Karen M. Rider

Karen has a decade of experience writing about topics in the health sciences, psychology, and integrative medicine. She completed her Master’s Degree in psychology at the University of Hartford where she focussed on health behavior and research methods. She has training in wellness coaching, yoga and mindfulness, and clinical health research. Karen is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018 17:43

Bad Bunny! Peter Rabbit Depicts Food Allergy Bullying: What if it Happens to Your Child?

You’ve probably heard about the recent backlash against the production team behind the new Peter Rabbit film (Sony Pictures). Just in case your life routine has pulled you down a rabbit hole of your own, we’d like to fill you in about what’s causing all the hullabaloo. More importantly, our intention is to provide useful resources that can be used in the event you or your child encounter the sort of “food allergy bullying” that is depicted in the film.

Before we go on though, in all fairness to Sony, they have stepped up and issued an apology for the insensitivity of the scene in the film.

The scene in question shows the villain, Mr. McGregor in a confrontation with Peter Rabbit, backed by his furry garden friends. Mr. McGregor happens to be allergic to blackberries and Peter knows this. The mischievous rabbit and his animal posse pelt berries at Mr. McGregor with precise aim, causing him to gag on the berries and go into anaphylactic shock. Ultimately, he has to jab himself with an EpiPen.

Some people might argue that this is CGI animation, fiction, and viewers will understand the slapstick nature of the scene. Sure, adults will get it, but this movie is for children and not all children will have grown-ups who will explain how appalling and wrong Peter Rabbit’s behavior really is. After all, Mr. McGregor is a human character. The fact that he’s an adult character doesn’t lessen the impact of the scene (Thankfully, the filmmakers had the good sense not to produce this scene with a child actor). While these are fictitious animal characters causing mayhem, the message this scene sends is that it is okay, humorous even, to assault someone with a known food allergy, a health condition that can potentially kill a person.

Identify Food Allergy Bullying

One-third of children ages 8-17 who have food allergies report having been bullied because of their allergies. When you consider that 2 kids in every classroom have a serious food allergy, you can see that’s a lot of children being bullied about a medical condition. These stats prompted the Food Allergy Research and Education organization to define food allergy bullying and launch “It’s Not a Joke”, a campaign that educates about food allergies and teaches prevention strategies.

Food Allergy Bullying involves jokes or outright threats made against a child using the very food to which the child is allergic. This can involve verbal or written threats to expose the allergic child to a food and can escalate to specific threats such as:   

  • threatening to blow peanut dust (for example) in a child’s face,
  • smear their skin with the food allergen, or;
  • physically restrain a child to force exposure or ingestion of the food allergen.

Tips to Prevent Food Allergy Bullying

In order to be a part of the solution, you’ve got to get involved in your child’s community—the places where they learn and play. You may already be doing many of these things and not even realize that you’re being proactive against food allergy bullying. 

At home, speak with your child about Food Allergy Bullying. Many kids know what “typical bullying” looks like but they downplay when other kids make jokes about their allergy. This can lead to food allergy bullying not being reported until it escalates to a dangerous point. The more aware your child is, the more likely they will speak to you or a trusted teacher about their experiences.

  1. Raise awareness about the seriousness of food allergy bullying by sharing Public Service Announcements and video clips.
  2. Ask your school to support the “It’s Not a Joke” campaign. They can order resources and share online education with their staff and students.
  3. Keep educating yourself about food allergies, the laws that protect people with these allergies, from harassment, and the way the law requires response and investigation to allegations of food allergy bullying

Ultimately, preventing food allergy bullying relies on the creation of a safe environment for your child by being educated, being proactive in educating others, and having open lines of communication with those involved in your child’s education and care. If you suspect your child is experiencing food allergy bullying and isn’t opening up to you about it, consult with your child’s health care practitioners, trusted teachers and school administrators.


Food Allergy Research & Education – Bullying Prevention https://www.foodallergy.org/life-food-allergies/living-well-everyday/bullying-prevention 

StopBullying.gov  Information for Youth with Disabilities and Special Health Needs.

Monday, 29 January 2018 14:46

How Music Can Enhance Well-being for Special Needs Children

You don’t have to be a neuroscientist to recognize that music has an effect on your mood. Music has been linked to improving memory, altering the response to stress, inspiring creativity, strengthening social bonding, and enhancing mood, focus and motivation. Research even shows that music can boost immunity and support physical health. For many children with special needs, music has been shown to improve concentration, help manage impulse control, enhance language development, and ease tension.

How Music, Stress and Well-being are Related

First, let’s understand the relationship between stress, health and music. Stress can play a role in the behavior of all children (and grown-ups!), not just those with special needs such as ADHD or Autism Spectrum Disorders. Stress raises the level of the hormone cortisol in the bloodstream; too much cortisol not only deteriorates the immune response (which makes a person more prone to illness), it interferes with our ability to cope. Listening to your favorite music has the power to calm the mind and body enough to lower levels of cortisol while also raising the hormones associated with relaxation, which is conducive to a healthy mind and body.

What Kind of Music is Best?

Because musical preference is such a personal matter, it’s difficult to study all the different styles and the effect on individuals. Based on research that has been done with special needs children, listening to certain classical musical pieces has been shown to reduce tension, improve focus, and enhance social interactions. So, you might try these songs:

  • Beethoven Concerto for Piano No. 5 
  • Mozart Symphony No. 40 in G Minor
  • Bach Brandenburg Concertos
  • Handel Water Music
  • Brahm Concerto for Violin, D Major
  • Vivaldi The Four Seasons
  • Tchaikovsky Concerto for Piano No. 1
  • Pachelbel Canon in D

Free Download: Music for Healthy ADHD Brains

Also visit Additude Magazine for additional song suggestions.

If classical isn’t the vibe for your child, you can do your own research: Experiment with the types of music your child is listening to and record the results. Measure heart rate and blood pressure before, during and after listening. If that’s not possible, observe your child’s breathing: Is it relaxed and even, or short and choppy? Record the results in a journal, noting how your child's behavior changes with different types of music. From here, you can create a great playlist that specifically meets your child’s needs.

Will Your Child Benefit from Seeing a Professional Music Therapist?

A certified music therapist provides a more in-depth approach and analysis of how music can benefit your child. He or she designs a customized program that uses clinical and evidence-based therapeutic interventions that use music to improve health, social functioning, communication and cognitive skills. To achieve these goals, the therapist works with a child beyond just listening to music. Sessions with a music therapist can include lyric development, active listening, improvisation, music and imagery, song writing, and performance according to individual needs and abilities. Music therapists must provide ongoing evaluation, planning, and follow-up on these interventions.

A professional music therapist must meet certain education and training qualifications as well as abide by a code of ethics, including but not limited to:

  • Bachelor’s Degree or higher in music therapy from one of the American Music Therapy Association approved college or university programs;
  • Beyond the academic coursework, 1200 hours of clinical training (including an internship) are required;
  • Professional Competencies identify the minimum entry level skills for a therapist who has completed the minimum education requirements in music therapy. This includes clinical practice and research.

A music therapist who holds a professional designation – ACMT, CMT, or RMT – will be listed on the National Music Therapy Registry. You can learn more by calling (301) 562-9330. To find a music therapist in your state and local area, use the AMTA Directory Search. Also, ask your child’s pediatrician or therapy team for a referral. Music therapists can work in private practice, clinics, hospitals, treatment centers, and schools. 


Chandra, ML. & Levitin, DJ., “The Neurochemistry of Music.” Trends in Cognitive Sciences, (April 2013) 17:4. Accessed 4 May 2017: https://daniellevitin.com/levitinlab/articles/2013-TICS_1180.pdf

“What Music Works Best for Autism?”  https://portlandmusictherapy.com/what-music-works-best-for-autism/

 “Music Therapy in ADHD: The 8 Best Songs.” Attitude Magazine online: https://www.additudemag.com/slideshows/music-therapy-for-children-with-adhd/  

“Music for Your ADHAD Ears”  Psychology Today online:  https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-distracted-couple/201601/music-your-adhd-ears 

Goldstein, B. “The Secret Language of the Heart: How to Use Music, Sound, and Vibration as Tools for Healing and Personal Transformation.” (2016) Hierophant Publishing. http://www.barrygoldsteinmusic.com/book/ 

APA.org “Science Watch: Music as Medicine.” Posted by Amy Novotney; (Nov 2013 44:10). Accessed on 4 May 2017: http://www.apa.org/monitor/2013/11/music.aspx

American Music Therapy Association. “Selected Bibliography on Music Therapy and Mental Health.”  Accessed 4 May 2017: https://www.musictherapy.org/assets/1/7/MT_Mental_Health_2006.pdf

Ryback, R., “Music’s Power Explained.” .” (posted Mar 2016). Psychology Today Online. Accessed 4 May 2017: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-truisms-wellness/201601/music-s-power-explained

Bergland, C., “Cortisol: Why “The Stress Hormone” Is Public Enemy No. 1.” (posted Jan 2013). Psychology Today Online. Accessed 4 May 2017:


Sloboda, J.A. and O’Neill, S.A. “Emotions in everyday listening to music.” In Music and Emotion: Theory and Research (Juslin, P.N. and Sloboda, J.A., eds) (2001)  pp. 415–429, Oxford University Press. Accessed 4 May 2017:  http://konecni.ucsd.edu/pdf/2003%20M-E%20Review%20MP.pdf

Rickard, N.S. “Intense emotional responses to music: a test of the physiological arousal hypothesis.” Psychol. Music (2004) 32, 371–388. http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0305735604046096

Brown,S.etal, “Passive music listening spontaneously engages limbic and paralimbic systems.” NeuroReport (2004)15, 2033–2037. http://www.neuroarts.org/pdf/neuroreport.pdf

Davis, W.B. and Thaut, M.H. “The influence of preferred relaxing music on measures of state anxiety, relaxation, and physiological responses.” J. Music Ther (1989). 26, 168–187. https://academic.oup.com/jmt/article-abstract/26/4/168/866016/The-Influence-of-Preferred-Relaxing-Music-on?redirectedFrom=fulltext

Khalfa, S. et al., “Effects of relaxing music on salivary cortisol level after psychological stress.” Ann. N. Y. Acad. Sci. (2003) 999, 374–376. http://www.mpblab.vizja.pl/documents/publications/Khalfa_et_al_2003.pdf 

Thursday, 18 January 2018 16:58

Family Cruising with Food Allergies

When the weather outside is frightful, many families will consider a cruise on the warmer, open seas ever so delightful. For families who have to manage food allergies, considering even just a weekend cruise can trigger a flurry of panic-laden questions. This leads many families to assume a cruise is not a realistic option for them.

“That could not be further from the truth about today’s cruise lines,” says Jennifer Trinidad, travel agent with Modern Travel Professionals, LLC. “Many cruise lines have designated ships and itineraries that focus on families; this goes beyond offering a child rate on an adult cruise.”   

Common concerns families have about cruising include meal preparation; managing nut, wheat and dairy allergies (among others); and the crew’s readiness to handle an anaphylactic emergency. 

“There are several things for families to think about when researching a cruise,” states Trinidad, who has years of experience planning vacations for clients who have food allergies, including her own school-age child who has several food allergies.

“All of these factors will weigh differently, depending on the age of the child, the extent of the allergies, and the family’s willingness to go a few extra steps in making sure their needs will be met.”

  • Cruise Lines that Focus on Family. Cruise lines such as Disney, Norwegian, Royal Caribbean, and Carnival are all family-friendly, with a wide range of activities for the kids and teenagers. Royal Caribbean is also an Autism Friendly Certified Cruise Line, so if your family includes a child with autism and dietary needs, they may be an excellent option to consider. 
  • Allergy Friendly Itineraries. Allergens exist not only on the ship, but in port as well. For example, if you have contact or respiratory nut (peanut, tree nut, including coconut) allergies), an itinerary that includes ports where nut-based foods are dietary staples (e.g., Southeast Asia, certain islands) is not an optimal choice. You know your family’s allergies and reactions best, so wherever you intend to travel, ask your agent about these things.
  • Get a Copy of the Food Allergy Policy. Most cruise lines have a policy for how and when passengers must provide food or nutritional requirements (e.g., during the booking and/or pre-deployment). Comply with those guidelines because a cruise ship at sea is not going to be able to receive an emergency airdrop from Amazon. Ask your travel agent to help you obtain the most current policy. 

“If you need an EpiPen, make sure you have a doctor’s note and any cruise line specific paperwork completed before you say Bon Voyage,” explains Trinidad. “Remember, not all cruise line staff are qualified to administer prescriptions, including EpiPens, so knowing who, when and where in advance will ease your stress level significantly.” 

Questions for the Travel Agent—Before Your Book

Having an agent who understands food allergies is important as they will be more thorough in navigating the pre-deployment and on-board policies that apply to you. Ask the agent about their experience booking trips for families with food allergies. Look for a “full service” agent who will be there to support you throughout the planning process, not just the booking process. 

Other questions to ask:

  • Does the ship have an on-board nurse or other medical staff?
  • What is the policy for on-board allergy emergencies?
  • Do the children’s areas have designated nut-free play and eating spaces?
  • Who is the on-board “go to person” if there is a problem with dietary accommodation?

“Whether you’re in the dining room or at the pool deck, never hesitate to ask the serving staff for assistance,” explains Trinidad. “Most staff are more than willing to help in any way possible. If there is a situation that doesn’t seem to be handled properly, ask for the Manager of that dining venue or head to Guest Services for assistance.” 

Don’t Say Bon Voyage without These Items in Hand

  • Passports for All Travel Party Members. Even if your cruise destination does not require a passport, it’s in your best interest that everyone in your party has a passport that is valid for 6 months or more after the end of your trip. This is critical in the event of a medical emergency. If you need to leave the cruise early and receive treatment outside of the United States, you won’t be able to gain re-entry to the country without a passport.
  • Travel Insurance. Travel insurance can save more than your sanity; the right policy can also save you tens of thousands of dollars and prevent many sleepless nights. You can learn more about the benefits of having travel insurance here.
  • Medical Records and Medications. Documents that provide detailed information about your family member’s allergies, dietary needs, and any medications should be kept on your person at all times, plus a copy in your room safe and on file with the ship’s medical staff, if applicable.

For additional information, see our related blog articles about "Stress-free Holiday Travel with an Autistic Family Member" and "Vacation Planning Services for Families with ASD and Other Special Needs".


KidswithFoodAllergies.org “What you Need to Know about Cruising with Food Allergies” https://community.kidswithfoodallergies.org/blog/what-you-need-to-know-about-cruising-with-food-allergies 

Modern Travel Professionals: https://www.moderntravelprofessionals.com 

CruiseLine.com “How to Cruise with Food Allergies”

AllergyFreeMouse. http://www.allergyfreemouse.com/dining/disney-cruise-food-allergy/

Tuesday, 02 January 2018 15:18

The Potential Benefits of Essential Oils for Children with Autism

There are potential benefits for the use of Essential Oils (EO) for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. The right oil or combination of oils can be a supportive, less invasive supplemental therapeutic strategy for some kids. Certain oils can bring about a calming mood or help a child focus. Emerging clinical research on this topic aims to identify the oil(s) that are proven most helpful (see info at end of article). This research is important because some oils can cause an allergic reaction, or even a seizure.

It’s important for caregivers and parents to have a basic understanding about essential oils, so they—alongside the child’s therapy team—can make an informed decision about how to use this centuries-old herbal remedy.

Let’s focus on 3 important questions:

  • What is an essential oil? 
  • How does an essential oil work?
  • Do essential oils have a proven health benefits for children with Autism?

Keep in mind, even with the basic information we’re sharing here, it’s wise to consult with a certified clinical aromatherapist or naturopathic physician experienced with using essential oils with children who have ASD.

What is an Essential Oil?

An essential oil (EO) is the natural fragrant essence extracted from different parts of a plant: flowers, leaves, bark, roots, fruit peel, and berries. The oil is the most concentrated and potent of plant extracts—up to 75-100 times more than dried herbs. 

A single essential oil contains hundreds of chemical components, each one having unique properties of its own. In short, essential oils are very complex substances whose integrity and purity are affected by the time of harvest, method of harvesting, extraction process, and storage process—even before the product is bottled and shipped for retail sale.

Essential oils have been used for centuries throughout the world for everything from skin care to treatment for serious health conditions. In Europe, where standards for EO are much stricter than in the U.S., EO are used in both spa and medical treatments. In the U.S., EO use has had exponential growth as over-the-counter herbal remedies. It’s important to note that in the U.S., the FDA does not regulate EO for medicinal use the way it does other medicines, but it does regulate the claims an EO manufacturing company can make about an EO.

How does an essential oil work?

The therapeutic benefit of EO lies in the power of the sense of smell. Scent, by way of the olfactory nerve, can trigger emotions and memories. For example, the smell of fresh baked apple pie brings up a holiday memory. The neural receptors for scent are linked to areas of the brain strongly associated with emotion and memory—both positive and negative. 

The potency of the scent of an individual or combination of EO can trigger an emotional or physical response, such as:

  • becoming more relaxed, 
  • being better able to focus on a task, or 
  • feeling more energized.

However, different people can react differently to the same oil. Frankincense can make one person feel relaxed, and another person feel agitated or nauseous.

These effects on mood or mental state occur in two ways: either though inhaling the oil’s scent through a diffuser or being applied in diluted form directly to the skin, usually on pulse points or in bath water.

Essential oils should never be applied directly to the skin without a carrier oil or lotion for dilution (for example, mixing a certain number of drops of peppermint oil with Jojoba oil). Direct application can cause a rash or more serious reactions. An EO should never be taken internally in food or beverage unless under supervision of a licensed healthcare practitioner. 

Do Essential Oils have Proven Health Benefit for Children with Autism?

In the last few years, blogs have exploded with testimonials about the benefits of EO for children with Autism. Overall, these personal case reports indicate that certain oils such as lavender, peppermint, and chamomile have positive effects. But case reports are only the first step. Every child is different; what seems beneficial for one child could be life-threatening for another. Clinical research is vitally important to the understanding how any new therapeutic approach for whom and in what circumstances.

The short answer to the question about whether or not EO are beneficial for children with Autism is “maybe.” It depends upon factors such as:

  • the child’s age, symptoms, known allergies, medications in use, etc.
  • the oil or oils being used and the quality of those oils, and
  • the reason for use (the desired benefit).

The more questions we ask, and the more care we take in investigating answers, the more likely we are likely to find safe, effective natural remedies to complement treatment for children with Autism. Below is one example of an ongoing clinical trail that is doing just that.

Clinical Research: Do Essential Oils Improve Sleep in Children with Autism?

Researchers at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center set out to discover if EO can help children with Autism get to sleep. The ongoing study uses all the “gold standards” for clinical research. The study aims to find out if EO increase relaxation prior to bedtime and improve the quality of sleep for children with ASD (A very specific research question!). Researchers are comparing the safety and effectiveness of two mixtures of 18 essential oils. Mixture A is being tested in the first 3 months. A topical solution will be applied to the back of the neck and feet before school and at 20 minutes before bedtime the mixture will be diffused in the child’s bedroom and continue through the night. Some children will wear a watch-style recording device to measure sleep quality and movement during sleep. There will be a one-month break, then the research protocol will be repeated with Mixture B for another 3 months. If you’d like to get involved, contact the study director through this link.

The place to go, if you want to do your own research, is the U.S. medical research database, PubMed., and the Complementary and Alternative Medicine Database. Gold Standard Research uses a comparison group, controls for extraneous factors (such as playing music while giving an essential oil bath); and uses standardized tools.

Some examples of keyword searches are:

“essential oils (or aromatherapy) to improve sleep with children with Autism.” “peppermint essential oil, autism and focus on a performing a task”

“lavender essential oil effect on mood in children with Autism”

“essential oil side effects, children, Autism”

You can usually download a PDF of the article and share a copy with your child’s clinician to determine if the information applies to your child.


Essential Oils for Autism Treatment: Interview with Dr. Hollway of the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. https://ecochildsplay.com/2016/01/25/essentials-oils-for-autism/ 

Best Essential Oils for Autism and ADHD—The Ultimate Guide.  AutismParenting.com

Williams, Tim I. (2006) “Evaluating Effects of Aromatherapy Massage on Sleep in Children with Autism: A Pilot Study.” Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, (3)3, 373–377. PMC. Web. 28 Nov. 2017.

National Library of Medicine. PubMed Health. Essential Oils

Levy, S. E., & Hyman, S. L. (2008). “Complementary and Alternative Medicine Treatments for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders.” Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 17(4), 803–ix. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.chc.2008.06.004


Essential Oils Information Guide from Neal’s Yard Remedies

Professional Aromatherapy Associations

National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy.

Alliance of International Aromatherapists

Find a Naturopathic Doctor

American Association of Naturopathic Physicians 

Friday, 03 November 2017 14:23

Zen-sational Kids: Yoga for Children with Special Needs

In the yoga community, children with special needs are described differently. All children are recognized as special with some children having additional needs that require unique approaches to interaction, communication, and learning. It’s a “Zen-sational” way of viewing a child who is on the Autism Spectrum, lives with ADHD, or is developing differently due to behavioral, emotional, or sensorimotor challenges. This is exactly the perspective you should look for in anyone who offers to teach yoga to any child, but especially someone with additional needs. Let’s take a look at some of the benefits yoga can bring to children and, more importantly, the preferred qualities and qualifications of a yoga teacher or yoga program for children with additional, special needs.

How Yoga Benefits Children.

There are many ways in which yoga can benefit all children and these benefits are particularly helpful to children with additional needs. Benefits can and will vary based on each child’s unique needs, the special challenges they live with, and how long they participate in a yoga program. In general, the benefits of yoga for children include:

  • Enhanced awareness of, and better control of their body
  • Greater ease connecting to other people and to their surroundings
  • Confidence and improved self-esteem/ self-efficacy
  • The ability to experience relaxation and learn how to access this state of being outside of yoga class.
  • Enhanced ability to focus and to self-regulate behavior or emotion
  • Improved physical skills such as balance, coordination, agility, sense of direction
  • Enhanced emotional control (e.g., improvement in anxiety, depression, or agitation)

Teaching Yoga from a Zen-sational Perspective.

A yoga teacher must be able to see the child who is right before them and begin with that child where they are in that moment. What does that mean? Very simply, that the teacher has a class structure but is able to let go of a preconceived plan to move with the rhythm and energy of the children as they are at that time in class. It also means that the teacher has let go of any expectations for where a child should be, what they are supposed to do, or how some book says they need to execute a yoga pose. A teacher who can truly be present for a child right where they are and as they are will be able to help that child gradually achieve a sense of fulfillment and self-efficacy in yoga. It then becomes possible to carry that sense of “I can do it” or “I did it” from the yoga mat and into other areas of the child’s life.

Integrated Yoga Class vs. Special Yoga Class?

This is a bit similar to the question of sending a child to a regular public school or day care center versus a facility that is specifically designed for their needs. Yes, children with additional needs can participate in a class with more able bodied and typically developing peers. A typical yoga class with young children (age 3-9) moves quickly and can be very high energy. This can feel overwhelming to a child who has low body awareness or whose additional needs limit their ability to imitate movement. Consequently, when a child with additional needs is placed in a typical yoga class, that class will require two teachers: A teacher who leads the class as a whole and a teacher/parent/aide who stays with the child who has additional needs. The second person along side the child ensures that the child receives the attention and care necessary to benefit from the class. 

On the other hand, a special-child yoga class may be more appropriate for children who are highly sensitive, who function better in a smaller group, or whose physical limitations require more hands-on help from an experienced teacher. Often, someone who has had in-depth training with children who have additional needs would teach these classes.

Teacher Qualifications

At a minimum, the person who teaches yoga for children with special or additional needs has completed a 200 hour Yoga Alliance approved teacher training and has had educational or practical/life experience with differently-abled children. Ideally, you would want the instructor to have obtained CEUs or certification in teaching yoga for children. For instructors who are teaching classes specifically and only for special children, they should have some advanced training or education that qualifies them for such a role. You may sometimes find occupational therapists or physical therapists teaching these classes after they’ve attended relevant yoga training. The most important step you can take before signing up for a class is to ask questions about a teacher’s experience and certification, to observe a class and see the range of children who are being taught, and to trust your own intuition about whether or not a class or a teacher is a good fit for your child.



  • Yoga for the Special Child - Sonia Sumar (she also teaches yoga for the special child teacher trainings).
  • Yoga for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders – Dion E. Betts and Stacey W Betts. 
  • Yoga Therapy for Children with Autism and Special Needs - Louise Goldberg


“Yoga Generates Huge Benefits for Children with Autism.” Posted by YogaInternational.com https://yogainternational.com/article/view/yoga-generates-huge-benefits-for-children-with-autism 

ChicagoTribune.com “Yoga offers benefits for people with special needs” posted 14 March 2012. http://www.chicagotribune.com/lifestyles/health/ct-x-yoga-for-special-needs-0314-20120314-story.html

“Say Yes to Yoga for Kids with ADHD” https://www.additudemag.com/yoga-for-kids-with-adhd/ 

“6 Benefits of Yoga for Kids with Autism” https://www.autismparentingmagazine.com/creating-inner-peace-the-benefits-of-yoga-for-children-with-autism-spectrum-disorder/ 

“Therapeutic Effects of Yoga for Children: A Systematic Review of the Literature.” Pediatric Physical Therapy:  Spring 2008 - Volume 20 - Issue 1 - pp 66-80, doi: 10.1097/PEP.0b013e31815f1208. http://journals.lww.com/pedpt/Abstract/2008/01910/Therapeutic_Effects_of_Yoga_for_Children__A.10.aspx 

Wednesday, 25 October 2017 13:56

An Innovative Behavioral Solution for Kids with Sensory Processing Challenges

You often don’t give a second thought to biting into an ice cream sandwich, riding a bicycle, or watching a movie. For children who have difficulty with sensory processing these activities, become insurmountable hurdles that result in what most people see as inexplicable and out of control response from their child, including tantrums, anxiety, excessive clumsiness, carelessness, and academic failure.

What’s happening?

The child could very likely be having difficulty integrating information that comes in from their senses, primarily sound, touch, and sight. Commonly known as Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), the condition affects approximately 1 in 6 children in ways that are significant enough to detrimentally affect daily activities and healthy functioning. For these children, the brain and nervous system encounter a glitch in receiving messages from the senses, interpreting them, and converting them into appropriate motor and behavioral responses. Children can be affected in one sense or across multiple senses. One child may over-respond while another may under-respond to the same sensory stimuli.

There are many theories about the causes of SPD, but no single factor is responsible. While more research is needed, studies to date indicate that a complex interaction of genetics and environment determine how symptoms of SPD develop for any particular child.

What does Bone Conduction have to do with Sensory Processing?

An innovative system for addressing SPD is the Integrative Listening System (iLs), a multi-sensory system that integrates music, movement, and language exercises to help improve brain function. The premise behind iLs is that stimulation of movement, balance, vision, and auditory pathways are vital to the ability to pay attention, process information, coordinate movement, learn and respond. The key components of iLs are air and bone conduction, conveyed through headphones, along with visual and motor input.

Bone conduction and air conduction are the two ways we hear sound. If you’ve ever heard your voice on an audio recording and said, “that doesn’t sound like me” it’s because you’re only hearing the air conduction of your voice. When you speak, your voice is projected over both air and bone conduction, which happens over the mastoid bone just behind your ear. That’s also why, when you have your hearing checked, a vibrator is place on that mastoid bone—it is a test of bone conduction responsiveness and it is crucial in the processing of sensory stimuli.

How does the Integrated Listening System Help a Child?

Integrative Listening Systems uses different frequencies and different levels of sound filtration to selectively train parts of a child’s auditory spectrum. This helps improve learning-related abilities such as sound decoding and auditory memory. The muscles of the inner ear are also trained through a process that triggers patterns of relaxation and response. As the muscle patterns become stronger, the child’s ability for focused listening and attention to tasks can improve.

As lower-level processing tasks strengthen, higher-level processing activities are introduced. These higher-level tasks, such as expressive language training and complex cognitive activities influence the neurological pathways that relay and process sensory information, helping to release the “glitch” that had kept the child entangled in a snare of sensorimotor stimuli.

The results of a successful iLs program for a child with sensory processing challenges can include:

  • accelerating a child’s developmental growth patterns
  • calming a child, which enhances the time spent in therapeutic session
  • behavior improvement at home/school
  • improvement in learning new tasks, regulating emotion, and maintaining focus
  • improvement in body awareness, motor ability, and sleep patterns

Using the iLs program usually begins with intense sessions with a child’s occupational therapist. The program is also easy to use at home and is often recommended to maintain progress.


“Arousal Study Indicates Integrated Listening Systems Is an Effective Behavioral Solution for Children With Sensory Processing Challenges” Jl of Occupational Therapy, Schools & Early Intervention (2015) 8:3.

Understanding Sensory Processing Issues Understood.org

The Science Underlying Integrated Listening Systems IntegratedListening.com

Monday, 16 October 2017 03:16

Tips for finding Childcare Services for a Special Needs Child

Parents who care for special needs children face unique circumstances when it comes to finding childcare services that are consistent, compassionate, and of high quality. You have more to consider to insure that your child’s needs are addressed and proper communication occurs between you, your child’s medical team, and the childcare provider. You have to research thoroughly and prepare specific types of questions to find the arrangements that best suit your family situation and your child’s medical, developmental, or behavioral special needs.

Whether you are returning to work after being at-home with your child or you have a school-age child who has recently been diagnosed with a special need, a few of the most crucial aspects of childcare you will want to look for include:

  • Experience with your child’s particular health, behavioral, developmental, dietary and other needs
  • Understanding of the challenges of working with special children
  • Knowledge and experience of adaptive strategies for working with special children
  • Experience recording data that may be important to your child’s therapeutic care plan

Character traits in your care provider, such as compassion, patience, trustworthy and a loving presence are equally as important as their skills and experience. 

Type of Care: At-Home or Special Needs Childcare Center?

The decision about providing care at home or bringing your child to a facility outside the home is based on several factors, some of which are:

  • Logistics: driving distance to/from a care center, home and work
  • Cost of at-home versus facility care
  • Traditional daycare facility or special needs facility
  • Availability of qualified in-home care providers

While all daycare centers must admit children regardless of disability, a special needs daycare center may be able to better service children with complex needs or those who require special resources/equipment or individualized care. A specialized nanny or at-home care provider may be the right choice for children who have complex disabilities and require one-to-one care. Cost and logistics are something that each family has to assess for themselves. No doubt, you want to strive for the best care at the most affordable price for your budget. Whether you choose at home care or a daycare facility, you’ll want to do your homework.

Researching Care Options for a Special Needs Child

Before you jump on Google to research childcare options, there are important questions you need to answer about your family situation and your child. 

  • What are your most important logistical needs for work/family balance?
  • What is a reasonable commuting distance from home/work to the facility?
  • What is your family budget for childcare?
  • What are your child’s most crucial needs (consider social, behavioral, developmental, physical, emotional components)?
  • On a daily basis, what does your child do well? What does your child struggle with?
  • Overall, what are your child’s strengths? Their weaknesses?
  • How well can your child communicate with others, individually and in groups?
  • In what environments does your child thrive (feel safe, able to engage)?
  • What is needed in a given environment to support your child when they withdraw?

Answering these types of self-assessment questions (see Resources below for more) combined with discussion with your child’s therapeutic team will help you do good research and make the best choice for your family and child. This also provides you with good information that you’ll need when you start talking to care providers. 

Questions to Ask Care Providers

A variety of resources are available online and from national agencies to help you plan the types of questions to ask a care provider, be it an at-home agency /provider service such as Care.com or SeekingSitters.com or a childcare facility near your home. The specific questions you ask will be relevant to your self-assessment and your child’s special needs. Some of the more important topics to inquire about include questions about 

  • staff training including on-going training 
  • emergency procedures and site safety
  • communication plan between the provider, the family, and the child’s medical team
  • developmentally appropriate engagement
  • methods of encouragement that aligns with your child’s diagnosis and socialization level

 A good resource for questions and checklists and the types of information that should be shared with caregivers has been created by the Maryland Family Network for Inclusive Child Care. The Directions resource from the State of Connecticut provides information about how to organize your child’s health information and includes everyday childcare options that you may need to think about for your child.

Once you’ve done your research, checked references, and have narrowed down your options, ask if there is a “trial day” or “trial week” available. Observe your child’s response to the care provided. Does your child respond to the providers and the new experience in ways that are typical for them? Or, is there an unexpected escalation in problem behavior? There will always be a challenge when a special needs child encounters a change in routine; you are looking for evidence that the childcare service can provide an atmosphere within which your child can thrive in response to the level of care that is required of her or his special need.


In addition to these resources, Google “special needs childcare providers in (your town or county)”. 

Special Needs Resources Connecticut via ConneCTKids.gov provides listings and a wide variety of information about government and non-profit resources, commercial and national resources. Sub-categories for different needs (i.e., Autism, assistive technology, family support)

CT Department of Public Health has a Child Development Infoline and care coordinator, brochures, respite/emergency funding resources, and materials to help you plan and coordinate care.

Directions is a CT Public Health guide to help you plan and coordinate care for your child or adolescent with special health care needs.   In Directions you will find:  ways to organize your child’s health information; information about caring for your child’s special needs; resources; and tips from other parents of children with special health care needs.

Parents.com Interactive Childcare Safety Checklist

Respite Care for Children with Special Needs is a resource to help a caregiver take much needed “personal time” while entrusting their special needs family member to the care of a qualified individual. It explains why respite care is important for full-time caregivers, how to access funding, and how to select a respite caregiver. ** 

**The Talcott Center Blog will feature an article about this topic in the near future.

Monday, 18 September 2017 13:38

What You Need To Know About Animal Assisted Therapy

Most pet owners know, cuddling up to a furry friend can improve one’s sense of well-being. And that’s the primary reason we so frequently see therapy animals in schools, hospitals, libraries and nursing homes. Children with a range of disabilities, medical conditions, and developmental or behavioral needs have benefitted from both animal interaction and companionship. Would a therapy pet or animal assisted therapy benefit your special needs child?

To answer that question it’s important to understand these key factors before reaching out to a therapy dog association about a pet for your child: 

First, learn about how these animals are trained. Second, communicate with your health practitioner to assess your child’s level of readiness for either an in-home therapeutic animal partner, or a pet-assisted therapy program, in which a pet is present during therapeutic sessions but is not the child’s at-home companion animal. Finally, call and visit a reputable companion animal or assisted therapy animal training facility to identify the appropriate companion for your child. For the first and last items, we provide some general information in this article, and you can learn more at the websites listed below in the Resources.

Therapy Animal Certification Basics

Not just any animal can become a therapy companion. The general certification process for dogs, for example, is long and rigorous—including obedience training, good citizenship training, and an animal behavior evaluation that assess how the dog handles unpredictable circumstances and settings. There is also a process for assessing an animals’ fit for a particular client and their special need—be it emotional, developmental, physical, or a medical need. Additional training may be required for an animal to become certified to work with different situations or health conditions. These requirements may vary by organization, which is why it is important to work with your child’s health practitioners and the certifying organization in order to find the best fit.

Companion Therapy Animal or Animal-Assisted Therapy

Be it a dog, rabbit, or other furry four-legged friend, a companion animal for a special needs child is as much a responsibility for the child (and your family) as it is for the animal who will provide unconditional support, protection, and trust. The family, and ultimately the child to the extent of her or his abilities, will be responsible for the care of the animal. 

If your child is able to accept that responsibility consistently, and meets the qualifications of the therapy animal agency, then he or she may be a candidate for an at-home companion animal. The benefits of a live-in companion animal for a special needs child include:

  • the ability to sense and interrupt disruptive behaviors, meltdowns, seizures, etc.;
  • the ability to protect the child, comfort the child, and locate a child who has wandered off;
  • giving the child a sense of purpose, security, confidence, and so forth;
  • providing opportunities for play and to learn and even teach other family members;
  • helping give both the caregivers and the child more freedom because the animal is trained to “supervise”;
  • helping a child deal with difficult emotions, with loss or grief;
  • helping a child ease into new social situations.

When thinking about companion animals, don’t assume a dog is your only option. Cats, rabbit, and even fish can provide many of the same benefits. They also may be a great first-step toward a companion animal that requires more responsibility.

If a companion animal at-home is not a suitable match for your child, animal assisted therapy could be an option. Studies have consistently shown that exposure to animals in therapy improves communications, reduces anxiety, lowers blood pressure and heart rate, and can bolster self-esteem and communication. (And, many of the above listed benefits also apply). Animal therapies can augment typical occupation, physical or even speech therapy. Animal assisted therapy not only requires a specially trained service animal, but also a uniquely trained animal handler or therapist. You will want to inquire about the training of both the animal and it’s handler when considering animal assisted therapeutic programs.

Next Steps

As you are starting the discussion about animal therapy options with your family and your health provider, and researching options in your local area, you can also take these next steps with your child:

  • Visit an animal shelter—observe and even video record your child’s response to different animals.
  • Visit a service dog organization, meet with trainers, and see if there are programs available for your child.
  • Watch how your child reacts to different types of animals, both those owned by friends/family and those encountered elsewhere such as at the park.
  • Read books and watch videos that show the role different animals have in people’s lives—include nonfiction, documentaries, and fiction in your selection. Notice how your child responds and, if possible, discuss the stories. Include a variety of animals and roles they can have in helping people with special needs.
  • Keep talking with your child about animals, responsibility for care, and overall feelings toward different animals.
  • Narrow a list of animals that your child seems comfortable with and continue to focus on resources for bringing one of those animals into your child’s life.


Learn More About Therapy Dog Training at Therapy Dog International

Animal Assisted Therapy by Tails-U-Win in Connecticut

Therapy Dog Training by Tails of Joy in Connecticut

Connecticut Therapy Animals

Soul Friends Animal Assisted Therapy Programs of CT includes dogs, horses, rabbits, and other animals.

Merlin’s Kids

4 Paws for Ability Autism Assistance Dog Program

Dalien, S. “Animal Therapy for children with Special Needs.”  At SpecialEdResouce.com http://specialedresource.com/resource-center/animal-therapy-children-special-needs 

Benefits of Pet Ownership for Children with Special Needs.  BraiBalanceCenters.com


Animal Assisted therapy for Special Needs by PursuitofResearch.org

Book:  A Friend Like Henry:  The Remarkable True Story of an Autistic Boy and the Dog that Unlocked His World by Nuala Gardner. 

Monday, 14 August 2017 05:19

10 Tips to Help Middle-School Kids with Special Needs Transition to a New School Year

Children with special needs, particularly older children and children whose special need is “invisible” to others, may have more of a struggle with the transition back to school. Children entering intermediate or middle school (grades 4-7) are likely to be moving into a new school building, merging with students from other schools in the district, and dealing with the social and emotional development challenges that come with the pre-teen years. This—in addition to living with attention deficit, Autism spectrum, or other learning disorders that are not visible to others the way physical disabilities are—can create a perfect storm of developmental chaos at the start of a new school year.

Whether you child is transitioning to a new school, a new grade level or both, there are steps you can take to ease the back-to-school burden for your child.

1. Plan Ahead with P.E.P.  There are three main areas to address in planning your special child for the transition:
People: Before school starts, make arrangements for your child to meet with the people she or he will spend most of the day with: teachers, guidance staff, administrative staff, principal, school nurse and if applicable, the bus driver. Help your child understand who is the “go to person” for different concerns or questions that may arise.

Environment: The guidance or front office staff should be able to arrange a tour of the grounds—buildings, classrooms, recess/gym area, parking areas, restrooms, and the routes leading to and from the school building. Make note of areas that are off limits to students and explain why. If construction is taking place around the school, let your child know what to expect.

Personal Needs: Meet with instructors before school starts or during the first week to go over your child’s triggers/stressors, IEP, behavior plans and communication strategy between home and school.

2. Share Data. If anything has changed since the end of the previous school year, update your records and share this information with the school nurse, counselor or educators who will work most closely with your child. For example, coping strategies that may have worked during fifth grade but have changed in the months leading up to grade six. If there is any new testing data for your child, bring that to the school rather than relying on your healthcare team to fax it over.

3. Establish Goals. You may have long-term goals for your child (e.g., graduating middle school), but even typically developing teens don’t take the long-term view of what they need to accomplish and why. Break large goals into small, manageable objectives and celebrate their achievements along the way. Help your child connect objectives to the bigger goal by reminding them of how they are related. This can be done for each subject/class or for sports they enjoy. For example: Math homework may seem like busy work and pointless to your student. Help them understand how multiplying larger numbers will help them solve real problems like how many jerseys to order for 17 players who each need two jerseys in two different colors. 

4. Share Personal Experience. Grown-ups forget what it was like to be an adolescent. Sure times may have been different, and we tend to see our past through rose-colored glasses. If you think about it long enough, you’ll recall experiences where you struggled, failed, overcame a challenge, etc. Even if you grew-up without the challenge of learning or other developmental challenge, you can find experiences to relate to you child to convey that you empathize and have, even walked in similar shoes as they are in now. 

5. Make a Transition Book. During your meetings with teachers, take pictures of the rooms, hallways, and exterior of the school grounds. Work with your child to create a book with these pictures, label each area and what typically takes place there. Use a school map to reinforce special event procedures such as assembly, dances, and fire drills. 

6. Review the Routine. Once your child has a schedule, review the routine for each day the night before. This is especially helpful if your child has a rotating A-B schedule, and changes classrooms/teachers during the day. Use the school map to label the location of classrooms, teacher’s name, etc. 

7. Arrange Peer Socials. Before school starts and during the school year, arrange social outings so that your child can connect with friends they will be going to school with as well as friends from their old school. These can be simple get-togethers at the mall, movie night, meeting for an ice cream, or having a pizza at your home. 

8. Go Digital; but Keep Hard Copies. Keep up to date print copies of IEPs, emergency procedures and other important documents on hand for times when you can’t access digital data. This also is a good idea for your child’s homework.

9. Expect Mistakes. Every child is going to forget homework, bring home a poor test grade, and struggle with peer relationships. Every situation has to be examined individually and determined if it’s an isolated event versus part of a bigger pattern. Yelling rarely works with any teenager. Talk through what did or did not happen that resulted in the situation. For example, did your child not study for the test? Did they express something in an inappropriate way? Were they caught in the crossfire with other kids? ~ Schools and teachers are going to make mistakes as well. Keep calm, be diplomatic, gather the facts, and know what you expect to happen before you show up at school with demands.

10. Reward Success. When your child (or their teacher or other school personnel) does something well, let your child know how you feel about their achievement—even if its as simple as bringing up a grade by few points or winning an essay contest. Point out specific things about their achievement that really stand out to you. Likewise, when the school is doing things right, they need to hear from you. 


How to Prepare Your Child With Special Needs for the Back-to-School Transition (empoweringparents.com)

Easing the Back-To-School Transition for Kids with Special Needs (care.com)

Tips for Helping kids with Special Needs Change Schools (childmind.org)

School Transitions for the Elementary Grades (autism-societ.org)

Friday, 04 August 2017 05:19

When Disaster Strikes: Resources for Emergency Readiness for Families with Special Needs

We hope it never happens to us, but the reality we all live with is the threat of a natural disaster or terrorist attack that could devastate the place we call home. For families with special needs children, emergency preparedness becomes even more critical because there is so much more that you have to mobilize to ensure the safety and care of your child.

A variety of resources are available to help you prepare in the event of a disaster. But there isn’t one plan for every family because of the great range in resources required for children with different types of special needs. We’ve outlined key steps you should focus on in preparing for your child’s special needs. You’ll also find more in depth resources listed at the end of this article.

Assess Your Family Situation

Think about what kinds of supplies, medicines and assistance your family needs on an ordinary day. In the event of a disaster, you’ll need those resources ready to go and in place for at least 3 days on your own before rescue workers may be able to reach you. A few key questions to think about: 

  • Depending on the nature of the disaster and personal needs, will you shelter-in-place at your home; go to a public shelter; or somewhere else? Plan for all possibilities. Consult with your child’s care providers to be sure your plan meets their most urgent needs.
  • How will family members communicate, if separated, and local phone service is unavailable? 
  • Have you pre-registered with 2-1-1 if help will be needed to evacuate? 
  • Are there medical supplies that need refrigeration? 
  • Is there equipment that requires electricity? Have I notified the utility company? 
  • Do you need a back-up generator? 
  • What supplies for service animals or family pets are needed? By law, service animals must be allowed in public shelters.
  • Have you discussed emergency situations with your child’s school? Ask for the emergency plan at your child’s school or child care facility. Plan with them how your child will get the care they need in an emergency.

Gather Information about Disaster Response Services

Part of your assessment of family needs is to learn as much as you can about local disaster response services. Some states and municipalities have a registration system for individuals with disabilities and intricate medical needs. Some local organizations you can call are:

  • American Red Cross Chapter
  • Local Emergency Response Management Office
  • Local fire or police registration program
  • Your medical provider or preferred hospital or insurance company
  • Smart 911 is a free service that allows families to create a safety profile for their household that includes any information they want 9-1-1 to have in the event of an emergency.

Make an Emergency Supply Kit & Create an Action Plan

In addition to survival basics  such as food, water, emergency lighting and radio, first aid, and tools – you will likely need:

  • An Emergency Information Form with a list of your child’s current doctors, pharmacy and phone numbers 
  • Obtain a medical alert and/or identification bracelet for your child. Some organizations sell decals that can be put on the home or car to alert responders that there is a child with special needs
  • A list and 2 week supply of all current prescription and non-prescription medicines, or as much as possible 
  • 2 weeks of medical supplies such oxygen, syringes, catheters, formula and other nutritional products 
  • Pack smaller “to go” kits for use in an evacuation. Store them in multiple places such as your car, at work and at school.
  • Store important documents like medical records, health insurance cards, prescriptions and personal identification on a CD, flash drive, or phone app. Keep paper copies in a waterproof bag. 
  • Extra batteries and/or chargers for hearing aids, wheelchairs, and other essentials 
  • Personal hygiene items 
  • Items to calm and entertain your child 
  • Have you shared a copy of your plan with family, close friends and medical provider?

Create a Support Network for your Family

A personal support network goes beyond your immediate family and neighbors. In a disaster situation, you may not be able to reach them. It includes local associations specific to your family member’s special needs, medical providers, and personal care attendants. Cast a wide net so that in an emergency situation you can reach someone in your network. Even more importantly, these people will know how to reach you and look for you based on your evacuation and emergency care plan.

  • Ask your pharmacist how long the medicine can last and storage needs of the medicines.
  • Keep a two-week supply of medical care items such as needles, nasal cannulas, bandages, etc.
  • Keep a cooler and chemical ice packs for storing medications that must be kept cold.
  • Keep prescription information in your wallet, survival kit and car that includes the name, location and phone number of an out of town pharmacy.

Review your plans at least once a year; twice if you live an area more prone to natural disasters or other type of -risk threat. Also, remember to:

  • Update supplies yearly 
  • Replace water every six months 
  • Update emergency contact and medical forms as needed

Disaster can strike at anytime. None of us are out of range of threat and we all need to be prepared.


Emergency Preparedness for Children with Special Needs. Center for Children with Special Needs:  http://cshcn.org/resources-contacts/emergency-preparedness-for-children-with-special-needs/ 

Resources for Emergency Preparedness and How to Organize Your Child’s Information 


CT Department of Public Health: Resources for preparing young children and those with disabilities:  http://cshcn.org/planning-record-keeping/ 

Connecticut Resource Guide for Including People with Disabilities in Disaster Preparedness Planning:  http://www.ct.gov/ctcdd/lib/ctcdd/guide_final.pdf 

Emergency Preparedness for Children with Special Needs Emergency Preparedness for Children with Special Needs (2013). https://blogs.cdc.gov/publichealthmatters/2013/07/emergency-preparedness-for-families-with-special-needs/ 

Red Cross: Disaster Safety for People with Disabilities: http://www.redcross.org/get-help/how-to-prepare-for-emergencies/disaster-safety-for-people-with-disabilities 

Checklist for Children with Special Nutrition Needs: http://depts.washington.edu/cshcnnut/download/resources/disasterchecklist.pdf 

FamilyVoices.org. Disasters and Emergencies: Keeping Children and Youth Safe:  http://www.familyvoices.org/work/caring?id=0004 

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