How to Create Fun and Safe Outdoor Activities for Your Autistic Child

 

 

 

 

 

 

As the weather starts to warm, it’s natural to want to spend more time outside. Not only is it a place of fun and relaxation, but for autistic children, the outdoors can also be a stimulating space that can promote motor skills, social interaction and tactile sensory integration. Take advantage of the nice weather and encourage your child to spend time doing great outdoor activities. Here are some suggestions to consider.

Reduce Sensory Overload

Autistic children are prone to sensory overload. To help create an emotionally safe space for them, find a quiet area to be their space and obstruct their view of a busy street and neighborhood with trees or tall fences.

Give them a shady area that they can retreat to when they want some peace and quiet. Make sure you have some fixed furniture and elements in your backyard as the unpredictable can be intimidating for them. Having a few items that don’t change will help keep them comfortable.

Get Down in the Dirt

Gardening is an excellent activity to do with your child and can help them overcome any sensory issues. Slowly introduce them to a variety of textures from moist dirt to silky flower petals. Often gardening creates a quiet fascination with children and can help ease their anxiety.

This is also a great way to practice their ability to follow directions and can strengthen their social skills. Teach them how to use gardening gloves, proper tools and let them experience the joy and patience of watching something grow.

Break Out The Binoculars

Activities that the entire family can participate in are a great way to combine learning and education. Birdwatching is a great opportunity to do this and can be done from the safety of your own backyard.

Start by adding bird feeders to your backyard, or better yet make some together by rolling a pinecone in peanut butter and birdseed. Go Explore Nature encourages you to invest in a field guide and make a game of identifying the different birds. To further encourage the activity, get a pair of child-friendly binoculars or try going for a nature walk.

Set Up Camp

Backyard camping is the perfect balance of letting kids feel safe and secure while still creating a new experience. You do not need expert-level equipment for your own backyard. Parents Magazine recommends seeing what you have around your house first. You really only need a pop-up tent, some sleeping bags, a backpack and a flashlight.

Plan a night of activities and try to use the house as little as possible. Pack your dinner and clothes and try and settle in for the night. However, if your child is having difficulty sleeping and wants to go back in the house, that is OK. A good night’s sleep trumps an “authentic” outdoor camping trip.

Give Them Some Wheels

It is not uncommon for autistic children to have balance issues or difficulties not feeling in control, however, do not be discouraged from teaching them to ride a bike. It may just take more time and patience to do so. Bike riding can strengthen their motor skills, balance and sensory processing.

Keep the training wheels on until they have built up the muscles. Take your time to teach them to balance on their own. Hold on to the back of the bike until they feel comfortable with you letting go.

Safety First

For many kids, being outside offers a sense of freedom and a chance to explore. This does not mean you let them run loose. They can still feel this within a restricted and safe environment;  secure your backyard with a fence or safety barrier. Remember to supervise your children, as much for their own actions as for a car that they might not notice coming down the street.

Get Outside

There are so many ways to enjoy the outdoors. It offers a calming space where autistic children can explore, gain new skills and become more comfortable with their surrounding environment. Encourage outdoor play and do not hesitate to get involved. Let it be an opportunity to learn and bond.

The Gift of Compassion and Empathy

 

One thing I wholeheartedly believe in as a parent is fostering empathy and compassion in our children. Sadly with the pace and the direction our world is going in, it seems that those basic yet important altruistic traits aren’t being developed in our youth like they should be. Yes it is statistically proven violence around the world has generally decreased over the years but it is also apparent our world seems to be more emphatically divided and disconnected. We seem to have more bullying, more teasing and more individuality than in any time since the civil rights movement helped set a morality code of humanity for all. Some will say social media is to blame. Reason being person-to-person contact is diminishing with distant communication methods taking its place thus leading to people freely expressing their negative opinions without a visual display of any hurt they may cause. For evidence, look at any message boards or comment sections with over a hundred comments. They are filled with hatred and disassociation comments. It’s really sad and disappointing. But that me against you attitude doesn’t have to take hold in our kids, does it? No it doesn’t. No. It. Doesn’t. So what can we do? Beyond the traditional talks we give our kids about “do unto others as you would want them to do unto you” we as parents can do one simple thing to help instill that compassion and empathy.

Recently my daughter Dee Dee penciled a circle around wheelchair and crutches from a recent American Girls magazine. These were toys she really wanted for her upcoming birthday. We were not only ecstatic but also really proud of her selection. There were so many other great choices from exotic dollhouses to cool pets to stylish clothes that she could have chosen but she chose equipment that was devised to help people feel better. Wow! We were so proud. Truthfully, I didn’t expect it and was happily caught off guard. We ordered the toys immediately and gave them to her as soon as they arrived. Yes before her birthday. And to see her elated face when she unwrapped her gift was a feeling of pure joy for us parents.

To summarize, along with gratitude, I would argue being unselfish and finding the joy in giving are the most important skills we need to drive home to our kids in today’s world. The world is turning more into a “me, me, me world” and we must fight the tide Therefore, parents, guardians, grandparents, uncles and aunts it’s our job to make sure our kid’s show those injured, hurt or less fortunate the love, respect and tenderness we all want to be treated with. Instead of buying that perfect outfit for your child’s doll strongly consider buying them a wheelchair to roll their doll in. It will not only make your child more empathetic and compassionate (and ultimately happy) but it will also make the world a better place.

 

 

Heartbroken

As a family we are just heartbroken. Totally speechless. We are in so much pain for all the victims and their families who are directly affected by the tragedy in Las Vegas last night. We had several friends at the concert and this one really touches home for us. We have to remember one senseless loss of life is one too many. And to know many more individual lives and their families are forever disrupted simply pains us. As parents, we have to remember to teach our kids to love and to know they are loved. We have to make sure they are connected. It must be a priority. We have to let them know they can make a positive difference in the world. In addition, we have to remember life is precious. We have to remember to love our kids and our loved ones every chance we get. No one is promised tomorrow. Give love and practice empathy. #lifeisprecious #prayforvegas💔🙏 #prayfortheworld

Hello, How Are You?

Hello, How Are You?

Proper greeting is a skill we should never ignore. I learned from a good friend of mine the power of making a solid greeting, as a kid! You see, where I was a shy boy that tried to avoid eye contact at all costs, my good friend Kevin seemed to be the opposite. At the earliest of age he would look an adult in the eye and say, “Hello, how are you?” Even as a youngster, I was so impressed by Kevin’s 3Cs: Control, Confidence and Courage. He just seemed to master these “adult” traits so easily. As a kid, I wish I had those 3Cs so badly. It wasn’t until I was in my middle teens did I get some of that control, confidence and courage to start being able to greet people in a more welcoming way. And guess what? Immediately I became more likeable, more memorable and more respected. I quickly learned that besides being courteous, a solid and welcoming greeting gives you more confidence, makes you more likeable and it spreads positivity and love around. Now who doesn’t want to spread more love around?

My friend Kevin made such an impact on me that I swore to myself that my kids would overcome any shyness and learn a proper way to greet people. They would need to say, “Hello, how are you?” to anyone they encountered. Sure some of my kids struggle with it more than others but the ones who struggle because of shyness (or the 3Cs) all know how to do it. And as time goes on, they are getting more comfortable doing it. Beautiful.

As parents we have to encourage our kids to greet people the proper way. No excuses. We should push our kids to be more respectful, make eye contact and smile when they are greeting someone. If our kids are asked, “how are you?” teach them to follow up with a returning response of “how are you?” back. Again this is something our kids should be able to do on their own. And not just to family, friends or other familiar faces but literally to ANYONE they meet. This shouldn’t be negotiable. You will help instill control, confidence and courage in your kids as well as make the world a better place at the same time! Now how can you beat that?

I have to close this blog with a special shout out to two loving parents, Kevin’s parents, Suzy and Eric! Without you I may still be avoiding eye contact due to shyness. Much love! ☺

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Choosing The Right School For Your Child

It’s summer time and some parents are moving their children to different schools. A family may have moved. A student may have graduated a level. Or simply, parents want to try a different school. Been there, done that. With that said, I’ve always felt choosing a school for your child is an important decision every parent should make carefully and with reason. Our kids will spend about 1,000 hours a year at school. This is 1,000 important hours out of our care and supervision so choose carefully. School is where we hope they will also learn many important characteristics such as sharing, manners and respect. If we think about it, school is really their second home.

Now we know about test scores. We know about curriculum. We know about location. We know about reputation. But there is one clue that I rely on more than any of these. And that’s the character of the kids in the school. And how do I determine the character of the kids of the school? Actually, it’s really easy. I watch and study the kids in the highest grades of the school. If it’s an elementary school I’m watching and studying the fifth and sixth graders. Are they being nice to the younger students? If it’s a middle school I’m trying to decide on, I’m watching the eight graders’ demeanor and focus. Are they being respectful to their teachers? For high school, are the seniors still tuned in? Are they focused and serious about their education or are they always joking around and testing the integrity of the school? Why study the elder students of a school? Because they are the best representation of the culture of the school. They set the tone. They are the ones (for better or worse) who have spent the most time inspiring or “wearing out” the administration that is playing such a crucial role in molding your child. Moreover, they are the “leaders” that your kids will intuitively follow. Studying the older kids is a great sneak peak to what your child will most likely be like. Sure your kid can be the different one but why count on that or put them in that position? If you see kids that are already dressing too old for their age, reconsider. If you see kids making fun of others, reconsider. If you see kids disrespecting their teachers or school property, reconsider.

To conclude, when choosing schools, parents usually place such a premium on test scores whereas I put a premium on how my child will score on the character test. I understand great aptitude scores help you get into the best schools and land the best jobs but it’s your character that is the true barometer of success and happiness in life. Simply put, our kids spend almost a third of their lives at school. Make sure their second home is working with you and not against you.

Be The Example

One question new parents always ask me is “what can I do to be a good parent?” It’s a simple question and one that I’m happy is asked. Why? Because it shows there is real interest in wanting to do good in what I consider the most important job in the world. However, it’s obviously not an easy answer because there are so many things that can and should be done. Nevertheless, the single easiest and most important thing I tell new parents to do is to be a good example. Do and be as what you want your kids to be. If you want an honest kid, value and be a person of integrity. If you want a giving child, give to those in need. If you want a reader, read yourself. Kids are more than likely to be and do what they see and value. And if your kids value you above everyone else (which most kids do) they will rely and revert to the example you set.

As a father I am mindful of what example I’m setting, especially for my daughters. Of course my boys will learn a lot from me but so will my daughters. Because one thing I’ve learned is the husband of their choice will very likely resemble my characteristics and my personality. If I’m a yeller or an abuser mistreating their mother or themselves I can’t be surprised if they choose a husband 20 years later that is doing the same. On the contrary, if I tell them I love them and show them I love them they will naturally search for a spouse that loves and cherishes them.

Case in point, my 10-year wedding anniversary last week. My best friend said to me, “Well done, bub. You made her (Frances) really happy.” My response to him was blunt, yet honest. I said, “This may sound rude but I didn’t do this just for Frances. I did this also for them.” I was pointing to Dee Dee and Jo Jo who were both as happy as can be with overjoyed smiles from ear to ear. Sure the night was for Frances but she wasn’t the only beneficiary. Our kids saw, felt and experienced their happily married parents honor and celebrate their love and respect for each other. Simply put, they benefited just as much as we did. In closing, although it was a lot of work putting the surprise event together it was a 1000% worth it. It was not only a love filled night for us but it was also an investment into our kids’ future.

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Pay With Love

If you have a traditional bank logo on your credit or debit card I have a question for you. Why? You are missing out. Now I’ll give partial credit to some of you hip ones as you have your favorite sports club or super hero plastered on your plastic but the really cool people have a picture of their family or children on their cards. Yes I said it. A customized picture on your plastic! Why should you do it? Three great reasons.

  1. You will think about your kids more often. And the more we think about our kids the more we think about their well-being. And the more we think about there well-being, the better parents we are. And the better parents we are, the better people our kids will be!
  2. Your kids will appreciate it. They will feel the love you have for them. It’s interesting how it happens but for some reason kids hit ages where they question your love for them. And pretty much every time it happens, it seems to be after you’ve said no to something they’ve wanted. Ha ha….It’s all good though. Truth be told, they know you love them. You tell them every day. But why not show it to them in a casual and “unintentional” way as well. Think of it this way. The next time you buy them the new Air Jordan shoes they will not only feel the love but they will also see the love. Let’s face it, we don’t always know exactly what they are going through or what’s in their young minds so they just might need that reminder of your unconditional love. Can’t hurt right?
  3. It’s cool! We live in a time where YOU control the picture on the plastic in your wallet. Don’t let that technology go to waste. Take advantage of it. Now I have to admit. It took me some time to edit my debit card so my credit number would be blocked out. We all know identity theft and credit card theft is no fun so I took my sweet ole time to make sure I was properly protected. With that said, if the two reasons above haven’t convinced you to customize your card please do it for the third reason….Do it FOR ME. Do it for my sanity so I know I didn’t waste my time and unneccessarily expose myself to theft. Thank you! 🙂

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Thank you all for your congratulatory messages yesterday. As you know we are excited to finally  “officially” launch The Family Rules. We would love for you to be part of our TFR family by offering tips, asking questions and sending articles to yourfriends@thefamilyrules.com. Let’s enrich our families together. #MuchLove #Family #Parenting

“The Family Rules” is launching on June 28th, 2017

So, it’s finally here! Or will be in 5 days. What am I talking about? I’m talking about…..The Family Rules! On June 28th, 2017 (which is also my 10 year wedding anniversary with Frances) we will be launching The Family Rules. The goals of TFR are simple. We want to make your family (and ours) better by sharing advice, tips, articles, stories and anything else that will make our families healthier and stronger. It is something we’ve been wanting and planning to do for over a year now and we are really excited to finally launch it. With that said, fasten your seatbelt as we unleash The Family Rules during our 10th year of marriage. Let’s Do This!!! #TheFamilyRules

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