AMC is Screening Alien: Covenant Sensory Friendly Tomorrow

AMC Entertainment (AMC) has expanded their Sensory Friendly Films program in partnership with the Autism Society. This Tuesday evening, families affected by autism or other special needs have the opportunity to view a sensory friendly screening of Alien: Covenant, a film that may appeal to older audiences on the autism spectrum.

As always, the movie auditoriums will have their lights turned up and the sound turned down. Families will be able to bring in snacks to match their child’s dietary needs (i.e. gluten-free, casein-free, etc.), there are no advertisements or previews before the movie and it’s totally acceptable to get up and dance, walk, shout, talk to each other…and even sing – in other words, AMC’s “Silence is Golden®” policy will not be enforced during movie screenings unless the safety of the audience is questioned.

Does it make a difference? Absolutely! Imagine …no need to shhhhh your child. No angry stares from other movie goers. Many parents think twice before bringing a child to a movie theater. Add to that your child’s special needs and it can easily become cause for parental panic. But on this one day a month, for this one screening, everyone is there to relax and have a good time, everyone expects to be surrounded by kids – with and without special needs – and the movie theater policy becomes “Tolerance is Golden“.

AMC and the Autism Society will be showing Alien: Covenant tomorrow, Tuesday, May 23rd at 7pm (local time). Tickets are $4 to $6 depending on the location. To find a theatre near you, here is a list of AMC theatres nationwide participating in this fabulous program (note: to access full list, please scroll to the bottom of the page).

Coming Soon: Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul (Sat, 5/27) and Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie (Sat, 6/10),


Editor’s note: Although Alien: Covenant has been chosen by AMC and the Autism Society for a Tuesday Sensory Friendly screening, we do want parents to know that it is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for sci-fi violence, bloody images, language and some sexuality/nudity. As always, please check the IMDB Parents Guide for a more detailed description of this film to determine if it is right for you and your family.

How to Protect Kids From Online Predators

Troubling research about our kids’ lack of online smarts and predators’ new grooming techniques to lure them. Advice based on studies to keep kids safer online and parents and child givers better educated.

Studies show that predators are using more subtle and savvier ways to “befriend” kids including pretending to be another teen or child as a means of forming a relationship. The purpose of this blog is not to scare you or have you overreact and pull the plug on your computer. The chance that your child will be befriended by an online predator is rare. But the news about two Virginia Tech students befriending and then luring a vulnerable 13 year old online only to allegedly murder her is so horrific and sad that it should make every parent watch their children closer and have a serious conversation about online safety.

But the Virginia Tech story is not isolated. Over the last few months a few parents have contacted me about their children who did encounter online predators. Two teen girls left with those men who groomed them online. Their parents are trying desperately to reunite with their daughters. Both families recognized the warnings I’m giving in this post – but only after I shared them. They urged me to post them. “If we’d only known,” they told me.

So, not to scare you, just to educate you and hopefully save you from the heartbreak those parents are now enduring.

An Online Predator’s Profile

The term “Sex Predator” is a universal parent nightmare. The term alone sends shock-waves through every bone in our body.

University of New Hampshire’s Crimes Against Children Research Center survey rejects the idea that the Internet is an especially perilous place for minors, but finds that the nature of online sex crimes against minors has actually changed little between 2000 and 2006. But we do need to stay educated.

We know online predators do exist, are a very real threat, and use the anonymity of the Internet to their advantage. Here is what you need to know to help your child.

A predator can be a he or a she, young or old, rich or poor, or any race or zip code. Law enforcement officers are noting a change most in the profile of the adult offenders. The proportion of younger adult offenders, aged 18-25, rose from 23 percent to 40 percent of arrests in cases with actual underage victims. The researchers hypothesize that the age shift may be a consequence of younger adults, who came of age online, and are now more likely to seek out victims on the Internet than elsewhere.

The Grooming Process

Regardless of age, predators have one commonality: they are master manipulators when it comes to kids.

Online predators rarely swoop in lure children or teens into quickly meeting at the local park and then abducting them. Instead, they build a relationship with the child online and slowly develop trust.

The actual “Grooming Process” can take several months in which the predator’s goal is to create a comfortable bond between himself and child. That bond is difficult to track but does give parents time if you are monitoring your child and your child’s online presence.

Research finds that one big problem is that kids can’t spot whether they are chatting online with an adult or a teen.

REALITY CHECK: 4 in 5 kids can’t tell age of person they are chatting with

In 2010 students from various ages took part in experiments designed to help researchers know how to create the right software to track pedophiles online.

The 350 children and teens in the study were from the Queen Elizabeth School, Kirby Lonsdale, Cumbria. The funded project was part of the Economic and Social Research Council/Engineering and Physical Science Research Council.

The good news in the research (and there is some!): the computer software did “significantly better in correctly working out whether web chat was written by a child or an adult in 47 out of 50 cases–even when the adult was pretending to be a child.” But some findings should be a parenting wake-up call.

What Kids Don’t Know That Could Hurt Them

  • Four in five children can’t tell when they are talking to an adult posing as a child on the internet.
  • Four in five kids thought they were chatting to a teen when in fact it was an adult
  • Students as old as 17 struggle to tell the difference between an adult posing as a child or a real child “befriending” them online
  • Overall only 18% of children taking part in the experiment guessed correctly as to the age of the “predator”

6 Messages to Keep Kids Safer Online

While there’s no guarantee that we can always protect our kids, research is clear that the more educated we are about potential dangers the less likely our children will be victimized. Children who are unsupervised, more vulnerable, lack friends, bullied at school are also more vulnerable to an online predator.

Beware: authorities have growing concerns about popular mobile messaging apps like kik, that allow users to remain anonymous and appeal to a younger crowds. Know the apps that are on your child’s digital devices.

You must be educated about online safety — and then you need to teach your child those lessons. Just keep tips age appropriate and remember that it is always better to bridge such a topic in short ongoing chats instead of one big marathon lecture.

A key point: teens say that “being educated” helps them be safer. You might want to review the research from Queen Elizabeth School with your teen.

Here are a few messages to weave into your critical parenting lessons.

1. “Never-ever-give personal data online”

Never give out personal information online must be your one “no budge” family rule. We taught our children that rule when they were toddlers (“Don’t give your name and phone number to strangers.”) Use the same rule with your older child or teen.

Detective T.J. Shaver of the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office in Kansas points out: “Predators often use multiple accounts to get information from children. In one account they get a name, on another, they will obtain school information and activities. On a third they will get the child to talk about their hobbies.” Withholding personal data makes it difficult for a predator to befriend a child.

2. “Do not post photos divulging identity and interests”

One way predators try to build “trusting” with a child is by trying to establish that they “share” similar interests. So predators often search profiles and read emails and chat rooms to gather information about the child’s actual interests or passions and then convince the child that they have a lot in common: Tell your child to never post photos divulging such information. (Such as a kid wearing a hockey jersey. “Hey, I love to play hockey. Do you?” A picture of her with her favorite handbag. “I love Coach bags. What about you?” A t-shirt wearing bearing his school colors, name or mascot,)

3. “I will be supervising that computer”

Do NOT give free reign on that computer. Predators pick up on little cues that certain kids are not supervised – which means easier access for them. (For instance: the child is online for extended periods of time or online during hours when parents would be normally monitoring that computer).

4. “Be wary of any adult who wants to “keep a secret”

Predators want to keep their relationship with a child a secret from . their parent. A predator may also make a threat to the intended victim if “he tells.”

Teach the True Friend Rule: “Would a real friend ever threaten you or your family with harm?”

5. “NEVER ever meet anyone you meet online face to face”

Period. End of statement.

6. “You can tell me anything

Stress to your child messages such as: “I’m here for you. We can work things through. I love you.” In case there is a problem, your child needs to know he or she can come to you and that you are always there for them.

Clues A Child May Have “Online Troubles”

The reality is that your teen may not tell you that he or she is cyber-bullied or approached by a potential predator, but there are clues. The trick is to watch your child’s reactions in certain situations. Each situation is different but there are some warning signs.

Keep in mind that the signs may not indicate a predator relationship, but should be checked out.

  • Does your child receive strange phone calls, mail or gifts from people you do not know? (A predator may send “gifts” to befriend a child).
  • Does your kid switch screen names quickly or cover up the screen when you walk by the computer?
  • Has your child set up other accounts recently to receive e-mail, texts, or Instant Messaging?
  • Does your child appear nervous when you (or he) goes to the computer?
  • Has your child withdrawn from normal activity and is spending more and more time on the computer?
  • Is your teen suddenly trying to use the computer during off times when you’re not there or in the room?
  • Does your child get jumpy or upset when a phone call, test, voice mail or IM comes in?
  • Is there porn on the computer? While your child may have put that up, do know that predators often send pornographic pictures via the IM session or e-mail or in plain envelope via the mail. (Check your mailbox!) Beware: A predator can also use that pornography that as a scare tactic to a child: “If you cut off our relationship, I’ll tell your parent that you have viewed pornographic pictures.”

Stay educated about the Internet. Know your computer. Know your child. Believe your child. And above all, stay in charge!

***************************************************************************************************************Borba - book cover -parentingsolutions140x180

Dr Borba’s book The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries, is one of the most comprehensive parenting book for kids 3 to 13. This down-to-earth guide offers advice for dealing with children’s difficult behavior and hot button issues including biting, tantrums, cheating, bad friends, inappropriate clothing, sex, drugs, peer pressure and much more. Each of the 101 challenging parenting issues includes specific step-by-step solutions and practical advice that is age appropriate based on the latest research. The Big Book of Parenting Solutions is available at

Kids Can Fidget in a Vidget: Seats that Inspire Natural Movement

Healthy movement. Healthy learning. Healthy minds. Healthy spaces.

As I explored many different topics for my MFA Thesis in Industrial Design at RIT back in 2009, my mind and soul kept taking me back to my childhood experiences and how connected I was to the mystery of nature. Living in a rental property in an urban area, I didn’t grow up around fields of green grass but what I did have, I treasured. My backyard was cement but in the front of our house, there was a narrow bed of dirt with bushes, probably about 3 feet wide. This narrow bed of dirt became my haven for exploration and inspiration. As I explored my feelings of nature, I was directed by one of my advisors to read the book, Last Child in the Woods, by Richard Louv.

While in nature, Louv points out that children will “use more fantasy play, and their social standing became based less on physical abilities and more on language skills, creativity, and inventiveness” (Louv, 2008, p. 88). As I thought about this, I thought what better place to impact children than the classroom environment.

Do you remember sitting in chairs like this as a child? When you look at this picture does it bring back memories of cold, hard and uncomfortable chairs that were too small or too large?

As a student, I remember feeling confined, trapped and limited. I had so many ideas, questions, and my imagination was wild, yet I was told to “sit down, be quiet and not to move.” I remember being very distracted, frustrated and, what teachers called back then, a “satisfactory & fidgety” student. Who wants to be “satisfactory? I wanted to be great, express myself and share my ideas and imagination; I instinctively needed to be creative, but the classroom demands took precedence over mine. I felt like I was different because my body needed to naturally move.

Not much has changed from this picture in today’s classrooms until recently. Reflecting on this time of my life, I remember wondering… could the classroom objects take on a “life” – that inspired natural movement we find in nature?

As part of my user research, I started observing classrooms from kindergarten – 6th. I found the teachers inviting and interested in my thesis topic, especially how to provide children with a way to move without too much disruption in class, finding that balance between control and natural movement. I observed classrooms using all traditional type chairs and alternative chairs that move like the exercise ball. While the ball provides proven benefits such as core muscle strengthening and better posture control, it is dangerous, disruptive and difficult for classroom management. Teachers were very reluctant to bring the ball into classrooms but at this time, it was the only “dynamic” seating device on the market.

Research proves that sitting for more than 10 minutes at a stretch reduces our awareness of physical and emotional sensations and increases fatigue. Playing, running, jumping and feeling a sense of freedom is not only a desire but a human need.

When children are locked indoors all day within a controlled environment, stress and tension build, and learning suffers.

I wanted to provide a seating device that allowed kids to move but in a discreet way so that it didn’t stigmatize the child with special needs. ALL children need to move, but some kids with ADHD, Autism and Sensory Processing Disorder need more movement. I needed to design something for the inclusive classroom or environment as a way to allow for more integration.

In July 2010, the Division of Adolescent and School Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued a research report, The association between school based physical activity, including physical education, and academic performance, to better understand the changing needs of students and teachers. Children’s’ bodies are meant to move, even if it is just standing.

As the ideas for the Vidget® started to take shape, I decided on the following design elements:

  • children feel safe to be free & explore (both physically and cognitively safe)
  • modular system that inspires natural movement.
  • fun yet functional with many possibilities
  • reduce feeling of confinement
  • inspire children & teachers to build their own environment based on individual and group changing needs
  • simple, inviting, flexible, and intuitive
  • organic, flowing

I used clay as a way to start building the form of the Vidget®.

As I played with the shape, I had the “aha” moment that if the bottom surface could be shaped like an arc, it would rock side-to-side, similar to the stability ball. I turned it over and realized the cut-out for the feet could be used as a stool and turned the other way, the child could use it as a desk! Now I was on to something very special and it met my design elements – safety as the first goal!

After several more full scale models and user testing – taking about 3 years and additional design expertise – we finalized the dimensions of the 5 sizes (toddler – teen/adult). We took our prototypes and started sharing with local school districts and parents for feedback and more user testing, especially parents with special needs children like ADHD and Autism who had a much higher sensory need. During this process, we learned that Special Education Teachers and Occupational Therapists put Velcro underneath tables and chairs for kids who have more sensory needs. We thought, how can we add this type of feature into the Vidget®? Another “aha” moment was to add recessed handles in the sides with sensory bumps on the top surface – kids fidgety fingers naturally find the bumps which provide a temporary sensory input some children need to promote calmness and focus.

I also wanted children to embrace the idea that a chair doesn’t have to be just a chair and inspire them to use their imagination. Parents and teachers are focused today on how to create “innovative thinkers” but they are still using the same old chairs and desks that are more of an obstacle vs. adding a benefit to the learning process.

In 2012, we were fortunate to meet the Chairman of our Board, Dick Kaplan, who invested in our company allowing the manufacturing of the Vidget® to begin. Since launching the design in 4th quarter 2015, we’ve sold more than 2,000 to parents, educators, health care providers and many more users across the country. We’ve attended 10 conferences in education and healthcare and received a number of positive reviews about how it is helping students in so many ways:

  • “My oldest son is on the spectrum (ASD, high functioning) and has ADHD. The rocking feature helps him stay seated but allows him to rock & move when needed. His OT even ordered two for her office! Great product!”
    Trisha, ​Mom
  • “Since incorporating the Vidget in our classroom, I have noticed an improvement in attention span, participation, and regulation in my students. They are happy and engaging in classroom routines and activities. The Vidget’s bright colors make it fun and attractive to use, and the kids love the versatility of the seat.”
    Tara, PreK Teacher & Occupational Therapist
  • “After only having the Vidget chairs in my room for less than a week, I have observed a noticeable increase in on-task behavior from students who use them. Students who sit in the chairs participate more and demonstrate greater self-management. I am extremely excited and grateful to have these “tools” as part of my classroom.”
    Dan, 6th Grade Teacher (integrated classroom)

Fidgeting improves focus, releases energy, and promotes calmness. Vidgets create a healthier environment by providing a safe and quiet way to release some of the endless energy kids, teens, and adults have. Teachers who have incorporated flexible seating in their classrooms have noticed positive results such as longer attention spans, less disruptive behavior, and higher quality work. And for special needs, fidgeting and movement helps children with ADHD focus and problem solve. So rather than tell students to sit still, teachers are encouraging quiet fidgeting to help students learn.

With the Vidget®, we are not just moving our bodies, we are changing the way we look at the learning environment. Creating healthy and flexible spaces that inspire collaboration, creative and critical thinking, is what builds innovative spirits and ideas. The Vidget® is just one tool that helps in the process.


  • If you are looking at seating devices that move for your special needs child, consider your child’s typical movement needs and ask the following questions: (Note: there are several seating options that provide movement, some with a lot of movement and others with less; Wobble Seat, Stability Ball, ergoErgo, and Vidget).
    • Does my child require sensory input
    • Does my child have issues with tipping back in their chair
    • Does my child benefit from being allowed to move naturally
    • Does my child have balance or mobility challenges
  • If you are purchasing a seating device for a school environment:
    • Consider getting a couple different models to try. For schools, we encourage a universal design approach by offering several options to let the student decide based on needs.
    • When having students choose their seats, be sure that legs are 90 degrees when seated and feet are flat on the ground. It’s estimated that 83% of students are sitting in chairs that are not the correct height leading to increased fatigue, poor posture, and loss of attention.
    • When possible, have different sizes in the classroom to accommodate all students as they grow throughout the year.

Should Your Child Take The New Fidget Toy Out For A Spin?

Fidget toys called Spinners have become a huge fad for kids. They all seem to love them. Meanwhile, most teachers and parents seem to hate them. In fact, Spinners are being banned in many schools. Some kids are crushed and some parents are furious. Where do you stand? Let’s take a look at Spinners and fidget toys in general and see if we can figure out this issue.

Old school types usually say, “Why are kids being allowed to bring toys to school these days? Why can’t they just sit still?” Here’s the thing – kids have always needed to fidget. They have been tapping pencils, wiggling their feet, chewing their nails, drawing on notebooks and countless other things since formal schooling began. Some of this behavior is expected by teachers, and they know how to manage it in their classrooms. But for some kids, movement is imperative.

Kids who have learning disabilities, or are on the autism spectrum, or have other challenges really DO need to move. It’s not that they are being disruptive, it’s just the way they are wired. Some schools today are getting rid of recess and PE, leaving these kids even less opportunity to be physically active during their day. This leaves kids with even more need to fidget.

Enter the fidget toy. A true fidget is not really a toy but more of a therapeutic tool. The first one I ever saw was an elastic band that was tied across the legs of a desk or a chair and the student could bounce their legs on the band. Some fidgets are much less physically active – putty has been gaining ground in classrooms lately. Rubik’s Cube is a classic example of a fidget for the hands, but it can be loud and distracting to the other students. Fidgets don’t all have to have a solution or an endpoint. Putty can be sculpted into something, but it can also be simply manipulated for the sensory input. In a classroom with an inclusive population, where some kids have special needs and some are “typical” as the term goes, can you allow some students to have these items and say no to the others? This creates even more issues in a classroom.

Enter the Spinner. They come in many colors and materials, and some even light up. They are very well named – they spin. That’s all they do. Some have one circle, others have three, and you can move the spinning bearing to change the motion and the sensation.

All people are drawn to spinning items, this is why there is a now a job called sign spinner, why children have played with spinning tops all throughout history and why pinwheels and whirligigs have been popular since they were invented in China in 400 BC (yes, I did my research). People on the autism spectrum are especially drawn to spinning items, so I could see Spinners calming a tantrum (I work with special needs kids and know first hand that tantrums don’t only happen to toddlers). But in reality they are just being used to show off the latest color or model and taunt the kids who don’t have them. They are also being used as weapons, to poke or spin on someone else’s skin. Eventually they will end up being thrown at someone. They do sort of look like Ninja stars, and many manufacturers have Ninja Star Spinners so clearly I am not the only one who made the connection – and some of those types look very sharp!

To see what all the hype is about I played with one. The key word is PLAYED – it is certainly a toy. If you change the heavy part to one of the outer rings it does have an interesting weighed effect, but I really only see the benefits for kids with special needs and/or sensory issues. I think Spinners would be useful for kids who stim, not necessarily for kids who fidget. You can find a good Spinner for that here.

Self-stimulatory behavior, also known as stimming and self-stimulation, is the repetition of physical movements, sounds, or repetitive movement of objects common in individuals with developmental disabilities, but most prevalent in people with autism spectrum disorders. It is considered a way in which autistic people calm and stimulate themselves. Another theory is that stimming is a way to relieve anxiety, and other emotions. Common stimming behaviors (sometimes called stims) include repeating noises or words and spinning objects. …Wikipedia

A compromise might be to establish rules for when, where and how Spinners may be used. Parents and/or teachers could brainstorm some rules as well as consequences. Maybe they can be used at recess but not in the classroom, or maybe if the class finishes the day’s lesson plan early they would be given some time at the end of class to bring out their Spinners, which might even encourage better classroom behavior. Perhaps they could be attached to the underside of desks so they can be spun out of sight.

While doing research I also found some Youtube videos that teach Spinner tricks which might get the kids up and active trying to balance, toss and catch the toy. There are also instructions for making your own Spinners, so break out the craft supplies and turn off the video games!

Child Health & Safety News 5/15: Cotton Swabs Can Hurt Ears

twitter thumbIn this week’s Child Safety News: Grandparents’ old-school parenting putting kids at risk, study finds

Welcome to Pediatric Safety’s weekly “Child Health & Safety News Roundup”- a recap of the past week’s child health and safety news headlines from around the world. Each day we use social media to communicate relevant and timely health and safety information to the parents, medical professionals and caregivers who follow us. Occasionally we miss something, but overall we think we’re doing a pretty good job of keeping you informed. Still, quite a bit happens every day – so to make sure you don’t miss anything, we offer you a recap of this week’s top 20 events & stories.

PedSafe Child Health & Safety News Headline of the Week:
Cotton swabs are a danger to your child’s ears

Video: How to Introduce Your Child to Sleeping in a Bed

In this brief video, NHS Health Visitor, Sara, discusses how to approach moving your young child from a cot (*crib) to a bed and gives some tips for success.

Editor’s Note: Video Highlights

  • child-moving-to-a-bedThere are no hard-and-fast rules for when to move your baby from a cot (*crib) to a bed – do it when it feels comfortable for your child and for you
  • From 18 months, you might find that your child is too big for a cot or is trying to climb out – that’s the time to move them into a bed
  • For some children, moving from a cot to a bed is really exciting and they accept it really well
  • For other children, they might feel a bit stressed about the change – so you might need to choose a calm time in their life
    • Challenging times for moving from a cot to a bed can be if you’re moving house, if you’ve gone back to work or if your child is not feeling well
  • You may need to move your child to a bed if you have another baby on the way – if so, do it about six to eight weeks before your new baby is born, to help keep your child from being unsettled with too much change
  • Once sleeping in a bed, your child might get up in the night and wander around, so be sure to childproof their room
    • Put a stair gate across the door
    • Check their room for any electrical appliances or wires they could trip over, any small toys or objects they can get hold of or any cord blinds that they could get tangled in
    • You might also want to put barrier next to the bed or put cushions on the floor in case they fall out
  • If your child doesn’t like the bed initially and they want to protest, just stay calm, reassure them, give them a cuddle, but put them back in the bed
    • You might find that you have to do it a few times, but if you’re consistent, they’ll soon get used to being in the bed
  • When your child has slept in the bed, or had some naps in the bed, praise them because it can make a big difference to their confidence and they’ll feel much more willing to sleep in the bed if you praise them for what they’ve done

Editor’s Note: *clarification provided for our US readers.