Author Archive | Heather

{Clean} No-bake Peanut Butter Bars

clean eating 1This summer, our family is really focusing on clean eating.  We are eliminating preservatives, artificial food coloring, and artificial flavors.  We have heard a lot about the benefits of clean eating for children with autism and ADHD, so this summer we are committed to seeing how it affects our family.

Instead of presenting it to our children as an abrupt lifestyle change, we decided to present it as something we are all working on together for a set amount of time.  We chose to start with just two weeks and chose a fun family activity as a reward for sticking to our commitments on healthy eating.  At the end of two weeks, we will pick another milestone to work towards as a family.

When we talked to our kids about our health challenge, we saw some excitement and some fear.  My son Matt (my 8-year old with ADHD) looked devastated and was literally holding back tears.  We talked through his concerns and I promised my kids I would make a “healthy” treat on Sundays and Mondays.  I hope that by providing healthier alternatives to candy and other sweets that my kids won’t feel the need to hoard candy when they get it.

My family’s favorite “healthy” treat is peanut butter bars.  They are super easy and have lots of protein and fiber.


{Clean} No-bake Peanut Butter Bars

1 cup raw walnuts or almonds

1 1/2 cups all-natural peanut butter, divided

1 cup honey

3 cups quick oats

1 1/2 cups all natural extra dark chocolate chips

Blend the raw nuts in a blender or food processor until they are finely chopped.  Then stir together 1 cup peanut butter, honey, and nuts.  Add oats and stir until well combined.  Press into greased 9×13 pan.

Melt chocolate chips and 1/2 cup peanut butter in the microwave, stirring every 30 seconds until smooth.  Spread evenly over peanut butter mixture.

Refrigerate (or freeze, if you’re in a hurry) until the chocolate is set.  Keep refrigerated.



Swimming Lessons for Special Needs Children

Swimming LessonsAt my house, we love swimming lessons in the summer! My five year-old daughter told me that her favorite part of summer is going to swimming lessons every day (we really just do about 6 weeks of lessons, 5 days a week). For my 9 year-old son with autism (Paul), swimming lessons can also provide good therapy for him.

I love swimming lessons as a mom because it adds so much structure to our day, and my kids do so much better with structure. I like to have a very structured morning with everyone going on a bike ride, completing chores, practicing, reading, and then swimming lessons right before lunch. Swimming lessons wear my kids out and then we have a fairly calm afternoon.

Swimming has so many benefits, especially for sensory kids. Here are just a few of the benefits of swimming:

  • Provides excellent proprioceptive input. (Swimming is hard work—resistance for the entire body.)
  • Reduces hyperactivity.
  • Strengthens muscles.
  • Increases attention span.
  • Improves gross motor skills and coordination.
  • Increases confidence.

For my son Paul, who struggles with a lot of sensory issues, swimming does so much for him. He also loves to swim; he loves the feel of the water on his body. We are hoping he can eventually learn the strokes well enough that he might be able to join a swim team at some point (if he wants to). Swimming is a great individual sport and could provide an extracurricular sport that is also therapeutic for him.

Sometimes it is hard to find the right fit for swimming lessons so that your child can receive the greatest benefit. When you have a child with special needs, it is important to really think about how their specific disabilities may affect them in the pool.

The first thing to address when trying to find the right fit for swimming lessons, is to decide what your goal is for the lessons. If your goal is to provide a social experience and get some exercise, you just need to find a pool with a positive reputation. If you really want your child to learn the strokes correctly, you might want to do some extra research to find a program that will really meet your goals and the special needs of your child. If you have a child with autism, I found this website extremely helpful and informative.

The second thing to think about is whether you should put your child in private or group lessons. I strongly recommend private swimming lessons if your child struggles with a severe fear of water, body awareness, motor planning, auditory processing, hearing loss, or seizures. You also need to think about if you need a professional swim instructor who has experience working with children with special needs. If you have a child who is high functioning, they might be fine in a group lesson taught at a city recreation pool.

After a lot of private swimming lessons, we tried group lessons for Paul at the end of the summer a couple of years ago. It provided another positive social experience for Paul, but it did not help him become a better swimmer. The teacher could not spend enough time with him individually to really help him understand how to do the strokes correctly. His lack of body awareness (understanding where your body is in space) was very evident in watching him try to do the strokes. He has a hard time integrating breathing with the motion of the arms and legs. Also, because Paul struggles with auditory processing, the noise and splashing of the other kids made it difficult for him to process all the instructions in the noisy pool. Paul also frequently requires more explanation than his peers to understand what he is supposed to do, so it just wasn’t a good fit to have him in a group lesson.

One thing to really check into is if a pool in your area has an Adaptive Aquatics program. We were so lucky to find an Adaptive Aquatics program about 15 minutes from our house. Adaptive Aquatics provides swimming lessons for children with special needs. At the pool we go to, Adaptive Aquatics provides private lessons for the same price as a regular group swimming lesson. That way, Paul can have the private swimming lessons that he needs, and all of my other kids can be in swimming lessons at the same time. It has worked out so well for my entire family! Many communities have swimming programs for children with special needs—it is definitely worth checking out.

If you have a child who is very afraid of the water, my personal feeling is that you NEED to get them into swimming lessons as soon as you can. It is important for every child to understand how to be safe in the water and to be comfortable in the water. The only way to overcome a fear is to address it. You have to be slow and systematic as you desensitize fear. It also has to be a very positive, nurturing environment to be able work through a fear. Sometimes the progress is very slow. Start with just getting the toes wet. Whenever we have tried to help Paul through something he is terribly afraid of, it is amazing how it increases his confidence when he is able to work through his fears.

We have seen a lot of progress in the last few years with Paul’s ability to swim. He is enjoying it more and is feeling more confident in the water every year.

Internet Resources for Swimming Lessons for Children with Special Needs:


10 Ways to Gear up for Summer with Special Needs Children

SummerWhen you have children with special needs, summer can be extra stressful. During the school year, the school day provides a lot of the structure and routine that so many special needs children crave. But during the summer, we as parents are responsible for creating and maintaining the schedule that will help our children function at their best all day. We also have to anticipate how our children will transition to summer because it is such a major change in routine when school gets out.

Last summer, I decided to gear up for summer by doing a few things that would reduce stress throughout the summer. Here is my top ten list for gearing up for summer when you have special needs children.

  1. Decide that this will be the summer when you and your children will THRIVE. Sometimes we just have to change how we think about things. Whenever I get myself into the rut of thinking that I am just in survival mode (and sometimes with good reason), I find that I am giving myself permission to be on the brink of losing it. I am just one meltdown away from being pushed over the edge. But when I am trying to thrive in the situation I am in, just that mental shift works wonders with how I approach difficult situations.
  2. Stock your freezer. Mealtimes can be some of the most stressful times of the day, so do everything you can to make it less stressful. Double or triple your meals during the month of May and freeze the extra portions. You’ll be surprised how quickly you will have a stockpile in your freezer without a lot of extra work. Freezer meals also cut down on dinner cleanup time. I also like to precook and freeze all the meat I might need for recipes, it saves so much time. I have even started freezing things for breakfast. Pancakes and banana bread freeze great, and then you don’t start the day with such a mess in your kitchen.
  3. Decide how much structure you will have in your day. Many special needs kids need a lot of structure to thrive. But for me, it can be hard as the parent to provide as much structure as my kids really need. If I try to create too much structure, it is hard to be consistent. If I don’t create enough structure, my kids struggle more with what to expect each day and we have more meltdowns. Decide how you will balance these two needs. At my house, I keep our mornings very structured, but the afternoons are pretty carefree. I also post a schedule of our morning routine in the kitchen so my children know what the expectations are.
  4. Get the help lined up that you need to keep your child progressing. Decide if you can give your child all the help they need to keep progressing (academically, socially, physically) or if you need to enlist the help of others. Sometimes it is hard as a parent to be the caretaker, the therapist, and the tutor 24 hours a day. The first summer we hired someone to help my son with autism, I felt like such a burden had been lifted! I have also used volunteers from my church to help me with some occupational therapy activities. Sometimes you can even find college students who need experience working with special needs children.
  5. Start taking good care of yourself now so you’ll be in a good place for summer. We all know that an empty well cannot give water to anyone. Similarly, a stressed out mom who is at the end of her rope doesn’t have anything left to give to her family. If you find yourself battling fatigue, start getting more sleep and exercise now. I recently watched this video online, and it really hit home to me. I have to take better care of myself so I have the energy to be patient with all of my children the entire day. When I consistently get sleep and exercise, I am a better mom.
  6. Find programs in your area for special needs children. Do some online research to find programs that will help your kids with their specific disabilities. Some autism groups in the community have summer field trips. Local CHADD websites often have information on summer programs for children with ADHD.  Some Recreation Centers provide Adaptive Aquatics, a program offering private swimming lessons for children with special needs at the same price as a group lesson. In addition to programs for special needs children, there are great programs for all children during the summer. Summer Movie Clubhouse has weekly movies for $1 (only $5 for all 10 movies!). Kids Bowl Free has information on free summer bowing.
  7. Decide what your family screen time policy will be. Decide in advance how much time your child will be allowed to spend watching TV, playing on the iPad, playing on the computer, etc. Having a policy in advance can reduce the number of arguments about screen time. I have found that my children behave much worse if I let them have too much screen time. Last summer, I let them each pick one 30 minute show and they rarely pushed for more because they already knew the expectation. Also, decide if you will let them earn extra screen time and what they have to complete before they can have any screen time.
  8. Figure out what life skills you want them to learn this summer. Summer can be a great time to teach some of those life skills that you don’t always have time to incorporate during the school year. The thing I worry about the most with my special needs children, is if they will be able to function well as independent adults. The more life skills I work on with them now, the better they will do in the future. Some ideas for life skills are: doing laundry, tying shoes, managing money, cooking, cleaning, combing their own hair, etc.
  9. Make a plan for helping your children stay active. We all feel better when we are staying active. I think this applies even more for children with special needs. Think about what physical needs or coordination areas your child might need to work on, and brainstorm ways to address that in a fun way. One of my children has very tight hamstrings and low muscle tone. We are incorporating stretching and muscle strengthening activities. We also love swimming lessons, riding bikes to the park or elementary school, and walking the dog.
  10. Honestly evaluate how your summer went last year. Think about what went really well last summer and what did not work. Did you have enough structure? Were you running around too much? Did you feel stressed out all the time? What was the hardest part of the summer? What was the best part? When I did this a year ago, I realized that the hardest part of summer was usually the week before school started. I was feeling burned out, my children were anxious for school to start, and honestly, I think they were ready for the structure that school provides. So we planned a short vacation for the week before school started. It was the best August we have ever had and I will always try to incorporate a short vacation right before school starts.

Getting Throught the Hard Days with Gratitude

A while ago, I had one of those really hard days as a mother of children with special needs. I had taken Paul and Matt for an evaluation for some summer therapy. As a parent of children with special needs, I had started to think that my children had come to a good place and I felt content about where we were.

Then I had one of those moments of reality, where all of their deficits were all too apparent.

Paul was running around in circles and very uncooperative. He didn’t want to do anything the therapist asked him to do. I saw how many motor planning issues he still needed to work through and that he still struggled to cross the midline. Even though we did years of occupational therapy when he was younger, we just didn’t do as much as he got older. He was generally functioning so much better and he was doing amazingly well, especially for where he had come from. But in that moment, I saw how far he still has to go. It was so overwhelming.

The tears started to flow as soon as I got in the car. I tried to say a few positive things to Paul as he sat in the back of the van, but I was completely overwhelmed. I had a babysitter waiting with the other kids at home, so I had to try to keep myself together. I took a few minutes to cry and got through the rest of the day by going through the motions, but I had such a heavy feeling in my chest. I carried the burden of wondering how I would ever be able to give my son enough attention to help him work through all the things he still struggles with. And how could I ever balance the needs of all of my children and his need to have time to still be a child?

As my mind tried to work through the heaviness I felt, I decided that when the kids went to bed I would make a list of all the things that I am grateful for because I am a mother of children with special needs. I have heard so much about the difference a gratitude journal can make, but I have had a hard time being consistent in recording my gratitude. As I thoughtfully made the list, the tears came easily. It is a hard, painful journey at times. But as I finished my list, I realized that the heavy feeling was gone. I felt at peace.

Some of the things I wrote are too personal to share, but I wrote about how I have learned to be less judgmental of other children and parents. You never know what quiet struggles others might be dealing with that lead them to the one moment you might witness at the store. I wrote about how I think I am a better person because of what I have been through with my children. I don’t think I would be as deliberate in my parenting as I have had to be to help my children through their challenges. I have a stronger marriage because we have to work together to really meet the needs of our children. I have witnessed so many little miracles, showing me that God is on this journey with us. He wants these children to reach their full potential too, whatever that potential might be.

These are things I don’t think I could have learned any other way. Sometimes it would be nice to be able to take away even just a few of the hard things my children have had to face. But I know that I needed these experiences so that I could learn to be a better person.

Dieter Uchtdorf, a leader in our church, said:

It might sound contrary to the wisdom of the world to suggest that one who is burdened with sorrow should give thanks to God. But those who set aside the bottle of bitterness and lift instead the goblet of gratitude can find a purifying drink of healing, peace, and understanding.

Since that night, I have tried a little harder to take the time to be grateful so that I can have that healing, peace, and understanding that I need to keep moving forward on this journey with my special needs children.


Why We Have a Dog



I have never been a dog person.  In fact, when my husband and I got married, I remember thinking that I was so glad my husband didn’t like dogs either.  Then I would never have to worry about getting one.

All of that quickly changed a few years later.  In a short amount of time I had several experiences that made me start thinking about getting a dog for Paul, my son with autism.  I started opening my mind to the possibility of getting a dog and I started researching all the benefits dogs could have for children with autism.  The things that stood out to me were the social benefits and the ability of the dog to comfort children and help them through anxieties.  I thought, “If he is being social with a dog, at least he is being social.”

Well . . . we have had our dog Daisy for 3 ½ years now.  Paul really likes Daisy, but they are not best friends like I had thought they would be.  However, Daisy does some things for him that are amazing.  First, she helps him feel loved.  Second, his interactions with her are slowly teaching him empathy and other social skills.

Soon after we got Daisy, when Paul was 6 years old, he came to me one morning and said, “Mom, Daisy loves me.”

I said, “That’s great, do you know who else loves you?”

He thought about it and said, “No, who?”

“Mom and Dad love you.”

Paul responded, “But Daisy loves me more.”

Somehow through that connection, he felt more love from that little puppy in a few weeks than he felt from my husband and me.  Even though it broke my heart on some level that he wasn’t feeling that love from us, I was grateful that he was at least feeling love from the dog.

We had another tender experience with the dog last week as we were getting ready to go out of town for spring break.  As we were packing up the car, Daisy started whining a lot.  She always gets nervous when she can tell that we are getting ready to go out of town.  Paul was worried that she was whining so much and started trying to figure out how to calm her down.  He started by playing her a song on the piano.  When that didn’t work, he sat petting her for 15 or 20 minutes, reassuring her the entire time.

Right before we left, Paul said to me, “Mom, when I was petting Daisy, I started to feel what she was feeling.”

Not quite understanding what he was trying to communicate, I asked, “How did that make you feel?”

He said, “It made my eyes water.”  As I looked at him, he was blinking a lot and looked like he was trying not to cry.

Paul was understanding how the dog felt—he was experiencing empathy!!!  He later described it to my sister as a “magical moment.”  Paul recognized that connection of trying to understand what another living creature is feeling.  Moments like this are huge for any parent of a child with autism.  Learning to understand empathy is so important to being able to build relationships.

Hopefully at some point, he’ll be able to translate that empathy into human relationships; but for now, I am so grateful that he is experiencing and learning more about empathy—even if it is just with our dog.

It’s these little experiences that make me feel so grateful we took that huge leap of faith and got a dog when we did.  As it turned out, I happened to be 7 months pregnant with our fourth child when we got our dog.  It was CRAZY!!  But now I can see that the craziness was worth it.


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