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!

Come on over and discover some new articles to read! via jennyherman.com

For My Readers: New People to Read

Happy Monday, friends! Today is the last day of Darren Rowse’s Blogging Groove challenge. If you’ve missed the rest of my posts from this challenge, here you go…

Day 1: List (Ironically, I wrote this one the day before I knew about the challenge, and it fit!) “7 Reasons I Homeschool My Child with Special Needs Instead of Sending Him to School

Day 2: FAQ, “How Do You Deal with Those Who Think You Shouldn’t Homeschool Your Child with Special Needs?”

Day 3: Review, “The Special Needs SCHOOL Survival Guide

Day 4: Story, “The Day My Son with Autism Broke My Heart

Day 5: How-To, “How to Be a Friend to an Autism Parent During a Child’s Meltdown

Day 6: Discussion Starter, “How Do You Do Special Needs Therapy at Home?

Do you know what one of the best parts of the challenge has been? Meeting new bloggers and seeing the different ways people respond to blog post challenges–the variety of topics and twists.

I’ve come across some posts that I thought you might like. They all relate to my readers in one way or another. Let me know which one interests you the most!

  • When I read this post by an autism mum in Australia, it struck me how much alike we special needs parents are. Though each of our children have different challenges, we experience many of the same things.
  • I know many of my readers like alternatives to chemical cleaners. Over at the Hippy Home, you can learn about non-toxic cleaners.
  • Many of you are busy parents like me. I don’t know about you, but because I work from home and my job uses the computer, I feel like I’m on the computer much of the day. I often feel like I’m neglecting my boys. I love the Post-It Note idea in this post idea in this post on saying yes to our kids and no to distractions!

There’s a new kid on the special needs homeschooling block, and I hope you’ll click on over and say hello. To get an idea for her voice, read this post on why she chose to homeschool her son with severe autism.

It’s your turn! Which one of those new-to-me posts did you enjoy the most? Tell me in the comments!

Click to read this autism mom's story! via jennyherman.com

The Day My Son with Autism Broke My Heart

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Communication represents a big challenge for most people on the autism spectrum. For some, they seem quite capable of communicating, but it is extremely difficult for them. Others are considered non-verbal, and some folks fall somewhere in between. So when my son with autism opens up for a few minutes, I stop and pay attention.

Two or three weeks ago I thought I’d go sit next to my son while he played Minecraft. I don’t remember exactly now, but I think I asked him to tell me about what he was doing. He started talking and then he said the words that both broke my heart and made me excited.

“I might be better at video game life than real life.”

Oh, my heart. Now here’s the catch. I can jump all over that and get in his space and he’ll shut down (which I’ve learned from many mistakes). Or, I could go the casual route and see if I could get him to say anything else.

For once I was able to control myself and say something like, “Yeah? What makes you say that?”

And what made me excited was that he actually answered me! Lately he’s been afraid to answer questions because he doesn’t want to give a wrong answer, even when we tell him there’s no wrong answer. It can be a little taxing to say the least.

He told me how in real life he can’t communicate well and that he deals with bullies.

I was so proud of him for being able to get that out. I pointed out that sometimes what seems like bullying is an energetic child who can’t stay out of someone else’s space (something we deal with around here). That’s as far as I got. He wouldn’t tell me about other bullying other than it isn’t physical.

And that’s ok. I told my hubby because sometimes he can get stuff out that I can’t. We’ll keep an eye on things and patiently wait for the day when he can say more.

So in one sentence my son broke my heart and made me want to cheer. I understand video games are so much easier to deal with than people. I know it wears him out to try to explain himself. Even though my son has made tremendous progress and “doesn’t look autistic”, his challenges are very real.

I know I’m not the only parent in this situation, a parent who has a verbal child who can’t talk. Hang in there. You are not alone.

It’s really hard to coax and coach our verbal kids who have communication challenges. Do you have something that helps you? Tell me about it!

I’m putting together a super-duper ebook of survival tips for special needs parents! My newsletters subscribers will be the first to get it…FOR FREE! Just click the button below to sign up and you’ll be in the know.

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How do you decide when to intervene in playground squabbles? via jennyherman.com

Special Needs Parenting vs. Helicopter Parenting: When Do You Get Involved?

It’s time for a little advocating for those in the trenches of special needs parenting. But first, a story.

Once upon a time there was a child. This fifth grader enjoyed playing at the pool with other children. One day a first grader decided to follow him around the pool. Nothing wrong with that, just a younger child wanting to play with an older child.

But the older child asked him to stop. And the older child swam away. The younger child followed, and so the fifth grader kept swimming away and saying, “Please stop.” Eventually after asking multiple times, he started yelling and splashing the other child. (more…)

What can you do when special needs siblings have opposite sensory needs? Click to get ideas at jennyherman.com.

Special Needs Siblings: When Opposite Sensory Needs React

A little while ago, Shawna of Not the Former Things wrote a post for my readers about special needs siblings. Many parents stopped by. I think they felt that she understood what they were going through. I sure did. Which brings me to another episode of As the Special Needs Siblings Turn.

I know I’m supposed to stretch my child and push him to deal with sensory issues. But here’s the rub. When another child is involved, how far do you push? How often? At what expense?

This came up again the other day when I tried to teach spelling together. My youngest is a good speller and has reached the point he can be at the same point in All About Spelling as his brother. I thought this would save me some time.

Nope.

The first day we tried it was a lesson day, where you walk through a new spelling rule, practice on the board, etc. Their sensory needs and personalities clashed and I needed a chocolate IV.

So, I thought surely I could do the spelling practice days together. All it requires is telling them a word, phrase, or sentence, they repeat, and then write it. Once again the sensory needs clashed. Youngest is a mover, a shaker, a music maker. He’s tapping his pencil while he writes. “Please stop it.” Tap. “PLEASE stop it.” Tap, tap. “I SAID PLEASE STOP IT!” To put it nicely, it went downhill from there.

Of course, trying to talk it out didn’t work. I’ll spare you the details. Let’s just say sometimes I feel like my life could be titled Clash of the Titans.

I know I’m not the only special needs parent dealing with this. How do you deal with the differing needs of special needs siblings? HOW?

Sigh. The next day in The Loving Push, Drs. Grandin and Moore tell me, “You need to know your child’s rhythms so that you can plan ahead. The worst time to try to push your child out of their comfort zone is when they are already annoyed or distressed. Find a time they are rested, not hungry, and not overwhelmed by sensory input.” (p. 71) Yeah, so trying on a full moon Monday is probably not my best bet. (You can learn more about  The Loving Push here. That’s an affiliate link, so if you choose to purchase anything, I make a small commission at no cost to you. Thank you for your support.).

Sometimes special needs siblings have opposing sensory needsI still don’t have all the answers. Life with special needs siblings is a roller coaster and there’s nothing I can do about that. It always will be. But, I do have some ideas. I chatted with my husband and some other special needs parents. Here’s what they had to say.

Me: I still have to stretch him. Currently the rule is you can’t shush if you’re not willing to put your headphones on. And for little brother, you don’t always have to stop, but you do need to turn it down. Additionally, I’ve decided to move the location of our spelling lessons. I used to do my All About Spelling lessons in the bedroom because I could shut the door to minimize distractions. Now I’ll do it at the dining room table to make it a little more formal and hopefully cut down on the need to use silly voices and maybe reduce some tapping.

Hubby: “The other day I had him leave the room to calm down, and it worked. He was much calmer after. Maybe that would help?”

Jennifer: “I try to balance the needs of each child. I work really hard to find a way to help my child with sensory needs meet her needs in ways that don’t drive her sister nuts. We spend a lot of time talking about having compassion for others and realizing that your needs are not the only ones that matter. This requires so much prayer on my part. I want both of my children to understand and work to meet their needs while not trampling the needs of others in the process – and to sometimes sacrifice their needs for someone else.”

You can read Jennifer’s post about the challenges special needs siblings face here.

Sandra:  “Because James’s special-needs are so severe, we can’t push him into much. We do push David, our 10 year old typical son. And my parents pushed me in my relationship with my older sister who has Down syndrome. Like last week, we were at the splash pad and James was in full melt-down mode—crying, screaming, hitting, and trying to take his clothes off. I can’t push him. So David has to be understanding that we have to go and we will try another time. If it’s an activity that’s important to David (like seeing a movie), then just my husband Lee or I take him.”

Sandra has written an article, “7 Phrases Every Special Needs Sibling Needs to Hear.

 

Now it’s your turn. I want to know how you handle the balancing act of special needs siblings with different needs. Have something that has worked for you? Tell me in the comments!

I’ve got a super-duper ebook of 75 survival tips for special needs parents! Get it…FOR FREE! Just click the button below.

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I do adore All About Learning Press. I work for them now, but have always loved their multisensory, easy-to-teach curriculum. If you’re looking for some spelling help for your child, why not click on over and grab some FREE colorful spelling rules posters you can print. (That is an affiliate link. I make a small commission at no cost to you should you decide to purchase something. Thank you for your support!)

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Special Needs & Siblings: The Good, The Bad, & The Hopeful

I am really excited to bring you a guest post from Shawna today. I’ve been struggling with the special needs sibling aspect of parenting, and I invited her to share on that topic. Shawna’s a great writer and a great mom, and I hope you are blessed by her post and comforted that you are not alone.

We spend a lot of time on my oldest son, around here.

We spend a lot of time talking – trying to help him calm down, help him socially navigate tough situations, discussing his topic of interest.

We spend a lot of time worrying – if he can handle tomorrow’s play date with the weather so hot, if he will sleep tonight or be up for hours, if he will make it through dinner and eat something healthy.

We spend hours cleaning up – after horrible meltdowns, a lack of executive function in the kitchen making pretzels/sourdough bread starters/pickles/homemade cheese, food eaten in his room under the lycra sheets with the door shut because he just can’t eat with us at the table tonight.

We do this because he has autism, anxiety disorder and autoimmune diseases. (more…)

Click to see the surprising benefs this lady has found from being an #autism mom! via jennyherman.com

Surprise Benefits of Being an Autism Mom

Seven years ago I became an autism mom. I drowned in information and was overwhelmed by my child’s needs and delays. I’m pretty sure I never imagined the progress my son with autism would make. He’s come so far!

Though there are still many challenging days, I have found some benefits from being an autism mom that I did not expect. If you’re in the special needs trenches like I am, and you’re having a rough patch, I hope this list of benefits will help you find some silver linings.

  • I’ve become stronger and resilient.
  • Because of my own autism journey, I can help others understand.
  • I am able to use what I’ve learned to help other kids.
  • God has taught me ways to help my son, enabling me to lead a special needs class at church so other parents can go to church.
  • I’ve learned to be more understanding of what is going on when I see situations in public.
  • Due to what I’ve been through, I am able to offer support to other autism and special needs parents.
  • I can help neighbors and their families and friends.
  • Through my blog, I can share what has helped me, thereby helping others.
  • My experience gives me the ability to help other kids at events.
  • I’ve learned to advocate for my autistic son and others.

Though this post is short, I hope it has big impact. Special needs parent, your trials and challenges give you the power to help others. You may not have realized it, but they do.

I’m curious. Has this brought something to your mind? Have you realized a benefit from your role as autism parent? I’d love to hear in the comments!

If you’d like some free resources to help you on your special needs journey, sign up for my free newsletter and get immediate access to my library! You’ll find a social skills checklist, help for persevering, a list of boredom busters for your child, and more! Just click the button below.

I’ve got  an e-book of 75 survival tips for special needs parents! Just click the button below to sign up and I’ll send it to you.

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Discover How 99 Cents Can Change Your Life

When I was in my 20’s, I had the privilege of hearing Elisabeth Elliot speak. At the time, I didn’t realize I’d need her story fifteen or so years down the road.

Mrs. Elliot shared her story. She relayed how her husband and some other men who were missionaries to a dangerous tribe of Auca Indians were brutally murdered. Of course the next day she woke up in grief and shock. If I remember correctly, she said her daughter was two years old. Mrs. Elliot wondered what she and the other now-single women with children would do.

I can’t even imagine. (more…)

Click for 9 easy things to do when you feel like you can't relax! via jennyherman.com

9 Simple Things to Do When You Can’t Relax

Are you like me? Two or three years ago I realized I am rarely relaxed. I happened to notice my hands were somewhat clenched and I wasn’t in the middle of an argument or anything. They were just down by my side in a partial fist. Special needs parents are “on” almost all of the time. You may not be a special needs parent, but you’re dealing with financial challenges, health issues, job stress, or many other stressors or a combination of them. You may think, “Relax? You’ve got to be kidding me!”

No, I’m not. There are some ways that we can get our bodies to at least unwind a little, if not fully relax. Here are nine things I’ve done that have helped my body calm down. (more…)