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ON Wed. Feb 9, 2022 MOONFALL is Sensory Friendly at AMC

New sensory friendly logoSince 2007, AMC Entertainment (AMC) and the Autism Society have teamed up to bring families affected by autism and other special needs “Sensory Friendly Films” every month – a wonderful opportunity to enjoy fun new films in a safe and accepting environment. Saturday, MOONFALL is Sensory Friendly at AMC.

Enjoy the magic of the movies in an environment that’s a little quieter and a little brighter. 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“.

Families affected by autism or other special needs can view a sensory friendly screening of MOONFALL on Wednesday Feb. 9th. Tickets are typically discounted 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).

Still to come in February: Sing 2 (Sat. 2/12); Death on the Nile (Wed. 2/23) & Spider-Man: No Way Home (Sat. 2/26)

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Editor’s note: Although MOONFALL has been chosen by the AMC and the Autism Society as this month’s Sensory Friendly Film, we do want parents to know that it is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for violence, disaster action, strong language, and some drug use. 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.

Products That Help Special Needs Kids Handle Tech Items Safely

Big Grips FramesThe good news is that there has been an increase in non-verbal kids finally finding their voices through IPads and other technology as communication devises. All kids, special needs and typical, seem to love using tablets, phones and other media devices. But let’s face it, kids are tough on stuff. Special needs kids – whose challenges may include fine motor skills, balance issues, meltdowns and many other issues – can easily break delicate (and expensive!) items. That’s where items like Big Grips Lifts and Big Grips Frames come in to save the day – or at least the screen.

Made of thick, squishy foam, Big Grips Lifts come in sizes for IPad, IPad Air and IPad Pro. Big Grips also makes stands so the devices can be propped up, as well as hipster cases for IPad mini’s already encased in the protective frames. The foam is lightweight, non-toxic, BPA free, lead free, latex free, Phthalate free, PVC free, resists oils and germs and has many more health and safety features. Colors include black, green and blue. The company offers educator discounts on their corporate website.

KaysCase KidBox is another line of fun, foam frames that help protect IPads and other devices. These products have a handle to make carrying easier. The handle folds back to act as a stand. The cases and handles are made of non-toxic EVA foam in fun colors like Pinky

Another benefit of these items is that colorful cases can help make going back to school at the end of the holidays seem more cheerful and fun. Also, kids who crave sensory input or need fidget items will enjoy squeezing the frames even when they are not using the devices.

Back-to-School Tips for Special Needs Kids and Caregivers

back to school pencils 2It’s back to school time! For some kids this is an exciting time – seeing former school friends, getting new clothes and prepping for an exciting school year. But for special needs kids and their caregivers, transitions can be challenging. Kids with social issues may dread going back to a room full of people. Other special needs kids, as well as typical ones, may not be looking forward to ending the summer days of play and going back to long days of work – and homework.

To help the child transition:

  • Get kids involved in school supply shopping. Let them choose notebook colors, lunchbox characters, eraser shapes and juice box flavors. This may help them get excited about returning to school. Even if you are annoyed by Annoying Orange, that silly face may make your kid smile. Also, check in with your child about food preferences – last year’s favorites may be considered yucky today.
  • Brainstorm lunch and dinner ideas. Some kids like looking forward to a special treat in their lunches. It also may help some kids get through the week by counting off until Taco Night, Spaghetti night or whatever food fits into your child’s special diet.
  • If safe, set up playdates with school friends your child hasn’t seen in a while so they can reconnect outside of campus. If that’s not possible, review pictures or yearbooks to see last previous year’s classmates.
  • If school hasn’t started yet, visit the school to refresh your child’s memory. If you can’t get on campus, just drive by. If your child is visual, make a map of the route to school or of the campus. Try letting your child “drive” to school on Google Earth.
  • Meet the child’s new teacher ahead of time. Or look up your school’s website and find a picture of the them. Some sites even have little bios of teachers. Help your child send an email or write a letter to the teacher.
  • Start school bedtimes and mealtimes a week before the first day if possible. Start earlier if your child takes longer to adjust.
  • Print out some worksheets or let your child play online educational games to get those brain gears engaged. If you can get a copy of this year’s reading list, visit the library and browse the books to get your child interested in the stories.
  • Play school. Let the child have a turn as the teacher.
  • Start a rewards system for homework, daily behavior, reading time or any other issues specific to your child. Get suggestions for rewards from the child for extra motivation. There are a number of sites that offer printable rewards charts for everything from doing homework to not picking their nose. You can also make your own as a craft project or print personalized ones with your computer. Or do the marble method (add marbles to a glass or jar, when a certain mark is reached the reward has been earned), paperclip chain or anything else that appeals to your child.

For caregivers:

  • Watch your language. Be sure you are talking up school in a positive way.
  • Be sure all medications, permissions and arrangements have been set up with the school.
  • Do as much as you can the night before. Here are some suggestions:
    • Prep ingredients for lunch and/or dinner. Dust off the crockpot if needed.
    • Set up the coffee pot. This is a big one for me!!
    • back to school bus 2Pre-pack lunchboxes with non-perishables.
    • Lay out clothes. Cut off tags or prewash with fabric softener if your child has sensory issues.
    • Check for signed forms, paperwork and homework.
  • No matter how much your child fusses, stay calm. Save your tears and frustration for when you get back into the car alone, or meet up with other moms for coffee after drop off so you can vent.

Instant Packets of Independence for a Special Needs Child

Today I taught my nearly nine year-old daughter how to make herself some instant Cinnamon Swirl oatmeal. It’s a simple enough task, but for a special need child who was never supposed to walk or talk it is a big deal on many levels. Just think about the many skills involved with the preparation:

  • Beautiful child hugging a green bowl of millet cereal favoriteShaking the packet without dropping it
  • Tearing the paper and keeping everything inside
  • Pouring the contents into the bowl and avoiding getting any on the counter
  • Adding a measured amount of water to the bowl (and only the bowl)
  • Stirring the oatmeal and water together with a spoon
  • Carrying the breakable ceramic bowl to the microwave while keeping the bowl level
  • Opening the microwave door
  • Setting the bowl into the microwave
  • Shutting the microwave door
  • Pressing the “1” button
  • Opening the microwave door
  • Gingerly taking the hot bowl out of the microwave
  • Shutting the door

Sure, for most of us this entire sequence would take less than half the minute it takes for it to cook, but a year ago my daughter wouldn’t have been able to do this.

Most importantly, a year ago she wouldn’t have wanted to do any of this for herself. She was perfectly content to have me run back and forth in a callback to my former waitressing days. Doing this for herself signifies a step towards independence. To me, this means that maybe one day she will be able to live on her own without starving to death. So what if she can’t quite spell perfectly, she can now make instant oatmeal. It’s the small victories that remind me of her quiet, determined march forward – which is not always so quiet and is usually less marching and more kicking and screaming.

How do you celebrate the small steps in your child’s life?

Eating Issues and Kids with Special Needs

The "I'm Not Eating This" FaceSo many parents and caregivers struggle with issues surrounding food, with special needs kids and typical kids as well. For some kids the issues are medical so they require a specific diet, or they have a condition than includes low muscle tone. For others it’s a sensory thing, so they will only eat crunchy foods, or white foods, or the rules may change daily. For other kids it may be a control issue, and refusing food or demanding certain foods can be the only thing way they feel they can influence their world.

Whatever the underlying reason (and of course there may be more than one at the same time), the issues usually fall into two separate categories; getting kids to eat more, and getting kids to eat less.

All kids need to eat healthy foods and get all their vitamins, minerals and nutrients. Supplements and nutritional drinks can fill in the gaps for both kids who seem to exist on nothing as well as those who seem to only allow junk food to pass through their lips. My own child survived on Pediasure for years, but we never stopped encouraging actual food and expanding on her diet.

Both types of kids seem to be fairly picky about their eating. Pizza, chicken nuggets and hot dogs may be the only dinners that get their approval. Buying or making the healthiest versions is a good bet, so that each calorie will be full of nutrients and not just preservatives and chemicals – but something is always better than nothing, especially for the kids who need to eat more. For those who need to less, veggie-covered pizza is more filling than plain cheese pizza, and a salad eaten before the all white-meat chicken nuggets may keep the child from asking for seconds. At my house we have a strict veggies first policy. We also demand that a second helping of veggies is finished before a second helping of anything else. But we are mean at my house (LOL). Sometimes the veggies even appear as an appetizer while my ravenous children suffer through the torture of waiting for me preparing dinner. It’s amazing what will get eaten when a child is truly hungry.

All kids can benefit from a little undercover food. Fruits and veggies that might be refused (usually loudly) can be smuggled in undetected in many ways. Of course smoothies are a great way to slip in lots of ingredients, as well as protein powders. Pureed popsicles are also good, especially here in the hot weather. I got away with steamed, pureed cauliflower added to boxed mac and cheese and shredded zucchini in marinara sauce for years. Sadly, as my kids got older they also got wise to my tricks. Zucchini muffins, however, are still a big hit.

I grew up in a house with a VitaMix, which is a high-powered combination of a blender and a food processor. This workhorse is perfect for making your own nut betters or flours if you have specific dietary needs. It also makes killer smoothies and soups, and can even heat the soup. Check the customer reviews for great usage and cleaning tips. Nowadays we have a Magic Bullet, which is great for individual servings and smoothies as well as some chopping chores. The Nutri Bullet is an entire juicing system.

Fruitn_Cheese_Snack_MixThere are ways to sneak calories other than veggies into food for kids who need to bulk up. Try buttering bread before making a sandwich, or pair a favorite food with a new one to expand the child’s repertoire so it isn’t overwhelming – there is something familiar and comforting on the plate. Stick with whole milk, cheese and cottage cheese even if you swear by skim. I knew a mom who always served sandwiches with dip – salad dressing or veggie puree. Added calories and a bit of sensory fun, too! Food presented in a fun way or in fun shapes may also get gobbled up easier than the same old sandwich.

Both kids who need to eat more and kids who need to eat less should be involved in the food in the house. Take a trip to a local farm or a local farmers’ market so the child can see, feel, smell and taste the varieties. Getting to choose an item may make it seem more appealing on the table. Gardening is also great and lets the kids watch the growth and maturation of the fruits and veggies.

There are food and eating therapists who use exposure therapy and rewards. I heard of one that had a cute, friendly dog in the room – if the child licked the new food he or she got to pet the dog. Her patients made great progress and the dog got a lot of attention! There are also eating groups where kids come together to try new items in a fun atmosphere. If there is a control issue between you and the child then he or she may have more success with food away from you. My child is a social eater and is more likely to try something new if we are out at a restaurant or at a party. Then I can observe what she likes and try to make it for her at home. It takes about 6 exposures to a new food before a picky kid with actually try it, sort of how they naturally desensitize themselves, so try to be patient.

A nutritionist can also help. There may be a biochemical reason a child craves a certain food constantly. Get allergy tests done, too, especially if your child is avoiding an entire food group. Again, for older kids, it seems to help to hear advice from someone other than mom.

Food issues can be frustrating for everyone, whatever challenges they face. Try not to make mealtimes a battle; these kids have enough struggles in their daily lives.

Got a specific question about your child’s eating? Post it below!

Disclosure: this article contains affiliate links, fyi after all, a girl and her kids have to eat. Also, I am not a nutritionist so I am not giving anyone medical advice. Check with your pediatrician for any dietary questions.

Special Needs Kids Are All Around Us – Please Teach Acceptance

Maybe I am sensitized to the topic, but it seems like everywhere I turn these days people are talking about special needs kids. Sometimes it’s sad, like the Canadian boy who took his own life, and sometimes it’s joyful, like the radio DJ who asked, “What can we do better to help kids with special needs in our community?”

Clearly kids with special needs is a hot topic. I hope this is a trend toward acceptance.

Additionally just this past weekend, U.S. President-elect Joseph Biden Jr. said the following in his acceptance speech: “We must make the promise of the country real for everybody — no matter their race, their ethnicity, their faith, their identity, or their disability.” What followed was a deluge of appreciation on Twitter – it was the first time a President or Prime Minister had included the disabled in their call for a better future.

Each time you see someone who is different you have a chance to teach your child that the person has rights in our society just by saying hello to them, holding a door open or even just smiling. Actions really do speak louder than words, and it may give you a chance to examine your own attitudes and prejudices.

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Editor’s Note: The federal funding law for autism, was renewed in 2019 for another five years as the Autism CARES Act of 2019. The original law was signed by President George W. Bush and the 2011 and 2014 bills were signed by President Obama and the 2019 law by President Trump. Total funding under the act should exceed $369 million by 2024 for autism research, services, training and monitoring by the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Health Resources and Services Administration.

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