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For parents of children with visual impairments

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Happy Accident/Merry Christmas/Happy New Year!

Santa Claus checking his list

Sometimes the best things that happen are happy unplanned events. We were going to a fundraiser concert that my husband's brass group was playing for. We decided to go to this Christmas Concert because it was afternoon. The next one was evening in a church and I knew by then my crew was not going to sit down and be quiet and listen. Most likely, it won’t make a difference what time of day it is, they won’t sit and be quiet for any length of time. Vinnie hates large crowds and clapping. He does love music.

The concert was in a gymnasium full of real Christmas trees and each tree was decorated by a business and they were all lit up. There was lots of food for sale and large round tables set up for eating and visiting. Eating is always good, my guys like food. I had no idea what this was until we arrived, so no preparation. I'm always good for a fast get away. However, this was low key.

We met some friends we knew and met some new home schooling friends with plans to get together. People were free to sit, walk around, however they wished to enjoy the food and music. Everyone was in a holiday upbeat mood. Kids were running around the adults. This one geeky, 13 or 14 year old (really nice kiddo) was letting Brandon use his light up drum sticks. This was tailor-made for my guys. There was food, music, and they didn't have to be quiet.

Then Santa arrived about halfway through. He was so good. He spotted my guy with the white cane and came right over, got down to his level and talked to him like any other child. He let Vinnie touch his beard and his costume. Santa asked if he had been a good boy. I enthusiastically replied, “Oh, YES, Santa!” Then of course, his twin Brandon came over.

Santa says, "Who is this?" He replies, “Brandon!”

Santa says, “Have you been a good boy?”

I couldn't help myself. I said, “OH, NOooo Santa!”

The eyebrows raised and Santa said, “Brandon you have a couple of weeks to work on this.”

I couldn’t have asked for better timing. We’re all still laughing and Brandon is really trying to be good. He really is, but rather high spirited (my word for ADHD). Vinnie had an experience that was fun.

I couldn’t have asked for a nicer, more enjoyable afternoon. I certainly couldn’t have planned it. What a great afternoon! Thanks, Santa!

Social Life and Recreation

Peppermint Stars Ornaments

peppermint stars ornament

Hello everyone and welcome back to Maria’s sensory activities! Here is another one of my very favorite activities especially around the holidays!

Remember to include your child to the best of their ability. Use descriptive words such as "soft" for the flour, "grainy" for the salt, "slimy" for the oil, "cold" for the water, "minty" for the smell of peppermint. Allow your child to explore the ingredients.

Here's what you'll need:

  • 2 cups plain flour
  • 1 cup salt
  • 1 tbs oil
  • 1 cup cold water
  • 2 drops liquid food coloring (red, green)
  • 6 drops of peppermint oil (I bought mine at GNC) or extract
  • Star-shaped cookie cutter or any other shape of your choice
  • Straw
  • Pretty ribbon
  • Small picture of your child

Now for the fun!

  1. Combine plain flour and salt.
  2. Add water, food coloring, and oil. Mix until ingredients are combined.
  3. Knead well. If consistency is too wet add a little plain flour.
  4. Roll into a ball and pat flat (we like to sing as we tap).
  5. Cookie-cut the flattened dough and lay on parchment paper or cookie tray. Poke a hole with the straw through one of the points of the stars (this is to thread the ribbon through once they're dry).
  6. Flip stars each takes about 10 days to dry.

Once the stars are dry, you're ready to thread them into an ornament. Thread the ribbon through the hole, then thread the same ribbon through the hole in your child's picture. Tie a pretty bow, and voila!

Enjoy the smelly stars!

Arts and Leisure

Holiday Readiness

Santa hat

It’s that time of year again—time for bells and lights, songs and get-togethers. This is a wonderfully exciting time for us all...and potentially an overwhelming time for our little people who are blind or visually impaired. Here is a hint that might make a chat with someone very special or a visit from Auntie Harriett a little more fun for your kiddo. Readiness is the key.

First, it helps to talk with your child about the upcoming visit or experience so he can get a little prepared. Maybe practice some of the activities that will probably happen ahead of time. If a visit to Santa is in your holiday plans, you might gather a fake beard, a velvet hat or even a snippet of velvet material, candy canes, jingle bells, and anything else Santa might have on hand. Your baby could feel the materials and objects as you tell a little story about, “this feels like Santa’s beard.” For toddlers the materials could be glued to cardboard to make a Santa visit book. A simple little story about going to see Santa could be fun.

Another way to practice is role playing. One adult could be Santa and you and kiddo could go through a play visit. Fun is the key ingredient. When the big visit comes, simplify it as much as possible. A trip to the mall when it isn't crowded would be a less confusing time for your child. Afterward you could review the visit by telling the story of the visit several times. Hopefully your child had a fun time and has stories to tell of her own, plus a lot of things to think about. Whether your family is going to Santa or going to family's homes for a party, the same readiness plan will make the holiday experience more fun. So the hint is to practice the experience beforehand, make the event as simple as possible and review afterward. Most importantly, have fun!

And Happy Holidays.

Editor's note: check out Emily's article series for more great ideas on how to incorporate social skills and other Expanded Core Curriculum skills into the holidays.

Social Life and Recreation

FamilyConnect 2014 Holiday Guide Now Available

parent and two children playing in the snow

It is that time of year again that brings both joy and boundless levels of stress. We have put together a Holiday Guide for Parents of Children Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired that will help you get through the season.

Trying to find that perfect gift for your child who is blind? On the Holiday Guide we have collected several articles with tips and specific toy ideas. For that teen or adult you should browse the holiday issue of AFB's AccessWorld® for gifts with a technological twist. We also have links to a variety of agencies that have special gifts for people who are blind such as braille cards, jewelry, and more.

Don’t let your child be a couch potato but use these ideas on sharing the holidays with your child who is visually impaired. We have just posted this article in our tips for parents on making cookies together, which is a great holiday time activity. On the other hand, a good audio described video is a nice way to spend a winter day. The American Council of the Blind maintains this list of audio described videos.

My hope is we strive for a blend of fun activities, active engagement, and creative down time as a family together.

Social Life and Recreation
News from FamilyConnect

Technology for Children with Visual Impairment

By Felicity Dryer

Image of a boy sitting with legs crossed, an iPad on his lap. His hands are clapping in the air.

Today we are posting a blog written by Felicity Dryer who is sharing her thoughts on technology.

Every parent, particularly those raising a special needs child, wants not just the best, but the very best for their child. With special needs technology advancing at such a rapid pace, the possibility of reaching and applying such progress may very well be possible.

What's Out There?

Assistive technology (AT) now offers a long list of applications that have changed the lives of children and their families forever. These advancements include braille printers, voice activated devices, audio books, and other talking technology as well as large print texts, screen readers and magnifiers (easy zoom in/zoom out tech).

Refer to your child's educational facility for their access to AT. If budget is a challenge, get involved in a fundraising program as well as raise awareness for technology on the horizon.

You Have a Say

Much legislation has been passed regarding special needs access to various tools and helpful additions. The Assistive Technology Act (ATA) is one which is intended to ensure that people with disabilities have access to assistive technology devices and services.

Contact your local government office to see what your state offers regarding your child's visually impairment. You may be surprised at the help you get from your civil servants.

It's Getting Better

Manufacturing products for a variety of physical and mental challenges often falls into the hands of free enterprise making supply and demand the ruling factor. Therefore, it may be difficult to find certain AT for visually challenged children.

Working with educators; resource platforms (organizations, social media and web/consumer sites); and word-of-mouth, you can get the latest in AT.

Hopefully as more demand continues, it brings future AT to visually impaired and blind children. Some of these even go beyond basic, practical applications such as those mentioned above and incorporate amazing tactile innovations along with some fun thrown too.

3D Printers

The invention of the 3D Printer has opened a whole new world for so many industries including medical, textile and yes, special needs. According to a report by Science Daily, "Using the technology, not only braille books, but also braille picture books and teaching materials can be made with greater flexibility in color, height and size."

These braille picture books offer more interesting reading as they can now include 3D models of topography, miniature furniture, fruit, and anything else to bring tactile reading to a whole new level. In addition to adding this technology to reading, it can also be used to create all sorts of crafts and models for parent/child quality time.

Audio Communication Boards

One struggle for the visually impaired is being able to participate in community boards. Whether social media or other platforms like craigslist, being able to participate can help these children increase self-esteem, dignity and a sense of belonging.

A screen reader app and braille keyboard can help join these sites. Plus, don't be afraid to search for a (or start your own) Audio-Skype Community Board.

For Kicks

Entertainment for visually impaired kids should be parallel with their peers. This is special needs tech which, with the use of an audio response device like VoiceOver, exercises imagination, thought formation, problem solving and more.

Some of these cost a few bucks while others are free. These games include:

  • Interactive Story Apps—These are stories where a child can become leader of their clan and even crowned King. Some titles are: King Dragon Pass and Frotz
  • Silly Fun—These games take away all seriousness as players run from crazy acorns in Stem Stumper or test their gesture reflexes with Zany Touch
  • Classics—Voice activated chess or cards are easily found complete with tutorials and thousands of variations
  • Brain Stimulators—There's even trivia, puzzles, word games and electronic casino. Look for titles like: De Steno Games, 7 Little Words and Moxie
  • It Goes On—There are many other apps covering sports, music, podcasts, and more

Special needs tech keeps morphing from one benefit to the next. Stay on top of what your visually impaired child may be able to excel with. Just seeing the awe written all over their face is worth every effort.

Social Life and Recreation