Monday, November 30, 2015

Great Toys For Kids With Special Needs: 2015 Gift Guide

This year's  roundup of great toys for kids with special needs (plus a few awesome games and craft projects) is based on recommendations from therapists, parents and that highly picky toy critic who goes by the name of Fireman Max. A mix of new and classic toys, they're good for kids' fine-motor skills and gross-motor skills, their social skills, their speech and language, their brains and their general levels of fun.

Tobbles Neo (Fat Brain Toy Co., $23.95)
The six pieces of this cheerful toy (plus a base) are weighted and nest right into each other, so they won't easily topple over for a kid struggling to pile them on. Not only do they stack, they spin, balance, wobble, tilt, wiggle and roll. (Kind of like you, when you haven't yet had your coffee.) Tobbles Neo can help with sensory exploration, fine-motor skills, coordination and visual space acuity.

Sit-to-Stand Learning Walker (VTech, $14.00)
Practicing walking isn't always very fun unless it's with a toy like this, which is 18 inches high and glides on both carpeting and on hard floors. The removal activity panel includes a whole lot of diversions—shape sorters, spinning rollers, piano keys and more to teach shapes, animals, colors and numbers. Plus a phone for ordering in lunch (er, or whatever calls your child would like to make).

Wall Coaster Super Starter Set (Wall Coaster, $19.99)
This marble run—made up of pieces placed on walls with reusable, non-marking tacky tape—can entice kids to grasp marbles, reach way up high and create all sorts of designs. It comes with 13 feet of track, coaster tubes, marbles and tack.

Make Your Own Glitter Snow Globes (Mindware, $24.95)
Kids can mold the included clay (it has 12 different colored pieces, along with two globes, glitter, a sculpting tool and glue dots) into whatever shapes they like. A grown-up bakes them in the oven, then helps assemble the globe with the no-leak system. Add glitter and, in the immortal words of Taylor Swift, shake it off.

Zingo! Word Builder (Think Fun, $19.75)
This game's cards consist of three-letter words with missing letters; kids can slide the "Zinger" to release tiles and try to complete words. It's an enjoyable way to work on spelling, vocabulary, reading and fine-motor skills.

See-Me Sensory Balls (Edushape, $11.65 for four)
These are great for kids who need a textured surface to grasp a ball, or who like sensory stimulation. Also great: the Oball, which has 28 holes for grasping.

Strider No-Pedal Balance Bike ($89.99, Strider)
Kids as young as 18 months can use these lightweight bikes, which are popular with physical therapists. There are no pedals, just movement propelled by a child with his feet on the ground. The bikes work on range of motion, flexibility, balance, strength and endurance. (Props to the company for its Strider Rider Fund, which benefits individuals with special needs.)

Farmers Market Color Sorting Set (Learning Resources, $26.89)
Five different colored baskets, each with five sturdy fruit or veggies of the same color, help develop color recognition, grouping, sorting skills and early math. It's also a soothing activity for kids who enjoy repetition. Comes with an Activity Guide and stickers for labeling the colors.

Snap Circuits Jr. SC-100 Electronics Discovery Kit (Elenco, $17.84)
Both my kids are fascinated with these electronic sets, and have used them to build everything from a flying saucer to a DIY doorbell (instructions are included)—it really motivates Max to isolate and use his fingers and his pincer grasp. Says Lynn L. "Walter has a hard time using his left hand effectively and his right hand isn't 100 percent, but he loves these things!"

Kerplunk Game (Mattel, $15)
First, kids have to insert sticks through holes in the tube. Then they pour marbles down the top. And then, they have to remove the sticks one by one, making sure not to let any marbles drop. It encourages kids to use their pincer grasps, coordination and focus.

Portable Table Air Hockey (Five Below, $5)
Max is a master of table air hockey—and he's pretty ruthless with his opponents, usually his occupational therapist. You can play on any table and it's great for hand-eye coordination, aim and giving kids the thrill of competition. There's a similar set here (Strictly 4U, $15.97) if you don't have a local Five Below.

My Pal Violet & My Pal Scout (Leapfrog, $17.99 & $17.08)
Meet your kid's new BFF. Connect the pup to a computer or smartphone and you can personalize her/him your child's name, favorite songs, colors and foods—which Scout and Violet will ask them about. The canines also help teach first words, numbers, routines and feelings; activities encourage kids to sing along and develop early language skills. They store up to five daytime tunes and five nighttime ones from a selection of more than 30 downloadable tunes.

Melissa & Doug Customizable Deluxe Pounding Bench (Things Remembered, $17)
Ideal for practicing hand-eye coordination, grasping and learning colors, with your child's name engraved on the front of the bench. Parent bonus: The pegs are non-removable so you won't go bonkers looking for them. Perasonalized stacking trainblocks cart and toy mailbox also available.

Pinball Painter Splatter Paint Kit (Alex, $19.97)
It's a mini pinball machine! It's a paint kit! It's both! Kids coat the included three balls with paint, then pull back levers to shoot them off and create designs on a piece of paper. It motivates kids to use their fingers and make like a Pinball Picasso.

B. Stackadoos (B. Toys, $25.32)
You may know these chunky, soft, easy-to-connect pieces as as Bristle Blocks. They can help with fine-motor coordination and gross motor skills (as a child zooms around his creations), along with names of colors and shape sorting. Contains 68 pieces and a booklet with building ideas.

Sweet Shoppe Swirl and Scoop Ice Cream Playset (Play-Doh, $11.69)
Play-Doh is a staple in most occupational therapists'  bag of tricks, and this set is super-cute—what kid isn't motivated by ice-cream? The special kind of Play-Doh is softer than the usual, so it's easier to handle. Kids can press the lever to swirl ice-cream into the cone, and pat pieces into molds to make toppings.

Relax Therapy (Tangle, $6.21)
This fidget (hel-lo, stocking stuffer) is a go-to for kids with anxiety, OCD and sensory issues.

Gazillion Bubbles Hurricane Machine (Funrise, $14.99)
"It's good for kids of all abilities, but especially sensory seekers!" says Melissa. M. "We gave it to my ASD/ADHD son for his birthday and it really enhances dance parties. Buy extra bubbles while you are at it because they go fast!"

Number Lovin' Oven (LeapFrog, $19.99)
Pretend play at its tastiest: Kids can "bake" with the 16 pieces (including two cupcakes, four slices of pizza, a sunny side up egg, a loaf of bread, two plates, a baking sheet, a frying pan and spatula). Set the temperature and the oven talks; press the red button and it makes egg frying noises. There are songs that help teach counting, a temperature dial and a countdown after something is put in to bake. Parents will appreciate the three volume settings: low, high and best of all, OFF.

Magic 8 Ball ($7.79, Mattel)
Turns out this childhood favorite is great occupational therapy. Max loves shaking it up with two hands (TWO HANDS!) for answers. As it turns out, it's also great speech therapy because he also likes talking to it, informing the ball about his upcoming birthday party and vacations. Hey, if it gets him talking.... Will your kid like it? Signs point to "yes."

Playskool Poppin' Park Elefun Busy Ball Popper ($19.99, Hasbro)  
Yep, it's super-cute, but it also helps with hand-eye coordination, fine-motor skills and gross-motor skills. (The company's Toybox Tools, created in cooperation with The Autism Project, has videos and printable visual supports to help kids max out playtime with toys.)

Mini Trampoline (Little Tikes, $41.99)
Made for indoor use, at three feet wide it won't take up too much space. As kids grasp the handlebar, you can help them practice balance and movement. Kids with anxiety tend to find it soothing. You may be tempted to try it but, sorry, the weight limit is 55 pounds.

Musical Hand Bells (Schylling, $29.08)
Bells will be ringing all year round because these inspire kids to grasp, shake and make sounds. Each has a different note, ranging from Middle C to High C.

Hungry Hungry Hippos ($12.99, Hasbro)
Another childhood classic. "It's been great for my five-year-old daughter with autism, ADHD and dyspraxia," says Kacie B. "It is good for motor planning and participating in an activity with others that doesn't necessarily require turn taking."

Fish-A-Ree ($22.77, Mindware)
Each bobber has different colored fish hidden beneath it. Kids draw numbered cards, then try to find two fish whose lengths add up to that number. Works on grasping? Check. Memory? Check. Measurements? Check. A good time? Check!

K's Kids Pull-Back Vehicle Set (Melissa & Doug, $22.51)
These sturdy soft vehicles, including a school bus, fire truck, police car and family car, are great for any child who loves things that goooooo. Kids just have to grasp and pull back the cars a bit for them to zoom off, no batteries required. The cars work on fine motor, gross motor and logic skills, along with hand-eye coordination.

Funky Groovy Tie Dye Kit ($9.13, Jacquard)
This kit has everything (including red, blue and yellow dye, applicator bottles and rubber gloves) to make up to five t-shirts. Kids psyched to get their fingers working: groovy!

Rainfall Rattle (Discovery Toys, $18.99)
This rattle, a longtime Max fave, works on eye tracking, dexterity, coordination and cause and effect. Parents cleaning up the playroom at night might find it very mesmerizing, too.

Blink Card Game (Mattel, $7.28)
This card game spurs kids to use their hands and brains—win-win! The point is to get rid of the cards you're holding by matching them with the ones in the discard pile by number, shape or color of objects.

A personalized photo book 

Even better than a toy: A custom book about your child—hands down, my kids' favorite gift every single year. (The above one is from Shutterfly.) I put them together with photos of the kids from the past year and fun captions. Over the years, Max's books have encouraged him to read, turn pages and realize how great his life is—and his mom, too, of course. He he.

Recommended sites with toys and games for kids with special needs  

If you're looking for toys specifically geared toward kids with disabilities, including accessible and adapted ones, check out these sites, which generally aren't rip-offs like some of them can be:

Ability Station
Beyond Play
eSpecial Needs
Fat Brain Toys' Special Needs Resource Center
Fun and Function
Playability Toys
Therapy Shoppe

Other great sites for toys and games

The following sites have a great range of unique, creative toys:

CP Toys
For Small Hands
Lakeshore Learning
Marbles The Brain Store
Museum Tour Toys
Toys To Grow On
Young Explorers

And if you'd like to check out previous Love That Max gift guides...

Great toys for kids with special needs 2014
Great toys for kids with special needs 2013
Great toys for kids with special needs 2012
Great toys for kids with special needs 2011
Great toys for kids with special needs 2010

Friday, November 27, 2015

The Special Needs Blogger Weekend Link-up: Blog Friday!

What to do if you're new here

This is a place to share a recent favorite post you've written, or read. Scroll all the way down to the bottom of this post. Where it says "Your name" put the name of the blog followed by the title of the post you want to share (or just the name of the post, if there's no room—you get 80 characters).

Like this: Thanksgiving, special needs family style

Where it says "Your URL" put the direct link to the post.

Click "Enter." Leave a comment if you want to say more. Go check out some great posts. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Thanksgiving, special needs family style

Invite your family, hoping that this is the year certain well meaning but clueless relatives won't say things like "He'll grow out of it!" and "Is he ____-ing yet?" and "Isn't there medication for that?" and "I think he just needs more discipline."

Swoon when your child comes home from school with a handprint turkey and a note that he is thankful for everything Mommy does for him, even if his teacher wrote that. Maybe he can't speak it or write it, but you know he feels it.

Wonder if this is the year your child will sit at the table.

On the big day, charge up the iPad, tablet, all available phones and any other device in your house to entice your child to sit at the table.

Wonder if this is the year your child will eat the Thanksgiving meal.

Make sure you have pizza bagels/ramen noodles/Froot Loops/whatever food your child is into because: reality.

As family arrives, watch your child have a meltdown thereby encouraging certain relatives to think he hasn't changed a bit since last year.

Vow to not let child use the iPad/tablet/watch TV before dinner starts.

Give up five minutes later and let child use the iPad/tablet/watch TV.

Feel a little wistful when you see the other kids doing their typical kid things. Encourage them to say hi to your child.

When one of them tries to swipe your child's iPad/tablet, try not to hiss at her.

Entice child to table with iCrack device plus Froot Loops/pizza bagels/ramen noodles/whatever.

As a relative says, "Why's the table vibrating?" exchange smirks with your spouse and place a hand on child's knees so he stops rhythmically kicking the table.

Make a big show of letting child know how incredibly yummy the turkey, sweet potatoes, stuffing, mashed potatoes and green beans are!

When child says something and relatives ask what he said, translate for them: "He said 'Yuck!'"

Give child more ramen noodles/Froot Loops/pizza bagels/whatever. Then give some to sibling, who isn't much into Thanksgiving food, either.

Allow child to play with cranberry mold, should he desire, because it's a sensory activity and at least the cranberry mold your aunt brought will be good for something.

Feel grateful when relatives who don't see your child that often point out how much progress he's made.

When child eventually dashes away from table, let him hang out in another room and console yourself by eating your body weight in stuffing. Bring it, comfort food!

Alternate enjoying conversation with family with checking on child.

When one of those well meaning but clueless relatives asks about child's diagnosis, say the following: "Things are proceeding! How about some more sweet potato pie?"

If relative persists, shoot your spouse A Look so he'll save you.

Take a bathroom break so you can hide in there and calm your nerves.

Decide that today is not the day you are going to worry about whether too much iPad/tablet/TV time is bad for your child's brain.

Bring pie to your child on the off chance he might want some.

Cuddle with him on couch and eat it yourself.

When relatives leave, child is finally asleep and spouse is cleaning up, sit at kitchen table in a stupor and feel thankful you made it through. Then down a cold pizza bagel/more stuffing/whatever.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

A great fudge recipe that's even a little healthy

Every year, my mom made me fudge for my birthday for as long as I can remember. Now she's passed the whisk to my sister. It's always the same recipe, one my mother cut out of a newspaper in the seventies. And it is the most amazing fudge I've ever had, one of my favorite foods in the whole wide world. Yes, there are all sorts of memories mixed in there, but it's exceptionally tasty, not too sweet and really satisfying. It's even a little healthy—the oats have fiber and various minerals, and the peanut butter adds protein.

I'm looking forward to enjoying a batch on Friday, my birthday. I like it refrigerated. If you try it, let me know what you think!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Help has arrived and his name is Max

Nobody ever sets out to raise a child who thinks the world revolves around them. But when you have a child with special needs, the world often does revolve around them. Our kids tend to need tremendous amounts of attention, and then some. They need people to do things for them that they can't yet handle on their own. They may not think about how they can help others because they're so accustomed to being the ones receiving help.

I never worried much about Max growing up to be self-centered because I was too busy worrying about his development, fine motor skills, gross motor skills, speech, seizures and yada yada. We've given him chores like putting laundry into the machine and tidying his room, which he cheerfully does. But he hardly ever spontaneously offered to lend a hand until these past few months. I don't think it's anything we've done, just maturity.

Max helps Dave take out the recycling to the curb every Sunday evening—and starts reminding him that he wants to do it early in the day. He helps me put the groceries away. He takes the broom out of my hand and sweeps himself. When Dave brings me a cup of water in the morning, Max walks in carefully carrying it with a big grin. I know he's really proud of himself for pitching in. I think I'll ask the occupational therapist to work with him on making pan-seared salmon with wild mushroom risotto and a nice apple crisp for dessert. Kid-ding! (Kinda sorta.)

The baby's brought out the helper instinct in Sabrina, who really enjoys bathing and dressing Ben. So far she has opted out of diapering, although I suspect if I scribbled Ralph Lauren on some diapers with a Sharpie she'd be into it.

Max and Sabrina especially like pushing Ben around in his stroller together, which makes me out-of-my-head happy. My three kids. Sometimes, just Dave and the boys will go out and I'll watch them walking past the house, Max wheeling Ben. For a kid who's needed so much help throughout his life, it's spectacular to see him taking care of his baby brother.

Friday, November 20, 2015

The Special Needs Blogger Weekend Link-up: It's for you

What to do if you're new here

This is a place to share a recent favorite post you've written, or read. Scroll all the way down to the bottom of this post. Where it says "Your name" put the name of the blog followed by the title of the post you want to share (or just the name of the post, if there's no room—you get 80 characters).

Like this: And then my head exploded at the pediatrician's

Where it says "Your URL" put the direct link to the post.

Click "Enter." Leave a comment if you want to say more. Go check out some great posts. 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

And then my head exploded at the pediatrician's

Ben likes to eat a lot, which is no surprise given that he's my child. Unlike me, though, he isn't obsessed with sushi and he spits up frequently and voluminously. This is unnerving because I'm nursing him, so I've had no idea if he's retaining enough. Plus he always seems to want to eat—he nibbles on the washcloth in the bath tub, burp cloths or anything located near his mouth—which has made me further wonder whether he's satisfied. 

I was pretty sure that he was gaining decent weight, especially in his chins.

But the poor little guy generally has stomach distress; he gets fussy after he eats, and lets out burps for up to an hour or so afterward. Sometimes he gets these hiccup-burps that make his entire body shake. I've fed him sitting upright, burp him frequently during feedings and keep him upright after, too, but nothing has helped. 

Dave has been serving as the resident baby worrywart in our house (as you may have noted), but I wanted to make sure Ben's stomach issues weren't serious. When I called the nurse at the pediatrician's office, she decided to make an appointment for him to see the doc. I noted all my concerns about his eating on my iPhone, because I didn't trust my sleep-starved brain.

At the pediatrician's office, I gently placed Ben on the scale. The nurse did a double take. In three weeks he'd gone from six pounds, 11 ounces to nine pounds.

The doctor came in. "Wow, that is a lot of weight he gained!" she noted. "Are you nursing?" I nodded.

So then I read her my list of concerns, including "Spit-up sometimes flows out of his mouth like lava from a volcano."

And the doctor listened. And she gave him a good look over. And she basically said that he was probably ingesting a little too much milk at one sitting and suggested that I try to feed him more often, but maybe only give him one boob at once. That seemed reasonable.

And then, suddenly, worries came pouring out of me like lava.

What was that dry patch on his forehead?

How about the little bumps on his nose—would they go away?

His legs seem a little stiff when I change him, are they OK? 

His eyes kind of tracks my face when I move it but then he loses interest, is that OK? 

He's not so interested in staring at the mobile, is that OK?

I hadn't planned to ask any of that stuff. It was like because she hadn't found anything wrong with Ben, I needed to make absolutely, positively sure. Twelve years after going through NICU hell with Max, I still couldn't believe I had a healthy baby.

She answered my questions patiently. Everything was normal.

We came home. Ben was hungry. I nursed him, burped him, dabbed the spit up. I strolled around the house, with him on my shoulder. He was fine. I just had to believe it.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Your child with special needs will surprise you: an inspiring story

This guest post is from Dawn Marcotte, a Minnesota mom of two girls including a 16-year-old on the autism spectrum and, she says, "a 10-year-old who wants to be just like her big sister." After struggling to get a proper diagnosis for her daughter, Dawn launched ASD-DR, an autism resources site to help families. As her daughter has gotten older, she notes, the focus has shifted to helping teens and young adults live up to their highest potential. 

How do you feel about public speaking? How about improvisational performing?

Yeah, me too.

So when my 16-year-old autistic daughter recently that she had been asked to speak on a panel at a local anime convention, I was surprised and delighted and terrified all at the same time.

Perhaps I should explain first.

Recently there was another anime convention here; this would be our fourth now. This time A. and her little sister S. dressed in full costume from one of their favorite shows. They wore wigs and costumes they designed themselves, and even had props to carry around all day. They looked fabulous.

Their dad dropped them off. When I picked them up that evening they were bubbling over with excitement. A. had been asked to participate in a discussion panel happening the next day as a guest panelist. (She was dressed as a character they were missing from the panel.) She agreed, even though that meant she would be on a stage in front of actual people. She would have to talk to them and answer questions.

This would be the first time she had ever had to speak in front of a group like this. She was terrified and excited and then terrified again. It wasn't like she had a prepared speech or anything; she was going to pretend to be her character and answer questions about the show as if she was that character. I think that fact, more than any other, allowed her to agree to this new experience.

When we arrived the next morning, she was nervous but had been thinking about her character all night. She took a moment to get into character and truly enjoyed it. As the character of America she got to exploit her knowledge of all the stereotypes of Americans and be as snarky as only a 16 year old can be. She got many laughs from the audience.

I was absolutely amazed at her performance, and so proud. A. didn't hesitate to answer and was always ready with a retort for anyone who asked a question. This was nothing like the forced conversations we practiced when she was younger. She always struggled to talk about what she did that day or to participate in the give and take of a normal conversation.

The weekend had more surprises in store.

After the panel was finished, she was invited to participate in yet another panel because the organizers said she was “hysterically funny.” (She was.)

A. in her red wig, pointing at her sister
So why am I sharing this with you?

Because I want to give other parents hope.

I remember when A. was six years old and the autism diagnosis was fresh. We spent so much time and energy on her that we were overwhelmed. There were times when just getting through the next minute felt like a victory.

When she was younger, A. had a lot of trouble expressing how she felt and when she was becoming overloaded with sensory information. As a result her behavior was her best method of communication. There were many times when the world was so overwhelming that she simply melted down and was inconsolable. She could only scream and cry and weep until exhausted.

During this time thinking about life in a month, let alone a year, was more than I could do. Reacting to whatever situation had happened that day took all of my time and energy. I could never imagine what she would accomplish.

Then it was middle school and starting with a whole new set of teachers and administrators to make sure she got the help she needed.

My days consisted of arguing with A.  Puberty seemed to undo so much of what she had worked so hard to learn. But we survived it all and launched into high school. That was where A. was introduced to Japanese cartoons, otherwise known as anime.

She found her tribe.

I think my favorite quote from attending one of these conventions was from a professional voice actor who said, "Congratulations to everyone here. You aren't afraid to wear your freak on the outside."

He was right. The people who attended were not ashamed of loving something that a large portion of the population is not even aware of. They wore costumes and talked about characters with the same enthusiasm and passion that some people have when talking about sports or politics.

They don't care who you are, or where you are from or what you look like. If you like anime you are welcome. This level of acceptance is hard to come by for anyone, but even more so for kids who are on the spectrum.

My daughter was in the thick of it too, talking to people she had never met before and even making friends. She has since met with these new friends and is planning on seeing them again later this month.

Now I know that every child is different, but I want other parents to know that their child—no matter who they are or what they struggle with—can accomplish things you never imagined.

Who they are today is not who they will be next year or who they will be in 10 years.

If we are open to opportunities, willing to think outside the box and try new things with them, our kids can have a future they find fulfilling.

So take a deep breath.

The future is out there, and it just might be wonderful.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

A tough call I didn't have to make

It was a tough choice to make. There's a local speech therapist I've wanted Max to start seeing. He receives speech therapy at school and once on the weekends with someone excellent. But Max needs all the talking help he can get and I thought adding another therapist to the mix would be good for him; every therapist has his or her own tricks and skills. This one is pretty popular, and a slot had finally opened up in her schedule on Mondays at 5:30.

At first, my concern was how I'd get the baby and Max there. Then Friends @ Home started. Run by The Friendship Circle, the program involves teens visiting kids with special needs. Max has had different friends over the years, and I found out the other week that he'd been matched with someone great once again. Mondays was a good day for this boy, and the only possible day for Max because of his other therapies.

But: What about the speech therapy?

But: What about his social life?

As always, the siren call of the therapy was strong. Speech is one of Max's greatest challenges. And he really, really wants to articulate words. For most of Max's life, I've focused on getting him as much therapy as possible. Yes the therapists make the sessions fun. And Dave and I show Max a good time on weekends. But for sure, his social life is lacking and I felt awful at the thought of him missing out on a new friendship. When you have a kid with special needs, it's really hard finding the balance of therapy/medical appointments/just letting him enjoy life.

So I decided to split the difference: two speech sessions a month, two Friends @ Home visits. Still, I wondered if he should be doing more speech.

Yesterday, as darkness fell, I drove Max to the new therapist with the baby in tow; Sabrina was home with our babysitter. It wasn't that hard handling both Max and Ben as we walked from the parking lot to her office because Max mainly needs assistance walking up stairs and there were just a few of them.

As the therapist tried to elicit mmm's, ahhh's and ha's from Max, he kept yawning in her face. I stifled the impulse to joke about how she was boring him.

"Sometimes, the act of trying to make sounds can make kids yawn," she noted.

But as Max kept it up, it became clear that he was really tired. And that starting a speech therapy session at 5:30 was probably going to be too much for him. So we decided to wait for a 4:30 appointment to open up, and that she could see him when she had availability. And she kindly offered to share some thoughts with his other speech therapist and his music therapist, too.

And so now Max gets to hang with a really nice teen boy on Mondays. A decision was made for me, and it seems like the right one. In other words, party at our house!

Monday, November 16, 2015

The helper hand

"Max, can you hand me the TV remote control?"

Max has walked into our bedroom to say hi. I'm sitting in bed nursing Ben, and I don't want to stop to reach for it.

Max leans over to my nightstand and tries to grab the remote with his left hand, aka the better functioning one. Because he can't fully open his fingers, it's hard to pick up.

"Two hands, Max!" I remind him. "Two hands!"

We are always reminding Max to use two hands. If he thinks there's a fighting chance he can retrieve something up with his left hand alone, he will. But if he knows he definitely needs to use his right hand, too—say, for a large ball—he will.

Max ignores me and doggedly attempts to pick up the remote with his left hand alone.

Therapists call his right hand "the helper hand," a phrase that makes me cringe. It sounds babyish for him. It makes it sound as if Max's right hand isn't its own entity, even if it it is weaker because the bilateral stroke Max had at birth was worse on his left side than on his right, affecting the opposite limbs. Oftentimes Max walks around with his right hand resting on his belly, like Napoleon Bonaparte.

I got a taste, a very tiny one, of what it's like to be dependent on one arm when I had a frozen shoulder last year. Getting on shirts was a painful workout, and I couldn't even raise my left arm to shampoo my hair. Still, mainly using his left hand is second nature to Max; he doesn't know any different way of existing. Luckily, determination is also second nature to him. Also lucky: Although spastic cerebral palsy can cause muscular pain, Max seems to have escaped that so far.

Finally, Max picks up the remote control with his left hand; his knuckles are white, he's grasping it so hard. With a big grin on his face, he hands it to me and I know what he's thinking: See? I can do it with one hand, Mom! Lay off me!

"Max, why don't you want to use your right hand?" I blurt.

He shakes his head at me.

"Is it because it's hard to use?" I ask. I know the answer, of course, except we've never actually talked about it before. It's part of the evolving conversation we're having about cerebral palsy.

"Yes," Max acknowledges, matter of factly. And I feel a little sad.

"You try your best," I say, and leave it at that.

The other day, I left the pantry doors open and walked to the fridge. When I turned around, Max had pulled out a box of brownie mix; he was holding it with two hands, and looking at me hopefully.

I can think of few more motivating forces in life than chocolate brownies.

Friday, November 13, 2015

The Special Needs Blogger Weekend Link-up: Woo. Hoo.

What to do if you're new here

This is a place to share a recent favorite post you've written, or read. Scroll all the way down to the bottom of this post. Where it says "Your name" put the name of the blog followed by the title of the post you want to share (or just the name of the post, if there's no room—you get 80 characters).

Like this: In honor of my seventh blog anniversary, Max went to a Jets game

Where it says "Your URL" put the direct link to the post.

Click "Enter." Leave a comment if you want to say more. Go check out some great posts. 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Heard at our house this week

"Honey, I think he's hungry."—Dave [Repeat 10,000 times]

"He likes to pull my hair! Maybe because he's my brother."—Sabrina

"When I handed him to you his cheek hit my chest, do you think he's OK?"—Dave

"Did I eat a lot when I was a baby?"—Max

"If you leave your stuff lying all over the floor I could TRIP on it while I'm holding THE BABY!"—Me, trying to guilt certain individuals into cleaning up

"Maaaaaaaax! Don't breathe on him, you have germs! Maaaaaaaax! You're breathing on him!!! Mommmmmy he's breathing on him!"—Sabrina

"I love quiche! Can the baby eat quiche?"—Max

"I want to choose his outfit! What does he have that's fancy?"—Sabrina

"I think he's getting a cleft chin!"—Dave

"Maybe another time."—Sabrina, whenever I offer to let her change a poopy diaper

"I'm the best brother in the world!"—Max

"He sounded like he just snorted. Do you think he's OK?"—Dave

"I'm sorry to report that I think my boobs are about to fall off."—Me

"Maybe he'd like a Crayola Light Designer for Chanukah! We can share!"—Sabrina

"He stinks!"—Max

"Is he going to start walking soon?"—Sabrina

Previously heard at our house

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Getting kids with special needs into reading: 5 great tips

At bedtime, Max has been reading Ben one of his all-time favorite books: My Car, by Byron Barton. Last night, Max told me it's Ben's favorite book, too. It's cute central. And of course, I'm super-proud of Max's reading skills; they're coming along. I read more advanced books to him but he's able to read early elementary school books to me, and now he has a new audience.

For a long time, Max didn't have the attention span for books. He started caring more when he developed obsessions—purple, spaghetti, car washes, Lightning McQueen, fire trucks/firefighters—and I found relevant books. (Pray that your child never likes Lightning McQueen because those were some of the most boring books in the history of books.)

Some new inspiration for parents: My friends Amy Mascott, a reading specialist and creator of Teach Mama, and Allison McDonald, a preschool teacher who founded No Time For Flash Cards, have a book out, Raising A Rock-Star Reader. It's packed with quick tips for helping kids develop early reading and writing skills, and a love of reading. It's not specific to kids with special needs, but there's lots of advice that's helpful for kids of all abilities.

Some of my favorite tips:

Bring books to life. 

Make reading fun and it'll spark a kid's interest. You can throw a birthday party with a favorite book as the theme (find ideas on Pinterest), give book-themed gifts, decorate a room with a theme from a book or simply make up stories about a child's favorite character.

Play "I spy" to help kids learn letters.

You want kids to see that letters are everywhere, and once they learn them and can read words, they'll find messages everywhere. So regularly play a game: Ask them to look around for specific letters—say, at the grocery store or on a menu. They can search for a stick in the park in the shape of a letter. You can also add a challenge; for example, find the most beautiful letter "B" on a road sign.

Have a dedicated place for bedtime books. 

It's a time saver, to be sure, but I've also found that it helps Max focus. Shelf upon shelf of books is overwhelming. (Same goes for toys.) We keep Max's current faves in a basket by his bed and rotate them in and out.

Help kids relate to the characters, events or ideas in the book.

As Amy and Allison say, "When readers are able to create a connection to a text, they're more likely to remember what they're reading and they often understand it at a deeper level." So bring up your own experiences, like why the grandma in the story reminds you of your own or that you know other kids like the girl in Knuffle Bunnie who are attached to their stuffed animals.

Ask questions.

Asking your child about what they are reading is key to helping kids become stronger readers. Some good starters:

• I wonder why...
• When will they...
• Who will help the...
• What will they do if...
• Why did they decide to...

Note Allison and Amy, "You may be surprised at how insightful and thoughtful your child can be." Amen!

 Raising a Rock Star Reader

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Non-adventures in Babyland

Ben and I headed to the mall yesterday. Perhaps that seems mundane but it's a Big Deal to go places when you have a newborn, as I seem to have forgotten from the last time I had one. I thought I'd be out and about in no time; in reality, I have gone for just a handful of walks since Ben came home. Ben is a very leisurely nurser, plus he tends to fall asleep as he dines, so I end up sitting around a lot with him and pretending I am burning a kajillion calories by breastfeeding.

It's been an amazing thing going with the flow, because I'm not someone who easily relaxes. I am also relishing the new-mom, drama-free experience I missed out on with Max.

As soon as Ben finished brunch and nodded off, I showered and dashed out the door in that game of beat-the-sleeping-baby-clock. We cruised around the mall, and I had a spectacular time doing lots of nothing. I checked out baby clothing and when-I-lose-the-baby-weight-still-left-over-from-having-Max clothing. I roamed around the Apple store. I had Asian Chicken Salad at the Cheesecake Factory (as it turns out, you can actually get in there on a weekday). When Ben woke up wailing, I headed over to Nordstrom's family lounge.

I sat there for about 45 minutes, letting Ben nurse. In recent years, I have found it virtually impossible to just do one thing. I'll write or answer email as I watch TV. If I'm reading a book, I'll jump up frequently to take care of something. I'm driven by the endless to-do list in my head, and the delusion that I'll be able to get everything done if I tackle one more task. But I've gotten into the Zen of breastfeeding. It helps that I'm not coordinated enough to nurse and use an iPhone for any length of time plus I have slightly neurotic thoughts about zapping cell phone radiation at Ben. Being tired also contains those multi-tasking impulses.

I was never good at nursing in public places with Max or Sabrina. It felt kind of awkward and inevitably, I ended up flashing people. I was also Boppy codependent and found it hard to do without. But not this time. I'm better at breastfeeding, and it was easy to sit in an armchair and feed Ben. Gloriously ordinary. A couple of moms came in to diaper their babies on the changing table, and we compared notes on birth weight, sleeping habits and smiles. Ordinary.

As I go about doing typical things moms of newborns do, I am so appreciative (well, excluding the sleep deprivation). I felt the same with Sabrina. Nothing much happened yesterday. Nothing much will happen today, I'm betting, or tomorrow or this week or the rest of the month. And it's all good.

Monday, November 9, 2015

In honor of my seventh blog anniversary, Max went to a Jets game

So technically, Max didn't choose to celebrate the seventh anniversary of this blog by going to a Jets game yesterday. But it was a great gift for both of us.

Max was five when I started writing Love That Max. Back then, he had major sensory issues. Eating in a restaurant would make him screech. He would barely walk into the door of a birthday party held at a bowling alley or kid gym. We couldn't take him to museums, movies or shows, let alone a sports event.

We were all lucky: As time passed, Max got past a lot of his noise and crowd issues and his fear of the unknown. I don't think it's anything we did for him, per se, although we never stopped trying to introduce him to new places and experiences. Noise-reducing headphones came in handy. I'm betting a lot of it has had to do with his brain's continued healing from the stroke, along with maturity. As Max's cognition and curiosity has improved, he's more driven to try new things and push past sensory challenges.

This year Max and Dave started watching Sunday Night Football. I'd connected with the NFL a few years ago when they were raising awareness about preventing concussions; this week a contact offered me tickets for a suite. YES PLEASE. I stayed home with the baby and Dave took Max and Sabrina.

It used to be that when we'd drive by the stadium Max would vigorously shake his head at it just so we were completely clear he didn't want to go there. But when I told him we got tickets to see the Jets, he was so excited that all week long he practiced his chant: "Jets! Jets! Jets!"

What I especially appreciated was that while Dave was psyched to go with Max (and just psyched to go, period), this wasn't some big dad win for him. He's never been one to mourn that, until recently, he didn't have a son who was into watching sports, or who could play them in the usual way.

Dave kept texting me from the game; Sabrina and Max were having the time of their lives. And that made me seriously happy. A progress score like this, seven years into writing the blog? Love that Max.

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