We know that each child is unique, therefore autism and autism spectrum disorder can manifest in many ways. One of the hallmarks that kids with autism typically share is a difference in the way that they process sensory information. 

For children with hypersensitivity, neurodivergence comes with a tendency to be easily overstimulated by the world around them. For others, hyposensitivity may drive them to seek stimulation from their environment by making loud noises or engaging in repetitive movements. Many children regularly experience both states. 

Navigating sensory differences is one of the biggest challenges for caregivers of children with autism, especially in families that have both neurotypical and neurodivergent children. If you want to make your home more sensory-friendly, it’s important to strike a balance that honors the needs of all household members.

Here are a few small changes that can make a big difference to a loved one with autism. 

Avoid overwhelming the senses.

For a person with neurodivergence, an ideal home environment allows them to safely explore their senses and retreat when they feel overwhelmed.

When you think about accommodating your loved one’s unique needs, consider all of the senses. 

Sight

Many people with sensory sensitivities find harsh fluorescent lights overwhelming. Natural light is often best, but when that isn’t possible, consider installing a dimmer switch to your interior lights. 

The ability to dial indoor lighting up and down slightly can make family time in common areas of the home more enjoyable for everyone. 

Touch

Children with sensory differences can experience textures with more intensity than neurotypical people. For this reason, they may strongly prefer their clothing, pillows, and blankets to be very soft. 

Caregivers who are completely unbothered by seams, tags, and zippers may have a hard time appreciating how distracting they are to children with hypersensitivity. Fortunately, there are now many options for adaptive clothing that can help kids foster more independence without sacrificing comfort.

For sensory-seeking kids, playtime can be a great opportunity to introduce new textures. Sensory play activities that incorporate paint, sand, and other craft materials can improve kids’ fine motor skills while gently stimulating their senses. 

Taste

Strong, unfamiliar flavors can be off-putting to kids with sensory sensitivities. In addition, aroma, color, and mouthfeel may play particularly important roles in these children’s enjoyment of food. 

If you’ve noticed that your child has gotten insistent on a few “safe” snacks, encourage variety by offering new foods alongside tried-and-true favorites.

Smell

Scented candles, air fresheners, and cleaning products are designed to smell nice, but to kids with sensory differences, they can be strong and unpleasant. 

If a member of your family experiences scents with a lot of intensity, consider choosing unscented versions of household products like laundry detergent, soap, and dish liquid. 

Improving the ventilation in your home and installing an air filtration system can also help dial back unavoidable aromas like the smell of food cooking.

Sound

Insulation is the best way to reduce startling, distracting noises inside your home. Even a few throw rugs can help dampen the sounds of other family members moving about. 

For common areas, agree to keep music and videos at a lower volume. Bluetooth-enabled noise-canceling headphones can allow families to watch or listen to media together while choosing a volume that is comfortable for each of them. 

Create a routine.

While it’s not always feasible, operating on a schedule is a great way to remove some of the unpredictability from your child’s daily life. 

Setting and managing expectations for the whole family can reduce the anxiety some children have around transitioning from one activity to the next. Knowing the sequence of recurring events (for example: dinner, bath time, then bed) creates an important sense of calm for sensitive kids. 

Embrace boundaries.

Regardless of our sensory processing abilities, we all need downtime. An important part of creating a sensory-friendly home is ensuring that all family members have space to retreat and be themselves.

Especially after a challenging or overstimulating event, designate a safe area of your home for decompression. Managing, rather than catastrophizing, stress is critical for healthy development as your child grows.

Interpersonal connections are important for everyone, but they may be especially critical to the healthy development of children with special needs. The ability to relate to others and make friends can help differently-abled kids enjoy improved academic outcomes and better mental health as they grow. 

  “15% of all public school students (7.2 million) receive special education services.”

In 2020-21, 15% (or 72 million) public school students aged 3-21 received special education services under the Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Among these students, the most common need was assistance with a specific learning disability. 

Social skills don’t come as naturally to some kids, but they can develop with time, patience, and practice. Here are a few tips for prioritizing socialization and making it a positive experience for your child.

1. Choose a comfortable setting. 

Socialization is all about meeting new people and trying new things. For kids with special needs, branching out can be easier when at least some aspects of the situation feel familiar. 

This can apply to the venue you choose for a playdate, like a favorite park or your own backyard. It may also extend to details of the experience including snacks and activities. Everyone feels more confident when they know what to expect in a given situation, and confident kids will be more likely to have a positive social experience. 

If your child expresses anxiety over an upcoming playdate, discuss the steps you can take to help them feel more secure. This may include agreeing to either give space or stay close by, or agreeing on a codeword if they begin to feel overwhelmed. 

2. Practice social skills at home. 

Just like role-playing can help us prepare for an important meeting or job interview, rehearsing general social interactions can be helpful for kids with intellectual and developmental differences. 

Interpersonal interaction is more intuitive for some children than for others. Remind your child of the things they do well and the qualities they have to offer in a conversation. Then, make time to practice age-appropriate exchanges like:

Social skills are tough to master, but a little preparation can go a long way toward helping your child feel more at ease in conversations. 

3. Make time for decompression. 

Even if they’ve spent the day doing their favorite activities with people they enjoy, it’s normal for kids with I/DD to feel that their social batteries are drained. 

If you’ve noticed that play dates leave your child exhausted or overstimulated, build in time to help them rebalance. This could mean setting aside time to allow them to share details about their day, or just creating a space for quiet time before dinner or bed. Giving your child the outlet that they need can help make sure they view social time as a positive experience. 

4. Connect with your I/DD community. 

Get familiar with your I/DD resources, and use them to help build a social circle that includes a diverse group of differently-abled friends. 

Teachers and caregivers can be an important source of support as kids practice their social skills. You may also be surprised to discover how many programs specifically designed for special needs kids exist in your community. 

Explore I/DD and sensory-friendly events near you, and you may also discover a vital network of like-minded new friends. 

The differences in our abilities make us unique, but they don’t define our worth.

People with intellectual and developmental disabilities all have their own interests, preferences, and goals. They also have a valuable perspective to offer the world. 

Here are some tips for connecting with members of this community in a way that affirms their dignity, independence, and individuality. 

friends with wheelchair special needsSpeak to differently abled people like peers.

Talk to individuals with I/DD just like you would anyone else. If you’re meeting for the first time, introduce yourself as you normally would. Look for common ground and shared interests to build on in a conversation. 

If you’re having any difficulty communicating, ask clarifying questions and make it clear that you’re interested in understanding. Many people have a tendency to talk louder when confronted with a communication challenge, but that isn’t necessary or helpful unless the individual has a known hearing issue. 

Take your cues from your conversation partner – they will help set the tone and pace for your talk. 

Be age appropriate.

No one enjoys interacting with someone condescending. It’s important to remember that adults with disabilities are still adults. Avoid baby talk unless the person you’re speaking to is, in fact, a child.

Unless you’ve been told differently, assume that individuals with I/DD have the same interests and hobbies as their peer group. Statements like, Isn’t that movie too scary for you are infantilizing for mature individuals, regardless of their disability status.

Ask before assisting.happy cheerleader girl special needs

When offering help to an individual with I/DD, always ask their permission before jumping in.

Except in emergencies, it’s common courtesy to allow other people a say in whether or not they want our assistance. If they are receptive to your help, look for ways to work together to accomplish a goal rather than taking over. 

Respect differently abled people’s intelligence.

Even when communications challenges are present, it’s important to speak to people in the I/DD community directly rather than speaking to others on their behalf. 

Ease of speech isn’t an indicator of intelligence – many individuals with disabilities that make it difficult to process language and respond to questions are very bright. Be patient and courteous in conversation, and don’t change your normal way of speaking unless you’re asked to do so.

Give them space to be themselves.

We all feel more comfortable in conversations with warm, open people. We all have idiosyncrasies – they make us who we are.

At the end of the day, an interaction with a member of the I/DD community is just another opportunity to make a new friend. Be curious, genuine, respectful, and kind, and a great conversation will flow. 

As the weather gets warmer and the days get longer, it’s time to plan some summer fun. 

Families with sensory-sensitive children may have specific criteria for safe, enjoyable activities, but their options are far from limited. Here are six of our favorite ways to laugh, learn, and explore together this summer. 

sensory friendly art1. Plan a sensory-friendly art project.

Unlike so many activities, there is no right or wrong way to approach arts and crafts. Whether your sensory-sensitive child is a creative soul or a reluctant artist, art is a fantastic way to encourage open self-expression. 

Consider laying down plastic table cloths to create an “art zone” where messes aren’t a concern. If textures are an issue, try to offer a variety of craft supplies that your child will find pleasant to the touch, like fabrics, construction paper, pom poms, and pipe cleaners. Let your child choose how to interact with the materials, and let the creativity flow. 

2. Take a yoga break.

Mindful movement is a great way to release pent-up energy without the sensory challenges of team sports. 

Yoga has been shown to have multiple benefits for children with autism and other sensory differences. With practice, yoga can relieve anxiety, improve emotional communication, and increase body awareness. 

Head online for free resources that can help you make sensory-friendly yoga part of your summer routine. 

3. Go for a nature walk.

Completing a hike comes with a wonderful sense of accomplishment. Whether your family loves long walks or shorter ones, spending time in nature is great for the body and mind. 

Make your nature walk sensory-friendly by choosing a quiet, familiar trail with lots of opportunities to stop and appreciate your surroundings. Consider visiting at off-peak hours, both to avoid crowds as well as harsh sunlight or high temperatures. 

Don’t worry about mileage — it’s about the memories you make, not the ground you cover. 

4. Try equine therapy.sensory friendly equine therapy

Some children who tend to find their peers overwhelming are quick to form powerful bonds with animals. 

Equine therapy for autism and sensory-processing disorders uses horseback riding to boost kids’ confidence, calm their anxieties, and improve communication skills. Research shows that the relationships children form with horses contribute to long-term improvements in emotional health.  Explore local equine therapy day camps to find programs tailored to your child’s individual needs. 

If your child is an animal enthusiast in general, reach out to your local animal rescue. Many shelters have kid-friendly opportunities to help animals in need while building self-esteem. 

5. Pack a picnic.

There’s a reason people say that food just tastes better outside. Add a new dimension to lunchtime this summer by taking your meal outdoors – even if it’s in your own back yard. 

Plan a sensory-friendly picnic by choosing a shady spot. Lay down a soft blanket to avoid any itchy sensations from the grass, and choose mild foods that you know your child will enjoy. 

6. Seek out local sensory-friendly events.

Tap into your local community to stay up-to-date on upcoming events geared towards families with sensory-sensitive children

Many local amusement parks, movie theaters, and attractions have designated sensory-friendly events that allow all children to join in on the fun by removing aspects of the experience that may be overwhelming. 

If you notice sensory-friendly options that are missing in your area, harness the power of your I/DD community and connect with other families who share your goals. 

With the recent pandemic, many of us have experienced some impact on our mental health.   We have faced loss, uncertainty and disruption of our normal routine. To make matters worse, we have not had access to our usual support systems and loved ones.  This has been a challenge and although the vaccine and decrease in COVID cases is a welcome relief, the mental health effects are still lingering. 

People with intellectual and developmental disabilities are not immune to these same mental health impacts.  They experience the same range of mental health symptoms that the rest of the general population does. However, the resources for people with these dual needs are often scarce and difficult to access.

We recently came across a resource that we want to share with you.  The Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities National Training Center is an organization that works to improve mental health services and support for people with developmental disabilities by providing access to training and other resources. They have free easy-to-read online learning modules for people with IDD, their families and caregivers as well as evidence-based, trauma-informed, modules and resources for mental health clinicians. 

On their website, you can also access blogs, podcasts and storytelling videos of people with IDD sharing their experiences with mental health conditions. Check out their website here:  https://www.mhddcenter.org/learn-now/

 

Melinda Frederick, MS, LCMHC, NCC

Sr. Director of Quality Management

Community Based Care

What do you do about the holidays this year?

We have had to remain socially distanced for many months and are yearning to connect with those we love.  However, with the holidays approaching, we are struggling with how to connect while still staying healthy and preventing the spread of Covid-19.  The CDC has some guiding principles that we can follow in order to limit our exposure during the holiday season. 

First of all, the CDC states that a gathering refers to any collection of people, indoors, outdoors, planned or spontaneous.  In general, they say that the more people an individual interacts with at a gathering and the longer that interaction lasts the higher the potential risk.  

Lowest risk: Virtual-only activities, events, and gatherings.

More risk: Smaller outdoor and in-person gatherings in which individuals from different households remain spaced at least 6 feet apart, wear masks, do not share objects, and come from the same local area (e.g., community, town, city, or county).

Higher risk: Medium-sized in-person gatherings that are adapted to allow individuals to remain spaced at least 6 feet apart and with attendees coming from outside the local area.

Highest risk: Large in-person gatherings where it is difficult for individuals to remain spaced at least 6 feet apart and attendees travel from outside the local area.

If you are going to get together with others in person here are some considerations for hosting or attending a gathering: 

If we keep these guidelines in mind we can still connect but do it safely.  Protecting each other is the best way we can show love this holiday season.

About the N.C. Innovations Waiver and What’s New

The Home and Community Based Services Waiver for North Carolina is called “NC Innovations”.  The waiver is, essentially, an agreement between the state of North Carolina and the federal government — Medicaid or “CMS”, specifically — about the service offerings available to persons with disabilities on the waiver. Currently, there are about 13,000 people in NC on the waiver, and approximately the same number on the Registry of Unmet Needs — the waiting list. 

If you or your family member is currently on the waiver, you should know that the waiver is updated periodically, and when it is, it is posted for public comment. It so happens, that we are in a public comment period right now.  You can read the proposed changes to the NC Innovations waiver by visiting this website and the actual proposed policies can be found here (warning — large file). 

Our provider leadership has reviewed the proposed waiver changes, and, in case you’re interested, is providing the following feedback to the state. 

First, a few positives…

Throughout the new waiver, there is a heightened emphasis on competitive employment for people with disabilities.  This is great!  NC is a “work first” state, meaning that people who want to work should be supported to seek jobs that pay at least minimum wage.  Work and meaningful daily activities are key quality of life outcomes for everyone — you, me, our staff, and the people we serve.  Having more opportunities to support people towards competitive employment in Day Supports, Supported Employment, Community Networking, and other services, is good for people with disabilities. 

Another positive is enhanced support for individuals with disabilities to live more independently.  Community Navigation could include tenancy supports, which would provide assistance in seeking affordable housing — a major barrier to Supported Living services.  The Supported Living definition itself does not change much, but, there is a lot of support required before Supported Living can even begin, and these additions could help meet that need. 

On the downside…

Family members (non-parents) would not be allowed to support persons on the waiver under 18 living in the same home.  Outside of the current COVID-19 easing of restrictions, this has been the case for parents.  We do, however, have some siblings who are serving in this role, and there is no grandfathering provision in the waiver to allow this to continue. 

Also, while the Individual Budgets section (Appendix F) has been amended to clarify that a person’s individual budget should not be tied to his/her Supports Intensity Scale score, we think the language could be stronger.  The budget is not a cap on annual spending; it is only a guideline. 

 

Overall…

There is a lot to like about the direction the state is going with the NC Innovations Waiver.  There is an increasing emphasis on meaningful daily activity, employment, independent living — and broadening the availability and flexibility of supports to achieve these outcomes, including through expanded telehealth options. 

NC has been sincere in its outreach for individual and family member input, so I would encourage you to review the proposed changes and share your perspectives. 

Together, we make the difference — 

Richard Edwards

CBC Regional Vice President, North Carolina

 

 

Coping with the Uncertainties of COVID-19 

Breaking News (Not Breaking News) COVID is hard.

This has been a very challenging time for us. Some of us are stuck at home with very little social contact and we are lonely.  Some of us are essential workers and must go out into the world even if we feel anxious or uneasy about that.  Some of us are aching for the hug of a friend while others of us have our children at home 24/7 and just want to be left alone.  You may find that you are more tired than usual.  You may feel irritable or find that you are jumpy or feeling a general anxiousness.  You may find that you have trouble concentrating and feel like your head is in a fog.  Whatever you are feeling, know that it is normal to feel all out of sorts under these COVID-19  circumstances.  It is important to recognize and acknowledge that.  It is also important to recognize and acknowledge that we are grieving.  Some of us are grieving lost family members, friends, or jobs.  We may also be grieving events that we have missed like graduations, birthdays, trips, or weddings.  We may miss everyday things like school, sports, attending church and seeing friends.  We may simply miss our normal daily routine. 

The reason it is important to acknowledge these feelings and experiences is that we feel less alone when we see that others are being affected too.  How we each experience the changes can differ but the fact is we are all experiencing something.  When we acknowledge this it reminds us to be kind to ourselves and each other.   Also, when we acknowledge how the pandemic is affecting us, we can remember to do things that help.  Below you will find a list of things that can help.  So, acknowledge that this is hard, be kind to yourself, and reach out for support when you need it.  We are all in this together!

 

Self-care is really important during times of uncertainty.  The more we can maintain a sense of normalcy and connectedness the more resilient we will be during this time. 

 

Some links and phone numbers that might be helpful:

COVID-19 resources

 

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html

Centers for Disease Control 

 

866-462-3821 

General COVID non-emergency questions – NC Poison Control COVID-19 Hotline 

 

https://www.ncdhhs.gov/divisions/public-health/coronavirus-disease-2019-covid-19-response-north-carolina

The Department of Health and Human Services for NC 

 

http://www.floridahealth.gov/diseases-and-conditions/COVID-19/covid19-toolkit.html

State of Florida

 

1-866-779-6121 or  COVID-19@flhealth.gov (email )

State of Florida  COVID -19 Call Center available 24/7 

 

https://www.nc211.org/coronavirus-covid-19 

2-1-1 or 888-892-1162 

Available 24 hours a day/7 days a week to help you get assistance with finding food, paying housing bills, accessing free childcare and other essential services. Run by the United Way. 

 

Family Stay at Home Resources  

https://www.redcross.org/get-help/how-to-prepare-for-emergencies/types-of-emergencies/coronavirus-safety.html

American Red Cross Site for COVID 19 

 

https://www.dpi.nc.gov/ 

NCDepartment of Public Instruction- COVID-19 Response and Resources

Connection to NC Remote learning resources and information. 

 

https://childmind.org/article/talking-to-kids-about-the-coronavirus/

Talking to your kids about COVID-19 -Child Mind Institute 

 

https://afirm.fpg.unc.edu/supporting-individuals-autism-through-uncertain-times

UNC School of Education free COVID-19 toolkit for supporting individuals with autism during uncertain times. 

 

https://virtualschoolactivities.com/

Virtual tour activities for all ages.

 

Mental Health and Coping Resources

 

https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/disaster-distress-helpline, 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746 to talk to a trained crisis counselor.   24/7, 365-day-a-year, national hotline dedicated to providing immediate crisis counseling for people who are experiencing emotional distress related to any natural or human-caused disaster. 

 

https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/mental-health-considerations.pdf?sfvrsn=6d3578af_2

The World Health Organization information – Mental Health considerations.

 

https://www.samhsa.gov/sites/default/files/tips-social-distancing-quarantine-isolation-031620.pd

Tips for coping with social distancing from SAMHSA (Substance Abuse, Mental Health Services Administration)

 

https://mhanational.org/covid19

Mental Health America 

CBC Hurricane Preparedness

Hurricane season is one of the times when we need to be on guard and prepared.   We want to make sure those we serve and our employees are prepared when natural disasters strike, especially now, as we head into hurricane season.  The National  Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has predicted an above-average hurricane season in 2022 with 14-21 named storms, 6-10 of those being hurricanes, and 3-6 of the hurricanes being major hurricanes.

Tips for beings prepared

Due to the continued impact of COVID-19, the 2022 hurricane season will be very different than before the pandemic, and that means that planning needs to happen early and even if you have a plan it will need to be reviewed and likely updated. 

Many Florida and North Carolina counties have special needs registries- If you have not already signed up for this it is a good tool to have. The Emergency Management teams will reach out in cases of disasters or emergencies in your area to make sure you are safe, have what you need, and provide any needed assistance before during or after a disaster.  CBC can help you sign up for the registry.

Other Resources

Dial 2-1-1.  This is a great resource during and after a disaster to find needed resources, information, and non-emergency assistance. 

The following sites will give you more information about preparing for a hurricane or any disaster. The sites for NC and FL will also provide some realtime updates during the disaster. 

Ready.gov

Florida Disaster.org

Readync.org

nhc.noaa.gov

If you live in a different state, simply visit Ready.gov/(state).  This will connect you with Emergency Management in your state.

If you have any questions about preparing for hurricanes or other disasters please email CBC’s Environmental Health and Safety Director, Debbie Talbott, at dtalbott@cbcare.com.

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