"Special needs" is...

According to kidshealth.org, "any kid who might need extra help because of a medical, emotional or learning problem" has special needs.

Some examples of special needs:

physical disabilities

illnesses like epilepsy or diabetes

sight, hearing or speech problems

disorders like autism or Down Syndrome

emotional problems like anxiety or depression

learning disabilities like dyslexia or dyscalculia

immune disorders like food allergies or asthma

Special needs kids find best buddies

written by Maureen Connors Badding

Best Buddies (bestbuddies.org) is an international organization “dedicated to ending the social, physical and economic isolation of the 200 million people with IDD” (intellectual or developmental disabilities). Their programs in middle schools and high schools improve quality of life through meaningful connections and sharing interests, experiences and activities.

Students with disabilities can make connections with people who can offer rides, or even make sure they are included on a text or SnapChat conversation when making plans to go out.

At the Wauwatosa East High School branch, some kids join Best Buddies to help plan activities and events, such as an annual dance, while others join to be partnered with a buddy throughout the school year and often beyond.

Sensory Sensitive Entertainment

Kids who are sensitive to their surroundings deserve to have fun too! The Autism Society of Southeastern Wisconsin keeps a calendar of entertainment accommodations at assew.org.

AMC Theaters (there's one at Mayfair Mall) has a Sensory Friendly Film program where the lights are turned up, the sound is turned down, and kids are welcome to dance, walk, shout or sing. Shows take place second and fourth Tuesdays and Saturdays.

First Stage Theater also stages sensory-friendly productions of its children's theater productions, as well as a production running March 24 through April 9 that kids on the autism spectrum will relate to. "Mockingbird" is about 11-year-old Caitlin, a girl on the autism spectrum who has the help of her family, advisor and a reading buddy to make sense of a world that doesn't fit her definitions. Check out firststage.org for more information.

A new local educational resource blooms

Local entrepreneur Laura Rauman found hope for her special needs daughter Morgan through the creation of what she calls a developmental, strengths and relationship-based education program. That was the impetus for Bloom 360 Learning Community, a private, not-for-profit school for children with neuro-diverse needs, needs that range from ADD/ADHD, learning disabilities, social challenges, autism and more -- anything in how the child's brain works that impacts his ability to participate in everyday experiences. Check out bloom360.org for more information about the school.

Helping children's stars to rise

The Milwaukee Jewish Community Center's Center of Inclusion and Special Needs is committed to providing a support system to families with special needs children. They accomplish this through their STARS (Students that are really special) program. Kids with special needs are matched to teenage volunteers and able to be fully integrated into a group of friends who do tons of activities together with the guidance of therapists and educators who specialize in helping kids with special needs. Some activities include art, music, yoga and sports. There's also a tutoring center and a day camp where kid with special needs and mainstream kids are able to enjoy camp together rather than being separated based on their differences. For more information, check out jccmilwaukee.org.

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