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Friday, September 6, 2013

Time to Read!

We do our best to make sure our kids are reading at least 20 minutes a how about us? As special needs parents, it seems we are always getting book suggestions from other parents and from teachers and therapists. But even the book buffs among us are more likely to want to get lost in the latest Nicholas Sparks or Stephen King novel ...or 50 Shades of [some color or another] ... than spend time with the latest volume of Special Education Law.

While at times it can feel like eating our vegetables, often we pick up a book geared toward special parents and find that, well, it's rather exceptional.

One such book (which happens to be part of our resource library collection -- available for borrowing at Second Hill Lane, where we have our meetings) is The Elephant in the Playroom: Ordinary Parents Write Intimately and Honestly About Raising Kids with Special Needs, by Denise Brodey.

I brought it along on a plane recently, along with some more fun reading, and wound up spending the entire trip with this book. I laughed. I cried. I laughed some more. The person sitting next to me was jealous of my read.

There was the essay that hit close to home about the challenges of parenting the "special one" at a birthday party. And the touching moment when another mom was crying, until she realized her challenging child was literally licking the tears off her face.

And toward the end of the book, this gem of a quote: "When you get to the point where you can embrace special needs in all of its strangeness, you know you're in a good place. That is when you know you've seen the light."

So the next time you're at a SEPTA meeting (Sept. 19 is our first - save the date!), pop over to the resource library wall at the far left and pick out a book. Even if you don't have the luxury of sitting by yourself on a plane, reading it cover to cover, reach for it on the nightstand one night. Open a random page. Flip through and find a page with a quiz or a bulleted list of suggestions (lots of our books are interactive and have plenty of white space on the page -- these authors know we are a frazzled bunch!). Read some examples of exceptional kids. You'll probably be glad you did.

And if you love what you read, tell a friend to come check out our resource library, too. Better yet, email us a short review and we'll publish it here.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Fiction for Special Needs Families

Anyone else find themselves drawn to read books with characters going through similar challenges to your own family? 

We are an autism spectrum household, and on the bedside table at the moment is A Wild Ride Up the Cupboards by Ann Bauer. The very-pregnant mother of two narrator is Rachel, whose oldest son, Edward, begins a slow, painful withdrawal from the world at age 4. It's the story of Edward's descent into autism and the parents' struggle to sustain their marriage under the unanticipated strain. Rachel learns that her late uncle may have suffered from a similar disorder and she delves into her family history to learn more.

On deck is Tilt by Elizabeth Burns, described on Amazon like this: Bridget Fox's life is full of blessings, including her husband Pierce, a talented sculptor, and her two delightful daughters. But her elder daughter, Maeve, doesn't seem to be developing the way she's supposed to. She doesn't respond when she's called. She doesn't like to be touched, and the slightest disturbance sends her into a frenzy. Suddenly Bridget, who has plenty of experience with travel and art and sophisticated pleasures, is facing challenges she's never imagined. And as she copes with loss, change, and uncertainty-sometimes with nothing to hold on to but Maeve, and her sense of humor- she begins to find a strength she's never imagined.

Girls of Tender Age by Mary-Ann Tirone Smith is a memoir that reads like fiction and is set in Hartford so it's got a local feel. As a girl, her classmate was murdered by a serial killer. She blocks out the memory and doesn't recall it again until college, when she begins investigating what happened and who the killer was. The story is told through alternating chapters with Mary-Ann's perspective and the serial killers whereabouts. A side story in this book is about how Mary-Ann's family life was affected by her autistic older brother (at a time when children weren't labeled this way). Her brother's behavior was very severe -- for instance he would gnaw his wrist down to the bone if he heard loud noises, so no one was allowed to make any noise in the house. And heaven help everybody if the doorbell rang! Mary Ann's reflections as an adult of this aspect of her life and how she came to terms with that situation are a key part of why I loved this book.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon is a murder mystery told from the perspective of 15-year-old Christopher John Francis Boone, "mathematically gifted but socially hopeless," as one reviewer describes him. His parents have difficulty coping with his quirks. One evening he happens upon his neighbor's dog Wellington, who has been killed. The owner finds him cradling the dead dog and has him arrested. Christopher begins writing a book about his who-done-it investigation, which forces him to knock on neighbors' doors and talk to them, something he never thought he would be able (or want) to do. It's "original, clever, and genuinely moving," as a reviewer says.

If you've read any of these books, what did you think? And what other books with characters who have special needs have you read?

Monday, January 9, 2012

Book Review: Reaching Out, Joining In

This book, subtitled Teaching Social Skills to Young Children with Autism covers play skills, the language of social skills, understanding another person's perspective, and using these skills in an inclusive classroom. Although presented with the assumption that the suggestions will be used as part of an Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) program, there are lots of concrete suggestions for activities that can be done on their own by parents.

Some examples:

- Use video modeling to help teach play skills. For one child who had a hard time learning to play with friends, videos of adult models playing in a kitchen area were creating, showing them setting the table for lunch, getting lunch ready, and sitting down to eat together. After the child and her friend got comfortable with the lunch script, variations on the theme were created in new videos to imitate, such as making grilled cheese instead of tuna fish and cleaning up after lunch.

- Use play narration to help increase duration and complexity of play skills and improve expressive language. A parent can start by saying "You play and I'll tell a story," and then switch roles and say, "Now I'll play and you tell a story." So for a barnyard set, the story might be, "You are a farmer and you put on the farmer's hat. You are taking the animals out of the barn and putting them in the yard. You are putting the man on the back of the horse and he is riding, trot, trot, trot." If the child struggles to come up with play ideas, the parent can guide her with questions, such as "What about the airplane?" When having the child do the narrating, the adult can say things like "What am I doing with the cow?" and, once the child gets used to narrating, "What is happening now?"

- Teach opportunities for commenting on others' work. Language for during an art project might be "I like your picture," or for a block creation, "That's a big tower!" Start by modeling comments for the child, by pointing out his work and the work of others.

- Teach idioms, slang, and expressions through example. "Sometimes people say it's raining cats and dogs. Is it REALLY raining cats and dogs?" When the "no!" response comes, ask, "What does it's raining cats and dogs really mean?" Other expressions: "You're pulling my leg" (you're teasing/kidding me), "You can't judge a book by its cover" (You can't tell what a person is like from how he/she looks.)

For parents, this book is a great introduction to techniques that may be used in the classroom, such as how preschool teachers interact with kids during centers time, how turn taking is taught, and how rule cards can provide a visual reminder of activity specific rules and can provide a review of rules before play.

The final chapter describes the inclusion (mainstream) classroom environment and how a child with autism can become part of the class with the right support from parents and teachers. And with mastery of the foundational skills introduced in this book, children can fit in more comfortably with their peers and enjoy their daily lives.

Co-authored by Mary Jane Weiss, Ph.D., BCBA, and Sandra L. Harris, Ph.D., Reaching Out, Joining In (2001) will be available for check-out from the Stratford SEPTA Parent Resource Library, located inside Second Hill Lane's library, on Wednesday evening, Jan. 11, during the workshop on how to tell if your child is making progress in school. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Book Review: Freeing Your Child From Anxiety

Freeing Your Child From Anxiety (2004) by Tamar E. Chansky, Ph.D., founder of the Children's Center for OCD and Anxiety, lives up to its subtitle, offering "Powerful, Practical Solutions to Overcome Your Child's Fears, Worries, and Phobias." The first part of the book is an overview of anxiety disorder basics -- which helps in understanding children's fears, determining if they are "just a phase," summarizing childhood anxiety treatment, and outlining a master plan for managing anxiety.

One suggestion is to come up with steps to be overcome in dealing with a fear and planning a series of small exposures, building your child's ability to step outside his or her comfort zone and eventually conquer the fear. For example, the steps for a child who won't walk to school because of a fear of dogs would be:
1. Look at dog book with mom.
2. Look at dog behind fence in neighborhood or from across street.
3. Pet a neighbor's friendly dog, standing in front of the fence.
4. Spend 10 minutes outside in the yard when neighbor's dog is out on a leash.
5. Walk to school with mom.
6. GOAL: Walk to school with friend.

Next the author covers seven broad categories of common childhood fears and worries and problem anxieties, with information, personal stories, and loads of tips and ideas for intervening on each.

Specific chapters cover: everyday worries to generalized anxiety disorder; mini-scaries to real phobias; shyness to social anxiety and selective mutism; clinginess to separation anxiety and panic disorder; superstitions and rituals to obsessive-compulsive disorder and PANDAS; nervous habits to Tourette Syndrome and Trichotillomania; and acute stress to post-traumatic stress disorder. This section of the book's organization makes it easy to flip to the parts that are relevant for your own family.

The third part of the book includes chapters on the issue of sleep, since nighttime tends to be the toughest time for anxious children; the anxious child in the broader context of school, siblings, friends, and extended family; and how to talk to your child about real fears out in the world. A chart outlines sample school accommodations that might be made to help the anxious child. For example:
  • Excused lateness or a delayed start in the morning for a child with multiple OCD morning rituals, medications that might make the child sleepy, or separation anxiety or panic. 
  • Tests or assignments taken orally rather than written for a child with OCD who is slowed down by perfectionism in writing.
  • Reduced homework for a child recovering from trauma or a new diagnosis.
  • Reduced public speaking, with oral reports taped or conducted one-on-one with a teacher, for a child with social anxiety.
  • A free pass for brief breaks for a child with OCD, panic disorder, separation anxiety, or phobias.
  • Preferential seating for assemblies for a child with panic disorder, OCD, or separation anxiety. 
Freeing Your Child From Anxiety is part of the Stratford SEPTA Parent Resource Library collection, and a copy will be available for check-out on Wednesday, Nov. 9, the evening of our talk on anxiety in young children, being presented by Dr. Michael Crowley of Yale Child Study Center. If you plan to attend, email

The book can also be found at Stratford Library and requested by mail through the Connecticut Parent Advocacy Center's Lending Library

Read a book from the Stratford SEPTA Parent Resource Library? Write a brief review to share with other parents and educators. Contact: mezarik @

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Open for Business!

This school year, monthly Stratford SEPTA meetings will be held inside the Second Hill Lane media center. That's great news for parents who have been meaning to come check out our Parent Resource Library!  Come and browse the stacks before the workshop part of our meeting tomorrow evening, or scroll down and get to know the books and activities that are in our collection so you'll know just what you want to check out when you get to the library. Be sure to sign out anything you are borrowing so that we can keep track of materials.

FYI that Stratford SEPTA welcomes reviews of items in the collection. So if you've got a few minutes to jot down some thoughts on who would like a book you've just read, what you liked best about it, and/or what takeaways you really got from it (or any other thoughts), please consider sharing!  Reviews will be posted to this blog and can be anonymous. For more info or to submit a review, email Thanks!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Official Opening This Week!

Join us this Wednesday, May 25, 6:30-8:30 p.m., for the official opening of the Stratford SEPTA Parent Resource Library, located in the library media center at Second Hill Lane. Come join us for a casual, social support evening where there will be ample time to browse the books and activities in the collection.

Themed Backpacks and Toolkits

In addition to books, our resource library has a variety of activities that can be checked out and enjoyed with your child. Below are the themed backpacks and toolkits that are available. Come and check them out!

Themed Backpacks

#1 Body parts
#2 Manners
#3 Alphabet
#4 Opposites
#5 Colors
#6 Shapes
#7 Emotions/feelings
#8 Things that Go
#9 Farm
#10 Animals

Toolkits (items listed more than once indicate multiple copies available)
Little Pilgrims DVD Labeling COLORS
Little Pilgrims DVD Labeling COLORS
Little Pilgrims DVD Modeling Let's go to the restaurant
Little Pilgrims DVD Modeling Let's go to the restaurant
Little Pilgrims DVD Labeling The Home
Little Pilgrims DVD Labeling The Home
Little Pilgrims Labeling Colors ( book)
Little Pilgrims Labeling Colors ( book)
Little Pilgrims Let's go to the Restaurant (book)
Little Pilgrims Let's go to the Restaurant (book)
Little Pilgrims The home (book)
Little Pilgrims The home (book)
Nesting cups
Shape sorter
Tie Vest
Buckle Vest
Snap Vest
Lace Vest
Zip Vest
Loop scissors
spring scissors
Stacking train
Hear and Go seek everyday sounds
Pegs and Peg board (25 pegs)
Toy Story Memory Game ( 72 cards)
Dora Memory Game ( 72 cards)
Matching Game (36 cards)
Matching Game (36 cards)
Sensory Ball
Sensory Ball
Pop Tube
Pop Tube
Pop Tube
Pop Tube
Pop Tube