Staying Safe

The events in Chicago last week were certainly horrific. Although safety is an important lesson for all parents, persons with disabilities have added challenges – such as situational awareness and recognizing social cues and/or danger; sensory issues; and communication – that can make them more vulnerable if they are not prepared. I’m only hoping that what happened in Chicago can serve as a wake-up call that to all that we must respect and be sensitive to children and adults with disabilities.

As a parent, you are the best person to teach your child about safety. Safety skills must be taught, practiced, and reinforced frequently. Ryan was not yet three when I realized the potential impact of his impulsivity. Thus began my emphasis with him on safety skills; in his case, “Stick like glue with Mom” (a phrase I still use!) and “Don’t go up to strangers.” These lessons will change with the age/maturity level of your child. As Ryan became older and could independently go to a vending machine or restroom, this phrase changed to think-safety“Come right back and be sure not to talk to strangers!”

Ryan and I frequently role-play in a variety of situations, both at ho
me and while we are out in the community. By changing where and when we discuss this, my hope is that Ryan thoroughly understands the importance of safety at all times and in all places. .” Other safety concepts I stress to him are to always stick with a buddy when he is out and to always remember that it is OK to say “No!”

Regardless of the specific lesson, the key is to “think safety” at all times, not only for you as the parent, but also to help your child to start thinking this way as well.

As your child approaches adolescence, the increased importance of social life, interpersonal relationships and the desire for independence presents a unique set of challenges and concerns. It’s important your child be prepared for situations where a parent may not always be present.

For children who are able to be independent, teaching them about proper use of money, cell phones, and public transportation can help them to navigate their world. Setting boundaries for where your child is allowed to go, establishing curfews, and making sure your child is not alone are also helpful guidelines. police.png

Although we would hope that it will never be used, both you and your child should have a plan for an emergency. This can be as simple as calling 911 and giving the critical information.

There are a number of resources available – I’ve shared a few that I found most helpful below. The safety of all of our children is a conversation we need to have on an on-going basis. I welcome any tips and resources you may have to share!


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

31-Day Kindness Challenge – Are You In?

January – and the new year – brings about such a wonderful feeling of rejuvenation. As the calendar rolls over, so do our goals and ambitions – it truly feels like anything is possible. It’s also a wonderful time to embark on a personal challenge, whether it be for fitness, photography, or random acts of kindness.

At school this year, we are focusing on the importance of Kindness and Wellness in our lives, so I thought it was fitting that I begin a 31 Days of Kindness Challenge! There are several variations out there, any of which would work well. For this challenge, I am using the one below but I have also included links to others that I considered as well. Who knows, I may try another after I’ve completed this one!

31-day-challenge-2(Note: As you can see, this challenge was designed in August, but you can easily adapt it for any month! Source:


Links to additional challenges:


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

New Year, New Resolution!

As I was thinking about my New Year’s resolution for 2017, I thought back to my resolution for 2016… to focus on and celebrate Ryan’s day-to-day accomplishments.
I am pleased to say, Yes, I was successful!
Every night at dinner, we talk about Ryan’s day. I always tell him that I am so proud of him… because I am! I tell him that he is such a successful worker and athlete. And most importantly he is a person who does acts of kindness. It has become a wonderful reminder of positivity to our daily routine.
I wasn’t certain how I could top this resolution. Then it occurred to me, I don’t have to! So, for 2017, my resolution is continue in this new practice! Not sure if I am adding anything but still have a few days to consider… 🙂
~ Maureen


Last week, I decided to tackle the four boxes of paperwork that had been relegated to a corner of my office since my file cabinet fell apart. I, like many moms, saved Ryan’s papers, reports, classroom assignments, and report cards going back to Pre-School. I even had his art projects from his days in Happy Hearts Toddler Childcare! My initial reaction was, “Some of these papers are 20 years old; why should I be saving them?” However, as I began reading, I was enthralled by the stories that were unfolding before me. So many of these moments had been forgotten, it was almost like reading a book. Some were happy, some were sad, but by the time I finished reading his 12th grade file I was thoroughly pleased and proud of Ryan and the way his story has evolved.


So often, I am asked about Ryan’s future. This is a worry of all parents, but especially for parents of children with disabilities. It’s very easy to allow these concerns to overshadow the achievements and successes that your child experiences. So I decided that for my New Year’s resolution I would take a moment every day to celebrate how far Ryan has come. No, I’m not going to stop planning for the future; but I am going to focus on his day-to-day accomplishments as well, feeling grateful that he is able to achieve so much and has been blessed with such an outstanding (albeit ever-changing) team since the beginning, helping to make his dreams come true.

I encourage you to find time in the coming year to pause and celebrate your child’s successes, too. Happy 2015!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

2016: Top Research of the Year

As December comes to a close, I always enjoy looking back at the research developments of the year. I thought I would share with you what I found to be some of the significant findings throughout 2016.

~ Maureen


researchIn previous blogs, I’ve discussed the challenges Ryan experiences with anxiety, so I was especially interested in learning that anxiety affects those with autism differently than the general population. It’s excellent to now have a resource for physicians to aid them in diagnosing and treating anxiety in individuals on the spectrum.

Many of our students are prescribed Risperdal to reduce severe irritability, agitation, and aggression when behavioral therapy is not successful. Unfortunately, a common side effect is significant weight gain. This year, research revealed that a common diabetes drug can mitigate the weight gain effect of both Risperdal and Abilify.

Although I have reviewed the possible link between Vitamin D deficiency and autism spectrum disorder, a newly released article not only solidifies these findings but also suggests that vitamin D3 supplements may significantly improve autism symptoms such as hyperactivity and social withdrawal.

When Ryan was first diagnosed with autism, I worked with therapists to develop and implement ABA programs in our home. Ryan worked with staff during the day, and I would implement the same programs in the evenings. I truly believe this structure and continuity 7 days a week is the reason he was able to make such great progress and thrives today. Thus, I was very pleased to see throughout the course of the year increased emphasis on parent preparation and teacher training for those who support individuals with autism.

autismVery often, the determination of the severity of autism is based upon the child’s verbal skills. Recent research suggests that nearly half of children with autism who speak few or no words have cognitive skills that far exceed their verbal abilities. The findings call into question the widespread assumption that children with autism who have severe difficulty with speech also have low intelligence.

Most people are aware that many people with autism report heightened sensory perception. They may be acutely aware of sounds or of people or objects touching their skin. Researchers have theorized that this feeling of sensory overload might make social situations overwhelming and challenging to navigate. A new study in mice supports this thinking and suggests that sensory sensitivity directly drives social difficulties. It also hints that treatments aimed at the peripheral nervous system — the set of neurons that connect the brain and spinal cord to limbs and organs — could ease this sensitivity and possibly even social problems and anxiety.

Also throughout 2016 were numerous research articles on mutations within genetic makeup that may cause autism as well as various symptoms of autism. As this research continues, I anticipate that 2017 will bring us even more remarkable findings in gene mutations that may cause autism and possible treatments.

By keeping a pulse on research trends throughout the course of the year, I find that not only am I able to take what I learn and apply it to our daily practice, both at the BNI and with Ryan, but also I’m constantly made aware of how much effort and commitment our nation gives to the study of autism. When I think about the advances made in the past decade and its resulting impact on the services provided, I only wonder where we will be ten years from now. I have a feeling it’s going to be even more remarkable than the past decade!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Two Horses

This poem is so moving that I wanted to share it with all of you this holiday season. I hope you have a safe and wonderful holiday season!

Two Horses Poem_001.png

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Picking the Right Gifts

One of our parents asked me about how to figure out what to give to a three-year-old child who has autism, and know that it will be his favorite? I thought back to my years when Ryan was a preschool child. Right from the beginning, we always said: “Jesus received three gifts from the Magi,” so he would also get three gifts from Santa, as well. I would scour the catalogs, looking for those three great gifts. The first few years, I was excited to watch him open gifts that I was sure were perfect – only to find that he was definitely not as excited as I was!gifts

I finally came to the realization that whether I spent $500 or $5, what was essential was to identify his likes and dislikes to help guide me in picking the “right” gifts, often not the “hot toy” of the season. Twenty years later, this still rings true as I thoughtfully consider what to get Ryan. I’m thinking about a ski pass, water world pass, and …???

My advice to this parent was that the key is to figure out what your child is interested in and use that as your guide to purchasing your gifts. Of course, there are also a few sites out there that provide recommendations for parents of children with autism. I’ve included the links to some below. Any other great ideas? I’d love to hear them! Happy Shopping!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

International Day of Persons with Disabilities

“We mark this year’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities in the wake of the adoption of the ambitious 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This global blueprint for action summons us to ‘leave no one behind.’”

These powerful words by the Secretary of the U.N. serve as the framework for the 2015 International Day of Persons with Disabilities, recognized this past Saturdayidpd. My initial thought was: how does sustainable development relate to persons with disabilities? Doing a bit of research, I found that there are three dimensions of sustainable development – environmental, economic, and social. It’s in the social dimension that most of us think about inclusion.

Sustainability goes hand-in-hand with inclusion; you can’t have a truly sustainable society while excluding some from this equation. 60 years ago, persons with disabilities had no place in society. Today, while their voice is heard in all aspects of life, there is certainly room to grow.

A truly sustainable society is one in which all individuals are empowered, enabling them to take advantage of opportunities, which in turn allows them to become active and contributing members of society. It’s our responsibility to assure that all of our citizens have access to employment, health care, education, and safe housing – in other words, as our founding fathers said: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all.

What can each of us do?

We can promote awareness and support and strive to spread this positive message of empowerment throughout each of our own communities. As Van Gogh said: “Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together.”


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment