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.

Friday, 01 December 2017 15:18

What Parents Need to Know about Essential Oils & Autism

The marketing claims for essential oils would have you believe the right blend of oils could cure just about anything that ails you, or at the least soothe your symptoms. It’s not any different for Autism Spectrum Disorder. Claims range from certain oils having the ability to calm and soothe, or to focus a child’s mind or behavior. But experimenting with essential oils on your own can put a child in harms way: Some children may have an allergic reaction or even have a seizure when exposed to certain oils. It’s always best to use essential oils under the guidance of a certified clinical aromatherapist or naturopathic physician experienced with using essential oils with children who have ASD.

For those of you who want to know more, let’s focus on 3 important questions:

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

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 Europe, where standards for EO are much stricter than in the U.S., these components have to be listed on product labels as naturally occurring elements (versus added ingredients). 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, EO are used in both spa and medicinal treatments. In the U.S., essential oils came into vogue in spa treatments but have had exponential growth as over-the-counter ‘medicinal remedies’. It’s important to note that in the U.S., the FDA does not regulate EO for medicinal use the way it does prescription drugs but it does regulate the claims an EO manufacturing company can make about an oil.

How does an essential oil work?

The theory behind essential oils is based on 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 the areas of the brain strongly associated with emotion and memory—both positive and negative. The premise for essential oils is that their individual or combined aroma can trigger an emotional or physical response, such as becoming more relaxed, being better able to focus on a task, or feeling more energized. These effects on mood or mental state occur in two ways: either through inhaling their scent through a diffuser or applying an oil in diluted form diluted form directly to the skin, usually on pulse points or in bath water.

It is very important to understand that essential oils should never be applied directly to the skin without a carrier oil or lotion for dilution; nor should any essential oil ever 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, parenting blogs have exploded with testimonials about the use of certain EO for children with Autism. Some of these posts are nothing short of miraculous. These case reports are a start (just like Freud’s case studies of individual patients were a start). Every child is different; what seems beneficial for one child could be life-threatening for another. This is why research is so vitally important to the study of any potential treatment—no matter how benign it may seem, at first.

In the U.S. medical research database, PubMed, research on EO and Autism is scarce. In the Complementary and Alternative Medicine Databaes, there are a few studies that address very specific questions, which is how you have to search for information if you want to accurately answer your question. For example, “essential oils (or aromatherapy) to improve sleep with children with Autism.” Or “Does lavender essential oil help calm children with autism so they can focus on performing a task?” A high quality study will use a control (or comparison group); will have standardized definitions of the variables being observed; uses standardized measurement tools or criteria (such as a validated questionnaire or measure of heart rate and blood pressure); and aims to manage outside factors that could influence results. For example, if a lavender EO is used in a child’s bath, you would not also want to be playing calming classical music at the same time and then measure how easily a child falls asleep. The presence of the calming music interferes with the observation of the essential oil treatment. 

Study Evaluating Essential Oil Effects on Sleep Patterns in Children with Autism

In the past year, 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. For children who are able to, they 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 the EO Mixture B for another 3 months. Dozens of children will be tested over a two-year period. If you’d like to get involved, contact the study director through this link. 

The short answer to the question about whether or not EO have benefit for children with Autism is “maybe.” It depends on the child, the oil or oils being used (and the quality of those oils), and it depends upon the reason for use. The more questions we ask, and the more care we take in investigating answers, the more likely we are to find safe, effective natural remedies to complement treatment for children with Autism. 

Resources

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

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2597185/pdf/nihms-71048.pdf 

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.

Resources

Books:

  • 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

Online

“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.

Resources

“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.

Resources

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.

Resources

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

https://www.brainbalancecenters.com/blog/2014/09/benefits-pet-ownership-children-special-needs/ 

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. 

Resources

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.

Resources

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 

http://cshcn.org/planning-record-keeping/

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 

Tuesday, 11 July 2017 05:19

Helpful Tips & Perspectives for Families with a Child Recently Diagnosed with Autism or ADHD

The day a family first learns about their child being diagnosed with Autism or ADHD can be one of mixed emotions, ranging from anxiety to sadness over the implications this news has for the child and the family. Amid the overwhelm, you may even experience relief in finally “knowing” what’s happening with your child’s social and emotional development. By adopting a mindful perspective and following a few essential tips, you can help empower everyone in your family to learn how to manage and live with a special needs behavioral diagnosis.

  1. The diagnosis does not define your child. Your child is the sum of more than his or her behavior. Your child is more than the diagnosis and it is up to all those who love a special needs child to separate who the child is from the challenging behaviors he or she displays. As your family learns what triggers bring on your child symptoms, you will be able to have more moments that emphasize your child’s amazing qualities. Your child may be funny, creative, compassionate, skilled with their hands. These are the qualities that define a person, not the diagnoses.
  2. You must take care of yourself. Parenting a typically developing child is tough as it is; raising a child with special needs can be even more exhausting. You can experience guilt, doubt, frustration, and feel overly-committed to your child’s needs. The best way to manage your emotions is to make time each day to take care of your emotional and physical health. This can include exercise, journaling, art, yoga, going to a support group, eating healthfully, getting quality sleep, and maintaining open lines of communication with family and the healthcare team. 
  3. Slow Down. Everything about the world we live in is immediate. We don’t even realize the speed of our own thoughts, speech, and emotions. We mindlessly multitask ourselves into exhaustion. When caring for a child on the spectrum,  you need to slow way down. Once you start to pay attention to the pace at which you are doing things, you will become more mindful of how the “rush” affects you and your child. Out of that awareness, you can make changes that will benefit both of you.
  4. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to caring for a special needs child. As you attend support groups, read, and observe other families who have a special needs child, you will hear about many types of therapies that ‘work.’ This illustrates the unique needs of different children even though they may have the same diagnosis. Always work with your child’s healthcare team to discover and implement the treatment approaches that will best suit your child and your family.
  5. Learn how to advocate for your child. You will not be able to escape the stereotypes that exist about Autism or attention deficit disorders. By educating yourself and coming to know and appreciate your child’s strengths and weaknesses, you will be in a position to advocate for your child. Many support groups offer workshops that can help you develop confidence and the skills necessary to engage with counselors, teachers, and even public figures on behalf of your child. 
  6. Look for the positive, the up-lifiting, and the inspiring in every day. When you focus on what is going well, you can see the great potential that exists within your child and you can help them express that potential. When they sense your positive expectations of them, your child will feel empowered to bring out their very best. Also, focusing on the positive can help you better navigate challenges and get through the days when everything is going according to Murphy’s Law.
  7. Observe and embrace what motivates your child. Rather than imparting what you think your child should be interested in, identify what interests her and explore the topic from different angles. For example, if your child is interested in animals, you can explore different groups of animals through books, video, apps, and a trip to the pet store or the zoo. Narrow that broad interest to specific types of animals that captivate your child and help them create projects that will teach them in more in depth ways. Your keen observations and intuition about your child is the best guide for helping them unearth their talents and abilities.
  8. Communicate on their level, and mindfully. It’s important with all children, but even more so for a child with ADHD or Autism that you make eye contact when you communicate with them. This ensures that you are both paying attention to one another. And, because many kids on the spectrum tend to be visually and feeling-oriented, getting “on their level” to communicate conveys a sense of safety and structure to them. Also, be mindful of your tone and body language. Your child is likely to be sensitive to even subtle changes in your emotional tone and gestures. By making changes in how you communicate, you can help your child thrive in how they communicate.
  9. Minimize the complexity of how you communicate. Simple instruction may allow your child to better follow directions. Focus your instructions on immediate tasks, delivered in an even tone (not hastily), and use simple phrases. Rather than, “After you eat, brush teeth, brush your hair and get your shoes on” you will need to go step-by-step:  “Eat breakfast, when you’re done let me know.” When that task is done, “Please brush teeth now.” And, so on. 
  10. Show your child love and acceptance every day. When you are with your child, speak and act intentionally and from the heart. This conveys acceptance and love that your child will sense. 

Special needs children are special not just because their behavior or development makes them different. They are special because of what they are capable of teaching us about ourselves, about how we view the world, and ultimately about how we behave. 

Resources

Advice of Parents of Newly Diagnosed Children with Autism (2014) Psychology Today

Advice for Parents of Young Autistic Children (2012, Part 1 & 2) Autism Research Institute

Helping Your Child with Autism Thrive 

100 Day Kit for Families of Children Newly Diagnosed with Autism

Your ADHD Child:  Easy Parenting Techniques

My Child was just Diagnosed with ADHD. Now What?

Thursday, 29 June 2017 12:42

From Scribbles to Script: Handwriting Skills Training for Special Needs Children

When a child is delayed in development of fine motor skills, learning to print, let alone write in script, can be a tiresome and frustrating task. Working through the frustration to help a child learn to print, and then write their name to the best of their ability has many positive outcomes:

  • It teaches the child how to persevere, develop patience, and pay attention to directions.
  • The child experiences the joy and satisfaction of accomplishing a difficult task.
  • The child feels empowered by creating and seeing their own name in print. 
  • The hand skills developed lay the foundation for other ways of communicating such as typing on a keyboard or other device.

Common Challenges in Learning to Write

If a child has a health condition that affects their nerves and muscles, or if there is a learning disorder, it’s easy to understand why it is difficult with learning to write. Handwriting requires communication between the brain and the coordinated effort of the eyes and the muscles of the hand, fingers, wrist, and forearm. The child must be able to develop the strength and dexterity necessary for holding a pen or pencil while keeping the hand steady even as it moves across the page and makes micro-movements to form letters. Add to all of that while sitting still at a desk or table.

For special needs children, including those who have dyslexia, autism, or ADHD, learning to write requires an enormous amount of energy, focus, and practice. It’s good to keep in mind that even children who do not have physical or learning disorders have a difficult time with handwriting—it takes time, patience, and practice for them as well. In fact, many schools use the Handwriting without Tears® curriculum for all children.

Other common challenges in learning handwriting include:

  • Attention span
  • Tolerance for fatigue
  • Grip strength
  • Visual-Spatial skills (the abilty to distinguish between figure-ground, discriminate fine details and shapes, such as between the letter b and the letter p)
  • Over-practicing, leading to frustration and stress.

How to Positively Reinforce Handwriting Skills

If your child is enrolled in a skills class or occupational therapy program that teaches handwriting, you will want to follow the therapist’s instructions for handwriting practice at home. If you are working with your child independently, keep the following things in mind:

  1. Start early. From the moment your child shows interest in pens and other writing tools, encourage their scribbles and make connections between the patterns they make on paper with letters of the alphabet. 
  2. Use a handwriting teaching system. Ideally, you want one that includes workbooks and online tools to include exercises that enhance dexterity and letter formation for both print and cursive. A system gives you a framework from which to teach at home and provides consistency in instruction. In addition to Handwriting without Tears, there are other approaches your child’s therapist can customize to her or his needs. These include a task-oriented approach, a sensorimotor approach, and a multisensory approach, among others.
  3. Have your child say letters (and words) as they write. This auditory feedback helps a child stay focused. 
  4. Reinforce consistency and legibility, not perfection. Letter formation does not have to be perfect or even precise. You should be able to look at the letters and easily determine what they are. Use visual imagery and examples to help your child understand letter formation. For example, letters should not “float like a balloon above the line” or “sink below the surface line.”
  5. Use raised line paper. One of the benefits of raised line paper is that it helps a child write within the lines. It’s also commonly used when a child is transitioning from print to script writing. Ask your child’s therapist about using it for different levels of writing readiness. 
  6. Use comfort grip writing instruments. Pen or pencil or crayon, a comfortable grip helps lesson fatigue and places the child’s fingers where they should be. A variety of comfort grip tools are available; check with your health practitioner for the best option for your child.
  7. Fine tune those fine motor skills and build hand strength. There are many interactive tools and fun toys that can help build strength and dexterity. You might have some of these items at home already, including peg boards, child safe-scissors, and play dough/modeling clay or therapy putty. Cutting paper and thicker materials; pulling pieces off and pushing them into place; playing a round of thumb wrestling; molding and sculpting are al creative ways to enhance fine motor skills and strengthen the hands. 

When a child writes their own name for the very first time, to them it feels like their name is up in lights! Celebrate and reward your child in meaningful ways. Recognize that exercise and practice can help improve these skills but struggle is par for the course. Your child may never write perfectly, but that’s not the goal. Rather, the goal is to be able to communicate as clearly as possible in their own unique handwriting, and establish motor patterns that will be useful in other forms of communication. 

Resources

The ABCs of Handwriting for Children with Special Needs. FriendshipCircle.org

Improving Handwriting in Children with Autism especialneeds.com 

When it Comes to Handwriting, Practice Doesn’t Always Make Perfect. Additudemag.com

Sound City Handwriting Readiness Curriculum

Handwriting Programs: Summary and Bibliography

Handwriting and Letter Formation (Tips for a multisensory approach for all children, some tips may apply to children with special needs.)

Hand Strength and Dexterity Tools & Toys  eSpecialNeeds store

Wednesday, 31 May 2017 15:06

Vacation Planning Services for Families with ASD and Other Special Needs

Do you get overwhelmed when choosing a vacation destination that is suitable for your special needs child and exciting for other family members?

You’ll be glad to know there are travel planning services and vacation destinations that are gaining  recognition for specialized services for families with special needs, including ASD and ADHD. For example, cruise lines, and destinations can acquire an Autism Certificate (e.g., Beaches resorts). Another option is for a service, destination or program to receive recognition or designation from one of the national organizations or research centers that specialize in ASD or other special needs, including:

  • SEED (Social Enrichment and Educational Development) Autism Center – for Beaches Resorts 
  • CARD (Center for Autism and Related Disabilities) – centers in different states, for resorts 
  • Autism on the Seas – for cruises
  • Local chapters of national “cause” organizations relevant to your family’s health

To receive the designation as Autism-friendly, the resort or service has to meet certain standards. This usually includes specialized training for employees who assist guests with travel before, during, and after their trip.

While there isn’t a travel industry certification specifically for agents, many who specialize in travel services for special needs do so because they have experience with a special needs child or adult in their family. Some agents may be eligible to acquire an Autism Certificate from a credentialing organization. Others have established a strong network with practitioners, national/regional/state organizations, and support groups.

Tips for Travel Resources and Planning for Special Needs Families

To help you sort through the choices and planning that goes into traveling with your special needs child and their siblings, we brought FAQs to travel specialist Jennifer Trinidad of Majestic Palms Travel, an agent of Modern Travel Professionals. Jennifer is the parent of a sensory hypersensitive child. She and her husband Christian specialize in travel services around the world for families who have children with a wide range of needs, from food allergies to developmental and sensory conditions. They have helped families navigate travel to Disney, Europe, the Far East, Canada, the Caribbean, Hawaii and mainland U.S., as well as cruises.

What are good questions to ask a potential travel agent, to help determine if the agent is a best fit for their family’s needs? 

Take the time to do an initial phone call with the agent(s).  Five basic questions to ask are:

  • How long have they been booking travel?
  • Do they have experience in working with families with differing health needs, as well as your specific concerns?
  • What are their specialty destinations?  
  • Can they provide relevant references?
  • Do they work alone, or are they part of a broader agency? An agent with a support and resource network is incredibly valuable to you as a client.

Keep in mind that the right travel planner for your family may or may not be in your back yard. Many travel planners will work with clients regardless of where they live.

When you speak to an agent, be honest and up front about your concerns, interests, and needs. If the thought of planning the trip, and the “list of all of the possible things that could go wrong” that your brain decides to play on loop makes you want to run for the hills and hide, say so. Every family comes from a different place, mindset and experience level. If your agent knows where you’re really coming from, they’ll be better able to help guide you through the quoting and booking process, and the planning process to follow.  

What types questions should travelers expect the travel planner to ask of them, to make sure they are going to receive the best possible service from that agent?

The goal of any questions an agent will ask should be to generate a conversation so that your needs and what is truly important to you and your family are brought to the surface during the initial quoting. A more directed initial quoting process benefits everyone. For us, we have a set of baseline questions for our clients during the initial conversations. These help us know where to dig further to make sure we look at the destinations that may best suit the family.  

Some of the questions we may ask:

  • What is most important to you and your family in this trip?
  • Are there any destinations or resorts that you definitely are not interested in?
  • Are there any dietary needs within your travel party?  
  • Are there special health needs or conditions within your travel party? (additional questions specific to health needs will follow)
  • What is your family’s activity level?  Do you like to be active and on the go the entire time?  Do you like to sit by the pool or beach all day?  A combination of both?

Which destinations are exceptional in the service and amenities they provide for special needs families?

Families traveling with special needs have a variety of options, and those options will depend on your specific situation, interests, and comfort level:  

For those looking for an all-inclusive option, our favorite for families with special needs of all types are the Beaches resorts in Turks & Caicos and Jamaica. Custom kids programming, experienced staff, a culinary concierge program to support dietary needs and an all-inclusive environment gives everyone a well-deserved break (that means you too, parents and caregivers). 

If you prefer to stay stateside, Tradewinds in St. Petersburg, FL has received an Autism Friendly Certification. Also consider:

  • Myrtle Beach, SC
  • Ocean City, MD
  • Galveston, TX
  • Hampton Beach, NH 
  • Maine coast (York to Bar Harbor, or Acadia National Park) 
  • Southern California area from Anaheim to San Diego.  

Rental homes are available throughout these areas, in addition to hotels.  In Southern California, of course, are the three resorts located on-site at Disneyland in Anaheim.

Of course, there is Walt Disney World in Orlando, which we absolutely love for the many ways the parks accommodate for special needs. We also like Universal Orlando Resort. Universal Orlando is consolidated in size compared to the Disney parks. You can take an accessible walkway from any of the five (soon to be six) resorts to the entrance of Universal CityWalk under 20 minutes. Depending on your on-property resort choice, you’ll also be able to take an accessible water taxi or bus. With advance notice, special dining considerations can be met at many of the full-service restaurants. Universal Orlando’s private and small-group tour guides provide a add-on VIP experiences that may provide the personalized attention some families require. Also, express passes help families avoid congested and long waiting lines. Many rides at Universal Orlando theme parks also have a Family Waiting Room, providing a safe and sheltered place for those not riding to await those that are.  

Many of the U.S. National Parks have accessible trails and activities, as do some states’ parks (check with your specific state).  Depending on your specific situation, there are also cabin rentals in many parks across the country, such as Allegheny State Park on the NY/PA border, as well as RV parking/camping areas. Amtrak vacations are also a nice way to enjoy both the journey and the destination.

For more adventurous or globetrotting families, we recommend Adventures by Disney tours.  With over 40 land and river cruise itineraries around the world (including the U.S and Canada), Adventures by Disney is different from other “group tour” companies.  Aside from many immersive and unique “backstage” experiences included in your package (such as private, after-hours access to the Sistine Chapel in Rome), each tour is led by two Adventure Guides who specialize in the locations and can work with their guests on activity levels and other needs.  While not every itinerary can be customized to every need, Adventures by Disney will have those discussions with travel agents and guests during both the booking process and planning process (so you don’t deposit a trip your family won’t be able to do).

Cruise lines have also take up the mantle of accessible accommodations.  Royal Caribbean Cruise Line, Celebrity Cruise Line, Norwegian Cruise Line, Disney Cruise Line and Carnival Cruise Line have been recognized for their support of children and adults with Autism and other disabilities; Royal Caribbean and Celebrity have received formal Autism Friendly Cruise Line certification. All can accommodate several dietary needs. If accessibility is needed, work with your travel agent to assist you with securing an accessible room and onboard accessibility devices from approved partner vendors. 

Final tips to help families make a choice for travel destination? 

Destination choices generally come down two core considerations: 

  • Your family’s specific situation. Beaches Resorts are phenomenal, but if a plane ride, sun, sand, and ocean are not an environment compatible with your family’s situation, don’t book it. It sounds like common sense, but there are families out there who have booked something not in line with their needs hoping it will all work out, only to find themselves very unhappy. Kids can surprise you and enjoy something you never imagined they would. Make trip planning a family affair—include everyone in the planning process before and after you select a travel planner.
  • Value. I say “value” rather than “budget,” because while there are sometimes amazing deals and discounts, “you get what you pay for” rings true more often than not in the travel industry. A good example of this could be your resort room category. If you need a room in a quieter area of a resort rather than in a more active location, it could be a more expensive room than you expected. It may or may not be worth the expense, but make sure to consider all aspects. 

Keep in mind that the right travel planner for your family may or may not be at the agency in your hometown or the one owned by your cousin Sally. Search online and research agents and their services as much as you can. Many travel planners will work with clients regardless of where they live. Finally, allow your travel planner to help you think through where it makes the most sense to allocate your hard-earned travel investment in alignment with your family’s needs. 

Resources

Special Needs Vacation Spots (list provided by TheVacationCritic.com)

Allergy-Friendly Travel Resources (provided by Majestic Palm Travel Agency)

Cruise Planners: Easy Access Travel; “Autism on the High Seas”

ASD Vacations and Special Needs Travel

World Travel Excursions – Agencies specializing in family and group travel around the globe; list provided by FriendshipCircle.org

CARD Center for Autism Disorders find locations and then visit the. If you don’t see resort/vacation designations for a state, call the center for assistance.

SEED (Social Enrichment and Educational Development) Autism Center 

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