Back-to-School Tips & Themes for Special Education Teachers

Back-to-School Tips & Themes for Special Education Teachers

Back to school time means preparing yourself and your room for a new group of students. Whether this year is your first teaching special education or you’ve been in the field for years, you still can use some helpful tips and ideas. Check out these ways to make your classroom fun and interactive as well as tips for keeping your cool throughout the year.

Tips for a Special Education Teacher

Start the year off right by reorienting your mind for the new school year with some handy tips for teaching special needs students. You don’t want to leave anything out of the planning stages, so your room will be ready for your students on the first day. These tips will keep you on task with the most important things to do and remember when starting the new year.

1. Communicate & Keep People Informed

Communication is critical in any teaching position, but it becomes especially important for special education teachers. You will need to maintain open communication channels with parents, school administration and coworkers who will also work with your students. These people all have essential roles in helping your students learn and thrive in your classroom. In fact, communication is so vital that it may be mandated by law by keeping up with individualized education programs (IEPs).

2. Review & Prepare Tools for Your Students’ IEPs

Your students’ IEPs outline the accommodations you need to make for each student’s learning needs in the classroom, extracurricular doings and nonacademic activities. These documents are critical to your success with your students. Knowing how you need to modify your classroom and teaching will help when you create lesson plans for your special needs students.

If possible, generate one-page summaries of each IEP. These summaries will help you learn about your students’ needs. The single-page references will make it easier to review information quickly from the IEPs in the future.

review students ieps

While reviewing each student’s IEP, add important dates for the student’s milestones, meetings and deadlines into your calendar. Doing this at the beginning of the year will ensure you don’t miss significant events in any of your students’ learning schedules.

Keep a list of supplies you will need for your classroom to fulfill the requirements in the IEPs. Because your students will have different needs, look for products that make learning more accessible to them.

3. Establish Daily and Weekly Schedules

establish-daily-weekly-schedules

You will need to establish regular schedules for your students. Having a routine will help your students feel more secure, understand expectations, increase student engagement and reduce behavior issues. The repetitive nature of an established schedule in your classroom gives your students the chance to learn what to anticipate.

Special education teacher organization becomes vital when you try to maintain a set routine with your students. But when you have an established schedule, planning your days happens faster because you can set out materials for several lessons or days in advance. Routines make organizing your classroom easier and help you better prepare for every learning opportunity.

When you organize your classroom and have lesson materials ready, your students won’t need to wait for you and possibly lose focus. Students who know what to expect, especially those who have conditions like autism that increase rigidity in thinking patterns, will be more prepared to learn during the given lessons.

Don’t be too rigid in your routine, though. Fire drills, canceled school days and other unexpected events can happen to delay your plans. Be flexible enough that such incidents don’t derail your lesson plans. Even after a disruption, you should return to the routine as soon as possible to help your students feel safer in the predictability of the schedule.

4. Remember Every Day Is a New Day

All teachers get frustrated during their work. You may benefit from compartmentalizing each day. Don’t carry stresses from one day to the next. It can be easy to remember yesterday’s meltdowns, but it’s important to start each day fresh and not bring up past bad behavior.

Just because you treat each day as a new beginning, you still need to keep your students accountable for their actions. Don’t wait to discipline a student. If you do it the following day, neither of you remembers the incident well enough for the consequences to have an effect. Instead, correct student behaviors the moment they do them. Once corrected, move on from the event.

If you need professional help, don’t wait to talk to another teacher or seek out special needs teaching resources. Online sources from experts will help you with tips for classroom management and behavior issues you may experience.

To maintain your mental health, keep a positive outlook. Separate yourself from your stresses at the end of the day by finding something rewarding to engage in. Whether you exercise, visit friends or have a hobby, find some means of building yourself up and resetting your stress levels at the end of the day or during the weekends. By taking care of your needs, you will be better prepared to take care of your students and their requirements.

Tips for Designing Spaces Intentionally in Special Education Classrooms

When setting up your classroom, you need to do so intentionally. Every piece you have and its placement must fulfill a role in your teaching. Even the special education theme ideas you use need to relate to your instruction. Find out some handy tips for making your room beautiful and practical.

1. Keep It Age-Appropriate

Though you will likely have students of varying ages and abilities, you still need to keep your classroom age-appropriate. The students will probably have a specific age range, such as 5-to-12-year old children or teenagers. Use these age groups to find appropriate room decorations.

Also, wait until after you review the IEPs before decorating your room. You need to know the needs of your students before choosing classroom materials and décor for them. Some students may need visuals, educational devices or seating that differs from their peers’ needs or those of a general classroom.

2. Space Is Critical

Perhaps more important than the furnishings and devices in your classroom layout for your special needs students is the unused space. You will need space to move around as well as allowing your students free movement.

When setting up a classroom for special needs students, allow for different spaces with specific uses, such as a calming area, teaching area, reading area, play area and individual learning area.

Calming Space in Special Needs Classroom

A calming area will give your students a place to relax when they feel overwhelmed. Include a comfortable place to sit such as a swing, rug or bean bag chair. This area could also serve as a sensory space or center in an autism classroom.

Sensory Space or Sensory Room for Special Education Classroom

space is critical

In a sensory space or room, you want to have objects that appeal to four different needs — tactile, visual stimulation, vestibular and transition.

In addition to having a place for students to calm themselves, also allow room for a group area. Here, you can conduct class lessons and have student presentations.

Teaching Area in Special Needs Classroom

The teaching area includes your desk and personal workspace. Teach students about respecting the boundaries around your desk by correcting them if they try to slip into your area.

Play Space for Special Education Classroom

Don’t forget that students need to play. Having a play area gives your students an outlet for their energy and a way to interact with adaptive or adapted toys. Also, consider adding activity centers to the play area. These toys have a variety of actions the students can do to stimulate multiple senses. Additionally, you can browse our products by your teaching goals in our menu — activate, communicate, develop, educate and play.

Older students who engage in reading and writing will need an area for these activities. Have a bookshelf for books, and nearby, keep a supply area of paper, pencils and other writing supplies.

Individual Learning Area for Special Education

Student desks give your classroom members space of their own. This space provides them a working area as well as an escape if they need individual time. Instruct students to return to their desks as a transition during your routine when you need to set up a new area.

3. Match the Room to Your Teaching Style

How do you teach? Do you use one board or two? Do your students sit individually or in groups? Arrange your classroom to complement and enhance your teaching methods.

If you have students regularly work in groups, do they work on the floor in a circle or collaborate at tables? Should you have students do individual work more often, allow plenty of comfortable space for them around their desks.

4. Make It a Fun Environment so Students Feel Comfortable

You want any special education teacher themes you use to be fun and applicable to your students. Using bright colors makes matching up decorations easier. Green, yellow, red and blue are good colors to choose.

If you want a basic color scheme rather than using specific special education classroom decorating ideas, use a different color for each area of your room. Classroom kits in each area of your room can assist with teaching.

These and other fun activities for special education teachers will make your class more enjoyable and accessible to all your students. If you prefer a theme, consider the following special education classroom designs.

Special Education Room Themes: A Room for Everyone

Are you interested in using room themes for your classroom? If so, think through if you would like to make regular changes to your classroom’s appearance. Will you have the time to make seasonal changes to your room? Or do you want to change it based on current lesson themes?

Choosing age-appropriate themes becomes critical for creating a space that will benefit your students instead of distracting them. Your room layout should still have separate working areas. These spaces will guide your placement of themed decorations. Need some inspiration or tips? Check out these ideas for special needs classrooms.

1. Camping Theme

Back to school themes for special education may include aspects of summer or look forward to the new school year. Even students who have never slept in a tent can appreciate a summer tie-in with a camping theme. You can also use this at the end of the year as a kick-off to vacation.

Set up your teacher’s desk as the “Park Headquarters” or “Ranger’s Station” with a sign on the front and a ranger’s hat on the desktop or hung on the wall behind.

Call the reading area or the group work area the campfire. You can use colored light to replicate a campfire. If you already have a tent in your sensory area, you may use that in the campfire area.

Bring in potted plants to make the whole classroom feel like it’s outside. Even if you don’t have a forest around you, the greenery will bring a bit of nature into your room. Your theme could have an extra benefit.

camping theme

Greenery in your room may have an added benefit of encouraging student engagement. In one study, adding plants as part of a behavioral intervention through classroom design significantly improved student performance. The classroom had at least one special needs student. Before the intervention, student engagement hovered around 3% of the time. After adding plants, changing the seating arrangement and improving the classroom layout, students increased their engagement to 45% of the time.

2. Seasons Theme

seasons theme

If you feel ambitious, consider a seasons theme that will need changing four times a year. Because the room changes a few times a year, students get the interest of looking at new décor without the stress of changes that occur too frequently.

You don’t have to add decorations for holidays like the Fourth of July or Valentine’s Day. To make this theme easier for yourself, keep each season generic. The fewer specifics you have for the season, the less often you will have to take down and put up new decorations.

For summer, try a beach theme. Beach balls in the sensory or play area, sunglasses on your desk and beach towels for the students to sit on are a few ways to customize your room.

Fall décor can include fall landscapes. Continue the theme by using orange, brown and red color schemes in your classroom’s learning areas.

Winter themes may but don’t have to include holidays. Focus on a snow theme to stretch out this theme long after winter break.

Just as you don’t have to have Christmas decorations during the winter, you also don’t need Easter decorations for your spring theme. But you can still have bunnies, flowers and pastel colors.

If you have a bulletin board, consider putting up a paper tree and changing the leaves with the seasons.

3. World Theme

A world theme is an ideal tie-in to your geography lesson plans. You can set up each section of your classroom as a separate “country” with items to show the geography and culture of the area. This theme teaches your students the names of some countries while giving them a fun cultural activity.

Give students passports to check-in at each station in your room. They can collect a sticker from each “country” they visit until they fill their passport.

4. Crayon Theme

Bright colors around your classroom make a visually appealing learning environment while teaching your students about art. Use a dominant color for each section of your class and shades of that color for accessories. Doing so teaches students about the variety of colors in the spectrum.

You can expand this theme from just crayons to art by incorporating art supplies or kits into the different areas of your classroom. Encourage creativity by incorporating art projects into your lessons. Painting, drawing, coloring, clay molding and similar projects encourage tactile and visual stimulation. Of course, you want to adapt the plans to your students’ learning needs.

5. City Theme

city theme

Label each of the areas of your classroom with different buildings in a city. Refer to these places when giving students directions to add to the fun.

For example, name your desk “city hall.” As the head of the classroom, you have a job similar to a town mayor.

The play area can be the “park” or “public pool.” Just as residents of a town play at a park, your students will use the play area for recreation.

Student desks can be “downtown” because students work there just as people work in a downtown region. The correlations between these two locations can increase with the addition of tape on the floor around the desks to resemble city streets.

For classrooms with a reading and writing area, label it the “library” if your students use it more for reading. For writing, call it the “town newspaper.”

When you call your students to the group work area for lessons, refer to it as the “community center.” Residents of a town usually meet in such a place to collaborate on ideas, just as your students do when they come to the group work area of your room.

Browse the Lineup From Enabling Devices to Get Inspired

If you need more ideas for your room themes, browse through our products at Enabling Devices. We offer classroom decorations, toys, educational objects and much more to help you give your students the best education possible. You’ll even find special education classroom resources and ideas here.

Don’t start the year without equipping your classroom with the products your students will need to have an accessible learning experience. You’ll find everything you need at Enabling Devices.

browse-products-at-enabling-devices

5 Considerations When Choosing a College or University

College Student in Wheelchair in Campus Center

Is a college education right for your student? Though students with disabilities are still less likely to attend a four-year college or university than their typically developing peers, more than 2.4 million students with disabilities are currently pursuing college degrees in the United States. But some schools are more accommodating than others. Here are some things to consider when selecting a college.

Know your rights
Check out the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights website in order to gain a thorough understanding of your child’s rights when applying and attending college. According to OCR, “Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504) and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (Title II), prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability.” Yet, it’s important to know that post-secondary schools don’t have all the same requirements as school districts. For example, says the OCR, “Section 504 requires a school district to provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to each child with a disability in the district’s jurisdiction.” Postsecondary schools on the other hand, are not required to do so. “Rather, your postsecondary school is required to provide appropriate academic adjustments as necessary to ensure that it does not discriminate on the basis of disability. In addition, if your postsecondary school provides housing to nondisabled students, it must provide comparable, convenient, and accessible housing to students with disabilities at the same cost.” As you can see, it’s vital to be informed. This website will tell you what you need to know.

Explore your options
Though the college search can feel overwhelming, it’s best not to procrastinate. Begin researching colleges as early as your student’s freshman year of high school to ensure that there’s time to make the best choice possible. Speak with your child’s guidance counselor and consider hiring a college consultant if you feel extra help is needed. Compare notes with other students with disabilities and their parents to get a variety of perspectives.

Visit campuses
Visiting websites is not the same as visiting a campus. Though colleges are required by law to meet certain accessibility requirements, some fall short. Being on campus can allow you to see first-hand that buildings, dorm rooms and outdoor spaces are accessible to students who use wheelchairs. Are wheelchair ramps well paved, are doors wide enough; are elevators in good service? The answers to these questions will all help your student to make a sound decision.

Set up appointments with the disabilities offices at schools being considered
Talk with administrators and counselors in the disabilities office to determine whether they are well informed and attentive to the needs of students with disabilities. Be prepared with a list of questions that address the accommodations you will need in order to feel comfortable on campus and make sure that the staff answers the questions to your satisfaction.

Determine whether an inclusive or a specialized college is best
Colleges that cater to students with particular disabilities do exist, and for some people, considering them may be advantageous. For example, Gallaudet University in Washington D.C. mostly admits students who are deaf or hearing impaired. Landmark College in Vermont is one of the only schools in the U.S. specifically designed for students with learning differences. Other schools for the general student population are known for their above average programs for students with disabilities. For example, The Gersh College Experience at Daemon, in New York, focuses on students with autism, OCD, Tourette’s syndrome and ADHD. The University of Iowa’s REACH program works with students with intellectual, cognitive and learning disabilities, helping them to navigate all aspects of college life. And Drexel University in Pennsylvania offers a specialized program for students with autism. For a comprehensive list of colleges with superior services for students with disabilities, visit collegechoice.

 

Best Vacation Spots With Excellent Handicap Access

best vacation spots for handicap accessibility

Going on vacation always requires a good deal of planning. You need to arrange flights, drive highways and book accommodations. The process isn’t simple, and the logistics become more complex when you or one of your travel companions is living with a disability.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities. Unfortunately, there are many places that are not compliant and do not provide accessible options for wheelchair users and those with other disabilities. After weeks or months of anticipation, few things are worse than getting to your destination and finding that they can’t accommodate a disability. For that reason, we’ve rounded up the best accessible travel destinations in America.

Accessible Amusement Parks

There’s nothing quite like the wonder and thrill of an amusement park. With large crowds and attractions at every turn, it’s important to pick an amusement park that has something to offer for those with differing abilities. The following are some of the best places to vacation with handicap access.

1. Disneyland & Disney World

There’s a lot to love about the wonderful world of Disney, whether you’re visiting the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Fla., or the original Disneyland Park in Anaheim, Calif. Both parks have a variety of accommodations for guests with disabilities, including parking.

Disney World features separate disability parking lots for people with personal wheelchairs or other mobility devices. These lots are available throughout the four parks at the resort, although courtesy trams don’t stop there. Both Disneyland and Disney World require a valid disability parking permit and have standard parking rates.

handicap accessible rides at Disney

When it comes to wheelchair-friendly attractions, Disney World is unmatched. Guests can choose from more than 40, at three levels of access:

  • Must transfer from wheelchair or electric conveyance vehicle (ECV) to ride
  • Must transfer from ECV to a wheelchair to ride
  • Must transfer from ECV to a wheelchair, then from a wheelchair to ride

The attractions which allow guests to stay in a wheelchair or ECV are found in these areas of the park:

  • Magic Kingdom Park
  • Epcot
  • Disney’s Hollywood Studios
  • Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park
  • Disney’s Blizzard Beach Water Park

Disneyland also has an extensive list of wheelchair-accessible attractions located all over the park as well as other services for guests with mobility disabilities.

Both Disney World and Disneyland both have a comprehensive host of services that cater to multiple disabilities. Their services for guests with autism and other cognitive disabilities are particularly robust, including:

  • Advance ticket purchase
  • Stroller, wheelchair and ECV rental
  • Quiet break areas
  • Companion restrooms
  • Dietary accommodations

Both of the parks’ Disability Access Services (DAS) allow guests to schedule their visits to rides and attractions so they don’t have to wait in a long queue that could cause distress. With DAS, guests can spend the intervening time exploring the park, enjoying entertainment or even checking out a different attraction while they wait. Other services are available to assist those with:

  • Visual disabilities
  • Hearing disabilities
  • Light sensitivity

Service animals are welcome for those who need them. For visual information on Disneyland’s accessibility and what to expect in the park, you can view the Park Guide for Guests With Disabilities. Disney World offers four guides to different sections.

2. Sesame Place

Located in Philadelphia, Sesame Place is a theme and water park based on the beloved kids’ show Sesame Street. It also happens to be one of the best vacation spots for wheelchairs. In keeping with the show’s reputation for ever-expanding inclusivity, Sesame Place has a robust accessibility program that makes it one of the best East Coast vacation spots with handicap access. They are the first theme park in the world to receive designation as a Certified Autism Center (CAC).

sesame place certified autism center

The park has partnered with the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES) to ensure guests with autism can enjoy the park and have their particular needs met. The staff is specially trained in the following areas:

  • Autism overview
  • Sensory awareness
  • Motor skills
  • Program development
  • Social skills
  • Communication
  • Environment
  • Emotional awareness

In addition to a highly-trained cast of team members, Sesame Place has a Ride Accessibility Program (RAP). This unique feature uses a questionnaire to match the abilities of individual guests to each ride. After completing the questionnaire, you can bring it to the park’s Welcome Center and receive a personalized list of the rides and attractions that meet your or your companion’s special needs. Some of the park’s other accessibility services include:

  • Noise-canceling headphones
  • Low-sensory areas
  • Low-sensory parade seating
  • Show scripts
  • Sign language interpretation
  • Wheelchair rentals
  • Wheelchair parade seating

Sesame Places’ Dedicated Sensory Rooms

If you have a child with special needs who may become overstimulated, you can take advantage of two brand new sensory rooms to help them calm down and enjoy the rest of the day. Enabling Devices was proud to partner with Sesame Place in the creation of these rooms and provided many products designed to soothe and engage kids.

3. Morgan’s Wonderland

While other theme parks may provide excellent accommodations for guests with disabilities, Morgan’s Wonderland was designed for accessibility from the ground up. This non-profit “oasis of inclusion” is situated on 25 acres in San Antonio, Texas.

The founder, Gordon Hartman, was inspired by his daughter, Morgan. Her physical and cognitive challenges were the basis for Gordon’s mission to provide a place for special needs people of all ages to experience wonder and joy. The result is a 100% wheelchair-accessible Wonderland.

The success of this ultra-inclusive theme park gave rise to a sister water park, Morgan’s Inspiration Island, complete with waterproof wheelchairs available for rental. If you want a completely accessible park, Morgan’s Wonderland is the amusement park for you.

Accessible Cruises

There’s nothing quite like a cruise to bring on deep relaxation and stoke your sense of adventure. However, navigating a cruise ship with a mobility-based disability can be a bit of a headache if you don’t know what you’re getting into. Here are three cruises to consider.

1. Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas

The Symphony of the Seas is the place to be if you want to enjoy gorgeous views, gourmet food and stunning shows. It’s also an excellent cruise option for those with mobility disabilities. The ship has 46 accessible cabins, which feature:

  • Doors at least 32 inches wide
  • No doorsill to get into the room
  • Ramped bathroom thresholds
  • Grab bars in the bathroom
  • Lowered sinks
  • Roll-in showers
  • Fold-down shower benches
  • Hand-held showerheads
  • Lowered safes

The accessibility of the staterooms is essential, but you don’t want to spend your whole vacation in your room. The recreational facilities have several accessibility perks, including:

  • Lifts at the main pool and whirlpool
  • Lowered playing tables at the casino
  • Wheelchair seating in front and back of the Royal Theater, Studio B and Aqua Theater
  • Braille deck and stateroom numbers
  • Assistive listening systems in theaters
  • Amplified phones

royal Caribbean cruise with sign language interpreter

If a sign language interpreter is required, this cruise will provide one as long as you provide at least 60 days’ notice before the cruise departs.

2. Disney Cruise Line: Fantasy

You can surround yourself with the trademark magic of Disney by booking a cruise on the Fantasy. This cruise is all about immersing yourself in fun and fantasy and offers some standard disability accommodations. In addition to the same ADA specifications for 25 wheelchair-friendly staterooms and bathrooms inside them, this Disney cruise ship offers a variety of other accommodations, including:

  • Sign Language Interpretation: The sign language service interprets live theater performances and other shows for the first dinner seating and the late performance in the Walt Disney Theater.
  • Assistive Listening Devices: For a refundable deposit, guests with mild to moderate hearing loss can use amplified receivers at multiple stations around the ship.
  • Room Service Texting: Guests can use their phones to text for room service, rather than calling in.
  • Stateroom Communication Kit: This kit includes an alarm clock, bed shaker notification, alerts for the doorbell and phone, and a smoke detector that uses a strobe light.
  • Audio Description: You can experience movies in the Buena Vista Theatre with audio description by picking up a receiver at guest services.

Disney cruise accessibility accommodations

One of the unique features of this cruise line is Castaway Cay. This private Disney island is packed full of adventure and excitement. The island has its own tram for transportation, as well as an accessible cabana. One of the most enticing features is the availability of sand wheelchairs for rental. This opens up a world of possibilities that most other cruises don’t offer.

Note that if you require sign language interpretation or the use of a pull lift, you’ll have to request these services before you book your cruise.

3. Carnival Horizon

The Carnival Horizon takes a unique approach to staterooms for guests by offering three different tiers of accessible rooms:

  • Fully Accessible Cabins: These rooms are designed for guests with highly limited mobility. To meet the needs of those who need wheelchairs or scooters, these rooms feature turning space, accessible routes through the room and an accessible restroom.
  • Single Side Approach Cabins: These rooms feature the same accessible bathroom, but offer an accessible route and clear space for only one side of the bed. In rooms with two beds, one side of each bed is accessible.
  • Ambulatory Accessible Cabins: These rooms are designed for guests who have some limitations in mobility but who don’t use a scooter or wheelchair. They have features such as grab bars to help with balance.

There are 65 accessible rooms altogether. All rooms are assigned on a first-come-first-served basis, so it’s a good idea to reserve your accessible room as far in advance as possible.

Carnival Horizon Cruise wheelchair accessible

As for the rest of the ship, wheelchair users have plenty of freedom to roam. The ship’s dining areas, bars and the main theater all have wheelchair seating. For those with other types of disabilities, Carnival offers these services:

  • Visual-tactile cabin alert system
  • Teletypewriter to communicate with Guest Services
  • Amplifying headsets
  • Sign language interpreters
  • Braille signage
  • Large print format on some publications

Those with working service dogs are permitted to bring them aboard, but you should review all policies and procedures to ensure the dog is up to date on all veterinary requirements.

Accessible Beaches

Beaches are one of the classic places for summer vacations, but beach travel destinations with wheelchair access can be hard to locate. The following summer destinations with wheelchair access are some of the best places to have fun in the sun.

1. San Diego, California

San Diego is known for being one of the most accessible cities for disabled beach-goers. Many of the beaches have sand wheelchairs available for free rental, whether powered or manual. The thing to remember is that there’s often no reservation for the chairs, and it’s first-come-first-served. On some of the more popular, crowded beaches, this can mean having to wait a while for your turn. Here are three of the best San Diego beaches with wheelchair access:

  • Mission Beach: This is an extremely popular beach where there’s always something going on. The most active sections feature people cycling, rollerblading, skateboarding and more. The south end of the beach is quieter, but its parking and bathrooms are not always fully accessible.
  • La Jolla Shores: This beach is very family-friendly and located a short drive north of downtown. There is a wide paved walkway between the beach and nearby Kellog Park, as well as an accessible bathroom and parking lot.
  • Imperial Beach: If you’re concerned about the chair rental process, Imperial Beach is one of the few that requires a reservation. They have two power chairs available for use on the beautiful beach, and manual chairs you can use with no reservation.

San Diego Wheelchair Accessible Beaches

2. Key Largo, Florida

If you’re looking for summer destinations with wheelchair access, consider heading on down to Florida to experience Tranquil Adventures. This not-for-profit organization was founded more than 30 years ago by Captain Mick Nealy with the mission of providing accessible boat tours for people with disabilities. As a survivor of polio, Captain Nealy has a unique understanding of what makes an experience magical for people with disabilities.

The dock and both boats are completely accessible to wheelchairs. Equipped with Coast Guard-approved safety measures, each boat can fit four people in wheelchairs and a total of 10 individuals. It doesn’t get much more family-friendly than these boat outings. Here are a few of the possible destinations on a Tranquil Adventures tour:

  • Key Largo Bay
  • Everglades National Park
  • Pennekamp State Park
  • Blackwater Sound

Participants can go fishing or snorkeling, try out island hopping, visit a beach party or stop off at a tiki bar. The combinations are nearly endless, making for a valuable repeat experience.

These tours cost $350 for a four-hour half day and $500 if you want to make a full eight-hour day of it. As wheelchair accessible travel destinations go, Tranquil Adventures tours get top marks.

3. Hanauma Bay, Hawaii

Vacationers with a taste for adventure will love Hanauma Bay State Park. This nature preserve has a gorgeous crescent-shaped beach and the very unique appeal of being formed by the crater of a dormant volcano. The soft white sands are both picturesque and ideal for those who need to rent a wheelchair to traverse the beach. The balloon-tired beach chairs are available free of charge from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. all year.

handicap accessible beaches hawaii hanauma bay

A tram takes visitors to and from the beach area, and it has a ramp to accommodate wheelchairs. Additionally, city buses have kneeling capabilities so you’re not limited to the beach in your exploration. All of the Bay’s facilities have been designed with accessibility in mind.

Activities are not in short supply at Hanauma Bay. Some of the things to do include:

  • Snorkeling
  • Catamaran tours
  • Wild dolphin watching
  • Island tours
  • Luaus
  • Sunset dinner cruises
  • Helicopter tours

This is hands down one of the most handicapped accessible travel destinations, and a perfect spot for family fun.

Accessible National Parks

Many people assume that they’ll have to cross national parks off the list of accessible destinations since they often require a lot of hiking and other activities unsuitable for those with disabilities. However, several national parks make great handicap access vacation spots. Additionally, if you’re a U.S. citizen and permanently disabled, you can get an Interagency Access Pass for lifetime free admission. The three parks below are definitely worth a visit.

1. Grand Canyon National Park

Arizona’s Grand Canyon is undoubtedly a destination worth seeing in your lifetime, and the park has made it easy for wheelchair users to plan an unforgettable trip. The park has a variety of accessible facilities including:

  • ATMs
  • Bookstores
  • Restrooms
  • Gift shops
  • Dining areas
  • Lodging and campgrounds
  • Shuttle buses
  • Teletypewriter

If you need a sign language interpreter, give the park at least three weeks’ notice and one will be provided. The park also offers a cell phone tour and has wheelchairs available for rental at both the North and South Rim.

The park has several wheelchair-accessible trails and multiple scenic drives where you can take in a gorgeous vista without leaving your vehicle. Scenic drive accessibility permits are available for visitors with mobility issues. You can enjoy a variety of activities such as a wheelchair-accessible tour of an ancestral Puebloan village or a visit to the Yavapai Geology Museum. To get the details on which trails and facilities are accessible, as well as rules for bringing a service animal, check out the park’s Accessibility Guide.

2. Zion National Park

Located in Utah, Zion National Park makes camping and immersing yourself in nature easier. There are multiple campsites set aside for visitors with disabilities, and service dogs are permitted throughout the park as long as they are leashed. The ranger program schedule indicates which programs are accessible, and you can reserve assistive listening devices for any program.

The park has multiple trails suitable for wheelchair users, with the Pa’rus Trail being the most handicap-friendly. The trail is fairly short at 1.5 miles long and has a smoothly-paved width of 8 feet so wheelchairs can roll right alongside walking visitors. The Riverside Walk is also a good option, as the first 0.4 miles are accessible. In addition to the trails, these other park attractions all offer some degree of accessibility:

  • Canyon Visitor Center
  • Human History Museum
  • Kolob Canyons Visitor Center
  • Canyon Transportation
  • Zion Lodge
  • Picnic areas
  • Watchman Campground

Zion National Park is an excellent option if you’re looking to immerse yourself in Utah’s natural beauty.

handicap accessibility Zion National Park

3. Everglades National Park

At a whopping 1.5 million square acres of tropical and subtropical habitat, the sheer size of the Everglades National Park means some parts of it are inaccessible. However, plenty of sites and trails are available for those with mobility disabilities.

The Royal Palm Visitor Center is the best place to start. From clearly-marked spots with handicap access in the parking lot to trailheads and a store accessible by curb ramp, this part of the park is one of the best handicap access vacation spots. This area has two accessible trails:

  • Anhinga Trail: This trail is 0.8 miles long round-trip, making it ideal for those who prefer a short jaunt into nature. The abundance of wildlife, from alligators to anhingas, makes this a popular destination.
  • Gumbo Limbo Trail: This trail is even shorter at 0.4 miles round trip. It is paved and meanders through a shady covering of gumbo limbo trees.

These paved paths do sometimes have mild to moderate cracks in them, but they are not disruptive enough to prevent the average wheelchair user from enjoying the trails.

If you’d like to venture into the heart of the park, Shark Valley is the place to do so. The road here is flat and paved, and there is a wheelchair overlook along the path. It’s also home to the Bobcat Boardwalk, a sensational place to get views of the marsh.

Enhance Your Vacation With Enabling Devices

If you’re traveling with a child or other individual who has special needs, accessibility is just the beginning. Enabling Devices is committed to providing a huge selection of products for people with disabilities, from communication devices to sensory products. If you need adapted toys, games or other devices to make your vacation time easier and more engaging for a disabled individual, we invite you to browse our selection of products and learn more about our services.

browse-our-products-enabling-devices-vacation

A Picture’s Worth a Thousand Words

Special Needs Child in Whimsical Photo

When babies are born with special needs, their parents are understandably frightened and overwhelmed. Though well-meaning, friends and family may be at a loss as to how to react to a newborn’s diagnosis. Instead of congratulations, parents of babies with disabilities or serious medical conditions are often greeted with expressions of sorrow and pity.

Baby photographer Angela Forker of New Haven, Indiana, understands that regardless of the pain and fear that new parents may experience when their babies are born with serious health challenges, there is also joy and pride.

Forker saw this first hand, when a couple in her church received a frightening diagnosis during the woman’s pregnancy. The baby was diagnosed with a severe form of holoprosencephaly and was not expected to survive the pregnancy. Miraculously, baby Madalyn was born alive and lived for 15 days. As Forker writes on her website, “While she may have looked different than other people’s babies, it didn’t even phase her parents. All they saw was Madalyn’s unique, captivating beauty. They adored their baby girl! When she was born, they wrote on their Facebook page, ‘She is perfect!’ They cherished every moment they had with her.”

The experience of Madalyn’s birth and her parent’s response to their critically ill baby inspired Forker to start the Precious Baby Project. The project comprises what Forker calls ‘Baby ImaginArt scenes.’ “These scenes feature babies as beautiful works of art, or as doing impossible things,” she writes. “My motto for my Baby ImaginArt scenes is ‘ANYthing is possible!’”

Forker says she began the project “to spread hope and raise awareness for babies with special needs as I take stunning and/or fun photos of babies with various medical needs. I want to show the world that every baby is precious!”

Instead of trying to hide babies’ disabilities or any necessary medical equipment such as tubes or wires, Forker incorporates them into her photographic scenes. Before each photo shoot, she consults with the parents, to learn about their baby’s medical needs and to choose a theme for the ImaginArt scene. For example, a baby girl named Ellis Rose, was photographed surrounded by roses, while a baby boy named Elijah who has Crouzon syndrome, a craniofacial disorder that necessitates the use of a trach tube and helmet, was photographed as an astronaut in space.

Special Needs Child in Whimsical Photograph

To participate in the Precious Baby Project, parents must be local to the New Haven, Indiana area or willing to travel to Forker’s home studio there. They must meet certain guidelines which can be viewed on her website. If chosen, families will receive two free digital images of their babies including one photo of their baby’s ImaginArt scene. For more information about Forker and to see photos of the Precious Baby Project, visit preciousbabyphotography.com/precious-baby-project.

 

Parent’s Guide to Sleepaway Camp

Two Boys Paddling in a Kayak on a Lake

After months of preparation, weeks of packing, and multiple conversations with the camp director, doctor and nurse, you’ve finally reached your child’s first day of sleepaway camp. Maybe you’ve dropped him off there, or maybe you’re one of a throng of parents waving to their children through the window as the camp bus rolls away.

In either scenario, you’re bound to be experiencing a mix of emotions — excitement about the prospect of much-needed time to yourself; guilt about the sense of relief you may feel; and significant anxiety about how your child will fare at camp.

If your child has disabilities, these emotions may be heightened. Here are some steps you can take to make the most of this brief time away from your child.

Remind yourself of the benefits of camp for your child
Most likely you spent hours researching the camp you selected for your child. You probably got references, interviewed the staff and maybe even visited the camp grounds. You made sure to choose a camp that seemed prepared to deal with whatever challenges — medical or behavioral — that your child presents. With these pieces in place, your child is set up to reap the many benefits that summer camp provides: the opportunity to make new friends, gain independence and self-confidence, and develop new skills.

 Give yourself a break
You deserve to have some time to focus on yourself, your significant other and even your other children. There is no cause to feel guilty about sending your child to camp or for feeling happy while he is there. Remember, this break will provide you with a chance to re-energize, so you’ll be able to be a better parent to him when he returns.

Spend time doing things you enjoy
Take advantage of the extra time that having a child at sleepaway camp offers. Plan a weekend away with your significant other, have lunch or drinks with friends; sign up for a class; begin an exercise regimen; read a book; or simply catch up on your sleep.

No news is good news
In an era of 24/7 access, it’s hard to adjust to camp communication guidelines. Most camps don’t allow campers to bring cell phones, and discourage phone calls between campers and parents in general. Camps have their reasons for rules such as these. Phone contact often worsens or even creates feelings of homesickness in campers. It may also cause unnecessary concerns for parents who may not realize their child’s homesickness is likely to dissipate soon after it arises.

That’s not to say that you shouldn’t receive frequent reports from your child’s counselors and camp administrators. They should communicate regularly and should always be available for phone inquiries and emails.

 Rediscover the lost art of letter-writing
Though phone calls, text messages and emailing are out of the question, you can write plenty of letters. The more the better! When determining what to write to your camper, focus on positive news from home. But not too positive! You don’t want your child feeling like he’s missing all the fun. Ask questions about camp, and let your child know you are proud of her for trying so many new activities and experiences.

Enjoy seeing your child’s photos online    
Nowadays many camps take hundreds of photos every day. The photos are posted on the camp website (mostly)for the benefit of worried parents. There’s nothing like seeing your child in a photo surrounded by new friends, and grinning from ear-to-ear!

 

Strategies and Products for Caregiving When a Loved One Has Cerebral Palsy

Although it often gets lumped in with chronic “diseases,” cerebral palsy is not a disease. It is a condition that results from damage to areas of the brain responsible for movement a child experiences while they are in the womb or, in some cases, immediately after birth. Doctors can usually diagnose cerebral palsy, or CP, early on — during or not long after infancy.

Because cerebral palsy treatment and severity can look different for each person, developing a plan for how to care for your loved one with this condition or how to help someone with CP is a critical part of helping them manage it throughout childhood and adulthood. No matter how much you love someone, caring for a child or adult with cerebral palsy is stressful. It puts a lot of pressure on you every day. And, if you aren’t careful, the ins and outs of figuring out how to manage your loved one’s symptoms can quickly become overwhelming.

While we can’t cure cerebral palsy or suddenly make all your stressors disappear, specific strategies and products can help make your job as a caregiver just a little bit easier.

What Is Cerebral Palsy?

Cerebral palsy is a condition that results when a child experiences brain damage in the womb or immediately after birth. Marked by problems related to movement, muscle tone and posture, its effects are permanent.

What-is-cerebral-palsy

The severity of cerebral palsy can vary, providing challenges that are unique for every caregiver. Some people with cerebral palsy can walk on their own, while others must rely on a wheelchair. Some can communicate their needs, and others are non-verbal. While cerebral palsy itself is a neurological condition, it can lead to a variety of other problems for individuals. While each person is different, in general, someone with cerebral palsy is also more likely to struggle with:

  • Abnormal perceptions of touch or pain
  • Seizures
  • Cognitive issues
  • Hearing and vision problems
  • Incontinence
  • Intellectual disabilities, including ADD and ADHD
  • Oral diseases
  • Mental health conditions

An individual with CP does face a unique set of challenges, but in today’s world, there many tools and strategies available to help them progress and live happy, productive lives. In many cases, they can make significant strides toward independence, which also relieves some of the pressure on their caregivers.

As a caregiver for someone with cerebral palsy — whether child or adult — you are always looking for ways to help your loved one improve their overall health and well-being. At Enabling Devices, we understand care for cerebral palsy in the home is an ongoing process of education and discovery. You never stop growing and learning, because you are determined to do the best you can as you care for your loved one.

Making Daily Life Easier

When it comes to at-home care for cerebral palsy, there are a lot of products and strategies available to help make life easier. Knowing what’s out there and how it can help you is essential to provide care for someone you love successfully.

living with cerebral palsy routines and care plans

Remember, establishing routines and an effective care plan may take time. After all, figuring out what works best doesn’t usually happen overnight. There will be times of trial and error before you finally settle on what works. You may spend months trying a new product or strategy, only to discover a better option down the road.

CP is a lifelong condition, so taking time to try different strategies and developing a plan that works for your loved one’s unique challenges is the best way to make sure everyone is comfortable and thriving where they are.

As you strive toward this, it’s essential to take time for self-care. Find ways to relieve stress, ask for help — more about that later — and remember to rest. One of the best cerebral palsy caregiving tips is to make sure you are helping yourself, too.

Communication and Language Development

One unique challenge that accompanies caring for someone with cerebral palsy is encouraging communication and language development. While cerebral palsy itself is typically a condition that affects movement, it can have profound cognitive impacts as well. Because of the limitations on their muscle development and function, individuals with cerebral palsy may struggle with facial expressions, gestures, speech, voice production and language — that is, being able to communicate and express their needs in a clear, concise way.

When it comes to how to raise a child with cerebral palsy, one vital job of caregivers is to address these issues when children are young, so as they grow, they learn to communicate and function in the world around them.

communication and language development for cerebral palsy

Some ways parents of children with cerebral palsy can encourage this behavior include:

1. Parallel Talk

This strategy is simple. As your child performs an activity — for example, playing with wooden blocks — you, the parent, talk about what’s happening while they do it. As they play, you might say, “Oh, look, you’re building with blocks. You put the red on top of the blue. Oh no, they fell over!” Think of it as narrating your child’s activities.

2. Self-Talk

This method is similar to parallel talk, only you are narrating what you as the parent are doing, rather than observing your child. As you play with your child, talk about what you are doing. For example, as you play with blocks, you might say, “Here is a yellow block. I think I will put it on top of the red block. Look at that! The red block is shaped like a square.”

3. Expansions and Extensions

In this case, you as the caregiver can add on to your child’s vocabulary to help them expand it. For example, if your child says “Dog,” you can expand it by saying “Fluffy dog.” Or, you can extend it to say, “The man is walking the dog.”

4. Non-Verbal Communication

Non-verbal communication falls into two categories — assisted and unassisted. Assisted includes technologies designed to help non-verbal individuals express themselves, such as computers, speech synthesis machines, or Augmentative & Alternative Communicators (AAC). Enabling Devices has dozens of AAC devices. These devices can be as simple as a one-message communicatormultiple message communicators, or progressive communicators that grow with your child. Unassisted includes communication methods such as sign language. If your child is non-verbal, trying out some of these options can ease frustrations and provide a means for communication.

5. Create Opportunities

Sometimes, the best way to encourage a child’s communication is to give them opportunities to practice. Place a favorite toy just out of their reach, so they will have to ask for it. Or, encourage them to socialize with other people. The more opportunities they have to practice communication, the better they will become at expressing their thoughts, feelings and opinions.

Developing Hand/Eye Coordination and Fine Motor Skills

Hand/eye coordination is an essential function for someone with cerebral palsy. As the use of visual cues to direct and engage the hands in action, hand/eye coordination can be challenging for someone with cerebral palsy because it requires the simultaneous use of the vision system as well as the hands and muscles.

Often mentioned in tandem with fine motor skills, which require tiny muscle movements, hand/eye coordination is the development of the skill of using the vision system and hand muscles simultaneously.

developing hand eye coordination for people with cerebral palsy

One of the best ways to help your loved one develop in one or both of these areas is with one of Enabling Devices’ assistive technologies. These devices provide fun and, often, guided interaction between the individual and their caregiver to help people with cerebral palsy in their development. The goal of these devices is to improve hand/eye coordination, as well as assist individuals with cerebral palsy as they develop and improve their fine motor skills.

1. Shape Sorting

Reminiscent of a popular child’s toy, this low-profile shape sorter — fondly called Drop-in-a-Bucket — is designed for players who have a more limited reach. The bucket has lights on it to attract the user’s attention, as well as music that plays when the user drops the shape into the correct hole. One great thing about this is that it teaches object placement and hand/eye coordination, as well as shape recognition. That combines two crucial functions into one item!

2. Pull and Play Switch

The Pull and Play Switch encourages the practice of three important motions — swiping, grasping and reaching. It can attach to a tabletop, wheelchair or bed rail, and comes with two different sized pulls. The object of the game is to encourage the player to reach for the ball suspended from the frame and then grab on to it with a finger or hand.

3. Stacking Blocks

These Stacking Blocks are designed to develop several skills vital to an individual with cerebral palsy. The object is to hone fine motor skills by placing one block at a time on the stack until it’s complete. As the individual places blocks onto the stack, they can also work on addition and subtraction and hand/eye coordination as they work to use their hands to guide the blocks to the right place.

4. Fine Motor Kit

Two Fine Motor Kits include different items that are designed to help children and teenagers strengthen their fingers and hands, develop grasping skills and hone their fine motor skills. It contains two pairs of easy-grip scissors, several games and the teen kit even has a Glow-in-the-Dark Dreamcatcher.

Daily Living Tasks

Another challenge caregivers often face is enabling your loved one with cerebral palsy to complete daily tasks. Generally speaking, four main tasks comprise the category of daily living — personal hygiene, eating/drinking, dressing and using the bathroom.

daily living tasks for those with cerebral palsy

While the extent of a person’s CP will indeed dictate their ability to perform any of these four activities, it should be the goal of any caregiver to promote as much independence as possible to build and maintain muscle function, as well as for peace of mind. Caregivers cannot be present every second of every day, and teaching an individual with cerebral palsy to perform specific tasks on their own can give them a sense of independence, as well as provide a much-needed respite for you.

Your medical team can provide guidance on how to go about teaching and developing certain skills within an individual with cerebral palsy, but it is critical to find ways to incorporate instruction into daily activities when raising a child with cerebral palsy. For example, use mealtime as a time to gradually teach your loved one to feed themselves. To do this, you can prepare them ahead of time for the table setup, what utensils they will use and what they will be eating. Then, during the meal, work with them on correct posture and the mechanics of chewing, if necessary, as well as identifying unfamiliar foods and the proper way to eat.

There are also a variety of useful products on the market that focus on how to help someone with cerebral palsy as they develop muscle control and the ability to perform daily living tasks. For example, tools like Enabling Devices’ ADL Boards help individuals with cerebral palsy develop the skills they need to dress. Each of the four boards helps with mastery of manipulative skills, including buttons, snaps, laces and zippers.

Over time, if a person’s abilities allow, they can also begin to practice and master specific life skills — that is, skills that help them care for themselves on more than a basic level. These skills might include housework, meal preparation, communication, managing finances and shopping. They can also include pursuing hobbies and activities that are of interest to the individual.

Depending on their abilities, products such as Enabling Devices’ battery-powered scissors provide electronic cutting, promoting independence and allowing someone with limited mobility to cut paper, fabric and other items on their own. While a pair of scissors might seem like no big deal, to a person with physical limitations, the ability to use an everyday object like a pair of scissors can provide a much-needed boost in their self-esteem and joy.

Products for Sensory Needs

Along with the physical challenges that come with cerebral palsy, individuals with this condition can also struggle with sensory processing disorder. While a sensory processing disorder can manifest itself in many different ways, it means they have a heightened sensitivity to things in their environment. These could include fear of loud noises, sensitivity to scratchy fabrics or even failure to respond when they encounter extreme temperatures. Yes, everyone hates startling sounds or the tastes of certain foods, but, for an individual with a sensory processing disorder, these aversions can take on an exaggerated effect to the point where they have a negative physical response to a trigger, such as vomiting when a loud noise happens.

 

products for sensory needs for those with cerebral palsy

Enabling Devices offers a variety of products designed to help individuals with sensory processing disorder, including toys, lights and chairs. We also provide sensory room design services to connect families with special needs to trained professionals who can recommend designs and products tailored to their individual needs.

Essential Products and Adapted Devices

One especially significant tool for individuals with cerebral palsy is the adaptive switch, a button used to activate adapted devices. The size and technology behind switches vary, so there is something out there for individuals of all levels of disability. These switches can make it possible for individuals with cerebral palsy to access a variety of devices including communicators, adapted toys, adapted electronics and even iPads. Enabling Devices has dozens of switches that address a wide range of needs — head switcheshand switchessip & puff switches, mounted switches, and even an eye blink switch.

essential products and adapted devices for people with cerebral palsy

Caregivers can attach switches to mounts, which come in a variety of sizes and designs. The job of a mount is to position a switch in a way that makes it most accessible for a particular individual based upon their physical needs. These can make a huge difference for an individual with limited physical abilities.

What good would switches and mounts be without adapted devices that attach to them? Enabling Devices offers hundreds of adapted devices that work with our switches. These include:

 

Finding Help

Being the parent of a child or adult with cerebral palsy can be both physically and mentally demanding. Just as you are intentional about taking good care of your loved one, you should also be intentional about taking care of yourself. Caregiver burnout can result in depression, anxiety and a variety of mental and physical health issues.

Unfortunately, all the devices and assistive technology in the world cannot prevent a caregiver from overdoing it. As a caregiver, you have a responsibility to yourself, as well as your loved one, to ask for help. This assistance could be in the form of a babysitter who comes once a week while you go to a movie, or it could be a trained professional who takes a more frequent and active role in the day-to-day care of your loved one.

Whatever route you decide to take, you will likely feel some apprehension about allowing someone else to spend time with your child without you present — no matter how old your child is. Some anxiety is normal, especially in the beginning. But, as you adapt to the presence of another person, it’s important to remember:

1. Change Is Good

Your child can find happiness and a fresh perspective when they spend a few hours with someone else. Interacting with a new person, encountering different ideas and playing various games can be stimulating for them, as well as you.

2. Taking Care of Yourself Helps Your Family

By avoiding caregiver burnout, you keep yourself mentally sharp and ready to care for your family, which is particularly vital if you have others in your home who do not have cerebral palsy. When you a break from your responsibilities as a caregiver, you can pay better attention to your other family members and nurture relationships that might otherwise fall by the wayside.

finding caregiving help for those with cerebral palsy

Just because it’s important to get help doesn’t mean you’ll leave your loved one with the first person you find. Take time to find someone you trust, and make sure they understand how to babysit a child with cerebral palsy. Then, once you’ve hired someone, spend time with them outlining expectations and routines. Be clear about what you expect, and make sure you know what their expectations are too.

About Enabling Devices

Since our founding in 1978, Enabling Devices has been dedicated to providing high-quality, individualized service to our clients and their families. Our goal goes beyond providing products to perform a task or assist with a daily function. Our mission is to create products that allow our clients to unlock their full potential and experience joy and independence they didn’t think was possible.

shop products for cerebral palsy enabling devices

Enabling Devices is proud to serve clients with a variety of needs, including clients with cerebral palsy. We offer a wide range of products to provide accessibility and to address muscle development, sensory issues, fine motor skills, teach cause and effect, and much more.

For questions about our products or to place an order, contact us today at 800-832-8697.

10 Ways to Choose the Right School for Your Child

The Word School with a Magnifying Glass

Chances are, your child spends much of his or her day in a setting outside your home. Whether it be a public school, private school, daycare or therapeutic or vocational training program, knowing your child is being well-educated and well-cared for is critically important. But finding the right setting for your child with special needs can be challenging. Here are some steps you can take to ensure that your son or daughter is receiving the top-notch care and educational services he or she deserves.

1. Know your child’s rights
According to Disability World “Federal law mandates that each and every child is to receive an education that is both free and appropriate in an environment that is the least restrictive possible. … There are three federal laws that apply specifically to students with disabilities: The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA); Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973; and The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).”

Complicating matters, each state interprets federal law differently. Make sure you familiarize yourself with the laws in your home state.

 2. Have your child evaluated
Not sure what setting is appropriate for your child? You are entitled to a free evaluation by your home school’s study team. Typically, such evaluations include psychological, speech, physical, educational and occupational therapy assessments. Depending on the results of the evaluation, children remaining in the public school system may be given an IEP that will approve your child for whatever services are deemed necessary. This may also determine whether your child qualifies for a school especially for students with special needs.

 3. Visit multiple schools
If possible, visit more than one school or setting to determine what would be the best fit for your child. Significant variabilities exist between schools in terms of their campuses, accommodations, staffing, curricula and inclusion policies.

4. Meet individually with administrators
Though school tours are helpful, when your child has special needs, it’s essential to explore whether the school can accommodate them. Make sure to be candid about your child’s needs even if this may result in him being denied admission. It’s preferable to know that a school is not appropriate before you enroll your child. Once your child begins attending school, administrators and teachers should be readily available to provide progress reports and address concerns.

5. Get references
Don’t take the school’s word for it, ask for references from other parents who have children enrolled there. They are more likely to be forthcoming about the strengths and weaknesses of the school.

6. Be aware of the school’s staffing
Ask about class size and student: teacher ratios as well as whether the school has onsite clinical staff. Find out how many minutes per week of therapy your child will receive. In private school settings, is therapy part of the tuition or is it extra? Is 1:1 therapy provided or will your child receive therapy in a group?

7. How are behavioral issues handled?
You will want to know this whether your child has behavioral issues or not. If he does have behavioral issues, you’ll want to make sure the school manages them in a way that’s in keeping with your belief system. If your child doesn’t have behavioral issues, make sure that being around other students who are frequently disruptive won’t interfere with her learning, emotional or physical well-being.

8. What is the school’s policy on bullying?
Be sure you’re knowledgeable about the school’s bullying policy. As children with disabilities are more likely to experience bullying, you’ll want to know that school administrators and teachers take it seriously and will intervene immediately.

9. Does the school offer courses or activities that your child can access?
Confirm that the school is fully accessible for students with physical and learning differences. Ideally, your child should be able to participate in all learning and recreational opportunities provided at her school.

10. Take children’s feedback seriously
Most kids complain about school on occasion. But if your child seems frightened, regularly complains about feeling sick or is habitually resistant to attending school, pay attention. Particularly with non-verbal children, it can be tough to get to the bottom of what’s going on at school. Make sure to check in with teachers and administrators to determine what may be fueling your child’s reluctance. Ideally, sit in on classes, or visit at recess or lunchtime, to make sure your child is safe, comfortable and happy.

Tips for Grandparenting a Child with Special Needs

Grandfather blowing bubbles with grandson in a park

Whether a child is born with a disability or becomes disabled later in life, his special needs are likely to affect the whole family. Grandparents are no exception. In fact, they can play a vital role in providing support for their adult children and care for their grandchild. But navigating this sensitive terrain can be challenging. Here are some tips to make grandparenting a child with a disability as rewarding as possible.

Recognize the need to grieve
Typically, parents and family members aren’t prepared for the birth of a child with a disability. Likewise, an accident or the diagnosis of a developmental disability may come as a shock. Though grandparents may be called on to provide various kinds of support right away, acknowledging feelings of disappointment, fear and anger is critical before they can move forward and attend to the many tasks at hand. Naturally, adult children who are the parents of a child with a disability, also need time to grieve. Though grandparents may wish to take away an adult child’s pain, in this case, that’s not possible, says grandparents.com. “You can’t change what has happened to your grandchild. But you can offer your support to the child and to the rest of the family.”

Do some research
Once you know about a grandchild’s diagnosis, do some homework to learn as much as possible about her special needs. This will help you to understand how you can be most helpful. When doing research however, avoid internet sites and other unreliable sources. Instead consult with your grandchild’s parents and health care providers for resources that will provide accurate and current information and advice.

Respect parents’ wishes
Grandparents don’t always agree with the way their adult children are raising their grandchildren. Though you may be tempted to speak up when you feel that your children are doing things wrong, it’s important to respect parents’ wishes. Says AARP: “Don’t tell your kids how to raise their children. Avoid judging their parenting style and bite your tongue unless they ask for your advice. If you disagree with their decisions — and you will, sooner or later — keep quiet. Your job is to be the grandparent, not the parent. Instead, respect their parenting efforts and look for reasons to compliment them.”

Join a support group
Being with other grandparents who are dealing with the stressors associated with having a grandchild with disabilities can be helpful, especially if you provide a good deal of your grandchild’s care. “You will feel better when you can share your feelings with people who know what you’re going through,” says Grandparents.com. “You can learn more about the disability. And you may pick up some tips on how to support your family.”

Love your grandchild
Regardless of the severity of his disability, your grandchild has many gifts, and he will undoubtedly enrich your life. The poem “Welcome to Holland” by Emily Perl Kingsley, beautifully sums up the experience of being the parent or grandparent of a child with a disability.

Five Ways to Find Reliable Childcare

Babysitter with Special Needs Child

Finding a dependable, trustworthy and compassionate sitter is challenging enough for the parents of typically developing children. But for parents of children with medical, psychological, behavioral or intellectual disabilities, it can feel like a monumental task. But don’t give up! It’s vitally important that parents — especially parents caring for children with special needs—have time to refuel. Here are some tips for finding a capable caregiver:

Lean on loved ones
When trustworthy friends and family members who know, and love, your child offer to chip in, assume that their offers are genuine and accept the help. Prior to leaving them in charge, make sure they receive any training and resources they may need to ensure that the experience goes smoothly.

Try local grad school students
Students getting graduate degrees in special education, occupational therapy, physical therapy and nursing, may all be interested in gaining hands-on experience. Not only are these candidates likely to have knowledge and expertise, they may also be up on the latest therapies and behavioral techniques. Contact local colleges and universities to see if they can connect you to available students.

Summer camps
Summer camps for children with disabilities are pretty much guaranteed to have staffs trained in handling children with special needs. You can rest assured that your child is getting great care while having fun, making friends and learning new skills. It’s a win-win! For a guide to camps for children with special needs, visit very special camps.com.

Respite care services
Respite care entails entrusting your child to a qualified caregiver on a regular or emergency basis so that you can meet other responsibilities, or just take a much-needed break. According to Care.com, respite care can mean “overnight care, day programs, summer camps, ‘respitality’ (weekends away for caregiving parents) and personal care assistance.” You can find respite resources through organizations such as Care.com, ARCH National Respite Network, and local branches of ARC, Easter Seals, United Cerebral Palsy as well as hospitals and government agencies. Though respite care can be expensive, it is possible to obtain financial assistance. Find out if your state has a program that offers financial aid. Says Kids Health Nemours: “Most children with special needs qualify for home and community-based Medicaid waivers that can cover the cost of respite care.” Be aware that many of these programs have extensive waiting lists, so apply as early as possible.

Start a Parent Co-op
Parents of children with special needs can create a system where they take turns caring for one and other’s children. For example, says Kids Health from Nemours, “For example, you can take someone else’s child for one day or evening a month, and that person can do the same for you. Support groups for families with your child’s condition are a good place to meet other families.”

Happy Father’s Day!

Fathers’ contributions are invaluable
Despite significant increases in the numbers of stay-at-home fathers and dads who take active roles in the care of their children, many parenting magazines, books and blogs are geared almost exclusively toward mothers. Likewise, fathers are often overlooked at their children’s schools, by pediatricians and other clinicians. That’s unfortunate since research shows that paternal involvement is extremely important to children’s development in a myriad of ways. With Father’s Day just around the corner, this week’s blog addresses dads’ invaluable contributions to their children’s lives.

Involved fathers have smarter children
Studies have shown that engaged fathers are more likely to have children that have higher IQs and do better in school. For example, a recent study published in the Infant Mental Health Journal found that “the association between paternal interactions and cognitive outcome is evident at a very early age.”  More specifically, the study reported that babies who actively engage with their fathers, perform better on cognitive tests.

Dads’ communication styles help children with language development
While moms tend to communicate with their young children in high-pitched, sing-song tones using words they are likely to recognize, dads are more likely to talk to their children as they might talk to other adults, using vocabulary words that may be unfamiliar, and discussing topics that pertain to happenings in the outside world. According to University of Washington researcher Mark VanDam, fathers’ verbal interactions “might act as a link to the outside world,” helping to prepare them for life outside the home and family.

Additionally, researchers Lynne Vernon-Feagans of the University of North Carolina and Nadya Pancsofar at the College of New Jersey told Today.com they were surprised to discover that “not only are fathers important for children’s language development, but that fathers matter more than mothers.” Their studies found that “when fathers used more words with their children during play, children had more advanced language skills a year later.”

Dads encourage [healthy] risk-taking
Dads tend to be more relaxed [than mothers] when it comes to their parenting styles, says Larry Cohen, a psychologist in Boston and author of “Playful Parenting.” Whereas mothers may discourage children from engaging in potentially dangerous sports or taking on challenges they feel may be beyond their child’s abilities, fathers are likely to encourage them. While this may be a risky proposition, especially for children with disabilities, it may also push them past their comfort zones, building their confidence and skills.

Dads make great playmates
While moms are known for their empathy, nurturing and caregiving, children often turn to their dads when it’s time to play. As we well know, play is one of the most important activities of childhood. “Play—especially active physical play, like roughhousing—makes kids smart, emotionally intelligent, lovable and likable, ethical, physically fit, and joyful,” write authors Anthony T. DeBenedet, MD and Lawrence J. Cohen, in their book, “The Art of Roughhousing.”

While children with physical disabilities may not be able to roughhouse, they can still benefit from their fathers’ propensities for silliness. According to the New Zealand Herald, “Researchers from Sheffield University discovered the importance of both “silly play” and imaginative play during tests on children aged 16 to 24 months. Jokes included an adult putting a toy chicken on their head, while fantasy games involved activities like pretending to wash hands without soap or water.” Such play, said the researchers, improved children’s social skills and increased creativity.

And clinicians at the Hanen Centre, an organization dedicated to building children’s language and literacy skills maintain that fathers’ playstyles are “uniquely suited to support the play development of their children with ASD [autism spectrum disorders]. Fathers have special ways of playing with their children, such as physical and rough-and-tumble play. This type of play can be very helpful and motivating for children with autism.”

Dads’ love corresponds to better outcomes for kids
Though no one can deny the importance of being raised by a loving mother, “knowing that kids feel loved by their father is a better predictor of young adults’ sense of well-being, of happiness, of life satisfaction …,” says director of the Center for the Study of Interpersonal Acceptance and Rejection at the University of Connecticut Ronald Rohner.  In a 2012 interview with Live Science, Rohner said he wasn’t sure why fathers’ love had a greater impact on adult children than mothers’ love, but he hypothesized that in families where dads have more “influence and prestige” than mothers, “his actions might make the greatest impression on the children.”