Using Photos to Teach Feelings by Shara Lawrence-Weiss

Cameras and coffee

Research has demonstrated the wonderful effect that real photographs can have on a child’s ability to learn. Children with autism are often drawn to real images: the colors, vibrant imagery, the facial expressions, and more.

While running various workshops at Bookmans Bookstore, the YMCA, MOPS groups, and mom groups, it became clear to me that many parents are unaware of how effective photos can be. A simple project can lead to activities that enhance understanding, empathy, learning, and the retaining of information.

Tell a story:
Take photos of your child helping someone else: a person or animal. Print the photos in color and put them in order (up to about 10 images). Laminate each one or cover in contact paper. String the images together, in order, to create a visual story. Look at the photos together and talk about what happened. Who did your child help? How was he/she affected? How did your child feel, knowing that someone was being helped through their actions?

Sequencing:
Take photos of your child going through the steps of getting ready for the day. You could also take photos of a swim lesson or grocery shopping experience. What do you do first? Second? Third? Next? Last? Laminate the photos and string them together or place them on a flip ring. Talk about the steps with your child to help with sequencing. This will assist in reducing the stress of daily “have to’s” and errands — something that many children with special needs become frustrated by.

Colors or Feelings:
Take photos of your child wearing blue, green, red, orange, yellow, white, etc. Laminate the images and turn them into a game. “What color are you wearing here?” “Red, yes!” You can also write the color names on the back of each photo, prior to laminating them. When you say, “Red, yes!” flip the photo around so your child can see the word on back and associate that word with the color. Do the same thing for “feelings” images: sad, happy, frustrated, excited, joyful, lonely, and so on. This will help to build empathy in your child.

shara.jpgShara Lawrence-Weiss is the Owner/Founder of Personal Child Stories. Shara is a mother of three with a background in education, early childhood, journalism, freelance, nanny work, and special needs.

Photo used with permission of Flickr Creative Commons. Click on photo for source.

Originally posted on ParentLife on June 16, 2011.

Special Needs Parents Need Friends by Ellen Stumbo

Did you know that many parents of kids with special needs feel lonely?

Because of their children’s needs, some special needs parents feel isolated. That birthday party everyone is invited to? Maybe the child has significant sensory processing issues and cannot handle the noise or large crowds. That Bible study at church that takes place during the children’s  program? The special needs mom needs to stay with her child because there isn’t a trained volunteer to help with her child’s needs. That playdate at the park where the moms chatter while the kids play?  Not gonna’ happen! Most likely the child needs help to climb on the special equipment, and there goes the adult interaction.

Parenting a child with special needs can be exhausting. Sometimes, it is easier to stay home. The thing is, special needs parents need friends. They need someone to talk to and someone to laugh with. God created us to be in relationships, we are not meant to do life alone.

What can you do to reach out to a special needs parent?

First, get to know her family and her child with special needs. Can you babysit for an hour or two so mom and dad can go out on a date? Maybe a late-night-date after the kids go to bed?

Initiate the relationship. You can ask, “I would love to get together with you, is there a time or day that works for you?”

Plan playdates around the abilities of the kids with special needs. Maybe a playdate at a park won’t work, but the special needs parent might have some suggestions for fun activities that work for her family.

Call. Just pick up the phone and call. It is amazing how something so simple makes such a big difference. Let your friend know that you are available to talk. And you don’t have to talk about special needs! Just chat about the weather, about the conversation you had with your brother, or about the embarrassing situation you had at the store. Just be a friend and reach out.

ellenstumboEllen Stumbo is a writer and speaker. She is the mother of three daughters: Ellie; Nichole, who has Down syndrome; and Nina, who was adopted and also has special needs. She is wife to Andy, a pastor.

Be a Father by Carey Casey

In ParentLife this month, I wrote about dads who deserve to be honored, and the idea of making “sacrifices” for our children. It occurs to me that another great point to make is that there are dads out there who pretty much define that word “sacrifice.” So I want to add a salute to dads who are committed to meeting the needs of their kids—no matter what.

This is expressed by dads in many different challenging situations, but I have one group in mind specifically.

Some years ago, my bride Melanie and I came face-to-face with the difficult truth that our son had a mild learning challenge. It wasn’t anything major, and he has nearly overcome it in the years since. But at the time it set me back for a while. Our family is not perfect by any means. Still, it seemed like the kind of thing that just didn’t happen to us. My three other children have their unique strengths and weaknesses, but they didn’t have this specific challenge.

So I started asking questions I’m sure are normal for these kinds of situations: What caused this? Was it something I did—or didn’t do? Did we miss something that could have made a difference?

But it wasn’t long before those more self-centered thoughts turned to love and concern for my son. No matter what happened in the past, what can I do now to help him? My consuming thought was, Hey, this is my time to step up. I have to be a father. I need to be there for my son.

If any of you dads listening today have children with even more challenging issues—like autism, Down’s Syndrome, or something else—I know you’re very familiar with those thoughts and emotions. It’s often dads like you who set the mark and help us to define what it means to be a committed dad. When the needs of your child required some extra sacrifices, you stepped up. You put your child’s needs before your own, and you’ve never regretted it.

Those dads deserve more recognition for what they do.

And this message may be more for the rest of us who face the routine rigors of being a dad, but aren’t facing the overwhelming exhaustion of raising a child with extreme disabilities. I would say, “Dad, take a page from the playbook of the most committed dads you know. Make the radical decision to sacrifice your own desires and goals for the sake of your children.”

And then my other thought would be this: no matter what your children’s gifts, abilities, and weaknesses may be, cherish them for who they are. Be flexible, and grow with them. Let them teach you what it means to be a committed father.

 

careycaseycasual2007Carey Casey is Chief Executive Officer of the Kansas City-based National Center for Fathering and author of the book Championship Fathering: How to Win at Being a Dad.

Through his work across the country, Casey has earned a reputation as a dynamic communicator, especially on the topic of men being good fathers. He’s known as a compassionate ambassador, particularly within the American sports community.

Small Progress by Ellen Stumbo

mat man

“Mom. Mat Man?”

Lately, before we begin our bedtime routine, Nichole holds a box of wooden pieces and foam shapes. She is ready for quality time with mom. She is ready for Mat Man.

We sit on the living room floor and I start singing the song. I am a terrible singer. She doesn’t care.

Mat man has one head, one head, one head. Mat man has one heaaaaaaad! So that he can think!

I hold two of the big curves by my head, making a circle. Nichole laughs at me, “You funny!” She reaches out and imitates me. Then she carefully, oh so carefully places them on the carpet.

We make Mat Man.

“Again?” she asks.

Then she asks to make letters. Finally, with the wooden pieces we spell, “Nichole.” She points at each letter and says its name. She knows every letter of the alphabet, but her favorite letters are the ones in her name. N. I. C. H. O. L. E.

My daughter is five years old, and she has Down syndrome. She struggles with her speech, and we are not sure where she is at yet in her intellectual abilities since she has a hard time with her words. This is a learning time, but there is also a heart connection taking place as I find myself overwhelmed with love for this little girl and so incredibly proud of her progress.

And then I think about myself, the many disabilities I have: selfishness, self-reliance, greed, jealousy, lack of self-control, etc. Yet sometimes I begin to get it, a little at a time. As if I was sitting on the living room floor with God, practicing my trust in Him in little things. And I know He smiles at me overwhelmed with love too, so proud of me for those small accomplishments and the ways in which I make progress in the deep places of my heart.

Ellen Stumbo is a writer and speaker. She is the mother of three daughters: Ellie; Nichole, who has Down syndrome; and Nina, who was adopted and also has special needs. She is wife to Andy, a pastor.

A Gift of Joy by Ellen Stumbo

060910_Barbies_572_pbc
source: Tulane Publications

She claps her hands, smiles, and her eyes sparkle with excitement.

“Mom! Daddy!” she says, inviting us to clap along with her.

It doesn’t matter what we are doing, every time, every single time we find her joy irresistible. So we clap with her. In her excitement, she takes a bow and laughs. So we cheer for her and clap some more.

When her movies finish, as the credits roll and the fun music plays, we go through this routine. Sometimes I wonder if she thinks, “That was a great show, it was fun, I really enjoyed it. I feel so happy I cannot contain myself, I need to clap, cheer, and invite others to join me in this moment of joy.”

My daughter might face extra challenges because she has Down syndrome, but her ability to enjoy life and celebrate every day moments surpasses the ability I have to do the same. So she stands before me clapping, smiling, with joy radiating from her little body and I can feel that joy and excitement.

She gifts her enthusiasm about life, and it is contagious.

I sometimes hear people question if people with Down syndrome or other disabilities are contributing members to society. Maybe once I wondered the same thing. But I know better now. While their contributions might not include being doctors, scientist, or teachers, their contributions pierce through the very essence of what makes us human: love, joy, kindness, compassion, understanding, and complete acceptance. Contributions that have already touched my heart and changed my life.

So I clap and celebrate when the Barbie show is over. I delight in the little girl that takes a bow, and sometimes I bow with her too, a sign of thankfulness for the joy she brings into my life. The gratitude I have that God chose me to be her mother.

Ellen Stumbo is a writer and speaker. She is the mother of three daughters: Ellie; Nichole, who has Down syndrome; and Nina, who was adopted and also has special needs. She is wife to Andy, a pastor.

I See You by Ellen Stumbo

Angel with dirty face
source: Calhoun Abbott

Dealing with my daughter’s diagnosis of Down syndrome was difficult. There were many tears, and a broken mom shaking her fist at God pleading, “Why me?”

Yet the power of love is strong. Soon the sadness became wonder for my little girl, whom although different in some ways is perfect in the areas where I lack. There are areas in my heart where I have disabilities, yet she is so whole. Love, joy, acceptance, empathy, faith … they come to her so naturally, so effortlessly, and I am the recipient of such gifts when I need it most.

Nichole is five years old, her speech is limited, yet I often wonder if her words are messages from God, reminding me that He is here, that He sees me, and that He cares. She has a keen ability to know when I need to be encouraged.

“Mom,” Nichole grabs my face between her chubby short hands, making sure we make eye contact. Her face breaks into a smile, a smile so full of love she melts my heart and I am overtaken by emotion.

“Mom,” she says again, “You Ah Pee-Tee.”

Her words surprise me. Her message, so clear. My daughter thinks I am pretty. But it is more than that, because I have been struggling with ministry. Sometimes being a pastor’s wife is hard, ministry is difficult, and I wonder if God sees me, struggling, trying to stay afloat, and being faithful to His call.

I see you, I feel Him say, I see you.

Nichole does not let go, she keeps looking at me, smiling. It is not the first time I see His love through her eyes, or His care through her smile. And even His encouragement, through that broken speech that communicates so much to my heart.

Ellen Stumbo is a writer and speaker. She is the mother of three daughters: Ellie; Nichole, who has Down syndrome; and Nina, who was adopted and also has special needs. She is wife to Andy, a pastor.

Resources for Parents from Jennifer Holt

To go along with Jennifer Holt’s article on being a social butterfly in the January issue, here are some extra resources for parents.

 

 

Special Needs and Resolutions by Ellen Stumbo

Happy New Year!
source: erjkprunczyk

With the New Year here, it is time for me to think about resolutions. The thing is, having children with special needs has changed the way I look at these hopeful declarations of a better me. So I turn to my daughters and see in them examples of who I want to be.

1. I want to love people despite of their appearance.

I tend to judge and keep my distance from people based on their exterior. My daughter with Down syndrome has the ability to look past appearances and accept people fully.

2. I want to give it all.

Sometimes, I don’t try very hard; I just do enough “to get by.” My daughter with cerebral palsy gives it her all, she is fully in, trying hard, never giving up. Everything she does, she does it to the best of her ability.

3. I want to experience joy in the little things.

My daughter with Down syndrome seems to find joy easy. She is not just happy; she is filled with joy (when she is not filled with crabbiness). The way her face lights up with a smile, and the deep laugh that comes from her soul when she is surprised with a bowl of ice cream reminds me I need more joy in my life.

4. I want to celebrate with others.

In our home, we celebrate every little accomplishment our girls achieve. Celebration is a normal part of our life; we clap, jump, and cheer often. I want to take that beyond my home, I want to encourage others and celebrate with them. We all need more celebration in our life.

5. I want to make a difference.

The world might see my children as less than perfect, but I know that God has a plan and a purpose for their lives. My children have inspired not only me, but many others around them. Hopefully some day, I will be able to do for others what they have done for me.

Ellen Stumbo is a writer and speaker. She is the mother of three daughters: Ellie; Nichole, who has Down syndrome; and Nina, who was adopted and also has special needs. She is wife to Andy, a pastor.

Witnessing Miracles by Ellen Stumbo

talkative little girl closeup
source: zen

I watch as my daughter struggles to walk. Slowly, she takes one-step and catches her balance, then the other foot comes forward, dragging a little behind her. When she finally reaches the couch in the living room, she throws herself on the soft seat. She looks up at me, beaming, “I did it mom! I did it! I walked all by myself!”

So I laugh and cry, clap and jump, and say between the sobs and the laughter, “You did it! You walked!” And she stares at me confused because it is possible her mother lost her mind.

“Mom, are you happy, or are you sad?” she asks tentatively.

“I am so happy that I am crying. I have tears of joy Nina!”

My daughter’s body is tight from cerebral palsy. Simple things, like walking, are not simple for her. I know that sometimes she wants to give up. Her mind fights her body and her body fights her mind. So we cheer her on, we tell her she can do it, and we believe in her full potential. And she tries once more. Then, after years of trying, she finally takes those precious first steps that bring out the tears and the laughter, all mixed together in one ball of emotion. I feel so proud!

Yes, sometimes having a child with special needs can be difficult. Having a 6-year-old child who needs a wheelchair to go for a “walk” can be challenging. But then there are those magical moments. The milestones that are no longer typical, or expected, because they become like miracles. Those are the moments that make all the hard work pay off. In this journey of special needs, we celebrate fully, with abandonment, and with great joy.

Like Erma Bombeck said, having a child with special needs means you witness miracles … and you know it.

Ellen Stumbo is a writer and speaker. She is the mother of three daughters: Ellie; Nichole, who has Down syndrome; and Nina, who was adopted and also has special needs. She is wife to Andy, a pastor.

God Came Through by Ellen Stumbo

“God doesn’t call us to be comfortable. He calls us to trust Him so completely that we are unafraid to put ourselves in situations where we will be in trouble if He doesn’t come through.”
Francis Chan

 

When Andy and I saw the picture of a little Ukrainian girl with cerebral palsy, we felt as if we had been looking at our daughter. A sweet smile and a short paragraph was all we had, but our hearts began to beat for adoption. Yet, while the excitement grew, so did our apprehensions.

“Can we really do this financially?”
“Will Nina fit in with her sisters?”
“Will Ellie feel resentful having two sisters with special needs?”
“Could Nina’s needs be more than we could handle?”
“Are we alone in this?”

Four weeks before our travel date, we found ourselves $10,000 short. Finances had been the greatest hurdle before committing to adopt, and we were in the place we feared. We were discouraged. It was then I came across the quote from Francis Chan.

Okay, Lord, we are over our heads here. If this is what You have for us, You will come through and blow us away.

He did. In the short weeks that followed the debt was covered. Our mailbox was full of letters and checks with generous donations. God’s reassurance: Yes, My child, this is My will.

We did not know what the future would look like with an adopted child. However, we trusted God so completely that we put ourselves in a situation where we needed Him to come through; not only during the adoption process but also in the years to follow. Although there have been trying times in the last two years, all those first questions seem insignificant in light of the love we now have for our daughter.

Ellen Stumbo is a writer and speaker. She is the mother of three daughters: Ellie; Nichole, who has Down syndrome; and Nina, who was adopted and also has special needs. She is wife to Andy, a pastor. You can read more about her adoption journey in the November issue of ParentLife in her article “Orphan No More.”