Video Games and Kids with Special Needs

Kids and video gamesMy kids are obsessed with video games. When they aren’t begging to play them, they sit and watch videos of other people playing them, or they are talking to their friends about them. A while ago I wrote an article on the benefits of Wii for kids with special needs, including using it for therapy and exercise. Virtual settings also allow kids with physical challenges to do things on screen that their bodies make impossible in the real world. But the challenges some kids face may prevent them from participating in gaming, leaving them left out of yet another popular activity and distancing them from their peers.

Since there are so many variations of special needs there is no one size fits all solution. Challenges with gross motor skills, fine motor skills or visual processing all require different accommodations. But awareness of the challenges is growing and more and more adaptations are becoming available to the gamer with special needs.

AbleGamers.com posts game reviews in terms of the accessibility of the game, as well as information on assistive technology. The AbleGamers Foundation is leading the “includification” movement, working with game developers to allow games to be enjoyed by as many players as possible. They also provide grants to gamers who are in need of assistive technology.

AutCraft.com was started by a man with autism who has a son with autism. It is a safe environment where bullying is not tolerated. It can be a great way for kids with autism to develop social connections without having to try to interpret facial expressions or body language cues. It also offers a place where the very skills that set them apart from the general population will be valued.

A DIY option is the Makey Makey kit. If your child has fine motor issues this kit allows you to turn larger items into gaming controls, making it easier to play without fussing with those tiny buttons.

Although screen time needs to be limited and monitored, with these accommodations video games can bring benefits to kids with special needs in both the virtual and real world.

 Photo credit: sean dreilingerCC license

April’s Sensory Friendly Movie Screening is Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2

Editor’s Note: The movie and date of April’s Sensory Friendly screening has changed from that previously reported. Please note the new date (April 25th) and movie in the post below.

Sensory-Friendly-Films-logoOnce a month, AMC Entertainment (AMC) and the Autism Society have teamed up to bring families affected by autism and with other special needs “Sensory Friendly Movie Screenings” – a wonderful opportunity to enjoy their favorite “family-friendly” films in a safe and accepting environment.

The movie auditoriums will have their lights turned up and the sound turned down. Families will be able to bring in snacks to match their child’s dietary needs (i.e. gluten-free, casein-free, etc.), there are no advertisements or previews before the movie and it’s totally acceptable to get up and dance, walk, shout, talk to each other…and even sing – in other words, AMC’s “Silence is Golden®” policy will not be enforced during movie screenings unless the safety of the audience is questioned.

PaulBlart-posterDoes it make a difference? Absolutely! Imagine …no need to shhhhh your child. No angry stares from other movie goers. Many parents think twice before bringing a child to a movie theater. Add to that your child’s special needs and it can easily become cause for parental panic. But on this one day a month, for this one screening, everyone is there to relax and have a good time, everyone expects to be surrounded by kids – with and without special needs – and the movie theater policy becomes “Tolerance is Golden“.

Next week on Saturday, April 25th – at 10am local time – the Autism Society’s “Sensory Friendly Movie Screenings” program will be showing Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2. Tickets are $4 to $6 depending on the location. To find a theatre near you, here is a list of AMC theatres nationwide participating in this fabulous program (note: to access full list, please scroll to the bottom of the page).

Coming May 30thTomorrowland

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Editor’s note: Although Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2  has been chosen by the Autism Society as this month’s Sensory Friendly screening, we do want parents to know that it is rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America for some violence. As always, please check the IMDB Parents Guide for a more detailed description of this film to determine if it is right for you and your child.

Sleep and Other Tips to Help Your Child Beat Exam Stress

Tests and exams, including GCSEs (standardized tests*), can be a challenging part of school life for both children and parents. But there are ways to ease the stress.

1. Watch Out for Stress

Confused schoolboyLook out for signs of exam stress. Children who experience stress may be irritable, not sleep well, lose interest in food, worry a lot and appear depressed or negative. Headaches and stomach pains can also be stress-related.

Having someone to talk to about their work can help. Support from a parent, tutor or study buddy can help children air their worries and keep things in perspective.

If you feel your child isn’t coping, talk to teachers at your child’s school.

Find out more about stress and how to spot it.

2. Ensure Your Child Eats Well

A balanced diet is vital for your child’s health, and can help them to feel well during exam periods.

Some parents find that too many high-fat, high-sugar and high-caffeine foods and drinks (such as cola, sweets, chocolate, burgers and chips) make their children hyperactive, irritable and moody.

Try out these healthy recipes at home.

3. Sleep Helps Exam Performance

Good sleep will improve thinking and concentration. Most teenagers need between eight and ten hours’ sleep a night. Learn more in How much sleep do children need?

Allow half an hour or so for kids to wind down between studying, watching TV or using a computer and going to bed to help them get a good night’s sleep.

Cramming all night before an exam is usually a bad idea. Sleep will benefit your child far more than hours of panicky last-minute study.

Here are some sleep tips for teenagers.

4. Be Flexible at Exam Time

Family Lives advises parents to be flexible around exam time. When your child is revising (studying*) all day, don’t worry about household jobs that are left undone or untidy bedrooms.

Staying calm yourself can help. Remember, exams don’t last forever.

5. Help Them to Study

Help your child to revise (study*) by making sure they have somewhere comfortable to study. Help them draw up a revision schedule or ask the school for one.

6. Discuss Their Nerves

Remind your child that feeling nervous is normal. Nervousness is a natural reaction to exams.

The key is to put these nerves to positive use. Being reminded of what they do know and the time they have put into study can help them feel confident.

7. Encourage Exercise

Make sure your kids are active. Exercise can help boost energy levels, clear the mind and relieve stress. Walking, cycling, swimming, football and dancing are all effective.

Read 10 fun ways for teen boys to get fit.

Get advice on how girls can get started with dance for fitness.

8. Don’t Add to the Pressure

Support group ChildLine says that many of the children who contact them feel that the greatest pressure at exam time comes from their family.

“Keep things in perspective,” says Rosanne Pearce, a senior supervisor. “Listen to them, give support and avoid criticism.”

Before they go in for a test or exam, be reassuring and positive. Make sure they know that failing isn’t the end of the world, and that if things don’t go well they may be able to take the exam again.

After each exam, encourage your child to talk it through with you. Then move on and focus on the next test, rather than dwelling on things that can’t be changed.

9. Make Time for Treats

When the exams are over, help celebrate with a treat. These can be a real encouragement for the next time they have a test.

Don’t use rewards as bribes. Instead, encourage them to work for their own satisfaction, offering small, frequent treats.

More Information

For more information, read the MIND website page on exam stress.

Editor’s Note: *clarification provided for our US audience.

Child Health & Safety News Roundup: 04-06-2015 to 04-12-2015

twitter thumbWelcome to Pediatric Safety’s weekly “Child Health & Safety News Roundup”- a recap of the past week’s child health and safety news headlines from around the world. Each day we use Twitter and Facebook to communicate relevant and timely health and safety information to the parents, medical professionals and other caregivers who follow us. Occasionally we may miss something, but we think overall we’re doing a pretty good job of keeping you informed. But for our friends and colleagues not on Twitter or FB (or who are but may have missed something), we offer you a recap of the past week’s top 15 events & stories.

PedSafe Child Health & Safety Headline of the Week:
Why the New Flinch App is Far From Family Friendly http://t.co/ZFhnMa4jkc

Helping Your Child Overcome Their Fear of the Dentist

child-afraid-of-dentistLet’s face it: going to the dentist is not everyone’s favorite thing to do. Children especially tend to get extremely anxious when it comes to dental appointments. A big chair, a bright light, and someone with a mask poking around in their mouth with metal instruments is enough to make any child fearful and uncooperative during a routine check-up. It also makes for a pretty tough visit for the parent, the child and the dentist alike.

A dental visit doesn’t have to be an overwhelmingly frightening event though. There are many things that can be done to help calm your child’s nerves. A great way to help your child be brave when going to the dentist is by starting their visits at a young age. The younger they are, the more comfortable they will become with the routine of visiting the dentist twice a year. You can take your child to the dentist as early as their first tooth appears.

One of the best places to start preparing your child for the dentist is at home. Consider having a “practice” dental check-up by pretending to be the dentist and examining their teeth. This way, they have a better idea of what to expect. Another recommendation is to check out children’s books about the dentist at the library. Read to your child about the dentist within the weeks before their first appointment so that they have even more familiarity with the dentist office.

Parents who have a fear of the dentist themselves can often influence how their child feels about the dentist. Avoid using words that might frighten them even more, like “hurt,” “scrape,” or “poke.” Instead, use positive words and phrases like “strong teeth” or “healthy smile” when talking about going to the dentist. Tell them that the dentist is going to “look at their teeth and make sure they are healthy and clean.” Let your child form their own opinion about the dentist, but help reinforce why it’s good and important for them to go.

No matter how much you try to prepare your child, you should always be ready for a little bit of fuss. The dental team is likely very familiar with temper tantrums during a child’s appointment, so they may have some good ideas on how to help calm their nerves. Be patient with your child during the first few appointments, and continue to take them every 6 months. The more often they go, the more likely they are to be comfortable with the appointment. Besides, a healthy smile calls for routine visits to the dentist twice a year anyway!

New Study Adds Long-term IQ to Benefits of Breastfeeding

BreastfeedingThe benefits of breastfeeding are many and varied, but research has mostly focused on the short-term benefits, such as for a baby’s immunity.  However, an interesting new study, conducted in Brazil, has added long-term improvements in a child’s IQ, length of schooling and income (at age 30) to the argument in favor of breastfeeding.

The value of this study comes from its size and the fact that it studied newborns over time.  Data was collected on breastfeeding habits of over five thousand babies born in the 1980s who were then followed until they were 30 years old – when the participants (more than three thousand completed the study) were tested for IQ, and information on years of schooling and income was collected.

Researchers found that babies who were breastfed for 12 or more months had an IQ at age 30 nearly 4 points higher, and also achieved nearly a year’s more schooling and significantly higher income than those breastfed less than one month.  Importantly they also found a dose response for IQ and educational attainment, meaning that as the duration of breastfeeding increased so did IQ levels and length of education.  Furthermore, a strength of the study was that breastfeeding was fairly evenly distributed across income groups in this region of Brazil, which helps separate out the effects on IQ of nursing from higher income level.  Plus the authors controlled for 10 possible confounding factors, such as parental education, maternal smoking, birth weight and type of delivery.

Implications of This Study

While more research needs to be done to add weight to the growing body of evidence concerning long-term benefits of breastfeeding, a few implications can be drawn from this and other research findings:

  • Try to breastfeed for the recommended first year if at all possible
    • Speaking from experience, breastfeeding can be surprisingly difficult – so if you’re having trouble, seek out a lactation consultant or breast feeding support groups via your pre-natal classes or hospital (this worked wonders for me!)
  • Support other women considering breast feeding – some cultures embrace breast feeding more than others, but a little support can go a long way
  • Donate breast milk if you can – not everyone can breastfeed (my mother couldn’t)
    • Note that most donated milk goes to babies in a NICU
  • If you chose not to breast feed or didn’t manage it very long – don’t panic – there are a lot of other factors that support a child’s IQ and development (like extensive reading and talking to baby, nutrition, exposure to many sensory experiences)