Eight Ways to Thank Wounded Warriors on Veterans Day

Veteran in Wheelchair in front of an American Flag

On Veterans Day, Enabling Devices salutes our veterans, especially those who have service-connected disabilities. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 4.7 million veterans, or 25 percent of all veterans, had a service-connected disability.

Interested in honoring our disabled veterans this Veteran’s Day? Consider volunteering or making a donation to an organization that supports them. Here are some of the most reputable:

Wounded Warrior Project
Founded in 2003, WWP provides a range of services to veterans who sustained physical or mental injuries, or illnesses during military service that was performed on or after Sept. 11, 2001. WWP also offers support services to family and caregivers of wounded veterans including benefits and career counseling; mental health services such as PTSD treatment and stress reduction; and physical fitness training programs.

Disabled American Veterans
DAV’s stated mission is “empowering veterans to lead high-quality lives with respect and dignity”. Their efforts include “fighting for the interests of America’s injured heroes on Capitol Hill; and educating the public about the great sacrifices and needs of veterans transitioning back to civilian life.” The organization provides veterans with over 600,000 rides to medical appointments and helps veterans complete more than 200,000 benefit claims. DAV’s services are free to veterans of every war and their families. There are 1,300 chapters all over the United States.

Puppies Behind Bars
This multifaceted nonprofit organization trains inmates to raise service dogs for wounded veterans, and bomb-detecting dogs for use in law enforcement. The dogs are specially trained to work with veterans with PTSD and traumatic brain injuries. Since the program started in 2008, 66 dogs have been paired with wounded veterans in 26 states.

Homes for Our Troops
Approximately 11 percent of the homeless in the U.S. are veterans. Homes for Our Troops, founded in 2004, builds and donates accessible houses for severely injured veterans of post 9/11 wars. The organization also adapts existing homes so that injured veterans can continue to live in them.

Fisher House, Inc.
With an A+ rating from CharityWatch, you can feel secure that your donation is going to good use when you support Fisher House, Inc. Fisher House provides nearby temporary housing for families of veterans who are hospitalized for an injury or illness. To date, Fisher House has built 84 locations on military installations and on VA campuses. The program also gives scholarships for veterans, their children and spouses and raises money for the travel needs of families of hospitalized veterans.

Semper Fi Fund
Another A+ rated charity, Semper Fi is committed to providing the resources severely injured veterans require to recover and transition back into civilian life. The organization offers three distinct programs — the service member and family support program which provides direct financial assistance and programs for veterans and their loved ones; the transition program that provides education and career assistance to help veterans to live productive lives despite their injuries; and the integrative health program which offers a variety of physical and mental health programs and therapeutic activities.

Hope for the Warriors
Hope for the Warriors offers a spectrum of services to wounded veterans and their families including physical and mental health and wellness programs; transition services; and sports and recreation activities. The Hope for Warriors Wish program fulfills wishes for wounded warriors who need financial assistance to fulfill their dreams.

Gary Sinese Foundation
Supporting veterans had always been important to actor Gary Sinese. But after 9/11, he stepped up his volunteer and fundraising efforts on behalf of the men and women who defend our country. In 2011, he founded the Gary Sinese Foundation which offers programs such as R.I.S.E. (Restoring Independence Supporting Empowerment), a program that builds adapted homes and modifies homes and cars for severely injured veterans. The Foundation’s Relief and Resiliency programs provide recreational activities to the children of fallen heroes, as well as mental health and financial assistance to veterans and their families. In addition, the Foundation’s Community and Education branch helps to raise awareness about the issues facing military families, and provides meals and arts and entertainment experiences to active military and veteran communities. The Gary Sinese Foundation also serves the needs of first responders.

 

Gift Guide for People With Special Needs

Whether you’re starting in on some early Christmas shopping, looking for a birthday gift or on the hunt for a “Just Because” gift, finding the right present for someone you love can be a challenge. When the person you’re shopping for has special needs, shopping for gifts is about more than just finding something they’ll like — it’s about finding a gift they can use and enjoy on their own regardless of their limitations.

Depending on their disability, a person with special needs may require special switch-activated toys or activities. They may have sensory issues that limit what kinds of lights or noises they can enjoy in a toy. Or, they may be older and want to use the same electronics as their friends, but with modifications for their needs.

Wouldn’t it be nice if someone would just find the perfect gift and write your name on the card? We can’t do the shopping for you, but if you’re looking for gift ideas for a loved one with special needs, then you’ve come to the right place!

Our ultimate gift guide for kids and adults with disabilities is designed to give you lots of ideas for finding the best gifts to give people with disabilities, as well as some tips for showering them with love and care during any special holiday or celebration!

More Inclusive Toys Are Being Made

Before we start in on specific suggestions, let’s take a few minutes to understand why purchasing the right toys for people with special needs is such a big deal. Although children and teens with disabilities can use some mainstream toys, those toys often are not naturally adapted to their needs. For example, battery-operated toys typically come with a small switch to activate them. A person with cerebral palsy or another physical limitation may not have the fine motor skills necessary to grip and move that tiny switch. For older teens and adults, a standard iPad may present a challenge because they can’t use the touch screen properly.

Another reason individuals with special needs may require different toys and electronics is because of the sensory issues they may have. Just as mainstream toys are designed to help children learn and grow, these individuals still need to learn and grow, but they need toys that take into account their struggles with paying attention, loud noises and bright lights. There’s just no point in giving a child a toy that’s going to cause them frustration or a meltdown because it’s too loud or they can’t use the switch.

In the past, mainstream toy manufacturers haven’t always produced toys to address certain physical and mental needs, so companies like Enabling Devices began making their own suitable alternatives. In many cases, their toys for special needs mimic those found in toy stores across the country. However, they are designed with special needs children and teens in mind, adapting them to use switches or large buttons where necessary and providing sensory experiences that help, rather than hinder, those with sensory sensitivities.

How to Find the Right Toy: Questions to Ask

Even when you’re looking at gifts specifically designed for individuals with special needs, it’s important to remember that not all toys are made for all types of needs. Consider the person you’re shopping for. What do they enjoy? What do they already have? What are their limitations or what accommodations do they need? Depending on your relationship with the person you’re shopping for, you may be able to narrow down gift options quickly. But if you’re struggling to find options, you can ask some questions to help you identify the right gift.

1. Is the Toy Right for Your Child’s Ability?

First, consider the child you’re shopping for. What you get a child with autism may be different than what you buy for a teen wheelchair user. For example, a child with autism may benefit from sensory toys designed to calm and soothe, while an individual with a physical disability may benefit more from a gadget designed to help make their world more accessible, such as a mount for their iPad.

2. Is It a Cognitive Development Toy?

Puzzles, board games, toys with simple instructions or repetitive actions will provide cognitive development opportunities for those who need them. However, if you’re shopping for an individual who has a physical disability but not a cognitive one, then a gift like this may not be the right one.

3. Will Your Child Be Able to Activate the Toy?

Consider how the toy works. Given your child’s ability, will they be able to activate it themself? If not, they may become frustrated and set the toy aside in favor of something they can operate. Switch-activated toys and gadgets are a great option if you are shopping for a gift for someone who cannot operate smaller switches.

4. Is It Physical?

Does the gift you’re considering require physical effort to use? If so, can the individual you’re purchasing it for operate it given their needs or limitations?

5. Do You Need a Switch Adaptor to Use It?

In some cases, an individual with special needs may not be able to operate mainstream toys because they cannot use the on-off switch that often accompanies battery-operated toys. Adapted toys allow special needs children to interact with these toys by giving them a button to press or other alternatives for operating the toy with the use of a switch. Some toys and gadgets come with a switch adaptor, while others may be modified to add one.

6. Will the Toy Allow Your Child to Interact With Others?

Among its many benefits, play allows children and adults of all abilities to interact with others. Educational toys for people with disabilities, as well as games, encourage interaction and communication with others. This interaction can be beneficial toward encouraging social interaction and development.

7. Is It an Individual Toy?

In some cases, children with sensory issues may benefit from toys and gifts that are calming and can be used alone, such as plush toys or fidget toys. In other cases, a child or teen may benefit from puzzles and games that help with cognitive development when there isn’t a parent, teacher or another child nearby to help.

8. Is It Safe for the Age or Ability?

In this case, buying a gift for a person with special needs is no different than buying a toy for any other child. Consider their age, but more importantly where they are in their development to determine whether the gift you’re considering will be helpful or frustrating. For example, a young child likely won’t be able to understand board games, and a teen or adult may not enjoy a stuffed animal or toy designed for a younger person. If you’re not sure whether an item is developmentally appropriate, it’s always a good idea to consult their parent or caregiver to get their opinion before you buy.

9. Does It Appeal to Their Interests?

Special needs children and adults are individuals with unique interests and abilities. What appeals to one won’t necessarily appeal to another. Before you buy a gift, consider what you know about them. Do they enjoy sports? Music? Art? Computers? There are a wide variety of gift options for children and teens with special needs, each tailored to a variety of interests.

10. Is It Fragile?

Gifts that are fragile may be dropped and broken. It’s vital to make sure you purchase a quality product that will stand up to regular use.

Educational Toys and Guides

Play is how children learn about the world around them. It’s essential to both physical and mental development. This is no different for a child or teen with special needs. In fact, it can become even more important because of the ways it can help them cope with and adapt to their special needs or limitations.

Are there specific educational toys for different needs?

The short answer is: Yes!

Depending on the needs of the person you’re shopping for, certain toys can provide comfort, stimulation and even physical activity. For example, children on the autism spectrum often benefit from sensory toys that play soothing music, fidget toys or other tactile toys such as a sensory pillow or stuffed animal. A child with cerebral palsy, on the other hand, may benefit from toys that can be manipulated, such as kinetic sand, building or stacking sets or a set of basic musical instruments, such as one that includes percussion instruments like cymbals, a triangle and a tambourine.

If you’re looking for just the right gift, Enabling Devices offers a variety of toys, sold both individually and as bundles and educational classroom kits that make great gifts for children and teens of all ages and abilities. Some of our more popular options include:

1. Classroom Fidget Kit

The Classroom Fidget Kit is designed to help children with ADHD or on the autism spectrum control their impulses and soothe themselves in the classroom and at home. When they can control their impulses, it allows them to better focus and retain information, as well as self-soothe when they are overloaded because of a lot of noise and activity around them. Among the many items included in the kit are Sensory Stixx, Water Snakes, Squish Disks, Mini Koosh Balls and more, all inside of a carrying case.

2. Creative Art Bundle

Perfect for the creative child or teen in your life, the Creative Art Bundle is a great way to build an at-home art studio and enjoy hours of fun for children of all abilities. This bundle includes color spinout, swirl art and a motorized squiggle wiggle writer pen. The color spinout and swirl art painting machine are both switch-adapted as well. These pieces can all be purchased individually, but this kit combines these great products to provide a creative outlet for any artist!

3. Quick Start Communication Kit

Designed for students with basic communication challenges, the Quick Start Communication Kit combines Enabling Devices’ most popular tools to help students become active and engaged in the classroom, even when they have communication challenges that might otherwise hinder social interaction. But don’t be fooled! This kit doesn’t just benefit students in the classroom. The skills it helps to build extend into the home as well.

4. Sensory Bundle

If you’re looking for a gift for a child whose special needs mean they need to develop their sensory awareness, the Sensory Bundle is a great option. This bundle can be used on its own or incorporated into a sensory space at home or school. This bundle includes a Somatosensory Tube for improving grasping skills, as well as a Vibrating Fiber Optic Lamp and the Go Anywhere Light Show.

Best Presents for Wheelchair Users

Looking for the perfect presents for wheelchair users may at first seem to present a challenge, but provides a great opportunity to find heartfelt and useful items regardless of what special needs the recipient has.

But before you run out and buy the first device you see, take a few minutes to think about the person you’re buying for. What will help them achieve their goals? Do they need something that will help improve their ability to function in a classroom or social setting? Is there something that will allow them to participate in the same activities as their non-wheelchair bound peers?

Wheelchair Attachments

Keeping the wheelchair comfortable and functional is important! Enabling Devices offers a variety of accessible wheelchair attachments, including the Easy Flex Mount, the Eye-Talk Bundle, the Clip Clamp, an iPad Mounting System and the Massaging Pillow. Each of these tools is designed to help wheelchair users perform daily tasks and maintain their comfort in their chair. Although each of them serves an exciting and unique purpose, part of the fun of choosing one of these as a gift is determining which attachment would be most beneficial to the person you’re buying it for. Their needs or limitations will determine how effective each item is, so before you buy it, stop and consider how it can and should be used.

Best Presents for Specific Needs

Depending on your relationship with the person you’re buying a gift for, you may already have an idea of what to purchase or you may not be sure where to start. As we’ve mentioned before, the gift you buy should reflect each individual’s needs and interests. However, there are some good gifts for children and adults with specific needs. Consider these suggestions if you’re not sure where to start looking!

1. Gift Ideas for Those With Cerebral Palsy

Wondering what to get a child with cerebral palsy? As with those on the autism spectrum, there is a wide range of needs and abilities you’ll encounter with those who have cerebral palsy. In most cases, you’ll be looking for a gift that helps them develop gross and fine motor skills, as well as their communication skills. It should also stimulate them intellectually. So what kinds of gifts will do all of those things?

Some great gifts for children with cerebral palsy include stacking or building toys, especially those with larger pieces or blocks. These can help an individual with cerebral palsy practice their fine motor skills but are still large enough that they’re easy to grip. Switch adapted games and toys are also a great option since physical limitations may prevent someone with cerebral palsy from being able to operate switches on mass-market toys. Enabling Devices even makes a variety of switch adapted art products for hours of creative play. Musical instruments or adapted electronics are also great options.

2. Gift Ideas for Those With Autism

When it comes to figuring out a gift for someone with autism, it’s important to consider their developmental stage rather than their age alone. Think about their abilities and their limitations as you’re considering certain toys or gifts. As a general rule of thumb, soothing items such as weighted blankets, stuffed animals or a vibrating pillow can all be good options. If you’re looking for something they can play with, consider sensory toys such as a somatosensory tube, which emits soothing lights and vibrations.

Water beads, puzzles, light and movement projectors, ball pits and liquid motion toys are all other options when it comes to finding toys that encourage sensory stimulation while still providing a secure, calming experience.

3. Gift Ideas for Those With Visual Impairment

One of our most popular toys and learning tools, the Visually Impaired Activity Center has the same features as its original sibling, but its bright blue tactile plate, pull-ball and textured bright yellow oval plate make it accessible to users who are visually impaired. The Musical Light Box helps to teach visually impaired users to identify shapes and objects, practice writing skills and create arts and crafts.

Sensory Gifts for Special Needs

Those with sensory issues process sounds, smells, sights, tastes and touch differently. In some cases, they may be comforted by certain sounds, smells and sights. In fact, kids with sensory issues tend to gravitate toward things they can touch and “fidget” with because the repetitive motions of touching, stroking or squeezing something help them to self-regulate and soothe when they’re otherwise unable to focus or stay calm.

In other cases, these same sensory experiences make invoke feelings of agitation or fear and cause meltdowns or tantrums, especially in the case of loud noises, harsh smells or bright lights. When it comes to sensory gifts for people with disabilities, there are several different directions you can take.

1. Calming Lights

Enabling Devices offers a variety of calming lights to be used on their own or included in a home or school sensory space. Depending on your child’s needs, they can provide a sense of calm or they can provide needed stimulation. Among our favorites are the LED Light Illuminators, which can be programmed to cycle through all the colors in the rainbow. The great thing about these lights is that you can adjust the level of brightness they project, as well as the speed at which they cycle through the colors.

2. Ball Pit

Enabling Devices Ball Pit encourages the improvement of gross motor skills and grasping abilities. It also provides children with sensory issues with the opportunity to experience this beloved childhood activity in the safety and security of their own home where they don’t have to worry about loud noises, jarring movements or other children bullying them. It’s also a great way to encourage physical activity in a child who is unable or unwilling to spend much time outside.

3. Sensory Exploration Tent

This isn’t your average camping tent! The Sensory Exploration Tent is designed to provide positive sensory experiences in a safe, relaxing environment. The tent comes as part of a set that includes a weighted blanket, learning lamp, Plushy Jelly Pillow and a variety of other soothing sensory items. The tent also has two openings, as well as a roof-top easy view screen that allows parents and caregivers to keep an eye on the child playing and relaxing inside.

Why Puzzles Are Good for All

These days, puzzles aren’t just a box full of flat cardboard pieces waiting to be joined together. Enabling Devices offers a variety of puzzles designed for individuals with a variety of special needs. But why are puzzels such a great gift? Puzzles can help promote interactive learning, development of fine motor skills and even provide multi-sensory experiences. How is that possible? Puzzles can help children and teens with:

1. Sorting

Depending on the type of puzzle, the person putting it together — or taking it apart — will be required to sort pieces by color, shape and touch.

2. Attention Span

Putting together puzzles can help children on the autism spectrum practice devoting their attention and focus on a specific topic or activity. Over time, as they begin to cultivate the ability to focus on one thing, they can attempt increasingly challenging puzzles.

3. Memory Improvement

Think of a puzzle as a tangible way to watch someone exercise their brain. As children learn to pay attention to what’s in front of them, they’ll begin to be able to focus on other things as well. Over time, they will learn to hear what their teacher is saying and retain the information for later.

4. Problem-Solving

Piecing together a puzzle is also a great way to help children of all ages and abilities practice their problem-solving skills. There is a lot of deductive reasoning that goes on when a person has to put something back together. They have to follow clues and certain steps to arrive at the right answer — the completed puzzle — and they have to know how to backtrack or troubleshoot when they encounter obstacles. Puzzles provide a low-key, safe way to practice these skills they’ll need to function in school, work and the world around them.

5. Self-Esteem

It feels good when you see a completed puzzle. Regardless of what kind of puzzle it is or the skill level it requires, viewing a completed puzzle provides a sense of self-worth and accomplishment that makes children and teens feel good about themselves. And when they feel good about themselves, they’ll feel more confident and able to handle other challenges they’re facing.

Visual and Light Toy Gifts

Visual and light toy gifts can be stimulating or calming — depending on the toy or item you’re considering. In some cases, soothing lights and lamps can create a calm atmosphere. They can be used in a sensory room or any space that is used to calm children or adults with sensory issues. Why does light have a calming effect? Soft lights in a variety of colors are soothing. If you have a child on the autism spectrum or who has other sensory needs, lights can help them through a meltdown or to decompress after being in a situation that left them feeling overloaded. Certain types of lamps can emit light in a rhythmic motion and this motion can also add to the calm.

In other cases, lights can be used in sensory stimulation exercises designed to increase attention span, decrease boredom or practice a variety of motor skills. Among the visual and light toy gifts Enabling Devices sells, consider some of these favorite options:

  • The Adapted Music Crystal Ball rotates while it projects a kaleidoscope of images and colors on the wall or ceiling. It has a variety of uses, depending on the needs of the child or adult using it. It can provide a calming effect because of the soft lights and calming music that plays while it rotates. Or, it can be used to help with increasing attention and color recognition.
  • The Fiber Optic Sensory Light is another great addition to any sensory space. The switch-activated sensory light alternates between five different colors that cycle through the color-changing crystals in the base and up through the fiber optic spray at the top. This relaxing light can create a calming effect in any room, but it’s also a great tool for improving visual attention and teaching cause and effect.
  • If you’re looking for a light toy or visual gift, consider the Jellyfish Lamp. When you turn on the lamp, two life-like plastic jellyfish float and sway to the motion of the water inside. Besides providing calming lights and something interesting to look at, this lamp is designed to increase visual attention and teach cause and effect.

Communicator Gifts for Those With Special Needs

Communication Devices — also known as Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) devices — are designed to help individuals express themselves in ways that don’t rely on verbal communication. There are a wide variety of devices available for all levels of needs, and they can be a great gift idea for speech or non-voice communicators.

Beginning communicators will enjoy telling jokes, greeting friends or singing songs with the simple, easy-to-use Big Talk communicator, while more advanced communicators will find new ways to express themselves with the Cheap Talk 8 – 6-Levels. This best-selling communicator has space to record 48 five-second messages on six levels. For those with verbal and visual limitations, the Adjustable Angle Sequencer w/ Switch offers 300 seconds of recording time, as well as a large switch identified by a set of LED lights at the center.

The Best Soft and Cuddly Toys for Special Needs

Plush toys are a great option for children and teens with special needs because they provide somatosensory stimulation. What does that mean? The somatosensory system is the body’s sensory system that registers touch — pressure, pain, vibration, temperature and movement. Because these are all neurological impulses, in some cases, individuals may struggle with an oversensitivity or difficulty regulating these impulses. Having something soft and cuddly to hold is comforting, but the vibrations that they emit can also provide stimulation and relaxation when it’s needed most.

Some of Enabling Devices’ most beloved cuddly toys include the Vibrating Seal and Floppy Bunny. Just activate your capability switch, and Floppy hops and wiggles his nose. These plush toys are designed to improve tactile awareness and increase sensory stimulation, but they also serve to provide comfort and companionship to their owner.

Art Toys and Gifts

Art transcends age, stage and a variety of interests and abilities. It is a wonderful way for people to express themselves. It provides a creative and therapeutic outlet, as well as numerous educational opportunities.

If you’re looking for toys and gifts to ignite the spark of creativity or fan the flame, consider Enabling Devices’ Adapted Color Spinout. The user selects a pen or marker and sets it in the holder. They slip a piece of paper into place, then they activate their switch and watch as it spins and moves to create beautiful, unique designs. The arm holding the writing implement can be adjusted to create all different shapes and patterns. Besides providing ways to get creative, this toy is a great way for individuals with special needs to work on developing their attention, encouraging interaction and teaching cause and effect.

Another great option for the artist in your life is the Musical Swirl Art kit. Just pour the paint into the spinner, insert a piece of paper, and then activate your switch and watch as beautiful painted patterns and designs come to life before your eyes! While the machine is swirling the paint, it also plays music and multi-colored blinking lights to inspire artists and maintain the focus of the artist at work. If you’re looking for a practical benefit to this gift, it’s a great way to improve color recognition and listening skills!

Gifts for the Music Lover

Music can be a fun and soothing experience for those with special needs, so gift your loved one their very own musical toy!

Make all their favorite sounds accessible with the CD Boom Box, a switch-adapted device equipped with a CD player, AM/FM radio and cassette recorder. If music performance is their thing, give them the Bongo Drums. This two-drum set produces great sound, providing hours of entertainment!

If your loved one has an iPad, consider gifting them with some accessories to make listening to their favorite tunes easier than ever! Choose an iPad stylus designed to help make musical selections with your head, hand or mouth, or gift them with a flexible case that will protect their technology while it’s resting in one of our iPad mounts.

For younger children who may not be ready for a stereo or other electronic device, consider the B Woofer Guitar. Choose from several types of guitars and hear nearly 30 different tunes with this fun toy. This switch-adapted toy also offers eight different chord options so little musicians can make their own music when they’re done listening to music from others!

Everyone can rock out with Band Jam, the battery-operated drum set that features the sounds of five different percussion instruments, as well as flashing LED lights. This is a great way for your little musician to explore and learn about musical instruments, as well as develop their appreciation for the music around them.

Shop With Enabling Devices

When it comes to shopping for gifts for children and adults with disabilities, it’s important to stop and think about their unique personality and interests, as well as their own special needs. If you aren’t sure what kind of gift they’d appreciate, there’s no shame in asking them — or their parent — for some guidance or suggestions. If you’re still not sure how to select the right gift for that special person in your life, let Enabling Devices help.

Our goal is to develop and promote products that help children and adults with special needs lead joyful, fulfilling lives. We never want to see someone miss out just because they didn’t know a certain product existed. We want to get those products into the hands of the people who need them the most.

If you’re looking for gift ideas, then look no further than Enabling Devices. Our wide selection of products offers something for everyone, and it’s sure to make your holiday shopping easier than ever! Browse our online store or contact us today to start shopping!

CDC Sees Increase in Diagnoses of Developmental Disabilities

Pediatrician Examining a Girl with Down Syndrome

In recent years, the prevalence of autism spectrum disorder has been steadily rising. In fact, the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network found that one in 59 children carry a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. New research suggests that it’s not only autism that’s becoming more prevalent — the numbers of children diagnosed with at least one developmental disability has also increased.

The October 2019 issue of the journal Pediatrics reported that between 2009 and 2017, the number of children ages 3-17 diagnosed with at least one developmental disability rose from 16.2 percent in 2009 to 17.8 percent (or one in 6 children) in 2017.

Data for the study, “Prevalence and Trends of Developmental Disabilities among Children in the United States: 2009–2017” included the health information of 88,000 children using the “National Health Interview Survey, a nationally representative survey of the civilian noninstitutionalized population. Parents reported physician or other health care professional diagnoses of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder; autism spectrum disorder; blindness; cerebral palsy; moderate to profound hearing loss; learning disability; intellectual disability; seizures; stuttering or stammering; and other developmental delays.” 

As reported by Disability Scoop’s Michelle Diament, “the prevalence of autism, intellectual disability and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder increased during [2009 and 2017] while there was a decrease in the percentage of kids in the catch-all category of ‘other developmental delay.’”

The survey found that the greatest increases in diagnoses occurred among boys, Caucasian and Hispanic children, older youngsters, children who lived in cities and those whose mothers were relatively uneducated.

Though the survey didn’t look at the causes of the increase in developmental disabilities diagnoses, the CDC hypothesized that “previous research has found improved awareness, screening, diagnosis, and service accessibility may contribute to the increases seen.”

That could be good news, since early intervention is key in improving the prognoses for children with developmental disabilities. Programs like the CDC’s Learn the Signs, Act Early help families to identify developmental disabilities early so that they can access services and resources that can address their children’s deficits. Though developmental disabilities aren’t curable, children who receive the services they need are more likely to be successful in school and in other areas of their lives.

Examples of early intervention may include speech and language therapy; physical therapy; occupational therapy; hearing and vision services; psychological services; social work services; nutrition services; and medical and nursing interventions. Children with developmental disabilities have the greatest chance for success if they receive appropriate therapies between the ages of birth and 3 years old.

Five Reasons to Bring a Pet into Your Child’s Life

Little boy hugging a Golden Retriever dog

Considering adding a pet to your household? If you have a child with a disability, the benefits of owning a pet can be significant. In fact, research has shown that pets can help children with physical and developmental disabilities in myriad ways. Here’s what the science says:

1. Pets encourage increased physical activity.
A 2017 case study at Oregon State University found that a program that incorporated the family dog into an exercise program for a 10-year-old boy with cerebral palsy “led to a wide range of improvements for the child, including physical activity as well as motor skills, quality of life and human-animal interactions.” Said study co-author Megan MacDonald: “They develop a partnership and the activities become more fun and challenging for the child.”

2. Pets help children with autism to form connections with others
Many children with autistic spectrum disorders have difficulty connecting to other people. Studies show that autistic children in homes with pet dogs, learn to make such connections. For example, a 2014 study published in the journal Pediatric Nursing, found that in families with dogs, 94 percent of children “were bonded” with them. And “children living with dogs interacted with them in play and/or sharing personal space,” noted researchers. In addition, having a pet also gave children an “opportunity to learn responsibility and companionship.”

3. Guinea pigs help to improve social skills
Can’t manage caring for a dog right now? How about a guinea pig, hamster, gerbil or even a turtle?  A study conducted at the Autism Resource Center at Hospital Bohars in France found that autistic children from families that owned pets “were better able to share toys and food with both parents and other kids and better able to comfort others than the pet-less children were.”

4. Pets reduce stress and improve mood in children with learning disabilities and ADHD
According to the National Institutes of Health, “Interacting with animals has been shown to decrease levels of cortisol (a stress-related hormone) and lower blood pressure. Other studies have found that animals can reduce loneliness, increase feelings of social support, and boost your mood.”

5. Fish tanks can be therapeutic for children with disruptive behaviors.
The calming effects of watching fish swim in a fish tank reduces behavioral problems in children with emotional and behavioral disabilities according to a study at the University of Pennsylvania. Other studies have shown that gazing at fish tanks also reduces anxiety as well as heart rate and blood pressure.

 

 

 

New Year’s Resolutions for Special Educators

Group of Students as a table with their teacher

The beginning of a brand new year is the perfect time to set resolutions for the year ahead. Are you hoping to develop more patience, take a professional development course, try a new teaching technique, or focus on personal growth? These are all worthwhile goals. Yet, setting resolutions doesn’t guarantee you will keep them. One goal setting method that many find helpful is the SMART method. SMART is an acronym that stands for the words: Specific; Measurable; Achievable; Relevant; and Timely. According to Chris Joseph, writing for Chron, “setting S.M.A.R.T. goals can help keep you motivated and provide a way to measure your progress during your journey.” Here are some examples of New Year’s resolutions for special educators:

Keep good records
Beginning Jan. 1, I will spend 30 minutes per day writing three sentence long progress notes on five students. By the end of each week, I will have completed progress notes on 25 students. Keeping regular notes on each student will make life so much easier when it’s time for parent conferences and report cards.

Take your lunch break
This semester I will take a 40-minute-long lunch hour at least three days a week.

As helping professionals, neglecting our own needs can be an occupational hazard. Yet, finding time to eat a nutritious and relaxed midday meal isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity. Your students will benefit from your improved mood and higher energy.

Get out of the classroom
This semester, I will take a 20-minute walk to clear my head and get some exercise. Just as it’s important to eat well, it’s equally important to get fresh air and exercise. A brisk walk around the campus or the neighborhood surrounding your school can work wonders for your physical and mental health.

Be organized
On the last Friday of every month, I will spend one hour sorting through the paper on my desk and in my drawers to keep myself organized. We all know how overwhelming it can be when we can’t find the documents and supplies we need to do our jobs. Organizing our work spaces can spell the difference between feeling stressed and discombobulated and feeling empowered.

Keep learning
By Feb. 15, I will sign up for one continuing education class in a subject that will help me to grow professionally. It’s natural to be apprehensive about returning to the classroom as a student, but there’s nothing like professional development to give us renewed energy and inspiration for our careers.

Invest in personal growth
By March 1, I will register for a class or activity that will enrich my personal life. All work and no play makes Jack or Jill a dull (and unhappy) boy or girl. Make sure to get out there and do something special for yourself. Self-care will make you a much better educator.

Strive for a Sensory-friendly Holiday Season

Girl in Santa Hat in Front of Christmas Tree

For many of us, the Christmas holiday season is the happiest time of the year. It’s a time to celebrate with family and friends, to give and receive gifts, to sample delicious baked treats and enjoy the beauty of holiday lights, decorations and caroling. But for children with sensory processing disorders, Christmas can present significant sensory integration challenges. Here are some steps that will help make the holidays happy for every member of the family.

Turn down the lights
Though most children with sensory processing disorders enjoy the stimulation they receive from music and colorful, flashing lights, the holiday season may offer too much of a good thing. If you’re planning a trip to a Christmas lights display in your neighborhood, prepare your child in advance, and don’t over-do it. Make sure your child is well-rested and well-fed before making the excursion and set a time limit that takes your child’s sensory needs into account.

Beware of crowds
During the holiday season, we are more likely than ever to encounter large groups of people. Whether it’s holiday shopping at the mall, or attending a party or family gathering, large crowds can be overwhelming to children with sensory processing disorders. If you must take your child shopping, choose times when the stores are likely to be less crowded. Some malls are even designating certain shopping hours for families with children with sensory challenges. Likewise, when attending a big party, make sure you leave before your child becomes tired and over-stimulated. Bring along some of your child’s favorite toys or videos, and make sure there’s a quiet place where he can unwind if he needs to take a break from the action.

Lower the volume
Holiday music, Christmas carols and large groups of people can be too noisy for many children with sensory processing disorders. Noise cancelling headphones can make the difference between a child who’s having a melt-down and a child who’s enjoying holiday activities.

Respect your child’s tactile sensitivities
Sure, it’s disappointing when your child refuses to wear the special holiday outfit you’ve purchased for family photos! But forcing her to wear clothing that makes her physically uncomfortable is a no-win situation. Instead, choose an outfit you know she’ll enjoy wearing, even if it’s the same one she likes to wear every day.

Some children don’t like to be touched — especially by people they don’t know. Never insist that your child receive a hug or a kiss from a friend or relative against his wishes.

Whenever possible, stick to your child’s schedule
Many children with sensory processing disorders thrive on routine. But during the holiday season, routines are much harder to follow. While some flexibility is necessary, your child is likely to be a great deal happier if you adhere to his routine. For example, on evenings when no parties or family excursions are planned, follow his normal bedtime routine. Likewise, attempt to maintain your child’s usual diet and do your best to prevent her from binging on too many sweets.

 

10 Plush Toys to Keep Your Child Warm and Cozy All Winter Long!

Young Girl in Wheelchair Playing with Bunny Rabbit Plush Toy

Psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott was the first to coin the phrase “transitional object” in 1951. What does it mean? Put simply, the transitional object is an item — usually soft to the touch and often a blanket, doll or plush toy – that serves as a bridge between a young child’s total dependence on his mother to his gradual dependence on himself. Often known as a security blanket or lovie, the young child relies on the object when tired, stressed or upset — think Linus and his blanket or Christopher Robin and his Winnie-the-Pooh. Transitional objects help children to negotiate their growing independence in a healthy manner.

Enabling Devices offers a wide selection of plush toys. These soft, cuddly and adorable “lovies” make great holiday gifts for the young children in your life. Here are some of our favorites:

St. Nick is ready for Christmas, but makes a great friend all year round. Equipped with his signature bag of toys, Santa comes with his own stuffed bear. Watch as the two stuffed pals sing verses to each other! (#9320)

When the weather gets cold, Walter the Dancing Snowman will make your child feel warm and cozy! ( #9322)

Ba Ba Baby: When a switch is activated, this cute, extremely huggable lamb walks, bleats and wags his tail (#4379)

Floppy Bunny is our bestselling plush toy who hops, flops his ears, moves his snout and makes bunny sounds. (#150)

ABC Elmo fans will delight in this adapted version of the beloved Sesame Street character who sings and says 14 fun phrases. (#2135)

Not only is Mother Goose sweet and cuddly, she also teaches children to recite nursery rhymes. (#9309)

Teach your child to appreciate the classics with our Sunshine Symphony toy. It’s colorful, lights up, and plays four classical or one lengthy lullaby. (#8069)

The adorable duo Captain Salty & Pepper entertain with a lively rendition of “Hot, Hot Hot!”. (#1132)

Give a hug and our Vibrating Seal will gently vibrate. So soft and cuddly! (#9300)

Laugh along with a Giggle Gang Pal! These adorable adapted buddies giggle for 3-5 seconds when you activate your switch. (#5120)

To see Enabling Devices’ full selection of plush toys, click here.

Happy Holidays to All!

 

Sense-able Schools – The Benefits of Sensory Spaces

Universal sensory space

If you’re a special educator or occupational therapist, you’re probably well aware of the benefits of sensory spaces. Specially configured areas where children can explore their environments through visual, auditory and tactile experiences, “[sensory spaces] offer highly individualized experiences and serve individuals with a variety of disabilities including autism spectrum disorders, developmental disabilities, cerebral palsy and sensory processing disorders,” according to Karen Gallichio, Product Development Specialist at Enabling Devices.

When sensory spaces are created in schools, they have additional benefits, according to Edutopia, an online education source founded by filmmaker George Lucas. Edutopia recently reported on a sensory room that was created in 2017 for students with special needs in the Meriden School District in Meriden, Conn.

Before the sensory room was created, students with special needs in the Meriden district had to be sent outside of their home schools in order to receive the services they required. Meriden’s Director of Pupil Personnel Patricia Sullivan-Kowalski, told Edutopia that this practice  “resulted in students feeling less connected to their community. By creating their own sensory room,” said Sullivan-Kowalski, “administrators gained the ability to keep students in their community and provide them with a safe place in a least restrictive environment.”

Surprisingly, the sensory room in Meriden also saved the school district money. According to Edutopia, “Setting up a sensory room costs less than sending students out for services.”

Additionally, administrators soon found that the sensory room was helpful to all students, not just students with disabilities.  Says  Edutopia’s School Selection Coordinator Peter Poutiatine: “We often find that practices designed to meet the needs of the most challenging students in a school are effective for all kids.”

Perhaps you’ve imagined how wonderful it would be to have a sensory space in your classroom or school but assumed it would be prohibitively expensive or would require a great deal of square footage. But that’s not necessarily the case. In fact, you can create a sensory space for as little as a few hundred dollars and it can be located in a spare closet, an alcove or even a vinyl tent. Why not start small and build out as funding and space become available. For additional free quotes, design services and fundraising ideas, visit Enabling Devices’ website. In the meantime, here are 12 product suggestions of items under $100 to get you started.

 

  1. Bean Bag Chair #1048W
  2. Scentifier (Aromatherapy Fan) #3210
  3. Sensational Tubes #8089
  4. Rope Lights #9039W
  5. Cosmic Liquid Tiles #3852W
  6. Double Disco Ball #1685
  7. Fiber Optic Sensory Light #3199
  8. Go Anywhere Light Show Go #3331
  9. LED Light Illuminator – Genesis Egg #9224
  10. Tubular Vibrator #1151A
  11. Gel Lap Pad #3142
  12. Vibrating Seal #9300

 

8 Ways to Ease School Anxiety

Girl in Wheelchair in front of blackboard that says "Back to School"

Temperatures are soaring, yet the fall semester has already begun for some students in the United States. Other students will return to classes in the next few weeks. Though some youngsters look forward to the start of a new school year, for others, it triggers significant anxiety. In fact, “More than a quarter of teens report experiencing extreme stress during the school year,” according to the American School Counselor Association.

For children with special needs, anxiety can be significantly higher. For example, a 2015 study in the Journal of Autism & Developmental Disorders, found that “between 11 percent and 84 percent of people with autism also have an anxiety disorder.” Likewise, students with physical disabilities, who are unfortunately more likely to be bullied and stigmatized by their peers, may experience anxiety about the social pressures of school. What can parents do to relieve their anxiety? Here are some suggestions:

Check in with your child
This may seem like a no-brainer, but sometimes, in an effort to be up-beat, parents may gloss over their child’s concerns about the new school year. Before and after the school year begins, take time to explore your student’s feelings about school-related issues. If students exhibit more anxiety than seems appropriate, it’s time to work on a plan to address the anxiety.

 Be aware of signs of anxiety
Not all youngsters are comfortable discussing their anxiety and some may not even recognize feelings of anxiety. Various behaviors and complaints may be signs that students are anxious. For example, notes the American School Counselor Association: “School nurses are often the first person in a school to recognize that a student making frequent visits to the clinic doesn’t have a physical aliment but rather anxiety.” Other signs of anxiety include “problems concentrating, missed deadlines, decline in participation, absenteeism and tardy arrivals,” says the ASCA.

 Visit the school
Many students feel anxious when they don’t know what to expect. Visiting your child’s school and classroom and teacher go a long way toward reducing anxiety.

Encourage healthy habits
Anxiety can increase when students miss sleep or meals. Help children to transition to a school-appropriate schedule of sleeping and eating in the week before school starts.

Teach self-regulation
Though not all students are capable of practicing relaxation and/or mindfulness techniques, those with the capacity to do so, can benefit greatly from positive self-talk, deep breathing exercises and even daily meditation practice. In fact, a 2016 study found that people with intellectual disabilities benefit from a structured MBCT (mindfulness-based cognitive therapy) group intervention and the improvements were maintained at six-week follow-up.”

Keep teachers apprised
If your child has special needs, advocating for him and his education is probably nothing new. Make sure your child’s teachers and therapists are aware of your child’s behavioral, intellectual and physical challenges and work with them to devise a viable plan to deal with them. If possible, meet with your child’s teachers and therapists before the start of the school year, so plans are in place before he begins school.

Address your child’s class
If your child is mainstreamed, and only if she agrees to it, consider making a presentation to her classmates about her disability. If she is able, your child may want to make the presentation herself, or may join you in making it. The Pacer Center finds “one of the best ways to teach children about a disability is to talk to them at school.” In fact says Pacer, “for many families, presenting at school is an annual event.” Presentations can include discussion of why your child may look different from her classmates; the ways in which your child is similar to her classmates; and tips on how classmates can interact with your child, says Pacer. Stigma and bullying are frequently the result of ignorance and fear. Once other students understand your child’s disability, they may be more inclined to befriend her, and less inclined to bully or exclude him.

Find help
If despite your best efforts your child’s anxiety continues to be a problem, don’t hesitate to seek help. Counseling and in some cases, medication, can make all the difference when it comes to controlling your child’s anxiety and easing the transition into the new school year.

 

 

 

Special Education Classroom Necessities Part 2 – Circle Time

Student with Special Ed Teacher using Big Talk Triple Play during Circle Time

The second installment of our series on outfitting your special education classroom will focus on toys that enhance young students’ experiences with “circle time.”

The importance of circle time cannot be underestimated. According to Judith Colbert, Ph.D., reporting for Earlychildhood News.com, “circle time fosters a sense of community.” What’s more, circle time has great value to participants regardless of their developmental level, verbal or physical capabilities.

“…Each child, regardless of ability, can experience a feeling of belonging to the group during circle time,” writes Colbert in Earlychildhood News.com’s Ask the Experts: “Circle Time: A Tool for Supporting Children’s Development.”

During circle times, children also practice listening, communication and socialization skills. Enabling Devices develops communication devices and adapts many toys that are ideal for facilitating these skills during circle times. Here is a sampling of some of our favorites:

Big Talk Triple Play (#4202W)
Our sequential communicator allows a child to be the day’s leader during circle time. Multiple recordable messages allow the student to introduce the day and date, review the weather, and say good morning to everyone in the circle. Great for encouraging children with speech impairments to participate in classroom activities.

 Lighted Vibrating Mirror (#358-M)
Children love to take turns looking at themselves and then passing this multisensory mirror around the circle. Designed with two handles so it’s easy to grasp, the mirror offers visual and tactile stimulation while it encourages grasping and increases hand and finger strength.

Music Machine (#703)
Another great option for circle time, our music machine includes a variety of instruments including cluster bells, castanets, jingle bells and drum sticks. Just attach whatever instrument the class chooses, add a single switch and give each child an opportunity to make beautiful music. Great for developing auditory skills, teaching cause and effect, as well as music appreciation, this toy is ideal for children who cannot grasp instruments on their own for long periods of time.

Ring Around Bells (#23)
Let each child in the circle take a turn making this switch-activated toy’s colorful, precision-tuned bells twirl and play the musical scale while its multicolored LEDs blink. This toy encourages listening and grasping and increases eye hand coordination, all while teaching children to appreciate music.

 Bongo Drums (#756)
Equipped with two capability switches, our bongo drums can be played by two children in the circle at once. Pass it around so that every child has the chance to practice sharing, cooperation and listening skills while learning cause and effect and music appreciation.

Vibrating Animal (#9300W)
Is one child in the circle having a hard day? Our vibrating animal will help him to relax so he can attend to whatever’s being taught during circle time. Alternatively, pass the vibrating plush bunny rabbit or seal around the circle so that everyone can enjoy the tactile stimulation and calming effect of holding this soft, cuddly friend!