Self-care for the special needs parent

5-27-2021 Occupational Therapy Family Services, LLC

As I contemplate school coming to an end and summer fastly approaching, I ask myself wouldn’t now be a great time to take a much-needed break.  I mean a break for me and a break for all of us parents.  Why is giving yourself a break so hard for many parents?

As parents, we are responsible for a lot.  We are responsible for scheduling activities, planning and making meals, laundry, house-keeping tasks, play-dates, holidays, medical appointments, exercise, socialization and the list goes on and on and on.  In fact, it seems like the list of responsibilities never ends.  

All parents have the responsibility for caring for a little human life however, parents of children with special needs know and understand that these children require a little extra care.  They know that raising a special needs child can be challenging and oftentimes exhausting.  It can be easy to become overwhelmed with the organization and planning that is required for daily life.  It can appear that between doctor appointments and therapies there is not much time left for anything else.

It is important to remember that self-care for yourself is actually just as important as caring for your child.  As parents, we want to give all of ourselves to our children.  We often wear many hats all the time.  We want to be everything for our children.  We want to comfort them.  We want to meet all their needs all the time.  We can do this and we DO Do this.  However, it can be physically, emotional and mentally exhausting.  For these reasons finding time for yourself for self-care is even more important.

Please understand that no one solution will work for every family but maybe one of these suggestions might work for your family.

  • Find a support system. This can be family, friends, neighbors, other special needs parents, or support groups
  • Ask for help. Asking for help is a sign of strength.  Reach out to your pediatrician, teacher, minister, clergy, spouse, friends, family, neighbors, and parents of your child’s friends.
  • Give yourself permission to take a 5-10 minute break each day.  This could be having a cup of coffee in the morning, reading a book in the evening, or taking a long shower or a bath.
  • Exercise.  Join a gym that has daycare, find an exercise buddy, and include the kids.
  • Swap childcare.  Get a group together and swap childcare so each of you can run errands or have an afternoon off.  The kids will love socialization as well.
  • Work out a break with your co-parent. Take turns giving each other an afternoon off or an early evening.
  • Summer camps.  For longer breaks during the summer research summer camps that are specifically designed for special needs children. Knowing that counselors understand the special needs of your child can make being apart from your child a little easier.  Look into day programs and overnights.
  • Babysitter.  Locate a babysitter through an agency that has specially trained employees that can meet the needs of your child.
  • Research a play center or group therapies that have designated times for special needs children who have sensory, socialization or communication issues.  Occupational therapy family services, LLC has weekly social skills groups.
  • Research support services meant for families like yours.  Check out agencies in your county and state that have services for your special needs child.  These could include therapies, respite, activities, and everyday support.

Hopefully, one of the above options will work for your family.  Remember a little break can go a long way.


Counting and Giving Change – The Life Skill of Money


The other day, I was going through the McDonald’s drive-through and my total came to $11.52.  I took out a $20.00 bill and handed it to the teenager working at the window.  She looked at the computer screen, looked down at the open cashier drawer, put her hand in every coin slot appearing to pick up coins, and then turned to me and said, “I have your eight dollars but I can’t make your change so you can go to the next window.”  Maybe 48 cents change wouldn’t be a big deal to some, but I wanted all of my change. 

I said to the worker, I will give you 52 cents and you can give me another dollar.  She said, “can’t you just pay with a credit card.”  At this point, I took a very deep breath and offered to assist her with counting change.  She looked at me confused and stated, “you still want the change?”  I said yes.

Money skills are so essential for life.  Understanding money skills goes back to understanding math with a decimal point.  These skills are learned in the elementary years and developed more in the middle and high school years.

When reflecting on this post, I thought about my own children and how I could help them learn money skills for adulthood.  The topic of allowance came to mind.

Allowance can be beneficial as it can

  • Show kids how money transaction work
  • Teach kids what it takes to save and budget money
  • Gives kids a sense of responsibility and independence
  • Lets kids experience buyer’s remorse on a small scale

However, if allowance isn’t set up correctly it can be detrimental.  Check out this article 9 Mistakes to Avoid When Giving Kids an Allowance

At my house, we are not giving an allowance currently.  We have developed the philosophy of “being part of the family” and being part of “the team.” 

On weekends, each child is given five chores to complete.  These chores range from watering the plants, putting the shoes away to making their bed, etc…. Check out this article for age-appropriate chores

After their assigned chores they have the option to do extra chores to earn small amounts of money.  Each additional chore is assigned a monetary amount ranging from twenty-five cents to a dollar. 

The money each child earns from chores is theirs.  They get so happy when we count out the money they earn.  Their faces are so bright and their smiles so big.  They start talking about what they want to spend their newfound wealth on.  We have them research the item they want to spend money on and once they reach the needed amount (plus tax) then we take them to the store.  They pick it out and pay the cashier. 

The first time we took them to the store, they were so upset about taxes because the tax took more of their “hard-earned money.” I’m sure we can all relate to this.

Not only do we need to teach our children how to make change and how to earn money but we also need to teach them all about money.

Check out this article titled 13 Things All Financially Savvy Teens Should Know For Financially Literacy. 

At Occupational Therapy Family Services, LLC we specialize in social and life skills. Check out our services for classes that will meet your child’s needs.


Help, my child didn’t get invited to the birthday party!

This might be an all too real of a heartbreak that you have encountered or might encounter in the future.  

“My child wasn’t invited to the party.” I have had so many feelings about this topic, but mostly I am heartbroken for my child.  

Believe it or not this unfortunately still exists even with many schools strongly encouraging or mandating parents invite the whole class and not just certain children.  At our school, birthday party invitations passed out at school must be passed to all children or the parents need to contact 1-2 parents outside of school to avoid the school “birthday party invitation” getting passed out in front of the students.  Children who don’t receive an invitation when this occurs often feel rejected, sad and angry. They might also not understand why they didn’t get an invitation.

Many children with social deficits struggle to make and maintain friends.   This is because many of these children try to make friends with kids who do not share their interests or they misinterpret social cues (communication, personal space, and body language).  This behavior can be offputting to other children and can scare or deter them. Another situation is when they think that any friendly person wants to be their friend and as we know that isn’t good either.

It is important to help your child understand the different kinds of friendships.

  1. Just because friends…. Friends due to a mutual connection.  This friendship happens with minimal effort or no effort. Maybe the common connection is Pokemon or Legos.
  2. Nearby friends… Other children that are neighbors, live close by or ride the same bus.
  3. Kids of parents’ friends… These friends are not seen very often and the commonality is that the parents are friends.
  4. Outside activity friends … These are the friends in soccer, basketball, cub scouts, girl scouts, Sunday school, etc…
  5. Good at the same things friends… Friends due to a commonality of a shared focus such as reading group or math group.
  6. In-school extra activity friends … Band, Choir, Theater, Basketball friends.
  7. Cousins… Bonus friends that are genetically bonded through the family.

Help your child understand what a good and positive friend is

  • They remember important things  (birthdays, accomplishments, etc.)
  • They are reliable, honest and trustworthy.
  • They do kind things for one another and use kind language.
  • They help out when a friend is sad or has a problem.
  • They like to spend time together and do fun things

As a parent here are some skills you can work with your child on

Role Model being a good friend

Read books on friendship – Below are a few of our favorites.

Practice good friendship skills

This is a great book for girls to focus on practicing friendship skills.

Role-play various situations

Sharing a toy; playing a game; inviting another friend to play; determining what to play; taking turns; working out a conflict

The take away – Help your child understand how to make a friend who shares similar interests and who treats them kindly.


6 Birthday Party Tips for Children with ADHD


OccupationalTherapyFamilyServices, LLC

Everyone has birthdays and many school-aged children have birthday parties.  Birthday parties can be filled with man emotions — Excitement, Joy, Happiness, Fear, Anxiety, and Frustration.

We recently celebrated my son’s birthday and “oh boy” was his excitement through the roof during the day and the days leading up to the birthday party.  Due to COVID, the party consisted of grandparents only but that didn’t stop the elevated excitement about the upcoming cake and presents.

Being the parent of a child with ADHD, you are probably already aware of the most common symptoms associated with the diagnosis – impulsivity, hyperactivity, and inattention.  Your child may suffer from one or two of these symptoms or all three.  Each ADHD diagnosis manifests differently from child to child however we know there are certain parts of birthday parties that are ritualized.  You can help your child prepare for these almost certain events – hellos and goodbyes, blowing-out-the-candles, gift opening, games, singing happy birthday.  

Here are six tips to help throw a birthday party for a child with ADHD.

  • Have fun
  • Birthday parties often get stressful, overwhelming, and frustrating especially if not planned well ahead of time.  Make sure to discuss the expectations and the plan with your child ahead of time to help them prepare for the activities that will take place.   You can role play greetings, practice singing happy birthday or having it sung to them, and practice games ahead of time to help eliminate anxiety or fear.  You can also have a picture or word chart discussing the order of events that will occur.  Also, discuss a safe word that helps the child communicate they are getting overwhelmed and need a short break.  
  • Limited the Guest List
  • When you are starting to plan your child’s birthday it might seem like a good idea to invite the whole class or the entire family so no one gets left out.  However, if there are too many guests, things can get overwhelming for your child and ultimately for yourself as well.  Keep the party small by limiting the guest list to grandparents, siblings, a couple of playmates, and maybe a neighbor.  The experience of being the center of attention as the birthday child is overwhelming for many children.  Children with ADHD often struggle with social challenges so inviting a few children/people will decrease the social pressure so your child can easily interact with each of them.  
  • If you are inviting children make sure to provide clear communication with the other parents.  Ask the parents about vital information related to their child to ensure they will have a good time and about their plans for attending the birthday party.  It is always nice to have additional parents available to assist – especially with passing out food and games.
  • Have bigger parties outside of the home
  • As children age, you might be finding yourself having to invite the entire class or the entire grade.  Bigger parties do better at a venue like a movie theater as everyone in attendance will be prepared for “watching the movie” cake, presents, and departure.  According to doctors Perri Klass and Eileen Costello, having a party at a venue instead of the home creates a sense of privacy for the child about their home and the fear of peers finding their “bedtime charts” or having other children touch or play with their toys is removed.
  • Limit the Party Length
  • You should make a point to keep the party to a few hours.  Short and sweet is often much better.  Children with ADHD are often easily overwhelmed and overstimulated so a long party can increase the risk of behavioral issues. When planning the time for the party, you might want to think about when your child operates at their best during the day. Some children are at their best in the morning while others are at their best in the afternoon. If your child takes medication, this can also influence their mood, attention, and behavior throughout the day, so it is helpful to plan accordingly.
  • Familiarize your child with the location
  • Children with ADHD often feel most comfortable with routine and consistency.  New places can be overwhelming and overstimulating which is why checking the place out ahead of time would be beneficial for both you and your child.   By visiting the venue ahead of time it can reduce stress and help reduce the chance that they will become dysregulated. 
  • Plan and choose activities carefully and wisely
  • When planning activities for the party, consider your child’s strengths and weaknesses.  Try to plan a few tasks that your child enjoys versus introducing new tasks that may frustrate and overwhelm the child.  If your child struggles with inattention then watching a long movie may not be the best option.  If your child struggles with hyperactivity then it would be important to keep him moving by playing a game of tag, jumping on a trampoline, or jumping in a bouncy house.  If you are going to have an activity that your child has not done before, for example, pin the tail on the donkey or pin the carrot on the snowman, then have your child practice prior to the party so they understand the game, rules, and expectations.


9 Executive Functions and HOW TO IMPROVE THEM

What is executive functioning?

Executive function has become a common buzzword lately however, neuropsychologists have been studying these skills for many years.  Executive function can be described as the management system of the brain.  The mental skills required for executive function allow us to manage ourselves, plan, set goals, and get things done. Executive function skills are utilized every day at home, work, and school.  Executive function skills start to develop in childhood and continue to develop in the mid-’20s.

  1. Self Control or inhibitory control or impulse control
    1. Self-control addresses a child’s ability to restrain from physical or emotional outbursts.  Self-control or impulse control keeps a child from reacting without thinking.  Emotional regulation and control help a child remain cool, calm, and collected.  By having self-control a child can work through the situation instead of impulsively reacting.
    2. An example of this is when a child works through the homework instead of crinkling it up or throwing a fit.
  2. Emotional Control
    1. Emotional control is the ability to regulate emotional responses by bringing rational and reflective thoughts on feelings.
    2. An example of emotional control is when a child copes with a difficult situation instead of having an outburst.
  3. Task Initiation
    1. Task initiation is the ability to begin a task or activity.  It also relates to a child independently generating ideas, responses in conversation, and problem-solving strategies.  
    2. An example of task initiation is starting the assignment immediately after the teacher finishes the instructions.
  4. Working Memory
    1. Working memory is the child’s ability to retain and store learned information for later recall and use.  This skill is crucial for success within the classroom. 
    2. A child who has a strong working memory successfully remembers instructions that are given and is able to recall knowledge from one day to the next in order to build upon it. 
  5. Self-Monitoring
    1. Self-monitoring is the child’s ability to use self-evaluation of how well s/he is performing a specific task.  This skill allows a child to reflect and track their progress on a task, activity, or assignment.  By utilizing reflection the child is able to make adjustments in order to accomplish the task.
    2. An example of self-monitoring is a child noticing the chocolate chip cookies are very flat or the math equation isn’t working out.
  6. Flexible thinking or cognitive flexibility
    1. Flexible thinking gives a child the ability to problem solve and/or adjust to situations when necessary and overcome unplanned obstacles.  This type of thinking applies to the child’s ability to see situations from a different perspective.  
    2. A child who exhibits flexible thinking isn’t stumped by everyday hurdles or a difference in opinion from a peer or adult.
    3. An example of flexible thinking is when the school lunch menu says pizza on Mondays but instead, the school is serving mac and cheese.  
  7. Organization of materials
    1. Organization skills address the ability to create order in school, storage spaces, work, and play.  
    2. An example of strong organizational skills would be having a designated colored folder for each class; Blue for math, Red for Reading, yellow for science.
  8. Planning 
    1. Planning is the ability of a child to think about the future, create a plan of action and prioritize the different working parts.  Throughout the day it is important to plan how to accomplish tasks and determine which aspects of the task are most important and in what order to complete them.
    2. Examples of this include packing a backpack and giving directions.  
  9. Time management
    1. Time management relates to the child’s ability to properly organize a schedule and complete tasks on time.  Time management is important throughout everyday tasks as it allows the child to jump from task to task, punctuality, and goal setting.
    2. An example of time management is completing a multi-step project prior to the deadline. We view this as not procrastinating.

What is executive functioning responsible for?

  • Paying attention and focus
  • Self-monitoring
  • Analyzing information
  • Understanding different viewpoints
  • Initiating tasks
  • Regulating emotions
  • Managing behavior
  • Staying focused on the task through completion
  • Organizing, planning, and prioritizing
  • Remembering important details

Executive functioning plays a critical role in an individual’s ability to function throughout the day.  When there are problems with these skills individuals may struggle with all areas of life including school, work, play, and relationships.

What are the signs of executive function difficulties?

  • Having trouble starting and/or completing tasks
  • Having difficulty prioritizing tasks
  • Forgetting what they just heard
  • Managing Frustrations
  • Difficulty following directions
  • Panic or worry when rules and routines change
  • Time management difficulties
  • Organizing activities
  • Difficulty keeping track of personal belongings
  • Trouble organizing their thoughts
  • Overly emotional and fixate on things

How can you improve executive function?

  • Attend social skills classes
  • Break up large tasks into small steps
  • Practice Mindfulness
  • Use visual aids to help process and understanding information
  • Write down due dates and appointments in a calendar
  • Color coordinate folders and notebooks for classes
  • Create a checklist (written or visual)
  • Allow time for transitioning between activities
  • Make a schedule (visual or written) to help stay on track
  • Decrease stress
  • Get Exercise and move
  • Play Games 
    • Soduku works on working memory
    • Cribbage works on attention and working memory
    • Chess works on planning and flexibility
    • Jenga works on attention and flexibility and self-control
    • Brainteasers work on flexibility
    • Freeze games work attention and self-control
    • Candyland works on attention and flexibility
    • Scrabble works on planning and organization
    • Pictionary work on time management and flexibility
    • Uno works on flexibility and attention


Cooper-Kahn, J. & Dietzel, L. What is Executivwe Functioning?  Retrieved from: 

Zelazo, P. D. What is Executive Function? Retrieved from: