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This time of year can certainly be so much fun, right? Holidays! Movies! Music! Treats! But the Holidays can sometimes be stressful with changing routines, family dynamics, big emotions, and lately, the continued impacts of COVID-19.
To try to help everyone have the happiest holidays possible, here are three socialization tips tailored to help young adults with I/DD and their parents.
Pick Your Battles.
A common issue between parents and young adults is that the young adults may naturally start wanting to do things their way (e.g. choose to stay home from something. Wear a particular outfit. Request to socialize more with their peers than family). This can create a lot of distress for both parents and young adults if something comes up that everyone doesn’t easily agree on.
Or, perhaps the opposite: some folks find change very challenging, and when issues like COVID-19 adaptation, or scheduling, or routine disruption suddenly come up, distress can happen. I gently suggest both parents and young adults “pick your battles.” Ask yourself: why DO I celebrate at this time of year? What’s really important to me? Am I leaving my young adult room to become a grown up, developing their own holiday customs? Am I being fair to my parents, who are trying hard to balance a lot of things?
I argue, ultimately, this time of year is about coming together in kindness, love and support. Can we all talk together about mutually respectful ways to create our plans?
Be in touch with your feelings, and make room for them
It is absolutely normal for lots of different emotions to come up this time of year, especially considering the last year or two we’ve all had. It can bring up happiness and excitement, but grief is also a common feeling. It can come up related to love ones who’ve passed away, or missing the way things used to be pre-pandemic. It can also come up for parents and young adults, feeling a kind of bitter-sweetness about things being different at the holidays now that kids have grown up.
Grief can be expressed differently in everyone: sadness, tears, anger, aggression, shouting, or clinging even harder to physical routines. Besides grief, we might also feel tired, frustrated, and worried. Don’t be tempted to just “put on a happy face” during all your celebrating by pushing away emotions. That usually just makes them come out another way, like being grumpy or mean to others.
Whatever you are feeling this year, get in touch with it. Perhaps talk about feelings with family. Find ways to include what we’re feeling in healthy ways in holiday activities. Consider activities like looking at old photos and talking about feelings. Write a special holiday feelings journal entry. Find ways to welcome and affirm your feelings, as processing them may help you have more contentment and connection with others.
Take Breaks and honor others if they say they need breaks
This can be such a busy time of year. There is the stimulation of all the decorations, music, and energy of others. Plus the common routine disruption to add parties, and take program breaks. This can put a lot of stress on folks with I/DD, and their parents. Again, know this is normal. Even if Aunt Gertrude is saying you simply must come to her annual party you all never miss, tell Aunt Gertrude she might want to learn what demands like this can do for someone with sensory sensitivities, or social anxiety.
Remember to nourish yourself. There will be more sweets around than usual. Hydrate with water and get in those veggies and proteins. Rest, take breaks, and do what makes these days meaningful in your heart. Aunt Gertrude loves you anyway, I promise. If you need to stay home, tell her, and tell her why. And if she’s a total grump – why do we even worry what she thinks anyway? Stop being a grump, Gertrude! We’re all in this together. I suggest we put the focus on care & love, and show each other the real & beautiful reasons we gather this time of year.
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Anyone who works in a school, or with children in general, could tell you that kids have a seemingly limitless amount of energy. They are always ready to run around, go from one task to another, and then run around some more. While it’s great that they are so energetic, it can make it difficult to sit and focus in school. School days can feel long for students, especially when they are fighting the urge to move their bodies because they’re supposed to be sitting at their desks doing work.
There is no getting around having to sit and get work done in school, but classroom teams do work hard on being able to provide movement breaks for their students to make the day move along smoothly while also giving kids a good outlet for their energy. Part of our role is to help students balance getting their work done, getting the energy release they need, and making sure their sensory needs are met. One of the many benefits of working as classroom teams is that we have a lot of options at our disposal to make sure our students get what they need.
Physical Education classes throughout the week are a huge help and a great outlet for their pent-up energy, as well as outdoor recess and time for walking the track when the weather permits it. Outside of those designated scheduled activities, however, staff offer their students a variety of other options when they start getting jittery in their seats.
A popular option is a “Shake Break”, which usually takes place at the end of one activity before starting the next one. This kind of movement break is usually accompanied by music or videos from either YouTube or GoNoodle, and the videos are created specifically with movement breaks in mind--they include dance videos, and even short guided exercise videos. There is a large selection, and if you were to ask each classroom, they would be able to tell you which videos are their students’ favorites, as the kids probably have all of the words and dance moves memorized. It’s a fun break that gives students a few minutes to get up and dance it out before transitioning into another work activity.
Something else that is offered to our students is the chance to walk laps in the hallway. Some students walk their laps independently, and others walk with one of their classroom staff. Walking laps is a good option for students not only to be able to get up and move around, but if they’re feeling overwhelmed in the classroom, or just need a break from their current task, they can ask a teacher to go with them for a walk to help reset themselves and get ready to finish their work. If they’re upset about something, it gives the student a chance to talk with their staff about what is bothering them, as well as giving them a little break from the situation. Walks in the hall also give students a chance to socialize with others who aren’t in their classroom, this includes both staff and other students, so it’s beneficial on multiple fronts.
Teachers and teaching assistants work in conjunction with a team of physical and occupational therapists, as well as behavior specialists and the PE department to brainstorm ideas when students have specific movement and sensory needs. Some students have extra movement times built into their schedule, times when they can go and use the school’s fitness room to run on the treadmill or use the stationary bikes. Other students may use a yoga/exercise ball instead of a chair because it allows them to have more movement, and some rooms also have rocking chairs that students can use to help regulate their sensory needs. We also have students who enjoy using exercise trampolines for their movement breaks, so after completing a work activity they bounce on the trampoline for a couple of minutes to move around and then they’re able to sit and focus on their next task.
A large part of the school day is about academics, reaching goals, and learning new skills. However, making sure that a student’s physical and emotional needs are met is just as important as any math or literacy lesson. Our staff works together to make sure that students have as many energy outlets, and as many ways to meet their sensory needs as possible. Finding positive ways for students to let their energy out is not only good for their physical and mental well-being, but it sets them up to be able to focus better on their schoolwork. Giving students options, rather than just trying to make them sit in their seats for the entire school day, works out better for everyone.
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Imagine for a moment that you couldn’t speak for the rest of the day. How would you get your wants and needs met? How would you tell others how you’re feeling? How would you share your individuality with the world? Now imagine that you can’t use words to communicate for the rest of your life. Or, imagine that you can speak but nobody understands your language. This is the reality for many people that we support here at Wildwood Programs. Without a way to effectively communicate, our little wants and needs get lost as well as our big advocacy efforts. These are the reasons that Wildwood has created a multidisciplinary team known as our Communication Task Force.
The group was born from the recognition of how many barriers people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are up against every day. Traditionally, people with communication needs receive tremendous amounts of support during their school years from speech and language teams, such as the incredibly talented and dedicated speech department that we have at our school. However, as students transition to adult services, there tends to be fewer of these supports. Our Direct Support Professionals are highly skilled at communicating with the people that they support, but there's always room for growth. The Communication Task Force seeks to empower our agency to recognize more forms of communication and put into practice effective and evidence based strategies to improve the communication skills of those that they support.
Our first stop? We have created a training program called Breaking Down Communication Barriers. This training will be part of the DSP Bootcamp that is going live in January. This will be the first step at providing knowledge and practical skills to enhance the lives of the people we support here at Wildwood.
The Communication Task Force wants to be an integrated part of the life of all those who work at, and receive supports from, Wildwood Programs. We will continue to assess what needs the agency has, as well as where strengths lie. We want to tap into the knowledge base we already have as an agency and then push ourselves to learn more, think more, and do more. When we enhance communication, we enhance advocacy and we enhance quality of life. We reduce frustration and challenging behaviors. We learn more about each other. We celebrate what makes each of us unique.
We can strive towards those goals together, but we need your support. We need your feedback, your thoughts, and your expertise. Please reach out to our committee at any time with questions, ideas, and feedback. We can’t wait to hear from you and learn with you!
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