(Flashback to July 4, 2013)
Perhaps the most exciting celebration of the summer, July 4th is a perfect time for families and friends to get together, engage in fun activities and most likely top of the night with spectacular fireworks.
For families with children who have acute sensory issues like mine, celebrating Independence day can be stressful. There are crowds, loud noises and bright, flashing lights booming throughout the sky. What might be fun to everyone else, can be excruciating for a sensory child.
Here are my top 5 tips for creating a safe and joyful environment on this big day.
1. TALK ABOUT IT: What is Independence Day? Why do we celebrate it? Engage your child in the meaning of the holiday. What are ways different people celebrate? Look at YouTube videos and websites ahead of time (adjust the volume for fireworks but talk about the big, unexpected noises they create). Go to the library or amazon and pick out books with your child. Let them be part of the process.
2. MAKE A PLAN: I am a huge fan of visual schedules for pretty much everything. It helps to engage your child in the creation of that schedule, so that they can feel ownership in upcoming plans. Review the schedule daily and talk about ways to be flexible throughout the day.
3. HAVE A TOOLBOX OF RESOURCES: This can be a bag of activities, noise cancelling headphones, snacks or even a favorite stuffed animal. Be prepared to soothe your child during any activities that could be overwhelming.
4. BE PREPARED FOR PLAN B: Have other activities ready to go if you need to make a change but especially understand (and embrace) that sometimes plan B is an escape route / exit strategy altogether. So, my fellow amazing parents, THIS is our opportunity to BE FLEXIBLE. We try to instill this strategy into our children’s lives all the time, so now it’s our turn to be prepared to go with the flow. Note: If you have other children to take care of, go with other parents who can be responsible for them while you exit left with your child who needs to leave (and sometimes, promptly).
5. HAVE FUN: Above all, find ways to enjoy your day as much as possible. When things aren’t going your way, let it go. Breathe. If your child is showing signs of distress, step into the moment with them. Let them know that everything will be okay and that you are there to support them. Note: the majority of our 4th of July celebrations have ended with us watching the east coast feed on television, on extra low volume. Snacks for Arizona and a glass of wine for me. (Heaven, truly).
Cheers to a safe and sensory friendly holiday for you and your family! What are your GO TO strategies for making the holiday enjoyable?
Arizona has been all over the world by plane, trains, boats and automobiles since she was 2 months old. It was important for me and her dad to introduce her to travel at an early age, as it was both a passion of ours.
But as we discovered Arizona’s food allergies, sensory dysfunction and attention + anxiety issues, we realized traveling would be challenging. Nevertheless, we kept going, even as she screamed throughout entire flights, ran away from us in too many airports to count, broke out into hives from food allergy contamination and loudly declared inappropriate and offensive commentary to those around her. Oh, and she is deathly afraid of public restrooms: automatic toilets & hand dryers in airport bathrooms can dysregulate her for days. Airplane bathrooms are worse; Arizona is so anxious about anticipating the sound of the flusher that she has convinced herself that she won’t be able to use plane bathrooms at all. I still take her, sometimes kicking and screaming, explaining to her the importance of bladder health. This requires me cramming into that claustrophobic bathroom with her and physically holding her down while she protests. We do breathing exercises and I give her calming techniques throughout. Eventually she goes and immediately plugs her ears tightly while I press the flush button for her. It was difficult when she was younger / littler but now as an almost pre-teen, it’s becoming almost impossible to assist her in such a small space.
But as I write this, we are 35,000 feet in the air on our way to Taiwan (only 13 more hours to go). Arizona is contentedly watching “The Secret Life of Pets” and laughing at the screen. YES, we have come a long way and and YES, so much preparation still needs to happen before every single trip we take.
Let me share a few of my important To Do’s before we travel:
- Visualize it: as with anything new on our schedule, Arizona and I create a visual schedule together to talk about what’s upcoming. In addition to drawing out a visual schedule of our travel plans to Taiwan, I also took her on a tour of the airline website so she could understand what type of plane we were traveling on, where are seats were and what the interior of the plane looked like (most websites have this info).
- Bring a doctor’s note: Due to issues with food contamination and available options to fit Arizona’s dietary needs, I always have to travel with food (both for on the plane and packed away for our destination). It is extremely helpful to have a doctor’s note explaining this necessity, especially when traveling internationally.
- Long Distance Travel / Bag of Treats: This is a fun one, because it keeps Arizona looking forward to something new that occupies her on a long flight. I pick up a few items at the dollar section in Target and wrap each one in tissue paper. On the flight, Arizona can open up one new treat per hour (usually an activity book or something “to do”) and that keeps her focused. At least for a little bit!
(Thank you, Target!)
It’s impossible to guarantee a perfectly smooth travel experience, but planning ahead definitely helps. And since we’re not going to stop exploring the world anytime soon, we continue to figure out new ways to make travel as joyful and stress- free as possible. I would love to hear any hints and tips you have as well!
Calling all Mothers!
For those of you in the Southern California area (or those of you who would like to come visit us for the weekend), please join me and Dr. Mimi Nartey as we co-host a day retreat for Mothers:
As Mother’s Day approaches, we are all in need of a day to decompress. We need a safe space to talk to other mothers about social dynamics and parenting. We crave practical health & wellness strategies to sustain us. We could benefit from a conversation about the role of spirituality in our mothering journey, since we are often the SPIRITUAL hubs of our home. We are in desperate need of changing our motherhood story from one of “just surviving” to that of THRIVING.
On that note, please see schedule and registration info below for RCAP’s quarterly panel presentation on SATURDAY, May 19th in Cheviot Hills (address provided upon registration). We will be discussing the timely topic of “Motherhood, Wellness, and Spirituality.” This is going to be an amazing full day event. You may opt to attend the afternoon panel on Motherhood and Spirituality (complimentary for RCAP members), or elect to register for the full day, including a movement workshop, Motherhood and Wellness panel, and guest lecture by best-selling author, inspirational speaker and much sought after spiritual counselor, Suzi Lula (The Motherhood Evolution: How Thriving Mothers Raise Thriving Children). We will have a variety of speakers throughout the day from different wellness practices and faith backgrounds. Please join us for a day of inspiration and transformational conversation!
- 8:30am – 9am: Registration & Light Breakfast
- 9:15am: Welcome & Movement Exercise
- 9:30am-12noon: Motherhood and Wellness Panel
- 12noon: Lunch (provided, please choose box lunch selection with registration)
- 12:45pm: Guest Speaker Suzi Lula “Self-Care as a Spiritual Practice”
- 1:30pm-4:00pm: Motherhood and Spirituality Panel
- 4:00 – 5:00pm: Mingling!
Registration & Pricing
- Full Day (includes light breakfast, boxed lunch and beverages): $79
- Full Day (includes light breakfast, boxed lunch and beverages): $59
- Afternoon Only (Motherhood & Spirituality Panel starting at 1:30pm: Complimentary)
Please RSVP! Space is Limited.
(My new handbook is available now!)
My journey with self-care started years and years ago, long before I became a mother. I grew to understand that taking care of myself is NOT selfish and that by doing so, I would be more available to my loved ones in deeper, more meaningful ways. It’s so much more satisfying to spend time with and take care of others when my own tank is full.
Today, my definition and practice of self-care has shifted now that I am a parent to a child with special needs. I find myself wanting to live more intentionally, consciously and ON purpose.
To that end, I whipped up a little handbook on my 7 Top Tips for Self-Care as a Special Needs Parent. I’m so happy to share them because I know how important they have been for me in my daily life.
For more in depth practice and specific steps in diving deeper into these 7 areas, you can purchase my handbook for $5 here (to cover printing + shipping). Please make sure you leave your full name / address when purchasing.
(Sesame Place opening April 28, 2018 @ 10am!)
Amazing news for families like mine! The International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards has designated Sesame Place (located in Langhorne, PA) as the first theme park in the (entire) world to be a Certified Autism Center.
Opening its doors on April 28 at 10am, guests will be greeted by team members and staff that have received training in the areas of: sensory awareness, motor skills, social skills, communication, environment, emotional awareness, autism 101 and more. Certainly, this training will be beneficial to the need of ALL children, and especially those with special needs.
In addition to specialized training, sensory guides are available to help families plan activities based on their child’s needs. The park also has low-sensory areas, quiet rooms and provides noise cancelling headphones upon request. They also allow accommodations for guests who need to experience “low sensory parade viewing.”
The mission of the park is simple: to provide all families an enjoyable and memorable visit to Sesame Place by offering specialized services to guests with autism and other special needs.
Bravo, Sesame Place! We’ll find our way to the east coast for a visit, soon.
(This year’s unity bracelet for autism awareness)
For the 6th year, Stella & Dot has created a Unity bracelet especially for the HollyRod Foundation. During the month of April, Stella & Dot will donate all net proceeds from eligible customer purchases of the Unity Bracelet to the HollyRod Foundation.
Sales from these bracelets will support the RJ’s Place program which provides technology, vocational training and job placement services to children and teens on the Autism spectrum.
I just purchased 5 bracelets (for myself & family members) from my amazing friend, Stella & Dot stylist Cydney Junius. You can purchase yours here.
The HollyRod Foundation is dedicated to providing compassionate care to those living with autism and their families. For more info, visit www.hollyrod.org.
Join me in raising awareness and acceptance around families living with autism.
(I wouldn’t change you for the world, but will change the world for YOU!)
April is Autism Awareness Month and today (April 2) is World Autism Awareness DAY. This month is a global movement to help increase understanding and acceptance of people with autism — across the spectrum and throughout the life span.
World Autism Awareness Day, sanctioned by the United Nations, starts off the month with signature events including Autism Speaks‘ ninth annual Light it Up Blue campaign. The goal during the month of April is to amplify the message: increasing understanding and acceptance of children, adults and families worldwide who are affected by ASD (autism spectrum disorder).
Autism affects each person differently, and what you see is often just a piece of the full picture, or a piece of the puzzle. Behind each face is a story of challenges, abilities and strengths. These stories are at the heart of Autism Speaks‘ new global campaign, GET THE FULL PICTURE. Together these stories, along with photos, videos, events and a new public service campaign, create a fuller picture of the many things AUTISM is.
I didn’t choose this journey, but have learned to embrace that it has chosen me. Today (and every day), I salute you my daughter : Arizona Ray Lovell. May your voice, spirit and essence continue to shine bright — without edit, permission or filter. You are perfect, whole and complete, exactly as YOU are. Mommy loves YOU.
(Me & You, KID!)
I have been a long time advocate for children to be taught (and made privy to) an EMOTIONAL language; one that allows them to fully express their feelings (all the depths) and more importantly, feel safe in doing so.
Arizona, my almost 12 year old, has BIG feelings a lot. She expresses them, without filter or social awareness around who is going to have a reaction to those feelings and HOW.
It’s not easy to hear what she has to say sometimes. A few year ago, while upset with her behavioral aide at school, she said: “Maybe you should come to school tomorrow with a gun, and two bullets — so if you shoot yourself and miss, you’ll have a second chance at success.”
And, sometimes on a daily basis, equally expressive conditions have been directed toward me, her residential punching bag (parent life!) —
In these moments, I am grateful for the training I received while Arizona was attending Cheerful Helpers Child & Family Study Center. I learned to look past the words and have compassion for my child’s feelings. To this day, I still respond to her (sometimes shockingly) big words, “Good to know. Tell me why.”
A dialog beings, things soften, we get to the root of things.
I am grateful for an emotional language — both as a way to express AND receive.
Most importantly, I have learned that talking about our feelings and expressing ourselves = HEALING.
Recently, I’ve made some significant changes in my life to slow things down a bit. I’m an extremely capable multi-tasker, and even when I think everything is going smoothly & effortlessly, I am still being worn down.
Physically, I’ve been off for a few months. I came down with a bout of shingles (ZERO FUN) in December and have experienced some other annoying health episodes that have kept me in a state of irritable discomfort. I will spare you the details, but it did make me look deeper into the spiritual significance of it all. Clearly, I needed to take a step back, SLOW DOWN and step up my self-care game.
But more importantly, I felt called to be more focused and intentional with the things I WAS committing to. Always a people-pleaser and very keen on having an active social life, I had to take a closer look at what I was being invited to, the events I was planning, the business meetings & clients I was scheduling for myself …
And then, for each item already on my calendar or on the verge of being committed to, I had to ask myself a few questions:
*Is this something I really want to do (right now or ever)?
*Is this something that will serve my higher good?
*Will this move me forward?
*Will this feed me?
*Is this something I can reschedule for another time?
*Will this help me with MY NEEDS right now?
I have to say – quite a few things hit the chopping block. The result, so far, has been energetically satisfying. I feel more present in everything I’m doing. I’m taking a minute to call myself into each moment, full of gratitude and appreciation for this life I have created. As a huge bonus, Arizona and I have been connecting on a more fulfilling level. I don’t feel stretched thin or pulled in a million directions at once. She feels this shift, and we have been experiencing a deeper connection with each other.
Interestingly enough, even as I worry that I am not “doing” enough to pound the pavement, build my client & project pipeline, hustle and grind with networking and meetings, I just know that this temporary RETREAT will create the space for so much more abundance in ways I cannot imagine.
Now, how cool is THAT?
(With my teacher, Suzi Lula)
I am a firm believer: I teach what I most need to learn.
Even more so, I believe that GOOD COACHES, have great coaches. We are equally teaching and learning at the same time; equally comfortable in both a student AND teacher role. In other words, I can be humble and SHINE at the same time. I am grateful that I can participate in these dual roles …
All of that to say, I have been SO enlightened in this recent online course I’ve been taking: “Conscious Coaching” with MY long time coach and mentor, Suzi Lula. A 4 month long, 2 classes / month course, “Conscious Coaching” has completely transformed the way that I am BEING in my business of coaching. FUN FACT: when we put 90% of our energy toward our spiritual growth / life, the business part will happen easily, gracefully & abundantly.
If you are : willing to stand in your calling/ gifts, willing to stand in your contributions, willing to be OF SERVICE on this planet: desiring to leave today / this planet / EVERY CLIENT better than how you found it? This course is for you.
Great news: you can still join! The first 2 classes have been recorded / archived – and available to you as soon as you sign up. Please join the remaining 6 live classes between now and end of April (or watch class recordings when you are available). A pretty phenomenal community has been built from this – and we are here to support, uplift, inspire and co-create with YOU.
In addition to the course, private FB group and tons of material via PDF / downloads also available. Please join us! You will be inspired and transformed!
Susanna Peace Lovell, Life Coach for Special Needs Families