Special needs at The Henry Ford

Special Needs at The Henry Ford Complex

(Scroll down to learn of an upcoming event at Greenfield Village, including a coupon!)

Last year the Accessibility Director from The Henry Ford in Dearborn, Michigan contacted me. Caroline wanted to know if I’d be willing to participate in an interview about their Sensory Friendly Saturday program. WOW! Of course I would!

In January I found myself walking through the museum with Caroline, turning a corner behind the Rosa Parks exhibit area, and looking at a bunch of recording equipment. Whoa. This was for real! While I waited for the crew to finish setting up equipment, I chatted with the man who would do my interview. Guess what–he had a son with Asperger syndrome! This put me at ease and we had a great interview.

There are two things in particular that I loved about this experience.

  1. I was part of something bigger. The department interviewed other people as well. The video they wanted to create was not just about autism, but about how The Henry Ford adapts to welcome a variety of guests.
  2. Because of my online connections with other special needs moms, I was able to share ideas of how the complex could further enhance visitor experiences. Some of these ideas I would not have thought of if I hadn’t known these women. (Want to join over 10,000 special needs moms on Facebook? Visit Special Needs Moms Network!

Want to see the interview and learn about what The Henry Ford does for guests, including those with vision and hearing impairments, as well as autism folks? Watch below. Look for Caroline (in braids) and the lady who brings her friends for tactile tours! I chatted with both of them.

Great news! Greenfield Village in Metro Detroit is hosting a Sensory Friendly Saturday at the end of April, coordinating with A Day out with Thomas. Head over here to get the scoop and be sure to scroll down for a coupon!

(I was not compensated in any way for this interview or this blog post. I just love The Henry Ford. It’s been a great place for my son to practice social skills.)

Enter to win a $25 gift card from Fun & Function!

Christmas Giveaway: Fun & Function!

Give three cheers! Fun and Function, maker of awesome things to help our sensory kids cope, has a giveaway just for you. They’re offering a $25 gift card! What would you want to spend it on? Oh, that will be hard to choose. They’ve got many great products your child will enjoy.

Enter to win a $25 gift card from Fun & FunctionThe gel tiles look great for a winter wiggle break. Hug tees sound like a great way to get sensory pressure in a fashionable way. Chewy bracelets offer a discreet way to meet the need to chew.

If you need help deciding, browse their gift guide for young children through adults! In fact, that is how you enter. Head on over to their gift guide and poke around. Then come back and leave a comment telling me what you’d spend your gift card on. That’s it! And guess what! Since this is a gift card, there’s not limitation based on where you live.

Ready to browse and get a wish list going? Click here!

Remember to come back and leave your comment saying which goodie you’d spend your gift card on. Want a bonus entry? Fill out the form below to get a freebie from me and subscribe to my newsletter. Leave a separate comment if you are already a subscriber or you fill out the form now. You want to make sure you get both entries. 🙂

This giveaway closes Monday, December 19th at 8:59pm EST. A random generator will be used to select a winner. Winner will be contacted via email with their gift card code. THANK YOU to Fun & Function for providing this giveaway!

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…)

Learn more about the new book Special Education at Home! via jennyherman.com

Special Education at Home Q & A [Plus GIVEAWAY!]

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UPDATE: Congratulations to comment #3, Kayleen! You are the winner of an autographed copy of Special Education at Home by Shawna Wingert!

Though I have not met autism mom Shawna Wingert in person, I think we’d have no problem sitting in a coffee shop should we get to meet in real life some day. I am a fangirl of her writing. She writes with such heart and her beautiful words seep into the souls of special needs parents. I’m excited to have her here today for a Q&A session about her new book, Special Education at Home: Out-of-Box Learning for Out-of-Box Learners. Be sure to read all the way through, because Shawna has a surprise. Let’s get started!

Me: Tell me a little about your special needs homeschool story.

Shawna: Well, the honest answer is, I NEVER in a million years thought I would homeschool. I was solidly a public school girl growing up, and assumed my children would do the same. When my oldest son was in the second grade, however, it became clear that school was not working for him – at all. So we made the leap. (You can read the full story here.)

Me: Why did you decide to write Special Education at Home: Out-of-Box Learning for Out-of-Box Learners?

Learn about the new book Special Education at Home! via jennyherman.comShawna: When we received my sons’ various diagnoses, we were already homeschoolers. What surprised me were how many people just assumed we would put them back into a school environment to let the “experts” teach them. The truth is, a mom homeschooling a child with special needs is subject to constant scrutiny for her decision to homeschool. My child see two therapists and a developmental pediatrician regularly. All three of them are constantly asking questions about my sons’ educations. Sometimes, I feel supported in our decision to homeschool. (It’s the BEST to have a doctor say,”I can see now that homeschooling really is the best decision for him. You are doing a great job.”) Sometimes, I am asked a lot of questions about how my child is performing in school and how I am teaching him – more than a parent of a special needs child in a school program would ever have to answer for. That can be tough. I wrote the book to essentially encourage other parents that they are more than qualified to teach their child with special needs at home.

Me: I know people can look at the table of contents, but what would you say is the essence of your book? Is it inspiring? Practical?

Shawna: I hope it is both! My favorite quote ever about the book is from Jamie Martin (author of Give Your Child the World and editor at Simple Homeschool). She graciously said, “Her voice (Shawna’s) is caring, guilt free, and full of both practical advice and inspiration.” I cried when I read her words because that is exactly what I was hoping for. The reality is that we need both. We need the practical, how do I deal with being at doctors appointments twice a week and still fitting in math, or what do I do on days when my child was up until 3 AM. But we also need the encouragement, the you can do this, the you are not alone. I hope the book does both!

Me: Have special needs homeschoolers responded to your book, telling you what speaks to them the most?

Shawna: I am so blessed to have a very loyal, loving audience. Yes, I have been lucky enough to hear from many readers who were touched by the book. Some of my favorites are from moms who are thinking about homeschooling, or are just getting started. A sweet momma who is beginning her special needs homeschooling journey this month sent me this message:

“I will be embarking on this homeschool journey for the first time. I will be letting go of all the services and accommodations I have fought so hard for. However, it is liberating knowing I am no longer chained to a system that does not know how to teach to my children’s style of learning. I was so relieved to hear  your ‘out of the box’ approach . A lot of the pressure I was feeling truly subsided. Thank you for getting out there and sharing your experiences.”

Me: What a great testimonial! Here’s my final book question: What’s your favorite part of the book?

Shawna: This is a difficult question to answer. I guess my favorite parts of the book are the ones that tackle everyday issues that most authors seem to avoid. The chapter about sleep and how much it impacts education (and thus makes homeschooling a child with chronic sleep issues a great choice) is one of them. So is the reality of how much we use screen time to aid our homeschooling days. My favorite message in the book is ‘Just because it is hard, doesn’t mean you are doing it wrong.’ I fall into this trap all the time. Somehow, if things are tough, I am convinced that it is my fault – that somehow I am messing it all up. What I am learning is that sometimes, some things are just hard and must be lived through. And that’s OK. No one is the blame. Not even me.

Me: Thank you for answering all these questions! I can’t wait to see how many special needs homeschooling families will be blessed by your book. Is there a way people can connect with you and get further help from you?

Shawna: I blog at NotTheFormerThings.com about this beautiful, messy life I have been given. I also coach other parents on creating and implementing homeschool plans for their children, no matter what their needs. Coaching information is available here.

Here’s the exciting news! Shawna has a giveaway for my readers. One entrant will win an autographed copy of Special Education at Home: Out-of-Box Learning for Out-of-Box Learners!

I’m keeping this giveaway super simple.

If you already subscribe to my weekly newsletter, leave a comment saying so. If you need to subscribe, just click the red button below. You can unsubscribe at any time. If you stay subscribed, you’ll receive my survival guide for special needs parents when it’s done, for FREE. Remember to leave a comment here that you subscribed–it’s your entry.

For a bonus entry, subscribe to Shawna’s personal notes by entering your email address in the bar at the top of her site. Then leave another comment.

If you love giveaways and you want more entries, you can share this on your social media and leave a comment for each place you shared it. Just click the share buttons below.

The giveaway closes Sunday night at 11:59 EST and a random winner will be contacted Monday. The contest is for US folks 18 years and older. No affiliation with any social media. No purchase necessary. Thanks for entering!

 

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