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To Our Wonderful Readers…Thank You and Happy Thanksgiving!

PedSafe girls Square Button FinalThere are so many things we’re grateful for…but being part of your lives, day in and day out is one we’re especially proud of.

Our mission is simple: to do whatever we can to make this world a healthier and safer place for kids to grow up in…and as best as possible, to help keep the “ouches” – even the ones you can’t see – to a minimum.  To do that we support parents, and caregivers and teachers and medical professionals and anyone else who shares that mission.  If you’re here reading this – it means we’re doing something right.

Now it’s our turn to say thank you – to each and every one of you who is looking after a child – whether it’s your child or someone else’s – thank you for everything you do to keep them healthy and safe.

From all of us here at Pediatric Safety, have a wonderful Thanksgiving

Atypical Representation: Special Needs Is Out of the Closet

Recently there has been a lot of talk about diversity – in the workplace, in politics and in entertainment. Usually people assume diversity means people of different races being represented, but it also means people of different abilities. In the past we occasionally saw a lead character in a wheelchair or with some other disability but lately some shows are not only centered around a character with special needs, the cast also includes people with special needs.

The groundbreaking show Life Goes On featured actor Chris Burke who has Down Syndrome, but has been off the air since 1993. Glee showcased a multi-ethnic, multi-sexualitied and multi-abilitied cast with not one but two supporting actors with down syndrome, although the main character in a wheelchair was a typically-abled actor. Glee ended its run in 2015. Daryl Mitchell is one of the rare actors who has become disabled but continues on with his performing career. Speechless stars actor Micah Fowler, who like his character has cerebral palsy. The show’s creator Scott Sylveri based the show on his own family as he grew up with a brother with disabilities.

The Good Doctor is centered around a surgeon with autism and savant syndrome, played by Freddie Highmore who is neurotypical. The actor does know someone with autism and also heavily researched the role. His performance consistently gets praise as the actor always conveys the inner thoughts and feelings of an often emotionless character. The show staff includes people on the spectrum and advisors so as not to be stereotypical, and the show’s executive producer David Shore points out that the surgeon is a unique character who has these conditions and is not meant to portray autism in general. The show has just started its second season in network television.

The latest addition to this brave history is the Netflix show Atypical, which has just completed its second season. Created by Robia Rashid, it follows a high school senior with high-functioning autism who struggles to be independent and move forward in life. Although a supporting character is played by an actor with autism (Anthony Jacques, who is hilarious), the first season was criticized for not including enough people on the spectrum on the staff or in the cast ( the lead actor Kier Gilchrist is neurotypical). The show does have an “autism advisor” who is a special education professional and researcher named Michelle Dean. Ironically, many of the writers and directors are female so the show was doing a lot for diversity, just maybe not the special needs kind of diversity. The second season expanded the writing staff and the actors to include more people on the spectrum, including some young people in a support group. I was amazed to actually see a casting call for high-school aged people with autism. It is progress, but these are still supporting characters. (For a negative review of the show by an actor on the spectrum, check here)

It is encouraging to me that young people growing up and dealing with challenges are being shown possibilities, just as I am sure it was encouraging for minorities to see their own races being portrayed positively. I hope that all around them; in school, at home, in the workplace and on TV and in movies young people with disabilities are being bombarded with uplifting, inspiring messages. That everywhere they look, they see potential. They will never know their full potential unless they are given opportunities and the courage and self-confidence to take them.

Last year, Micah and two other members of the Speechless cast performed at a benefit for the institute that runs my kid’s school – a school that is based on inclusion. And they were wonderful.  Watching Micah it was clear – his disability didn’t rule his life – he was using it to inspire others.

To let them see…once more…anything is possible.

Should Special Kids Take Standardized Tests? Intelligent Lives

While you and your child might be excited about the new backpack, lunch box and outfits back to school also brings a lot of anxiety for students with learning challenges and special needs and their parents. Not only will they be subjected to homework and (gulp) tests, there is something else looming on the horizon – intelligence testing.

You have probably heard the quote “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” Usually that is credited to Albert Einstein, although it has never actually been proven that he said it. I hope he said it, since he didn’t speak until he was three or four years old. Ironically, being unable to speak is sometimes defined as being ‘dumb” and yet Einstein was clearly very intelligent.

Intelligence testing, standardized tests and many other official exams are often unfairly biased against people with challenges, no matter how many accommodations are provided. It is disheartening and degrading to the student and the results can be devastating to the parents. We know our children are struggling, we know where they have strengths and weaknesses but we also know they have so much potential. The data presented in cold, hard print can be crushing.

Lately I have been opting my child out of as many of these tests as possible. I don’t need to put her through the frustration of a long test, and I don’t need a paper to tell me how she measures up against the rest of the students her age. She isn’t in a competition with the rest of the students in her grade in the state – she is only in competition with herself, to do her best each day and move along at her own pace. If you want to opt out of any standardized tests, contact your child’s school.

We don’t have to be at the level of Einstein to have a happy life. A new film called INTELLIGENT LIVES looks at three young adults with intellectual disabilities as they take on high school, college, employment and relationships. The film was directed by Dan Habib. Amy Brenneman served as the executive producer. Academy Award-winning actor Chris Cooper narrates the film and also shares the story of his son. You can host a screening in your area or attend one, just check out the website

Summer and Beyond: How to Get Your Special Needs Child To Read

Many schools have started assigning Summer Reading to keep kids in good habits and also to avoid the dreaded summer brain drain, where they lose some of the skills learned during the academic year due to lack of practice. Sometimes the reading assignment can be fun, like a competition to see who reads the most pages or books or minutes. Sometimes it can be a straight assignment like a project or a report. But even if your school doesn’t specifically assign any reading, it’s a good idea to encourage your kids to keep reading all summer long.

I know many kids with special needs or learning challenges absolutely hate reading. It is truly unpleasant for them, so who can blame them? For now there are other ways to make books appealing. When my kids were little we used them to play games like The Floor is Lava and Dominoes. Then I read the books to them after play time. Reading to your child is important even if you think they are “too old” for it – they are not. Something as simple as “Hey, this is interesting, listen…” may get them motivated to explore (or listen) further.

Ideas to keep kids reading – or get them reading

  • Let them read whatever they want – manga, movie novelizations, comic books all count. I even let my daughter read a toy catalogue once because it was the only thing that motivated her.
  • Let your child be your tour guide. This works on vacation or locally. Let them do research on a location that interests them and pick out some place to visit. This also works with restaurants and reading menus.
  • Take them to the library. Check your local locations for puppet shows, clubs or events…and hey, look, there are lots of books, too! Maybe one will catch their eye. Again, let them choose. You may not want to read a novel with a gory zombie on the cover but if it gets them interested, so be it.
  • Bring books to places where you will be waiting, like doctors and dentists appointments. Put baskets of them in the bathroom.
  • Audio books can also help kids with visual processing and other challenges. Many are free online through your local library or other sites – just do a quick search.
  • Who are your child’s heroes? There are biographies on every historical figure, sports star and celebrity.
  • Yes, it’s okay to let them reread Harry Potter again – as long as you get them thinking about what they noticed this time that they never did before.

Another way to get kids with special needs or challenges interested in a book is if the story is about a kid with challenges. Students will recognize their own struggles and situations and pick up some new strategies. Feel free to read the books yourself – grownups may learn some of the clever ways these kids avoid work and play their teachers.

Here are some reading suggestions about children with special needs for teens. Ask a bookstore employee, teacher or librarian for other suggestions.

  • Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper features a girl with cerebral palsy
  • Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt follows a girl and her older brother as they discover they have dyslexia
  • El Deafo by Cece Bell, a graphic novel about a girl with a clunky hearing aid

Have you or your child read a great book lately? Let us know about it!


My Twins are Behind in Talking…How Can I Help?

On average, twins are about six months behind single babies in their language development.

Twins may be slower to pick up speech and language skills because:

  • twins tend to receive less attention in shorter bursts than single babies
  • parents often speak to one twin while looking at the other, but children need eye contact to help their language development
  • twins tend to spend more time with each other, so they pick up each other’s speech rather than that of adults and older children around them
  • twins have less time to practise speech as they compete to get themselves heard
  • sometimes one twin may answer for the other

Don’t worry if your twins seem to be slow to speak. Just try to make sure they have plenty of time to talk and express themselves.

Talking to twin babies

Nappy changes can be a good opportunity to give twins one-on-one attention. You could bathe each baby separately to give you time to chat with them individually.

You can also:

  • turn off the TV and radio for at least 30 minutes each day, so your babies can listen to the noises around them with no distractions
  • listen to your babies and respond to them as they experiment with different sounds
  • try to play and read books with your babies individually; make time to talk to your babies individually each day, using their name and making eye contact
  • encourage older siblings, friends and family to talk to your babies one to one

Read more about how to encourage language skills in children.

Twins & Multiple Births Association (Tamba) has information about twins and language. Tamba also has a free (in the UK) telephone helpline. Twinline** is open every day from 10am to 1pm and 7pm to 10pm on 0800 138 0509.

Talk to your GP (*doctor) or health visitor if you’re concerned about your children’s language skills.

Editor’s Note:  

* Clarification Provided for our U.S. Readers

** Resources Outside the UK:

  • Multiples of America: US non-profit providing information, research studies and clubs throughout the U.S. for multiple birth families (and families-to-be)

NHS Choices logo



Autism Awareness Month: A Chance to Redefine Disability

April is Autism Awareness Month. For those of us in the special needs trenches this might seem odd because if autism has impacted your life you are always aware of it every minute of every day. The reality is that many people have no idea what autism truly is. They might watch The Good Doctor or Sesame Street, and while it is terrific that autism and other conditions are being represented in mainstream media often these portrayals are flawed or fail to paint the complete picture.

Autism Society defines autism spectrum disorder as a complex developmental disability that affects individuals differently and to varying degrees. Dr. Stephen Shore famously said, “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.” The spectrum of autism ranges from people with savant skills to people who are nonverbal and enjoy fecal smearing.

Just as the symptoms and challenges vary from person to person, language preferences are also a point of contention. Many people believe in the “person-first” theory of communication, where the individual is considered before their diagnosis because the person is much more than their condition. The best way I heard it explained is that if you had a friend who was diagnosed with cancer you would not refer to them as “my cancerous friend.” You would say “my friend, who has cancer.” So the student is not a special needs child, they are a child with special needs.

Yet some people disagree. Temple Grandin doesn’t mind being called autistic instead of a person with autism. She treasures her autism because it is what makes her mind work the way it does. She claims that in many ways it does define her and she is proud of it.

Now there are movements to alter more phrases and words. Before you describe someone as “suffering with autism” try to observe them first. Are they really suffering, or are they happy and productive in their own way? There is a campaign to “spread the word to end the word” for the “r-word” (retard). Many adults with special needs would prefer that you simply call them disabled because in fact, that is the truth. Another root definition of “dis” means apart or in two ways, so really saying someone is disabled is really another way of saying that they do things differently or in another way.

And really, don’t we all have special needs? I need to have chocolate. My mother needs to have coffee with every freakin’ meal. My son needs to wear socks in the pool. Whatever. These are little things we need to help us get through our daily lives.

So, this April be aware of autism in all of its manifestations and try out some new ways of talking about – and talking to – people with disabilities.

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