One Quick Solution for Difficult and Picky Eaters : The Snack Bin

Action Jackson is a “difficult” eater. Trying to make someone who has no experience with such a beastie understand is a whole other lesson in patience; picky eater doesn’t cover it. I had no idea just how cray-cray it was until I had Dyl Pickle, who eats anything and everything you put in front of him as long as it’s the right texture.

Through the years I’ve tried an assortment of things to get AJ to eat and I’ll be sharing those ideas with you in future posts (Don’t worry. I’m not going to suggest overly complicated and professionally designed bento boxes. Ain’t nobody got time for that. Although they are cute as a button.), but one simple idea gets lots of praise and questions from friends and therapists alike — the snack bin.

Picky or Difficult Eaters Snack BinI assigned Action Jackson a drawer in the fridge and gave him a small plastic tote, both stocked with foods I knew he would eat, as well as foods that might challenge him. It seemed he was more willing to try different foods in his own time, in his own way.

He fixates, so many days we’d argue over him eating the same thing time and again. No, you can’t eat three bananas in one day. No, you can’t eat macaroni and cheese for every meal. He’d ask me for a granola bar, then dad, then if grandpa came over — tripping us up! Lol! This takes the guess work out of what snacks he’d consumed.

And a snacker he is. We all are, really, so that he comes by rightly, but I’d feel like I’d spent the day just preparing and fetching snacks. This cuts down on the kitchen time since I just spend a little time each evening setting everything up for the next day.

A friend made and used cards for the foods her son liked to eat, adjusting the cards each day depending on what she had available in the kitchen. He’d trade in the card for the food of his choice.

Another advantage to the snack bin is you’re all ready to travel! Just grab the (unrefrigerated) snack bin, stick it in the car and go.

I used a plastic bin from the dollar store and decorated it with happy food stickers. I also bought a bunch of small reuseable containers with easy-to-remove lids and reuseable, washable, zippered sandwich bags for dividing up snacks (because it’s a heck of a lot cheaper to buy big sizes and divide and you also may want to cut up fruit, cheese, etc.).

Make their day by slipping in a special note or surprise.

Bonus caregiver points if you make a second snack bin for YOU! Always on the go, I’m the world’s worst about skipping meals and snacks. A second bin set with snacks I like keeps me fueled, too.

photo credit: arbyreed via photopin cc

15+ Waiting Room Activities

The dreaded waiting game. The words alone make my eyes roll to the back of my head. On average, I figure I spend at least two hours a week or so just waiting (some weeks even more and some weeks ALOT more). We wait in the waiting room, we wait in the exam room, we wait for x-ray, we wait for labs. We wait, wait, wait and wait some freakin’ more. (Don’t even get me started on the amount of paperwork we have to fill out! That’s another post!)

I used to drive myself crazy while waiting — I’d pace, huff and puff. By the time we left I felt like I was escaping Alcatraz. Really, there’s only so long you can sit and stare at your phone, and while there are a host of games and so forth for the kiddos they’re not always interested in participating.

So what does the smart caregiver do? Pack a bag! 

Fifteen Plus Doctor or Hospital Waiting Room Activities

I have one special tote bag I keep in the car just for the waiting game, which includes activities/toys for old and young alike. I also keep a running list of waiting room ideas in my day planner (Yes, I have a “old fashioned” day planner that uses — EEK! — paper and pen.). The same ideas come in handy for hospital stays as well.

Pass the Time

  • Read : Pack book(s) for yourself and your charge.
  • Write : Journal, practice writing, make a list (to do, grocery, bucket), write a letter.
  • Go through mail.
  • Knit or crochet or other handwork.
  • Clean out your wallet or purse.
  • Clip coupons.
  • Meditate.
  • File your nails. (I never have time for this!)
  • Have a snack. (For the kiddos, I call this picnic time and often spread out a large cloth napkin and be completely ridiculous. It serves the practical purpose of keeping everyone more happy — hungry bellies are grumpy bellies.)
  • Play card games.
  • Play tic-tac-toe, hangman and other pen/paper games.
  • Handheld games (LeapPad, Nintendo DS, etc.), tablets and/or phone.
  • Draw and color.
  • Play games like Simon Says or I Spy which don’t require any equipment.
  • Put on a puppet show.

The Bag

  • Books(s) for yourself and your charge *
  • Notebook and/or blank book
  • Pens
  • Mail *
  • Handwork supplies *
  • Coupons *
  • Scissors
  • Nail file
  • Bottled water
  • Snack (Nuts, crackers, granola bars and other easily stored and transported food ESPECIALLY if you have allergies. Navigating a snack machine with allergies is like navigating a field of land mines.)
  • Playing cards
  • Handheld devices (LeapPad, Kindle, Nintendo, tablets, phones, etc.) *
  • Headphones (My eldest and I often each take an ear bud and listen to audio books and podcasts.)
  • Sketch book (You can also use the paper on the table in the exam room!)
  • Crayons, markers and/or colored pencils
  • Small toys (We don’t eat fast food, but I grab these by the bagful at tag sales and thrift stores.)
  • Finger puppets or (my personal favorite) Peepers

* The items with asteriks are the ones I grab on my way out the door. The rest live in my bag in the car. Great for when you’re stuck in traffic too!

My list is a bit on the practical side, so if you need a good laugh be sure to check out this list for how to kill time.

How do you play the waiting game? Add your ideas below!

FREE Printable Behavior Chart

FREE printable behavior chart from Special SpotBehavior and discipline. Those two words make me cringe, yet they seem to be a constant topic of conversation in my house especially where Action Jackson (almost-five-year-old boy with ASD and SPD) is concerned.

We’ve. Tried. EVERYTHING. Big rewards, small rewards. Positive consequences, negative consequences. Time outs in the living room, time outs in his bedroom and even time outs under a tree. We’ve read the Sears discipline bible, the how to talks and the what to dos. We’ve consulted the professionals, other parents and even kids themselves. We’ve all but had our own meltdowns trying to figure out the best way to deal with his.

In the end it was, of course, quite simple. Wanna know the big secret? It’s whatever works for you and your family. There is no “right” answer to your questions. The best solution was pretty much exactly what we did. We experimented until we found what worked. This is the part you really have to think about and experiment with. You want to go for the gold here — pick the things that are truly loved and cared about because those are things that WILL motivate.

We use two visual tools to help keep Action Jackson on track — a consequence chart and a reward calendar. I developed the idea after doing a bunch of Pinterest research. (Highly technical, just so you know.) The chart and calendar live on the refrigerator. At the beginning of each day, he starts at the top of the behavior chart on green.

The first infarction moves him down one spot to yellow — the verbal warning. The verbal warning is a stern reminder to be on his best behavior, as well as a reminder of what rewards/consequences are in place at the time (This changes. More in a moment!).

As the undesired behavior continues (whatever it may be), he moves down the chart one spot at a time, slowly losing priveleges — time out for four minutes in the kitchen chair, thirty minute time out in his room, no television, no “phones” (gaming devices like Kindle, LeapPad, etc.) and, finally, an early bedtime.

We start with time outs because we want to give him every opportunity to reset and turn things around. Thirty minutes may seem like a long time, but it’s the time we’ve found works best for him. Generally, it gives him ample time to calm down and refocus. Any less and he comes out still a mess.

From there, we took away the things he likes the most (Short of his cat, which, yes, meanest-mommy-in-the-whole-wide-world did consider for a moment.) We opted to not take away outside priveleges because when he’s a mess he really needs that outside time to decompress.

But all of this just addresses the bad (or undesireable) behavior. What about the good?

Action Jackson also has a calendar that hangs next to the behavior chart. At the end of the day, Dad and I decide if it’s been generally a “good” or “bad” day. A good day is rewarded with a sticker, while a bad day gets a sad face.

For the stickers themselves I try to choose things he loves (construction anything) or something “limited edition” for the month — pumpkins for Halloween, turkeys for Thanksgiving, flowers for spring. He likes the special stickers and enjoys putting them on the calendar himself.

For a while, ten stickers would earn him a special treat ranging from a trip to Monkey Joe’s to that Play-doh excavator he can’t live without. Then it seemed that wasn’t really working anymore, and he was earning his ten stickers so quickly the dough was adding up!

During a particularly rough time at school, we would show him a small trinket from the dollar bin each morning and encourage him to “work for” that item through out the day. He’s very visual, so it really seemed to help.

Lately, he’s been working for a small (!!!!!!) Lego set each week, but he totally blew this week so no new Legos this week. :(

This is just what we’ve found works for our family. A personalized system of rewards/consequences with meaning to your charge is what will deliver results. Good luck!

FREE Printable Behavior Chart from Special Spot

DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE PRINTABLE BEHAVIOR CHART HERE! I’ve left it blank so you can fill in what works for your family. If you need a calendar to print, I made you one of those too!

What’s for Dinner? 20 Variations of the One-Dish Chicken/Green Bean/Potato Bake

Food is fuel, and it’s a topic near and dear to my heart especially when you start talking health. Good health begins with what you use to fuel your body, so I look forward to sharing some of my family’s favorite recipes. I hope they empower you in the kitchen.

If you spend anytime on social media, you’ve likely seen this picture of the easy chicken casserole. The idea is simple take a casserole dish (9″x13″ seems to work well), line up your green beans, chicken breasts and red-skinned potatoes, pour a stick of melted butter over the top, sprinkle with a packet of Italian seasoning, cover with aluminum foil and bake at 350 degrees for one hour.

What's for Dinner? Variations of the One-Dish Chicken/Green Bean/Potato Bake

The recipe truly works like a charm, serving up a relatively quick, painless yet tasty dinner. The problem is, of course, it’s not an overly healthy recipe (unless you’re Paula Deen in which case one stick of butter is pretty dang healthy). A few minor tweaks such as a drizzle of olive oil or coconut oil instead, using whole, real herbs and spices (or a nice all-natural mix like Spike! seasoning) and perhaps switching out the potatoes for something more healthy like another vegetable(s). A few more tweaks and you can use this simple idea again and again.

  1. Salmon / cherry tomatoes / green beans
  2. Pork chops / Brussells sprouts / apples
  3. Chicken / asparagus / cherry tomatoes (top with some crispy bacon!)
  4. Beef (whatever you’ve got chopped into 1-2″ pieces) / broccoli / mushrooms / onions
  5. Pork tenderloin / sweet potatoes / black beans (canned) (top with a little sour cream)
  6. Chicken sausage / potatoes / mushrooms / onions / green, red and yellow bell peppers
  7. Chicken / broccoli / cauliflower / carrots / mushrooms (top with swiss cheese and plenty of pepper)
  8. Pork / cabbage / onions / carrots
  9. Beef or chicken or pork / onions / green, red and yellow bell peppers (roll it up in a tortilla with salsa, guacamole, sour cream and/or cheese)
  10. Lamb / potatoes / carrots / onions
  11. Italian sausage / zucchini / summer squash / cherry tomatoes / onions / garlic
  12. Turkey / sweet potatoes / green beans (sprinkle with dried cranberries)
  13. Chicken / asparagus / mushrooms / artichoke hearts
  14. Shrimp / corn on the cob / potatoes / smoked sausage
  15. Chicken sausage (Yes, I love chicken sausage.) / Brussels sprouts / fennel / potatoes
  16. Beef / mushrooms / onions / green bell pepper (Top with provolone for a gluten-free, deconstructed philly cheese steak or throw the cooked toppings onto a gluten-free pizza crust for pizza night!)
  17. Not a meat eater? Skip the meat! Try a substitute like tempeh or seitan or tofu.
  18. Want something heartier? Cook up a grain to serve on the side — brown or wirld rice, quinoa, pasta (gluten-free or try substituting spaghetti squash which can cook alongside your casserole in oven), polenta, etc.
  19. Looking for something saucy? Skip the oil and seasoning, and use a different “liquid” like pasta sauce (marina or alfredo), barbecue or teriyaki.
  20. Love dairy? During the last five to ten minutes of cooking, toss in a coordinating cheese — mozzarella for Italian, monterrey jack or sharp cheddar for Mexican flavors, bleu cheese complements beef well.

Because you’re adding liquid to the pan and keeping it tightly covered with foil, this is a very difficult recipe to screw up. Just make sure your meat has been cooked completely through to the appropriate temperature. Choose the types of meats, vegetables and flavors your family loves and enjoy!

ALLERGY GUIDE: This dish can easily be made nut free, dairy free, soy free, egg free, gluten free, vegetarian and vegan. Pick the options that work for you.

Magic Shoes : Adventures in AFOs and SMOs (Thankfully no UFOs)

AFOs and SMOs for People with Special NeedsI knew it was coming. Watching Dyl Pickle stand, I could clearly see his chubby ankles roll over on themselves. (The fancy term for this is pronation, and this is what it looks like.) As a mama, frankly, all I could think about was Forrest Gump and his “magic shoes.” And, of course, it’s a lot to take in when you don’t understand the ins and outs of the whole process, which is why I’m here.

“If God intended everybody to be the same, he’d have given us all braces on our legs.” ~ from Forrest Gump

If your charge needs supportive orthotics for walking, the first couple of abbreviations you’ll hear are likely AFO and/or SMO. (Need more help with abbreviations? Download my free guide!) AFO is a general type of term for Ankle and Foot Orthotics, and generally the type of brace you think of when you think of Forrest Gump (although the new models are WOW so much better designed). SMO (Supra-Malleolar Orthosis) is is a more specific term for an orthotic that ends just above the anklebones (the malleoli).

The reasons for needing braces is almost as varied as the types of braces offered. In our circles, we hear a lot about SMOs. My general impression is that they’re favored because they allow for more freedom of movement than a full AFO. However, as I’m not a medical professional I’m not getting into all of the reasons why or why not. I’m just here as a mom filling you in on what I know and what my questions were.

The popular name in SMOs is SureStep. (Full disclosure: as far as I know, SureStep has no idea who I am, and they certainly haven’t given me anything in the way of compensation.) They make a great, lightweight, plastic brace that fits well into a typical looking shoe.

To get ours, we had to have a prescription from the pediatrician (although they were recommended by our occupational therapist) and then visit an orthotist (fancy term for people who make braces) who made casts of both feet and ordered our SMOs. The casting was very quick and painless — both feet probably took less than 15 minutes.

You can choose the pattern for your plastic as well the strap color. Dyl Pickle’s first SMOs were camo with a black strap. We pick up his new ones on Friday, and they have bugs and red straps. Choices abound.

It’s very important to also wear good-fitting shoes with your braces, as shoes provide their own level of support. I decided to buy ours from the orthotist as they were able to fit them there (wide shoes go over braces easier) and add a longer velcro strap to help reach across the brace, but any type of shoe will do.

You should know that it may take a little time to get your custom braces back from the orthotist. Ours have taken about two weeks.

FYI: The picture above is of Dyl Pickle’s first SMOs, made when he was about fourteen months old and just beginning to stand. Why so early? We already knew there was a problem with his ankles, and wanted to be sure he learned how to properly stand from the very beginning because it’s easier to get it right to start with than to try to change the behavior later. We live in South Carolina, and it has been our experience Medicaid covers the cost of the braces (not the cost of the shoes).

Five Ways to Make a Sleep Study Bearable

Today is the day I should audition for the Walking Dead. I spent the night wide awake and motionless in a very noisy recliner while Dyl Pickle had his second sleep study completed. This was our family’s third — each at a different location, so we’re starting to get the hang of what to bring and how to best deal, but unfortunately I forgot something really important last night.

In general, I’ve found sleep studies are not overly positive experiences, hearing complaints from my bestie that her son’s was the worst night of her life to my almost sixty-year-old father who found the wires nearly unbearable. Ours haven’t been walks in the park either, but there are a few ways to make sleep studies (also known as polysomnographies and necessary evils) more bearable.

Some of you are already shaking your head. I get it. Truly. Really. Action Jackson had a sleep study at age two, and it was nightmarish. So nightmarish we recently decided to forgo a second sleep study for him, and simply have a scope done. For you guys, I can only offer my condolescences, and hope maybe you’ll receive some measure of peace from my list.

So you’re in a strange place, in a strange room, in a strange bed, and your loved one is hooked to a bazillion wires and miserable. How does anyone actually get any sleep for the sleep study?

Special Spot's Five Ways to Make a Sleep Study Bearable

Special Spot’s Five Ways to Make a Sleep Study Bearable

1 : Read the directions.

Yep. They’ll probably give you directions — a big fat packet of stuff you need to know about the sleep study. Guess what? You actually need to know it. Give it a read and you’ll learn more about what they will and will not allow. We’ve been three different places, each one with slightly different rules. Imagine taking your iPad thinking you’ll catch up on some reading only to find they don’t allow any electronics during the sleep study; you’ll be pretty miserable if you find yourself awake most of the night.

2 : Pack and pack some more.

When you’re trying to get someone (especially little ones) comfortable for sleep, you want everything to be as familiar as possible. I can’t stress this enough: BRING EVERYTHING. Bring the beloved pillow, favorite blanket, lovey, nightlight … anything and everything to replicate bedtime as much as possible.

You’ll look like a pack mule heading into the sleep center, but you’ll feel like a genius when you reveal the perfect item at the perfect time. Dyl Pickle was thrilled to have his favorite teething toy at bedtime last night; his eyes lit up the moment he saw it.

Don’t underestimate the little things either; I brought along a favorite essential oil from home for diffusing in the room which seemed to put us both at ease. Pack a light snack and favorite drink to help soothe in the middle of the night and/or make the car ride home a little more pleasant. Remember a change of clothes in case of accident, diapers, wipes, lotions, potions.

Depending on where your sleep study is being conducted, little conveniences may or may not be available. The hospital may be able to provide some items if needed, but a small independent office may not.

3 : Take care of yourself.

Oh, don’t roll your eyes at me. I know that look, but trust me on this one. Wear comfy clothes for sleeping, bring your favorite pillow you can’t sleep without, pack yourself a snack, bring some entertainment.

If you can, plan to have someone available to help out the morning after the sleep study. If it’s not possible, at least try to be kind to yourself and cut yourself a little slack.


And here’s the one I learned last night… Ladies, don’t forget your feminine products because they won’t necessarily have any on hand. (Although, bless their hearts, they have plenty of white linens, apparently.)

4 : Be nice to the sleep technician.

The sleep tech is the person who’s going to be watching you and your loved one sleep (or try to) for the next seven hours. They’re going to probably give you paperwork to fill out. They’ll hook up all the wires and equipment and will be in and out of the room throughout the night keeping everything connected and monitored.

And guess what? They’re also a person. A real person who lives on a opposite schedule than most of the rest of the world, who may or may not have a lot of friends to socialize with during the day, who is sitting awake and alone watching other people try to sleep. It’s gotta be weird. Put them at ease, and they’ll do the same for you and your charge. In fact, most will probably go above and beyond to make you comfortable if you do what you can to be pleasant and helpful.

5 : Go with the right mindset.

I’ve heard stories from sleep techs about parents who won’t stop talking on the phone, who can’t close their laptops long enough to console their child, who basically see the whole sleep study as a night off. If you’re going with this mindset (Why are you reading my blog?!), you’re wasting everyone’s time and money. The sleep study is about finding any problems with your charge, and your job is to be supportive. Ask your charge what you can do to help them be more comfortable. Ask the sleep tech how you can help keep everything connected and working smoothly. Know in the end you probably won’t get a lot of sleep, but with any luck (and a little prep) you’ll get what you need from the sleep study.

Have you or your loved one had a sleep study? What’s your advice?

For additional information on sleep studies, click here for information from the Mayo Clinic.

photo credit: morkrum via photopin cc

DIY Fine Motor Help for the Tablet

So the other day Dyl Pickle (My one-and-a-half-year-old son who has Down syndrome.) is sitting in therapy working on the iPad and the therapist notes how well he’s using his pointer. I let the therapist in on my secret … a baby sock.

DIY Fine Motor Help for the Tablet

I took one of Pickle’s socks, cut a little hole for his pointer finger and left the rest of the hand in the sock. He had to learn to use it. Isolating his index finger also helped, I think, with his pinscher grasp.

DIY Fine Motor Help for the Tablet with a Sock

The therapist thought I was a genius, although I’m sure I’ve read or seen it somewhere before. For someone older, you probably should use a larger sock. Easy peasy.

Free Download : Secret Decoder Ring (aka Special Needs Abbreviations List)

I love this scene in Good Morning Vietnam when Robin Williams’ character throws down an absurd list of acronyms. It’s not unlike my own conversations these days, which frequently involve discussions of EIs, OTs, PTs, SLPs, IFSPs, IEPs and even more BS.

Now, of course, it’s kind of old hat, but when we first started this “journey” (Why do we all call it a journey? How about something more pleasant like vacay from typicalitay?) I had no idea what any of these crazy acronyms and abbreviations meant. I’d sit through phone calls and meetings with my head cocked making mental notes to Google later. Now you don’t have to!

Free Printable Special Needs Acronym Abbreviation List

Okay, it’s not really a ring (Although that’d be awesome!), but a document you can print and add to your Caregivers Notebook (more on that soon) or hang in your living room (if it looks like mine).

photo credit: JD Hancock via photopin cc

Butter My Butt and Call Me a Biscuit! Look Who’s Here!

Welcome to The Special SpotWelcome to Special Spot. Several years in the making, this blog is truly a labor of love I’m thrilled to see make it’s way in the world. Even as I write, Action Jackson (my four-year-old with Autism) and I are battling because he wants to get up for the day (it’s four a.m.).

I have two children — both happen to have special needs — and I know from experience it can be overwhelming, scary and lonely, as well as fulfilling, fun and full of great people. And that’s just parenthood, never mind the special needs! While I’ve certainly enjoyed many Web sites I’ve found over the years which focus on special needs, few of them deliver the meaty goodness I crave.

Yep. I want it all. I want a site with product reviews and allergy free recipes and tips on how to deal with some of the wacky stuff we deal with. I want business listings and ways to find or make what I need. I want to know exactly how to best care and advocate for my kiddos. I want to pee alone. I haven’t found a site like that yet, so thought it was about time to make one.

Sit back, put your feet up and enjoy. Learn from my successes (and failures!) and get lots of interactive content by subscribing to the e-mail list or RSS feed, liking on Facebook and following on Pinterest