Special Needs Mini Conference

mini conference

Susan King, author of Optimism for Autism, will be returning to Partner’s In Learning’s Special Needs Mini-Conference as keynote speaker on May 3rd for an encore presentation. She is a wife and mother of four adult children and she will be sharing her journey as the mother of a young man with Autism. She will talk about the challenges and joys of raising a child with Autism.

The conference is a free event for both parents and teachers; child care credit will be given to teachers needing continuing education hours. The Arc of Rowan will provide free child care at Partners In Learning to participants attending the conference. This annual event is a wonderful networking opportunity for the early education and special needs community in our area. Local agencies will be available throughout the conference to share and discuss the services that they provide for individuals, families, professionals, and members of the community.

optimism for autismThis year’s breakout sessions promise to be captivating and will inspire parents and professionals with ideas and hope! You will leave the mini-conference ready to try (and make) new things, with knowledge on your child’s development, and excited to not only be your child’s parent, but their number one advocate!

Participants will be able to attend two breakout sessions. Topics included are (1) use Pinterest to boost your child’s development; (2) hear from parents who have been there and done that and who are willing to share their journeys; (3) making shoe box activities; (4) how to make, or find cheaply, toys and tools that encourage fine motor skills and sensory play; (5) learn from and put yourself in the shoes of a retired Rowan County schools special education teacher; (6) how to have a passion for advocacy; and (7) discipline tips and how to determine triggers of behavioral problems in order to intervene and correct behavior in children with and without special needs.

If any of these topics sounds interesting to you or if you wish to network with the early education and special needs community in our area, please join us for our Special Needs Mini-Conference. The conference will be held in the Ketner building on Catawba College’s campus on May 3rd, 2014. Registration begins at 8:00 a.m. If you need childcare, please drop your child off at Partners In Learning before arriving at Ketner for registration. For more information and to sign up for the mini-conference, please call Partners In Learning at (704) 639-9020. We look forward to seeing you there!

Katie Zink, Infant-Toddler Family Specialist

Katie Zink, Infant-Toddler Family Specialist

 

 

Katie Zink is a graduate of Catawba College and serves as a CBRS therapist for Partners In Learning. Prior to her role as a therapist, Katie served as a teacher beginning in 2009.  Working with children is her life’s passion.

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Halloween For and With Children With Special Needs

As Halloween approaches many parents are in the spirit preparing costumes and treats and getting ready for parties and trick-or-treating. But for parents of children with special needs, there is often more than your average preparation.

How does a child with sensory issues handle a costume or the noise of a busy neighborhood? How does a child in a wheel chair navigate stairs up to a house and what costume will work best in a wheel chair? How does a child with limited verbal skills communicate “Trick-or-treat” and “Thank you?” These and other thoughts go into the preparation of Halloween for parents with children with a disability.

As a household who receives trick-or-treaters it’s always a good reminder that the child who is grasping in the bowl may not be greedy, but may just have delayed fine motor skills and be struggling to take just one piece. The child who does not say thank you may not have poor manners, but may just be nonverbal. A child who might seem agitated may not have missed his or her nap, but might be experiencing sensory over load. So we’ve included some advice for you as well.

Preparing
Norma Honeycutt, executive director for Partners In Learning, says that visuals are great ways to start talking with your child about Halloween.  This will help to make the traditions of the evening more familiar and the evening itself less scary for the child.  She suggests Halloween books and social stories.

The Costume
Dr. Ashley Deaton, occupational therapist and co-owner of One Step At A Time Therapy Services, says that many kids with special needs cannot handle wearing a mask or a costume that is tight fitting around the neck.  She says costumes that velcro shut and don’t require a mask or hood often work best.

For children who are less mobile, incorporate a child’s wagon or stroller into the costume. “Make the wheelchair look like a boat and the child dressing as a sailor or mermaid,” says Deaton.

Honeycutt reminds parents that, especially for young children, scary costumes for Halloween can feel very real. She suggests taking your child to a store and letting them look at all the costumes. “Show them scary costumes while they are not on.  The worst thing that parents can do, that I so often see, is scare their child by putting on scary mask and laughing.  Remember, that this is all new to them and their fear is real.”

Jenn Scott, who has a son with Down syndrome, shares that he does not like hats or masks. This Halloween he will be wearing skeleton pajamas with nothing on his head and a skeleton sweatshirt in case it’s cold.

Lindsy Maners says her son who has Down syndrome was fine with a costume last year, but this year he’s been having more sensory issues with clothes. “He wanted to be Spider-Man, but once he tried it on, he was very upset. So we opted for a football player, which is made up of all of his own clothes. Comfort and happiness and much more important.”

For children with sensory issues:

  • Avoid hoods or hats
  • Avoid or remove tags
  • Avoid stratchy costumes
  • Keep the wasteband loose
  • Make a costume out of the child’s own clothing
  • Make a costume out of sweat pant material
The Route
Deaton advises to avoid random houses.  “Lots of people take the scare factor of Halloween very seriously and it can be traumatic for some kids to be scared like that,” she says. “Going to houses of family and friends and going to community trick-or-treat events such as the mall or downtown shops would be much safer.”
Communication
There are lots of options for children who are non or semi verbal to communicate phrases like “trick-or-treat” and “thank you.”
  • Use a greeting card that allows you to record a message. With some Halloween paper and decorations to cover the original card contents, you can help the child record their “Trick-or-treat” message and then practice having them go up to the door and open the card when someone answers so that they can join in on the Halloween fun.
  • Make written cards with phrases and put them on popsicle sticks or small rods. Allow the child to decorate them with festive colors and stickers. There are also ones you can download.
  • Teach the child the signs for the phrases.
Advice to the trick-or-treat receiver
“The best advise for the people receiving trick-or-treaters is  to not judge children’s behavior,” says Honeycutt.
“For people receiving trick or treaters I’d suggest buying nonfood treats to give in case a child comes to the door who doesn’t eat by mouth, can’t have candy, or is allergic,” says Deaton. She suggests a small coloring book/crayon combo from the Dollar Store. “You don’t have to worry about a choking hazard and they can practice their fine motor skills.” She said small stuffed animals or small balls are also good options.
Toni Robinson who works as an advocate for children with special needs adds, “If someone can’t understand what a child says or means or needs, just say, ‘I am sorry, I don’t understand, but I want to. Would you (to the child or the adult traveling with) be willing to help me understand?’”
When trick-or-treating just doesn’t work
For some children, even with accomodations, trick-or-treating just isn’t fun. When that is the case, consider staying home and allowing them to pass out the candy.

“For our son, who experienced major discomfort with costumes of all kinds, was terrified of clowns, yet loved the idea of Halloween and giving treats, we listened to those preferences and allowed him to be a welcomer and treat distributor,” says Robinson, whose son is 30 and has special needs. “To this day, he still enjoys doing that and looks forward to Halloween. To this day, he has huge appreciation for all holidays and continues to invite us to notice reasons to celebrate day in and day out.”

Beth Goodman agrees, “We decorate the house with non-scary things, read books about dressing up.” She says her son, who has Down syndrome, doesn’t care to stay in a costume and he doesn’t eat candy. “So his job is to sit by me in the driveway, fire pit going, and pass out candy. We have to buy a lot because he’s generous with his handouts.”

Jill Wagoner is Secretary of the Board of Directors at Partners In Learning and the parent of a son with Down syndrome.

 

Jill Wagoner is the mother of a child with Down syndrome. She serves as an advocate, writer, speaker, fundraiser, and grant writer for organizations that support children with special needs. A former journalist and current marketer and public relations specialist, Jill has been published in many publications and blogs, including The Salisbury PostModern Parent, and Rowan Magazine.

Support Groups for Families of Children with Special Needs

Did you know that Partners In Learning offers Support Groups to parents and professionals in the community?

Imagine being able to meet face-to-face with people each month that are experiencing similar issues as you. Our support groups encourage you to meet new people and share advice with your peers. You have the opportunity to discuss how your children are coping with their latest challenges and offer solutions to others that have worked for you in the past. Wouldn’t it be helpful to share strategies for coping with the public school system and other legal situations? Knowing that you are not alone can be just as helpful as the information that we provide during each meeting.

For each month’s meeting, we provide either a speaker or a specific topic. Our most recent meeting involved the use of technology by children with special needs. We learned how to pick out age-appropriate applications, such as for your iPad or phone. Professionals shared their favorite Apps and we discussed the consequences that may arise from the use of technology with young children.

Other past meetings have involved a Disability Rights speaker discussing the legal rights of children with special needs. We usually have seasonal themed meetings, such as a Christmas dinner and visit with Santa as well as our annual trip to Patterson Farm’s strawberry patch.

Not only will these meetings allow you to feel less isolated, but you will gain a sense of empowerment and knowledge. You will feel more comfortable when coping with situations that involve your child with special needs. Through open, honest discussion, you will come to better understand what to expect from specific situations. And best of all, you will get useful advice while making new friends that can serve as support for your family.

We specifically offer Autism and Down Syndrome Support Groups, but any parent of a child with special needs is welcome to attend our events. Our support groups for families of children with special needs meet monthly, typically at Partners In Learning’s resource room. Most of the meetings include free dinner and childcare. Professional babysitters and our own teachers provide childcare for children whose parents are attending the meeting.

Partners In Learning always encourages parents and professionals to attend our support group meetings and workshops. Please call ahead to reserve your spot at one of our meetings and follow us online for upcoming events.

Katie Zink, Infant-Toddler Family Specialist

 

Katie Zink is a graduate of Catawba College and serves as a CBRS therapist for Partners In Learning. Prior to her role as a therapist, Katie served as a teacher beginning in 2009.  Working with children is her life’s passion.

There’s An App For That

There are mobile applications for just about everything these days. From convienece and productivity, to games and teaching tools, parent use apps all day long.

Apps geared toward children with special needs have exploded over the past several years. From apps that turn a tablet into an augmentative communication device for speech, to ones specifically tailored to children with a specific diagnosis, more and more companies are gearing their products toward this audience.

Here are some app recomedations from area therapists and parents of children with special needs.

From the Professionals 

Norma Honeycutt, executive director of Partners In Learning, recommends Twinkly Twinkle Little Star interactive sing along app. This app is a collection of intuitive and educational games, including the a vivid interactive and high quality production of the beloved song. “It is my favorite because it is so simple. Most children learn through music. This is usually the first song that the children I work with learn. When the star is touched the it moves and when the owl is touched it hoots. There is also a peek-a-boo game. This is a simple first opportunity for children to experience cause and effect.”

Another favorite of hers is Cookie Maker, an app that allows children to virtually mix, cook and decorate a cookie. “It is one of my favorites because it makes the child go through steps to get a final product, a cookie. This teaches sequencing and problem solving.”

Katie Zink, CBRS Therapist for Partners In Learning, recommends Dexteria and Dexteria Jr. This app has won numerous awards and is a set of therapeutic hand exercises (not games) to improve fine motor skills and handwriting readiness. “They both focus on fine motor skills, such as finger isolation, pinching, and tracing. I also use these games to encourage speech, such as “When you pinch the pepper, say ‘POP.’”

She also uses SoundingBoard to turn a tablet or phone into an augmentative communication device. “This allows the user to create a communication board with pictures and verbal words that the child can then pick from to make choices throughout their daily routines.”

Zink also uses Mr. Potato Head during her therapy sessions with young children. This app is a game Zink uses during therapy to work on the childrens’ goals. “It is my new favorite with all of my toddlers,” she said. “They can tell me which body part they want to put on first and where they want Mr. Potato Head to ‘visit’ next. This one also works on fine motor and finger isolation when they move their finger to place the parts in the correct holes.”

Dr. Ashley Deaton, Occupational Therapist ad Co-owner, One Step At A Time Therapy Services, agrees with Zink that Dexteria provides several good fine motor activities for pinching objects and tracing.

She recommends My Play Home and My Play Store. She says these are great apps for real world simulation that can be used as modeling for every day routines and behaviors. “For example, you can pick out and put the clothes on the family members, give them a bath, take them outside to jump on the trampoline, or get food for them out of the refrigerator. With My Play Store, you can go to an ice cream shop and scoop ice cream or you can go to the market and buy bananas and apples and feed them to the family members.”

Deaton also recommends Letter School as a fun, interactive app for learning to write letters. This app also has won numerous awards and is described as an intuitive game to learn all about letters and numbers: writing, counting, phonics and more.

From the Front Line – Mom’s Choice

One of my new favorites is Special Words.  The app was created by Down Syndrome Education International, an organization that work with parents and teachers worldwide to improve educational outcomes for children with Down syndrome. The app teaches children to recognize written and spoken words, and encourages their speech development, using pictures and sounds. It’s a great app because it’s backed by research and because it is set up to be motivational, clapping for the child after each round of success.

Another family favorite is Cookie Doodle. An occupational therapist reccomended this to us as an app for following directions and fine motor. Our son enjoys creating virtual cookies, while engaging in speech, fine motor and multi-step direction following skills.

A great pre-school app we also us is Monkey Preschool Lunchbox. The number one preschool game in the iTunes app store, this app offers seven fun educational games for preschoolers about colors, letters, counting, shapes, sizes, matching, and differences. Our son loves the games and making sounds along with the monkey in the app.

Lindsy Maners, mother of a son with Down syndrome, reccommends Articulate for a speech app. “You can program it for exactly what your child needs to work on,” she said. She added that it allows for grouping by letters or sounds and focus and also group by working on beginning, middle, endings. It tracks progress each time as well.

Another mom of a child with special needs, Emily Henry uses Alphabet Aquarium School Adventure. This app provides the opportunity to learn letters through four fun games. “It is great for fine motor and letter identification.

She also recommends Toddler Teasers. This company offers several apps. Henry uses these for teaching shapes. “He knows all of his shapes now he still likes to play it. It also is good for fine motor and matching.”

With the new apps coming out all the time, by the time you try these there will be some new ones to try.

Jill Wagoner is Secretary of the Board of Directors at Partners In Learning and the parent of a son with Down syndrome.

 

Jill Wagoner is the mother of a child with Down syndrome. She serves as an advocate, writer, speaker, fundraiser, and grant writer for organizations that support children with special needs. A former journalist and current marketer and public relations specialist, Jill has been published in many publications and blogs, including The Salisbury PostModern Parent, and Rowan Magazine.

Hugs… More than Just a Nice Gesture

After a nice big bear-hug, don’t you just feel a sense of calm and happiness?

Sometimes a hug from a family member, close friend, or coworker is what we need to get through the day. Hugs involve human touch as well as a deep pressure that causes our body to react chemically. Oftentimes these hugs work for our children also. But what about our friends with autism who tend to avoid close contact and affection with other people? The truth is they benefit from this deep muscular pressure also, possibly even more than you might think.

Children with autism experience multiple sensory-related issues that we are not used to in our own daily lives, including: hypersensitivity or under-sensitivity to noise, smells, lights, crowds, touch, and much more. While these children typically receive therapies, such as physical and occupational, sensory integration therapy is also being used to help children with autism. This type of therapy seeks to regulate a child’s sensory responses. Results of sensory integration techniques and similar activities involve lower anxiety levels, more focused attention, and even improved behavior.

A great example of sensory integration therapy is the use of weighted vests, or sensory-pressure vests. The way these vests work is essentially representative of a hug, a hug that is constant throughout the use of the vest. Children wear these vests, jackets, belts, or blankets during daily activities, such as playing, learning, eating, or sometimes during rest. The idea is that the pressure unconsciously relieves muscles and joints and allows the child to be more focused and calm.

We use the same idea with our newborn babies when we swaddle them; the pressure gives them a sense of comfort. These techniques have been used not only for children with autism, but also children with ADHD, other sensory integration disorders, as well as many other neurological disorders; the possibilities seems to be endless with this type of therapy.

Similar therapy techniques have also been used with adults who easily get distracted, are hyperactive, or have trouble with their concentration skills. People with Cerebral Palsy and Muscular Dystrophy also benefit from this weight-therapy.

Sensory integration and weight-therapy is so effective that it has also been said to benefit our furry friends. I recently watched a commercial which suggested that dogs benefit from a weighted vest in certain troublesome areas, such as: loud noises, separation anxiety, travel anxiety, crate training, problems barking, and hyperactivity. After further investigation on this product, the underlying principle is the same as what we use with sensory integration therapy. It works with everyone!

So the next time you see a friend looking upset or anxious, give them a nice bear-hug to help them relieve some of their stress!

Katie Zink, Infant-Toddler Family Specialist

 

Katie Zink is a graduate of Catawba College and serves as a CBRS therapist for Partners In Learning. Prior to her role as a therapist, Katie served as a teacher beginning in 2009.  Working with children is her life’s passion.