Sunday, May 22, 2011

Stuff for kids with special needs: lots of good finds

So, after worrying that I'd gotten too sucked into Special Needs World, what do I do? I spend the better part of a day at Abilities Expo, which is all about services for kids with special needs and gear for kids with special needs. No matter what sort of inclusionary activities I end up doing for Max, he needs certain help and equipment to better his life—and I got some great ideas there.

The expo's being happening for decades around the country, but this was my first one. It featured 160-plus exhibitors, with every resource you can think of except an extra pair of hands, which I could really use. Besides companies selling products and services, there were organizations that promoted disability rights and awareness, reps from the state's disability group, even lawyers who specialized in disability discrimination.

Ripley, an assistance dog from Canine Partners for Life. His owner told me about a little boy whose parents had never heard him laugh until the day he met his assistance dog. They currently have prisoners training some of the dogs, a good thing. I think?

Freedom bike (rubber ducky included!)

Booster seats from Special Tomato, for your child's fine dining pleasure. That's their Soft-Touch Sitter in the photo on top (child not included).

A Kidwalk Dynamic Mobility System that should come with a license tag that reads "Outta My Way!"

The Honda Odyssey Entervan—a conversion by BraunAbility.

A Toyota Sienna with an Auto Access Seat. I am not sure the gentleman was entirely amused by my question but I was loopy after visiting so many booths (as if you couldn't tell by my maniacal laugh). Our Sienna is three years old; if this were an option when we bought the car, I would have considered it. Right now, we can lift Max up into the car, but that boy is getting big (thank you, chocolate ice-cream).

A bath seat from Otto Bock Kids. I think these are actually a cool idea for any human being, no? Couldn't you use one, a soak in the tub, and a glass of Pinot Grigio right about now?

Chaz the Pinball Wizard at a wheelchair-height adapted machine from U Can Do. How cool is that? If we ever got one, there is a risk Max might never again emerge from our basement.

A new Rifton chair, out in July.

There was a gigantic assistive technology area where people could try out devices—ipads, Dynavoxes, you name it—and get advice.

There was even a pavilion for free wheelchair tune-ups. Some people took their chairs directly to the manufacturers' booths for tinkering.

This expo is free; there are several held around the country every year (New York Metro, Chicago, Houston, San Jose, Atlanta and Los Angeles). The attendees were a mix of parents and their kids and adults who have disabilities. I didn't take Max because of his issues with crowds, which was a good thing because I would have ended up with a pinball machine in my trunk. Besides all the great info you'll walk away with, there's also discounts on stuff, with some companies continuing them for a set period of time after the fair.

If there's not an Abilities Expo near you, why not email the Expo peeps and suggest it? The president of the company is David Korse, and his email is Or ask your school if they'd be up for hosting a similar fair with local therapists and vendors and manicurists.

What sort of stuff are you in the market for these days? I'm looking to get Max more waterproof (aka drool-proof) shirts; there was a booth selling some and I may be trying them out, I'll let you know. I'm also looking for a device that will keep Max from walking into our room at 3:00 a.m. and insisting on crashing in our bed. I believe that device is known as "willpower" but I lack it at that hour. We've ruled out a bouncer, as that could get costly. Pinball machine?!


  1. Have you tried wicking technical fabrics? It gets mighty humid (read: sweaty) down here on the Gulf Coast and that's what I where most of the time during the summer - not just while exercising. It might work for Max...

  2. I was actually just thinking the same thing Andi said.. there's that dri-fit material nike makes. And all the other running makers seem to have something similar on the market. They are tres cool and Max will fit right in with all the runners in Central Park.

  3. Wow, super cool expo. I wanna go, and, like you said, many of those toys look great for us mere mortals.
    BUT I gotta slam you for the dig on people in prison. My sister is in prison and that doesn't make her a bad person -- just someone who made some bad choices. With more and more people in prison (1 in 10 -- way more than other countries!) I think people are going to have to stop writing off a good portion of our population.
    Anyway, I'm not that offended, just using the opportunity to get up on my soap box.

  4. Is it bad that I would LOVE to go to one of these? If you know what I mean... I wish there was an Australian one!

  5. I have seen TV shows about the prisoners training assistance dogs--they run a pretty strict program there. Training the dogs is a privilege they have to earn, and if they screw up, they get kicked out of the program.

    I get special needs catalogs at home, and I have to restrain myself from buying EVERY cool thing I see. Last month I finally allowed myself to buy a few things for my 15 year old-- yankz shoe laces, redi-space paper, and a book (technically for me) about transitioning an autistic teen from HS to real life.

  6. I think that having the people in prison training the dogs is GREAT! We're going to need one - within the next year - and the price of a trained dog is waaaay out of our budget. I wish this was a program in EVERY prison - they'd learn a new job skill, take pride in their work, know they were helping someone that really needs it, and lower the cost!

    And sometime this summer, we get to start looking at wheelchairs. We have medicaid - which is a blessing and a curse - blessed to have it, but we only have it because Mango is disabled - a catch 22. But I hope we can get approved for one that has a nice look to it - he's going to be using it for a few years!

  7. I haven't tried technical fabrics like Dri-fit—I'm going to talk with someone about making Max some clothes with that. He is also in need of pants he can easily pull down himself, nobody seems to have any good ideas for that. If the pants even if the teeniest bit of elastic and he has to tug, it's hard for him. I am thinking of getting some pants that have Velcro openings.

    Shasta, I kid, as I tend to do! No offense intended toward your sis.

  8. We went to that Expo and wound up spending the whole day there trying things out and talking to other families. I do not have any photos, but your post makes me think I should have taken some.

    I loved getting an overview of the equipment out there and trying it out with my daughter because to get a chance to demo that many different kinds of equipment from our center would take years! I highly recommend attending one of these expos if you are in the market for any kind of equipment.

  9. Do you remember the company that had the drool proof shirts? My son ruins all his shirts drooling and chewing on them.


  10. Hi. The company is Ross Daniel Adaptive apparel., they make something called ProtectTees.

    There's also Adaptive Clothing Showroom (thanks to my awesome friend Wendy for finding that for me) at

    Hope this helps

  11. We go to the Ability Expo every year, we just went to the one in LA last month. :) Love it there!

  12. With the EnterVan I would reccomend no other straps than the 500 dollar crank able bodied person cranks them for you. They are so good, you don't tip or move an inch at all.

  13. Ellen, I am catching up on my reading! Have you tried using a folding step stool or mini-ladder to get Max in and out of the minivan, rather than lifting him? You can leave the stool/ladder in the van, unfold it when you need it, hold his hand while he steps up (one or two steps, depending on the kind you buy) and get him into the seat without killing your back. Then, you fold the thing and toss it in the vehicle. This is how we get in and out of grampa's truck, which is a million miles off the ground!

  14. We go hiking and currently we use a special made "baby hawk" to carry our almost 60 lb son on our backs! (pictures in my Facebook albums (Melissa Placenta-Friday Lewis)

    I have not heard of one of these expos before!
    Have any of you ever seen anything to help a child/ adult to be able to travel on difficult trails? Like a Rick shaw type thing that we could pull? Anything???

    I LoVE carrying him but we would like to do actual back packing, so we need to carry supplies/ water too! Lol

  15. Hi Melissa, I am thinking about something like this for my son I'm not sure what weight they go up to but I reckon with some good mountain bike tires it would get over some rough ground.
    Hope you find something suitable and can continue hiking for years to come.


  16. I have just been looking at the website and they even have a hiking attachment

  17. Melissa-- here is a trailer/stroller with lots of conversion options including a hiking one where you can tow using backpack-like straps... maybe they could go under a backpack?

  18. Hi, my name is Jonathan Smith and I invented a inflatable safety bed for travel with special needs people inspired by my son that has angelman syndrome. If anyone knows of any expos in driving distances of Ohio we are trying to find places to share our product with families it could help. please email me at or per our site at


Thanks for sharing!