Archive for the ‘Special Needs’ Category

Christmas Gifts for Distracted People

December 9, 2011

Do you love someone with ADD or ADHD?  If you do, you know the greatest gifts you can give them are your time, patience and understanding.  But you can also help them learn coping skills and organizational skills that can improve their daily lives tremendously.

The key to gift giving to someone who has neurological differences is to do this it with love and acceptance, as well as appreciation for their gifts and unique and positive qualities.  If you are a person who gives lots of unsolicited advice, then don’t give them one of these presents.  It will come off as patronizing.  Give them something lovely and meaningful, instead.

But if you are someone he or she turns to for support, one of these presents may be welcome.

This post is part of a longer article I posted last year: A Merry ADHD Christmas.

Presents That Show You Care and Understand

  • A month-at-a-glance calendar with blocks big enough to write in plenty of notes and appointments.  If the calendar or planner is for a woman, make sure it will fit in her purse.
  • A mini-recorder (maybe for a keychain) so the person can record where he parked the car.
  • A fun fidget for their purse, backpack or keychain: check out Tangle.
  • A GPS system to keep them from getting lost in the car.
  • Watches with easy-to-read faces are a good gift. You can’t have too many watches.
  • A digital camera for recording events.  People with ADHD tend to be visual learners.
  • Those lavender scented heavy pads for shoulders.
  • Massagers.
  • Timers to remind them to take the cookies out of the oven, or to take a break.
  • A relaxing music CD, such as classical music or instrumental jazz.
  • ADHD self-help books.
  • Nice pens and notepads for making lists.  Post-it notes.
  • Bubbles are relaxing for children, because it requires slow breathing.
  • Thank you notes or other stationery, with custom printed return address labels and stamps.
  • A tiny zen rock garden.
  • An artificial plant (you don’t have to remember to water them).
  • Key organizer (to mount by the front door)
  • Desk organizers
  • Closet organizers
  • Cosmetic bags and jewelry organizers
  • Ornaments organizers
  • Checkbook organizer and budgeting tools.
  • Write on/wipe off calendars and white boards
  • First aid kits, car emergency kits

Celebrating the Holidays When You Love Someone With Autism

December 5, 2011

For someone who lives with autism, and the people who love him or her, the holidays can be delightful or dreadful.  There are changes of routine and sensory issues that can be hard to take.  Keeping to a routine, using visual helpers, offering choices, enjoying short and simple activities you do together, getting plenty of fresh air and exercise, and slowing down the hectic pace of the holidays are some of the ways you can make the holidays easier for you and the one you love with autism.  Here are some ways you can help someone with autism enjoy the holidays.

Holiday Visual Helpers

Visual helpers, like picture cards and schedules, help the person with autism organize their day, and understand activities have been completed and what is coming up next.  They are a great way to build competency by playing on a strength that tends to be strong in individuals with autism (visual processing, visual memory).

Here are some resources for free, printable visual helpers for the holidays…just laminate the cards, attach some velcro, and you’re ready to schedule!

Sensory-Friendly Holiday Activities

When you have a person with autism with you, you generally may want to select activities that (1) they will find engaging and (2) that you can duck out of quickly, in case of sensory over-stimulation or melt-downs.  A lot of free Christmas activities fit the bill, such as open-air or open-seating concerts, where you don’t have to stay for the whole event.  As a parent, I just think it’s nice to go to part of something and enjoy it, rather than force my child to sit through an entire event and hate it.  I have also found that his tolerance builds up over time, so I think this approach has worked well.

Here is an article reviewing several annual events and  Christmas Activities in the Washington, DC area that my son and I have enjoyed (please double-check the dates, which change from year to year).

Coping with Family and Related Holiday Issues

I don’t know a family with autism that hasn’t struggled in some way with family and friends issues, primarily with acceptance.  This can be very hard at Christmas, particularly in the early years.  I feel it does get better with time, and I have developed new traditions that have made Christmas special to me again.  It is true that when you have a child with autism, your world can become smaller, and you can feel lonely, but the people who you come to count on become that much more dear to you.

Cathy Knoll, MA, MT-BC has a wealth of suggestions for dealing with extended family, sensory issues, gifts, holiday meals, and other autism issues that are unique to the Christmas season. Check out her holiday-related FAQautism blog posts and podcast episodes here.

Altering Holiday Routines

Shopping

For Christmas shopping, keep shopping excursions, short, targeted, and fun.  People with autism like things to be predictable.  Leisurely browsing for just the right gift doesn’t work; shopping with a list of three specific things to pick up from one store (during an off time) is a much better plan.

You know when your child is ready for a shopping trip.  Only go when you are both well-rested and in a good mood.  As with any excursion, it helps if you have in mind that if you have to cut things short and go home, that will be okay with you (so don’t leave things until the last minute).

Pick small and familiar, individual stores instead of huge shopping malls, or go on off-peak times, like Tuesday nights.  A crowded Saturday at the mall is not a good choice for a child with autism.  Neither is Wal-Mart.  Instead of going to Home Depot, you can go to a smaller hardware store.  Or try a museum gift shop for most of your gifts.  Keep it simple, and work in breaks for water and looking at elevators 🙂 and other special interests.

For activities like cookie baking or tree trimming, bring your child in for the last part of the process, if his or her attention tends to stray.  For example, frost and decorate together a dozen cookies you have pre-baked.  Or get a small tree and let them hang a few ornaments.

Church Services

Many churches offer alternative holiday services that are less crowded, or especially designed for children during the holidays.  For example, you can attend Vespers on the afternoon of Christmas Day instead of a late Christmas Eve mass.

Presents

Don’t overwhelm the person with autism with loads of presents.  He or she may need to open presents over a period of time, even days, if it appears overwhelming.  In my house, my child receives three presents from Santa (just as the baby Jesus got three presents from the Wise Men), plus a stocking, and that works for him.  He gets more presents from relatives, but he literally takes weeks to open them all, because it is just too much stimulation for him.

How to Make the Holiday Bright for Your Unemployed Friend

December 13, 2009

One out of ten people are unemployed in our country right now (I’m looking for a job, myself!).  With the holidays right around the corner, are you wondering what to give to your unemployed friends on a tight budget?  Here are some ideas to lift their spirits this Christmas.

  • Get them out of the house and moving! Job-seekers spend a lot of time on the computer (looking for jobs, of course!).  Why not invite them for a winter walk?  Then be prepared for a lot of listening.  Some people find it easier to talk about their problems when walking.  You’ll be doing their mood a lot of good by getting them walking briskly (which will increase their endorphins) and by listening to their problems (which will reduce their stress level).
  • Propose fun and free things to do together. Check out museum exhibits, free concerts, and tree lightings, all of which are abundant around the holidays.  Skip the mall, which may remind them of how little they have to spend.  Go for a drive and look at Christmas lights.  Volunteer.  Or spend an afternoon together making Christmas cookies or watching old movies.
  • Give the gift of networking. Bring your friend to a holiday event with you and introduce them to people.
  • Offer to read their resume. If you have worked together, and it’s appropriate, consider writing a recommendation for them on LinkedIn.
  • Agree to exchange modest gifts this year. If you usually exchange gifts, or it’s a relative, set a budget, e.g. not to exceed $10, and honor that.
  • Help them with a useful gift. Take their picture of your friend and help them upload it to their LinkedIn and Facebook profiles.  Help them design and purchase a set of business contact cards on VistaPrint.  Give them a month-at-a-glance calendar to help them keep track of their job interviews.

A Merry ADHD Christmas

December 10, 2009

If you, or someone you love, has ADHD, you know that this neurological difference presents daily challenges.  This challenge may be exacerbated with other conditions that may co-exist with ADHD, such as mood and anxiety disorders.  Here are some tips for accommodating the special need of ADHD during the holidays.

Understanding the Impact of ADHD on People During the Holidays

Even brilliant people with ADHD may have trouble maintaining attention to everyday tasks, organizing their homes and work spaces, managing finances, handling impulsivity, arriving on time for appointments, and remembering things.  They may also have social challenges, such as interrupting too frequently, and sensory sensitivities (such as being more sensitive than is typical to noise or fabrics).  They may also have trouble sleeping and may fatigue easily.

Imagine how the holidays can affect someone with ADHD.  There are tons of details to remember, and all kinds of schedule disruptions and special events to attend.  Budgeting, shopping for, wrapping, and hiding gifts can be enormously challenging for someone who is impulsive, highly distractible, and who tends to forget details (such as where the car is parked).  There are twinkly lights and decorations everywhere, which can be highly distracting.  And let’s not even talk about the sheets of burned cookies! 🙂

While everyone has these symptoms at some point, especially during the hectic holidays or other stressful times, people with ADHD have these symptoms for 6 months or longer, in some cases, for their entire lives.  The severity of the symptoms is another diagnostic criteria.  You can be forgetful and not have ADHD.  But if you have several of these symptoms to a chronic degree, and they interfere with daily living activities, such as keeping a job or maintaining relationships, then you may have ADHD.  A neurologist can tell you more.  These “survival tips” may be useful for you, even if you don’t have ADHD.

Practical Tips for Surviving the Holidays

How can you help your friend or relative with ADHD  enjoy the season without disaster?  It’s important to remain positive and remind your friend, child, or relative about how successfully they have handled situations in the past, and that neurotypical people often struggle with similar challenges.

These tips may help, as well as help anyone else you may know who is undergoing any kind of stress during the holidays.

Even during vacation periods, try to maintain schedules. Going to bed and waking up at the same time can help manage restful sleep and emotional equilibrium.  Stick to the same rules, and make sure they are clearly understood.

Get plenty of exercise.

Make sure they are listening to you. The best way is to be close to someone with ADHD and ask them if they can pay attention for a moment.  Connect first, then tell them.  You might have to say  it again, but you will have better luck getting them to focus on you if you tell them you have something to say before you say it.

Write it down. Is it important that they be somewhere?  Don’t just tell them and expect them to remember. Make sure they write it down in their planner, or on their digital calendar, and watch them do it! Send email and text reminders.  If necessary, write it down for them, e.g. a post-it note on their bathroom mirror or front door.

Fudge on the time. If you need them to be there at 8:30 a.m., tell them they have to be there at 8:00 a.m.  Trust me, you should never tell a person with ADHD the actual starting time of a movie, play, or airplane departure because they will almost always be late for everything.  You don’t like it and they don’t like it, but it is a fact of life for people with ADHD.  Always give them about a half-hour cushion, at least, if it’s important.

Break down the tasks for them. People with ADHD often operate well with lists, calendars, schedules, and other forms of structure.  Help them break down a task, by talking through the steps together, whether it’s shopping for toys or making cookies.

Don’t let them take on too much and set reasonable expectations. People with ADHD often over-estimate their ability to handle a multitude of tasks, and take on too much, not finishing much of anything.  If you simplify your expectations for the holidays, and help them focus on just a few tasks at a time, and celebrate the milestones and completion.  For example, agree in advance that the adults will get just one present.  It is fine to use Christmas bags and tissue instead of wrapping presents with bows.  You can decorate a tree with lights, tinsel, and just a few decorations.  You can still enjoy a family Christmas dinner with a turkey breast and instant mashed potatoes and a store-bought pumpkin pie!

Stash back-ups. For example, an keep umbrella or extra pair of glasses in the car.  Stow extra hats and gloves in the car trunk, as well as the closet.  Then when your ADHD relative forgets or loses an important item, they won’t be cold!

Help them relax. What relaxes people can be different, but in general, slow down and don’t try to do too much.  Take plenty of breaks, and stay hydrated.  Relax together at a a coffee shop and regroup.  Hand fidgets can be helpful: they help you relax and focus.

Alert them when they need it. Are they spacing out?  Sometimes gum helps, or ice cold water or lemonade, a quick walk, or a little chocolate or caffeine.  If they’re really tired, however, just call it a day.

Get plenty of fresh air and exercise. Studies show that people with ADHD become more high-functioning when they see green outside — so take a stroll around the Christmas tree lot or outdoor garden center.  Take brisk winter walks.

Let someone else do it, at least during the holidays. Take the linens and towels to a laundry and let them wash and fold them for you or your ADHD relative.

ADHD Friendly Presents

  • A month-at-a-glance calendar with blocks big enough to write in plenty of notes and appointments.  If the calendar or planner is for a woman, make sure it will fit in her purse.
  • A mini-recorder (maybe for a keychain) so the person can record where he parked the car.
  • A fun fidget for their purse, backpack or keychain: check out Tangle.
  • A GPS system to keep them from getting lost in the car.
  • Watches with easy-to-read faces are a good gift. You can’t have too many watches.
  • A digital camera for recording events.  People with ADHD tend to be visual learners.
  • Those lavender scented heavy pads for shoulders.
  • Massagers.
  • Timers to remind them to take the cookies out of the oven, or to take a break.
  • A relaxing music CD, such as classical music or instrumental jazz.
  • ADHD self-help books.
  • Nice pens and notepads for making lists.  Post-it notes.
  • Bubbles are relaxing for children, because it requires slow breathing.
  • A tiny zen rock garden.
  • An artificial plant (you don’t have to remember to water them).
  • Key organizer (to mount by the front door)
  • Desk organizers
  • Closet organizers
  • Cosmetic bags and jewelry organizers
  • Ornaments organizers
  • Checkbook organizer and budgeting tools.
  • Write on/wipe off calendars and white boards
  • First aid kits, car emergency kits

What to Give a Single Mom for Christmas

December 9, 2009

As one of the nation’s 10+million single mothers, I always look forward to Christmas, but not without a sense of wistfulness.  Half of my Christmases are spent without my child (not this one, however! Yay!), because I have split custody.  I have spent a few Christmases alone.  It can be relaxing, but it can also feel very lonely.

Just as there is usually no one around to take care of the single mom of young children when she is sick, there is usually no one around to fill her stocking or buy her a special present at Christmas.  Believe it or not, I make a modest stocking for myself, partially for my son’s benefit, so he won’t think Santa Claus forgot Mommy, and partly to make myself feel better.

Do you have a single mom as a friend or relative?  Here are some ways to help a single mom feel jolly at Christmas time.

  • Send her a Christmas card with a kind message inside. There really is no single better way to remember the single mom during the holidays.  I’ve been divorced twice, and lost two whole families, and of course, I miss connecting with them during the holidays.  Christmas can feel really lonely, but Christmas cards from friends and family help immensely.
  • Call and check in to wish her a Merry Christmas on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day (even if you only leave a voice mail message).  You don’t have to include her in your family celebrations (that would probably feel awkward to her), but a quick call could mean a lot to her, especially if she doesn’t have her kids that year.
  • Invite her to your holiday parties. If you are having a big holiday party with lots of people, be sure to invite her.  Single moms get left out of events a lot, because they are often socially isolated after the divorce.
  • Offer the gift of time. Single moms are often on a very tight budget.  As a Christmas present, why not offer a few hours of free babysitting one evening so she can shop for and wrap toys for her child?  I had to spend $60 on a sitter one night just so I could buy my son some toys for Christmas one year. The sitter cost me more than the presents!
  • Spoil her a little. Single moms are used to putting themselves last.  Some great pampering ideas for single moms include a Bath and Body Works gift set, a restaurant gift card, a gift certificate to a hair salon, gym membership, or a manicure/pedicure.
  • Take her photo, with her children, if possible, and give it to her in a pretty frame or in a key chain, as a keepsake.  Single moms get left out of pictures a lot because they are usually the one holding the camera.  She will love this present most of all.
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