Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Life Skills Scavenger Challenge

Our summer boredom buster today was a "life skills scavenger hunt".  I spent a bit of time researching "scavenger hunts" and found quite the range of things people scavenge.  Wanting the kids to have fun and practice various community life skills I came up with my own list of ideas.  Some of the challenges were serious skill practice and others were thrown in for fun.

During the week, I talked up the scavenger hunt to build interest and excitement (and maybe a touch of nervousness) I would give examples from the various "hunts" I had researched not ever revealing what they were going to be doing.  I assigned points for each completed task with the life skill tasks having much higher values and told them there would be prizes, as an encouragement to take on all the challenges.  One challenge was to "sing a song in public" and their Dad jokingly threw in his thoughts, saying "they would loose points if the public didn't enjoy their singing."

This scavenger hunt was a lot of fun and really helped build confidence in the participants while  doing the challenges.  They were able to work together on the learning challenges and just be crazy doing the fun stuff. Each person had a camera to document each challenge and came back with some fun pictures to include in their summer memories.  If you need something to break up the monotony of summer edit our "scavenger hunt" to fit with your community and goals then go have an afternoon of inexpensive fun.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Urinals are not "baby holders"

Public washrooms can be quite challenging for children with special needs even after they are toilet trained.  On the surface you wouldn't think it would be a problem transferring skills from your home washroom to a public washroom until you really consider all the differences between the washrooms.  In a public washroom everything is becoming automatic and extremely loud.  You have urinals that aren't typically in homes.  All these things can add challenges to the task of toileting.

Public washrooms are extremely loud and if you have a child sensitive to noise this can be even more frightening.  The toilets that flush on their own are scary for children, heck it can be startling for an adult if it flushes while you are sitting on the toilet. From that scare you move on to the automatic sink where you have to place your hands in just the right position to get the water to run.  Finding the right spot can be a challenge for a child that is coming at the sink from a different angle than an adult.  Then there is the automatic paper towel dispenser or the automatic hand dryers - some of these dryers have such force that it feels like your skin is coming off and the noise is horrendous.

Another issue we recently had is with urinals, having boys that trained extremely late in their life and with the need to sit (and their toileting mainly done with females) they haven't had many opportunities too see or use urinals.  On a recent dinner outing I asked my husband to take our son to the toilet, he said "our son's oldest brother was in there he would be fine".  Our boys come back to the table and our oldest, trying to keep a straight face says his little brother needs lessons on how to use an urinal.  Somehow our son was able to climb himself up onto the (tall) urinal and was seated, preparing to do his business when his brother realized he was there.  Fortunately big brother was able to relocate his brother to the toilet before the automatic flushing of the urinal began and his brother was sprayed down.

We have also had issues with the urinals in port a potty's.  I just assumed that the children (especially the ones adopted at an older age) knew that one part was a urinal and the other part was the toilet.  Never in my wildest dreams did I think a child would mistake the urinal and the odor puck as a sink and a bar of soap or a baby holder or a purse holder.  (All true examples)

It wasn't until we started raising children with special needs that it became apparent that you need to teach things that you would commonly take for granted and you might need to reteach over and over.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Bald eagles, blue herons and an unintended dunk in the ocean

Today my husband and I spent the day with friends kayaking.  Our friends were in town visiting, with their other friends and asked us to join them for a day on the ocean.  Getting out without kids and spending time with adults is very important however quite often is one of the first things to go when busy with children and day to day life.  We were kayaking in a bay which was beautiful with lots of wildlife including bald eagles and blue herons.  Later we stopped briefly on a very small island and then continued on, stopping at the "point" for the lunch.

After lunch we ventured out into the open ocean which was not our smartest move.  The water was very rough between the waves and the wake from much larger boats.  My sweet hubby helped launch the 5 of us and when he went to launch himself a large wave came, dumping the kayak and him into the ocean.  Fortunately he fared much better than his cell phone, that had most of the pictures from the day.  Once he righted himself and the kayak we made our way into the open seas which made for very difficult paddling.

Overall it was a great day and a much needed break from day to day life.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Successful summer barbecue's and children with special needs

We recently attended a multi family barbecue, these types of events can be challenging when you have kids with social and behavioural challenges.  At this barbecue the adults were expected to sit and visit while the kids ran around and played.  The majority of children at this event appeared to function typically which could have made our socially challenged children stand out even more if we didn't do some pre-planning before the event.
              Family and Friends Barbecue Time!

For this particular event we brought chalk, bubbles and a couple soccer balls knowing that there wasn't going to be any activities for the children other than running around and hanging out.  Play that is unstructured breeds trouble for some of our children with social and behavioural challenges.  By planning ahead of time and bringing some activities this gave our children a more structured activity, that appeared appropriate and was open enough to draw the other children at the event to join in.

We also had a couple of our higher functioning adult children attend with us and they had agreed ahead of time to take turns with us overseeing the younger children.  When overseeing the children, as their challenges are severe and ages young, we will play with them, encouraging others to join in.  When the game or activity is underway, we (the adult) will take a break, as the game continues and our children are given chances to interact still in a supported manner. Having 4 adults present to oversee the 10 that struggle we were able to take turns mingling with the adults and enjoy the barbecue.  If we did not have adult children available we would have hired a babysitter to attend with us, so we as adults can enjoy the event also.

As nothing brings out bad behaviour like a "starved" child, that can't find any food on the table that they are comfortable with,  we always feed them prior to arriving at the barbecue.  By feeding them before arriving, they are better able to wait for the food to be served and for their turn in line.  Also as this was a potluck event we brought an item that our children enjoy eating and made sure that we brought enough for others to enjoy also.

Before arriving we also told the children that we wouldn't be staying that late as we needed to stop at the store.  The "stop" was a pre planned exit strategy should any behaviours get out of hand and it was also a preventative measure shortening the stay for success.  We find having short stays that the children have a better chance at success and it is much more enjoyable leaving early, than leaving with someone kicking and screaming.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Duct tape and cats don't mix.....keeping special needs adults busy

Keeping our 18 and 19 year old children with significant special needs busy for the summer has taken a lot of planning on our part.  If not pushed and encouraged to do something one would sit and stare at the walls all day long and the other would be getting into all kinds of trouble.  There is the added challenge, that although they are both adults, neither function anywhere near their age.

Obtaining employment is not an option for either, at this time in their lives so it takes some creative planning.  Both will be continuing with high school come September in a life skill program.

We are fortunate enough to have a wonderful respite person who takes the 2 children out twice a week 5 for 5 hours each day.  During this time they are learning/practicing life skills.  They have been learning how to use the public transit system, they are learning budgeting and shopping skills, and social skills.  During this time they have been to museums, tourist attractions, hiking, shopping, the library, etc.  They are expected to plan and prepare for each activity.  Both are expected to pack their own lunch before their outing and this has been a huge learning curve for both.

At home we have been encouraging learning and teaching hobbies that will keep them busy and hopefully teach them some skills that may carry over as ongoing hobbies.  The hobbies are simple ones as their abilities are challenged.  Pinterest has been a huge help in finding activities to keep them busy.  Both have a raised garden bed that they are caring for, our son has been building all kinds of creations with Lego and our daughter is trying to learn how to play the guitar.

Today we have been making Duct tape wallets, we found directions here.  Both were kept busy for a couple hours making their first wallet.  The older of the 2 was getting frustrated with the stickiness of the tape (so was the cat that always wants to participate) and the other enjoyed this task so much that he made another.  They did some gardening, caring for their garden beds.  And later in the day they baked some chocolate chip cookies with supervision.

People with special needs need a lot of teaching and re teaching and it is helpful if this happens in an enjoyable way that doesn't feel like work.  We continue to search out activities that keep them active and productive while building on their skills.  Do you have an activity/hobby that may be of interest to them?  Please share.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Really I am not a HOARDER

We are prepping our house for renovations that will be starting in August.  I never thought of myself as a "hoarder" but as we are going through things decluttering, organizing and moving items out of the way,  for the first phase of the renovations I am beginning to think maybe I am.  Not a "hoarder" in the extreme sense of the ones on TV but there is just so much stuff and organizing during a heat wave isn't helping.

Having a large family you do require multiples of many items to accommodate everyone's needs, for example when camping we require 20 sleeping bags, multiple inflatable mattresses, multiple coolers for packing food, etc.  Different sports require equipment times 20 and the list goes on whatever we do we do times 20.  All of these things need to be stored when not in use making us look like hoarders.

Also because we have continued to adopt and currently have children ranging from 2-25 we have equipment, toys and stuff for every age group.  A lot of the toys have been passed down over the years, plus new ones added only getting rid of things as they wear out or break.  We also have all the homeschooling materials we have collected schooling 8 children for the last 4 years.  The list just goes on and on.

We are trying to organize ourselves so as the renovations happen, hopefully we will have living space that is still functional.  With the children's needs and for my sanity we need clutter free, safe areas to continue our day to day life.  In order to help with this we have the renovations happening in phases, hoping one phase is complete and livable before the next one starts.  We have also rented a storage locker to store the displaced items while the renovations happen.  Stay tuned to see if my sanity can be maintained during these renovations.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Tin foil on the windows....helping in a heat wave or warding off aliens!

We are currently experiencing a heat wave with temperatures in the mid 30's and it's expected to be even hotter today.  I don't know about you but I don't do well in the heat and some of my children do even worse.  For my seizure challenged children the extreme heat has been triggering more seizures so we are trying everything to keep them cool.  This means that they aren't able to play outside past 10:00 am and we are trying to keep them happy inside a darkened house that seems similar to a cave.  We do not have central air conditioning, we do have a couple portable air conditioners for their rooms and multiple fans.

6 Ways to keep your home cooler in a heat wave

Close your windows!  If it is hotter outside or expected to get hotter close up your windows before the sun hits your house.  This will keep the cool air in and the hot air out.  In the evening when the temperature cools open the windows to cool your home off.

Close your curtains, drapes or blinds to provide another barrier blocking the hot sun.  We also put aluminum foil on all our southern exposed windows to reflect the hot sun away.  This does make it look like we are trying to ward off aliens and does make it dark inside but works better than the curtains alone.  After hanging the foil, my very smart adult son, told me emergency blankets work the same but you can see through them from the inside.

Close doors/vents to rooms that you won't be in so you can focus on keeping cool the necessary living space.  If you have a portable air conditioner they can be used more effectively in a smaller location.

Turn on your furnace fan, most furnaces have a summer/winter switch for recirculating the air in summer months without heat.  This is a good way to circulate the cool air from the basement throughout the house.

If you have ceiling fans ensure that the fan is blowing downwards in the summer to cool you (upwards in the winter to circulate warm air).  Fans do not cool the air but they do cause a breeze making you feel cooler and aid in recirculating the air from cooler parts of your home.  Portable fans are good for blowing on you creating a breeze and when the temperature outside is cooler for drawing the cool air in.  You can put a block of ice in front of your fan creating a cooler breeze but you need to be careful not to raise the humidity in the room to much as it can make you feel warmer.

Turn off any unnecessary lights and use stove/oven, dishwasher, washing machine and dryer in the evening when cooler - all these appliances generate more heat so avoid use if you are able too.

Friday, 11 July 2014

Re-homing, hmmm

Recently in the news I have been reading how a US senate subcommittee will hear how the federal government can stop parents from transferring custody of their adopted children to strangers met on the internet.  This hearing is a response from a Reuters investigation into "private re-homing" were desperate parents are soliciting new families for their children.  article here

In the original Reuters investigation it tells of struggling parents, who felt they could no longer parent their child and resorted to the internet searching for anyone willing to take on raising their child.  In most cases these children had been originally adopted from overseas, however their were some adopted locally and some birth children.

I am a member of a few adoption and special needs related groups and this topic has been a very hot discussion.  Some people are appalled and ready to attack the parents who would consider taking this kind of action.  Others feel compassion for the parents/families realizing the limited supports available to struggling families.  All are concerned for the child's safety.  Some are blaming the adoption agency for lack of preparation and post adoption support.  Some are blaming the government for lack of timely support, if any support.  The opinions vary depending on where the adoption or parenting journey has taken each individual.

The part I struggle with, is the original investigation only focused on the most negative extreme cases, and yes something must be done to prevent any child from having to endure the abuses these children went through.  Not all "re homing" results in abuse and negative extremes in fact it can be a very positive result for all involved.  If there is an adoption break down and the child is placed into foster care is that not the child getting a "new home".  In any situation, birth families, adoptive families, foster families and re homing situations, there are exceptional families, horrid families and many in between.

I do not feel that having a "law" in place to restrict "re homing" is enough to protect children.  The families that went to these extremes (as discussed in the article) in placing their child felt that they had no other option, so if we take away this option, what is left? Families need support in order to raise and protect the children they have been blessed to care for and as a society we all need to step up and support one another.  We need education and support groups, both pre and post adoption, so that we are ensuring that people have the knowledge of what they are taking on.  We need easily accessible support and education for the parents parenting children with special needs. We need professional support that is available both in a timely fashion and easily accessible when the challenging behaviour begins, for both the child and the family.  We need non judgmental support when a person makes the very hard decision that they just can't do it and that their child deserves better.

I encourage each and everyone to reach out and be that person too offer support to struggling families. Help these families get the support they need so they are able to parent their child.  Be the voice advocating for support for your friends and families that are struggling.   If you know of someone that feels they must give up their child help them to find the safest, best possible situation for the child.  If you are the person struggling reach out and ask for help, sometimes it is as simple as asking.

Monday, 7 July 2014

On their own track....Childhood development

This weekend we had the privilege of caring for our granddaughter while her parents had some time to themselves.  We all had a great time playing, cuddling and interacting with her on her visit.  Her many Aunts and Uncles from our family are always excited to play with her when she visits.  Her 2 year old uncle is always extremely attentive to her every need when she is around and you can just see that when she is a bit more mobile the 2 of them will be into so much mischief together.

Our granddaughter is 8 months old and appears to be developing on track.  Raising many children with intellectual and developmental disabilities it is important to be around children that are developing typically.  Each child should progress according to their own abilities, and each step is a cause for celebration however it is helpful knowing which ability is delayed and which ones typically happen next.  Knowing and refreshing yourself with typical milestones is beneficial so when you speak with medical professionals and therapists you can gain support for your child.  Sometimes, not with my granddaughter because she is "perfect" but with "other" peoples kids you will see typical developmental behaviours that make you happy that your child hasn't yet met that milestone.  You know the ones - whining, tantrums, defiance, teenage aghast, etc.

It is important to identify developmental delays early so that treatment can minimize the effects of the problem.  In our family with many children with significant delays our 2 year old appears miles ahead of his siblings however when with other peers you can see he also has fairly significant delays.  If we did not keep current with what is typical development this could have been easily over looked.

Learning the stages of childhood development helps you respond to your child better and you can arrange your child's environment in a way to promote further development.  For some of our children we have had to "baby proof" their environment but this had to be more extreme because of their age and size.  A 18 year old functioning as a 2 year old still needs a safe environment however they can get into a whole lot more than a 2 year old that is only 2 1/2 feet tall.

It is helpful knowing where your child's development is in comparison to their age so that you are gently pushing for more but not expecting way more than they are capable of.  A 19 year old typically is capable of being left home alone but if that 19 year old is functioning at a 6 year old level you wouldn't leave them home alone.

Every child is different and will develop at their own pace however it is important that they do pass through the various stages.  Keep informed what is typical, where your child is functioning and how to encourage further development.  Don't forget to seek help from medical professionals and therapists.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Working myself out of a job

It seems today that so many children are raised with their parents doing everything for them.  When my children arrived at college they were shocked to learn that their roommates do not know how to cook a meal, wash their clothing, make an appointment, etc.  Some of their friends even had their parents doing their college assignments for them.  I feel as parents,  it is our job to teach children these skills and many more.  When parenting any child I feel we are doing them a disservice if we don't start teaching them these skills as early as possible.  With children with special needs it may take a very very long time for these skills to be mastered so we need time on our side, so start early.  The more that a child is able to do the less you have to do for them as an adult.  This may be the difference for an individual with special needs being fully dependent to semi independent.

Start teaching life skills, as early as possible, as it takes longer for individuals with special needs to master skills.  Young children have a desire to do what the adults in their lives are doing so take advantage of that. In our family we do not "hold" the children back if they haven't mastered one skill but want to try another. If the skill they are wanting to try is to difficult then we break it down to smaller parts. For example we have a few that are not able to dress themselves however they are able to sort their dirty laundry.  Some aren't able to bath themselves but do wash "some" dishes. By attempting these different life skills the child is building new strengths that will hopefully help in mastering the deficits in their other skills.  I feel learning these skills are like "practical" therapy that will bring our children further in life.

 We have laundry baskets for dark and light colored clothing just outside of the bedrooms and have the children put their dirty clothing in the baskets.  Our 2 year old is able to put his clothing in the basket, he doesn't sort but has mastered putting his dirty clothing in the basket (and then pulling it out and doing it over and over because it is fun to him).  Building his coordination and strength. As the children get older they are able to sort their laundry between dark and light. Color recognition  When they show an interest (want to help) in using the washing machines and dryers we encourage that.  Have them put the clothing in or take it out.Gross motor/heavy work.  Show them how to turn the machine on.  We have a chart on our machine with step by step directions how to turn on the machine.  We have put color coded stickers on the machine so they can independently turn on the machine.  following directions, color matching, fine motor skills.  

When it comes to washing dishes we fill up 2 sinks and only work on dishes that are safe for them to handle.  They will wash the dishes and then pass them to us to "rinse/re wash".  While working on this we are labeling items and chatting.  fine motor skills, speech, sensory.  Putting cutlery away is similar in concept to a shape sorter which works great and is practical for an older child.  At meal times we teach them how to set the table and encourage them to clear their own dishes.  We have a picture of a place setting that the children will take from spot to spot at the table and then lay out the cutlery.  fine motor, matching

As with all activities, you need to ensure what you are having your child do, is safe for their abilities but encourage your child to help and learn new skills.   Spend the time now "working yourself out a job"  it will be more work for you teaching them but in the long run your child will be better off.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

All that matters is "they had fun"

The weather has been scorching hot here and in a quest to keep cool we headed off to the lake.  At our local park there are mini private beaches all along the shore line which is the perfect solution for us.  It probably took us longer to get ready to go, than we were actually able to stay, before the screaming melt downs started. We arrived at the beach and loaded the babies into the stroller, grabbed our towels, swimsuits, lifejackets and cooler packed with our lunch so we can find our "private beach".

As soon as we arrive at the beach we all eat our lunch which is not your typical picnic as we have many dietary needs. One child is on a Ketogenic diet for seizure control that must also be pureed due to swallowing issues and the "babies" (2 and 4 years old) require pureed food also.  Then there are the other 3 kids with swallowing challenges that are at a "soft chewable" level of eating plus a few of us that can eat a typical meal.  While enjoying our lunch I make a point of taking a couple pictures while everyone is happy.  After lunch the plan is to play in the water so everyone needs to change into swim wear.  The 10 year old is able to put on her own swimsuit with a few directions and the teens already had their swimsuits on.  Time to change the more dependent children - how is it possible that all 6 in diapers have soiled themselves in the 30 minutes since leaving the vehicle.  Diapers changed, swimsuits on and then their sensory issues make it that they do not want to go in the water.  The 4 year old starts screaming and throwing things for no apparent reason.  The 6 year old wearing his swim shorts without a diaper pees himself and starts screaming that he is wet (and doesn't understand how he got wet).  The 8 year old has a seizure, even with the diet and medication, (the extreme heat brings on seizures for her) that scares her and she starts crying.  3 are crying so 2 more quickly join in because they feel that's the thing to do.  Time for this beach excursion to end, we pack up quickly and get home before all heck breaks loose.

  Dad gets home from work 1 hour later and the kids excitedly tell him how much fun they had at the beach.  It is amazing their perspective on the day, it makes the effort worthwhile.  They don't remember the peed pants, the not wanting to go into the water, the seizures, the crying or the fact we were there less than a hour.  They remember going to the lake and it was fun.  Fortunately the pictures also show we were at the beach and everyone was happy.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Surviving Fireworks with Sensory Processing Disorder

Happy Birthday Canada! Today is our country's birthday and we make a big deal of teaching the kids about their country.  For the last couple days we have been doing crafts related to the Canadian theme, learning about Canadian symbols, singing our National anthem, reading books about our Provinces and doing puzzles of Canadian maps.  We have also been preparing for the Canada Day Celebrations which includes fireworks.  Fireworks send terror through many of our children who suffer from Sensory Processing Disorder.

6 tips for Surviving Fireworks with Sensory Processing Disorder 

Prepare your child ahead of time.  Explain in detail what will be happening, how it will look and sound.  Show your child pictures and/or videos of firework displays - YouTube has lots to choose from.

Bring Ear Protection.  As the loud screeches and bangs frequently set off those with sensory issues provide them with good quality ear protection to decrease the intensity of the sound.

Bring a comfort item, weighted blanket or fidget toy.  If a weighted blanket is beneficial to your child bring it so they can curl up under the blanket while watching the fireworks.  If your child prefers, have them sit on your knee and apply deep pressure (bear hugs, massage, etc) as this can be comforting.  Also a fidget toy may help distract your child from the intensity of the noise, making watching the fireworks more enjoyable.

Watch from a secluded spot.  Quite often the crowds are a trigger for sensory challenged individuals, this trigger can be reduced by finding a secluded spot.  The other benefit of watching from a different location is that if your child struggles you won't be distracting the other viewers.  We scope out a location ahead of time so our children don't even realize that we are at a "different" location.  By watching from a different location we also have the option of watching from our vehicle which can be comforting for some children.

Snacks.  When all else fails and it looks like your child is nearing the end of their patience give them a snack.  Chewing or sucking on food can be calming and is a great distraction.  A snack may just buy you enough time to see the whole firework display.

Be positive!!! Your view will feed your child's behaviour, so be positive even when you think your child is out of ear shot.  Encourage your child and praise them for their effort.