2016 Summer Day Camps Now Available

We are super excited to be able to offer our first ever summer day camps! They are set up to allow 2 preschool weeks and 2 school age weeks of Monday through Thursday 9 am to 12 pm noon with lots of activities, arts/crafts, sensory experiences, and small groups and teacher to child ratios! This is an awesome experience you won’t want to miss! The preschool class will consist of 4 preschool age children with 2 adults who have lots of experience with children with autism and similar special needs and the school age class will consist of 6 school age children with 2 adults!  Sign up while there is space available!

Disney Vacation- No Problem

As summer nears, more families may be planning not only vacations, but possibly Mickey themed vacations. A family who recently left on their Disney vacation shared a website they found very helpful when planning to go to the Disney parks. Autism at the Parks is a website of a family who moved to Florida in 2007 and visits the parks nearly every weekend. It is full of helpful information! As a personal Disney lover and frequent visitor, some of the things I recommend are:

  • Visiting in non-peak times. Even if you go in the summer, try to go later in the day or the evening when people are headed back in or are tired. Evenings are typically less busy than day time and less hot!
  • Utilizing the baby care centers which are also set up to assist kids with special needs. There is only one per Disney park and it is usually at the front, so don’t wait until full meltdown mode to try and find one! They are cool, relaxing, quiet, and a great place to rest from the parks.
  • Don’t pack the schedule! Make sure and have down time, pool time, and follow the child’s lead. If he/she wants to ride Dumbo over and over and the lines aren’t long, go for it. If he loves Nemo and music? Do the Nemo musical at Animal Kingdom. There’s something for everyone!
  • Take advantage of the Disability program Disney has. Plus fast passes! You can book fast passes 90 days out if you stay on property and approximately 30 days in advance if staying off-site. These really make the lines shorter. The new disability program allows one “fast pass” type ride at a time.
  • Do fun things out of the parks! The mini-golf and Chip & Dale’s Campfire Sing-Along and Movie are truly fun. There’s a movie somewhere every night on property and it’s free for resort stayers.
  • Prepare beforehand as much as possible! Watch youtube videos of parades, rides, and look at pictures of the things they will see. Even making a social story about the Disney trip can be helpful and relieve anxiety or stress.
  • Keep expectations low for each day. What are three things you want to do each day? If you do those three, count the day a success. After all, it’s quality vs. quantity and quality wins. If they want to ride the train over and over or watch the Electric parade every night, enjoy those special moments. It will be a vacation to remember!

What to Consider When Repeating a Grade…

This is an old article written back in 2013 that I thought was a great reshare for this time of year!

With it being “IEP season,” a great question comes to mind: should my child repeat a grade in school? There are many schools of thought about this subject matter. I will share a variety of reasons an IEP committee, which includes the parents, may decide that it is a good idea to repeat a child in a grade in school. I will also share a variety of reasons an IEP committee may decide it is not in the child’s best interest to repeat a grade. This decision is considered an IEP committee decision and parents have equal rights to share their feelings and thoughts regarding this matter. No one knows the child as well as mom and dad.
Sometimes, a child may repeat a grade because he/she is socially immature and needs extra time to mature. This is a common practice in younger grades for typical children as well as children with disabilities. By giving a child an extra year, more practice, and younger peers, the results may work really well for the child. No teacher or principal can ever know 100%, but they try to make their best judgement based on experience and knowledge of the child.
Another reason a child with a disability may repeat a grade is to gain essential academic skills that he/she may have missed for whatever reason during the academic school year. Although children can not stay in each grade two years, there may be some years that they need more time to gain the foundational skills they need to continue to progress alongside their peers. Kids with disabilities may not always be able to gain as many skills as typical children throughout the school year, but it is important that they gain the foundational skills that will be built on year after year.
Sometimes, a child whose disability impacts them moderately may benefit from repeating a grade in order to be included in general education activities more than they would be if they moved to the next grade level. Inclusion in the general class is important for building social skills, relationships, increasing academic opportunities, being a part of a group, and many, many more reasons. For this reason, it may be decided that a child repeat a grade merely to be able to be appropriately included in general education more. As children progress to higher elementary grades, children with disabilities tend to spend less time in general education because the materials become increasingly difficult.
The above are a few reasons why a child may be held back from moving forward. So what are some reasons that a child may move forward and not repeat a grade?
One reason to decide not to repeat is merely to keep a child with their peers. It is difficult sometimes for kids with disabilities to form friendships and when a child repeats a grade, they start all over with building relationships. As we know with kids who have autism, they already have a difficult time building these relationships and if we hold them back, they end up having to start over the next school year. This can be detrimental for some students. Kids not only have built friendships in their current grade, but they have also more than likely built support systems. Support systems are typical kids who assist them in a variety of ways, such as with following directions or advocate for them when they need a break or are having trouble communicating. Support systems are not built overnight and once they are in place can be helpful to a child with a disability.
Another reason to progress a child depends on the child’s attributes. Is he/she already a foot taller than everyone and bigger? By holding him/her back, does he/she stand out in the crowd? If so, this may not be a good time to repeat. All children should feel comfortable with their peers.
The IEP committee should determine which of the following items pertains to the child and make the best decision based on the individual child and situation. Sometimes, there may be extenuating circumstances that require a team to consider other reasons to repeat a child in a grade. However, decisions should not be based on overcrowding at a school, convenience, or fear of moving forward. Remember to keep the “I” in IEP. If you feel uncertain about the decision, you can always request more time to decide or another IEP meeting. Ask your teacher to explain why they feel either way and share your thoughts and feelings. If it is appropriate, ask the child what he/she thinks and have him/her in the meeting.
These are just a few personal thoughts regarding repeating a grade. It is important to keep in mind that the IEP committee comes together to make decisions for one individual child. As long as that child is the focus, decisions should be made that will be in the best interest of the child.

Friday Five: Five More Favorite Apps

Here are five more apps that are sure to please!

  • Toca Boca Kitchen & Kitchen 2– These are awesome for a variety of ages and goals! From simply requesting which character and telling them to “cook” or “eat” to making complex sentences or directions about what to cook, how to cook something, etc. Always a big hit!
  • Daniel Tiger Day/Night– This app is fun because it visually shows a picture schedule of the things Daniel needs to do to get ready for his day or ready for bed. There are special things in the app to work on buiding imaginary play skills too.
  • Feelings with Milo– This one is also great for a variety of kids- from simply choosing an emotion to writing a journal about which feeling you are feeling and why. It makes an emotion train that gets longer each time you use it!
  • Spin & Speak– This app provides an opportunity to work on skills from feelings to answering questions to more complex questions about getting lost, explaining what makes you mad/sad, and problem solving skills- all while you move through the game board. First, you “spin” and then you “speak” and answer your question.
  • Touch Math– By adding touch points to numbers, this app gives kids a multi-sensory experience for learning numbers and giving an understanding to “how many is 2?” After learning the touch points, kids can use them to add, subtract, multiply, and divide- and they are also able to be faded in some cases/with some kids.

Autism in Love Documentary

Excited to see this new documentary is available on netflix. David and Lindsey are among the couples focused on in this documentary that gives insight to what it is like to be in a relationship with someone with an autism spectrum disorder.

I had the great honor to interview David a few years ago while he lived in the Jackson area and it was interesting to know what his career was like as well as his personal history.

Friday Five: Local Resources for Families affected by Autism

As the director of Jackson Autism Center, I speak with countless families looking for resources for their child with autism, regardless of the age of the child. Here are 5 local resources that I find myself mentioning frequently to parents:

  • Camp Hope Hollow– Day camps for individuals with disabilities take place Mondays-Thursdays in the summer with a variety of mini-camps throughout the school year. A few other overnight camps may be available as well. A variety of ages are worked with so this is a great resource from approximately 3-4 years up.
  • Challenger League- What I love about the challenger league baseball is you will see kids 5+ learning a multitude of skills about baseball, turn taking, responsibility, the list goes on…the spirit of these teams amazes me and I love watching how kids grow and change through participation in the baseball season!
  • Eudora Welty Library- Eudora Welty Library has an Autism Resource Center located in the children’s section with books and materials that can be checked out as well as providing monthly support group meetings.
  • Jackson Autism Center- JAC not only supports its current clients, but also provides opportunities for families in the community through monthly support group meetings, sensory-friendly movie showings, mini-day camps, and more coming soon!
  • Little Giants- Little Giants is a developmental play center that works with children birth-5 years old. Classes are inclusive and allow children with special needs to be around their peers and learn through play and repetition.

Sensory Friendly Movies in Jackson, MS

I was approached in October 2015 about hosting sensory friendly movies. I was excited, but apprehensive all in one…could such a small center take on such a big responsibility? How would people find out about the movies? Would they be a success?

Why was this important to me you may ask? I’ll never forget being a part of the first movie experience for one of my sweet students, who loved movies, but could not go to the theater because it was too loud. When I went with her on her first movie field trip and the theater accommodated her and turned the sound down, her mom cried to find out her daughter saw her first movie!

So what is a sensory friendly movie? Kids are allowed to move around as they need to, but are kept safe, lights are not as low as normal, and the sound is not as loud. These things make a huge impact for individuals with sensory needs because it allows them to better enjoy the movie!

We began with the Peanuts movie on November 5, 2015 and it was a success! Around 150 people came out to say “yes, we want sensory friendly movies in the area.” We have continued to have movies every month or every other month. We are excited to see what the future brings!

My favorite moment from our last movie was a dad coming up to me and telling me his son had told him I love you for the first time- at our sensory friendly movie! What an honor to be a part of that special moment!

Our next sensory friendly movie is Saturday, April 23 at 9:30 am. Tickets are $5.50 per person. This is not about making money; it is about providing opportunities for children and individuals to enjoy a movie stress-free or judgement-free environment. JAC has been so blessed by the employees and managers at Grandview Malco and look forward to many more movies!

Dr. Temple Grandin’s Advice with Young Children

Do something NOW!!!!! These are the words that resonate with me as I watch this video again. Dr. Temple Grandin was diagnosed with autism in the 1950’s and she shares pertinent advice from her own diagnosis and intervention. I wanted to go back and share this video from a few years ago when she visited the Jackson area for a speaking engagement.

If you have questions about your child’s development, do something now! Contact your pediatrician, First Steps, etc. Jackson Autism Center does not currently diagnose autism, but does provide consultations to families who think their child may have autism. Don’t hesitate- get your child the help now that they need that will make their future brighter!


National Autism Association lends a Helping Hand for Autism Therapies

The National Autism Association is helping parents pay for therapies for children, teenagers, and individuals ages birth to twenty-one. Parents can apply here if your child has been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder and your family income is less than $50,000. The NAA realizes the costs of autism intervention, the percent insurance pays or doesn’t pay, and wants to help make that affordable for families.There are limited funds so apply now! Jackson Autism Center is so excited about this opportunity!

“Signing Time” Is a Gem of Communication

I learned about this resource while working on my dissertation and have been thrilled with the videos and apps provided by Two Little Hands Productions. Sign language is one of the frequently used augmentative and alternative communications (AAC) that allows children on the autism spectrum to begin communicating. The videos use repetition, explanation, singing, and video modeling of signs to help kids learn words they can use to communicate. There are two levels also- Baby Signing Time and Signing Time to help best meet the needs of children wherever their language may be currently.

I have used Signing Time’s Potty Time materials multiple times and have been very impressed with them. The song is catchy- you will be singing and signing it in no time! Thank you Rachel, Leah, Alex, and Hopkins, for helping improve communication!