Monday, December 31, 2012

Illinois Awarded Grant to Strengthen Early Learning Programs

Governor Quinn Announces Over $34 Million in Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge Federal Funding to Strengthen Early Learning Programs in Illinois Race to the Top–Early Learning Challenge funds will target the state’s neediest children


– December 6, 2012. Governor Pat Quinn today announced Illinois has been awarded a $34.8 million Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge federal grant from the U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to support quality early childhood education in Illinois.

Illinois was one of only 14 states selected for the Race to the Top-Early Learning Chal-lenge. The grant funds will help Illinois connect children most at risk of school failure with high-quality early learning programs.

"Illinois has been a leader in early learning for decades and we will now be able to further strengthen that leadership through the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge," Gover-nor Quinn said. "The achievement gap begins before a child steps into kindergarten. Em-powering our children with a solid education foundation before they begin kindergarten is the most crucial investment we can make in a future workforce that will drive economic growth in Illinois."

The Illinois State Board of Education, Department of Human Services and Department of Children and Family Services will work together to improve the quality of all early learn-ing and development programs in the state through this grant. The federal grant will be used to: create a new Quality Rating and Improvement System to inform parents about program quality through a website that will be fully implemented in July 2014. In addi-tion, the grant will help communities connect children with the greatest needs to high-quality programs, strengthen the quality of early learning programs, and support the de-velopment of great teachers for early learning programs. These funds will also allow the state to make important one-time investments to improve efficiency, streamline program administration and data systems and evaluate effectiveness for early childhood programs.

"Making sure young children and their families get the support they need to prepare chil-dren for success in school and later life requires coordinated effort from all of our agen-cies," said Illinois Department of Human Services Secretary Michelle Saddler.

"Early childhood funding is one of the best investments we can make for the success and prosperity of future generations and our Illinois economy," said State Superintendent of Education Christopher A. Koch. "These funds will allow us to improve our infrastructure to better serve early learners and make more efficient use of state resources toward that purpose."

Illinois was one of five states eligible to compete for the second round of the grant, which was submitted in October to the U.S. Department of Education. The state was one of 35 states to apply for the first round of funding and was found eligible to apply for the sec-ond round based on its performance.

Illinois’ application is designed to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of early child-hood education in Illinois by taking a patchwork of early learning programs and integrat-ing them into a unified system and increasing early childhood program quality-making sure that all programs provide quality education and helping already good programs be-come great.

To learn more about the Illinois plan for the Early Learning Challenge, please visit:

Friday, December 28, 2012

Acronym Guide, Part 2

GARS—Gillian Autism Rating Scale

GE—Grade Equivalency

HFS—Department of Healthcare and Family Services

HQT—Highly Qualified Teacher

IAA—Illinois Alternative Assessment

IAES—Interim Alternative Educational Setting

IDEA—Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act

IDEIA—Individuals with Disabilities in Education Improvement Act

IEE—Independent Educational Evaluation

IEP—Individualized Education Program

IFSP—Individualized Family Service Plan

IQ—Intelligence Quotient

IRP—Individual Rehabilitation Plan

ISAC—Illinois State Advisory Council on Special Education

ISBE—Illinois State Board of Education

LAN—Local Area Network

LEA—Local Educational Agency

LEP—Limited English Proficiency

LRE—Least Restrictive Environment

MI—Mental Illness

MR—Mental Retardation

NAMI—National Alliance for the Mentally Ill

NASBE—National Association of State Boards of Education

NASDSE—National Association of State Directors of Special Education

NCLB—No Child Left Behind Act

NICHCY—National Information Center for Children & Youth

with Disabilities

NPRM—Notice of Proposed Rule Making

OCR—Office for Civil Rights

OHI—Other Health Impairment

OSEP—Office of Special Education Programs

OSERS—Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services

OT—Occupational Therapy

PAS—Pre-Admission Screening

PASS—Plan for Achieving Self-Support

PDD—Pervasive Developmental Disorder

PECS—Picture Exchange Communication System

PLOP—Present Levels of Performance

PT—Physical Therapy

PTI—Parent Training and Information Center

PUNS—Prioritization of Urgency of Need for Services

QMHP—Qualified Mental Health Professional

QMRP—Qualified Mental Retardation Professional

RTI—Response to Intervention

SASS—Screening, Assessment, & Support Services

SAT—Standardized Achievement Test

SEA—State Educational Agency

SI—Sensory Integration

SLD—Specific Learning Disability

SSDI—Social Security Disability Insurance

SSI—Supplemental Security Income

SST—Student Study Team/Student Support Team

STEP—Secondary and Technical Assistance Regional Network

USDOE—United States Department of Education

VR—Vocational Rehabilitation

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Family Matters Acronym Guide, Part 1

Ever wonder what people are talking about when they throw around all those acronyms?  Special education is rife with abbreviations that can be confusing.  Here is a guide to the most common acronyms and what they mean:
AA—Alternate Assessment

AAC—Augmentative and Alternative Communication

ABA—Applied Behavior Analysis

ABS—Adaptive Behavior Scale

ADA—Americans with Disabilities Act

ADD—Attention Deficit Disorder

ADHD—Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

ADL—Activities of Daily Living

ADR—Alternative Dispute Resolution

AE—Age Equivalency

AES—Alternative Educational Setting

AMI—Alliance for the Mentally Ill

APE—Adaptive Physical Education

ASD—Autism Spectrum Disorder

ASL—American Sign Language

AT—Assistive Technology

AYP—Adequate Yearly Progress

BD—Behavioral Disorder

BIP—Behavior Intervention Plan

CA—Chronological Age

CAPD—Central Auditory Processing Disorder

CARS—Childhood Autism Rating Scale

CD—Conduct Disorder

CFC—Child and Family Connections

CFR—Code of Federal Regulations

CST—Child Study Team

DCFS—Department of Children and Family Services

DD—Developmental Disability

DDD—Division of Developmental Disabilities

DHS—Department of Human Services

DMH—Division of Mental Health

DRS—Division of Rehabilitation Services

DSM—Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders by the

American Psychiatric Association

DTI—Discrete Trial Instruction

DTT—Discrete Trial Training

DVR—Division of Vocational Rehabilitation

E/BD—Emotional/Behavioral Disorders

EC—Early Childhood

ECE—Early Childhood Education

ECFE—Early Childhood Family Education

ECSE—Early Childhood Special Education

ED—Emotional Disturbance

EDGAR—Education Department General Administrative Regulations

EI—Early Intervention (0-3)

EPSDT—Early Prevention Screening Detection and Treatment

ERIC—Educational Resources Information Center

ESEA—Elementary and Secondary Education Act

ESL—English as a Second Language

ESY—Extended School Year

FAPE—Free Appropriate Public Education

FBA—Functional Behavioral Assessment

FERPA—Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act

FOIA—Freedom of Information Act

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Happy Holidays

Deb, Nancy, Karrie, Patty, and Kim


Happy Holidays from the staff at Family Matters!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

'Twas the Night Before an SPD Christmas


By Patty and Bil Hooper and Hartley.

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house

Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The snack packs, arranged on the counter with care,
In hopes, on our journey we’d be well prepared.
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of Chex Mix danced in their heads;

Ma in her hoodie, and I in my sweats,
were to put away pillows and therapy nets.
When in the back room there arose such a clatter,
I ran at full sprint to see what was the matter.
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a puzzled old man buried up to his ears,
(In scooter boards, swings, and small colored spheres.)
Poor devil had brushed ‘gainst our therapy stash,
When it came down around him it made such a crash!

He recovered with grace, so lively and quick,
That I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
"What is all this stuff that you people collect?
Are you Circus performers?”--the old man interjects—
"I came here with toys, for the boys and your girl
But looking around I think ‘what in the world?’

This room that would normally have children’s stuff
Is packed to the gills with equipment enough
To start your own CIA torturing session!
Tell me I’m wrong and you’re not!” (oh good heavens!)

My wife and I snickered and held out our hands,
And reassured Nick we’d had no evil plans.
“Our kids have a condition; they have a hard time—
They yell when it smells and they climb up the blinds.

At first we didn’t know just what to think,


But eventually found an OT who could speak
To their curious quirks and aversion to crowds
And toothpaste and barbers and things that are loud.”

St. Nick answered back, "So, then they misbehave?"
We answered with, "Actually, no, they're really quite brave.
Kids with SPD deal with all kinds of things,
Like big hugs, itchy tags, and loud alarm rings,
Or can't get enough and spend hours on swings.
You see, our children are sensitive to all that life brings.
Yet do very well with a consistent routine.
But it isn't bad behavior you see when they yell,
But rather a problem that is hard to tell.

Our kids work hard, at therapy and play
Spending hours and hours and hours each day
Trying to find ways to control their bodies,
And working hard not to look naughty.
But what they need is understanding, and some help along the way,
Because our kids amaze us, each and every day."

The old man looked surprised, at what we had shared,
Small children with parents who did what we dared.
To seek out help, and look far and wide,
Turning over each rock, letting nothing hide.
Until we found what they needed, what would make them feel whole,
For families like ours St. Nick couldn't leave coal.

So, Nick with the bundle of toys on his back,
Frowned and thought, then sullenly sat,
(And mumbled to himself which took us aback):
“I’m quite at a loss, I don’t know what to give
To children who struggle while trying to live
In a world that is already noisy and bumpy
And twisty and scary and thorny and jumpy—"

Then he rifled again through his sack and reposed
While he tugged at his beard, and scratched at his nose
(And he huffed and he chuffed and he shifted his clothes)
Then with a wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
He drew the sack wide till the seams popped some threads,
Dug in his hand and pulled out a small box
(With very small writing) --but before he could talk
He ungloved his hand to wipe soot from his eye
(Or was it a tear? Or perhaps a sty?)

So he bid us farewell, and went back to his work,
He filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
While giving a nod, up the chimney he rose.

I said to Ma, as she turned towards the tree,
"Who knows what St. Nick left us, we'll have to see.
Yet we gave him something great, I say with fairness,
We sent him on his way with a new found Awareness."
Which is a gift to our kids, in a different kind of way,
Because when all understand SPD, that will be a new day!"

Now we looked o’er the copious gifts left behind,
The tiny collages of paper and twine,
The moon-sparkled ribbons, the plastic that shined,
We spied the small box for the children to find.
“The best gifts can be pretty small--” Ma started then said,
“But our best gifts of all are still snuggled in bed.”

This Holiday season, you SPD Fathers and Mothers,
You cousins and nephews and sisters and brothers,
When you wake in the morning and throw off the covers
(And tear into presents while everyone hovers)
Do you think ‘Will I get what I wanted this year?’
Or realize ‘all that you need is right here!’
You might think it’s corny, but surely remember
Your children are better than any gift in December.

And in case you were wondering what Santa had stashed,
It may not surprise you, it might make you laugh,
“What did the children receive?” you may ask?
Well, when the snowy chips are down…
…Even Santa gives cash.

Merry Christmas to all and to all

Monday, December 17, 2012

Unite Against Bullying

PACER's National Bullying Prevention Center
National Bullying Prevention Month may be over but it's important to raise awareness all year long. You have already demonstrated your commitment to the cause. Want to know how you can do more in your community? Read on!
PACER's National Bullying Prevention Center, with the support of Facebook, has developed a practical toolkit that students can use to hold bullying prevention events. "Unite Against Bullying: A Student Event Planning Guide" is a free step-by-step guide that helps students plan, promote, and execute a variety of events designed to raise awareness of bullying prevention and generate support for the cause.
This is a great opportunity to make a difference for kids who have been bullied!
The guide has everything you need to create an event "large or small" including ways to use Facebook groups to publicize the event, create a conversation with your peers, and share information and photos. We'd love to know what you are up to. That way we can highlight select stories on PACER's bullying prevention websites and on Facebook's "Stop Bullying: Speak Up" campaign pages where millions of supporters will be inspired by your efforts.
Student-led initiatives make a powerful statement that bullying is not acceptable. Have a look at the guide right now and be sure to share it with others via Facebook.
For more information, please visit PACER's National Bullying Prevention Center
Thank you for being a true Champion Against Bullying!

PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center

Parents and Professionals
Middle and High school students
Elementary school students
8161 Normandale Blvd., Minneapolis, Minnesota 55437
(952) 838-9000 •

Click here for more information.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Reading Rockets Book Guide


What better gift to give than one that can be shared again and again?

Books are just that kind of gift. They create memories, too, when read by and with children. This year's list was carefully crafted with just one idea in mind — to find books so engaging that the TV is happily turned off and the iPad and electronic games are put away.
Season's Readings from Reading Rockets!

Click here to see a fantastic list of books sorted by age!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Homeschooling Questions, Part 2

11. Is there financial assistance available to help with the costs of home-schooling?
The State Board of Education is not aware of any financial resources designed to help parents meet home-schooling expenses.
12. May a student attend public school part-time while being home-schooled?
Yes, students may attend their local public school part-time under the following conditions set forth in the School Code (Section 10-20.24):

• there is sufficient space available in the school;

• you have submitted your request (on behalf of the student) to the school principal by May 1 for the following school year; and

• the course or courses you have requested are part of the school’s regular curriculum.

13. May a home-schooled student take driver’s education through his local public school?
Yes. Illinois school law requires that school districts maintaining grades 9 through 12 shall provide the classroom course in driver’s education, and an approved course in practice driving, to eligible students who are attending a non-public school in the district. Home-schooled students may take driver’s education under the following conditions set forth in the School Code (Sections 27-24.2 and 27-24.4):

• The chief administrator of the home school must notify the local public district by April 1 of the name of the home-schooled student who wishes to take the driver’s education course during the next school year.

• The chief administrator of the home school must provide evidence to the public school that the student has received a passing grade in at least eight courses during the previous two semesters.

14. May a home-schooled student participate in interscholastic athletics through his/her district of residence?
Public schools have no obligation to make extracurricular activities, including athletics, open to students attending private schools. In addition, many Illinois public elementary and high schools belong to intramural sports organizations, i.e., the Illinois Elementary School Association (IESA) or the Illinois High School Association (IHSA). Both organizations have specific bylaws that limit the conditions under which home-schooled students may participate in interscholastic athletics. (Illinois Elementary School Association) (Illinois High School Association)

15. My home-schooled student is completing the equivalent of 8th grade. Is he entitled to receive an 8th grade diploma from his local public school and/or take part in the graduation program?

No. Since your student is attending private school full-time he has no legal right to participate in public school graduation ceremonies.
16. My student receives special education services at his public school. Will there be any change in services if he withdraws to enter home-schooling? What changes might be expected?
This is a complex issue and will differ markedly from student to student. Therefore, statements on this website should be taken as guidelines only.

In general, a student with an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) will not have the right to the same range of services available through his public school if he chooses to withdraw to attend a private school.

A portion of the funding public schools receive for special education services must be earmarked for non-public schools, and public schools must provide timely and meaningful consultation (TMC) to private schools concerning this funding allocation. The public schools are not required to distribute these funds so that each eligible student receives an equal share. Depending on several factors (including the student’s IEP; the categories of disabilities that can be covered by the public school’s funding allocation; and the location of services to be offered), a student with an IEP who chooses to withdraw from public school may not receive services as comprehensive as those available to him while attending a public school full-time.

Parents of students with IEPs should also bear in mind that, due to a change in legislation enacted in 2005, it is now the student’s district of attendance (not his district of residence) that holds financial responsibility for that student.

Special Education Non-Public Proportionate Share Calculation and Home-Schooled Students:

17. May a student in a private school who receives some special education services also attend a public school on a part-time basis? If so, what services will the student receive? The School Code does permit private school students who are eligible to receive special education services to attend a public school on a part-time basis (see Section 14-6.01 of the School Code). Students who are eligible to receive special education may attend public schools in their districts of residence and receive services through an IEP offered by the district. In order to qualify for an IEP, students must attend the public schools for a minimum of one instructional subject.

Students who meet this requirement are eligible to receive IEP services to the extent they are actually in attendance in the public school setting. However, parents should realize that the

extent of services their children may receive may not be the same amount of service they would receive as full-time public school students.

For more information on part-time attendance in the public schools, please review the document at the following web address:

18. I am ready to enroll (or re-enroll) my student in public school after a period of home-schooling or other private schooling. How will his work be evaluated by the public school?
Your public school will determine grade placement for the student based on an evaluation of his work and pursuant to its policies. Given the wide variety of home-schooling curricula available in Illinois, public schools may prefer to focus on appropriate grade placement for the student rather than assigning individual course credits. However, the district may not make a placement decision that is unreasonable or arbitrary. (For example, a public school cannot require a home school program to be "registered" or "recognized" through the State Board of Education since the School Code excludes home schools from this voluntary process.) A method of grade placement (such as the use of competency testing) that treats all students entering from nonpublic schools in Illinois, or from public and nonpublic schools in other states, in the same way would be a reasonable policy for a district to adopt. 19. Can a home-schooled student return for the 12th grade and graduate?

Yes, if the public school determines that the combination of credits awarded for work done at the home school and credits earned in an accredited private or public school meet state graduation requirements and if the student passes any other reasonable requirements after re-enrolling in the public school.
20. How do colleges evaluate the work of a student whose high school diploma was received through a private home school? Many colleges and universities have procedures for admitting home-schooled students and for assessing their background. For example, here is information from the University of Illinois:
Revised July, 2012

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Questions on Home Schooling in Illinois, Part 1

Questions you may have on Illinois Home Schooling

1. What authorization is required to make a home school legal in Illinois?

The Illinois School Code (105 ILCS 5/26-1 et seq.) states that children between the ages of 7 and 17 must attend public school; however, an exception is made for "…..any child attending a private or parochial school where children are taught the branches of education taught to children of corresponding age and grade in the public schools, and where the instruction of the child in the branches of education is in the English language." Based on this law, the Illinois Supreme Court held in 1950 that the phrase "private school" included home-schooling if the teacher (either the parent her or himself or a private tutor) were competent, the required subjects were taught, and the student received an education at least equivalent to public schooling. (People v. Levisen, 404 Ill. 574 (1950)).

2. What subjects must be covered in my home school?
Language arts;


Biological and physical sciences;

Social sciences;

Fine arts; and

Physical development and health.

3. How much time must the student spend on home-schooling?

Illinois law does not set any minimum number of hours per day, or days of instruction per year, for students in private schools. However, the Illinois courts have ruled that home-schooling must provide an education that is equivalent with the standards set for public schools. (e.g. Scoma v. Chicago Board of Education, 391 F.Supp. 452 (N.D. Ill. 1974)).

4. Am I required to register my home school?
No. In Illinois, registration of home-schooled students is not required. Parents may choose to notify their regional superintendent of education and/or the State Board of their intention to home-school. Here is a link to the one-page form:

A directory of Regional Offices of Education may be found at:

5. Are there any testing requirements for students enrolled in an Illinois home school?
There is no requirement that students in a home school be tested. If parents choose to administer tests to their children to assess their progress, they are not required to submit the results to any school official.

6. May a home-schooled student take assessment tests through his/her district of residence?

The public school may choose to allow a home-schooled student to participate in some assessment tests. However, state assessments such as the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT) are not considered appropriate tests for students in nonpublic schools, since the content of such assessments was designed specifically for the Illinois public school curriculum.

7. My child is currently attending a public school. Is there a formal procedure I must follow to withdraw him from school to begin home-schooling?
It is highly recommended that you give the public school a dated letter (keeping copies for your records) that states you will be withdrawing your student to place him/her in a private school. Such a letter indicates your intent to continue your student’s education and will make it less likely that the school reports your student to county officials as truant after a prolonged absence. Home-schooling organizations provide samples of this type of letter.

8. Does the State Board of Education give advice to parents on effective home-schooling?

No. The State Board of Education’s jurisdiction generally does not extend to private or parochial schools and for most purposes a home school is regarded as a private school. We give basic (legal) information to parents and others interested in home-schooling, including references to private education in Illinois law or in court cases. In addition, we have provided links to some state and national websites of possible interest (see below).

9. Where can I find information on how to begin a home-schooling program?

Here are some of the resources available to parents and others interested in home-schooling:

• Your public library should have information on home-school groups in your area as well as state-wide or national home schooling associations. Some or all of these contacts may share information on home-schooling textbooks, study guides, homework materials, and curricula. Your library would also have information on home-schooling magazines and books.

• The Internet has thousands of links to home-schooling information ranging from suppliers of home-schooling materials to home-schooling "ezines"and support groups to research studies and legal analyses. Parents interested in purchasing a home-schooling curriculum or related materials through the Internet are advised to first research the products, and their claims, as they would do before making other types of on-line purchases.

• Your Regional Office of Education may have information on local home-schooling organizations as well as links to state and/or national organizations. For a directory of Regional Offices see:

• You may have friends, neighbors and/or relatives who are home-schooling their children and would be willing to share their experiences with you.

10. Are any home school programs accredited by the State Board of Education?

The State Board does not accredit any nonpublic schools. There is a voluntary process for private schools located in Illinois that wish to pursue registration and/or recognition through this agency; however, the law excludes home-based schools from this process (105 ILCS 5/2-3.25o(e)).

Friday, December 7, 2012

Now I See The Moon Review

by Patty Hooper

Now I See the Moon: AMother, a Son, and the Miracle of Autism is the account of Elaine Hall’s infertility and subsequent decision to adopt a son, Neal, from Russia. Though Hall had a few concerns about her son’s development before adopting him, she had no idea Neal actually had autism. In the meantime, Neal was not developing the same way other kids his age were.

Once Hall realizes that Neal has autism, she embarks on an amazing journey to find out how to best treat him. Despite many naysayers–including family and friends who advise Hall to return Neal to Russia or institutionalize him–Hall devotes all her time, energy and money to treating Neal’s autism. She spends countless hours playing with her son and recruiting volunteers to work with Neal and encourage him to interact.

Through it all, she deals with the death of her mother, her divorce and many difficulties in getting Neal the services he needs from school.

This is an amazing tale of a mother who bravely follows her gut instinct and helps her son interact more with the world, often in very unconventional ways. Any parent with a child with special needs will be able to relate to Hall’s exhaustion and her feeling of isolation. Though this book is realistic, it is not bitter, but rather hopeful.

Most of us can also relate to the desire for others to accept our children unconditionally and the disappointment that comes when that doesn’t happen, not to mention the abject embarrassment when our kids misbehave in public, typically around the people we most want to impress. Though Hall is a well-known children’s acting coach in Hollywood, she was immensely down-to-earth and easy to relate to.

This book also touches on The Miracle Project, which is a theater and film group for kids with autism. The group was created by Hall as a way to reach out to other families of children with autism. Hall works tirelessly to help these kids feel completely accepted so they can explore and express their talents in a safe environment.

I highly recommend picking up a copy of Now I See the Moon by Elaine Hall. You will be uplifted and inspired by the tremendous courage of one mother who does everything possible to help her son.

Family Matters has a copy of this book in our lending library.  You can borrow books for a month, even if you don't live near our office.  Just go to the lending library here and order the book.  We'll mail it to you along with a self-addressed, stamped envelope for you to return it in.  It's easy!  Check out all the great books and DVDs we have!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Food Allergies

by Karrie Potter

When your child has a severe or life threatening food allergy it can be scary to let him or her out of your sight. As a parent you quickly learn the importance of training and educating everyone around you on the importance of monitoring everything your child eats, reading labels before offering your child food, and knowing what steps to take should your child have an allergic reaction.  ISBE or the Illinois State Board of Education has multiple wonderful resources on their website including (but not limited to):

·         Sample Emergency Action Plans

·         Sample Allergy History Form

·         Sources for Food Allergy Training

These resources can be utilized to help parents to create their own Emergency Action Plan that can be shared with family, friends and school staff who work with your child. Your child’s school can keep the form on file or attach to the child’s IEP if they have one.

These resources may be viewed by visiting the following link.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Holiday Strategies for Kids with Special Needs

In the past, I have dreaded holiday parties. To be honest, I avoided them whenever possible. They were often just too stressful and full of sensory landmines for my kids to enjoy, which made the parties pretty miserable for my husband and me, too. Since I couldn’t very well avoid all holiday festivities, I needed to find ways to cope.

And unless you live in the wilderness far from civilization, chances are you will have to attend at least one holiday party this year, too.

Don’t despair, though! There are many things you can do to prepare yourselves and your kids so that the parties are enjoyable.

Over the years, I have discovered some things that have helped both my son, who is 7, and my daughter, who is 5, cope better with big holiday family parties, and they may help you, too. Here are my suggestions….

Exercise Beforehand
I try to do some exercise with my children before we go to a party. My son, who is a sensory seeker, responds very well to heavy work. It calms him and makes him much more able to deal with extra sensory input. If the weather is decent, I take him for a bike ride before the party. Otherwise, we set up an indoor obstacle course that includes jumping on the mini-trampoline and crawling through tunnels. Try to incorporate an activity that your child enjoys and ones that tend to calm him down. Extra heavy work will help regulate your child’s senses, so he will be more able to handle the sensory stimuli at the party.

Get the Kids Outside
I know most of us live in locales where the weather is not very pleasant this time of year. Still, it helps tremendously if, while at a loud party, you are able to get your children outside the house for a while. I typically offer to take all my kids, along with their cousins on a walk around the block. We take the opportunity to get some fresh air and admire all the Christmas decorations. This has multiple benefits. My daughter, who is very sensitive to noise, gets the chance to have a bit of peace and quiet; and my son, who has lots of extra energy, is able to run and let off some steam.

Feed Them Ahead of Time
I don’t know about your children, but mine rarely eat much at big parties with lots of people around. I used to try and fight them, until Mother’s Day a few years ago. At that particular party, my son ate absolutely no dinner. My sister offered him a piece of cake before I realized what she was doing. I was just about to take the cake away from him, when he got up and walked away. He was too wound up to even eat a piece of cake!

When we got home, the kid devoured three sandwiches. Even though he was obviously hungry at the party, he couldn’t calm down enough to eat. Now, I make a habit of feeding my kids before a party. Gatherings with lots of people are not the place, in my opinion, to battle with my kids over food. Also, I imagine it must be very difficult for a child with SPD to regulate his senses in a stressful situation, and even more so when he is very hungry.

Along with that, if your child is a picky eater, be sure to bring food with you. Don’t force your child to try a new food at a party. He is already dealing with enough uncomfortable sensory stimuli! Besides, who wants to fight at a Christmas party?

Secure a Calm Down Spot
When we go to a family party, I always find a quiet, peaceful place my son and daughter can go to if they get overwhelmed. I tell them ahead of time where to go if they need some alone time, and this has prevented so many meltdowns. If your child is too young to remove herself from the overwhelming situation, monitor him closely and take him to the place when you think he is getting over stimulated. Give her some time to regroup before returning to the party.

Ensure Kids are Well Rested
Dealing with loud, chaotic parties is difficult in the best of times, but if your child is already tired she will have an even tougher time handling all the sensory input. If your child still naps, do what you can to ensure her nap schedule is not interrupted. Also, try to make sure your child gets extra sleep the night before a party.

Schedule Wisely
Most families have many parties and events to attend during the holiday season. With kids who have sensory difficulties, these parties are fraught with potential difficulties. Try not to schedule too many activities in one day. You may also want to eliminate some parties so your child has some down time. I know it is tempting to try to attend all the fun activities you’ve been invited to, but seriously consider what your child can handle. Be realistic; it may mean you will need to decline some invitations, but this will prevent your child from becoming totally over stimulated at the functions you do attend.

Advocate for your Kids
You know your child better than anyone else. Don’t let family members or friends convince you to do something that you know makes your child uncomfortable. Don’t give in to peer pressure. For example, just because all your nieces and nephews are visiting Santa at the mall doesn’t mean you have to take your child, especially if you know it will scare her. It helps me if I remind myself that the point of these activities is for my kids to have fun. If a particular event will be stressful to my child, the fun is lost.

Have an Escape Plan
Whenever we are going to any kind of function, my husband and I discuss when we should leave the party. We also make what we call our “escape plan.” Basically, we know what behaviors to watch for that tell us the kids have had enough and it’s time to head home. We have a policy that if one of us thinks it’s time to go, the other agrees without argument. We split up and each take charge of certain tasks. Usually, I get the kids dressed in coats, while Bil herds them off to the car where they wait as I gather all our things. It helps if you have a system in place ahead of time.

Bring Calming Tools
My 7-year-old son chews on a blanket to calm himself down; he doesn’t use it all the time, but it definitely helps him when he is stressed. I know this is odd, so I sometimes would prefer if he left the blanket at home. Holiday parties, though, are pretty stressful for him, and they are not the time to try to wean your kid off of a calming, comfort item, no matter how disapproving Aunt Gertrude might be of your son’s blankey. So be sure to bring it–I often keep the blanket in the car and only pull it out when I can see my son needs it.

The holiday season is a very stressful time for most people, even those who do not deal with Sensory Processing Disorder. So, it is not surprising that this time of year can wreak havoc on your kids’ sensory regulation, sleep and behavior. Try your best to keep schedules as consistent as possible and plan ahead when you will be heading out to holiday parties. Do these things and the parties should go much more smoothly.