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Top Ten: Ways My Kids Are More Special Than Yours (the easiest list yet) – Answer Key

Answers are in bold next to each item.

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Even though only one of my kids has a true disability, in the most technical sense all of my children have “special needs.” And I don’t mean special in the “my-kids-are-so-much-more-special-than-yours” sense (despite the title). In fact, I’m counting on the fact that your kids are more special than mine in some ways, and that even you yourself have a special need or two.

Sometimes it’s just too darn easy to judge or lose patience with James for being weirrrr… I mean, particular about so many things (so, so many). But last night as I was talking to my mom about struggling with the particularities of another child of mine, it became startlingly clear that all of my kids were weirdos. Yep, big ol’ weirdos. And I have no idea where they get it from, because their father and I are just as normal and boring as two people could be.

So for a little fun, tonight’s Top Ten is another mystery edition. Below is a list of items that make my children special – can you figure out which preference belongs to who? Remember, James is 12, M is 3 and A will be 2 next week. You might be surprised when the answers are revealed.

And yes, I know it’s more than ten – this was seriously a little too easy in my opinion. Should I be worried?

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Top Ten: Ways My Kids Are More Special Than Yours

1. Can’t stand having sticky hands, the term “sticky” including hands having glitter, paint, or any kind of food on them, or my personal favorite, hands that are not quite dry after washing them. Margaret

2. Will not tolerate food touching or even being on the same plate, even if all of the food is well-liked. Margaret

3. Don’t stir the fruit into the yogurt unless you want to witness this child have a meltdown. Adam

4. Needs a hug, kiss and high five before someone leaves, 2 out of the 3 won’t do. Margaret and Adam

5. Tags need to be cut off, especially visible ones. Not just on their clothing but on stuffed animals and other people’s clothing as well. Adam.

6. The light has to be on, but the right amount of dim in order to go to bed without a fuss. James.

7. Ramen noodles must be eaten with a fork. James and Margaret.

7a. Ramen noodles must be eaten with a spoon. Adam. Come on, tell me you don’t have a preference. If you say you’ve never eaten Ramen I don’t believe you.

8. Fruit will only be eaten when cut up, but then will be eaten in vast quantities. James

9. Willing puts face under the water of a freezing pool, but if water gets on face while having hair washed goes ballistic. Actually this was a trick – all 3 of my kids have this lovely quirk.

10. Screams frantically and runs from the noise of hand mixer or blender, unless able to press buttons themselves. Adam.

11. Cries over a cockroach but willingly catches cicadas, grasshoppers and frogs barehanded. Haha, another trick one – this is my own issue.

11a. Delights in finding a cockroach but cries if a housefly is too close for comfort. Adam.

Ironic how few of these were James, right? My whole family is full of weirdos (husband excluded, of course).

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Come on, fess up – what makes your kid so special?

Top Ten: Things We Love About Having A Large Family – Special Surprise Addition

February 22, 2012 3 comments

I recently had to disclose to a dental assistant that I couldn’t have x-rays done because I’m pregnant. She asked, “Oh, is it your first?” “No, my fourth, actually,” I replied. “You need to stop that,” she said. “Excuse me?” “You need to stop that! What do you have?” “Two boys and a girl so far,” I replied. “Well, I hope you have a girl so you can even things out,” she said conversationally and left the room.

We debated about waiting longer to announce this pregnancy, mainly because we wanted to hold on to our joy and excitement before all the remarks, advice and judgment came into play. Don’t get me wrong, we still feel darn excited! But no matter how little it actually matters, it’s hard not to care about what others think or say, especially if they are people you regularly bump into, friends or even family members who think they have the “right” number of children figured out.

Parents with 3 or more children have all probably experienced this issue to some degree and let’s face it, 3 kids in NYC is comparable to 7+ in other parts of the country (3 children? when are you moving to Jersey?). But the criticism dial is only turned up further when one of your children is disabled.

So, I’m pregnant. Again. My husband is super, duper excited. We planned for it and had fun trying. So before you shake your head and say “what are they thinking?” I’ll just beat you to the punch and tell you. Today’s Top Ten is about all of the positive things we experience and all of the reasons we love our large and growing family.

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1. Affection. Lots of kisses, hugs and cuddles, anytime, anyplace.

2. Social Skills. Learning to get along, compromise and try new approaches in a non-threatening, noncompetitive, safe environment. It’s always better to find out that sitting on someone’s head is not an acceptable way to get your toy back when that someone is related to you. It’s also better to be shamed into sitting through “The Birthday Song” by your two year old sister than by a classmate. Trust me on this one.

3. Pride. There is always something to celebrate. Between major holidays, birthdays, graduations, milestones, baptisms, first communions, recitals, sports games, report cards, and new babies, it seems that hardly a day goes by where we don’t feel proud of something. As an added bonus, we all are able to experience happiness for someone else’s success.

4. Company. We’re never lonely. Morning or night, bathroom, bedroom or shower. We’re never. Ever. Alone.

5. Friends. Siblings make great friends (except for when they don’t). They have each other to play with now and they will have each other when they grow up. With four younger siblings I have been able to experience this relationship journey several times now, and I still can’t believe what we did to each other and still ended up the closest of friends. On the flip side, nothing bonds two adults together like chatting about baby poop. We have met some of our best friends through our children.

6. Relaxation. No, I’m not kidding. What I mean is loosening expectations, loosening up in general. With our first child, if a pacifier fell on the ground it was immediately tossed or set aside for deep cleaning. By our third, the pacifier was casually dusted on a pant leg before being reinserted. We had one hell of a diaper bag with baby #1. By baby #3 a couple of diapers, a handful of wipes and some kind of receiving blanket (or jacket in desperate moments) was all that was needed for any trips under 5 hours.

7. Happiness. Giggles, squealing and laughter are easy to come by at our house. Quiet is overrated.

8. Responsibility and Teamwork. Many hands make the work light (and many hands make a lot of work to divvy up!).

9. Independence. When I was 9 months pregnant with my 3 year old, James was still terrified of sleeping alone. So each and every night until the night I gave birth, I would lay down on the floor next to his bed until he fell asleep, the greatest challenge being to stay awake long enough to get off of the floor for the night! The day I came home from the hospital that routine ended. James was forced to learn some independence, and though it was a difficult couple of weeks the experience was worth its weight in diapers. Lots and lots of diapers.

10. Boredom Busters. If you’re bored with this many people around, it’s obviously your own fault.

11. Diet and Exercise. When feeding children, eating healthy suddenly seems more important to pass on as a habit. Who wants to shovel empty fat and calories into those innocent, doe-eyed tattletales (Mom gave us ice cream for dinner today!)? I never get to finish a meal without getting up from the table 14 times. Or should I say 14 reps? Other times, someone eats half of my food. Or should I say portion control?

12. Empathy and Kindness. Certainly our younger children will all have a uniquely personal experience in learning compassion for others who are disabled, mentally handicapped or a little different. It is one of my greatest wishes that they feel (and appreciate) the same no-strings-attached, always forgiving, always accepting, constant love from James that we do.

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Sorry, I couldn’t help myself – there’s a few extra items on the list tonight. But seriously, what’s wrong with a few extra?

Top Ten: Favorite Extracurricular and Social Activities For Special Needs Kids in NYC

January 25, 2012 1 comment

Disclaimer: This “Tuesday Top Ten” was bumped (rudely shoved) to Wednesday for the first time ever thanks to Beth Israel Medical Center, where we spent 5 hours in transit/waiting and 10 minutes with an actual doctor yesterday.

Moving on…

I’m almost hesitant in posting this week’s Top Ten because I don’t want people crowding up all of my favorite activities, but my altruistic nature has won so you are about to benefit from my experience, trials and errors, hours spent googling “special needs activities NYC” and not least of all my frugality (a fancy word we like to use for cheapness). In fact, many of the activities listed below are among my favorites because they are quality programs at low or no cost, though the ones that do cost a few more dollars are certainly worth it if they’re on the list!

There are obviously a bunch of other amazing activities and experiences in the city that didn’t make my Top Ten, but IMO it’s a pretty good problem to have such a large pool of choices! To clarify, the programs on this list are all extracurricular activities that include social interaction and meet regularly (so one-time events, general public venues and private lessons were not considered).

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1. Daniel’s Music Foundation: Take it from a music teacher, this one is far and away the best introduction to music you can make for your special needs child (or adult). Not surprisingly, there is a waiting list and altruistic though I may be, I’m not giving up my spot! This amazing program runs from September through May, offering music classes for all ages and abilities. If you haven’t already, read one of my many admiring posts about the Trush family (founders) and their fantastic foundation. Cost, free.

2. West Side Baseball (Registration ends on Tuesday, January 31st!) The Challengers division is open to children with any disability, ages 5-18. This program runs April through June and meets in Riverside Park – we’ve enjoyed 3 seasons and are looking forward to our fourth! Cost, $150 (scholarships available).

3. Safe Haven Hoops: for children 5-18. This program runs December through March. **Though the season is underway, special needs players can register anytime during the season for the Champions division. Cost $120, scholarships available. Thanks to this wonderful program, James has shown remarkable improvement in shooting baskets and not crying when others shoot baskets.

4. WSSL: Special needs soccer for ages 5-18. The VIP division meets September through November at the North Meadows in Central Park. Cost, $150, scholarships available.

5. Fitness For Focus: Special needs martial arts classes for kids ages 4 and up. Sessions available year round at 2 locations. There are free trial classes being offered January 29th and 30th! Email senseiglenn@fitnessforfocus.com for more details or to register for a free trial. Cost, varies (early bird registration discounts offered).

6. Adaptive Swim Lessons provided by NYC Parks – though we have only participated during the summer, there are opportunities year round throughout the city. In fact, free adaptive swim lessons and aquatic exercise therapy (for up to 12 people at a time) are being offered this Winter/Spring for anyone interested, including special needs school or adult groups, at locations in all five boroughs. For more information please call 718-760-6969 or email Victor.Calise@parks.nyc.gov.

7. Achilles Kids –  offers a school program and an extracurricular year round program that meets every other Saturday. Saturday sessions include training activities that integrate free-play, games, and nutritious snacks to make the experience fun and provide racing opportunities. Even better, the entire family can participate.

8. Adaptive Track and Field program provided by NYC Parks –  for kids ages 5-16 with (and without) physical and developmental disabilities, offered in multiple locations citywide. What’s really neat is the big integrated track meet at the end of the summer at Icahn Stadium (with many adaptive events), which was a really great experience for James to participate in (except for the starting gun). Even more appealing, the schedule is very flexible – we did once a week but could have done more. All of the equipment and t-shirts are provided. And, it’s free! Go to http://www.cityparksfoundation.org/pdfs/cityparks_Trackbrochure.pdf for last year’s information – I’ll post 2012 info when I get it!

9. Special Needs Aquatic, Cultural and Athletic Programs at Riverbank State Park. To me, this one is such a hidden gem, not just for the special needs population but for anyone with young children who doesn’t want to pay Manhattan prices for Manhattan classes. As noted in their program guide, “the physically challenged can participate in most of the free programs, activities, and classes. They may receive daily discounts or free admission.” However, there is a plethora of activities and classes for “special populations,” no matter what the disability (or age). Costs are low or free. Click the link to browse the Riverbank State Park Fall/Winter Program Guide 2011-2012.

10. KEEN – a national, nonprofit volunteer-led organization that provides one-to-one recreational opportunities for children and young adults with mental and physical disabilities at no cost to their families and caregivers. Neither income nor the severity of a child’s disability is a barrier to joining a KEEN program. This program meets on select Saturdays around the city and is open to athletes 4 to 21 years of age. For more info call 212.768.6785 or email info@KEENnewyork.org.

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Okay, now don’t all go register for everything at once!

Did I miss your favorite? Did I get someone’s contact info wrong? Please leave it in the comments section.

Top Ten: Top Tens (sneak peek edition)

January 17, 2012 2 comments

Spoiler Alert: If you like being surprised by the Top Ten topic each week you probably shouldn’t read this one.

In my very first post ever on The Foorce I confessed to making lists of lists. This was not an exaggeration, and it is with equal measures of shame and enthusiasm that I share my Top Ten Top Tens with you this evening. Some are close to being complete, some are still in progress, but obviously none are finished or I wouldn’t resort to exploiting my list fetish for your entertainment.

Hopefully you’ll be able to look past the weirdness and just feel excited about the awesome Top Tens coming your way!

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Top Ten (Upcoming) Top Tens:

1. Vacation Spots For Special Needs Families

2. NYC Restaurants Where You Can Be Comfortable, Even If Your Kid Starts Crying Every Time They Sing Happy Birthday To Another Table

3. Accessible and Amazing Things To See/Eat/Do On Your Trip To NYC

4. Special Needs Friendly Indoor Playspaces

5. Day Trips For Special Needs Families Within 2 Hours of NYC

6. Favorite Snacks and Meals Of My Non-Picky Eater With “Texture Issues” (recipes included!)

7. Accessible But Not Boring NYC Parks

8. Extracurricular Activities for Special Needs Children in NYC

9. Places We Avoid With Our Special Needs Child in NYC (You Might Be Surprised)

10. Board and Card Games, Modified To Be Fun For The Entire Family

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Come on, I bet you’re feeling a little excited about my list of lists. Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone.

Top Ten: Items In My Special Needs Bucket

I think we all have a Bucket List, however informal – you know, a list of things we want to do before we kick the bucket. So you won’t be surprised to know that I, queen of the list, have more than one. Here are the Top Ten items on my (very specific, mostly realistic) Special Needs Bucket List that I’d like to do with James, before either one of us kicks (or trips over) the bucket.

1. participate in the Special Olympics – this might actually happen this year, stay tuned!

2. go camping – this is a source of many of my fondest (and most terrifying) childhood memories. If only once, I would like to share with James what sleeping under the stars (or in the backseat of a van) is like. If nothing else, there’s always smores.

3. go bike riding – though the Lose The Training Wheels program’s 85% success rate became our 15% failure last summer, I have not given up the dream (or delusion) of a family bike ride. I will be trying this one out as soon as my mom gives me her tandem bike (hint, hint).

4. cannonball into a pool – we’ve worked our way up to “most of head underwater for >2 seconds,” and it only took a little more than a decade. At this rate we should be up to cannonballs by the time James is in his 50s. By then I should still be able to cannonball, with a little motivation (and perhaps a new hip).

5. run the Central Park Challenge 5K together – though we walk the heck out of that 3K every year, we both need a little training for this one (keep an eye out for this year’s team, forming soon!).

6. have a water balloon fight (in a fun way) – balloons popping + stuff coming out of popping balloons = littletoalmostnochanceofeverhappening. But I would’ve said the same thing about our chances of swimming in the ocean together last summer.

7. ride in a car with James behind the wheel. Okay – NYC, disabled kid – I get that this one is far fetched. But come on, how many of you were taken to a parking lot pre-license and given the wheel? I guess I should worry about getting the car first (Zipcar, close your eyes!).

8. go on a roller coaster together (in a fun way). This will involve either an empty amusement park, ear plugs or James suddenly not minding loud, continuous screaming, but after the ferris wheel success last summer I am not giving up hope.

9. have a 4th of July Picnic under the fireworks (in a fun way). I’m already trying to figure out how the ipod can work its magic on this situation (if it can get us through the morning routine anything is possible).

10. run across a sheet of bubble wrap together barefoot – does this sound trivial to you? Well I actually miss this. I miss doing it with my younger two children (we only get to do it when packages arrive and James is at school) and I miss it for the sheer satisfaction of popping every single little bubble in all of those Amazon.com boxes. I think James has NO idea what he is missing here and when I see the joy in my toddlers faces I long for James to give it a try, just once. But for now we need to work on being in the same room as the bubble wrap.

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What’s on your bucket list, special needs or not? Please feel free to share in the comments section – in a fun way, of course.

Top Ten: Things To Consider When Selecting a School For Your Special Needs Child

In honor of “Oh-my-God-middle-school-applications-are-due Week” I am finally taking my head out of the sand and devoting my Top Ten to finding the right school. If you’re like me, you might find yourself surprisingly, woefully underprepared for your first special needs school search, especially if you are considering mainstreaming and attend tours that mainly consist of parents of typical children. The tour guide, whether it be a parent coordinator or the vice principal, is not going to offer up a special needs version of the tour most of the time, but will instead cater to the general audience and tell you how competitive their school is academically and how amazing their extracurricular activities are. There’s nothing wrong with that – it’s good to know those things, but depending on your child’s disability, academic competition and after school clubs might not be at the top of your list.

So what should be on your list then? you might be thinking. Well, obviously priorities are different for each parent depending on their child’s disability, unique needs, strengths and personality, but here is what I consider to be the general Top Ten Things To Consider When Selecting A School For Your Special Needs Child:

1. Availability: When you telephone the school for an appointment do you reach a real person or an automated message? If a real person, are they helpful and polite? Is your call returned promptly if not taken right away? Or, did you email? Was your email forwarded to the appropriate person? How long did it take to receive a reply?

2. Appearance: What is the general appearance of the school? Does it look well cared for? Is it clean? What about the reception area for you to wait in (is there one?)? Is there a security guard or other security in place at the entrance? Does someone greet you when you arrive?

3. Administration: Do you have the chance to meet with the Principal or Vice-Principal during your visit? If not, do you have a way to contact them with questions? Are you invited to set up a meeting with them at another time?

4. Food: Where do the students eat – in a classroom or lunchroom? Does the school cater to special dietary requirements? How are food allergies handled? If mainstreaming, do special ed students eat with the general population?

5. Medical: Is there a school nurse on-site full time? If not, how are medications handled? Spills on the playground? Sick children?

6. Behavior Issues: What strategies does the school use to manage challenging behavior? How do they monitor if it is working? What is the school’s policy on bullying?

7. Specials and Specialists: What therapists visit the school and how often? Does the school have regular access to Speech, OT, PT, a guidance counselor and a pyschologist? Does the school offer Adaptive PE? If your child has speech and language difficulties ask what method will the school use for communication. Do they have access to assistive technology? Are there any extracurricular activities that are open to special needs students? Are there electives during the day that are appropriate for special needs students?

8. Things to note during the actual tour of the school: Is there a gym? Is there an auditorium? A music room? An art room? An outdoor playspace? A separate room for Speech, OT, PT and the guidance counselor? Take a look at the students in the classroom. Are they engaged in a meaningful activity? Are they just sitting around? Are there pictures on the wall, students’ work, etc?

9. Paraprofessionals: If your child is going to a public school and will need a para ask what training is given to the paraprofessional. Will your child get the same para every day? Will the para be with your child at lunchtime and recess?

10. Guidance (or lack thereof): Talk to the school guidance counselor and find out how many other students have IEPs. Do any of the students have 1:1 paraprofessionals? Do any of the students participate in Alternative Assessment? What classroom settings are available (Gifted, Gen ED, ICT, 12:1:1, etc)? Are all classroom configurations offered to students with IEPs? What opportunities do special education students in contained classroom settings have to mingle with the rest of the school population? Does the school require that your child’s IEP have a specific classification in order to be eligible for admission? If a private school, is it on the NYC Approved List (makes funding tuition easier)? What is the admission process, and what evaluations and reports are needed? How recent should they be?

If you get a chance try to come back at different times of the day, particularly in the morning, during lunch and toward the end of the day. Does the principal greet the children as they arrive? Do the buses arrive on time and deliver the children safely?

There’s a lot to consider, and I’m sure you can come up with a few more things relevant to your situation that I didn’t even mention. And by your 11th school (yep, 11 and still going) you might not feel any less stressed or lost but you will at least have these questions memorized (always keep your eye on the silver lining).

Stay tuned as I answer my hypothetical Top Ten list with real answers from real schools this week!

Top Ten: Ways a Special Needs School Tour Can Go Wrong

Today’s Top Ten was going to be a spoof. I needed a topic and my sister and I were joking around this weekend about the Top Ten Questions My Christmas Tree Should’ve Asked Before Moving In. But after this morning, there is no doubt in my mind as to what my Top Ten will be.

In an effort to jumpstart my school review series (coming soon!) while simultaneously demonstrating why it has taken so long to get up and running, I thought I would dedicate this Top Ten to the disastrous school tour I just returned home from. Only on planet Special Needs is one required to regularly attend open houses in order to find the right middle school for their fifth grader – I’m not kidding, it’s like applying to college but much less organized.

Today’s tour was at my first private special needs school (up until today I had been focusing on public options) – this one is located quite a distance from our apartment. Though tours are sometimes rescheduled at the last minute or start late, the Top Ten Ways A Special Needs School Tour Can Go Wrong promptly began:

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1. Due to unforeseeable circumstances I was left bringing both babies to the tour this morning. Enough said.

2. I then had the pleasure of lugging said babies to drop James off at school, followed by shuttling them onto 3 subways and a bus.

3. Once above ground we got to tour around the school’s neighborhood. Alot. We entered 3 separate buildings before finally finding the middle school office. At which point I was kindly directed to the main building where the tour actually started, back on the main road.

4. Two minutes into the tour, Adam pooped. Alot. Not a bathroom or changing table in sight. Hope he can get through the hour without making a fuss.

5. Five minutes later, Margaret loudly announces to the tour she has to poop. I am directed to a nearby girls room, where I instantly confirm that there is definitely nowhere to change Adam.

6. We enter a small, quiet conference room to meet with the Executive Director and introduce ourselves. Damn this tour for being so small and personal. Adam wants to get down and explore the beautiful, gigantic aquarium, the many shiny plaques and awards, and all of the other neat knicknacks lining the director’s office walls. I say no and offer him a cookie. A donut. Blueberries. A cup of water. A book. My phone. I whisper “Wheels on the Bus” into his ear while looking as interested in possible in the special electives the school has to offer. Adam squeals loudly in anger, interrupting introductions and director. Many, many times.

7. After a few minutes I excuse myself from the office, leaving Margaret in a swirly chair with a book (the walls are glass so I can see through). I stand outside of conference room rocking a screaming baby, straining to pick up a sentence or two, trying to wait out the Executive Director so that I can at least see one or two classrooms before giving up.

8. Adam decides that he is done screaming. Thank goodness! Instead, he head-butts me in the face in a last ditch effort to be let down, giving him a bloody nose and me a bloody lip. The secretary looks stunned. Not so thankful that the conference room walls are glass anymore.

9. I pack up my stuff and hustle out of the tour while Adam continues thrashing around like a muskie out of water. The tour started one hour ago (plus 2 hours of travel) and we were not able to see a single classroom.

10. Despite having checked online before leaving, we walk outside into the pouring rain. Adam screams until we reach the first subway, where he promptly falls asleep. Perfect timing.

Bonus: Adam wakes up refreshed and ready to play upon arriving home. I’m ready for a bowl of ice cream and a nap.

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And then it was 11:30am. How was your morning?