughts after the 2016 presidential election

Kids with Autism & Politics: After the 2016 US Election

This is not a political rant. You can breathe now.

It’s the day after the 2016 US presidential election, and the emotions I’ve seen on social media make me think of a Jackson Pollock painting–many different colors and splattered around, bright and happy, dark and sad, all mixed in. In the middle of all of that, I saw a post that has got my brain percolating and I wanted to share a little autism awareness with you. (The post didn’t mention autism, it just got me thinking…)

Just because a child with autism blatantly blurts out a comment about a political candidate (or anyone for that matter) does not mean he is saying what his parents believe or how his parents would say it. Autism and other special needs are often invisible. Therefore I invite you, and myself, not to assume the worst of parents when a child says someone is a “murderer” or “jerk” or “idiot” or whatever else you may be hearing kids say about people involved in the campaigns.

Whatever my political beliefs, I am trying to teach my children to share their opinions in a kind way and remember that Jesus loves all sinners. That “but for the grace of God, there go I.” My son has pretty strong opinions on his own. He comes to his own black-and-white conclusions. Just this morning I told him there would be a lot of disappointed people and we need to be careful of what we say. Am I trying to change his beliefs? No. Am I trying to help him learn an appropriate way to speak to people? Yes.

So, there’s my two cents. And really, it goes beyond politics. I remember being the one to wonder, “Why can’t that parent control her child?”, long before the days of autism started for me. Before you think a child’s parents promote hating Hillary or trashing Trump, remember…they’re just a child. They are learning how to filter and how to interact. You never know what’s going on behind the scenes and there could very well be a parent coaching for kindness and timeliness but it just hasn’t stuck yet.

The end.

If you’re reading this as a special needs parent, I’ve created a FREE template to reduce holiday overwhelm for your child.  You can quickly fill this out and give to friends and family over the holiday season. It’s called “Holiday Fun with My Child” and will tell others about your child’s likes and dislikes so everyone can enjoy holiday activities. There is also a note at the end asking people to respect your child’s “no” when asked to do something.

I’ve made three versions for you, two with picture backgrounds and one plain for those of you who like to save ink. Why not reduce holiday stress and increase holiday fun? Get your freebie by clicking the image below!

enlarged-girl-thumbnail-holiday-freebie

 

Come on over to discover a simple therapy for special needs parents! via jennyherman.com

Easy Therapy for Special Needs Parents (And Everyone Else)

 

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It goes without saying that special needs parents have a lot of reasons for being stressed and overwhelmed. Appointments crowd the schedule, meltdowns confuse us, and daily life turns into survival mode pretty easily. And that’s just one area of our lives. That doesn’t include other life stressors. Sometimes the overwhelm makes us want to curl up into a ball. And the stress doesn’t really go away. You might get a break, but the stress comes back. I have recently discovered something that helps with this. Doodling in a bullet journal.

I first wanted to use bullet journaling for writing and business as well as homeschooling. Being the recovering perfectionist I am, I had to research how to bullet journal. People told me “just make it your own”, but how could I make it my own if I didn’t understand it? Enter frustrating hours of watching YouTube videos and reading blog posts. I began sinking internally, feeling like this was just too much for me. Then I found this post from The Lazy Genius, and she saved me. I may have given up before I started if I hadn’t read her post. She makes it so easy!

So I started two bullet journals (And have let both go by the wayside…). While looking around Instagram at other people’s bullet journal pictures, I saw a lot of doodling in the bullet journal community and thought I’d create a “happy book”. The happy book would be a combination of a gratitude journal and various doodles of scripture, songs, and whatever else I felt like.

Learn how scripture doodling can help special needs parents! via jennyherman.comI’ve heard people talk about activities that “ground” them or feeling “grounded”. I never really understood that. By personality I tend to be a little more easily stressed and worried. I’ve been working on it. So feeling grounded isn’t really my specialty and was foreign to me.

Until recently. One morning I decided to combat feelings of anxiety by listening to worship songs and doodling Scripture. After a little while, I realized I had calmed down significantly. An odd feeling I rarely experience had come over me. “This is what be what feeling grounded is,” I thought. I decided to make this a morning routine–getting myself ready to face the day by listening to music about God and drawing verses, lyrics, or other things. You can do this with inspirational quotes as well, or whatever you like! (For more on bullet journaling and mental health, read this.)

Sadly this routine didn’t last long. In fact, I’m trying to get back to it. Want to join me? Here’s what you need:

  • Some sort of notebook. You could use a more “official” bullet journal like the Leuchtturm (affiliate link). If you’re using markers, people like the paper weight of this journal. I am using a pretty composition book from the local dollar store. Really, you could even use plain old copy paper.
  • Writing utensils. Again, you could use some fancy markers or regular pens, pencils, crayons, whatever suits your fancy. I like using colored ball point pens and colored pencils.
  • Imagination and inspiration. I kind of lack imagination, so I scroll through Instagram to look for ideas of doodling and lettering. I like Surely Simple. You can go to her site and go to the top and follow her on Pinterest, Twitter, or Instagram, whichever you like, or browse her blog. Lisa of Creativlei.com has a series on lettering that may help you as well. When I follow someone’s tutorial or tweak it to be my own, I often note their name so I can go back and look for more ideas from them. At the front or back of your notebook you could start a collection of quotes or verses you’d like to turn into doodles. When I’m reading the Bible on my phone and come across a verse I want to reread many times, I take a screen shot. I have used this collection of screen shots to find verses to doodle. If you’re not an artist, don’t stress! Play around with different letter shapes and sizes. Emphasize words by using color. Stuck? Just write some quotes down and change color for specific words. Don’t let yourself get hung up on having to be a good draw-er. (Is that a word? And, I’m speaking to myself here. I really had to get over that!)
  • Time. I recommend doodling in the morning to get yourself calm and focused or at the end of the day to relax before bed. However, you may want to try other times. Maybe you have your notebook handy while you dictate spelling sentences to your child. The afternoon slump would be another great time for some doodling. Whatever works for you!
  • Grace. Be kind to yourself. It takes time to develop a new habit. Remember this is for relaxation. Take it from me–it doesn’t help you relax to get stressed out over it!

Discover a simple therapy for special needs parents! via jennyherman.comIf you’d rather skip the doodling part and would simply like to color someone else’s design, check out these two options

Free inspirational adult coloring pages

Adult coloring book of Bible verses with bonuses for pre-order

Want to use bullet journaling for things other than doodling, the actual planning stuff? Boho Berry is a good resource. This video shows the original suggested set up from Ryder Carroll. Rebecca of Hip Homeschooling Blog also provides help and inspiration for bullet journaling.

Do you use any creative activity to help you de-stress? Is there a creative outlet that helps your child relax? I’d love to know. Just leave a comment below.

I’ve got a FREE ebook of survival tips for special needs parents!  Just fill out the form below and tell me where to send it!

Discover how Chris Winfield's crazy idea can help special needs families succeed! via jennyherman.com

How Chris Winfield’s Crazy Idea of “Stupid Small” Can Help With Special Needs Success

If you’re a special needs parent, I’m guessing you’ve been there. Your child needs to grow or stretch in a specific area. Together, you’ve got this, you tell yourself! The day comes. You’re mentally geared up to coach and prompt and assist. Your child is fed, rested, and in comfortable clothing. The time has come to try something new or face a fear. And it flops. Meltdown city. Maybe it’s even meltdown city for both of you. Hang in there. Help is on the way! (more…)

What does a mom do when her All About Spelling plan fails?

When Your All About Spelling Plan Fails

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Homeschool moms are busy, right? So if we can find something to save us time, we rejoice. Last school year I thought I had found the perfect way to use All About Spelling to save me time.

My younger son, 8, is a pretty good speller. I don’t know if he remembers what he reads or he’s a natural, but he seemed to be ahead of where he was in All About Spelling (affiliate link). One day I had a brilliant thought. What if I could teach both my boys the same spelling lesson? That would save me some time during the day. One of my boys had even mentioned doing school in their bedroom. This was the perfect opportunity. (more…)

Click to discover one special needs homeschool mom's path to success! via jennyherman.com

Special Needs Homeschooling & Grief: A Path to Success

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Homeschool veteran and special needs mom Kristen Pratt is our guest today. I love her practical approach to homeschooling and I asked if she would share some thoughts on special needs homeschooling with my readers. Her article took a different twist than I expected, but it is definitely a good read. In fact, all special needs parents will appreciate it, whether or not they homeschool.

Do you have a favorite hiking trail? Our family had our very own in our back yard. It wandered through about three acres of mostly wooded land. It became very natural to walk the trail, avoiding hazards such as the gaping woodchuck hole in the middle of a hill that led to an open field. We all knew to step to the side of the path in that one deceivingly grassy section to avoid mud-caked shoes. We even discovered hidden secrets like the wild blueberry bush at the back end of the property. At what seemed like the end of the trail, we knew to veer right for a hidden way back to the original path. We didn’t have to look up to know where the deer stands are located. We could have navigated that trail blindfolded.

Parenting for us has become like that well-worn path. We have 9 children: 3 married, 1 just graduated & 5 more still homeschooling. We have grown accustomed to some of the pitfalls and easily avoid them. We have learned from tripping over logs in the path. We know to look for the hidden treasures. While each child is unique and we continue to learn new things, the path is comfortable and our stride is sure. At least it used to be.

We adopted a little guy from the Caribbean about 11 years ago. By a year-and-a-half old he was diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). Parenting our son is like walking that well-worn path in the darkness of night. We knew it would be a little bit of a challenge but we know the path well. It would all be ok. After all, the doctor thought he was only mildly affected. (Boy was he wrong!) We were not prepared to slam into a tree that mysteriously appeared in the middle of the trail. That big root we fell on really hurt the shins! We are certain the path doesn’t go in this new direction! And what about that river that nearly drowned us?  This is what it can feel like raising a child with special needs. Everything you know about raising a child is changed, moved, and sometimes makes no sense. The well-worn path is sometimes unrecognizable.

How do we parent and homeschool a child who struggles with the simplest of tasks? It isn’t easy. We cry. We get frustrated. We grieve. Do not pass by that last sentence quickly. We grieve. We grieve a lot. My banner for raising our son is to shoot for the stars and hope we get a couple of inches off from the ground. Sometimes we do not get off the ground at all. Sometimes it feels like we end up in hole. That is when I grieve. This does not mean I give up. It means I accept the limits of today and feel a natural sadness. It stings. Our son has lost so much and we have to cope with that loss. Until I grieve, I cannot accept reality and plan for the future.

Our son is supposed to start 6th grade. As I began to plan the new school year I found 6th grade takes a big leap into the abstract. Our son cannot understand abstract. He has hit a wall (or tree) and there is no way around it. That hurts. My son has no ability to understand this loss so I grieve for us both. Until I grieve it, I cannot accept it. I need to accept it in order to help him where he is at, rather than where I want him to be. The homeschool teacher side of me wants to fight. My post-grieving side knows I will do more harm than good if I do. Instead I developed a plan that will engage him where he is. However, his books will not say 6th grade. I admit that still stings a little.

How about you? Do you have areas you haven’t yet grieved? Is it setting you and your child up for frustration and failure? I fight it, too, sometimes, but I am getting a little better at recognizing my need to grieve. It isn’t giving up; it is letting go. It is letting go of something that doesn’t exist anywhere but in our hopes, dreams, and expectations. Yet, it is real loss worthy of our sorrow. It is essential that we grieve for our own well-being and also for the success of our child. Pray and ask God to help you identify the areas you need to grieve. Study up on the steps of grief in order to understand the process. (affiliate link) At the other end, you may still feel some sadness but you will be able to accept reality and make better decisions with the goal of helping your child grow as much as possible.

What do you think of Kristen’s thoughts on grieving and progress? I’d love to hear in the comments!

I’ve got a super-duper ebook of survival tips for special needs parents!  Just click the button below and I’ll send it to you for FREE!

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Kristen Pratt is a homeschool curriculum editor for www.Master Books.com.  She loves helping put together “curriculum with purpose” in a way that is easy to use and engaging for students.  She is married to Randy, who also works for Master Books (NLPG).   As an owner of Pennywise Learning (now owned by CBD) she has helped thousands of homeschool moms navigate curriculum choices. Kristen has 20 years of experience homeschooling her nine children and has had the pleasure of seeing four of them graduate.  She continues to homeschool the remaining five children, including one with special needs.

Get a great scheduling tip from one of jennyherman.com's readers!

Save Your Scheduling Sanity with This Reader Tip!

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The other day my newsletter shared some posts for helping you avoid overwhelm this new season. I also invited my readers to tell me their biggest challenge as special needs parents. I love it when my readers reply!

One fantastic reader, Karen, not only replied, but also took time to share her own scheduling trick. I imagine this will save many of you, whether or not you have a special needs child. Here’s what Karen said,

One idea about appointments that I am so glad I had last year, I’d like to share: schedule a week or two periodically for NO appointments. It is as if we have a vacation coming up, even though we don’t. I mark on the calendar, “schedule no appointments,” so when a medical office is telling me my child can be seen by a certain doctor only on Tuesday mornings, for example, and we are looking at that “sacred” week, I have to say, “OK, then we’ll have to go with the following Tuesday,” rather than acquiescing to the day they are suggesting. And if we are trying to fit in a dental appointment, and the receptionist asks about a date during that particular week, I simply let her know that week is unavailable. 
It seems like a simple thing to do, but it hadn’t occurred to me before this past year, and I found that every single week had one to three different appointments. I tried doing the “cluster several appointments together, especially if they are all in the same distant town” idea, and also the “make all your medical appointments to be the same day of the week, and also use that day to do your other errands as well” idea. However, too often, the medical offices do not operate under that plan–for example, some are not open every day or the physician uses certain days strictly for surgeries. And by the time we’re done with two appointments in a town an hour away, we don’t have time for other errands unless we want to arrive home to make supper at 9 p.m.! So that didn’t work either.
When we found ourselves in one of those “no appointment weeks,” I can’t tell you how free I felt! As it happened, we still had unexpected things come up that were inconvenient, such as an unscheduled injury or a car breakdown, but having a few days in a row where we didn’t have to go anywhere but the occasional grocery store pickup or driving a teen to work, or going to co-op were quite refreshing! 
That is indeed, genius! Thank you, Karen, for sharing your sanity-saving tip with us! Do YOU have a tip that saves your sanity? I’d love to hear!
Speaking of sanity savers, my Kindle book The Power of One: Change Your Perspective, Change Your Life is on sale for Labor Day weekend! It’s just 99 cents until 4pm on September 3rd, then it goes to $1.99 for the rest of the holiday weekend. It’s a great time to grab some hope and inspiration for the fall! (affiliate link)
 I’ve got a super-duper ebook of survival tips for special needs parents!  Just click the button below and I’ll send it to you for FREE!

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