For a lot of parents, a new concern with the kids sends them straight to the parenting books. Although sometimes too much information can be overwhelming and scary, in general, it's best to be well-informed, especially when your kids have special needs. Fortunately, there's no shortage of resources for parents of kids with special needs, and those kids themselves! Here are just a few examples:
Drop the Puck: It's Hockey Season
Written by Jayne J. Jones, Illustrated by Katrina G. Dohm
"Drop the Puck" is a series of books for kids. Mostly, the books are about hockey, and are easily relatable for kids who are into sports, as the topics of teamwork, winning and losing and a love of athleticism are all in the forefront.
The series is a little different though in that the books' main characters are two brothers who love hockey, one of whom, Blaine, has Down Syndrome. Author Jayne J. Jones writes Blaine's dialogue as a child with Down Syndrome might speak -- he stutters at times and is sometimes repetitive. The people around Blaine, including his parents, teammates (he's the manager of his brother Cullen's hockey team) and referees, empathize with his special needs and work to make sure he's included in the action.
The portrayal of the adults' and teammates' relationships with Blaine provides good modeling for readers in reacting to their peers with special needs. Kids with special needs themselves may also find it heartening to read a series of books with a main character they can relate to. Additionally, Cullen, who on the whole is a great brother to Blaine, sometimes gets frustrated with him and impatient with his special needs. In the end though, the brothers' love for each other always wins out -- a valuable lesson for kids with and without special needs to internalize.
How to Make and Keep Friends
By Nadine Briggs and Donna Shea
For a lot of kids with special needs, the social nuances involved in making (and keeping) friends are difficult to understand, and even more difficult to apply.
The point of this book is to give kids the tools they need to build friendships in the moment. Authors Nadine Briggs and Donna Shea, who are both parents to special needs kids and are experienced social educators who facilitate friendship groups, provide 50 common scenarios that kids will encounter in social settings and give several concrete suggestions for navigating them. They also explain why kids should act a certain way in a certain situation and give tips for practicing and role playing -- concrete steps that are often necessary for kids with special needs to have success in making friends.
The topics in the book range from things that are useful for all of us, even those of us without special needs, to remember how to do (such as the importance of arriving on time for get-togethers with our friends) to things that may be particularly challenging for kids with special needs (such as remembering to make eye contact and not standing too close to people when talking to them).
I feel worried! and I feel mad!
By Nadine Briggs and Donna Shea
The same authors of "How to Make and Keep Friends" wrote these workbooks for kids who need help working through big feelings.
In both "I feel worried!" and "I feel mad!", Briggs and Shea focus on helping kids to identify how their bodies feel when scary emotions start to overwhelm them. They list several common symptoms (such as headache, tightness in your chest and a feeling like you want to scream) and then encourage kids to express how they feel when they're getting worried or angry by drawing their feelings on an illustration of a body.
The authors also emphasize that there's no need to feel shame or embarrassment for specific feelings, but that those feelings don't have to overwhelm them because they are capable of getting control of them. Brainstorming plans for controlling emotions, exercises to identify effective coping mechanisms and the use of techniques like having kids visualize themselves as worry ninjas are all useful mechanisms for helping kids with big emotions thrive.
101 Mindful Arts-based activities to get children and adolescents talking
By Dawn D'Amico, LCSW, Ph.D.
One special need that most people don't think about often is the emotional fallout in the aftermath of severe trauma.
In this book, local social worker Dawn D'Amico shares strategies for helping children who have been traumatized to share their feelings and just talk -- something that is difficult for kids who have experienced things like abuse or removal from their homes.
Although the book is geared toward therapists, social workers and clinicians, D'Amico emphasizes that the strategies she recommends are useful for parents who are trying to get their kids to share their feelings -- even when those feelings are scary.
The exercises in these books utilize easy-to-find objects like markers, glue, paint, paper and glitter. Engaging kids in art-based activities is often an effective means to get them to express themselves. D'Amico relates that effectiveness by providing the purpose of each activity alongside a case study for both a child and adolescent to show how the activity helped them open up.
For example, in the "When I was young" activity, the therapist, teacher or parent blows bubbles or draws with sidewalk chalk with the child, and asks the child what age he was when he loved these activities the most, as well as what other activities he liked at that age. D'Amico shares that a 12-year-old boy was angry at the idea of playing these games because he stopped being a child when his father committed suicide; the child's reaction to this activity allowed him to open up about what was going on with him and allowed the clinician to gather important information.