Kid’s Companion for Special Needs

Last updated on March 3rd, 2018 at 02:29 pm

A common thread for many mom entrepreneurs is the stories that have made our companies. This is mine. It’s the story of the HeartString Kid Companion. One little item that gives peace of mind to caregivers and a shot of confidence to special needs youth. Let me tell you how…

One day, with two growing children, I noticed that my daughter, with Tourette’s Syndrome and Kids Companionsensory issues, very much appreciated a clay heart pendant I had made for her teething sister. Maybe it should be noted that my university background is in health sciences, but I also am a jeweler (my creative side I guess). As I watched, it struck me that my 3 year old could chew and fidget discreetly while my nursing infant could tug and teeth to her hearts’ content. After a few comments from parents, phone calls to child healthcare professionals and fruitless product searches, I realized that other parents were looking for such accessories, especially for their special needs children.

This began our journey. It was 2006 and the road ahead would be long with many challenges we’d need to overcome. As a mother, I wanted to see my children happy. Part of having a happy special needs youth is having one that functions well at school, at play and especially, as best she can with her peers. With time, needing to belong to her peer group would become more and more important. That meant creating something that was chewable and tuggable while still being “cool” enough to blend in. Finally, we had a solution….a durable, colorful, non-toxic pendant that was safe to chew on…something that could help any child be him/herself, anytime, anywhere. We called it the HeartString Kid Companion.

Years of research and development went into making this a product we could truly be proud of, from finding materials for the design idea to testing prototypes and final parts. Since our products are developed for infant use, we wanted FDA approved, North American sourced/made and socially responsible materials. THAT was a tall order, but we did it! We have followed ASTM standards and have passed the new (and future) CPSIA 3rd party testing. We have our 3rd Party Certificate documenting the safety standards met. We even keep a record of all MSDS certificates from our suppliers.

In the end, we learned a lot. From injection molding, to lab testing, to exporting and distribution channels… logistics, FDA and marketing. Our business skills are becoming honed and our knowledge of the maternity/paternity and infant market is increasing daily. With the many legal and marketing loopholes we encounter, we see how important it is, that companies like ours press on with their values. (…that is a whole other story…)

Ultimately we had one goal in mind for the time-strapped parent: In a world of increasing uncertainty about children product safety, The Kid’s Companion would give parents peace of mind.

  • A custom breakaway clasp will release and can be re-attached with ease – a feature that guards against strangulation, even at play.
  • 18” or 20″ necklaces (lanyards) are made with durable and washable rayon/cotton that is dyed with safe non-toxic dyes.
  • Pendants all pass small parts test and are actually around 2” to eliminate any possibility of choking
  • Pendant and clasp materials are medical grade, BPA/phthalates free, Lead free, Latex free and Cadmium free.
  • Everything can be washed!! (Pendants are even dishwasher safe).

Even more important…we discovered a way to help a child whose special needs might easily set them apart… find a way to fit in. For my daughter…for other children…we are making a difference…

Healthful Hints

There are a number of different types of products to help your child overcome sensory issues. Often recommended by both parents and occupational therapists are the following:

Many children with sensory issues like to put things in their mouth. To keep them safe:

  • Check if the product complies with safety regulations for child care articles!
  • Avoid PVC and plastic items with enamel or paint. Especially those at economy stores.
  • Do not rely on retailers or manufacturers to meet voluntary standards, or even to comply with mandatory standards. Request Proof. Get informed. Supply chains notoriously have holes
  • As with the Kid’s Companion, make sure the items are too large to be swallowed and can easily be sanitized (i.e. dishwasher safe or machine-washable)
  • Replace any damaged products before they break, tear or can become small parts.

As always, if you’re introducing something new to your child’s routine, check with your child’s pediatrician, therapist or teacher first.

Schoolbus Safety

Last updated on March 3rd, 2018 at 02:30 pm

Schoolbus safetyA couple of weeks ago a 16 year old student was killed when the schoolbus in which he was riding went off the road. His bus was not equipped with any kind of seat belts. This happened in Connecticut. Before you condemn CT for being behind the times consider the following:

Of all 50 states only California requires both lap and shoulder belts on all schoolbuses. New York, New Jersey and Florida require lap belts and beginning this year Texas is requiring lap belts on new buses. According to most activities to improve schoolbus regulations begin with grassroots movements.

Considering schoolbus safety there are two choices- do nothing and wait for the next tragedy to occur or drive the grassroots movement in your area- help people to understand the risk and the need. Contact local legislatures to author and sponsor a bill. You may also contact your federal representatives and tell them you support changes to the Federal Motor Vehicle safety Standards to include seatbelts on schoolbuses.

You can make a difference.

Tips on How to Get a Baby to Sleep through the Night

Last updated on March 3rd, 2018 at 02:31 pm

I want to start off by saying all babies are different so my suggestions may not work as easily for your baby than another baby. My baby is now 1 month old and he is not sleeping more than 2 hours at a time at night. In the beginning I was blaming it on the fact that he just had his nights and days mixed up, but now I am beginning to wonder. He is quite collicky and doing a lot of spitting up. My first child had acid reflux as a baby (it was horrible) and I am praying that this is not the case now.Newborn Baby

But as your baby gets older and they get on a better sleeping and eating schedule, there are some things might help them become better sleepers. With my first 2, they were sleeping through the night by 5 months old. All of my friends were amazed because they had little ones still getting up at night at 2 years old. I have to say that a baby should most definitely be sleeping through the night by 9 months to a year old. And if they aren’t then you might just be giving in to them too easily.

Well, let me go into my list of things you can do to get your baby to sleep through the night and I will go into more detail about everything.

  • Be Consistent – It is very important to introduce consistency early on. Getting baby on a schedule is great. You can even do this when you baby is a newborn. One thing that I try to do is go to bed at the same time every night. I try to keep track of the feeding times. You will see that they will wind up getting up at the same time each night to be fed. Both babies and children need consistency in their lives. They will be much more well rounded as they grow up. I have always had my children on a schedule and now with my 2 older ones (4 & 5 yrs old) they know what to do no matter what time of day. In the morning, they know that they eat breakfast at 7:30am after I have fed the baby. They know that after breakfast they have to wash their hands, get dressed, and brush their teeth. I make sure we do the same thing in the same order because then they pick it up much easier. Even my 1 yr old knows his naptime and right when he wakes up from his nap, he runs to the kitchen because he knows that it is then lunch time.

A few things that you can do to create a night time routine of consistency is:

  • Keep Bedroom Dark – This is a great tip if your baby is having a hard time getting adjusted to night and day. Even if they are in the bedroom with you, you can still create an atmosphere of calm. And when you get up for all those late night feedings, don’t turn the TV on.
  • Bedtime Bath – Giving your baby a bath right before bed is a great way to calm them as well as get their energy out. You will see that they actually sleep longer once you put them to bed after a bath.
  • Add Cereal to Nightime Bottle – You can do this once your baby hits the 3 month mark. The cereal helps their belly to be full for longer so they sleep longer.
  • White Noise – I have a Sleepmate in our bedroom running at night. It is a small machine that creates white noise (a fan type sound). I turn it on right before bed. They say that this can help your baby sleep better.white noise for babies
  • Keep Bedroom Cool – When a room is hot, it is much harder for a baby to be comfortable. When it is cool they can get warm & comfy being swaddled or under their blanket.
  • Use a Humidifier – This is especially important during the cold months when you use the heat. Dry air is not good for a baby to breath while they are sleeping. They need moisture and a humidifer helps to put the moisture back in the air that the heat takes out.

So, that is the first step, getting on a schedule and being consistent. The next step is:

  • Put Your Foot Down – A lot of new moms have a hard time not giving in to their baby, especially when they cry. Once you know that your baby has been fed enough and they are still getting up to be fed, you really have to work at breaking their habit. Getting up at night to eat becomes a habit because they are doing it for so long. Once they pass 6 months and are eating solid foods, then you know that they can probably survive without eating every few hours like they did when they were small babies. But, be warned, they will cry and if they are older, they will throw a tantrum. It can be heart wrenching to listen to them cry that first night that you deny them their feeding. It usually take about a week and they will finally be broken of that habit.

    Many moms don’t follow through and then they complain that their baby doesn’t sleep well at 1 or 2 years old. But it is their own fault for giving in and not breaking the habit.

    You can start the process by giving them water at one of the feedings instead of their milk. That was something I did as well.

  • Get the Baby out of Your Bed – I have to be honest with you, I was always against keeping a baby in your bed especially if you share it with a spouse. I never had my first 2 in my bed, but once baby #3 came along, I wound up kicking my husband out and keeping the baby with me in bed. It was just so much easier for me to feed the baby and do what I needed to do. I was plain exhausted, so I did what worked for me at the time. And even now with baby #4, he is also in bed with me and my husband has been sleeping in another room. So, I am all for making things as easy as possible so that you get more sleep in the long run.

    But long term, having a baby in your bed can actually cause them to get up more and breaking that habit will be harder as they get older. Even having the baby in a bassinet will be better because they will sleep more soundly.

These are just a few things that I have done as a mom that have helped my children become great sleepers as early as 5 months old. Again, every baby is different. You will have to do what is best for you and your baby, but just know that you do have the power to help them break the habit of getting up at night.

And if you are like me, and have a newborn baby – then we are in it for the long haul.   🙂   You cannot NOT feed a small baby, especially if they are eating only milk.

I hope these tips have helped you. Do any of you moms have any tips to share on how to get a baby to sleep through the night? Be sure to leave your comment below.

Cleaning Your Kids Ears: Are Q-Tips Safe?

Last updated on March 3rd, 2018 at 02:32 pm

A friend once told me with great disdain, while watching me wiggle a cotton swab deep in my ear canal with great satisfaction, “I never use Q-tips to clean out my ears.” Apparently a little girl with Q-tipdoctor once told him never to put anything smaller than his elbow into his ear, and he took these words as gospel.

Do you ever have the feeling when someone tells you some great truth, a law of the universe that you’ve been breaking for years in ignorance, that it’s remarkable that you have survived this long, having missed out on some basic manual on life along the way? I often wonder if the parents in my practice feel this way as I spout my wisdom on general health issues, and they look chagrined at having broken the rules with their child. The good news is, it’s hard to break your child. ..especially with things like the management of ear wax.

So what are the rules of proper ear hygiene? Though I think that my friend’s doctor was a bit dramatic, I do agree that for the most part, cotton swabs do more harm than good for children’s ears.

Here’s the lowdown.

Ear wax (otherwise known as cerumen) is icky, and sometimes smells quite foul, but it actually serves several important functions. It is created in the outer half of the ear canal, where it serves to lubricate the skin of the ear canal, and prevents flaking and itching. It also has antibacterial properties and protects the skin of the ear from infections like otitis externa, commonly known as swimmer’s ear.

Ear wax almost always comes out of the ear on its own accord. There are small hairs, called cilia, lining the outer half of the ear canal which act as a conveyor belt, pushing the old wax out as the new wax is formed. And so under most circumstances, ears clean themselves.

What is the harm of a little friendly assistance? There are several potential problems caused by good intentions. Often, especially in children’s small ear canals, using a cotton swab actually pushes the wax deeper into the canal, to the far recesses where there are no hairs to help remove it. In children who make a thick, moist wax, their ears often become so clogged with wax that their hearing becomes dulled, which can impact speech development in younger kids and learning and behavior in older kids.

And then there are those over-eager toddlers who wiggle a little too hard and deep and puncture their eardrum. This common injury usually heals very well, but sometimes the tiny bones that are essential for proper hearing are damaged or the membrane fails to heal and an innocent cleaning exercise can have profound impact on the life of a child.

In the end, though I was chagrined myself when I first heard this advice, I too now recommend avoiding q-tips or cotton-tipped swabs for ear hygiene.

Tips for Parents:

  • The secret to clean ears is to use a wash cloth only on the outer, visible part of the ear to clean the wax as it naturally comes out. Internal cleaning is not necessary, and may be harmful.
  • If you are concerned about your child’s hearing, visit your doctor to see if they have ears plugged with wax.
  • Never allow your children to play with cotton swabs or place anything else (carrots included) in their ears.
  • Itchy ears are often caused by over-zealous cleaning habits. A few drops of mineral oil can help soothe them while you wait for the ear’s natural lubricant to return.

Sensory Friendly Movie Screenings Nationwide Each Month!

Last updated on January 24th, 2010 at 07:29 pm

Sensory Friendly Films logoIt can be challenging enough to bring a child to a movie theater – they are dark, the sound is very loud, there are tempting stairs and rails and they are expected to sit still and stay quiet. When a child has special needs all these elements and many others can prove too daunting to even attempt such an outing. And yet getting out, being with the community and sharing in an experience with an audience can be invaluable for just such children – and their caregivers, too.

Now the Autism Society has teamed up with AMC for Sensory Friendly Screenings , showing family -friendly films at reduced admission prices without any commercials or coming attractions. The lights are up, the sound is down, you are free to bring snacks that suit special dietary needs and it’s totally acceptable to wanderSensory Friendly Films2 around, talk and even sing during the movie. Sensory Friendly screenings is a nationwide program, and in many locations the AMC theatres host a new Sensory Friendly film each month.

The next film being screened is The Tooth Fairy, coming up on February 6th at 10am. To find a theatre near you, here is a list of AMC theatres nationwide participating in this program.

Toys For Children With Special Needs

Last updated on March 3rd, 2018 at 02:34 pm

Toys are learning tools for children. Children use these tools to express themselves, to learn, to explore, to dream. Give the wrong toy to a child and they will express frustration. But give them the Toys for Special Needsright toy and they will have a very productive and enjoyable time. A toy that is properly chosen can aid a child in addressing his or her difficulties. At the same time, choosing a toy without consideration of a child’s special needs will only lead to aggravation for them and disappointment for both of you.

There are toy categories that are well suited for children with special needs. They are often used by therapists and teachers to help children build social and gross motor skills.  Here are some of them:

Board Games: These toys are excellent for children with difficulty mastering social or communication skills. These are perfect toys to teach them about rules, turn taking and social interaction with other kids.

Electronic Games: Although, you might be opposed to video games, there are video games that can be beneficial in building attention skills. Some computer games reward attention by adding difficulty as the child progresses through the game.

Sports Toys: Do not do a disservice to an uncoordinated child by declining to buy them a sports toy. A sports toy can actually help a child with limited gross motor skills. For example, a softer foam ball can give a child a chance to practice the art of throwing and catching without getting hurt. Well-chosen sports toys, designed to help build skills rather than to highlight weaknesses, can help.

Fantasy Toys: There is no better way to help a child with special needs than by engaging his or her imagination through play. Fantasy toys, from dolls to puppets, provide avenues for communication and a window of insight for a parent who might want to know better what a child is thinking or feeling.

Be prepared to adapt these toys to the needs of the child. Just because everyone else is playing with the toy in a certain way, it does not mean that they have to. Consider the setting. Where they play can have a direct impact on the child’s ability to enjoy the toy and the playtime. Be creative in your setup as well. You know your child more than anyone, so if your child has problems with attention he may have better concentration sitting in a chair at a table rather than on the floor of the living room. A child with low vision will need more lighting. A child with hearing difficulties may do better in a quiet room. Scan your play area with the child’s special need in mind before sitting down to play.

In the end, taking the time to match both the toy and the environment to your child’s special needs will make a world of difference in the enjoyment their new toy brings.


Reference:  Marianne Szymaski, “Toy Tips”, Jossey-Bass, 2004, p. 74-78