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Adjusting Dreams with Kids with Special Needs: 4 Tips to Help Them

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This past spring we attended a high school graduation for the first time as parents of a graduate. During the ceremony, we were inundated with numbers. Ninety percent of the 470 graduates were entering college. They had been awarded $25,502,169 in scholarships. It was not as hard as I anticipated knowing that my child was not one of these students. College is not a good match for him. I know that. What was incredibly hard was watching graduates stand as their names were called along with the branch of the military they were entering. That was difficult. I cringed as I thought about unattained dreams. Our young man had dreamed of being a soldier as long as we had known him.


Unrealized Dreams

I can sympathize with unrealized dreams, as can most people who have lived a few years. My childhood dream was to be accepted to and attend Northwestern University, which was at the time ranked as 14th in the nation and was one of the very top schools in speech pathology, which I intended to major in. My childhood was not without major obstacles and struggles. I fought with fierce determination to succeed at what I put my mind to. I worked for what I got, but so much came naturally. I was not limited by a disability. While so much was unknown to me, I knew enough. I applied to Northwestern and was accepted, but after much deliberation, I chose to attend the state school offering me a scholarship as opposed to graduating with tons of debt. Looking back I know, had I gone to Northwestern, I would not have met Darren. Chances are that this crazy, dysfunctional family and Community Kids and Transfiguring Adoption would not have all come about. I still have that acceptance letter. In high school, I was voted most skilled in business, most likely to succeed, and most likely to be in politics (really???). I remain proud of my accomplishments, but that person seems far away. My dreams had to be adjusted.


Adjusting Dreams and Expectations

I talk often about adjusted dreams and expectations. I join with parents all over who secretly hurt for their kids, who feel twinges when their kids are not being recognized for how amazing they are at awards ceremonies or graduations. How I wanted to scream to the rooftop of that huge, packed out college basketball stadium about the wonders that our boy has achieved, living through horrors and overcoming obstacles those other grads could never imagine.

My life does not look like what I thought it would when I received those high school awards. Does that make me unsuccessful? Are my new dreams any less valuable? My child’s life does not look like what he had hoped. Does that make him unsuccessful? Six months post graduation, we are still struggling with our young man to figure out the next steps. We don’t know what our kids’ futures hold. We don’t know what our futures or the future of Transfiguring Adoption holds. We don’t yet have hindsight. When living as a foster or adoptive family, our dreams and expectations quite often go unmet and have to change, sometimes drastically. Our life looks SO different than what we dreamed or expected. We have had to grieve those dreams and build new ones.


But When It’s Our Kids…

It’s one thing as adults to readjust our dreams and expectations. We have more hindsight, and we have more life experience. We know there are many more types of opportunities for success. While, in the moment, it can be hard for us to access all this, our kids really do not have much in the way of life experience with other possibilities. How can we help them?

  1. Kindly offer reality.
    One thing that we have battled is people in positions of authority who are supposed to be helping kids set and reach goals telling them they can be anything they want. We can’t put a blind person in the pilot’s seat and have them fly a passenger jet. I’m sorry, but the child who is tone deaf is not going to be a famous singer, and the young adult who cannot read, is going to have limited choices. Sometimes we have to help our children ascertain between reachable dreams and those that are unattainable. To allow them to continue expecting something unrealistic is setting them up for a much greater pain and loss. For example, we helped our guy take a practice military entrance test. When we saw the results, we shared with the school and encouraged them to help us in helping him instead of continuing to focus on the military as a goal and setting him up for heartache and failure without a backup plan. They ultimately repeated the test at school and shared with him that no amount of hard work, through no fault of his, would fill the gaps.
  2. Acknowledge their pain and help them grieve.
    Do not just brush the child’s dreams aside. Let them know that it is painful to let go of dreams, allow them to grieve, and help them understand how to grieve that loss.
  3. Share your experiences.
    We have to be careful to not undermine our children’s struggles, but we can express that while our experience is quite different, we have had to face crushed dreams, share what they were, how we handled it, and positive outcomes.
  4. Show them other possibilities.
    Help your child explore other options. Is there something related to their interest that they are capable of attaining? What are other options that they may not be aware of? Help them explore.

Now It’s Your Turn:

  1. Is there anything you would add to this list?
  2. What have you done to help yourself or others to manage the loss of unrealized dreams?

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Get Kids To Sit In A Chair With Leg Fidgets

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It’s been a long time since we have reviewed a fidget, and truthfully, we haven’t tried anything new in a while until recently. We have a couple kiddos (foster and adoptive) in our home right now who really struggle to stay in their seats during meals or other times which they would normally be sitting in a chair. We have in the past let them stand to eat, but this stopped working when standing led to aimless wandering instead of focusing on whatever the task at hand was.

Darren, my husband, had seen on Pinterest a fidget idea which is simply a strip of stretchy spandex material with the ends sewn together which is then stretched around the chair legs. We decided it was worth a try, so for a few bucks we picked up some material from a local craft store, our crafty teen daughter cut it into strips and sewed the ends together, and we wrapped it around the front of our dining room chairs.

Success! This Fidget Does Perform!

The children have different options when using them. They can put their feet behind all of the material for greater resistance when pushing or kicking their legs forward, or they can place their legs between the material for less resistance but also allowing for resistance whether pushing forward or backward. One thing we did not do when creating these fidgets that we have seen online is using wider strips of fabric, which would allow the users to pull the fabric up over their lap simulating the feeling of a weighted lap blanket.

“These fidgets have made a world of difference in activities like eating a meal or sitting down with in-home therapists.”

These fidgets have made a world of difference in activities like eating a meal or sitting down with in-home therapists. The two who have used them have been able to sit and focus much longer than was previously possible, and they really like them. They just swing away and eat or talk. If they begin to get up from the table without reason, which usually happens because they forgot to use the fidget when they first sat down, it just takes a simple, “Are your feet in your fidget?” to get them back and focused.

Now the other kiddos are asking for their own chair fidgets, and we’re thinking it’s time to go get some more spandex!


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Fidget Spinners – True Fidgets or Simply Toys

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Fidget spinners have become the desire of kids of all ages across the United States, inundating checkout lanes and mall kiosks. Having started as a simple contraption, they are now being sold in light-up and singing versions and come in all shapes and sizes.

What I Love About the Craze

Before the beginning of the current fidget spinner craze and the smaller trend of fidget cubes which preceded it, the term “fidget” as a noun was not well known outside of circles of therapists and parents of children with special needs. As a matter of fact, just months ago our volunteers discussed holding a fidget drive to collect fidgets to give to foster and adoptive families, but they struggled with how to express succinctly what they would be collecting. The fidget spinner and fidget cube have both also normalized the use of fidgets somewhat, making children who need these tools feel less odd for using something their classmates do not.

So What Is a Fidget Exactly and Who Do They Help?

To fidget, as defined by Dictionary.com, means to move about restlessly, nervously, or impatiently. Fidgeting is very common among children with ADD/ADHD (attention deficit disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), autism, anxiety, mood regulation disorders, and trauma.

Children who are in foster care, who have been adopted, or who have special needs often lack the ability to calm, or self-soothe, themselves, and it’s our job as their life coaches to teach them these skills and also to come alongside and calm them until they learn to do it themselves. Kids with any of the aforementioned difficulties need sensory activities to help them calm down. Engaging the senses and providing motor activities in different ways produces calming effects, reducing stress and anxiety and helping the brain and senses organize themselves and increasing attention. Fidgets are objects that provide sensory input and motor activity that produce calming effects for their users, they increase attention, and they allow users to better filter sensory input.

“Fidgets are objects that provide sensory input and motor activity that produce calming effects for their users, they increase attention, and they allow users to better filter sensory input.”

Are Fidget Spinners True Fidgets?

In our travels, we have encountered teacher after teacher who loathes fidget spinners. These fidgets have sparked controversy and begun to be banned in schools several states. Good fidgets provide a sensory experience for their users without distracting them or others around them. Fidget spinners are visually distracting to those using them and to others who can see them. One teacher talked about children who do not need fidgets playing with them in her classroom and about students spinning them on their nose. Additionally, fidget spinners do not provide much gross motor engagement or tactile stimulation. While research has not been done to test out this new fad, the general consensus among scientists, therapists, teachers, and parents seems to be that fidget spinners are toys and NOT true fidgets.

How Can You Help Your Child?

Every child is different, so we recommend you experiment with what types of motor activities and sensory experiences help your child to be calm and attentive. Check out our blogs—”The Best Fidgets for Surviving Amusement Parks with Kids” and “Calm Down Boxes for Foster, Adoptive and Special Needs Homes“—for ideas!

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