Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Cheerful Children's Christmas Movie Giveaway....Woohoo!!!

As an added surprise from Nathan's Voice, we are giviing away a different Children's Christmas DVD movie every week for the next 3 weeks...starting tonight at midnight! Be sure to check back each week to enter for your chance to win...EXTRA entries available for those who use the "giveaway tweet button" and/or the "giveaway facebook share" each day during the GIVEAWAY!!  Good Luck to Everyone!

This is the 1st movie given away!!                             

                     Winner:George Mossey                      

 and then, starting Dec. 8th!                               

Winner: Kristin Nelson

                              and then,starting Dec. 15th!
Winner: Elizabeth Gorski

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

FREE Upcoming Parent Seminar!!

I will be adding a page to my blog in the near future that will be kept up-to-date on available training, seminars and educational opportunities for Parents, Professionals and, most importantly, special needs children.

Parent Seminar

Oklahoma Vision Development Center is hosting a FREE informational Seminar for Parents about how vision affects learning. Seating is limited so please call 918-633-9085 to register.

When?  January 26, 2012 7-8pm
Where? 4520 S. Harvard Ave. Ste. 100, Tulsa, OK

Dr. Monte Harrel's training is in development and children's vision. He has a passion for helping kids and educating parents and professionals on the options that are available for kids.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Autism and the Holidays

You know those Christmas pictures where the little kid (we’ll call her “Bobbi, circa 1968”) looks terrified as she peepees in Santa’s lap?  Just try to keep that image in mind as you contemplate that Mom and Dad’s idea – or the extended family’s idea – of what will be fun for the holidays may be a bit much for a child on the autism spectrum. 

Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or Festivus, the next several weeks come loaded with certain expectations that you may want to revisit in light of the reality of autism. 

We’ll start with some words of wisdom from Dr. DeOrnellas.  Fortunately, we seem to be going through another period in our country in which SIMPLIFY is the byword. More than just a catchphrase, simplifying our lives at this time is crucial to the well-being of our families – especially for our children with autism. This is not the time to be Super Mom or Dad. Keep things simple, only do the things that you and your children really enjoy, and allow yourself the pleasure of doing less.

Prepare, prepare, prepare.  Years ago, Dr. DeOrnellas introduced me to a wonderful resource:  Social Stories from Carol Gray.  If you’re not familiar with Social Stories, they are a wonderful resource. The goal is to create a story that tells children what behavior is expected in a new situation or a situation in which their behavior has been less than stellar in the past.  

For example, if you have to take your children to Great-Aunt Harriet’s house, you and your children make up a story about what they are to do. This should be done a week or two in advance and can be read every day until the visit.  Social Stories work, and they can be fun, too!

Social Stories can be as detailed and repetitive as you need.  For example, you can show your children pictures of the people who are going to be at the celebration, and rehearse greetings.  This serves two goals:  behavior training and helping to reduce your child’s anxiety.  You can look at a copy of the map and highlight your route and discuss where you might stop along the way.    You can also plan what familiar CD’s you might listen to in the car.  You can rehearse, rehearse, rehearse greetings and conversations.  This will also give you a chance to take note of what seems to be daunting to your child.

I’m going to let Dr. DeOrnellas take the wheel for a while, because what she has to say is so good:  It can go something like this…When we go to Aunt Harriet’s house, we use our inside voices and keep our hands in our pockets. We look at all the neat stuff she has, but we do not touch it.  We keep our hands to ourselves and we don’t touch anything unless Aunt Harriet says it’s OK…. You get the drift. Social Stories prepare children for the unexpected and give them the tools they need to stay out of trouble. Social Stories aren’t just for the kids, by the way.  It also helps if you prepare Aunt Harriet and let her know that Lulu does not want to be hugged, but Suzie doesn’t mind.   

It’s a great idea to actually put your expectations and concerns in writing and share them with your extended family, if they’d be receptive.  It’s also going to help you to clarify your own expectations.  Not sure what to say?  I have a great starting point for you.  More than a decade ago, Viki Gayheart wrote a “Dear Family and Friends” letter from the perspective of a child with autism.  It has stood the test of time, and can be found at  

Some of the tips include:

-         The holidays may be fun for many people, but people with autism find a break from their routine to be the opposite of fun;

-         Others should not be offended (or surprised) if the person with autism needs to take some breaks from socializing;

-         Many people with autism find it difficult to be touched, so exuberant greetings and hugs may not go over well;

-         Dressy clothes may present sensory challenges; and

-         What appears to be bossiness is actually an attempt to feel safe and in control

Author Gayheart closes the article with a plea for empathy:  I will find my place at this celebration that is comfortable for us all as long as you'll try to view the world through my eyes!”  I really appreciated this letter, as it forms a great outline for some of the major issues that we face when we take our act on the road for the holidays.

Keep surprises to a minimum.  This theme was echoed by my friend Bobbie Padgett, a mom of five, who also happens to be Mrs. Kansas 2012 (how cool is THAT?), who said, “I think one of the secrets to surviving, and if you are lucky, enjoying, the holidays with special needs kids is to stay as structured as possible. I always found that things went more smoothly when our kids knew what to expect. Grandma showing up as a "surprise" maybe isn't a good idea if one of the children is going to be displaced by it or if it's going to require a great deal of change. Being out of school is fun, but sometimes it can be challenge for kids who really need routine.”  Bobbie has lots more good stuff to say about lots of things, and you can find her at . (Tell her The Other Bobbi says hi.)

Let mealtime be peacetime, even if Junior has a grilled-cheese sandwich for Thanksgiving dinner.  (Or, for that matter, for every meal for the whole visit.)  Planning ahead when it comes to food is also a smart move.  If your child has a short list of things that he is willing to eat, you’ll want to bring lots of Those Things wherever you go. 
Granny may be very proud of her plum pudding, but Junior may think it’s just One Unfamiliar Thing Too Much.   I also need to remember that my child on the spectrum isn’t going to be too keen on waiting for mealtime when she sees Just What She Wants on the buffet table.  Social Stories can only take us so far, and she isn’t going to appreciate the social niceties of waiting until everyone has gathered and the preliminaries (greetings, saying Grace, etc.) are done.  Yes, I am training her, but it’s a much slower process than it is with other kids.  That doesn’t make her a bad kid any more than it makes me a bad mom.  (I’m sure, Gentle Reader, that you could point out so many other reasons, but I digress…)

This is yet another area in which the holidays aren’t the time to be SuperMom and SuperDad.  As Dr. DeOrnellas puts it:  Many of our kids on the spectrum are very picky about food. I was talking to a Mom yesterday who said her daughter only eats brown foods so she was trying to add a little color to her diet by putting purple food coloring on a chicken nugget. Holiday foods can be very colorful and full of things we don’t want our kids to eat.

If your child is picky or is on a special diet, please bring food for him to any gathering. These are his comfort foods and forcing him to “just try it” is sure to set a meltdown in motion. This is not the time to try new things. There are plenty of other new things going on. Also, and most importantly, please warn the hostess that your child is not going to eat the carefully prepared meal, the fruit cake, etc. Do not allow someone else to try to force feed your child.  That’s actually a great lead-in to the next step, which is:

Try to prepare friends and family.  You can tell folks in advance about the challenges that may arise.  If your child has a meltdown, it shouldn’t come as a shock to family and friends.  Spelling things out at the start is going to be a big help.  That’s not to say that everyone is going to be empathic or understanding, but it’s worth trying.  Aunt Ethel may think that you’re a lazy parent because your child is playing with Legos or watching a favorite video instead of socializing, but Aunt Ethel may surprise you with her generosity of spirit if you talk to her in advance about what you plan to do.

Am I the only one who does this? I doubt it.  This year, I actually started seeing Christmas decorations in some stores before Halloween.  (And, by the way, what is up with THAT?)  As the shopping season seems to stretch backwards towards Labor Day, I do my best to avoid getting too wound up.  Part of my strategy is to do as much of my shopping as possible online.  I don’t like the mall any more than my kid does, and this time of year, it’s a madhouse. 

I also make people laugh by starting to address my cards Ridiculously Early.  (That doesn’t mean that I finish them early, or even on time. Or at all.)  This also gives me the time and space to involve my kids in the process.
Know When to Say When.  Let’s say you’re traveling.  If you need to stay in a hotel so that you and your child can have someplace neutral to retreat to, go for it.  If you need to take two cars or to arrive for just part of the celebration, do what you reasonably can do and don’t feel bad about it.  If it’s time to just have a quiet holiday at home with your immediate family, enjoy the peaceful holiday and connect with everyone by phone.

Dr. DeOrnellas has more to say about this point:  If staying in a hotel is not an option and you have traveled 1500 miles to visit Grandma and Grandpa, you are probably staying in a strange (to your child) home with strange people. Work with Grandma and Grandpa to find a space where your child can get away from everyone. For example, set up a video and some toys in a study or unused bedroom. When your child starts to unravel, she can go to her special place to regroup.   And don’t be offended if she chooses to stay there for most of the visit. I’m jumping in to put this next part in bold because, to me, it’s the most important sentence in this whole article:  The way you will be feeling at the end of the visit (tired, overwhelmed, cross, ready for a nap, and ready to go home) is the way that your child feels the minute she gets on the plane.

Build in more respite than you think you’ll need.  If you plan on doing a manageable number of things with a manageable number of people involved, you may miss some activities, but that may be what you need to do.   I will bet you a dollar that you won’t be bored.  If one spouse can stay at the hotel with a child or two while the other spouse hits the town with the other kids and the relatives, that may work too. 

Consider autism-friendly vacation venues  As autism awareness has increased, so have accommodations.  Whether an outing is just a side dish to our vacation plans or the main course, it is wonderful to have some options.   In the U.K., for example, there are literally dozens of entertainment venues and vacation spots that are autism friendly. I was delighted to find the following listing:  There are also sensory-friendly movie theaters, and even Broadway is getting on board.  This Fall saw the first performances of an autism-friendly Lion King on the
Great White Way! 
Yes, this impacts the whole family; that’s not all bad.  In a post about last year’s holidays, blogger Brooke Potthast reflected on the challenges that autism had brought to Christmases past, and that, in retrospect, the “struggle and brokenness of autism” had, over the years, brought about unselfish beauty in her now-grown kids.  I was really moved when I read her post, which you can find here:   This is helpful to remember as we worry about whether our other children are being impacted.  Every gift has its costs, and every hardship comes with hidden gifts. I have found this to be very true when it comes to living with autism.

Consider a simple, quiet holiday at home:    We’ve talked a lot about going places and interacting with people.  You may also want to consider something truly novel and mind-blowing:  staying at home with Just the Fam.  As I worked on this article, I realized that this would be the most loving and sensible choice for my own family this year. 
Dr. DeOrnellas has personally enjoyed this approach: Everyone comes into the holiday season with their own ideas of how it is to be celebrated. I encourage families to sit down together in mid-November to talk about what is important to them. It is a good time to remind our children, and ourselves, why we are having these celebrations and what they mean to our family. I encourage each family member to name one or two things that they would not want to miss out on. For one, it is making sugar cookies and decorating them with Mom; for another it is driving around looking at Christmas lights or going to Midnight Mass, or singing carols, or buying gifts for families in need. Each family member has something that is special to them. Once you figure out what those things are, you can start to eliminate all the others. In our family, we were able to drop a lot of the commercial, retail aspects of Christmas (our holiday of choice). We don’t go to the mall or fix foods that no one really cares about. Instead of spending time and money on expensive gifts for each other, we now give small tokens of love and spend a fun day together playing games with our extended family. With the money we save, we “adopt” another family.

One reader, Venessa, likened a special-needs situation to life with small kids:  you need to face it realistically, and next year won’t necessarily be like this year. In Venessa’s case, she and her husband decided to spend several holidays at home with just the immediate family when her kids were small. After considering the car trips or airport nightmares (pick your poison), the sleepless nights due to disruption of the kids’ routines, the difficulty of accommodating special dietary needs on the road, it was just easier to have simple holidays at home, and it gave birth to some wonderful traditions for them.  When my children were infants, I was comfortable with saying NO a lot, and people mostly understood.  Now that they’re a little older, I feel like I need to explain when I decline an invitation, but the truth is, I don’t.  We have been sad to miss a couple of family weddings in a row because it would have been too much for our kids, but the extended family Really Does Get It.  They were kind to invite us, but they also understood that it would have been a disaster.   

However you and your loved ones spend your holidays, I thank you for joining me this month and I thank you so much, Lorrie Servati and Nathan’s Voice, for letting me be your Featured Guest Blogger for November!  It’s an honor for which I am truly thankful this Thanskgiving.

Bobbi Sheahan and Kathy DeOrnellas, Ph.D. are the wonderful authors of What I Wish I’d Known About Raising a Child With Autism; A Mom and a Therapist Offer Heartfelt Guidance for the First Five Years (Future Horizons, 2011). Portions of this article are excerpted from Chapter 3 of the book, which is available at and wherever books are sold. You can visit Bobbi’s website at and she would love to hear from you at You can also connect with Bobbi and Dr. DeOrnellas on Twitter: @BobbiSheahan and @kdeornellasphd

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

This Momma has the Privledge of Learning More About the Autism Spectrum

     Unless you have had the chance to read about us from the beginning, our youngest son, Nathan, was diagnosed almost four years ago. My husband and I have an older son besides the two older children I have from my first marriage. My eighteen year old son has enlisted in the military and goes off to basic training in February. My twenty-two year old daughter has blessed me with a grandson who just turned two years old. She is pregnant and patiently waiting to deliver my granddaughter about the same time her own brother is leaves for basic. It is an understatement to say that I am running around in circles, especially since I am trying to make this holiday season one for our family to remember.
     Besides being "mom", I am a substitute teacher and the PTA unit Treasurer for my boys' local elementary school. I am also an advocate for autism awareness, understanding and acceptance in our area. I have been reading RULES a book by Cynthia Lord to Nathan's 3rd grade class this year as a way to help them understand that everyone is unique and special. There is nothing I wouldn't do for my children. I am constantly searching for ways to help Nathan feel comfortable and included wherever he goes. With the support of his teachers, regular and intervention, he has made tremendous progress in the last three years.
     I began blogging six months ago and I have had the pleasure of working with many wonderful parents of children on the spectrum. My intention was just to share our story with others and have something for Nathan to be able to look back at when he gets old enough to appreciate the progress that he has made. I then added a few resources that I thought would be of use to those that took the time to visit my blog. I decided that a giveaway would be fun and as part of the "prize pack", I offered a Featured Guest Blogger spot. Not sure of what kind of response I would get, I tried to not let myself be set up for disappointment. This is how I jumped in with both feet and am proud to say I am glad that I took the chance to step outside my comfort zone! I don't have as much time to write as I would like but, having a monthly Featured Guest Blog spot and the fantabulous giveaways provided by sponsors, I am not as stressed to return to the late nights I used to keep inorder to roll out a story! Whew!!
     This last weekend I was socializing with the founder of a local autism organization on facebook. We were discussing the aspects of my blog and her website being linked to one another when she asked me a question that took me out of my comfort zone. I suppressed the urge to tell her that my son needed me so that I could escape and answered her question as calmly as I could. All that she had asked me was if I would be attending the annual Oklahoma Statewide Autism Conference. It wasn't something that I should be ashamed of but, since I haven't been working as much as I am used to, money was an issue. I had missed the first conference because at that particular time it was impossible for me to spend any amount of time away from Nathan and then the second one last year because I was fulfilling a long-term substitute assignment. I had received all of the emails about this year's conference but, had subconsciously dismissed the idea of going. It took this very special friend, that asked me if I was going to attend the conference, to make me realize that this opportunity to absorb all that I can possibly learn from so many experienced speakers only comes around once a year. With her persistence, I talked it over with my husband, registered online for the conference and applied for the Family Stipend that was being offered. The conference is scheduled for this coming weekend and I was afraid to get my hopes up but, I received confirmation that I am eligible for reimbursement of part of my registration cost, afterwards as long as I attend both days of the conference. Every little bit helps! SO, this momma is excited about going to the Oklahoma Statewide Autism Conference this Friday and Saturday to learn as much as she can to help her son and share with her readers!! Pray for my husband as he gets our two boys ready for school on Friday morning, drops them off at school, works and then remembers to rush to pick them up that afternoon...there just might be a story of their adventures, also! *winking*

Monday, November 7, 2011

Thanks for joining Lorrie Servati & Lorna d'Entremont on the Coffee Klatch!

     If you weren't able to join Lorna d'Entremont (@chewelry) & Lorrie Servati (@NathansVoice) this morning on The Coffee Klatch Tweetchat, on "How parents can prepare their child for a substitute teacher and how they can prepare the substitute teacher for their child" If there is something you would like to share, please feel free to leave a comment below. We appreciate everyone who stopped by @TheCoffeeKlatch this morning & shared with us! Please check out the post that titled Students with Special Needs – Substitute Teacher: Proactive Steps to Make it Work that Lorna has composed from the Tweetchat.
     YOU can join Lorna on @TheCoffeeKlatch every Monday morning at 9:00 a.m. EST for topics that are close-to-home with special needs. To join Tweetchat chatroom go to Sign In - put TCK in the hashtag box then click Authorize App - thats it you're in #tck

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The First Five Things to Do When You Learn That Your Child is on the Autism Spectrum

by Bobbi Sheahan with Dr. Kathy DeOrnellas, Ph.D.
Current statistics place more than one in every one hundred children on the autism spectrum. If you’ve just received a diagnosis that your child is on the autism spectrum, I have a few suggestions for what you might consider doing first. 

I was in your shoes just a few short years ago, and I am joined today by Dr. Kathy DeOrnellas, who helped to light the way for my family. Since I can’t bring you to her office – and I would if I could – I’m bringing her to you. 
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               Photo Credit: Carl Fields   
1.  Breathe. You can’t judge yourself – or your child, or what your parenting experience is going to be like – by your hardest day & I am here to tell you: the early days are the hardest. Remember, you still have the same child you had before somebody pointed to him and said the word “autism.” I won’t annoy you with the phrase, “New Normal,” (all right, I guess I just did), but I want to urge you NOT to make any judgments about what the rest of your life, or even the next year, is going to be. Now is NOT the time to torture yourself with the Big Questions about your child’s future.

Remember how clueless you felt when you first became a parent? Try to use that as an analogy now. You will gain the confidence that comes with experience every day, and autism won’t always be new and surprising to you. If you keep a journal, it will be easier for you to look back a year from now (or even a month from now) and see how far you and your child have come. It may also be a good outlet for you. 

In the meantime, if you don’t listen to me about anything else, please believe this:  it won’t always be as hard as it is right now. Sometimes it gets better, sometimes it gets worse (okay, even a lot worse sometimes), but the newness and the shock will wear off, and you are stronger than you think. When I am tempted to curl up in the fetal position with my thumb in my mouth, I quote Joan of Arc to myself:  “I am not afraid; I was born to do this.” Sometimes, I even use a French accent to make it more convincing.

2.  Reach out for useful information. Having a diagnosis can be useful because it points you in the direction of help. There are autism support groups in every city and in most small towns. There are even Special Needs PTA’s in some schools. The internet can be a wonderful resource. Autism Speaks has a 100 Day Kit that is an amazing starting point for the first 100 days after diagnosis.  In no time at all, you won’t be suffering from a lack of information; you’ll be wishing that you had enough time to sort through all of the information that is available to you. 
                                                Jomphong /

As you sift, you are going to become the expert on your child’s condition. Actually, guess what? You already are! Fortunately and unfortunately, every kid on the spectrum is a little bit different. You are your child’s first and best advocate, and your child is watching you and learning how to be a self-advocate. Don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself either—or to appreciate the wonderful doctors, therapists, and teachers who can light the path for you. I am so grateful that Dr. DeOrnellas gave us useful help from the very first time we met, and that she made it clear from the outset that she respected us as the parents and that she liked our child. Yes, it’s true, and I can’t stress this enough. There were times I joked that we came to see her just so someone would tell us that we were doing a good job that week. You, the parent, are the one who has the most opportunity—and, frankly, the obligation—to help your child for the largest amount of time each day, week and month, and time is precious. By the time you are in the office of a professional, you have already seen a lot and been through a lot. If you aren’t getting useful insights and practical help within the first few sessions, consider looking elsewhere. If you and your child aren’t comfortable with a professional, it doesn’t matter how many credentials he has; he may be a help for some other family, but he isn’t a good fit for your family.

3.  Take it one step at a time. If you are working with your child’s school or therapist, they are going to have recommendations about what to approach first. Safety issues are paramount. If your child tends to run away (the professionals call it elopement, but there’s nothing romantic about it), self-injure, be aggressive to others, or eat things that aren’t food (that’s called pica), containment and eventual modification of those behaviors is going to take precedence over attention-getting stuff like spinning, hand-flapping, meltdowns, or reluctance to potty-train. Help is going to be available for all of these things, and you will step through each door with more confidence as you go. 
4.  Take care of yourself. Remember the last time you were on an airplane and the flight attendant told you to put on your own mask first? Think of your current situation as a loss of cabin pressure. You are mobilizing while experiencing a combination of shock and grief (with gusts of exhaustion), so give yourself a break.  Truly. Reaching out for friendship and support is at least as important as reaching out for information.    

At first, your life may seem like it’s being consumed with therapies, IEP’s and stress. It doesn’t have to feel that way. If you have supportive friends, family, and babysitters, now is the time to ask for help. If you don’t, now is the time to reach out and find them. If you’re shaking your head right now, I understand. When our daughter was in the midst of the behaviors that led to her eventual diagnosis, we lost friends AND babysitters. There are people out there – plenty of them -- who will be willing to help if you ask.  

And while you’re reaching out, don’t stop reaching out to your child. Even if your child doesn’t want a hug – maybe he isn’t a fan of being touched -- don’t lose hope. Get hugs where you can, and know that you can work on your child’s aversion to touch and make progress with that too. In the meantime, you will want to be gentle to yourself. Getting extra sleep will do you a world of good. If your mom is willing to spend an afternoon at your house with the kids while you go to her house and sleep, go for it. 
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Photo Credit: Carl Fields
5.  Dance in your kitchen. Not a dancer? Well, whatever you do to be silly & make yourself smile, it’s time to do it. Knock-knock jokes? Hey, if they work, don’t knock ‘em. Laughter is great medicine & so are hugs -- with your child, your spouse & anyone else who will join you. Getting a diagnosis isn’t the end of your life, or your child’s. One of my current favorite bloggers is Cyn Huddleston, an adult on the autism spectrum, who has a great way of putting autism into perspective: she says it isn’t a tragedy; it’s a trajectory. There are a lot of us on this trajectory with you & it’s an honor to meet you.                                                                                                                           
Bobbi Sheahan and Kathy DeOrnellas, Ph.D. are the wonderful authors of What I Wish I’d Known About Raising a Child With Autism; A Mom and a Therapist Offer Heartfelt Guidance for the First Five Years (Future Horizons, 2011). Portions of this article are excerpted from Chapter 3 of the book, which is available at and wherever books are sold. Bobbi’s website is and she would love to hear from you at You can also connect with her on Twitter:  @BobbiSheahan