Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Say What? A gift from the heart!

Tis the season! Have you thought about what gift you might give to a child or adult with special needs? If not, I have some suggestions for you.

This can be a challenge depending on the type of disability involved. For starters, it is important to be informed and consider abilities, limitations and sensory needs. If you don’t know, ask. In the case of my granddaughter, anything auditory is something she enjoys; music, books, videos.
A safe bet, and a wonderful gift in my opinion, is an experience; one that requires your personal time. This can be a simple activity or an outing that you and your child (or grandchild, niece, nephew or friend) can enjoy together and one in which they can participate. These experiences could be an hour outing, an afternoon activity, a day trip or even a short vacation.

You might consider a museum, a concert, an appropriate movie, the park, the zoo or perhaps even the mall. You might share a meal, an ice cream, or a hot chocolate before or after the main activity. To enrich the experience even more, perhaps the activity could involve a new mode of transportation for the child as well. Consider a ride on rapid transit, a bus or train, airplane, boat or ferry, or even a cab or limousine ride. This could be enriched even more by preparing the child beforehand by providing a related book or CD. For example, you might plan a day which includes the Nutcracker Ballet; understanding the story and becoming familiar with the music involved before the event will enrich the experience for the child and be part of your gift as well.

If you cannot do an outing, don’t exclude the simple gift of spending time together to celebrate the current holiday (whatever it is). Perhaps a craft, baking, gardening or cooking; making and wrapping gifts, a visit to a holiday park event, an outdoor concern, or even a trip to see Santa.

Let’s not forget that we can also encourage the child, or adult, to consider what gifts they may have to give; a poem, artwork, something handmade. My granddaughter recently gave the gift of her hair and was delighted that she accomplished her goal of growing her hair and donating it to Locks of Love for a “little girl with no hair”.

Most of all, your gift can have a dual purpose. Not only will the child enjoy a special outing with you, but the parents will enjoy it as well. Think about what you might do and give a gift from the heart!


Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Say What? Eating Out

I recently made dinner reservations on a busy Friday night at Il Fornaio Restaurant in downtown San Jose and mentioned that one guest, my granddaughter, was in a wheelchair.
We arrived at the end of a long line of customers waiting to be seated. It was crowded; yet, when we announced ourselves we were promptly taken to our table in the main dining room (away from the kitchen). The table was ready with one chair removed. Adequate space was provided to manipulate the chair in and out of the area as well as room for me to assist Aimee with her coat. No easy task when space is limited.

The server spoke directly to Aimee and listened carefully when taking her order which included chopped, not sliced, pepperoni on her pizza. When the pizza arrived, just as ordered, she was delighted when he remembered her name. Aimee was able to enjoy and eat her meal without difficulty which, in turn, made it enjoyable for the rest of us as well.
Why is this important? Imagine being placed far from other diners in a dark corner of the restaurant, near a noisy kitchen or, worse, the restrooms. Imagine constantly being asked what the individual wants instead of speaking directly to them. Imagine a child so stressed because of banging dishes that she cannot eat. Imagine being bumped continually by servers, or guests, while struggling to drink from a cup. No, this is not just my imagination, but the reality of what happens all too often when dining out. Although Il Fornaio is not the only restaurant providing considerate service, it is a rare occasion when the entire dining experience is as enjoyable and without incident.

At one upscale restaurant in Fresno we were actually denied eating in the dining room or patio but instead were escorted down a long hall to an empty banquet room where we were told “we would be comfortable”. Needless to say we did not eat there.

FOUR STARS to Il Flornaio Restaurant for their considerate service to the disabled. Their example of dignity and respect towards all customers sets the standard of service for all restaurants to follow.

What experiences have you encountered when eating out with a disabled child or adult?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Thanksgiving Message

My life has been blessed with four beautiful grandchildren; one of whom is a child with special needs.

We don’t like to think about it but from time to time we must. It is human nature to find relief in knowing that it is not we who are disabled, or suffering an illness, but that it is someone else instead. All it takes is an instant to change a life from one of independence to one of dependence.

That being said, we all have unique gifts; those within ourselves and those we offer others. Sometimes the gift is a special talent; an inspiration; a smile; or, simply life itself.  Whatever it is….appreciate it and treasure it each and every day.  Count your blessings!

Happy Thanksgiving,


Friday, November 20, 2009


The following are some general suggestions to help you approach and communicate with children and adults with disabilities in an appropriate and considerate way:

1. Always speak directly to the child or adult with disabilities rather than through a parent, companion or assistant.
2. Approach children as children and adults as adults. Address individuals with disabilities by their first names or as you would extend the same familiarity to all others.
3. Offer to shake hands when introduced; if appropriate. People with limited hand use can usually shake hands or offer the available hand. Be guided by the actions of the visually impaired person because they may not be able to see your extended hand.
4. Always identify yourself when meeting someone who is visually impaired. If in a group, identify the others when speaking.
5. Most disabled children and adults do not need help. But, if you offer to help, only help if the disabled person has accepted your offer. If so, or if it is not clear how to help, listen carefully and ask for instructions.
6. Tap a person who is hearing impaired on the shoulder or wave your hand to get his or her attention. Always look directly at the person. Speak clearly and slowly to establish if the person can lip read
7. Place yourself at eye level when speaking to someone in a wheelchair, crutches or of small stature
8. Listen carefully and attentively when communicating with people who have difficulty speaking. Wait for them to finish their sentence and never pretend to understand. If you don’t understand, ask them politely to repeat what they’ve said. Or, repeat what you have understood to be sure it is correct and wait for a response.
9. Individuals with wheelchairs treat their chairs as an extension of their bodies; think of it as their personal space. Do not lean against or on the wheelchair. Never patronize adults in wheelchairs by patting them on the shoulders or head.
10. Each situation may be different.  Use common sense and don’t be embarrassed if you make a mistake. If in doubt whether or not your approach is appropriate or correct, or if you’re using the right language, just ask.
11. By all means, don't stare!

What do you have to say?


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

"Say What?" What Not to Say....Terminology Part II

The terms we use today have certainly come a long way from the demeaning terms used in the past; i.e., cripple, spastic, retarded.   What terms we use can be hurtful, and definitely have impact on how we view individuals with disabilities.  It still remains unclear exactly how each individual wishes to be addressed and, to my knowledge, there is no universal term. That being said, it should be noted that terms considered appropriate by one person may not be considered appropriate by another. If unsure, I suggest you ask the disabled person what they feel most comfortable with and use it while in their presence.

We can, however, educate ourselves with some basic appropriate language and a few accepted terms which I have listed below:
Use accessible parking instead of handicap parking
Use people with disabilities instead of the disabled
Use wheelchair user instead of wheelchair bound
Use visually impaired instead of blind
Use hearing, speech impaired instead of deaf, mute
Use mobility impaired instead of crippled, spastic
Use able bodied instead of normal person
Use learning disability instead of retarded, slow learner

Avoid making casual remarks that are personal or intrusive and do not ask inappropriate questions. For example, do not say “What happened to you—why can’t you walk?” More important, speak directly to the disabled person not to their companion or assistant and always be considerate, behave naturally and exhibit respect as you would to any other person. Many parents are comfortable talking about their child if approached in a sincere and caring manner.

I am astounded that inconsiderate terms continue to be used today in referring to children and adults with disabilities. It begins with awareness; so let’s all make an effort to regard those with disabilities in a new light…one that shines bright with the consideration and respect they so deserve.
What do you have to say?

Friday, November 13, 2009

"Say What?" Disability Terminology Part I

Labels should not be used to stereotype children and individuals with disabilities. Unfortunately, however, they are used and this is my topic today. This is a touchy subject for many; particularly parents of children with disabilities. I am using the term “disabilities” for the purpose of this blog. I understand that most parents prefer to use the term children with special needs. It is my personal opinion, though, that in some instances this term is too general.

Everyone is different and children with disabilities are as diverse as the rest of us. Not all disabilities are obvious to others. In many cases parents of these children do not consider their impairments a “disability” at all.

If children and adults are to be included in the mainstream of education and society then we, the able-bodied, need to change our perception of people with disabilities. To raise awareness we must remove the image barriers and negative assumptions that often shape our attitudes in viewing, approaching and communicating with people with disabilities.

Able bodied children often discriminate and segregate other children with disabilities; perhaps out of fear, upbringing, or ignorance. It is my experience that children (and adults) are often unaware of how hurtful and demeaning these words can be. We all can learn to use the correct words to promote social acceptance and friendship with the disability community.

We adults have the responsibility to better communicate with all children and to demonstrate by example how to give the respect and dignity that people with disabilities deserve to have. (More to follow in next blog.)

What do you have to say?

Monday, November 9, 2009

Welcome to my Blog!

Welcome! I am a grandmother of a special needs child and it is from that perspective that I will share my thoughts, opinions and resources with you. I will make every attempt to remain a neutral and unbiased party to the actual parenting of these special children and do not intend to be intrusive in that regard. I want to encourage grandparents to become involved when needs arise.

In the course of my involvement with my granddaughter, Aimee, age 12, I have met and talked with many parents and grandparents of children with varying disabilities and special needs. Many, if not, most, of these parents have expressed their dismay at the lack of support and participation; perhaps even fear that their own parents have displayed in regard to their grandchildren. Has this happened to you?

I’m not ashamed to say that I felt that fear too…in the beginning. I had no idea at that time what my involvement would be or where it would take me. I had no idea how special a girl Aimee would be in my life or how that relationship would overflow into writing a book and advocating for children like her. What I did know was that I loved her and wanted to help her parents provide her with the best quality of life possible. I also know that there are many grandparents like me who have helped immensely. If you are one, I’d like to hear from you too.

My mission is to encourage and inspire grandparents and extended family members to become involved in the lives of these deserving children. This blog will provide everyone with a sounding board and an opportunity to share problems, frustrations, solutions resources and successes with others in similar situations. Together we can make a difference for the children we love.

What is your experience?