thrive DALL AS-FORT WORTH
VOL. 9 ISSUE NO. 6
NOVEMBER/ DECEMBER 2017
A RESOURCE FOR FAMILIES LIVING WITH LEARNING DIFFERENCES AND SPECIAL NEEDS
102 MUST-HAVE SPECIAL NEEDS RESOURCES
MEET STEPHANIE & SOLOMON COMMUNITY ACTIVIST AND HER SON
FINDING YOUR SUPPORT COMMUNITY
5 EVENTS FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY
HAPPIER HOLIDAYS NAVIGATING TRAVEL AND FAMILY THROUGH THE JOYOUS SEASON
Your child’s care should be
nothing less than epic Epic Health Services is Texas’ leading pediatric care continuum provider The Epic Health Services family of companies provides a pediatric care continuum, including private duty skilled nursing, therapy, developmental services, and home medical solutions, including enteral nutrition, respiratory, specialty pharmacy, and medical supplies to medically fragile children across the United States.
HEALTH SERVICES: Full-service in-home care Private duty skilled nursing
PEDIATRIC THERAPY: In-home and clinic-based care available
Available 24/7, 365 days a year
Licensed, experienced health care professionals
Occupational therapy Physical therapy
Short- and long-term care available
By maintaining a focus on the highest quality care, extraordinary customer service, and compliance, Epic Health Services operates as the largest comprehensive pediatric care continuum provider, helping patients navigate through all stages of life and health.
24/7 live on-call client service coordinators MEDICAL SOLUTIONS: Enteral nutrition Specialty pharmacy
Contact us today, and let us take your family from “surviving” to “thriving!”
Medical supplies (incontinence, ostomy, urological, diabetic, ketogenic)
To learn more about the services provided and find a location in your area, please visit our websites below.
epichealthservices.com | epicpediatrictherapy.com | epicmedicalsolutions.com
HEALTH SERVICES PEDIATRIC THERAPY DEVELOPMENTAL SERVICES MEDICAL SOLUTIONS
© 2017 Epic Health Services, Inc.
VOL. 9 NO. 6
departments TAKE NOTE
18 HAPPIER HOLIDAYS
Stress-reducing tips and advice
7 Lean on Me 8 Comfort Zone 8 Texas Strong 8 Hired Hands
to get you—and your child— through the season words Alexandra Mitchell Morenson
30 Life Goes On words Josh Schilling
NOVEMBER/ DECEMBER 2017
A RESOURCE FOR FAMILIES LIVING WITH LEARNING DIFFERENCES AND SPECIAL NEEDS
102 MUST-HAVE SPECIAL NEEDS RESOURCES
thrive DAL L AS-F O R T WO R T H
VOL. 9 ISSUE NO. 6
11 Mom Next Door: Stephanie Paresky 14 The New R&R 14 Sound Advice: A Date With You 14 Lather ’Round 16 Mommy Diary: Aaron Conway
25 5 Things To Do in
November & December
MEET STEPHANIE & SOLOMON COMMUNITY ACTIVIST AND HER SON
FINDING YOUR SUPPORT COMMUNITY
5 EVENTS FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY
NAVIGATING TRAVEL AND FAMILY THROUGH THE JOYOUS SEASON
PHOTOGRAPHY Nick Prendergast
26 Directory of Special Needs Resources
staff box Publisher/ Editor-in-Chief Joylyn Niebes
Creative Director Lauren Niebes
EXECUTIVE EDITOR Wendy Manwarren Generes MANAGING EDITOR Carrie Steingruber
ASSISTANT EDITOR Jessica Myers CALENDAR EDITOR Elizabeth Smith
GRAPHIC DESIGNER Susan Horn EDITORIAL DESIGNER Katie Garza
ACCOUNT EXECUTIVES Nikki Garrett, Stacy Howton, Nancy McDaniel, Kristen Niebes, Sandi Tijerina, Kerensa Vest
ASSOCIATE PUBLISHER Diana Whitworth Nelson
ADVERTISING COORDINATOR Amy Klembara
AUDIENCE DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR Candace Emerson PROMOTIONS COORDINATOR Beth McGee BUSINESS MANAGER Leah Wagner OFFICE MANAGER + DISTRIBUTION Robbie Scott
DFWThrive is published six times a year by Lauren Publications, Inc. Address: 4275 Kellway Circle, Ste. 146, Addison, TX, 75001. Phone: 972/447-9188. Fax: 972/447-0633. Online: dfwchild.com/Thrive. DFWThrive is distributed free of charge, one copy per reader. Only DFWThrive authorized distributors may deliver or pick up the magazines. We reserve the right to edit, reject or comment editorially on all material contributed. We cannot be responsible for the return of any unsolicited material. DFWThrive is ©2017 by Lauren Publications, Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or part without express written permission prohibited.
ARE YOU TIRED OF YOUR
LEARNING DIFFERENT CHILD NOT REACHING THEIR TRUE POTENTIAL? Great Lakes Academy, an accredited, non-profit private school in Plano offers 3rd–12th grade students with average to above average intelligence, diagnosed with various learning differences, ADHD or Asperger’s syndrome, a positive school experience.
SCHEDULE A TOUR TODAY!
6000 Custer Road • Building 7 • Plano 972-517-7498 ext. 103
GREAT LAKES ACADEMY ... WHERE INDIVIDUALITY AND DIFFERENCES ARE CELEBRATED
OUR SERVICES INCLUDE In-Home and In-Center ABA Therapy | Social Groups School Shadowing | Community Therapy All Ages Supported | All Overseen by a BCBA 2011 N. COLLINS BLVD #711, RICHARDSON,TX 75080
972-746-6255 www.Concept-Connections.com MOST INSURANCE PLANS ACCEPTED
1305 W. MAGNOLIA, FORT WORTH, TX 76104
Ads with © are © of Lauren Publications, Inc. 2017.
PROVIDING ABA THERAPY FOR AUTISM TREATMENT ACROSS THE LIFESPAN
linked to heart and lung disease, digestive issues, infertility, anxiety, depression and more. So Kadieva encourages these moms to seek out support groups, get therapy and find ways to release stress through mindfulness, meditation, focusing on the present and taking care of yourself, which includes these social outlets. And though going to dinners, wine tastings and other events with other parents who understand the fatigue and challenges that come with parenting a child with disabilities can be very therapeutic and restorative, it can also be a little intimidating at first. Barone remembers her first dinner with 20 women she didn’t know; she made a pledge to talk to those around her, and she left the evening feeling reenergized. “It’s so easy to get absorbed into your family situation and lose track of who you are,” Barone says. “The social outings give me time away from the chaos when I can just be Laurie among friends who totally understand.” To find your tribe that helps you de-stress, be yourself and have fun, and look for a local online community that plugs itself as a social group. Meetups and Facebook groups are good places to search, or start with a parent-toparent support group through an organization or church, Kadieva You’ve suggests. (Check our Got Plans directory on page 26.) AUSOME MOMS Then consistency is the started to provide key, Kadieva says. All moms support, social opportunities spectrum). “We want the moms (and dads), but especially and education to moms in the group to have fun, feel those with children with special with children with autism supported and meet other moms spectrum disorder. needs, should engage in someDallas-Fort Worth area; face to face,” says Andrus, who thing social in nature at least ausomemoms.org initially started the group as a once a week to help them relieve virtual Facebook community. stress. “Create a pattern for A.S.D. MOMS OF DFW aims to facilitate friendships and “Online is great, but moms need yourself,” she says, “and schedule help each other on their to get away from their day-toyour [social] time just as you do journeys with online support day stresses of home, kids and the therapies and doctor appointand mom-only events. family life, and we try to make ments for your kids.” Dallas-Fort Worth area; that possible for them.” Since the AUsome Moms netfacebook.com/groups/ Parents who have children work spans the entire Dallas-Fort asd.moms.dfw with special needs really need Worth area and most of the activiMOMS OF AMAZING KIDS community, support and someties happen on a monthly basis, works to help moms build one to lean on when life gets Barone connected with some of friendships and support and too hard, when they feel like has also hosted wine nights the other moms in Lewisville, and and other social gatherings throwing in the towel, says Viothey started a weekly Breakfast in the past. leta Kadieva, family therapist Club after dropping their kids off Fort Worth, Keller and and professor at Texas Wesleyan at school. They’re also going to do Southlake areas; University in Fort Worth. “As a movie night, and they’re talking meetup.com/maksrock the daily caretaker, moms (in about a girls’ weekend away too. many cases, not all) can experi“Isolation just makes your ence great stress that could problems get bigger,” Barone become catastrophic,” she says. “It can lead to says. “In my journey to find a social outlet, I’ve emotional exhaustion and complete burnout.” gained not just a support system but a group of Or something worse. Prolonged stress has been compassionate friends.”
lean on me
where to go to de-stress and recharge WORDS ERICA COX ILLUSTRATION JADE JOHNSON
Photo courtesy of Kelly Andrus
ix years ago, Laurie Barone moved from Florida to Lewisville with her husband and two boys—Ben, 18, who has Asperger’s syndrome, and Cade, 10, who has autism spectrum disorder. “I was feeling totally overwhelmed and starting to freak out,” Barone admits. “We moved away from both sets of grandparents and a strong church family, and here, I felt on my own and alone.” She started attending monthly meetings for parents with kids with special needs through the Lewisville ISD, and these meetings provided lots of helpful info, but that’s not what Barone needed. She wanted a social outlet, somewhere she could decompress, recharge and come back to her family feeling refreshed. Barone was directed to Kelly Andrus and her AUsome Moms network, one of a handful of local social support groups dedicated to getting Mom out of the house. Andrus, who has two boys of her own—Bradley, 8, is on the spectrum, and Wilson, 3, is neurotypical—says getting moms out of isolation is really her goal. So the group organizes monthly dinners, painting parties, craft nights and other events that are just for moms (in this case, moms with children on the autism
WORDS NICOLE JORDAN
TEXAS STRONG Among the tens of thousands of Texas families displaced by Hurricane Harvey are those with special needs. On top of losing their homes and most of their belongings, these families are struggling to accommodate complicated
comfort zone Seams that itch and tags that tickle … For kids with sensory processing difficulties, even the smallest annoyance can cause a full-fledged meltdown. Thankfully, everyone’s favorite one-stop shop (Target, obvs) heard parents’ pleas and responded by adding sensory-friendly pieces to its kids’ clothing line Cat & Jack. The collection is made with flat seams and heat-transferred labels in lieu of tags to minimize discom-
fort when the clothes come into contact with children’s skin. On the playground, the new sensory-friendly pieces are indistinguishable from typical kids’ clothes, featuring playful graphics and prints modeled after the existing line. And heads up, parents—the collection will soon feature adaptive clothing to address the needs of children with other disabilities. Available exclusively on target.com.
Cat & Jack Sensory-Friendly Clothing by Target, prices vary // target.com
dietary restrictions and the care of children with sensory disorders and physical disabilities. Harvey Special Needs Help is on a mission to help by collecting items typical relief efforts don’t supply (think weighted blankets and sensory materials), providing respite care to families in need, matching families with therapy resources and much more. From donating money to offering respite care, find out how you can help by visiting the organization’s Facebook page.
Harvey Special Needs Help facebook.com/harveysnh
Designed to help local families help each other, the Skratch app connects area teens and families. Founded by Dallasites Ronen Akiva and Scott Bennett, Skratch allows adults (“Seekers”) to book neighborhood teens (“Skratchers”) to help with tasks around the house, and teens make spending money and chalk up some real-world experience by doing jobs (called “gigs”) appropriate for their age and abilities. On the flip side, the app is a must-have for families looking for an occasional gaming partner or play companion for their child with special needs. Services are affordable ($10–$15 per hour) and can be booked on short notice. To ensure everyone’s safety, all participants are thoroughly vetted. The app is available on the Apple App Store for free. thrive
Photos courtesy of Target; Skratch; iStock.com/crossroadscreative
Skratch, free to download Dallas, 866/438-7572 skratch.co
AETNA BETTER HEALTH OF TEXAS ®
Offering services to STAR Kids members in the Tarrant Service Area. We have local providers including Cook Children’s Provider Network to fit your local health care needs. For a full list of providers go to www.aetnabetterhealth.com/ texas/assets/pdf/member/STARKidsprovdirectory.pdf
To learn more, call 1‑844‑787‑5437 www.aetnabetterhealth.com/texas
Mom Next Door
going on. The first thought that went through my head was, ‘Is he going to live?’” Options discussed included surgery in utero and surgery after birth. Paresky and her husband of eight years, Matthew, made the decision to forego surgery in utero, a relatively new WORDS NICOLE JORDAN procedure, and PHOTOGRAPHY NICK PRENDERGAST to focus their energy on preometimes, life changes on a dime. paring for the baby. Such was the case for Stephanie “There’s so much scariness Paresky of Richardson, who was 16 in the unknown,” she says. “No weeks pregnant with her now 4-yeartwo cases of spina bifida are the old son, Solomon, when tests revealed same, so it’s not like there’s somea small lesion on his spinal column, a telltale sign one you can call. But we knew that of spina bifida. it was something we were going to face “Within a couple of hours they have you on together. We consciously made the decision the phone [with doctors],” says Paresky, 38. “But to focus on the fact that we’re having a baby boy. you’re still in shock, trying to comprehend what’s We picked up and moved forward.”
After his birth, Solomon had surgery to close the lesion on his back and place a shunt in his brain—typical for a newborn with spina bifida. He recovered well and the family of three was home for a month, settling into their new normal, when Solomon woke up from a nap with difficulty breathing. The Pareskys rushed to the hospital, where they ended up spending the next two months. Ultimately, tests revealed Solomon had a rare complication known as Chiari malformation, which occurs when the rear tonsils of the brain compress the nerves, affecting the tongue, vocal chords and ability to swallow, among other things. “All of a sudden he became a medically complex child,” Paresky says. He required a tracheotomy and gastrostomy button (which functions just like a feeding tube).
“People take little things like that for granted on a daily basis. I didn’t even have that option.”
ABOVE / Stephanie Paresky enjoys some weekend family time with her husband, Matthew, their son Solomon, 4, and the family dog, Rusty, 7 months.
The Novus Academy provides an accredited and customizable educational program to students with learning differences and challenges, such as: ADD/ADHD; depression; anxiety; dyslexia; dysgraphia; and other language-based disorders. Our nurturing, innovative, and stimulating learning environment inspires confidence, respect, and self-worth in our students. They are supported as individuals through a variety of multi-sensory approaches and taught how to remove barriers to success. If your child is struggling in a school or system that is not catering to their specific needs or strengths, please call to schedule a tour and see our MAGIC in action!
TheNovusAcademy.org 204 N. Dooley St. Grapevine, TX 76051
Suddenly, the Paresky house was a hub for health care professionals and therapists. The brand-new parents struggled to balance it all with their successful careers in marketing. “I was a crazy person,” Paresky says. “I was in and out of the office constantly and wasn’t fully present in either situation.” After graduating from the University of Arkansas with an advertising degree, the Missouri native worked for her alma mater in sports information with the men’s athletic department. “I loved it,” she says. “I traveled all over the country with the different teams. It allowed me to meet people from different backgrounds and really broadened my horizons.” As much as she enjoyed the work, the unrelenting travel schedule became tiresome. In 2006, an opportunity came up with The Marketing Arm in Dallas, and she jumped at it. It was a career- and life-defining move. At the agency, Paresky managed sports sponsorships for AT&T—and met Matthew. Now, the husband and wife work at Mosaic and Dr Pepper Snapple Group, respectively. As sponsorship manager, Paresky oversees major sports sponsorships including SEC Nation, Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic and the Big 12. “I feel so blessed that I’ve been able to work in sports for as long as I have doing different things,” she says. “It’s something a lot of people want to do and it’s hard to get into.” Four years after Solomon’s birth, she’s finally struck a happy balance. She works 30 hours a week, Monday–Wednesday, leaving her free to field doctor’s appointments and therapy sessions on her off days. On the rare occasion she has time for herself, she likes to practice yoga or plan a trip to visit friends in northwest Arkansas. Sometimes even a simple walk outside or trip to Target is the catharsis she craves. Date nights are also of utmost importance. The couple plans weekly date nights up to a month out.
“I’m not going to lie,” Paresky says. “It’s definitely challenging because we’re both stressed to the limit … But you need to make sure you’re leaving room for your marriage. We’ve been through so much together and have made it through things most people don’t.” Among their keys to success is to serve others. With his college roommate, Matthew helms Knickers or Nothin’, an annual golf tournament benefiting Wipe Out Kids’ Cancer. His wife’s latest passion project is to bring a wheelchair accessible playground to Richardson in partnership with the city and Richardson East Rotary Club. They are 14 percent to their $250,000 goal and hope to open the playground in 2019. Difficult as the last four years have been, the opening of the playground is one of the many things the family has to look forward to. Solomon’s tracheotomy was removed in July, and now he’s more mobile than ever. He’s walking with a walker, talking and attending school. Paresky is excited by the many firsts that lie ahead: swimming lessons, his first football game, his first visit to her hometown in Missouri, his first trip to Target with Mom. “I can take him places by myself now,” she says. “Before I always had to have a nurse. I used to get sad when I’d go grocery shopping and see other moms with their kids. People take little things like that for granted on a daily basis. I didn’t even have that option. Those little things are so much fun now.” The couple hopes to grow their family, and their careers show no signs of slowing down. Though Paresky isn’t the same woman she was four years ago, she says it’s for the better. She’s more understanding, more compassionate and more caring. “When you have to fight and advocate for your child all the time, it changes you,” she says. “We’re in a world of special needs families now that we knew nothing about before. It makes you see things in a different way.” t
Dallas Repertoire Ballet A remarkable place. For remarkable people. Year-round weeklong camp sessions for children and adults with disabilities, ages 6-99. 2:1 Ratio On-Site Medical Facilities No Upper Age Limit Financial Aid Available Barrier-Free Campground in Paradise, TX
Dec. 8, 2017 at 7:30 pm
At Camp Summit we focus on our campers' abilities, not their disabilities. Every activity is adapted for the needs of each camper, provided in our fully accessible facilities, and implemented by trained, caring staff.
2018 Registration Opens January 16!
Dec. 9, 2017 at 2:00 pm* and 7:30 pm
Dec. 10, 2017 at 2:00 pm
*sensory-friendly performance designed for children with sensory processing disorders and special needs
For tickets call
2351 Performance Drive Richardson, Texas 75082
Order online at www.eisemanncenter.com This organization is funded in part by the City of Richardson through the City of Richardson Cultural Arts Commission.
The Academy of Dance Arts is the official school of the Dallas Repertoire Ballet — www.danceada.com
Pediatric Home Health Speech, Occupational & Physical Therapy Serving Children Ages: 0–21
Terapia de Lenguaje, Ocupacional y Física
• Highly Experienced Clinical Team • Specialized Feeding Program • Achieving your child’s greatest potential • Ethical Practices Our therapists create a fun and nurturing therapy experience for children with special needs. Serving the greater DFW area
Se Habla Español
rm: H E L P Sound Advice A Date With You
Holiday cheer can be synonymous with holiday stress. Survive the season by treating yourself to R&R—rest and reflexology, that is. The specialized foot massage triggers the foot’s reflex points, stimulating nerve function, increasing energy and inducing a deep state of relaxation. The ancient practice originated in China but is a selfcare must for modern mamas—especially as massages at these local spas start at just $30–$35 an hour. —Nicole Jordan
Flower Mound Soap Works, prices vary // Flower Mound, 812/361-0925 // flowermoundsoapworks.com
Bigfoot Reflexology // 11661 Preston Road, Suite 151, Dallas; 469/930-9266 // 4010 William D. Tate Ave., Suite 100, Grapevine; 817/399-1111 // 3529 Heritage Trace Parkway, Suite 131, Fort Worth; 817/741-8889 // bigfootreflex.com Happy Feet // 2400 Lands End Blvd., Suite 113, Fort Worth; 682/730-1072 // 4934 Overton Ridge Blvd., Fort Worth; 682/240-1216 // happyfeetdfw.com Joy Foot Spa // 7522 Campbell Road, Suite 122, Dallas; 972/931-8880 // facebook.com/joyfootcampbell YaYa Foot Spa // Multiple locations // yayafootspa.com
Trillion Small, LMFT-A, is a neurocounselor focusing on the brain and the heart to create more sustainable change. She works with individuals, couples and families who are wrestling to connect and balance life. Learn more about her at trillionsmall.com.
We’re big fans of skin care formulated with natural, good-for-you ingredients. Also locally made? We’re sold. Flower Mound Soap Works, based in—you guessed it!—Flower Mound, specializes in small-batch soaps, deodorants and lip balms handmade using a cold-process technique to preserve the benefits of all their top-notch ingredients. Dubbed “ugly soaps” due to their pale colors and bumpy textures, the brand’s signature collection of face soaps caters to every complexion from acneprone to aging, with ingredients including activated charcoal, clay, and natural oils and butters. Flower Mound Soap Works is available online and at pop-up shops and farmers markets around North Texas. (Psst … and it makes a perfect last-minute gift.) —N.J. thrive
Photos courtesy of iStock.com/svetikd; Flower Mound Soap Works; Illustration by Mary Dunn
the new r&r
Who are you outside your job and relationship titles? “I don’t know” is a very common response. So what about you? Do you know who you are at your core? Self-attachment will help you answer that. Self-attachment is a relationship with yourself. If you were to talk to, think about and treat someone the exact same way you treat yourself, how would that person feel? Would she want to continue in a relationship with you? An unhealthy relationship with self can influence insecurities, anxiety and even depression, which then can flow into every other relationship that we touch. Who you are at your core is the same person you were when you were forming in your mom’s belly—before life happened to you, before you were given all your roles and responsibilities as a caregiver. When you discover and nurture who you are, life begins to look and feel different. It feels lighter. Take yourself on a real date and ask yourself all the questions you’d want to ask another person: What brings you peace? When are you most courageous? What creative abilities do you have? When does your heart burst with joy? The inner you craves your attention too.
Home & Community based ABA Therapy Family-centered services with a focus on quality of life Positive Behavior Supports Corp. provides a variety of applied behavior analysis (ABA) services to individuals of all ages and diagnoses across the state of Texas. We serve clients through a variety of funding options including private insurance (Aetna, Cigna, BCBS, UHC, and more), private pay, and TX Workforce Commission. Our services are individualized and based on the specific needs of each family, and are delivered in-home by highly qualified, experienced, and dedicated professionals, including bachelor’s level (BCaBA), master’s level (BCBA), and doctoral-level (BCBA-D), behavior analysts. Behavior assistants are available to provide ongoing support under the supervision of our behavior analysts to ensure adherence to positive behavior support principles and practices. Parent training is a primary focus and our programs are designed to empower parents and other caregivers to support clients within their natural routines so they can be successful and self-sufficient. In addition, we also provide comprehensive behavioral intervention and consultation services for schools, group homes, and other agencies. Questions? Visit us online at www.teampbs.com or call 855-832-6727 to speak to your local Regional Coordinator (extensions: 3000 for North Texas, 1396 for all other Texas areas).
Ads with © are © of Lauren Publications, Inc. 2017.
A Day in the Life of
AARON CONWAY Aaron Conway is a registered interior designer who specializes in restaurant design. She and her husband, Ross, an architect and design director, work together in Gensler’s Dallas office. Their twin boys, Jett and Canon, just turned 5 years old. Canon is working at overcoming several disorders, including autism spectrum disorder and childhood apraxia of speech.
:30AM After being woken up by a dog, a child, two cats and the alarm three times, I drag myself out of bed and to the gym. My motivation to work out? TV. The only chance I get to watch something other than children’s programming is while I run. 6:30AM Leaving the car running in the driveway, I give my husband a quick kiss on the doorstep before he jumps in and drives to the gym. Ross has already made Jett’s and Canon’s lunches and packed their backpacks. 7AM I’ve had a quick shower and run a flat iron through my hair; it’s time to wake the boys. I climb the stairs singing my goofy good-morning song. Jett and Canon rub their little eyes and climb into my lap for morning snuggles. As usual, they both want me to carry them downstairs—at the same time. I’ve always done this, but now that they weigh 80 pounds combined, it’s getting harder. Ross has their protein shakes waiting for them, which they quickly gulp down. 7:45AM We’ve coaxed and prodded for about 30 minutes, and the boys are finally dressed and ready to go. I kiss everyone goodbye and head out the door. Ross drives the boys to their school, and I attempt to make it to work by 8am. 8:05AM After grabbing my beloved morning drink (Dr Pepper), I sit down at my desk. My husband and I work at the same architecture firm, where we met 13 years ago. We don’t sit next to each other anymore, but I can still hear him laugh, which is the highlight of my
workday. Today I am working on the concept and floor plan for a new restaurant, my favorite part of the job. 11:15AM Time to go. I need to pick up Canon at school and drive him to his therapy center during my “lunch.” Canon attends pre-K at a wonderful private school with his brother three days a week. Blessedly, he has amazingly understanding teachers and a smart registered behavior therapist in class to help when needed. This is Canon’s first year attending school with neurotypical children, and he has worked very hard for the last three years to get to this point. 11:30AM It brings me joy to see Canon’s smile as he climbs in the car. As we drive, I work at getting him to tell me about his day. Canon has childhood apraxia of speech, which makes learning to speak very difficult. Some children with the disorder never learn to talk, but it can be treated with intensive speech therapy. 12PM I arrive back at the office after dropping Canon at his therapy center, where he will receive ABA, occupational therapy, physical therapy and speech-language therapy services. This is such a relief to me as I previously drove him to four different places a day for therapy. On the walk back to my desk, I see my husband in a meeting and give him a quick grin. 3PM My calendar tells me that it’s time to leave again. Graciously, my office allows me to work part time so I can pick up our boys and drive Canon to all his appointments. 3:35PM When I pull up at school, I see Jett coming out the doors with a big smile. Jett is such a happy child. He is excited to see me every time I pick him up and always yells, “Mommy!” I hope he never stops doing this. While we drive to pick up Canon, I attempt to have a conversation with Jett about his day. He always tells me he did “nothing” and played with “no one” until I find the right questions to ask him. When we get to Canon’s therapy center, Jett and I run to the bathroom to quickly get Jett into his soccer uniform. 4PM Canon bounces out with his therapist, and we talk about how he did today before loading everyone back in the car. Two years ago, we were blessed to find Canon a fabulous speech therapist who finally got him talking with a unique type of speech therapy called PROMPT. We still drive to see her twice a week. 5PM After a great therapy session, we receive our speech homework and race
Photo Courtesy of Stacie Tatum Photography
rm: M O M M Y
All About Aaron
Yearly destination My husband and I take a vacation for our anniversary every summer. My favorite “honeymoon trip,” as my husband calls them, has been the Oregon coast.
We provide training that every parent of a child with disabilities needs
Beauty product she can’t live without IT Cosmetics Bye Bye Under Eye concealer Restaurant she frequents with the family Shady’s Burgers & Brewhaha is a go-to for us. Our boys love to play on the outdoor patio, which allows us to actually talk to each other.
ST. TIMOTHY A Christian for Students with Learning Differences christian aSchool cademy
“When fear was edging out hope,
No. 1 item on her bucket list As an art lover, I really want to visit the Louvre in Paris someday.
St. Timothy’s wonderful ministry
Serving Grades K–12 Individualized Instruction Low Student-Teacher Ratio Positive, Nurturing Environment Multi-Sensory Approach to Teaching Social Skills Integrated into the Curriculum
Beverage of choice Dr Pepper. I’ve tried to quit 561 times.
OUR TEAM • Collectively 40+ years of successful experience • Texas Education Agency (TEA) certified: Generalist grades 4–8, Special Education EC–12, and English Language Learning EC–12
was the answer we needed.”
Favorite lunch spot If we get the chance, Ross and I love the T Room at Forty Five Ten. The food is perfection.
OUR SOLUTIONS • Teach how to effectively manage behavior problems • Teach positive reinforcement methods • Teach strategies for child development
• Bachelors in Special Education • Masters in English Language Learning
SOS Consultants 817-495-8218 // firstname.lastname@example.org
to Jett’s soccer game. Jett just started playing soccer this year and somehow ended up on two teams. 5:30PM Ross joins us on the soccer field just in time to watch Jett play. We have been quite surprised at how well he’s doing, even with his attention issues. 7:30PM We enjoy a quick celebratory dinner on a restaurant patio before pushing our children into the shower. They play in our stand-up shower while we unpack backpacks, pick up toys and find clothes for tomorrow. 8:45PM After the sharing of three books, lots of kisses and a few tears, the lights go out. I sit in the rocking chair and read Shel Silverstein poems until my boys fall asleep. 9PM Ross does the dishes while I do the laundry and feed the pets. We catch up on chores, conversation and emails before heading to bed. t Diaries are penned by moms (and dads) in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. The authors volunteer to share a day of their choosing and are not paid or endorsed by Thrive. Send your diary to email@example.com. All submissions are subject to editing and may be cut for space.
Serving STAR Kids Members Throughout Texas!
Incontinence Urological Ads with © are © of Lauren Publications, Inc. 2017.
©iStock.com/roman_slavik; Illustration by Katie Garza
6801 W. Park Blvd., Plano 75093 | 972/820-5460 staplano.org
Enteral Nutrition Ostomy Wound Care Breast Pumps
To place an order, please call 800.407.8982 For helpful information, please visit: shieldhealthcare.com/grow/thrive thrive
STRESS-REDUCING TIPS AND ADVICE TO GET YOU—AND YOUR CHILD—THROUGH THE SEASON WORDS ALEXANDRA MITCHELL MORENSON
hile most kids live for the holiday season, it can be really stressful for kids with special needs. The disruptions to their schedules, unfamiliar people, houses full of noise, flashing lights and traveling can all prove to be too much—not to mention what this all does to your stress levels too. “The holidays are a particularly hard time for families with children with special needs because they bring about a lot of change,” says Jenifer Balch, a licensed professional counselor and autism specialist who practices at the Dallas and Flower Mound locations of University Park Counseling & Testing Center. “Any inconsistency in a family’s daily schedule—even if it’s just Mom going out to do the Christmas shopping—can be difficult for a kid with special needs to adjust to and stressful for the whole family.” But with some additional planning (and patience), these difficulties are easily managed. “My No. 1 tip for managing stress is planning ahead and letting your kid know in advance what to expect,” Balch explains. “That gives your kid the opportunity to ask questions so you can solve problems together in advance.” Whether that means creating a visual social story for your child or giving relatives a heads-up in advance about your child’s particular needs, preparation is key. So let us help you. We’ve compiled expert tips and practical strategies to help you get through everything from airport security lines to family gatherings this holiday season. With these tools, you can spot and minimize potential roadblocks and leave the holiday anxiety to Santa and his helpers instead.
C O N T I N U E D O N T H E N E X T PAG E
GET TING THERE TAKING FLIGHT
Planning for a successful air travel experience begins before you book your flight. First, consider the timing of the flight options. If possible, book a flight during the time of day your kid tends to be more relaxed—and the airport tends to be less crazy (as in not first thing in the morning or right after work). If you’re flying a longer distance, decide if your child might benefit from a stopover rather than a direct flight. Travelers who have trouble sitting still for long periods of time will do well with a layover that lets them stretch their legs and breaks the journey into more manageable chunks. Once you’ve finalized your route, choose your seats wisely. If the budget allows, pay the extra to sit closer to the front of the plane, especially for kids who don’t do well in crowds since sitting in the first few rows of seats means fewer people in their sightlines. Plus, the front of the plane makes it easier and faster to disembark, and it also positions you closer to the bathroom. Active kids might be most comfortable with a window seat so they aren’t jostled by the beverage carts and passersby in the aisle. On the other hand, a window seat can feel claustrophobic for some kids. You know your child best. Still unsure? Check seatguru.com, a website that shows potential problem areas on any airline’s planes such as seats that frequently get bumped by others, seats with limited legroom and seats that don’t recline. Jennifer Erp prefers to let her child select his seat. The Plano mom typically flies Southwest Airlines because her 18-year-old son, Brayden, who is on the autism spectrum, can choose where he wants to sit. (See the sidebar on this page for other airlines that make accommodations for passengers with special needs.) “Since we can pre-board and there aren’t assigned seats, we’re usu-
ally among the first ones on the plane,” Erp explains. “That means Brayden can pick out any row he wants, and I can hold seats for the rest of the family.” PREPARING TO FLY
Practice, practice, practice. If this is your child’s first flight, take him to the airport in advance to watch planes take off and land, see the security checkpoint and experience the sounds and crowds at the airport. If this isn’t your child’s maiden voyage, talk about the previous flights and go over the flying process again step by step, highlighting the positive experiences they’ve had on previous trips. Make kids a storyboard with lots of visuals, details and descriptions. “Create a social story that covers all aspects of the trip,” advises licensed professional counselor and blind children’s specialist Janice A. Moran, who sees patients at Agape Psych Services in Bedford. “Include everything from packing to boarding the plane and so on.” Show them what the seats will look like and that the airplane will fly through the clouds. Or download the Off We Go! Going on a Plane or Smart Fish: Frequent Flyer iOS apps (both available through iTunes) to allow your little one to interact with the story and help them get accustomed to the sounds they’ll hear. Moran also suggests watching airplane videos (a simple Google search yields lots of options) with them prior to the flight. Be sure to pause videos periodically to give kids the opportunity to ask questions. If videos are overwhelming, try a book instead. There are lots of children’s books that explain airplanes and the flying process in simple language. Favorites include My First Airplane Ride by Patricia Hubbell and the airport-focused The Airport Book by Lisa Brown. For kids who may be sensitive to the audio and sensory experience of flying, The Noisy Airplane Ride by Mike Downs describes mechanical noises from the engine, seat-belt sign and more.
FLYING THE FRIENDLIER SKIES All major airlines provide extra assistance to families with special needs, but some have explicit policies (check your airline’s website for specifics); others approach each situation as a case-by-case basis. But across the board, the earlier you ask for assistance, the more likely you are to receive it. Here are a few airlines that go above and beyond making flights comfortable for families with special needs.
• JETBLUE provides designated seating with extra space for individuals with disabilities for free. Put in your request up to 24 hours before the flight. • AMERICAN AIRLINES reserves priority seating for passengers with special needs and their families—just be sure to let the airline know when you’re making your reservations. • DELTA AIRLINES lets passengers with disabilities use priority seating for free, though it’s not always guaranteed. • SPIRIT AIRLINES offers priority seating for those with disabilities; call at least 24 hours prior to your flight. • UNITED AIRLINES makes efforts to give families with disabilities bulkhead seating; they suggest calling a week before your flight.
MID-FLIGHT SEAT CHANGES
Flight attendants on some airlines can help make midflight seat changes for you. SOUTHWEST, AMERICAN and ALASKA AIRLINES each try their best to accommodate in-flight seat changes—asking fellow passengers to change seats—but they can’t make any promises. DELTA , VIRGIN AMERICA and SPIRIT leave it up to the individual flight attendants to make in-flight changes.
BOARDING PROCEDURES AND PRACTICE
JETBLUE offers silent boarding even before pre-boarding so families with children with special needs have additional time to get comfortable before everyone else gets on the plane. SOUTHWEST and AMERICAN let kids with special needs practice boarding or explore parked, empty planes when asked well in advance. DELTA and ALASKA AIRLINES also allow practice boarding on a case-by-case basis; ask the gate agent.
PACKING LIKE A PRO
Bring medications, medical equipment and a copy of your child’s medical records just in case. It can also be helpful to have a doctor’s note explaining your child’s medical condition. Pack items to help kids feel comfortable. “Be aware of your child’s sensitivities,” says Balch’s colleague Twila Farrar, who is also a licensed professional counselor and autism specialist, as well as the founder of the University Park Counseling & Testing Center. “Ask yourself, ‘does my child have issues with certain sounds or smells?’ If sensitive to noises, you can bring noise-cancelling headphones and play your child’s favorite music.” If a child is sensitive to smells, bring travel-size essential oils. “Some of our clients pack a weighted vest,” Farrar says. “It helps kids feel like they’re getting a hug and soothes them.” You can also buy a weighted stuffed animal for kiddos who don’t like to wear additional accessories. And pack lots of things to keep them entertained. A goody bag with a tablet, coloring books and crayons, books, stickers, snacks and water can keep kids busy for hours. If your child delights in exploring the new, pack a new toy or sticker book. If you have a creature of habit, opt for triedand-true favorites that provide a sense of comfort. “But don’t bring your child’s one favorite item,” cautions Lewisville mom Cary Worthington, whose 5-year-old son, Aiden, has autism spectrum disorder. “You don’t want to bring something that’s irreplaceable unless you have multiples. Bring something that won’t break any hearts if it gets lost.” If you have a tablet, load it up with your kids’ favorite shows, music and apps—and maybe some new ones too. You may choose something educational such as Learn with Rufus for iOS and Android, which teaches basic competencies and social cues. Other great educational apps include Elmo Loves 123s for iOS and Android, which helps kids do simple math like counting,
addition and subtraction, or Stack the States, an app for iOS and Android, that teaches state names, shapes and capitals. Or download something just for fun like Faces iMake, where kids create faces using unexpected everyday objects such as light bulbs, spools of thread, artichokes and bananas. BEING AIRPORT SAVVY
Weigh the pros and cons of parking at the airport versus letting a friend or service drop you off curbside. Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport allows vehicles with a disabled parking tag or license plate to use one-hour lots for long-term parking, for instance. You may remember the viral video of the teen with a sensoryprocessing disorder being patted down at a DFW Airport security checkpoint last March. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was cleared of any wrongdoing in that situation, but it’s a reminder to talk to TSA about your child’s disability and the best way to relieve your child’s concerns during the screening process. “Be sure to contact the TSA Cares hotline,” Moran advises. Call TSA Cares (855/787-2227) 72 hours before your flight to talk about screening policies, procedures and what your child—and you—can expect at the security checkpoint. They can even coordinate a TSA officer to assist you if necessary. Note that kids ages 12 and younger and disabled passengers do not need to remove their shoes. Kids traveling in a wheelchair will be patted down. If your child uses an external medical device, find out from the manufacturer whether it can go through X-ray screen-
ing, metal detectors or advanced imaging technology before you get to the airport. Erp says the TSA Cares program is a traveling game-changer. “Brayden doesn’t want to be patted down by security and can’t stand still for a scanner,” she says. “So I call [TSA Cares] and they give me the phone number for someone at the airports I’m flying in and out of. That contact meets us either at the curb or in the terminal and walks us through baggage check and through security. It’s been fantastic.” Take full advantage of early boarding (talk to the gate agents if you’re unsure about the policy). This gives you and your children plenty of time to get comfortable, organized and settled on board before the rush of the rest of the passengers. “Make sure to let gate agents know if you will need strollers, wheelchairs or medical devices at each gate if you have layovers or connecting flights,” Moran adds. “On the plane, speak to your flight attendants about what your kid needs,” Balch recommends. “You are your kid’s advocate. So if your child doesn’t like crowds, ask the flight attendants to make an announcement letting you and your family deplane first.”
A lot of the time when a child’s feeling overwhelmed, it’s because he’s in sensory overload.
ROAD TRIPPIN’ IT
Lots of the same sanity savers for easier air travel apply to car travel too. Make sure you pack medications and medical equipment, plus a goody bag of entertainment, a tablet with apps and lots of snacks. In fact, if yogurt, cheese and other keep-refrigerated foods make the short list of what your little one eats, think about investing in a plug-in cooler for the car. A thrive
simple Google search pulls up lots of options, many less than $50. Planning ahead is key when you travel by car. Map your route in advance, marking restrooms, parks (you may need to pull over to let them release some energy) and restaurants you know your child likes along the way. PART 2:
NAVIGATING THE HOLIDA Y GATHERINGS MAKING PLANS
Don’t over-schedule. There’s a natural tendency to want to do more over the holidays since there are generally more activities and options to be social, but don’t do it. It’s better to have one memorable gathering or experience rather than lots of stressful and difficult ones. Pick a few doable and well-spaced-out events or activities that will be meaningful to your family and decline invitations to everything else—really, there’s no need to feel guilty. Build in downtime. The holidays are a time for relaxation too. So on days you have a planned activity, schedule time for rest and routine before and after so kids are less likely to feel anxious and stressed. Plan low-expectations activities. Opt for low-pressure family activities where everyone can be themselves. Invite the kids’ friends and their parents over for a mellow hot cocoa play date or a walk around the neighborhood to look at the holiday lights. In the spirit of giving, consider visiting a group home for those with special needs to deliver some holiday cheer—and maybe even some homemade gifts. Ask for accommodations. For the public outings, call to see if there’s a more favorable option. For instance, if your child hates crowds, see if your family can attend a holiday show’s dress rehearsal instead. “You don’t know until you ask, and the worst thing that they can say is ‘no,’” Erp says.
“I’ve had a lot of luck with it and sometimes they’ll surprise you.” PREPARING FOR FAMILY FESTIVITIES
might be entertaining for some but could send your little one into sensory overload, so maybe the snowmen—and any other music-playing characters—disappear before you arrive. If your child doesn’t like to be hugged, suggest family give a high-five or fist bump instead.
Let your kid know what to expect. Just like traveling, social HANDLING events—even THE STICKY with family—can SITUATIONS be emotionally Create a safe space. and physically “A lot of the time difficult for some when a child’s feelchildren. Use ing overwhelmed, social stories, it’s because he’s in books and movsensory overload,” ies to get them Ask any mom with a child who has Balch explains. ready. “If [you special needs what’s the hardObviously confirm can], prepare eiest holiday task to check off the that it’s OK with ther a written or to-do list and most answer shopyour host beforepicture schedule ping, which is why they resort to hand, but set up a of events for your the internet to purchase holiday quiet space for your child,” Moran gifts; oftentimes, guessing what kiddo to go if anxisuggests. “That ety or stress sets in. their child might want or like. But way, she or he Dim the lights and shopping can be fun, and you can has at least an give whatever you idea of what to take your child with special needs. have in your bag of expect when.” Really! Take cues from successful tricks, tactile things Remind them sensory-friendly shopping events that help your about things that held at J.C. Penney, Target and child focus positive might be familiar, Toys R Us stores in other parts of energy such as Farrar says. “Pull the country. headphones with up pictures of rel1. Avoid shopping during the relaxing music or atives they’ve met busiest times and days. Holiday stories, a familiar and talk about hours often have stores opening toy, stuffed animal, each person,” she at 8am or earlier. Aside from Black Play-Doh to squish, says. Then play Friday, stores generally aren’t Legos or puzzles. memory games by crowded first thing in the morning. “Have a code matching names 2. Go ahead and ask for special word for your to faces. “It might treatment. Stores are also more child,” Moran sugalso be helpful to willing to make accommodations gests. “That way if FaceTime people she or he needs a when the shop’s not teeming with who will be there.” break, the opporcustomers. Ask for the music to be This way, Aunt tunity will arrive Edna won’t seem turned down or off, and even lights without causing too quite so scary to be dimmed slightly. much disruption.” when she bends 3. Find quiet in the car. Things Bring your down to greet might still get overwhelming even own food. If your your child. in optimal conditions. Travel with a child has allergies, Let the rest of weighted blanket, tablet, familiar is a picky eater the family know comfort item and snacks to help or has a special what to expect as overstimulated kids relax. diet, arriving with well. “If family your own snacks members don’t and meals means know your child avoiding tantrums [well], send a or meltdowns over the cuisine. Worthington’s quick email so that you don’t have to son struggles with food so she travels with a make 10 different phone calls,” Balch cooler of goodies—that she then breaks into says. “You can also make index cards to very small pieces—she knows he’ll eat. Aiden pass out to people at the gathering; that doesn’t have to eat the Thanksgiving stuffing or way your child won’t feel like you’re talkcranberry sauce during the family celebration ing about her in those moments.” in Glen Rose because Mom packed favorites Address potential triggers with famsuch as yogurt and meatballs to avoid him ily and friends ahead of time and offer alternatives. Those singing snowmen gagging or throwing up (which he does when
SHOP, DON’T DROP
he eats something he doesn’t like). Her advice? “Try not to overpack when you’re traveling with food,” she says. “I bring everything but the kitchen sink, but then I have to take it all back.” You can always buy what you need when you get to your final destination. Handle the gifts. Family members might not know what to get your child with special needs, and your child may act out if he opens something he doesn’t like or doesn’t understand. Eliminate that stress by doing the shopping for gifts from the family to your son or daughter. Keep it real. Family get-togethers allow friends and relatives to get to know your child better—and get a better understanding of what your day-to-day life looks like. “If family members are willing to have a discussion, then try to explain your specific situation to them in the best way you know how and with love and respect,” Moran says. “Help them understand more fully how you handle situations involving your child. Stay firm in your particular rules, but be open to other ideas that might work for your family.” And when members of your extended family ask how you are, instead of giving a generic “good” answer, be honest. If you’re not “good,” say so. You’ll get more support if you are open with these answers, Moran says. You don’t have to go into details you’re not comfortable sharing, but don’t feel like you need to be falsely cheery or lie about your life. There’s nothing wrong with being vulnerable. “So many parents gloss over how hard their situation is,” Balch says. “They don’t want to burden people with their stuff or don’t think they understand or care. But if someone’s really asking, you can say something like ‘It’s been a challenging few weeks and I’m stressed, but I’m so glad to be here celebrating with you.” Take care of yourself. The holidays can be stressful for your child with special needs, yes, but it’s important to remember that you need some TLC too. Experts say they can’t stress the importance of self-care enough. “You can’t give what you don’t have,” Farrar advises. “So before you travel or go to a family event, make sure you get yourself in the right place.” See a movie solo, get a manicure and pedicure, spend 10 minutes meditating, have a glass of wine with girlfriends, watch a few episodes of mindless TV—whatever you enjoy doing that’s just for you. It’s the best gift you can give yourself—and your family—this holiday season. t
Dental Care for your Special Loved One Anna Willison, DDS
People with disabilities often need special care to maintain their dental health. Dr. Willison is a member of the Special Care Dentistry Association and is trained to provide her patients the attention and care they deserve. Our state-of-the-art office with trained staff is available to treat most of our patients. In-office sedation is available by a board certified anesthesiologist. Dr. Willison is also on medical staff at the Medical City Hospital in Dallas, where she can safely complete the necessary dental treatment under general anesthesia in the operating room. We recognize that caring for special needs patients takes compassion and understanding. We focus on meeting those needs, both for the patients and the care givers.
Dallas Center for Oral Health & Wellness Medical City Hospital Dallas, 7777 Forest Ln., Ste. A-309
972-566-6300 • yourprettysmile.com
Which swim school is right for my child? We have an answer for that. Get your most-trusted special needs resource delivered to your inbox. Sign up at dfwchild.com.
Creative and integrated approaches to speech and feeding therapy We believe in a multi-sensory holistic approach to therapy to meet individual needs by embracing the PROMPT philosophy. Reshaping speech movements and phrases liberate our patients, who become more effective communicators in motivating play and social interaction routines.
Rebecca L. Dana, MS, CCC/SLP, PC, SIPT-C 7002 Lebanon, Suite 102, Frisco, TX 75034 469-408-4634 • F: 972-618-1051 • firstname.lastname@example.org
Ads with © are © of Lauren Publications, Inc. 2017.
P L AY
WORDS ELIZABETH SMITH
things to do in
november & december
Hang Out Under the Hangar
Dallas, 214/351-3353 challengeair.com
Take your kids on the ride of their lives on Saturday, Nov. 4, when Challenge Air for Kids & Friends offers free flights over Dallas Executive Airport for those ages 7–21 with special needs. Space is limited for the Challenge Air Fly Day and registration is required to fly, but all are welcome at the family party with balloon-making clowns, face painting, service dog groups and cheerleaders welcoming riders on and off the planes.
Picture-Perfect Schedule your child’s photo session on Saturday, Dec. 2, with the ACI Learning Center’s Autism-Friendly Santa, catering to children with autism spectrum disorders, challenging behaviors and other disabilities. Snack on cookies and drinks in the play and craft area until it’s your family’s turn to meet Santa. Free. Southlake, 800/345-0448 acilearningcenters.com/ santa
Lighter Than Air Experience the sensation of weightlessness in a simulated skydiving wind tunnel when the North Texas iFLY locations offer All Abilities Nights exclusively for people with physical or
Watch Rudolph and friends from the classic TV show save Christmas when Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer – The Musical returns to Bass Performance Hall Nov. 21–22. Tickets to see the real-life holiday characters start at $28, and limited wheelchair accessible seating is available on every level. Call at least two weeks in advance to request a sign language interpreter at any of the musical’s three performances. Fort Worth, 817/212-4280; basshall.com
cognitive challenges. Sign up for your child’s spot at iFly Frisco (the date was not available at press time so go online for details) or at iFly Hurst on Nov. 8 and
Photos courtesy of Challenge Air; ACI Learning Centers; iFLY; Firewheel Town Center; Performing Arts Fort Worth
Dec. 13 (each second
For more events tailored to you, check the Special Needs Friendly option on our online calendar at dfwchild.com/ calendar.
A Rite of Passage Let your child tell his or her Christmas wishes to St. Nicholas in a calm environment when several area shopping centers open early on select Sundays for Caring Santa, carefully managed events without long lines, crowds or music in deference to children’s needs. Register for your private photo session at Galleria Dallas on Nov. 19 and 26; Grapevine Mills on Nov. 19 and Dec. 3; or Irving Mall, Firewheel Town Center or North East Mall on Dec. 3. Free admission; prices vary for photo packages. Multiple locations; simon.com/caringsanta thrive
$39.95 includes two oneminute flights assisted by specially trained instructors, plus a video to take home. Frisco, 214/618-4359 Hurst, 817/818-4359 iflyworld.com/all-abilities
WE KNOW SHOPPING FOR RESOURCES PROBABLY ISN’T AT THE TOP OF YOUR DAY-OFF TO-DO LIST, so we’ve packed this handy directory with as many local support groups, recreational activities and respite programs in DallasFort Worth as we could find. If you know of something we missed, or have an idea for a new listing, send your recommendations to email@example.com.
AT A GLANCE 26 add & adhd 26 asperger’s & autism 26 cerebral palsy 26 child care 26 cystic fibrosis 26 developmental disabilities 27 down syndrome 27 dyslexia 27 epilepsy 27 equestrian therapy 27 fragile x 27 hearing impaired 27 helpline 27 mental illness 27 muscular dystrophy 27 obsessive compulsive 27 recreation 28 respite care 29 sibling classes 29 tourette’s syndrome 29 vision impaired
ADD & ADHD
Attention Deficit Disorders Association (ADDA) Southern Region Mesquite, 972/467-9299; adda-sr.org. Support group meets every other month during the school year (the second Tuesday of the month in February, April, September and November) at the Mesquite ISD Professional Development Center. Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD) ntxchadd.com. The group meets the third Wednesday of each month from 6–7:30pm in the Farmers Branch Library Conference Room. Call 469/767-6866 for more information. Tarrant County support group meets the fourth Monday of each month from 7–9pm. Call 817/7076264 for more information.
ASPERGER’S & AUTISM
Families for Effective Autism Treatment North Texas (FEAT-NT) Richland Hills, 817/919-2228; featnt. org. Provides resources, support, education and advocacy for families in the autism community. Our Children’s Circle McKinney. Support group of parents, educators and community leaders that strives to provide resources for parents of children with autism spectrum disorders. Find information on Facebook.
Ability Connection Texas Statewide, 800/999-1898; abilityconnection.org. Offers a variety of programs to ensure that people with all types of physical and intellectual disabilities have the opportunity to participate fully and equally in all aspects of society.
Achievement Center of Texas Garland, 972/414-7700; achievementcenteroftexas.org. Nonprofit day care and day habilitation center for children and adults with disabilities or other special needs. Also offers arts exploration, educational assistance and community inclusion.
Brighter Day Academy Dallas, 214/265-8585. Fully inclusive day care for nonaggressive children with special needs ages 0–12. Medications and breathing treatments can be given onsite if necessary. Children with special needs accepted case by case. BrightStar Care Multiple locations, 866/618-7827; brightstarcare.com. Offers in-home care for high-functioning children with special needs, including autism, cerebral palsy, spina bifida and more. Availability of services is evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Clubhouse for Special Needs, The Bedford, 817/285-0885; theclubhouse.org. After-school programs, school holiday programs, summer programs and all-day programs for teens and young adults (ages 13–22) with special needs. Easter Seals North Texas Child Development Center Grapevine, 817/424-9797; easterseals.com/northtexas. Provides a preschool program for children with autism ages 18 months–6 years and typically developing children to learn alongside each other. KinderFrogs School at TCU Fort Worth, 817/257-6828; kinderfrogs.tcu.edu. Early childhood program (ages 18 months–6 years) designed to accommodate children with Down syndrome and other developmental delays. The Kristine Project Plano, 469/212-4254. A private child care, preschool and respite service on the east side of Plano with 35 years of experience serving children with special and medical needs. Full-time, drop-in or respite care available. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Blue Caboose Children’s Fund Dallas, 214/929-8281; bluecaboose4cf.org. Provides back-to-school assistance, a Christmas toy drive and a community parent network for the families of children with cystic fibrosis. The adults-only support group meets on the second Monday of each month (location varies; see Facebook page for details).
Arc of Texas, The Statewide, 512/454-6694; thearcoftexas.org. Chapters in Dallas, Denton and Tarrant counties provide services and support for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Dallas FASD Support Group Richardson. Support group for parents of children and adults with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. Meets the fourth Monday of every month (except December) from 7–8:30pm in the Activities Center at First Baptist Richardson; email email@example.com for more information. Denton County MHMR Center Denton, 940/381-5000; dentonmhmr.org. Provides services to individuals with mental and behavioral health care needs. Easter Seals North Texas Fort Worth, 888/617-7171; easterseals.com/northtexas. Centers in Dallas, Carrollton, Fort Worth and Grapevine provide services including outpatient rehabilitation, personal assistance, autism programs and respite care for children and adults with disabilities and other special needs.
Jewish Family Service Dallas, Mary’s House 972/437-9950; HEROES SIBSHOPS / page 29 Dalworthington jfsdallas.org. Offers Gardens, 817/459a support group 4494; maryshouseinc.org. Provides for parents, and provides extensive before- and after-school care services for children with special (Monday–Friday), day habilitation, needs and their parents and siblings, activities and therapeutic options for including assessment of abilities and teens ages 13 and older and adults needs, diagnostic testing, counselwith disabilities. ing, play therapy, social skills groups and school consultation. Mom’s Best Friend Carrollton, 972/446-0500; momsbestfriend.com. MHMR of Tarrant County Fort The nanny agency and babysitter Worth, 817/569-4300; mhmrtarrant.org. service provides referrals for in-home Provides services to individuals with care for children of all ages with spebehavioral health care needs, intelcial needs throughout the Dallas-Fort lectual and developmental disabiliWorth area. ties and substance abuse disorders.
Down Syndrome Guild of Dallas Richardson, 214/267-1374; downsyndromedallas.org. Provides accurate and current information, resources and support for people with Down syndrome, their families and the community. Down Syndrome Partnership of North Texas Fort Worth, 817/3902970; dspnt.org. Provides information, social and educational activities and events, and support for new parents, families and caregivers of those with Down syndrome.
Impacting Dyslexia Education Awareness and Support (IDEAS) Plano, ideasplano.org. Promotes awareness and connects parents, caretakers and teachers with resources and information to aid children with dyslexia. Visit the Facebook page. International Dyslexia Association – Dallas Branch Dallas, 972/233-9107; dal.dyslexiaida.org. Provides information and resources concerning learning differences to parents, educators, professionals and anyone who wants to be more informed about dyslexia. The group meets from 7–8:30pm on the second Monday of each month (except July). Discussion topics change monthly; check the website for the meeting topic and location.
Epilepsy Foundation Texas Addison, 214/420-2737; eftx.org. Nonprofit organization that strives to improve the lives of children and adults with epilepsy.
Photos courtesy of HEROES; KinderFrogs
Blue Sky Therapeutic Riding & Respite Krugerville, 469/450-9594; blueskytexas.org. Provides a safe, happy and healthy therapeutic community that works to empower and propel citizens with special needs to their fullest potential through therapeutic horseback riding and respite, vocational and entrepreneurial opportunities.
Born 2 Be Therapeutic Equestrian Center Aubrey, 940/595-8200; born2betec.org. Dedicated to safe and affordable horseback riding and carriage driving for children with disabilities through small-group or private lessons. Riders have the opportunity to participate in the Texas Special Olympics and in exhibitions, including the Chisholm Challenge for Special Riders Horse Show held in Fort Worth each January.
Equest Dallas, National Alliance 972/412-1099; on Mental Illness equest.org. (NAMI) Dallas, Works with riders 214/341-7133; to develop indenamidallas.org. NAMI pendent skills Texas, 512/693-2000; that carry over namitexas.org. Proto their everyday vides support and lives. Riders are education to famiencouraged to lies and friends of set individual people with serious goals ranging mental illness. from holding the reins for one MUSCULAR KINDERFROGS SCHOOL AT TCU / The curriculum-based program full circuit of the serves about 30 children, most of whom have disabilities, ages 18 DYSTROPHY arena to more months to 6 years (page 26). FACES of North complex chalTexas parentprolenges, such as jectmd.org. Provides qualifying for and mentoring, support and advocacy to Unbridled Horse Therapy Flower competing in the international arena. families living with muscular dystroMound, 817/319-7778; unbridledGrace Lake Ministries, Inc. Anna, phy. Visit the Facebook page. horsetherapy.com. Aims to effectively 972/837-4621; gracelakeministries.org. intercede and encourage unrealized God-centered therapeutic riding potential for those with special needs OBSESSIVEprogram with the goal of developing and disabilities through the connecCOMPULSIVE wholeness in the lives of the people tion between horse and rider and the OCD and Anxiety Support Group served. Riders include anyone in use of physical, speech and behavDFW Bedford, ocdsupportgroupneed of hope and healing, including ioral therapy. dfw.wordpress.com. Support group children and adults with disabilities for families and friends of individuals or social challenges. Victory Therapy Center Roanoke, with OCD and other anxiety disor682/831-1323; victorytherapy.org. ders. Meets on the second and fourth ManeGait Therapeutic HorseProvides therapeutic riding, physiThursday of each month (except on manship McKinney, 469/742-9611; cal therapy and counseling services holidays) from 6:30–8pm at Texas manegait.org. Provides a fun, enrichthrough the relationships riders form Health Harris Methodist Hospital ing and supportive environment for with horses. Hurst-Euless-Bedford. riders to reach their potential. Offers group, semiprivate or private lessons FRAGILE X OCD Support Group Richardson, taught by certified riding instrucTexas Fragile X Association Dallas, 214/906-1692. Professionally led tors with the assistance of volunteer 972/757-8939; txfx.org. An associasupport group serving the Dallas/ aides. As much as possible, riders tion made up of families and profesRichardson/Plano area for parents of participate in pre-mounted and postsionals who provide resources and children with OCD, adults with OCD, mounted horse care. education on Fragile X issues. The family members/friends of people association organizes family activities with OCD and teens with OCD. New Hope Equine Assisted Therapy and education events throughout Meetings are held the second MonArgyle, 817/729-5315; newhopethe year. day of each month from 7:45–9pm at equine.com. Provides therapeutic Methodist Richardson Medical Cenhorseback riding services for people ter – Bush/Renner campus. Email with a wide variety of disabilities. HEARING IMPAIRED firstname.lastname@example.org for more Program is designed to bring hope, Deaf-Blind Multihandicapped information. healing and happiness to riders Association of Texas (DBMAT) through encouraging the horse and Dallas, 972/285-5912; dbmat-tx.org. human connection. DBMAT provides deaf-blind multiRECREATION handicapped individuals and their ACEing Autism Dallas Dallas, Riding Unlimited Inc. Ponder, 940/479families access to other members, 214/901-9010; aceingautism.org/ 2016; ridingunlimited.org. Provides training opportunities, social events locations/dallas-tx. Offers a weekly small-group and individual lessons and resources. program that allows children on the for ages 3 to adult. Students can parautism spectrum to learn the game ticipate in exhibition and drill teams, of tennis while improving their gross HELPLINE Special Olympics equestrian events and motor skills, hand-eye coordination 2-1-1 Texas: Finding Help in Texas shows like the Chisholm Challenge for and social skills. Statewide, 211; 211texas.org. Free, Special Riders Horse Show. anonymous and confidential informaAngel League Baseball Program tion and referral line answered by naStable Strides Farm Therapeutic Rockwall, 972/722-6001; angeltionally certified specialists 24 hours a Riding Flower Mound, 940/595-3600; league.org. Baseball program for day, seven days a week. When callers stablestridesfarm.org. Children and boys and girls with physical or mental dial 211, they are connected to inforadults ages 2 and older with physidisabilities ages 4–15 and adult mation centers in their region. cal or cognitive disabilities learn to league for individuals with mental become effective, competitive riders. disabilities ages 16–60. Students are encouraged to ride MENTAL ILLNESS independently as soon and as safely Mental Health America of Greater Aqua-Fit Swim & Fitness Family as possible. Riders participate in the Dallas Dallas, 214/871-2420; mhaWellness Center Plano, 972/578-7946; Special Olympics and other competidallas.org. Offers multiple support aquafitplano.com. Aqua-Fit’s Mimi tions and shows. groups at varying times. Conner offers swimming lessons for
directory adults and children with special needs on Saturday and Monday.
with autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and other conditions.
Aqua-Tots Swim Schools Multiple locations, aquatots.com. Offers the basic survival swim program and a beginning stroke development class for children with special needs.
Metroplex Adaptive Water Sports (MAWS) Dallas, 214/803-9955; youcanski.org. Nonprofit organization dedicated to providing opportunities for persons with all types of disabilities to experience water sports.
ASI Gymnastics Multiple locations, asigymnastics.com. Offers Gymmie Kids, a recreational gymnastics program designed to enhance motor skills, provide social interaction and build the self-esteem of children with special needs. Bachman Recreation Center Dallas, 214/6706266; dallasparks.org/facilities. Provides an accessible facility for all individuals ages 6 and older with disabilities. Best Buddies Statewide, 214/242-9908; bestbuddies.org/texas. Provides opportunities for one-toone friendships, integrating people with disabilities into their communities. Buddy League Garland, 972/414-9280; buddyleague.org. Provides recreational opportunities for children with special needs, allowing children with disabilities to learn baseball with their typical peers, or “buddies.” Buddy Sports at Cross Timbers YMCA Flower Mound, 972/539-9622; crosstimbersymca.org. Specialized program for athletes ages 5–15 with learning and physical disabilities. Athletes meet once a week on Sunday afternoon to have fun, exercise and be part of a team in an understanding atmosphere. The sport changes every 6–7 weeks; sports include basketball, baseball, soccer and field hockey. Challenge Air Dallas, 214/351-3353; challengeair.com. Offers motivational and inspirational aviation experiences to children and youth with physical challenges. Crull Fitness Richardson, 972/497-9900; crullfitness.com. Personal and group training for children and adults with various physical and cognitive disabilities through the Champions Challenge program. Emler Swim School Multiple locations, 817/5527946; emlerswimschool.com. Teaches the lifesaving skill of swimming to children with special needs in a fun, positive environment. Especially Needed McKinney, 214/499-3439; especiallyneeded.org. Builds a strong sense of unity for individuals with special needs by offering familyfriendly events throughout the year. Express Cheer Frisco, expresscheer.com. Offers a cheerleading team for children with special needs. The Feast Dallas, 214/521-3111; hpumc.org. Worship service at Highland Park United Methodist Church that is a welcome place for those with special needs, their families and friends, and all who have a heart for special needs. The Feast takes place on Sunday at 5pm. Jumpstreet Plano, 972/378-5867; gotjump.com/ texas/plano. Hosts a semiprivate event on the first Saturday of the month for children with special needs and their siblings. Keller ATA Martial Arts Keller, 817/337-9493; kellerata.com. Offers classes for children with special needs and participates in tournaments that offer divisions for special abilities competitors. Instructors have experience working with students
Miracle League of DFW Arlington, 817/733-6076; miracleleaguedfw.com. Provides an opportunity for children with physical or mental challenges to play baseball. Miracle League of Frisco Frisco, 214/295-6411; friscomiracleleague.org. Offers a variety of sports for children ages 5–19 with special needs, with attainable goals set and assistance provided by a buddy or volunteer. Miracle League of Irving Irving, 972/986-8898; irvingymca.org. Provides children with disabilities ages 3 and up the opportunity to play baseball, regardless of their ability level. The spring season runs March–May, and the fall season runs September–November. Pieces of Me Multi-Sensory Activity Center Irving, 469/796-2211; piecesofmellc.com. Children ages 2–12 (with and without special needs) participate in arts and crafts activities, music and movement, cooking workshops, pretend play and more. For young adults ages 13–22, the center offers life skills workshops including computer training and career planning. RISE Adaptive Sports Irving, 469/762-5075; riseadaptivesports.org. Promotes independence for individuals with physical disabilities through sports, recreation and other outdoor events and programs. Soaring Eagle Center DeSoto, 972/223-1873; soaringeaglecenter.org. Serves young adults with developmental disabilities and their families through Special Olympics, social activities, educational classes and a day program. Young adults with special needs work at Soaring Eagle Thrift Store to gain life skills. Southwest Wheelchair Athletic Association (SWAA) Multiple locations, swaasports.org. Provides wheelchair sled hockey, fencing, track and other sports for people with disabilities. Special Abilities of North Texas Lewisville, 972/317-1515; specialabilities.net. Supports adults with disabilities through programs and events, including a health and fitness program, creative arts program and opportunities to visit local attractions and sporting events. Special Needs Gymnastics Multiple locations, 806/438-3227; specialneedsgymnastics.com. Coaches work individually and in groups with students of all ages and skill levels who have disabilities to help athletes achieve success. Special Olympics Texas Statewide, 512/835-9873; sotx.org. Provides year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. Special Strong Dallas-Fort Worth area, 972/8368463; specialstrong.com. Specialized health and fitness services, including private training and boot camps for children and adults with special needs. Texas Cutez Lewisville, 469/233-2882; texascutez.com. Serves children with special needs of all ages and abilities as they learn and make friends on a cheerleading team.
TOPS Soccer Arlington, 817/229-0629. Free soccer program for ages 5–25 with special or adaptive needs. Fall league includes Saturday games and two groups (ages 5–12 and 13 and up). Each player receives a uniform and end-of-season trophy. Visit the Facebook page. Wet Zone Waterpark Angel Swim Rowlett, 972/412-6266; rowlett.com/parksandrec. Open swim for members of the community with special needs and their families during summer months. YMCA of Metropolitan Dallas Multiple locations, 214/880-9622; ymcadallas.org. Puts Christian values into practice through programs that build a healthy spirit, mind and body for all. Various club locations offer camps, swimming lessons and sports programs for kids with special needs.
Adventure Kids Playcare Multiple locations, adventurekidsplaycare.com. Offers hourly drop-in child care that is inclusive to children with special needs. APT G: A Place to Go Allen, 214/385-8850; fumcallen.org. Free monthly respite night for children with special needs in grades six and up. Held the third Saturday of each month (September–May) from 7–9:30pm. Register online by the Wednesday before. Breakaway – Special Needs Ministry Fort Worth, 817/546-0876; ccbcfamily.org. Free respite night for children with special needs (all ages) and siblings (ages infant to 12 years) on the third Friday of the month throughout the year (excluding June, July and December). Registration is on a first-come, first-served basis. Bryan’s Buddies Grapevine, 817/481-2559; firstmethodistgrapevine.org. Monthly respite care for children with special needs and their siblings held at First United Methodist Church. Bryan’s House Dallas, 214/559-3946; bryanshouse.org. Provides respite care, child care and support services for children affected by HIV/AIDS and their families as well as children with other special health needs. Calab, Inc. Multiple locations, calabinc.com. Provides quality individualized child care that encourages independence in individuals with disabilities. Emma’s House. Irving, 972/839-1502; emmashouse.net. Provides functional, vocational and life skills to promote independence and self-sufficiency for teens and young adults with disabilities. Afterschool and summer programming is also available. Friday Night Fun and Night Vision at Lake Pointe Church Rockwall, 469/698-2310; lpkids.com/ rockwall. Friday Night Fun is a monthly parents night out for children with special needs (6 months– 13 years) and their siblings from 6–9pm on the third Friday of the month. Night Vision is for older students with special needs one Friday a month from 7–9pm. Register in advance. SOAR, the special needs ministry, offers other programs for children and adults with special needs. Friday NITE Friends Plano, 972/618-3450; fridaynitefriends.org. Respite program for families with special needs and medically fragile children (ages birth–15 years) and their siblings (up to 12 years) on Friday evening from 6–10pm. Gary’s Angels Plano, 214/291-8024; standrewumc.org. Sensory activities, a quiet room and
services SPECIAL ADVERTISING SECTION
Sunday school activities for children with special needs and their siblings at St. Andrew UMC. Harvey’s Kids Carrollton, 972/492-2432; hcumc.org. Arts and crafts, food and other activities for children with special needs and their siblings every second Saturday of the month from 5–8pm. Reservations required. Kids’ Night Out Plano, 972/941-7272; plano.gov/408/Adapted-Recreation. Respite night for children ages 1–10 with special needs and their siblings meet at Liberty Recreation Center from 6:30–9:30pm on the second Friday of each month (except June and July). Reservations required. Loving Hands Ministry Coppell, 972/462-0471; fumccoppell.org. Respite care for children with special needs up to age 16 and their siblings up to age 10 one Saturday a month. A registered nurse will be on hand to offer support while the children engage in various activities. Night Lights Dallas, 214/706-9535; raysoflightdallas.org. Children with special needs ages 6 months–21 years and their siblings ages 6 months–13 years enjoy arts and crafts, computer games, live entertainment and more at this free respite night from 6–10pm every first, second and third Friday of the month (except January and July) at Lovers Lane United Methodist Church and every first Friday of the month at White Rock United Methodist Church. Free respite care for Spanish-speaking families on the third Friday of every month at the Christ Foundry United Methodist Mission. Registration required. Night OWLS Dallas, 214/523-2284; hpumc.org/night-owls. Respite program for children ages 3 months–13 years with identified special needs and their siblings on the first and third Friday nights of each month at Highland Park United Methodist Church. Parents’ Night Out Allen, 972/727-8241; fbcallen.org. Respite program with music, games, movies and snacks for grade school–age children and their siblings one night a month during the school year at First Baptist Church Allen. Reservations required. Respite Care at Irving Bible Church Irving, 972/560-4613; irvingbible.org. Respite night one Saturday a month for children, teens and adults with special needs from 5:30–8pm. Reservations required.
Cook Children’s Sib2Sib Program Fort Worth, 682/885-5872; cookchildrens.org. Free program for siblings of patients with a chronic illness or a life-changing injury. Workshops use crafts and games to encourage open communication. A group for ages 5–7 meets quarterly and a group for ages 8–12 meets every other month; there are occasional events for teens. FEAT-North Texas Sibshops Richland Hills, 817/919-2228; featnt.org. Sibshop held on Saturday for four weeks at the FEAT-NT Resource Center and Library. Library books on sibling issues, autism and a range of other disabilities and related topics available for parents and children to check out. HEROES Sibshops Richardson, 817/925-9434; heroesdfw.org. Program for the siblings of children with disabilities to participate in fun and exciting activities in a safe environment.
The Tourette Association—Texas Chapter Support Group Irving, 281/238-8096; tourettetexas.org/dallas-northtexas. Serves North Texas families with Tourette’s syndrome and its associated disorders. Visit the website and contact the group leader for meeting times.
American Foundation for the Blind Dallas, 214/352-7222; afb.org. Provides information and referrals to blind and visually impaired persons and their families. Dallas Lighthouse for the Blind Dallas, 214/821-2375; dallaslighthouse.org. Nonprofit organization that focuses on improving and enhancing the lives and opportunities for individuals with visual impairments in North Texas. Texas Workforce Commission Dallas, 800/628-5115; twc.state.tx.us. Works with Texans who are blind or visually impaired to help them get high-quality jobs and live independently. Prevent Blindness Texas Dallas, 214/528-5521; preventblindnesstexas.org. Dedicated to preventing blindness and preserving sight for all Texans through vision screenings, education and free voucher programs.
a resourceful guide for your special needs NOW OFFERING SPEECH THERAPY! Behavioral Transformations is a leading provider of ABA and speech services for individuals with autism. We believe every child is an individual who can learn given the right environment and teacher. We strive to develop relationships with our clients as well as their families. Behavioral Transformations 2701 Sunset Ridge Dr. Ste. 303 Rockwall, TX 75032 469-458-9021 • www.btrockwall.com
Language Works/Rainbow Kidz Language Works/Rainbow Kidz provides low-cost, high therapeutic interventions and therapies both 1:1 and in small groups using the principles of ABA and the analysis of verbal behavior. We offer individual therapy, social skills classes, recreational classes, handwriting, sibling classes, Saturday classes and summer/holiday break classes at affordable prices. Andrea Gamble M.Ed., BCBA 2155 Marsh Ln. Ste. 132, Carrollton, TX 75006 972-306-3189 • email@example.com languageworksllc.com
“LEARN THE MARIGOLD WAY” RESERVE YOUR SPOT TODAY MLA is a private school for children with autism and related disabilities. We provide one-to-one and small group ABA therapy for children ages 18 months–10 years in a school-based program. • ABA Therapy • Indoor Gym • Social Skills • After-School Tutoring Marigold Learning Academy 401 W. Washington St., Rockwall, TX 75087 972-722-3892 • MarigoldLearningAcademy@gmail.com www.MarigoldLearningAcademy.com
No Limits, Just Possibilities Notre Dame School educates students with developmental disabilities and facilitates their integration into society. As the only school in Dallas exclusively serving this student population, Notre Dame is a unique educational resource with 160 students ages 8–22. You are invited to attend our fall Open House on November 14 at 9:30–11am. RSVP to Cindy at firstname.lastname@example.org. Notre Dame School of Dallas 2018 Allen St., Dallas, TX 75204 214-720-3911 notredameschool.org To advertise in the Services section, call 972-447-9188 or email email@example.com
life goes on
am blessed to wear many hats in my life. I am a biological father, a stepfather and an educator, to name just a few. How did I get these hats? Let me start at the beginning with a little backstory: My original degree was in social work, but a few years into a career in this field, I knew I needed a change. I went back to school and became a special education teacher at an elementary school. A 6-year-old boy was placed in my self-contained classroom, and my life changed for the better, forever. His name was Nicholas, and he and his mother had just moved from Oregon. She was finishing her degree at the local university, which happened to be right near the elementary school. Little did I know that Jackie, Nicholas’ mother, would be my future wife and the love of my life. I truly believe it was the Lord’s plan to put me at that school and bring Nicholas and Jackie into my life. Jackie and I were married a few years later, and I assumed my role as stepfather, but I was so much more. I was a father. I dislike the term “step.” To me it means second or runner-up. I know this is not the case, but sometimes it feels this way. I chose this family. I chose to marry my wife, the mother of an amazing child with multiple disabilities. The disabilities didn’t matter; Jackie and Nick were and are my family. No matter what challenges present-
ties that bind WORDS JOSH SCHILLING
ed themselves—and boy, there were and still are many—we would do it together as a family. True, I was the stepfather, but I jumped into the role headfirst, troubleshooting along the way. I stepped into the role with a nonverbal 6-yearold child, who was not toilet trained and could not perform any self-help skills on his own. I’m not going to lie. It was the hardest role I have ever assumed. But the reward of teaming up with Jackie to raise, teach and serve Nick has been an amazing journey. I was
overwhelmed with joy when we successfully taught Nick sign language so he could communicate his wants and needs. I felt victorious that after a year of toilet training, Nick was able to wear underpants instead of Pull-Ups, and I still remember Jackie and I eating dinner on a tray on the side of the bathtub while Nick practiced his timing trials for using the bathroom. And during all of this, I worried about making sure I was a husband first and attempted to make sure my wife’s wants and needs were met.
“A 6-yearold boy was placed in my self-contained classroom, and my life changed for the better, forever.”
A few years later, we had my beautiful daughter, Kiersten. A few more years down the road, we had Ethan, and he completed our family of five. While Nick was still healthy and we were just dealing with his autism and an intellectual disability, our younger son, Ethan, was fighting for his life as he battled pressure in his brain, pneumonia and several other conditions that made him a medical mystery to lots of doctors. For two years, one of us lived in the hospital with Ethan and one of us was at home with our other two children. Fast-forward to our lives now: Ethan has chronic ongoing medical issues and will for the rest of his life, but he’s stable. On the other hand, Nick continues to fight for his life and what a fighter he is. Over the past few years, as Nick’s health has deteriorated, I have been his advocate every step of the way, the “step” as it refers to me, has gone by the wayside. I am Nick’s legal guardian and father, and he is not only my son but one of my best friends. I have him to thank for these hats I wear. It all started with Nick. Without him, I would not have met my beautiful wife, I would not have my other two wonderful and amazing children, I would not have my perfect, complete family. Nick may not be my biological son; he may not be mine by blood, but he is mine! And for this, I am eternally grateful.
Photo courtesy of Josh Schilling