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Special needs

Readers, get set to scientifically analyze your baby’s diaper every single  change. You don’t want to just flush that data down the diaper genie! Only the most lazy parent assumes that if the kid seems fine the kid is fine. That’s like those parents who don’t have an infra-red baby monitor. They just assume if the baby’s not crying he’s probably okay.

PLEASE. Don’t you be so naive. Your job is not to worry, it’s to worry MORE! Worry constantly! And with the possible advent of  “Smart Diapers,”* you’ll be able to worry with every diaper change!

I always tell my audiences at lectures that if they want to make a million dollars, all they have to do is take something from the world of special needs (like baby helmets) and convince parents that ALL kids need this for some reason, too (like toddling). You can steal ideas straight from the neonatal intensive care unit. Kudos to these diaper geniuses for figuring out what it is that kids do MOST and capitalizing on it!

Of course, the idea that these will give parents “peace of mind” makes as much sense as telling parents that, “Taking your baby’s temperature every day, several times a day, is the only way to be SURE her temp hasn’t soared to 117.” Some will believe this, and so it goes. Another victory for a whole new outlook on childhood that believes no child is EVER safe and sound. Nope, they’re in constant danger and only constant vigilance (and a smart phone, and digital diapers) can save them. And a shout-out to my cousin Jackie for sending me the link! – L.

*If it’s not a total prank!!!


Readers — In our desperation to create “smarter” kids, we have practically pinned them to their desks. Now educators are realizing this may be just the opposite of what is best for kids — including those with special needs, as Andrea Gordon writes in Toronto’s TheStar.com (a paper run by my favorite editor-in-chief from back when he and I were at the NY Daily News, Michael Cooke). – L.

It was a crisp March day outside Blaydon Public School when teachers discovered that 4-year-old Alex Wong could spell his name.

There were no pencils or paper in sight. Everyone was bundled in winter jackets. Alex, who has autism, was in the outdoor classroom where his special-needs class played and explored for at least an hour every day, alongside 25 kids from the mainstream kindergarten class.

Teacher Sue Cooper noticed Alex march over to a pile of wood, put three sticks in a small wheelbarrow and push it to a spot on the pavement. One by one, he placed the sticks on the ground, forming the letter A. He made three more trips and came back with sticks to make three more letters, which he placed in a row: L, E and X.

Cooper’s jaw dropped. The teachers ran for a camera.

Alex is non-verbal and for a long time, his only interactions had been to throw things or hit. But in the fresh air, day after day, something started to change. Over several months Alex had watched the other children making structures. And that March morning, he was ready to take his turn.

The teachers say his is one example of how daily outdoor time is changing the way their young students — including those autism and other special needs — learn and behave.

“I’ve never see them come around like this, doing things I didn’t know they were capable of,” says Cooper, a special-education teacher for 20 years.

The article goes on to explain that there is a growing “outdoor classroom” movement (I’d dub it the movement movement) in Canada, for which I salute that country!  Read the rest of the article here. View the inspiring 90-second video here.  And, of course, kick your kids outside while you’re doing this! – L. 
N.Y. Playground  (LOC)

An old idea makes sense anew.


Readers — These studies discussed at Inhabitots seem to support what a lot of us feel in our guts: That outdoor play is probably very key, and taking it away in favor of more “safety” or more “education” has caused us a number of ills. Ironically, our kids are LESS safe (from depression, diabetes, obesity…) and LESS educated (about the natural world and all the things it makes you wonder about). So read this while you send your kids outside, perhaps this Saturday on Take Our Children to the Park…And Leave Them There Day!  - L


by Jennifer Chait

Amazing but true, a new study, published in the journal Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being, shows that kids who regularly play in outdoor green spaces have milder Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) symptoms than those who play regularly indoors or in built outdoor environments. This study back up previous studies that show how kids majorly benefit from green spaces; i.e. spaces with plenty of grass and trees. For example, research posted by The Morton Arboretum shows that ADHD symptoms in children are relieved after contact with nature, asthma symptoms are reduced, and kids who play outdoors have less stress. Specifically, as related to ADHD, past research shows that kids experiencing ADHD can concentrate better, complete tasks better, and follow directions better after playing in a natural green space. Plus, the greener the setting, the more symptom relief.


To calm down, kids need a hit of grass. (And trees. And flowers…)


Hi Readers! You have been sending in fantastic, “Nothing Bad Happened When My Kid…” stories that show how nice and normal life can be when we quit worrying about extremely  unlikely tragedies every time we consider letting our kids out of our sight. The note below one is a reminder that special needs kids need and deserve that same re-thinking: Maybe they aren’t in constant danger, either! – L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: Nothing bad happened when I let my then 6 year old high functioning autistic son walk around the block by himself (or, as he calls it, The Island).  He came home super excited and proud and made an art book depicting the different experiences he ran into (seeing a yapping chihuahua in a car, a man mowing his lawn, a big stick in the gutter, etc) and then shared it with me.

Also, nothing bad happened when I taught him, at 8, to make his own oatmeal in the microwave.  He’d been making his own breakfast for several years (yogurt, granola and strawberries and bananas cut up with a butter knife) and, the morning after I explained the steps to him, I left him a note with the basic steps outlined as a reminder.  He did a perfect job and I woke up to a note slid under my door of a blissful face saying, “MmmmMmMMM!!”

Also at 8, nothing bad happened to him when I needed to pick something up at a store that I’d ordered online to ship to the store and couldn’t find any parking.  After ten minutes, I drove over to the side of the store, gave him the email saying it was ready for pick-up and told him to go to the cashier and tell them he was picking up the package for his mom.  He was in and out and was very proud that he was able to help! – Equally Proud Mom

Trust me: It’s amazing how fun an independent walk can be.

Hi Readers! The post below this one is about a principal who chastised a mom for letting  her 10-year-old daughter take the city bus to school. The daughter loves the bus  and has made “people friends” (as opposed to “school kid friends”) on her daily commute. But the principal, as well as Child Protective Services, wanted to know why the mom would “choose” not to drive  the girl. Here’s one comment the post got:

My friend’s younger sister has Down’s Syndrome. She graduated high school at 21 and took a job about 10 miles from her home, which she shares with her parents. She can’t read or do most things adults do, but she has gotten herself to work on the bus without incident for over 10 years. She even manages a bus transfer. I bet she has “people friends” too.

Which made me think about the Great Parenting Reverse: The parents of special needs kids work really hard to help their kids become independent. But society works really hard to make sure the  kids without special needs do not become independent.  It does this by telling their parents they should be over-involved. If you don’t spend all day “rescuing” your child from something or other (danger, fatigue, disappointment, failure), you are clearly selfish AND myopic. Your job is to keep swooping in. Your job is to “choose” to drive your kid to school even when she’s fine on the city bus.

I love the amazing things children with special needs end up doing on their own, often after great pains are taken by their parents. But maybe it’s the great pains part that is the connection? The special needs kids do, by definition, need special things from their parents. The other kids  – why, their parents don’t have to invest quite as much effort on a daily basis. They can go about their day without, say, personally dropping off their kids at school.

That kind of freedom from constant childcare is suspect nowadays. A parent who isn’t sorely inconvenienced is a parent who isn’t doing it “right.” So even though they don’t need it, children without special needs are treated as if they are handicapped.

Strange times. – L.

Hi Readers! Just had to crow. The story about Hunter, the deaf pre-schooler who was told to change his name because it violated the school’s anti-gun policy, was sent to us by a gal in Hunter’s neck of the woods — Nebraska — on Monday night, which is when I posted and tweeted  it. By Tuesday afternoon, the story had gone ’round the world. Google it — you can’t miss it. On Yahoo’s home page alone it got 17,000+ comments. And despite the fact neither this site nor the one where I’m guest-posting this month, The Agitator, are getting credit (see this),   Free-Range Kids was, as far as I can tell, the first to bring it to national attention.

What thrills me about that is knowing that the press is peeking in on us, and ready to take up the anti-stupidity standard. It’s also thrilling to see how obvious it is to most humans that Zero Tolerance too often means Zero Brains. Hunter’s story may go on to achieve “The Lady Who Sued McDonald’s For Hot Coffee” status (but don’t start debating it here!), used as a sort of shorthand for, “Come on — under the pretense of caring, this is just INSANE.”

We could use a story like that, because it is time to re-think so many schools rules and time to remember our kids just aren’t that vulnerable. For me it is also time to thank YOU, readers, for always sending in the best examples of what’s wrong with the way we treat kids, and what’s right.

Keep it up! – L.

Hi Readers! Here’s a feisty post from Ellen Seidman, a New York mom whose blog is Love That Max. She’s also hoping to win a blogging contest at Parents Connect, so if you like what you read, go vote for her here. (Hey, why not help each other out?) Onward! — Lenore


The other day, I was Twitter-ing with a mom of another kid who has special needs, and she asked me how protective I was of Max. I wrote, “Not very. If his NICU experience didn’t kill him, nothing will.” I think I may have shocked the hell out of her, but it’s true.

My little boy, Max, had a stroke at birth. And, yeah, until he was born, I didn’t know that babies could have strokes at birth either. But he did. And it put him at risk for all kinds of terrifying things. We were told he might never walk, he might never talk, that he could have mental retardation, and that even vision and hearing problems were a possibility, because of the brain damage. He could have cerebral palsy, too. A doctor told us we could sign a Do Not Resuscitate if we chose to.

As depressed as I was during that first year following his birth, I went into overdrive doing whatever I could to help him. My husband and I got him therapy up the wazoo. We fed him fish-oil supplements, to feed his brain. We tried alternative stuff including hyperbaric oxygen treatment, which entailed either myself or my husband and Max lying in some claustrophobia-inducing tube infused with 100 percent pure oxygen, to spark dormant brain cells. My husband and I used to joke that we were all going to be geniuses.

Max progressed on his own timeline but, most importantly, he progressed. He walked at three. He said some words at four. At seven, he still can’t quite talk, but his vocabulary is growing and he has a cool iPad app that speaks for him. He has trouble using his hands, but he manages. He was diagnosed with cerebral palsy but it’s mild and it’s just an f-ing label. Max kicks butt.

As focused as I’ve been on therapy, I’ve been pretty relaxed about potential health hazards in his life. I mean, yes, we babyproofed the house, he wears a bicycle helmet when he rides his little tractor and I don’t let him play in traffic or anything. But when he was a baby, I didn’t care all that much if he, say, ate a dustball. These days, I don’t obsess about him catching colds or other icky stuff from other kids. I don’t freak out if he bangs his head. So what if he has McDonald’s for dinner two nights in a row? At least he is getting calories because man, this kid is skinny (when you have cerebral palsy, your muscles burn calories faster). I just can’t worry about the little things that could go wrong, because I have some really big, bad things to worry about.

I have a child who went through hell at birth. He is doing amazingly well for himself. He has his physical issues, but is basically healthy and not medically fragile. He survived a massive stroke. He is a fighter. Just like his mama. — E.S.