I’m back! My life has changed a lot since I was here last. I’ve done a lot of thinking during this season—about my life, about my writing, and about my legacy. I want to be able to look back one day and be proud of how I spent my time. I want to write, but first I want to live a story worth writing about. I want to make memories that the kids will look back on fondly. My kids are preteens (and next month I’ll have a preteen and a teenager!). My time with them is short, and I want to make the moments count.
Change is part of life, but we’ve had more than our share, with no end in sight. It’s only natural that my writing will reflect some of the changes.
A lot will stay the same. I will still be writing about my faith, my kids, and parenting and homeschooling struggling learners and kids with special needs and their very special siblings.
New topics will appear too. These include: single parenting, parenting preteens and teens, being a work-at-home mom, and domestic abuse education. (Despite what many people believe, a person doesn’t have to be physically abused to be a victim of domestic abuse. And it isn’t just between romantic partners. It can occur between parents and children and in other family or intimate relationships as well. Domestic “violence” happens as verbal, emotional, psychological, financial, physical, and sexual abuse.)
Other topics may come up from time to time, but these will be the focus for now.
If you’re interested in coming along on the journey, make sure you’re subscribed to receive email updates.
Disclosure: I received a free subscription to Odyssey Adventure Club in exchange for sharing information about the #OAClub with you! My kids and I have been Adventures in Odyssey fans for years, and we hope you love it as much as we do!
Last-Minute Gifts for Kids and Preteens
Holiday to-do lists often become longer and longer as we get closer to Christmas. From holiday parties to host, Christmas pajamas to coordinate, family pictures, gifts to buy, travel plans to finalize, and more, the joy of the season can often be lost in the midst of the hustle and bustle.
Speaking of de-stressing, let me help you out with your last-minute gift shopping. One of my top recommendations: the Odyssey Adventure Club (OAC) because it offers free content for everyone, including an Advent calendar, a broadcast download with tips to create a memorable Christmas, AIO cutouts and Christmas stocking stuffer cards. Membership to the OAC costs just $9.99 a month — or even less if parents make a six-month or one-year commitment. Enrollment provides more than enough content to keep kids engaged throughout the year:
Access to exclusive content and first looks at books and select Radio Theatre dramas.
On-the-go access to the OAC app for both iOS and Android users.
24/7 streaming access to nearly 800 AIO episodes.
A new, members-only AIO episode every month.
A subscription to Adventures in Odyssey Clubhouse Magazine, and more.
Membership to a nearby zoo or hands-on science museum
Annual pass to state or national parks
Summer pass to a nearby water or amusement park (these are sometimes discounted during December for gift-giving and because it’s the off-season)
Amazon Prime Membership (Prime = free music and movies/TV shows!)
A movie basket (or gift bag) with DVD/Blu-Ray and snacks inside OR tickets to a movie he/she wants to see and a gift card for concessions (Bonus: You get to enjoy this outing with your child or grandchild!)
What do you usually buy when you need last-minute gifts for kids or preteens?
Disclosure: I received a free Chewigem necklace and Litecup in exchange for sharing their Cyber Monday deals. I received compensation for the time I spent creating this post. I was not required to write positively about these products. All opinions are my own. This post may contain affiliate links.
Gift Ideas for Kids with Autism and Sensory Issues
If you have a child with autism or sensory issues on your gift list, you might be wondering what you can buy that would be helpful and something they will actually enjoy. While all children with autism and sensory issues are different, here’s a list of ideas that might help you—or at least start a conversation with their parents about what these kids might like!
My daughter loves her beautiful Chewigem raindrop necklace in heather, and it has certainly helped to meet her oral sensory needs—especially the need to chew! It is very attractive and addresses her need to not look different too!
Use code cyber2015 for 20% off Chewigem and Litecup on Cyber Monday, November 30, 2015, only.
My daughter keeps water near her bed so she can get a sip at night when she wakes up with a dry throat. She also likes a light when she’s up in the middle of the night. The Litecup meets both needs. The cup really is no-spill (which makes me very happy), and the light is just bright enough and is soothing.
Use code cyber2015for 20% off Chewigem and Litecup on Cyber Monday, November 30, 2015, only.
Weighted blanket, vest, or lap blanket
These provide the deep pressure that kid with autism and sensory issues need. My daughter has really enjoyed her weighted blanket, although we need a new one since she’s grown so much!
Leader Light Vibrating Puppy
My daughter has had a vibrating puppy since my mom gave it to her for Christmas a few years ago. Different companies make them, and they’re available in different animal choices too. The vibrations are really soothing to my daughter when she is overwhelmed and needs sensory input. She often turns it on and snuggles with it at bedtime to help her unwind.
Kinetic sand is easy to form into sand castles and other fun shapes, and the “movement” and texture make it a great sensory item to have around. I “borrow” it sometimes myself, just to run my fingers through it while watching TV or reading. It’s fun!
iTunes Gift Card
Many kids with autism have an iPad, and you can’t go wrong with giving them a few more dollars to spend on music or apps. This is an easy gift for out-of-town relatives to buy, and it’s inexpensive to ship!
For kids who are really sensitive to smells and need positive input in that area, you can use a Scentsy Buddy as a form of aromatherapy. The pink pig my daughter has is no longer available, but they still have some cute choices. You can choose from a number of Scentsy packs that will best meet your child’s needs.
Play-Doh is a classic that is perfect for kids with sensory issues. (Warning: It’s not gluten-free, so if your child tends to eat play dough and is on a GFCF diet, you might want to skip this one or make your own.) Kids can use Play-Doh to exercise their creativity, meet sensory needs for squishing and squeezing, work on fine motor skills, and more.
Clothes and shoes
Kids with autism and sensory issues often have very specific requirements for the clothes and shoes they will wear. Contributing to their wardrobe will help their parents because these items are worn and washed so often that they wear out quickly! Be sure to ask exactly what brand, size, color, etc. the child needs.
Disclosure: I received a free copy of The Way I See It from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own. I was not required to write a positive review.
The Way I See It by Dr. Temple Grandin
The Collector’s Edition (Revised and Expanded) of The Way I See It by Temple Grandin is almost 400 pages packed full of information about autism and Asperger’s. It contains fifteen years’ worth of articles Temple wrote for Autism Asperger’s Digest, and they cover all areas of dealing with autism and Asperger’s, from diagnosis to issues adults with ASD face.
In addition to presenting a lot of scientific research, Temple shares her own experiences and perspective as a person with autism. While there is a lot of technical information presented in this book, Temple’s writing makes it clear and easy to understand. I found it especially interesting to read about Temple’s early life, how her brain works, and how she thinks.
As the parent of a child with autism, I also appreciated Temple’s thoughts on effective ways to parent children with autism. Since my child also deals with chronic health issues, I liked that Temple pointed out that medical issues can be a cause of behavior problems, and she encouraged parents to look at their child’s health before saying everything is due to behavior issues.
If you’re interested in a book that explains the research about autism in language you can understand and presents “insider information” from a successful adult with autism who knows the successes and pitfalls that can await those with ASD, The Way I See It is a great resource. The articles are informative, yet short enough to read in the small windows of time you have in your busy day.
*Disclosure: I received a complimentary subscription to Here to Help Learning. I was not required to review or write about this product, and I certainly wasn’t expected to write positively about it. All opinions are my own.
Homeschooling the Struggling Learner: Writing
My kids did not inherit my love of writing. This has made it challenging for me to choose a writing curriculum for my daughters, and especially for my struggling learner. She has very specific needs when it comes to her lessons. I look for her curriculum to do the following things:
Be a good fit for her learning style. She relies heavily on visual input and hands-on learning experiences.
Be easy to modify and adjust to her needs.
Include repetition of concepts in a way that doesn’t make her (and me) crazy.
Be flexible. I don’t need something that’s going to completely fall apart if we have to go out-of-town to an emergency specialist appointment (like we did last week).
Be encouraging. I want a curriculum that is going to encourage her where she is and inspire her to keep moving forward. I don’t need something that will make her feel bad about where she is in comparison to other kids her age. I try to keep the focus on progress, not “doing it right.”
Uses multisensory teaching techniques. The more senses that are involved, the better my daughter learns!
It is very difficult to find a language arts program that meets these criteria. Writing, in particular, often involves little more than a pencil and some paper, with the occasional writing prompt thrown in.
This is not the case with Here to Help Learning, which is the program we’ve used since last year. Here to Help Learning addresses everything I listed above, plus some!
Why Here to Help Learning?
Here to Help Learning lessons are in video form, so they meet my daughter’s need for visual input. The lessons involve games, doing hand motions and sounds as mnemonic devices for the parts of the writing process, and the act of writing itself. It is definitely multisensory and fits her learning style well.
As far as being easy to modify and adjust to fit her needs, Beth Mora actually suggests modifications for different ability levels in the videos. You don’t even have to come up with the ideas yourself! It doesn’t get any easier than that.
While kids need repetition, and kids who struggle or have special needs need even more repetition of concepts so they can learn them, I have found that the kids who need repetition the most also hate it. They can make life miserable for themselves and their teachers with all the griping and groaning. Fortunately, Here to Help Learning lessons provide lots of practice and repetition while making it look slightly different—and fun! This makes life easier for everyone!
Here to Help Learning is flexible too. While it’s designed for the student to complete one lesson a week over two different sessions, you can really use it however you want. Because life is crazy at my house during certain seasons, we have actually had to set it aside (while still doing basic grammar using another resource) for weeks at a time. When we come back to it, it’s always easy to jump back in and get started again.
As far as encouraging, you won’t find a more positive, enthusiastic, and encouraging person than Beth Mora. I met her in person once and have spoken to her on the phone several times. She is exactly who you see in the video lessons. She is passionate about helping kids learn and helps them celebrate little successes along the way. There is no “right” way to use Here to Help Learning either. She realizes that every family and every situation is different, and she wants families to do what works for their children!
What features are most important for your child’s writing program?
*Disclosure: I’m not a fan of messes, but I love it when my kids spend time in creative pursuits. For this reason, I accepted a free IDO3D product, and I am sharing it with you because I think your family might enjoy it too. I was compensated for the time it took me to write this review, but I was not required to write a positive review. All opinions are my own.
Cool Crafts for Older Kids – IDO3D
When our IDO3D kit arrived, my kids were ecstatic. I, on the other hand, was intimidated, nervous, and reluctant. I am not a crafty mom, and I don’t enjoy cleaning up messes that I consider unnecessary. I do, however, think creativity is a wonderful thing, so I have learned to make my peace with some of the mess that comes with the creative process.
My kids are older, ages ten and twelve, but they were eager to get started. I was pleased to find everything we needed in the kit (with the exception of the three AAA batteries for the spotlight). We all picked a project, and then we took turns using the plastic sheet, pens, and spotlight. The kids each chose to do one of the flower necklaces in the guide book. My younger daughter took the first turn placing the plastic sheet over the project in the book and tracing it with the 3D pens.
The key to getting the necklaces to turn out and do so quickly was to stop regularly and shine the spotlight on the designs they had just traced. They held the spotlight about a half-inch above the ink, and we actually did it from both above and below. Within a few seconds, the ink was partially cured, and they moved on to another part of the flower. Overall, they were pleased with the results. My older daughter achieved finer detail in hers, but my younger daughter thought her project turned out well for our first try with the IDO3D kit.
I did the flower pot project, and it was more complicated. I did need one of my daughters to shine the spotlight on the places where I was connecting the pieces together. The flower pot itself was definitely the trickiest part of the project to assemble, but we got it finished!
My children understood the process without any trouble. My twelve-year-old did her entire project herself. My ten-year-old needed help squeezing the pens because she has diminished hand strength and fine motor delays. I put my hand over hers and squeezed the pen, and my daughter guided it to create the project.
In about an hour and a half, we had completed three projects that were mostly cured. (We accomplished this by stopping frequently to cure pieces of the projects as we finished them.) We have plenty of ink left to do more projects, which is something my kids are excited about.
The ink does have an odor, but it wasn’t something that we couldn’t overlook. This kit wasn’t nearly as messy as I thought it might be, although we did a lot of hand washing as we went because we did get ink on our skin a few times.
I am looking forward to doing more of these projects with my kids. They want to tackle one of the intermediate or advanced projects next time, and they’re planning to spread it over a few days so that the pieces can fully cure before they’re assembled. A sunny windowsill should help with that after we start the process with the spotlight.
Our first experience with IDO3D was a good one, and it’s something we’re planning to use again and again. My kids are already trying to figure out how to get more pen colors. This is a fun family activity but is definitely something for older kids. Children younger than the recommended age of 8 really wouldn’t be able to handle the entire process easily.
Things You Should NEVER Say to a New Special Needs Homeschooler
Starting the homeschooling journey is scary. And homeschooling a child with special needs? Super scary. And those just starting out receive all kinds of unsolicited advice. Some of it comes from outside the homeschooling community, and many people in that group don’t really understand what homeschooling is all about or how it works, so you can dismiss their comments. Mostly. But some of it comes from within the homeschooling community, which I find disturbing.
At any rate, there are certain things you should NEVER say to a new special needs homeschooler. In no particular order, they are:
Aren’t you nervous about homeschooling a child with special needs? Of course she’s nervous! There’s no need to make her more anxious by asking the question like it’s some impossibility that you can’t begin to fathom. That’s not helpful.
How will you _________? You can fill in the blank with any number of things. People ask all sorts of questions and, quite frankly, most if it isn’t any of their business. There are ways to deal with extenuating circumstances that occur while homeschooling. Many, many people have done it, and they are willing to share their experiences and suggestions to help new homeschoolers make it. This goes for those homeschooling children with special needs too.
What will you do if ________? See the answer above.
Your child won’t get the same quality education as they would in (public, private, other) school. You’re right. They probably won’t. Many parents have to fight to get their kids with special needs services in the public schools, and in many places, private schools aren’t obligated in the same ways as public ones to accommodate their needs. In many cases, children with special needs will get a better education at home because their parents can use the curriculum that meets their children’s needs best instead of having to use what the state dictates. They can seek assistance for their children from many different sources, and their children’s education will be even more customized than it would in another setting. They will also receive one-on-one assistance – every single day. So no, their education won’t be the same quality. It will likely be better.
If you’re starting this journey of homeschooling a child with special needs, don’t let the naysayers scare you off. Many people don’t understand how homeschooling works anyway, so they certainly don’t understand how it would work in a special needs situation. But it does work—despite therapy sessions, specialist appointments, hospitalizations, traveling for surgeries and procedures, and everything else that life throws at you. With dedication and persistence, you can provide your child with an excellent education – whether he has special needs or not.
The Whole Gift Thing: Making Christmas Easier for the Guest with Special Needs
Welcome to the fifth and final day of the series “5 Ways to Make Christmas Easier for the Guest with Special Needs”! If you missed yesterday’s post about travel, you can find it here.
Today the topic of discussion is gifts. Gifts elicit reactions at opposite ends of the spectrum. They either bring a sparkle of excitement to someone’s eyes or lead to a sigh of disappointment – or worse. It all depends on your past experiences. And having special needs (or not) doesn’t change the fact that giving and receiving can be a blessing or a thorn in the flesh. It seems that people are overjoyed with what they receive or are sorely disappointed and trying to hide it from friends and family members.
These reactions can be more pronounced in people with special needs for many reasons. If they’re on the autism spectrum, they may not have the self-control or the social skills necessary to handle the situation gracefully. Disappointment and excitement both can trigger meltdowns because of the inability to handle strong emotions in constructive ways. Someone with chronic health issues who is already exhausted by the festivities may not handle these situations well because of sheer exhaustion, which increases frustration levels and decreases patience. Pain can do the same thing.
And then there’s the financial stress caused by trying to buy for everyone. Having special needs – or a child with special needs – is expensive. Trying to get a nice gift for everyone in the family is unrealistic.
The bottom line is – how do we handle the whole gift thing?! Despite what our families would lead us to believe, we do have options:
We can choose not to do gifts at all. It’s not a popular choice, and many families don’t want to entertain the idea, but there are more and more families who are finding freedom in skipping the gift-giving in extended family situations and just enjoying time spent together. It takes the financial stress off, and it eliminates the issue of what’s the best gift to give everyone.
Draw names. If you want to have more time and money to spend on choosing just the right gift for someone, draw names within the family so each family only has a certain number of people to buy for instead of buying for everyone. With less pressure to show up with as many gifts, you can take time to discover what each person would really like to receive or really needs, and get that.
Buy for the kids only. Same principle as above. You narrow the number of people you buy gifts for and can focus on finding out and purchasing something the person will really like.
Limit the amount. However many people your family chooses to buy gifts for, you can put a limit on how much is to be spent per gift. This will eliminate some of the financial stress and may lead to some creative gifts!
Give gift cards or cash. It’s not the way everyone likes to go, but you can always do it and let the recipient buy whatever he wants!
Practice your responses. Adults and children alike should practice gracious responses to unwanted gifts. I usually have my kids practice one more time just before we go into the gift-giving situation. A simple “thank you” is enough. It means, “Thank you for thinking of me and getting me a gift.”
Receipts. We have family members who will tuck receipts into clothing or give us an envelope at the end of the day that contains the receipts for all our gifts. This is very helpful in case something needs to be returned or exchanged. It eliminates the awkwardness of having to ask for a receipt or get “trapped” with something that makes you miserable.
What are your family’s best ideas for handling gift-giving?
Want to read more Christmas series about a variety of topics? Check out the iHomeschool Network Christmas Hopscotch!
Travel: Making Christmas Easier for the Guest with Special Needs
Welcome to Day 4 of the series “Making Christmas Easier for the Guest with Special Needs”! If you missed the discussion about the schedule and planned activities yesterday, you can find it here.
Today we’re talking about travel. Many, many people travel for Christmas, but when a family member has special needs, travel can be complicated. Here are some issues to consider:
What’s best for everyone involved? Is the guest with special needs able to travel? Is it in his best interests to travel, or would he be better served by staying home and having everyone come to him? The answers to these questions may change from year to year. You may have to alternate locations or settle on one, depending on the health status of various family members.
It may not work out this year. No one wants to think about not being able to see family members at Christmas, but when multiple family members have special needs, there may be years when no one is able to travel.
If traveling is okay, have necessary arrangements been made? Be sure that all necessary precautions have been taken so that the person with special needs can travel safely and stay as healthy as possible. (See the quote below for some of the many issues families have to consider when traveling with someone who is medically complicated.)
Is traveling too unsettling? Even if someone is in good health, traveling may not be a good option for some people. Children on the autism spectrum or adults with social anxiety disorders may find holiday travel too overwhelming or so far out of their routine that they can’t handle all the changes and overstimulation. In that case, family may need to travel to them. It will still be a change in routine and increase in stimulation, but at least they will be in familiar surroundings and can escape to their own rooms if the need arises.
Are critical resources available at that location? Is the necessary food and medical care available, or should family travel to a different family member’s house where the needed resources are nearby?
There are many factors to consider when a person with special needs travels for the holidays. This is yet another area where open communication laced with kindness and compassion will solve a lot of problems.
From a mom with a medically fragile child, because it bears repeating:
“Understand our logistics aren’t ‘just throw clothes in a bag and go.’ We have to plan out where is there a good hospital, can we get supplies from our DME at our destination if something happens (like a stolen bag with kiddo’s feeding pump in it), how much food do we have to bring/can we restock on safe foods? Do we have enough medication for the time we are traveling, can we get refills (some cannot be refilled out of state)?” – Meg Falciani, Adventures with Jude
The Schedule: Making Christmas Easier for the Guest with Special Needs
Welcome to Day 3 of “Making Christmas Easier for the Guest with Special Needs”! If you missed yesterday’s discussion about food, you can find it here.
Many families only see each other a couple of times a year, and Christmas is the big one. As a result, they try to cram as much into the few hours or days they have together as possible. This is exhausting for everyone, but for the guest with special needs, it can be impossible. When you’re planning your schedule for the holidays, trying to fit in everything is fine – as long as you understand that others have limitations you may not have. They may need some time away from the events you have so carefully planned. Please remember that it’s not personal. They understand and appreciate all the hard work you’ve gone to, but to be able to enjoy as much of the festivities as possible, they may need to take a break.
Packed days lead to exhaustion for everyone, but people with certain conditions may not be able to maintain the pace of a full schedule. Arthritis, fibromyalgia, lupus, immune deficiencies, and other disorders cause a greater than average amount of fatigue and endurance, leading people suffering from them with a very real need for a nap or time to rest. This is critical for them to be able to enjoy time with you later, and it’s not because they don’t want to participate in whatever is going on at the moment. They have learned through the years that pushing past a certain point means lengthy recovery time, which will kill the rest of the holiday season for them and the rest of the family.
Other people, like those with autism and social anxiety disorders as well as true introverts, need time away from the lovely chaos of scheduled activities to regroup and recharge. Having no downtime means emotional exhaustion and a possible meltdown. Without a chance to be alone for awhile, they don’t enjoy anything at all because they’re spending the whole time trying to act the way everyone expects them to even while they are falling apart inside.
While you don’t have to change your plans, acknowledging your guests’ needs and setting aside a place in the house where they know they can go to have some quiet time or take a nap would mean the world to them. Not only would it give them something they desperately need, but it would show a tremendous amount of compassion and understanding.
In other cases, the individual is able to participate in the planned activities, but he just needs to know what’s coming next so he is mentally prepared. Share your plans with the family so that everyone knows what happens when and can take whatever steps are necessary for each family member’s comfort level.
Again, communication is key.
Here’s what others have to say about this topic:
“I need to know exactly what to expect. Cookies after a church service are nice, but it will lead to an upset child if I don’t have an allergy-safe substitute in my purse. Similarly, my child gets very stressed if I can’t answer all her ‘how much longer?’ questions. Even worse is if I tell her we’re going home after such-and-such, and I’m wrong because I didn’t know all of the plans.” – Mom on Facebook
“They may need some time to be alone to gather themselves. Let them have a few minutes without questions. (Alzheimers).” – from Facebook
“Keep it calm and quiet. Limit touching. Don’t be offended if we need a quiet time in another room, outside, or even a short car ride. Don’t push foods; we know what we can and can’t have.” – from Facebook
“Christmas and other holiday gatherings can be physically painful. Allow the individual with special needs to control how much interaction they have and when.” – Grandmother on Facebook