August 28, 2015

5 Tips for a Planning a Birthday Party for a Child with Autism

I am the mother of a 4-year old boy on the autism spectrum.  After some semi-successful parties, and one mother-of-all-birthday-party meltdowns, we finally had a truly successful birthday party for my son.  The guests had a fun, I was relaxed, and more importantly, Brandon had a meltdown-free, wonderful time.  This is what I have learned along the way about planning a birthday party for a child with autism.

1. Chose a familiar location

We are fortunate that Brandon's birthday is in mid-august, when the weather is perfect for a backyard party.  Two years ago, we purchased a child-size bounce house.  This year we purchase a child-size inflatable water slide (from Target) as his birthday present and we set both of them up in our backyard.  These investments have been well worth it; especially when you consider how much it costs to do a party at a typical facility.  Bottom line - pick a party location that your child loves and is already familiar with.  Or, if you do plan the party at an unfamiliar place, do a practice run first so your child knows what to expect.

2. Open presents later

Having lots of people in one place is a lot of excitement for anyone.  For someone on the autism spectrum it can be incredibly overwhelming   Opening all his presents while everyone is gathered around him is just too much.  By now our party guests already know that he's not opening presents at his party, so it's a non-issue.  However, in the past when someone handed me a present, I did explain that we would be opening presents later that night when things were calm.  That way people weren't hanging around waiting for us to open presents so they could leave!  After guests leave, we open a present here and there throughout the night.

3. Send out invitations a little late

By the time we invite all of Brandon's friends, our family friends, and our actual family, Brandon's birthday parties get rather large.  That many people in one place is far too overstimulating for Brandon.  This year I sent out invitations much later than I typically do.  Some people already had plans so they couldn't come.  This works out great because I didn't have to cut anyone from guest list (which I couldn't bear to do), and I can still keep  the attendee count relatively low.

4. No schedule!

I can't stress this enough.  Just go with the flow.  The party started at 11, and whatever happened at that point happened.  I just let Brandon and the other kids to their thing.  We didn't stop to do any structured games, move to any different rooms, or sit down to eat together.  I put a buffet of food out, and let people eat as they pleased.  It was very easy going.

5. Don't sweat not doing the "normal" stuff

This year we didn't sing happy birthday or even blow out candles.  If you don't have a child with special needs, this might seem sad to you.  It is a little to me, too.  It's not exactly what I envisioned.  But we special needs parents are hyper-in-tune to our children's temperaments.  It wasn't going to happen for Brandon this year.  He was keeping it together, but was a little tense.  He had a Yo Gabba Gabba Plex cake, so I just showed it to him and cut into it.  He didn't even want any cake until much later in the party.  He was just too overwhelmed.  I didn't try to get him to eat any cake or force him to come over where the party guests were.  it's his party!  I just let him do what he wanted to ensure he had a fun time.  That's what it's all about, anyway.  Besides, when he was ready, he grabbed a fork and dug into it himself!

August 20, 2015

Special Needs Day at the Fair

We had a Special Needs Day at the county fair.  It was free to families who have loved ones with special needs.  Although, for the pure joy on his face that I saw over and over, I would have paid anything.  Events like this mean the world to families like mine.  

Brandon did a great job.  He was upset the first couple times he had to get off a ride, but once he understood that we would get back in line for other rides, he was okay.  He whined a little bit after each ride, but nothing major...especially for a three-year-old.  He was three when we went to the fair, but TODAY he is four years old!

How in the world can my baby boy be four years old!?

Bumper cars are boring!

He could have ridden the roller coaster 100 times.  He is such a daredevil!

August 9, 2015

Interview: A Parent of a Child with Diverse Learning Needs

I recently did an interview with a student working on her master's' degree as a parent of a child with diverse learning needs.  I surprised myself at how much I had to say, considering my child is only three.  What a journey it's been so far...and it's just the beginning!

This isn't exactly riveting stuff...but this is our life!


1. What are your child's strengths/talents/gifts?

Brandon, almost four years old, has such a unite little personality.  He nonverbal at this time but we are hopeful that he will be able to communicate verbally soon.  I can't wait to see what doors open for him when he is able to express himself more clearly.  He is very adventurous.  He loves knee boarding (yes, he's only 3!), climbing, helping his dad mow the lawn, and indoor trampoline parks.

2. What are some of your child's challenges due to autism?

Brandon faces challenges with communication.  There are many ways we can communicate without words, but since his receptive language is also significantly delayed, communication proves to be extremely difficult.  Sometimes I don't know why he is upset, which escalates the situation because he gets frustrated over not being understood.  We can't always do things that typical families can do because of these limitations.

3. What are your experiences/beliefs/strengths/challenges regarding IEP meetings?

We currently have an IEP through our local public school system, however, it is for walk-in speech therapy services only.  Brandon attends a private preschool, although he does have the option to attend a public preschool with typically developing peer models.  I don't send him to a private school due to lack of confidence in our local elementary school.  The public school setting where I live only offers a three-hours-per-day program.  This is typical in the public school systems.  Since I work all day, I prefer for him to be in a school (rather than day care) setting for the whole day.  He needs all the help he can get as we work toward our goal of a general education setting.  I have been very fortunate in my IEP meetings.  The vice principal and speech therapist there have been very supportive.  I know there are horror stories about IEP meetings out there, but thankfully I haven't had any problems.  They have been incredibly receptive to every opinion I have.  I work to have wonderful relationships with all of Brandon's teachers and therapists. I tell them that I may be a little annoying, or come on a little strong, but it's only because I love Brandon so much and I want to give him his best chance.  This has always been appreciated an applauded.

4. What supports/resources have you found beneficial to you, your child, and family?

Before Brandon was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder at two years old, he was diagnosed with developmental delays.  So, he entered the early intervention system right away.  While we were in Tennessee's Early Intervention System (TEIS), Brandon had developmental therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy, and Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA), all at no cost to us.  Now that Brandon has aged out of TEIS, he receives speech therapy through the public school system at no cost to us.  We no longer have an official occupational therapist, although these skills are heavily worked on at his private preschool.  We are incredibly fortunate in that ABA is covered by our insurance.  Tennessee is one of only a few states who has yet to pass legislation to require insurance companies to cover ABA.  It's so disheartening..  ABA, whether provided by his therapist during his session, or by myself using the techniques at home, has helped Brandon more than anything on this journey.

5. What has been your experience with educational support for your child in the academic setting?

My experience for this question is minimal at this point, but what I can say is you need a great relationship between the parent and teacher so they can work together to help the child.  

August 1, 2015

A Rant About Hot Cars, Cell Phones, and Perspective

Devastatingly, there have been several news stories about children who are being left in hot cars - accidents and negligence.  I'm not even going to get into my feelings on the subject.  Trust me...I have them...but this isn't an avenue in which I spew ugliness, so I will just leave it at that.

I heard a public service announcement urging people to...well, just remember their children are in the car.  They made some suggestions; one of which was to leave your cell phone in the backseat.

Wow.  Just. Wow.

You may forget your living breathing child is in the car, but you sure aren't going to forget your cell phone.

The sad part is it's true, people following this advice might actually save some children.

It really makes you put your priorities into perspective.

-end rant-

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