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!

 

The Perfect Gift for People with Disabilities

Young Girl with Christmas Present next to a Christmas Tree

How do you find the perfect gift for everyone on your list? It starts by reflecting on the unique likes, dislikes, interests and talents of each family member, friend and colleague. To simplify the process, Enabling Devices has created a system to help you to match gift recipients with the perfect gifts.

For the music lover
Make all her favorite sounds accessible with our CD Boom Box (#393). On sale through Dec. 24, this switch adapted device is equipped with a CD player, AM/FM radio and cassette recorder. If music performance is his thing, give him the Bongo Drums (#756). This two-drum set produces great sound providing hours of entertainment!

 For the multisensory learner
The Peek-a-Boo Mirror (#348) engages visual, tactile, and auditory senses with its mirror, music, lights, and vibration! A great toy for independent or group play. The Mini Dome (#72) is another great choice for multisensory play. This toy increases auditory, visual and tactile attention while teaching cause and effect.

For the visually impaired learner
One of our most popular toys and learning tools, the Visually Impaired Activity Center (#520) has the same features as its original sibling, but its bright blue tactile plate, pull-ball, and textured bright yellow oval plate makes it accessible to users who are visually impaired. The Musical Light Box (#200) helps to teach visually impaired users to identify shapes and objects, practice writing skills and create arts and crafts.

For the sensory seeker
Starry Night (#9117) provides calming sounds and twinkling stars to light up your room. Listen to birds, brooks, ocean waves and rain. Our Somatosensory Tube (#402) rewards the user with glowing lights, gentle vibrations and soothing music when you move the tube.

For the aspiring communicator
Beginning communicators will enjoying telling jokes, greeting friends or singing songs with the simple, easy-to-use Big Talk (#4200W) communicator, while more advanced communicators will find new ways to express themselves with the Cheap Talk 8 – 6-Levels (#2391W). This best-selling communicator has space to record 48 five-second messages on six levels.

For the artist
The Adapted Color Spinout (#3822) is a wonderful gift for creative people who enjoy making colorful designs and patterns with the press of a switch.

For the cuddler
Not only is the Vibrating Seal (#9300) cute and cuddly, he also gently vibrates. Floppy Bunny (#150) is almost as much fun as having a real pet rabbit. Just activate his capability switch and Floppy hops and wiggles his nose.

For the water lover
Children who enjoy water play will love Bubble Bandit (#2254) whose silly mouth blows bubbles galore! The Jellyfish Lamp (#3286) provides an exciting spectacle: two life-like jellyfish that float and sway in the water when you activate your switch.

 

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!

Bedtime Strategies for Your Child with Special Needs

Bedtime. It can be difficult in the best of circumstances, but for parents of children with sensory issues, autism or ADHD, it can feel like a losing battle. But don’t give up! There are steps you can take to have a better time at bedtime.

Set the stage for sleep
Make your child’s bedroom into a relaxing sanctuary. Turn off all electronics including TVs, smartphones, iPads and computers, keep lighting dim and use black-out shades. If your child insists on having light in her room, guide her to a nightlight. “Although it may be tempting to allow them the extra light to allay their concerns and fears of the dark, too much light is counterproductive to natural body rhythms that trigger sleep,” according to the folks at the Sleep Matters Club. “As darkness descends, the pineal gland in our brain releases the hormone melatonin, which regulates sleepiness. This function is an important reason why children should not be exposed to electronic devices or televisions in the hour before bed. Not only is the content stimulating, but the light from the screen, blue light, is especially disruptive to this process, inhibiting the release of melatonin.”

Be sure the room’s temperature is comfortable for your child. The Sleep Matters Club people say the optimal temperature for sleep is a cool 65 degrees.

Use soft, not scratchy, linens and put toys away to decrease distracting and overstimulating clutter. Clutter “triggers more excitatory sensory input, slowing the body’s transition to relaxation and sleep,” says the Sleep Matters Club. “A clean space has a decidedly calming effect, helping your child ease into sleepiness.”

Choose a reasonable bedtime
Taking into consideration your child’s age, internal clock, your family’s schedule and his school’s start time, decide what time you want your child to be in bed and ready for sleep. Not sure how much sleep your child needs?  Consult with this chart from the Harvard Medical School HEALTHbeat newsletter. Based on the bedtime you choose, determine when to start your bedtime routine. For example, if you want your child to be ready for sleep at 8p.m. – you may need to begin turning off electronics, running a bath, putting on PJs, brushing teeth and reading a story by 6:30 or 7.

Routine rules!
Getting your child used to a consistent routine goes a long way toward decreasing the stress around bedtime. Though routines aren’t created overnight, they’re worth building. Marci Wheeler of the Autism Support Network stresses the importance of a bedtime routine for children with autism. “A bedtime routine should be the same every day and should include activities that are pleasant and relaxing as well as special and individualized to fit your child’s needs and interests,” says Wheeler. Some activities that may work well “include looking at the same book or story each night, saying good night to favorite objects, toileting, bathing, getting pajamas on, brushing teeth, having a glass of water, singing a favorite song or prayer, listening to calming music that the child enjoys, hugging and kissing family members and/or engaging in a calming sensory integration activity,” says Wheeler.

 Lights Out
When the bedtime routine is complete, it’s time to turn lights out and tuck your child into bed. A weighted blanket, a night light with soft sounds, and a favorite plush toy can facilitate sleep. Enabling Devices has created a simple Bedtime Bundle that includes a light projector with soft sounds, a weighted blanket, and a soft vibrating animal friend. Learn more at enablingdevices.com.

 

 

Welcome to Our New Website!


For Immediate Release

October 30, 2017

Media Contact:
Elizabeth Bell
914-747-3070 X336 | 800-832-8697
Elizabeth@enablingdevices.com

Enabling Devices Launches New Website
State-of-the-art website and online catalog makes shopping easy and customer-friendly

Enabling Devices (formerly Toys for Special Children) is pleased to announce the launch of a new state-of-the-art website and online catalog. The re-designed, mobile-friendly site is accessible, easy to navigate, and features larger, sharper, multifaceted images of products. The new enablingdevices.com is also chock full of resources and multimedia product information and offers consumers a streamlined approach to selecting and ordering products.

Since 1978, Enabling Devices has been creating and adapting toys, tools, devices and assistive technology for children, teens and adults with a variety of disabilities. From the beginning, the company’s primary mission was meeting the needs of its customers and developing products that enrich their lives. Personalized customer service is emblematic of the company’s people-centered approach and Enabling Device’s new website was designed with people in mind.

“In creating our new website, we wanted to feature the people we serve by profiling some of our customers,” says Enabling Devices CEO Seth Kanor. “I wanted the website to show how our products make it possible for people with disabilities to reach their highest potential.”

Enablingdevices.com features clear yet concise product descriptions and online instructional videos that help consumers understand how products work and how they support skill development and learning. Downloadable activity charts and product tips help users to get the most out of the products they buy.

Product comparison charts (also downloadable) help customers identify the products that best meet their needs while online skills charts match products with users based on the skills they seek to develop.

Additionally, enablingdevices.com includes a blog with news and information of interest to members of the disability community, regularly updated lists of the best apps for switch users and people on the autism spectrum, and guidance for creating a sensory space in a home, classroom or office.

“It’s important that we stay close to the people and practitioners who use our products,” says Kanor. “We visit clinics and consult with the therapists who work with people with disabilities so that we can continually improve our products. As always, we welcome customers’ calls and comments, and whenever possible, are happy to provide personalized solutions. With the right tools, people with disabilities are doing great things and finding great joy in their lives. Our mission is to increase their joy as much as possible.”

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