Why Reading to Children Is So Important

Does your child have a favorite book they like to hear? Do you enjoy sharing your favorite childhood book with your child? That’s a win-win! Reading to children is important for many reasons including cognitive benefits, stronger social, emotional and character development, decreased levels of aggression, and stronger vocabulary. It strengthens your relationship with your kids and—best of all, helps kids develop a lifelong love of reading.

At just several months of age, an infant can listen to your voice, look at pictures and point to objects on pages. Children learn to love the sound of language before they even notice words on a page. Reading to children stimulates their imagination and expands their understanding of the world. It helps them develop language and listening skills and prepares them to understand written words.

Supported Cognitive Development

Reading to a child has been proven to improve cognitive skills and aid in cognitive development. Cognitive development is the emergence of the ability to understand and think, the construction of thought processes, including remembering, problem solving and decision-making, from childhood through adulthood. How a person perceives his world through areas such as information processing, reasoning, language development, attention span and memory are parts of cognitive development. Reading also stimulates brain cell activity. The more an adult reads to a child, the larger their vocabularies grow, and the more they understand about the world around them.

Better Language Skills

Reading exposes children to new speech patterns and vocabularies. They learn to absorb information on how to form a sentence and use words effectively, helping them develop better communication skills. Reading stimulates the part of the brain that allows children to understand the meaning of language and helps build key language, literacy, and social skills. This is especially important when you consider that, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, more than one in three children start kindergarten without the skills they need to learn to read. Research has shown that kindergarten children who were read to at least three times a week had a significantly greater phonemic awareness than did children who were read to less often.

Prepare for Academic Success

By helping children to grow their vocabulary skills with exposure to new words and listening skills, they are better positioned for academic success. Studies show that students exposed to reading before preschool are more likely to do better when their reach their period of formal education. By jumpstarting a child’s reading success, they experience stronger growth in the following areas:

phonemic awareness: being able to hear, identify and play with individual sounds

phonics: being able to connect letters of written language with sounds of spoken language

vocabulary: words needed to communicate effectively

reading comprehension: being able to understand what has been read

fluency (oral reading): ability to read text accurately and quickly

Reading Helps Children with Special Needs

For children with special needs, looking at faces and body language in a story helps them learn about nonverbal cures of communication. More than just being able to read or write, literacy is a key component of learning, development, communication, and a richer life. It’s not only about being understood, but also about being able to comprehend your world. Developmental delays can affect a child’s motors skills, social-emotional development, daily skills, and cognitive abilities. Reading can augment other learning styles—visual, auditory, tactile, and more. A child can look at an apple, bite it, do an apple puzzle, and read about apples. Looking at picture books can enhance a child’s ability to recognize pictures and what is happening in them, to generalize into his environment.

Literacy helps a child learn about herself and her feelings. When a child is stressed or had an afternoon meltdown but can’t tell you how he’s feeling, reading can often be a comfort. For example, a fun rhyming book about emotions, ending with “how do you feel today?” can offer a child a way to share feelings they might not be able to express otherwise, by allowing them to point to a picture in the book relating to their emotions.

Special Bonding with Your Child

One of the most important things you can do to positively influence a child’s development is spend time with them. Reading to your child provides a wonderful opportunity to have a regular, shared event where you look forward to spending time together. Reading provides invaluable nurturing and reassurance to a child, even as a baby. Young babies love to hear familiar voices and reading is a perfect way to foster this connection. A strong parent/caregiver-child relationship can develop from a child knowing you’ll read together at a predictable, scheduled time that fits into daily routines. Reading aloud together gives you and your child something to talk about, which can also be used to discuss real-life experiences.

Increase Concentration and Improved Creativity

According to earlymoments.com, along with reading comprehension comes a stronger, self-discipline, longer attention spans and better memory retention. Additionally, reading can open doors to new worlds for your child as they use their imaginations to explore people, places, and events beyond their own experiences, shared with them through reading aloud.

Resources

Take a look at this comprehensive list of 100 Books Every Child Should Hear Before Kindergarten. https://files.constantcontact.com/de0ceffa301/83882bd3-3d51-4f8c-a258-132be9314128.pdf

PBS Kids Read! https://www.pbs.org/parents/read

Life is hectic and parents/caregivers are busy. Taking the time to read with your child on a regular basis sends an important message that reading is worthwhile. Go to the bookstore together and let your child select a new book. Go to the library and borrow several books by different authors. Get excited! Help your child grow into an adult who reads easily and frequently whether for business, knowledge or pleasure.

References

www.pacer.org/ec/early-literacy/literacy-opens-the-world.asp

readingrockets.org

www.pbs.org/parents/thrive/why-reading-aloud-to-kids-helps-them-thrive

www.all4kids.org/news/blog/the-importance-of-reading-to-your-children/

Halloween Safety for Special Needs Children

Halloween is almost here, along with costumes, trick-or-treating, and lots of candy and snacks. There are many ways to prepare to keep your child safe while having a good time. For families of children with special needs there are often extra precautions needed to ensure a fun holiday. Below is a brief list of suggestions and resources that may be helpful.

General Safety Tips

-Choose light-colored costumes that are easily seen at night. If necessary, add reflective or glow-in-the-dark tape to the costume and treat bag.

-Be sure to buy flame retardant costumes or use flame retardant materials. This means the material will not burn.

-Be sure your child can breathe and see out of the costume; be sure masks, wigs and beards don’t cover eyes, noses or mouths. Instead of masks, consider using non-toxic face paint or makeup.

-Put a name tag with your phone number on your children’s costumes.

-Avoid oversized and high-heeled shoes to prevent falls. Be sure costumes aren’t so long a child can trip over them.

-Make sure any props such as swords or wands are short and flexible.

-Walk on lit sidewalks and walk from house to house (no running).

-Cross at crosswalks and do not assume vehicles will stop for you.

-After trick-or-treating, check all treats to be sure they are sealed. Discard any candy with torn packages or holes in packages, and spoiled items.

Trick-or-Treat Basics

Under age 12:

-Children under 12 should always go trick-or-treating with an adult.

-Be sure your child knows your cell or home phone number.

-Children should know how to call 911 in case they get separated or lost.

Older children:

-Older children should have a route and a time limit

-Be sure your child carries a cell phone, and a flashlight or glow stick.

-Children should go in a group and stay together, and only go to houses with lights on.

-Children should never go into strangers’ cars or homes.

For Children with Autism

The sights, sounds and smells of the holiday can be immensely challenging for a child with autism. In many cases, if children know what to expect beforehand, Halloween can be a bit less stressful. Some preparation suggestions include:

-Reduce anxiety by maintaining your child’s regular routine as much as possible.

-Use stories to prepare your child for the holiday and activities you may do. Watch movies with scenes of children trick-or-treating and participating in Halloween activities.

-Mark event dates on your calendar. Consider adjusting how far in advance you prepare your child if he gets anxious when anticipating an event.

-Respect your child’s limits when planning and scheduling activities.

-Practice wearing a costume before Halloween. Allow your child to dress up as their favorite character regardless of age. There are even pajamas that look like costumes.

-Avoid props that may cause sensory overload.

-Make fun, Halloween-themed food throughout the month.

-At parties, find a private room for your child to safely relax when overwhelmed.

-Attend drive-up or drive-through Halloween events.

-Instead of trick-or-treating, consider creating a candy/toy scavenger hunt in your house or yard, or buying a pinata to fill with allergy-friendly candy and toys, and allow your kids to break it open on Halloween.

-Play sensory games with slime, squishy brains, etc. Click here for some great ideas for sensory games.

-Make Halloween crafts to use as decorations.

For additional tips, click here.

For information on keeping your child with ASD safe, click here.

-Create innovative ways to safely hand out candy to trick-or-treaters such as a cool candy slide Here’s an example.

Costumes

For children with sensory issues, many activities during this time may be additionally difficult. Below are additional accommodations that may help:

-Discuss Halloween and costumes with your child before the holiday arrives.

-Select a sensory-friendly costume and have your child wear familiar, comfortable clothing underneath. If possible, wash the costume before wearing to soften the material and remove any unfamiliar scents. Consider having your child wear a compression or weighted vest underneath.

-Have your child practice wearing their costume before the holiday and make necessary adjustments.

-Factor in time for breaks.

-Bring items that comfort your child, such as noise-cancelling headphones, ear plugs, weighted vests and comfort items.

Click here for more information.

The Teal Pumpkin Project

The goal of The Teal Pumpkin Project is to make trick-or-treating more inclusive and safer for children with food allergies. By placing a teal pumpkin on your stoop, you are letting trick-or-treaters know you have non-food treats that are safe. Read more here.

 

Halloween can be celebrated in a variety of ways that provide safe fun for all. A little planning and preparation can help greatly toward enjoying any holiday and Halloween is no exception. It is important to assess your family’s needs and go from there. There is no gold standard to which we must adhere in order to enjoy this holiday. Create your own way of celebrating and enjoy! Happy Halloween.

 

Note: The information in this article is for informational purposes only. It is not an attempt to diagnose or treat any medical condition. Always consult your child’s pediatrician with any specific medical questions. MKSA is also available to answer questions about child development. Contact us at 516-731-5588 or www.mksallc.com.

Sources:
Halloween Tips for Autism Families: https://tacanow.org/family-resources/trick-or-treat/
Halloween Safety Tips: https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/halloween.html
Halloween Sensory Play: https://lemonlimeadventures.com/totally-awesome-non-spooky-halloween-sensory-play-ideas-kids/
Keeping Your Kids with ASD Safe: https://tacanow.org/family-resources/keeping-your-kids-with-asd-safe/
How to Have a Safe and Sensory Friendly Halloween: https://www.myautism.org/news-features/how-to-have-a-safe-and-sensory-friendly-halloween
The Teal Pumpkin Project: https://www.foodallergy.org/resources/about-teal-pumpkin-project

Developmental Screenings for Children are Important

If you are a parent or guardian of a child, you know the importance of regular doctor visits. In addition to the standard components of a visit, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that pediatricians talk with families about their child’s development at every well-child visit between birth and 3 years old, and conduct developmental screenings at 9, 18 and 30 months of age.

During the first three years of a child’s life, their brain undergoes a remarkable period of development, and these years are considered the most important in a child’s development. These years are an important time for developmental monitoring and screening.  According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), developmental monitoring observes how your child grows and changes over time and whether a child is meeting typical developmental milestones in playing, learning, speaking, behaving, and moving. A milestone checklist such as the one on MKSA’s website is a useful tool for this. All family members can participate in developmental monitoring. If you feel your child is not developing like other children of the same age, speak with your child’s pediatrician. At well-visits, doctors will do developmental monitoring and will ask you questions and will talk and play with your child. Childcare providers can also be a valuable source of information on your child’s development.

Developmental screening is a more in-depth look at your child’s development. Parents will complete a questionnaire about their child and your child may get a brief test. Screenings may be done by a doctor as well as other professionals in healthcare, early childhood education or school settings. Developmental screening is more formal and done less often than monitoring. Your child should be screened if you or your doctor have a concern, but developmental screening is a regular part of some well visits for all children. The AAP recommends developmental and behavioral screening for all children during well visits at the following ages:  9 months, 18 months, and 30 months. AAP also recommends that all children be screened specifically for autism spectrum disorder during well visits at 18 and 24 months. If your child is at a higher risk for developmental problems due to preterm birth, low birthweight, family history or other factors, your doctor may discuss additional screening.

Parents are sometimes hesitant about developmental screenings, believing that doctors are looking for problems. The opposite is often true. Parents—especially first-time parents—often have many questions about their child’s development. All aspects of a child’s development and life are considered, and doctors often reassure parents that behaviors and development are in fact typical. And if there is a concern, early help does make a difference.

If a developmental screening identifies an area of concern, a formal developmental evaluation may be suggested. An evaluation will identify and diagnose developmental delays and conditions and determine if a child is eligible for early intervention services. A developmental delay means a child has not reached age-appropriate milestones in one or more developmental areas. If the delay is significant enough to meet eligibility criteria, early intervention services are available at no out-of-pocket cost. To learn more about this, click here.

Many families have delayed well-child visits due to the pandemic, resulting in missed screenings. Schedules were altered, and ‘getting back to normal’ should include resuming regular checkups for children. Many milestones can only be measured by doctors in person. Parents can also discuss any concerns they may have about their child, and receive guidance, and resources if necessary. If well-visits were missed, now is the time to reconnect with your child’s doctor and discuss any concerns.

If you have any questions about your child’s development, MKSA is here to answer your questions. Please reach out by email at info@mksallc.org or call 516-731-5588.

 

Note: The information in this article is for informational purposes only. It is not an attempt to diagnose or treat any medical condition. Always consult your child’s pediatrician with any specific medical questions. MKSA is also available to answer questions about child development. Contact us at 516-731-5588 or www.mksallc.com.

 

 Sources:

https://cdc.gov Developmental Monitoring and Screening

https://aap.org Developmental Screening

Pandemic Anxiety in Children

The coronavirus pandemic has been a long, stressful time for most, but especially for young children. While we are hopefully moving in the right direction about transitioning toward more pre-pandemic routines and activities, there is still much cause for anxiety in children.

Uncertainty, fear and staying at home has made changed routines difficult. Children don’t always understand why they can’t go to school, see their families, or play with their friends. Remote learning, while a way to attempt to keep children current with their studies, can be another cause of anxiety. For children with special needs, the disruptions are amplified. Services that have moved to teletherapy are additionally challenging, and maintaining a calm, albeit new routine is difficult as well.

We are sharing the following information from Boston Children’s Hospital: 

Some kids hide in their rooms. Others turn their cameras off during remote learning and don’t want to talk to anyone. Still others feel panicky when they do go out in public. As the COVID-19 pandemic wears on, its effects on our mental health may have become increasingly noticeable — especially in children and teens. “My daughter used to be really energetic and motivated,” says one mother. “She was happy and light. Now, she’s just folded into herself.”

She’s not alone. Families are reporting troubling changes in their children’s emotional well-being, particularly when it comes to anxiety. To better understand the problem — and learn what parents can do to help — we spoke with Allison Scobie-Carroll, senior director of social work and family services at Boston Children’s Hospital.

A lot of kids seem to be experiencing increased anxiety. Why?

Like adults, children and teens are missing being around their peers. They need those relationships not just to feel good, but also to practice social skills. Now that we’ve been in this for a year, we’re seeing the effects of what happens when children are separated from regular social interaction for long periods of time.

What are some aspects of the pandemic that can cause or worsen anxiety in kids?

Our “new normal” means that the way we interact with each other has changed. Things that once came naturally — like just being out in the world — are now fraught with concern. If a child is already prone to anxiety, the rejection they might feel when someone steers away from them may be amplified, even if that person is simply trying to physically distance.

Then add in masks, which can contribute to anxiety in a couple of different ways. First, they block our ability to read social cues, like smiles or frowns. They can also impede the ability to practice deep breathing, which is a natural way to counteract anxiety and for some people contributes to feelings of claustrophobia. That said, masks are critical to protecting against COVID-19, and most kids have adapted well to wearing them.

Can kids “catch” anxiety from their parents and other adults?

Collectively, we’re transmitting a lot of worry and kids absolutely pick up on that, particularly if they’re already sensitive or prone to anxiety.

What can parents do to help their children cope with anxiety?

The most important thing you can do is to let your child know you’ll be there for them — it’s so simple but so fundamental. You can also try the following tips:

Listen to them. Children experience and navigate the world through a different lens than adults. Their worries need not be rational or fact based, but they are still valid.

Teach them coping skills. Regular exercise, turning off screens at least an hour before bed, and using apps like Calm to practice deep breathing and other relaxation techniques can all help kids (and parents) ease anxiety.

Schedule safe playdates. There’s no substitute for being around friends — kids relate to each other in ways that adults just can’t. Ask your child if they’d be interested in seeing the friends in their circle, as long as they follow safe precautions like wearing masks and practicing physical distancing.

Connect with other parents. The pressures of life right now might make you feel something is very wrong with your child — but many families are experiencing the same thing. Situational anxiety can be a natural response to chronic stress. It can help to know that it’s not a failure on your part and that you aren’t alone.

Know your child. A lot of kids and adults are experiencing panic attacks, having night terrors, or developing phobias for the first time during the pandemic.  If you’re concerned about new or worsened symptoms in your child, contact your primary care provider for help.

The Mayo Clinic offers additional suggestions for helping children with special needs during this time:

Kids with special needs and their parents may feel anxious, just like any family. At the same time, families with complex needs have a hidden strength: They’re resilient, and they know what it takes to adapt to the unexpected. If you’re in this situation during the COVID-19 pandemic, know that you can navigate uncertain times successfully. Here are some suggestions:

Rely on your experience

Think back to strategies that have worked for you in the past. Go back to the basics. This might include:

  • Keeping a consistent schedule for meals, medications, exercise and bedtime
  • Planning gradual transitions that suit your child’s pace
  • Using visual cues to illustrate schedules and activities
  • Scheduling quiet time to reduce sensory input and de-stress
  • Offering warm praise for a job well done
  • Promptly correcting or redirecting negative behavior and offering a chance for a redo

Help your child feel in control

Explain that everyone is working together to keep the virus that causes COVID-19 from spreading and making people sick. This is why some schools and playgrounds may be closed. Likewise, having a playdate or going to a friend’s house may not be an option. Explain that kids can be a big help, too, by following such practices as:

  • Washing hands with soap and water often, or clean hands with sanitizer
  • Sneezing or coughing into a tissue or a bent elbow, not hands, and throwing used tissues in the trash
  • Keeping 6 feet of space between themselves and others outside of the house
  • Waving or giving smiles instead of hugs, fist bumps and high-fives
  • Wearing a face mask at grocery stores and in other public places

Revisit your child’s treatment plan and care needs

If your child has a treatment plan — which might include things such as a list of prescription medicines, therapy instructions, and emergency and medical contacts — make sure that it’s up to date and accessible. It may help to have it in the form of an electronic document that you can easily share. In addition:

  • Identify potential alternative caregivers, in case you or your child’s regular caregiver is sick.
  • Gather specific instructions for caregivers, including information on your child’s medical conditions, doctors and therapists, daily schedules, and preferences.
  • Visit websites of support groups and organizations you’ve typically relied on in the past.

Manage stress

During the pandemic, everyone feels added stress. But it’s possible to manage stress so it doesn’t get overwhelming. Consider these tips:

  • Take breaks.Remember to make some time for yourself. Wake up a few minutes early to gather your thoughts. Pause a minute or two before bedtime to do some stretches or deep breathing. Take time to gather your mental reserves.
  • Limit access to the news.Being informed is good. But information overload can heighten anxiety about the disease.
  • Stay healthy.Even though schedules feel off, prioritize getting enough sleep, eating balanced meals and staying active. These fundamentals will reduce stress and improve everyone’s state of mind.
  • Connect with loved ones.Stay connected with grandparents and friends via phone or video chat. Or write a letter. Maintaining your family’s support network is a key coping strategy.
  • Have some fun.Share relaxed moments with your family, when you’re not focusing on work or school. Play games with your kids, go for sunset walks, do cooking projects together and enjoy home movie nights.

 

It’s a challenging time for sure. Children experience their own anxiety, but also feed off the environment within their home. To handle both yours and your child’s anxiety it is important to find ways to enjoy the time together with your family. The weather is changing; get outside and play, take a walk, create a scavenger hunt…just be together and soak up some fresh air. We’ll all get through this together.

Stay safe and be well.

 

Note: The information in this article is for informational purposes only. It is not an attempt to diagnose or treat any medical condition. Always consult your child’s pediatrician with any specific medical questions. MKSA is also available to answer questions about child development. Contact us at 516-731-5588 or www.mksallc.com.

Sources:
https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/coronavirus/in-depth/special-needs-parenting-covid-19/art-20487665
https://answers.childrenshospital.org/covid-anxiety-kids/

Tips for Traveling With a Special Needs Child

One of the fun parts of life includes vacations and travel. Staycations, exotic trips, theme parks, beach relaxation—they all serve the same purpose: a break from our daily routines. Planning a trip can be exhausting and maintaining a schedule while away can be extra challenging. For families that include a child with special needs there are additional concerns and extra planning that must be taken into consideration.

Planning your trip

Explore transportation options based on the distance you need to travel. Are you close enough to travel by car? If your child needs specialized seating, what travel mode works best with their seating system? If air or train travel leaves you too far from emergency medical treatment, consider a closer destination that can be reached by car.

In choosing a destination, consider your child’s special needs and capabilities. Will a cruise work best for your needs and family interests? Royal Caribbean received the first “Autism Friendly” certification several years ago. Maybe city travel interests your child and can provide varied activities for all family members. National Parks provide visitors with wheelchair-accessible trails, auto tours and observation areas. And, of course, theme parks—Disney in particular—go above and beyond accommodating special needs families.

Plan your trip and choose destinations and rest stops that can accommodate your child’s needs. Even if you are traveling by car, make sure your final destination has any accessibility that is needed. It’s important—and okay—to let people know what your child needs and to expect accommodations to be made for your child.

Flying

For trips by plane, preparing your child for flying will make the transitions a bit easier. You can read about airplanes and airports, and watch videos about flying. Visiting an airport might help prepare your child for the atmosphere, and you can spend some time watching planes take off and land. Some cities create mock flights that provide children with autism a flight experience (without leaving the ground!). You can pack your bags, go to the airport, pass security, board, “fly” and deplane in preparing for an upcoming flight.

Before flying, be sure to check-in at home. You’ll avoid waiting in line at the airport and can print boarding passes at home. Remember to bring small bills with you for taxis and tips. Less fumbling and less stress! The TSA has a new helpline for travelers with special needs. Call 855-787-2227 to learn more about screening policies, procedures and security checkpoint information.

When booking flights, select seats at the front of the plane, and closer to rest rooms. Upon arrival, request wheelchair assistance and security lines, if necessary. For special needs passengers, hand searches and private screenings may be requested.

Carry-on bags are key

Plan your carry-on packing strategically. Medications should always be packed in carry-on luggage in the event of lost or delayed checked baggage. While the traditional 3-1-1 rule (https://www.tsa.gov/travel/frequently-asked-questions/what-3-1-1-liquids-rule) applies, liquid medication is one items which may be allowed in higher quantities. Check with your carrier for more information. Remember to also carry a change of clothes for your child. For children who may become stressed or anxious in new situations, bring familiar and special items from home in your carry-on bag, such as a small blanket, toys, games or music that distract or relax your child. Noise-cancelling headphones can block out noises in planes, cars and other attractions.

Special items

Be sure to review items you’ll need for bath time, bedtime and meals. Call your hotel(s) to see how they can help. Bring special items that your child(ren) require or are used to, such as a special toy, blanket or sippy cup. Be sure to make a checklist of important items and double check it before leaving each stop of your trip.

Get your doctor involved

Speak with your child’s pediatrician and ask for recommendations and tips. If you are flying, ask if there are natural supplements or medications that might help your child relax to make the flight or drive easier. Prepare a folder with information you might need in an emergency, such as:

-a list of medications your child is taking along with a copy of each prescription

-doctor’s letter with description of your child’s condition/special needs (especially for ‘invisible’ conditions such as Autism or Tourette Syndrome)

-phone numbers, email addresses of child’s doctors and specialists (this is in addition to info stored in your phone)

-recommendations for doctors and specialists in the area you are visiting

-copies of health insurance cards and phone numbers (check your health insurance before leaving; many companies require prior approval for out of town emergency room or doctor visits)

Prepare your child

To help prepare your child before your trip, discuss your itinerary and explain what your child will encounter each day. Read books and look at photos of your destination so your child can see what to expect. As important as it is to plan your days and prepare your child, keeping to your overall routine will help ease tension for a special needs child. Naps and mealtimes, when kept on schedule go a long way in maintaining balance.

With some diligent preparation and research, you’ll be able to find the right vacation for your family. And while not every trip goes as planned, the vacation time spent together as a family can be more valuable than any itinerary or tourist attraction checked off your list.

Wishing you safe travels!

 

Note: The information in this article is for informational purposes only. It is not an attempt to diagnose or treat any medical condition. Always consult your child’s pediatrician with any specific medical questions. MKSA is also available to answer questions about child development. Contact us at 516-731-5588 or www.mksallc.com.

 Sources:
Familyvacationcritic.com
Friendshipcircle.com
Myfamilytravels.com

Strategies for Navigating the Holidays with a Special Needs Child

The holidays are a magical time of year for children, with plans for family get-togethers, gift shopping and gift anticipation, as well as other loud, colorful activities. For children with special needs this can be an immensely stressful time of year full of many challenges at home, in school and throughout the community. The holidays are full of potential triggers for children with autism, anxiety and other special needs. By planning ahead and having alternate plans, you can help make the holiday season less stressful for your child. It is important to speak with any visiting friends and family member as well as those whose homes you will be visiting. Share with them any special behaviors, quirks or sensitivities of your child so that they may better understand your child and his (and your!) needs and expectations.

For children with anxiety, anticipation is a big trigger in the time leading up to the holidays. This feeling often leads to anxiety overload, causing them to have a melt down just before, during or after the holiday. For these children, keeping the holidays low-key helps greatly. It’s okay to treat the holiday as an important day, but not in an over-the-top crazy way. To some children, piles of wrapped presents that cannot be opened can be stressful. Keeping these gifts out of sight can help children get stressed about waiting, and possible even opening gifts too early.

At this time of year, there is always an overload of sensory stimuli such as lights, music, bells, odors, tastes, crowds, and hugging. There are strategies for each of these situations; if you can speak with your child and discuss what elements are the most stressful, you can formulate a plan. For example, if certain smells upset your child, consider getting an artificial tree and battery-operated candles. If lights are a trigger, try ones that don’t blink. Decorate tastefully, leaving plenty of space throughout the home so that it doesn’t feel overdone or overcrowded with seasonal items. Try listening to instrumental, relaxing holiday music instead of loud, “busy” music. While planning visits to the mall, try to go during less-crowded times, when your child is well-rested and not hungry.

Family visits can be especially stressful for children with autism, sensory processing disorder, or other special needs. Prepare your child for any dinners or social events in advance. Discuss who will be visiting or where you will be going. Explain that it’s okay if he doesn’t want to hug or shake hands. Let him know there will be a quiet place where he can go to relax; this can be in your home or in someone else’s home (ask your host in advance). Be sure to prepare items such as noise cancelling headphones, a weighted blanket, a stuffed animal, tablet or books. Whatever soothes your child should be available to him, either in your home or in a backpack packed for the day.

It is important to let your child know that it is okay to feel a bit ‘off’ during the hectic, crowded time of the holidays. Let him know that his normal routine will return after the dinner/visit/outing. Work with your child to be sure to get positioned in a place (a corner of someone’s living room, a separate quiet room, a seat in a house of worship such as an aisle near the exit) that offers some comfort and an exit strategy.

An important element to consider is YOUR level of stress. If you are feeling out of sorts and overwhelmed, your special needs child will likely react to your stress. It is at this time that you need to take care of you. Breathe. Take a bath. Go for a walk. Take a break and ground yourself, so that your child will relax too.

Here are some tips from A Day in Our Shoes (adayinourshoes.com) that can function as a checklist for the holidays with children with special needs:

School Holidays and the Special Needs Child

  1. Communication is key! Communicate with your child’s teacher, read the school website. Find out what changes are going to happen as best as you can. Prepare your child for these changes–different meals, assemblies, early dismissals, whatever it may be.
  2. Ask your teacher to have a one sheet” included in her sub-folder about your child. This should include the necessary information that a sub would need to know about your child and what may cause him anxiety.
  3. Have daily briefings at breakfast and dinner. It sounds formal, but it doesn’t have to be. Just talk about what is going to happen that day or what did happen that day. What will be different?
  4. Contact his therapists or whoever works with your child and ask if they can do more role-playing, scripting and/or social stories related to holiday festivities.

Holidays with a Special Needs Child at Home

  1. If you haven’t sent out holiday cards in a while (not many people do it anymore!), consider sending them to the people you will come into contact with, might be visiting or might be staying with this holiday season. This is an easy and private way to share your child’s “quirks” and expectations.
  2. Talk with your child. Find out what their expectations are and make sure everyone is on the same page. Prepare them as best you can. Again, consider the morning and evening daily briefings.
  3. Pick your battles. Food doesn’t have to be an issue. Consider bringing some healthy snacks with you to family dinners. If your child refuses to wear a shirt and tie, it’s okay!
  4. When visiting, bring things that are a comfort to your child, especially if staying overnight. A favorite blanket, pillow, and his own shampoo will go a long way in soothing a child that is not sleeping in his own bed.
  5. Don’t force affection. This is another item you can explain to friends and family before your visit. If your child does not want to embrace and kiss relatives they barely know, or do not enjoy being hugged, respect that. Explain to the relatives that your child really does care about them, but that this is not how he shows it.
  6. Have an escape signal or word. Give your child an “out” if it is more than he can handle.
  7. Go visual. Have a color-coded calendar or some other method of visually outlining what your family is doing. Consider doing it with velcro so that items can be moved and removed if you need to alter your schedules.
  8. Sensory-friendly events and Quiet Santas are very common around the holidays. These are a great opportunity to participate and be able to relax a little bit.
  9. Set your child up for success. Pre-arrange conversations with relatives so that your child is included. A simple “I heard that you really enjoyed your school field trip to the museum” might be much more engaging for your child instead of “what’s your favorite subject at school?” but a relative may not know that.

Stress, Holidays and Special Needs Moms.

  1. Remember that holidays and holiday breaks are intended to be a relaxing time and a “reset” so that you can go back to work/school rested and refreshed. Keep that in mind as you do your holiday schedule.
  2. Say no. Often. You don’t have to do everything.
  3. These are good opportunities to educate family and friends about your child’s issues. But, keep your child in mind–do not talk about them in front of them.

The bottom line is that families celebrate holidays in many ways. For families with special needs children, some additional planning may be necessary to comfortably experience this time of year. But with a lot of communication and much planning, it can truly be a magical time of year.

Wishing you and yours a healthy, happy holiday season!

 

Note: The information in this article is for informational purposes only. It is not an attempt to diagnose or treat any medical condition. Always consult your child’s pediatrician with any specific medical questions. MKSA is also available to answer questions about child development. Contact us at 516-731-5588 or www.mksallc.com.

Sources:
Adayinourshoes.com
Comfortinganxiouschildren.com
 

All About Separation Anxiety in Children with Special Needs

Separation anxiety is a normal stage in a baby’s development that helps them to understand relationships and master their environment. Crying, clinginess or tantrums are healthy reactions to separation and are a normal stage of child development. Typically, it ends around 2 years of age, as toddlers start to understand that a parent/caregiver may be out of sight but will return later. Separation anxiety disorder exists when the anxiety symptoms are excessive for the developmental age and cause significant distress in daily functioning.

At around 8 months old, a child may fear less familiar people and places. This usually peaks between 10-18 months of age and disappears by 2 years of age, however both attachment and the ability to easily separate may develop at an older age in a child with developmental delays or special needs. Some children experience severe anxiety—even as newborns—that does not improve over time and may even worsen. These children are often diagnosed later with a mood disorder or a neurological disorder such as autism or ADHD.

While some separation anxiety shows that a child has formed attachments with loved ones, leaving a child with child care providers or others can be stressful for everyone. To ease typical separation anxiety, parents can make partings easier for a child in several ways:

-follow a goodbye ritual; children with special needs find structure reassuring

-stay with him until he becomes familiar with a new person or place

-do not sneak away or scold a child for being upset

-reassure the child that you will be back after naptime or at dinnertime; keep that promise

-do not leave a child when he is tired, hungry or ill

-leave your child with his favorite blanket or other “lovey”

Separation anxiety disorder is not the same as separation anxiety and is not a normal stage of development. It is a serious emotional problem characterized by extreme distress when a child is away from the primary caregiver. Since both situations share many symptoms, it is sometimes difficult to differentiate which your child is experiencing. The main differences are the intensity of your child’s fears and whether these fears keep him from normal activities. Separation anxiety disorder is the most common anxiety disorder in children under 12 years of age. Symptoms must be present for at least four weeks for separation anxiety disorder to be considered.

Some causes and risk factors for separation anxiety disorder in children include: change in environment (new house, school, or day care), major stressor or loss (death of a loved one or pet, change of schools, divorce) and overprotective or intrusive parents.

Symptoms of separation anxiety disorder may include:

-excessive distress when separated from attachment figures or the home

-worry about harm coming to attachment figures

-refusal to go to school because of fear of separation

-refusal to sleep away from home or to go to sleep without attachment figures nearby

-nightmares involving themes of separation from home or attachment figures

-repeated physical complaints such as headache or nausea when separate has occurred or is anticipated

-clinging to the caregiver; the child may shadow you around the house or cling to your leg if you try to leave

-for a child with special needs, he may show distress by regressing or becoming hyperactive

It can be very upsetting to see your child stressed, and sometimes parents inadvertently reinforce the anxiety by helping a child avoid things they are afraid of. Instead of avoiding separation, it is helpful to learn more about the disorder and take steps to make a child feel safer. Strategies for dealing with separation anxiety include:

start with very brief separations: begin with increments of 5 minutes and gradually increase time spent apart

teachers should use positive language: try “your dad will pick you up after story time” instead of “he left”

try a photo story: make a picture story that includes photos of your child with alternate caregivers and school classrooms; if possible, you can arrange for a school/teacher visit before school starts so you child can see the photo of his teacher and classroom before school begins; he’ll know exactly what to expect on the first day of school

-“magic bracelet”: this bracelet can chase away anxiety; it can be made of materials that remind the child of his parents, or it may be something that belongs to the parents; it is used as an attachment object to transfer emotional security from the parent to the child

say goodbye with a smile: try to say goodbye while the child is engaged in something positive; tell him briefly what you will be doing while you are apart, and give a return time

let your child walk away from you: for many children, it’s easier to leave than to watch a parent/caregiver retreat

try field trips: take trips together to reduce sensitivities and increase awareness of other people and life experiences

play therapy: a play therapist directs play to work through specific issues a child is having

For children with separation anxiety disorder, a common symptom is refusal to go to school. There are tips for both parents and teachers that may help reduce a child’s symptoms. Parents can try the following suggestions:

-help a child who has been absent from school return as quickly as possible: if a shorter day is necessary initially, symptoms may decrease once they discover they can handle the short separation upon return

-ask for late arrival accommodations: additional flexibility to talk and separate at a slower pace can help a child separate

-have a safe place: find a place at school where your child can go to reduce anxiety, perhaps the nurse’s office or the library

-allow contact with home: sometimes during times of stress, a brief phone call with family can reduce separation anxiety

-send notes for your child to read: a note in his lunch box can work wonders

-reward your child: every good effort deserves to be praised

Parents might also want to discuss the following classroom tips for dealing with separation anxiety with their child’s teacher.

-make sure the child is prepared ahead of time: be sure the child has a morning routine and knows what to expect, and knows an exact time a parent will pick her up

-be sure to share background information about your child with the teacher: share info about your child’s daily routine and how he copes with change, including methods for soothing

-consider providing a comfort item such as a stuffed animal or a laminated family photo

-provide distraction: picture books are good distractions; consider stories that explain how a parent comes back

-try a little extra TLC: sometimes a child just needs a bit more attention, whether it’s holding her close or just an extra hug or time to sit alone with the teacher

-engage the child: if a child is busy making a special art project for mommy or daddy, he will be distracted and excited to surprise them when he gets picked up

As your child moves through ages and stages, if you feel his/her separation anxiety is causing significant stress regarding daily activities, you should seek professional help. Your child’s pediatrician can refer you to professional specialists who can help your child and your family. Anxiety disorders can be effectively treated, and treatment should be based on a comprehensive evaluation of the child and family. Treatment often involves cognitive behavioral therapy for the child, focusing on helping the child learn skills to manage his anxiety and help him master situations that contribute to anxiety. Some children benefit from treatment with medication that helps them feel calmer. Family therapy and consultation with the child’s school may also be recommended.

Early detection and intervention can reduce the severity of the disorder, enhance the child’s normal growth and development and improve the quality of life experienced by children with separation anxiety disorder.

 

Note: The information in this article is for informational purposes only. It is not an attempt to diagnose or treat any medical condition. Always consult your child’s pediatrician with any specific medical questions. MKSA is also available to answer questions about child development. Contact us at 516-731-5588 or www.mksallc.com.

 

 Sources:
https://www.thesteppingstonesgroup.com/6-classroom-tips-deal-separation-anxiety-children-special-needs/
https://www.friendshipcircle.org/blog/2012/06/27/10-ways-to-remove-separation-anxiety-from-your-special-needs-child/
https://eiclearinghouse.org/einotes/sepanxiety/
https://www.helpguide.org/articles/anxiety/separation-anxiety-and-separation-anxiety-disorder.htm
https://www.chop.edu/conditions-diseases/separation-anxiety-disorder
 

It’s Our Outdoor Play and Safety Issue!

School is over and summer vacation is upon us. Time for…indoor screen time? That doesn’t sound right. But for many children, sitting in front of screens will be their primary summer activity. Children should be active for at least an hour every day, but on average, children spend four to seven minutes daily in unstructured outdoor play, compared to seven or more hours in front of a screen. Like everything, there is a time and place when some screen time is not a bad thing.

But—it’s summer! Sunshine! Fresh air! Playgrounds! Beaches! There are many reasons children need to play outside including physical, social and emotional factors. It’s fun, it’s healthy and it’s important.

Below are some benefits children experience from playing outside:

Practice Emerging Skills
Outdoors is the best place for young children to practice and master developing physical skills. While outdoors, children can practice motor skills such as running, jumping and leaping. For children with special needs, outdoor play can improve flexibility, muscle strength and coordination. Children can perform manipulative skills such as pushing a swing, pulling a wagon and carrying moveable objects. Being outside also helps children to improve body awareness, balance and motor skills.

Health Benefits
Sun exposure helps our bodies produce vitamin D, which plays a critical role in body processes including bone development. Immune systems get a boost as well from time spent in sunshine. Playing outdoors helps children get exercise and burn calories, which may help counter risk factors for obesity, hypertension and arteriosclerosis (which can show as early as age 5). Outdoor light also stimulates the pineal gland, the part of the brain that regulates the ‘biological clock’ which is critical for the immune system.

Cognitive and Social/Emotional Development
Unstructured outdoor play is the best way children learn to take turns and share. As they invent and play games, they improve communication, cooperation and organizational skills. The best way for children to learn how to plan, troubleshoot and multitask is though playing with other children. When they make up their own games, figure things out and amuse themselves, these important life skills are learned and practiced. When outdoor play is used as a teaching skill, children with communication challenges, problems with social skills, and sensory issues can reap many benefits.

Physical Benefits
For children with special needs, outdoor play provides a boost in self-confidence. As they overcome obstacles and improve physical skills, their self-esteem increases as well. When they experience personal satisfaction and accomplishment, that increase in confidence carries over into other areas of their lives. Physical play also helps reduce stress, which contributes to depression and anxiety.

Social Benefits
Children need to learn how to work together. Children with special needs often have problems with social skills, but outdoor play provides some additional social benefits. Behavior may improve and make it easier for these children to build friendships. They learn how to share, how to deal with conflict and how to work in groups, all while having fun in an outdoor, low-stress environment.

Appreciation for Nature/Sensory Skills Development
Aesthetic Awareness refers to a heightened sensitivity to beauty in the world around us. Outdoors is full of beautiful sights, sounds, smells and textures, all to be experienced through all senses. Seeing animals and birds, hearing wind moving through leaves, smelling fragrant flowers and earth, touching grass and trees, and even tasting a raindrop all provide opportunities for children to appreciate the world around them. Playing on screens uses only two senses—hearing and sight—which can negatively affect children’s perceptual abilities.

While free play is important and beneficial, planning or creating specific activities has much value too. Here are some fun ideas for outdoor time:

 -Nature walk: ask children to tell you what they are seeing, smelling and hearing; touch a rock or a leaf

-Obstacle course: set one up in your yard using old tires, cardboard boxes and more

-“Listening” walk: walk with your children and point out as many sounds as you can; bring along a tape recorder (or record on your phone) so they can identify sounds at a later time

-Parachute or sheet time: bring a parachute or old sheet outside and play games with it (shaking it, circling with it, bouncing foam balls on it)

-Music: bring music outside and dance with your kids in a natural environment

-“Water painting”: have children paint the side of building or wood fence with a brush and a bucket of water; get exercise while teaching about wet and dry, light and dark and evaporation

-Bubbles: chasing bubbles gives kids another chance to run

-Outdoor sensory table: create a toy car wash

-Swings: many local parks have adaptive swings for children with special needs

-Chalk: for children who love to color, outdoor chalk is a fun way to color; large chalk is good for children who have difficulty grasping

-Biking: even if your child cannot ride a bike, a tandem bike or bike with car seat or trailer is a great way to experience the outdoors

-Sandbox: like a large sensory bin, in this you can make castles, mud pies and more

-Picnic: have your child help prepare and pack the food; spread a blanket in the backyard and have fun

-Quiet time: even reading a book or napping can be enjoyed outside

-Playgrounds: these are a great place for kids to work on balance, motor planning, confidence and social skills

-Water (rain) therapy: for a wonderful sensory integration experience, let your children play outside in the rain—in clothes or swimsuits, with or without an umbrella; give them buckets to collect water and brooms to slosh it up with

 

With lots of outdoor play ahead, it’s also important to be safe. We’ve incorporated our list of safety tips, which includes information on topics such as sunscreen, dry drowning and more. With a summer full of beach and pool visits as well as time spent on the playground in the heat, we’ve put together a list of summer safety tips to be sure you enjoy the season safely. These tips apply to both children and adults; no one can have a good time if they’re sunburned or injured.

1.Lather on the sunscreen
Sunscreen should be applied right after children are up and dressed. Since sunscreen takes at least 15 minutes to get absorbed and start protecting you, if you wait until your children (and you!) are already in the sun, you’re behind the eight ball. Remember to re-apply after swimming and throughout the day, even if it’s cloudy out. UV rays can penetrate through fog and haze. If your child is going to camp, be sure to pack extra sunscreen (spray sunscreen is easier for little hands to use) and show your child how to use it. And be sure to use enough. Most of us don’t; a good rule of thumb is we need about a shot-glass full to protect our whole body. Less is definitely not more here.

2.Drink that water!
The importance of drinking fluids (preferably water) cannot be overstated. During warm weather, and especially when we sweat, our bodies lose fluid rapidly. Children often can’t tell if they need water, and by the time they are thirsty they are likely already a bit dehydrated. Teach them the importance of drinking fluids and be sure they take adequate breaks during outdoor activities.

3.Watch for heat illness
When our body is exposed to more heat than it can handle, several heat related illnesses may occur. Heat exhaustion and heatstroke are two such illnesses, and both can be very dangerous especially in infants and young children. For heat-related illness, the best defense is prevention:

-Never leave infants, children or pets in a parked car—ever

-Dress infants and children in loose, lightweight, light-colored clothing

-Schedule outdoor activities carefully, for morning and evening hours (avoiding heat of day)

-Stay cool with cool showers or baths

-Seek medical attention immediately if someone you know has symptoms of heat illness

When we lose excessive amounts of salt and water and the result can be heat exhaustion. Symptoms include severe thirst, fatigue, headaches, nausea, vomiting and sometimes, diarrhea. Other symptoms include profuse sweating, clammy/pale skin, dizziness, rapid pulse and slightly elevated temperature. Anyone experiencing heat exhaustion should be moved to a shaded or air-conditioned area, given water or other cool (non-alcoholic) beverages, and apply wet towels or take a cool shower.

Heat exhaustion can turn into heatstroke if not treated. When our body is having difficulty sweating and our temperature rises quickly, you may experience heatstroke. This happens when our body cannot get rid of excess heat. Having very hot skin and being confused are two symptoms. Getting rid of excess body heat is critical. Call for emergency help immediately. The person should be moved into the shade into a half-sitting position. Spray the victim with water and fan them vigorously; if humidity is higher than 75%, apply ice to their neck, armpits or groin.

4.Be safe in the water
According to Injury Facts 2017 (nsc.org), an average of nine people die from drowning in the U.S. every day. Drowning is a concern for young children, and teens and young adults too. Some basic water safety precautions for young children include:
-Never leave your child alone near water; if you must leave, take your child with you

-Find age-appropriate swim lessons for your child (remember that lessons do not make a child “drown-proof”)

-Always keep your eyes on your child; never rely on a lifeguard to watch your child

-Don’t let children play near pool drains and suction fittings; hair, fingers/toes, and swimsuits can get caught and become part of the suction

-Remember that even rivers and lakes have undertows

-Always keep a first aid kit handy

-Get trained in CPR

-If a child is missing, check the water first

5.Know about dry drowning/secondary drowning
Many parents think once their children are finished swimming and away from water they can relax. Not necessarily so. There is a term that should be in every parent’s vocabulary. The following are excerpts from an article from ChildrensMD.org, by Dr. Kathleen Berchelmann explaining the term “dry drowning” and what you need to know:

“There is some debate about the definition of the term “dry drowning.” Usually this term refers to situations where some water got in a child’s lungs and the child has a severe inflammatory reaction to the water hours after the incident. This phenomenon is also called “secondary drowning” or “near drowning.” There is another phenomenon, also sometimes called “dry drowning” in which suffocation occurs but no water ever entered the lungs. In these rare situations the larynx (voice box) spasms and stays shut, causing involuntary suffocation. Sometimes this spasm is triggered by water droplets hitting the larynx, or a sudden high-speed submersion under water such as off a high-dive or a high-speed water slide. This latter form of dry drowning generally doesn’t occur when kids are simply swimming or playing in the pool.”

Symptoms and warning signs of “dry drowning”:

Coughing: Any person who has persistent coughing after playing in the water is at risk for water in their lungs. Don’t go to bed worrying; take your child in for a medical evaluation.

Water rescue: Any person who was submerged in water and came up struggling, especially if he/she had to be retrieved from the water, needs medical evaluation.

Amnesia: Any person who was unconscious underwater or has limited memory of an incident that occurred in water needs immediate medical care.

Behavior change: If your child feels sick, acts too sleepy, or has a change in mental behavior after a day at the pool, take it seriously. The worst thing that can be done with a child who may have inhaled water is to put them to bed. They need immediate medical care.

Vomiting: Vomiting after a day of swimming can be due to waterborne infectious disease but can also be a sign of severe illness due to dry drowning. This is a sign stress from the body due inflammation. While dry drowning is extremely rare, it is important to know the signs and get immediate medical attention if someone is not behaving normally after swimming.

6.Keep mosquitos and ticks away
Outside time is fun time—that is until the bugs start biting, or your find a tick on your child. Some easy precautions can keep you and your children safe this summer. Use a good bug repellant with one of these ingredients: DEET, Picaridin, IR 3535 or oil of lemon eucalyptus. Many pediatricians advise using products that contain less than 30% of these ingredients on children. Ticks can live in backyards, as well as deep in the woods; be mindful of where you set up patios and playground equipment. Keep these areas a distance away from shrubs and bushes and consider professional tick control applied by a pest control expert. After a day outside, make it a practice to check for ticks on children, adults and pets. If you find one, use a fine-tipped tweezer to remove it. Call your doctor with any questions.

7.Have fun but be safe
Playground-related mishaps are common causes of injuries and visits to the emergency room. To keep children safe while playing outside, take adequate precautions and always have adult supervision when young children are playing outside.

Ensure that surfaces under playground equipment are safe and well-maintained. Watch young children around stairs and playground equipment. Gates on stairs can prevent a young child from falling down the stairs. Be sure children wear protective equipment for the sport of their choice and watch for signs of a concussion (including can’t recall events before or after a hit/fall; appearing confused; moves awkwardly; demonstrates behavior changes; headache/head pressure; nausea/vomiting; dizziness; sensitive to noise or light; feeling sluggish; feeling ‘off’). Symptoms usually appear shortly after an injury but can also take hours or days to show up. Consult your child’s doctor if you suspect or have been advised that your child has a concussion.

 

We are all looking forward to a summer full of beautiful weather with lots of fun time spent outdoors. With a little planning and precaution, you and your children will be safe and have a wonderful time! Remember, if you have an emergency or any serious concerns, contact your child’s doctor immediately.

Note: The information in this article is for informational purposes only. It is not an attempt to diagnose or treat any medical condition. Always consult your child’s pediatrician with any specific medical questions. MKSA is also available to answer questions about child development. Contact us at 516-731-5588 or www.mksallc.com.

Sources:
http://www.earlychildhoodnews.com/earlychildhood/article_view.aspx?ArticleID=275
https://news.sanfordhealth.org/childrens/play-outside/
https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/6-reasons-children-need-to-play-outside-2018052213880
https://www.cerebralpalsy.org/blog/outdoor-activities-for-children-with-special-needs

Things to Look for When Choosing a Preschool

Choosing your child’s first school can be both exciting and overwhelming. If your child has special needs, it’s especially important to thoroughly explore different options. As space is sometimes limited, it’s best to start researching early and apply to several programs.

There are several things to look for as you begin to visit preschools. According to Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, look for the following:

Adults are talking to children in nurturing and encouraging ways. They address them by name, get down to their eye-level, listen and try to understand. A perfect example of this was a parent dropping off a recently potty-trained 3-year-old who wanted to wear his underwear backwards. The teacher understood that the little boy wanted to have the truck on the underwear in the front—where he could see it. And it wasn’t an issue.

Teachers focus on helping—not punishing—children who are behaving inappropriately. Good teachers help preschoolers develop social and emotional skills and self-regulation, with consistent routines, and strategies such as timers for turn-taking, and games for times a child needs to be physical.

Classrooms are joyful and fun. Teachers need to continually provide new activities and challenges in an environment focused on play.

Children are active. Artwork should cover walls, children should get lots of outdoor time, and they should not expected to sit for more than 20 minutes at a time.

Staff seem happy and are supported. It’s ok to ask about teacher turnover, and availability of regular professional development and planning time for teachers. Do they seem happy and excited—or bored? Teachers can make or break a child’s experience, so go with your instincts. If you feel good about the teachers, your child likely will as well.

Once you have arranged to visit a school, asking questions can further help you assess the program and decide. Call in advance to arrange a tour and try to schedule a follow-up visit with your child to see how he/she reacts to the school. Below are some suggested questions to ask and points to consider, from pbs.org’s pbsparents:

Ask yourself “What kind of school environment am I looking for?” Do you picture your child in a busy, active place with lots of other children, or are you looking for a small, nurturing environment with just a few kids? What specific needs does your child have: toilet training, napping, socializing?

Consider if this school is a good fit for your child—and you. How will he do socially in this environment? How does the school fit with your child’s disability, unique needs, strengths and personality?

Spend time observing. During tours, watch silently in the classroom and observe the interactions.

What is the educational philosophy? Some philosophies are play-based, some introduce reading and math earlier than others, and many schools incorporate multiple philosophies.

How large are the classes and what is the teacher-child ratio? The important thing to consider is how your child’s needs and your own will be met by this equation.

What is the look and feel of the school? Does it feel warm and inviting? Is it clean and organized, or messy and chaotic? Do they have a gym or play yard? How often do they use it? Is there a separate room for Speech, OT, PT and Psychologist services?

Is the atmosphere exciting? Do students seem happy? Do the teachers seem like they enjoy teaching here?

What kinds of activities are children doing? Are the projects controlled or open-ended, enabling children to do many different things with the same materials?

What is the focus on reading? Ask if it focuses on teaching early literacy skills and at what age. Does this approach seem right for you and your child?

Are children working all together or individually? Is everyone doing the same project or activity at the same time? Are individual interests being accommodated?

Organization. Are the classrooms organized? For children with Sensory Processing Disorder, are there visual and auditory organizers such as wall charts, schedules and timers to help minimize over- or under-stimulation?

How much do the children play? Both boys and girls need room to run around and time to do it, with plenty of opportunity for imaginative play.

How do parents get involved in the school? Is there an active parent’s organization? Can parents volunteer in the classroom?

How is information communicated to parents? Is there a newsletter? Can you e-mail the teachers?

How does the school address social-emotional issues? How does the staff help children resolve conflicts? How are issues like hitting, throwing, and biting addressed?

Food and mealtime. Where do students eat? In a classroom or lunchroom? How does the school handle special dietary requirements and how are food allergies handled?

What are the discipline policies? Are children punished for inappropriate behaviors? Ask for details about their discipline policies.

Is this school accredited? Public schools need to meet state and district requirements. Private schools get additional accreditation from organizations like the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC)and the National Association of Independent Schools. Accreditation standards vary, and some schools may meet standards without being accredited by outside organizations.

Specialists and therapies. What therapists visit the school and how often? Does the school have regular access to Speech Therapists, OTs, PTs and Psychologists? Does the school offer adaptive physical education? If your child has difficulties with speech and language, ask what method the school will use for communication. Do they have access to assistive technology? Are any extracurricular activities open to special needs students?

Paraprofessionals. If your child is going to need a para, ask what training is given to him/her. Will your child get the same para each day? Will the para be with your child at recess and lunch?

Request a copy of the class schedule. How is the day structured? Is it the right fit for your child’s intellectual, emotional and physical needs?

What are the medical policies? Is there a nurse on site full time? How are medications handled? How does the school handle injuries or illnesses? Can kids come to school with a cold but not a fever?

Is the space safe? Is it up to code? What evacuation plans are in place?

Can you get references from other parents whose children go to the school? If you haven’t been personally recommended, ask for some numbers of other parents who might answer more specific questions.

While there are many factors to consider when selecting a preschool, with some diligent exploration you’ll be able to find the right setting for your child—a nurturing yet stimulating environment that will positively shape his/her orientation toward learning for many years ahead. If you have any questions about your child’s development, reach out to us! You can call 516-731-5588 or contact us by email.

Note: The information in this article is for informational purposes only. It is not an attempt to diagnose or treat any medical condition. Always consult your child’s pediatrician with any specific medical questions. MKSA is also available to answer questions about child development. Contact us at 516-731-5588 or www.mksallc.com.

 Sources:
https://www.gse.harvard.edu/news/uk/17/11/how-pick-preschool
pbs.org’s pbsparents
Child Mind Institute, childmind.org

Back to School Tips for Families of Special Needs Children

As families and their children get ready for the back-to-school transition, there’s a lot to be done to get into a new schedule. The new school year means a new grade, new teachers, and even a new school. Back to school can be an anxiety-provoking time for parents under the best of circumstances. Making sure your kids have the right clothes and the right supplies can be overwhelming, but when you’re the parent of a child with special needs, you have to make sure they have the right program in place, too. Getting organized—both physically and mentally— before the year begins will go a long way toward creating and maintaining peace and success in the year ahead.

We’ve listed below some areas to address in preparing for the school year, along with 50 Tips for School Year Success:

Schedule a special back-to-school meet-and-greet/tour for your child prior to the first day of school
Many children with special needs need prior exposure to new experiences to help ease their anxiety. If this sounds like your child, we recommend reaching out to the school to request a special meeting and/or tour with your child’s teacher. For elementary students, try meeting with teachers, the principal and the school nurse. For middle and high school students, you’ll want to meet with the guidance counselor as well. For many children this is necessary even if they are just moving up a grade into a new classroom, but it is especially important if s/he is undergoing a significant transition. As with the back-to school IEP meeting, it is recommended that you include this special meeting/tour in your child’s IEP accommodations in their IEP every year.

Review your child’s IEP
For children with IEPs, it is important to refamiliarize yourself with the services and accommodations your child will receive in the upcoming school year. The IEP is the cornerstone of your child’s educational program, so it’s important that you have a clear understanding of it. Note when it expires and if your child is up for reevaluation this year. Most importantly, check to make sure that the IEP still reflects your child’s needs.

Meet your child’s new teachers
Special Education Advisor points out that many kids with special needs have some quirks that teachers ought to know about. But your child also has wonderful things about him that the teacher should know as well. Make an appointment to sit down with or schedule a conference call with your child’s new teachers to tell them the good things and the not-so-good things they need to know about your child. Reading a child’s file isn’t the same as learning about him from someone who knows him.

Set up transportation
Special transportation is frequently a service on an IEP, meaning the school will provide transportation other than the regular bus to get your child to her school or special education program. If you haven’t heard yet, check in with the bus company or special education office to get the details about where and when your child will be picked up. Then you can do a “run-through” to make sure your child understands the routine.

Organize all that paperwork
In the world of special education, there are lots of meetings, paperwork, and documentation to keep track of. Try to keep a family calendar of school events, special education meetings, conferences, etc. Setting up a binder or folder to keep your child’s special education documentation, meeting notices, and IEPs in sequential order can also help you stay organized.

Start a communication log
Keeping track of all phone calls, e-mails, notes home, meetings, and conferences is important. Create a “communication log” for yourself in a notebook that is easily accessible. Be sure to note the person you spoke with, dates, times, and nature of the communications you have. It might be useful to send a communication notebook to and from school with your child to help him/her and the teachers keep on top of what’s happening. It’s also a great way to stop playing phone tag with the school and let them know if your child is having a rough day.

Talk and prepare
Just talking about the upcoming year and changes can help reduce some of that back-to-school anxiety! Talk to your child about exciting new classes, activities, and events that they can participate in during the new school year. Children pick up on your mood, expectations, frustrations, and disappointments. Of course, they also pick up on your excitement, pleasure, anticipation, and gratitude. Be sure you are starting the year off in a positive manner. If attending a new school, try to schedule a visit before the first day. With older students, it is sometimes helpful to explain the services and accommodations in their IEP so that they know what to expect when school begins.

Attend school events
Take advantage of Open Houses, Back-to-School Nights, and parent-teacher conferences to help you and your child get a feel for the school and meet the teachers, other staff, students, and families. Share the positives about working with your child, and let the teacher know about changes, events, or IEP concerns that should be considered for your child.

Clothing and weight/compression
Is your child a sensory seeker, or in need of special clothing? Be sure clothing is soft, comfortable, and provides pressure if needed to calm and comfort. Tagless shirts, compression vests, and other sensory-savvy clothing items can help kids adjust and perform at their best. By applying compression to the joints, a compression shirt or garment can provide an all-day hug to calm, engage, and help with focus. If your child has a hard time sitting still, try a wiggle seat, weighted vest, or lap pad. Your student might also like a wiggle cushion or ball chair for school or during homework at home. Sensory filters such as weight and movement can really help children transition well to school and not lose touch with their physical needs.

Behavior and Rules
Talk to your child about school expectations—and yours as well. Be sure your kids know the rules. Have them repeat those rules back to you, so you are clear that they are aware and understand. Give them space to voice any concerns as well. If your child needs assistance with emotional intelligence, regulation, or social communication, be sure to discuss this with the teacher and to give your child ample opportunity to express himself or herself.

Eat Well
Providing a healthy breakfast, lunch, and snack can have a huge impact on how kids perform, as well as on how they feel as they manage their day. Be sure to stock up on easy-to-access fruits and vegetables. In addition to edibles, some students can benefit from a chewy or fidget to have throughout the day to help ease stress.

50 Tips for School Year Success
For some specific strategies to help you and your children get, and stay organized, take a look at these tips:

  1. Set your kids’ sleep schedules back to “School Time” two weeks before the first day.
  2. Get your kids involved in programs that they can do after school to keep them active.
  3. Reacquaint your kids with the calendar schedule they’ll use to manage their activities.
  4. Set up weekly meetings to review your kids’ schedules for the week(s) ahead.
  5. Create a family calendarthat tracks everyone’s activities and commitments.
  6. Refresh your rules about screen time for the school year. What’s allowed and when?
  7. Establish a set “Family Time,” whether it’s during dinner or before bed.
  8. Use an egg timer to get your kids used to focusing for specific periods of time.
  9. Teach your kids to prioritize their assignments by making to-do lists with deadlines.
  10. Set a regular alarm each day that signals the start of homework time.
  11. Discuss what your kids can expect on the first day so they feel more prepared.
  12. Visit the school with your kids so they can get familiar with their new environments.
  13. Include your kids in back-to-school shopping by letting them pick out their items.
  14. Create a dedicated space for your kids to store their school supplies and technology.
  15. Establish a specific space like the family office as the official “homework area.”
  16. Remove distractions like TVs and video game consoles from homework areas.
  17. Repurpose and relabel plastic tubs to organize all school supplies.
  18. Help your kids develop a filing system for organizing their documents for each class.
  19. Set–and enforce–regular weekday and weekend
  20. Set–and enforce–regular weekdayand weekend wake-up alarms.
  21. Keep track of existing extracurricular activities to prevent over-scheduling.
  22. Create a list of fun after-school activities and gamesto keep your kids entertained.
  23. Touch base with teachers early on to troubleshoot any issues your kids may be having.
  24. Create an after-school schedule that allows time for snack, relaxation, play and study.
  25. Establish regular bedtime routines for elementary school kids and preschoolers.
  26. Carve out blocks of fun time for your kids, whether it’s through sports or playdates.
  27. Encourage your kids to lay out their school clothes the night before.
  28. Have your kids pack their school bags before they go to sleep that night.
  29. Have your kids also pack their gym bags the night before and leave them by the door.
  30. If your kids bring their own lunch, pack their lunch boxes before going to bed.
  31. Establish rules for where they should put lunchboxes, etc. when they come home.
  32. Go through your kids’ schoolwork once a month to toss the things you don’t want.
  33. Create an inbox for kids to leave things that need your attention, like permission slips.
  34. Get copies of school menus in advance to discuss lunch choices.
  35. Get your kids involved in creating and preparing their daily lunch menus.
  36. Buy reusable sports bottles to increase their water consumption during the day.
  37. Keep a small emergency allowance in your kids’ bags, just in case.
  38. Use sticky notes to flag important items in kids’ folders that they should pay attention to.
  39. Set your clocks forward 10 minutes. This makes it easier to be on time.
  40. Use positive phrasing, such as “You can go outside after your homework is done,” rather than “You’re not going outside until this is finished.”
  41. Make sure your kids (and you!) have an effective wake-up alarm that works for them.
  42. Set an alarm or notification 30 minutes before bedtime.
  43. Remove mobile devices from kids’ bedrooms to focus them on sleeping.
  44. Set up the breakfast table before you go to bed.
  45. Set up a hanging organizer with five boxes for clothes for each day of the week.
  46. Dedicate a rack in the garage, basement or entry way for sports equipment.
  47. Schedule study blocks on the weekends before big tests, mid-terms and finals.
  48. Talk openly with your kids about their feelings about returning to school.
  49. Do something fun to diffuse this stressful time of year for all of you.
  50. Take a breath!

Your child’s well-being is the most important back-to-school preparation. Addressing sensory, physical, and psychological needs as kids head back to school can help ensure that everyone has a great back-to-school experience. Be sure to address your own as well!

 

Note: The information in this article is for informational purposes only. It is not an attempt to diagnose or treat any medical condition. If you have any specific questions regarding your child and his/her needs at school, consult your primary care physician.

 

Sources:
Ilana Danneman at Friendshipcircle.org
LizAlton at care.com    
Lara Cleary at Npnparents.org 
Amanda Morin at Popsugar.com