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All images and posts written by and copyright to Amanda Clements (nee Gray) 2009-2012 unless otherwise indicated.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

How to have a peaceful Christmas... a last post for the year

On this day of only 5 sleeps to Christmas it is time to write my last post for the year. I thought I would make it a short and sweet list of things to do that may help you have a more peaceful Christmas if you are including a child who has special needs. Many of these were suggested to me by parents of children with conditions such as Autism.

Hints for having a peaceful, inclusive Christmas

  • An orientation:
If the child is visiting your place for the first time, it is important to give them a slow and explicit tour of the building. Pictures on closed doors indicating what the rooms are and whether they can be used can help with boundary issues.
  • A guest list:
To help children know who to expect at the gathering, you may send a guest list to parents before the day. You may even help the parent develop a photo guest list. Looking at this every day in the week before Christmas can help children be more comfortable when meeting people they may have not seen for a while.

  • A Routine or schedule:
To help children deal with the anxiety of the day, having a picture or written schedule of events might be helpful. Again, if the child becomes familiar with this before the day it could be even more effective. Here is a sample social story and some ideas from other parents.
  • A way of communicating:
Communication is such an important part of any social gathering. Not being able to communicate can produce difficult behaviour due to frustration or distress. Make sure you understand how the child communicates, and have some special tools available to help with communication. Here is a great example. It comes from this site, where you can find other free samples.

  • A plan for anxious moments:
Because of the noise and busy-ness of the day, it is likely that a child with sensory sensitivities, social or behaviour difficulties may need a quiet space to calm down. Have a room set up with toys that help calm the child - they may bring a favourite sensory toy or object from home.

Tell the parent and the child, and anyone else who you think may need to know, where the room is and when it can be used. Make it clear that the space is out of bounds to anyone except those who need time out. Oh, and think of time out as a restorative process not a punishment. You could use these symbols to help the child know when it may be time to re-join the activities.

  • Patience:
But, overall, your most valuable tool for creating peace at Christmas is patience. Children with special needs may struggle with many things on Christmas day. They may have melt-downs... or times when they become very upset and it is hard to calm them down. They may struggle with things like waiting, taking turns and may seem impolite at times. They may even hit or push their peers or adults at times because they are finding it hard to control their impulses or communicate what they need.

Understand that these are things that they may take longer to learn than their peers. See this behaviour as an opportunity for patience and learning. If you take the perspective that every behaviour has a reason behind it, then your response will be measured and supportive. It will focus on helping to stop the behaviour rather than punishing or criticising it.

Have a wonderful, peaceful Christmas... and a Happy New Year! I will return to blogging sometime in the middle of January. But for now, it is time for a rest.



Tuesday, December 15, 2009

So this is Christmas, and what will we eat....

One of the memories associated with the excitement of Christmas in my childhood was the food. Special food that we wouldn't get all year round.

Savoury snacks like frankfurts dipped in tomato sauce. A whole bunch of meats and salads, or a baked dinner. Lollies. Soft drink. Cakes. Chocolates. All varieties of deserts.

So when I was diagnosed with a chronic health condition that meant refined sugar, yeast, dairy, and more recently gluten needed to be eliminated from my diet, Christmas was somehow not quite the same. Being excluded from sharing the communal meal, or enjoying the annual indulgence of certain treats, can be a very isolating experience. And if special dietary needs are not considered, it can also make you feel a little ignored...

But, thankfully, over the years my family have adjusted. My mother and I have also discovered different recipes... like the sugar-free fruit cake, sugar-free carob and most recently I have been able to adapt a recipe for pumpkin pie, using the juice from boiled dates to sweeten it.

Children with special needs and Christmas treats...

Children with special needs may have special dietary needs, physical issues or sensory sensitivities that may interfere with there ability to join in the Christmas feasting. If we want our Christmas Day to be truly inclusive, we need to make sure we find out if this is the case and what we can do about it.

Special dietary needs

Some children with Autism or Aspergers benefit from or require a gluten-free diet due to their digestive tract issues. The wrong foods can influence mood as well as cause stomach aches, constipation or diarrhoea.

The behaviour of some children with ADHD can be influenced by the amount of sugar and/or preservatives that they consume.

These are only some of the more common issues children with diverse needs and their families might face at the Christmas meal. Some things we can do is ensure that we have a number of gluten, dairy and sugar-free options that look and taste appetising available on Christmas day.

This, importantly, should include sugar-free and additive-free drinks. Carefully reading labels on fruit juice bottles is important as many brands add sugar and preservatives. Another treat is to freeze fruit juice as ice blocks. I found Nudie Crushies best for this as they are thicker and more like the smooth consistency of ice cream when frozen.

If you need recipes, the Gluten-free Goddess has some great suggestions.

My most favourite, well-stained cook book is called "Cooking Without" by Babara Cousins.

Alternately, I have found some good snacks in the Naytura food isle in Woolworths... Orgran being a great brand for gluten-free products.

Physical considerations

For some children with disabilities there are other physical factors that you will need to consider.

First, some children may not be able to successfully manipulate a knife and fork due to fine motor difficulties. One of the ways to deal with this is to have a range of easily manipulated, finger-foods available.

Other children may have difficulties with chewing or swallowing, and so having soft foods available will also be helpful.

Crushed rice+egg cups filled with salsa:
Gluten, sugar, dairy, preservative free, fun finger-food
You can fill the rice cups with anything you (or your child) like

Sensory sensitivities and preferences

We also need to take into consideration the sensory sensitivities and set preferences of children with diverse needs.

For some children, certain textures, aromas or colours will trigger a gag reflex or a meltdown.

Other children will have very specific food preferences... and will struggle to eat anything outside these preferences.

It is important not to see this as a behavioural issue. That is, we need to be careful not to think of a child with Autism who is having a melt-down because something green was put on their plate as being "naughty". Understand their specific needs and "go with the flow"...

This is just scratching the surface, I know.... so if anyone else has advice, or recipe suggestions, please share...



Monday, December 7, 2009

So this is Christmas... and what will we give

Present-giving is such a huge part of Christmas. I remember vividly the excitement that caused sleeplessness on Christmas Eve - then the joy of finding the present at the end of the bed in the morning... Much torn wrapping later, and the day was full of new toys, food and fun.

But present-giving can also cause tension. Trying to please everyone, trying to display pleasure at inappropriate gifts, arguments over money spent, offence at gifts returned.... we all want to avoid these things.

Gift-giving and children with disabilties

I recently listened to parents of children with disabilities discuss the difficulties of presents at Christmas-time. I thought it would be good to use this blog to help build awareness of the issues that we need to consider when giving gifts to children who have special needs.

Some things you need to consider:

  • Narrow interests: One thing it is important to realise is that some children with disabilities have quite narrow interests. For example, a child with autism may only use items that have Thomas the Tank engine on them.
  • Developmental appropriateness: You need to consider the developmental appropriateness of a toy - not just its age appropriateness. For example, some children who have vision impairments use their sense of taste to continue exploring their environment long after their peers have stopped mouthing toys. This means that toys with small detachable parts that might be age appropriate will not be developmentally appropriate for the child as they could be a choking hazard. Other aspects that need to be considered are the child's intellectual, gross motor and fine motor skills. Children with disabilities such as Down Syndrome or Autism may find it more difficult to hold pencils, pick up small items and play with things that involve threading, constructing and significant muscle control in the fingers. Others may find it difficult to balance and use the gross motor skills involved in riding bikes or climbing. And others may find the cognitive challenge of some games such as puzzles, board games, card games and craft activities, beyond their cognitive ability.
  • Sensory sensitivities: Some children with disabilities are very sensitive to certain textures, sounds and even colours. Toys that do not align with their sensitivities will not be used, and may even cause them some distress.

So how can you make sure you purchase an appropriate gift?

The easiest way is to ask parents. They will be able to tell you about the child's abilities, interests and favourite toys. And don't be offended if they give you a list of specific things or places to shop for their children.

Here are two sites that were recommended by parents:

This Australian site provides a range of toys suitable for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders, Communiation and Sensory Processing Disorders, ADHD, Physical Disabilities and Cognitive and Learning Delays. They have toys priced from under $5 to over $100.

The toys include a whole range of things, from puzzles to computer-based games.

Another parent recommended this Amazon search entitled "Bestsellers in special needs multi-sensory toys."

Spectronicsinoz also has a range of games, though they are more expensive and generally educational. Here are some examples of their games:

Spot on Games
Card Games
Switch-friendly computer games for children with physical disabilities
More computer games called Play with me

All the best for your Christmas shopping :) ... and may your Christmas be full of fun.


Thursday, December 3, 2009

Ask Amanda: To share or not to share

Shelley asked a tricky question about how to share information with teachers, without offending or running the risk of a teacher reading something which may harm their relationship with their students' parents.

Her primary questions boil down to:
DO primary teachers use online materials like these? How likely are they to venture into the blogging world of their parents?

I have no statistics etc about teacher use of online resources, or of the trends in what blogs they read. However, there are several things that will influence a teachers' reading habits on the internet:

Time - Scrolling through or searching for online resources can take a lot of time. So often we access only sites to which we have been referred by friends or workmates. So if you feel you have found a great resource, don't be afraid to share it. But share a specific link, or print out a specific document. This will mean that you are targetting the information that is relevant and that you really want them to have.

But do not be offended if they don't use it. We all have different ways of working, and there are so many good ideas that they may already have a resource which is addressing the same need.

Information overload - This links in with the last point I made. There are so many different strategies that can be used to get a similar outcome, and there are millions of websites that deal with teaching issues and strategies. Due to the intensity and busy-ness of teaching, sticking with familiar strategies that are working or sites that we know is often easier than searching through the masses of information on the 'net, some of which is not reliable or valid information.

It is also much more likely that teachers will use respected websites such as government sites, support group sites such as Downsed and Vision Australia than blogs that may or may not be reliable from a professional, research-based practice perspective.

So when sharing sites with teachers, make sure you share the credentials of the company or person running the site as teachers will be more likely to read and use information from people whose credentials they trust.

Social or professional? - However, the latter point can be influenced by how much and for what purpose the teacher uses the 'net. For example, some teachers will be using the internet for social purposes. And these teachers are perhaps more likely to be internet savvy, and spend more time exploring. They may also be more likely to explore sites such as blogs - and may be more likely to stumble across parents' musings.

It is also important to recognise that often teachers who care the most, who are trying the hardest and investing the most time and effort in your child's education may also be the most likely to be distressed by parents' "venting." This may contribute to a sense of helplessness and cause them to give up in the struggle to achieve the best learning environment for the child.

How to protect your relationship with your child's teacher:

If you need to freely vent on your blog, you might want to weigh up the costs and benefits of the following options:

- Using an internet alias
- Adjusting your privacy settings to limit who can visit your site
- Being careful about using photos or names that are identifiable in your blog

As a professional, I do all of these things when I am writing as a private individual and want to vent about the frustrations of my professional life. I do have an open facebook account, but attempt to make sure my comments on this account do not have the potential to offend anyone I work with or teach - thus it is not the place to vent. I have a private account for that :)

But I might be wrong... are you a teacher? a parent? What are your thoughts?


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Copyright Amanda Gray 2009-11

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