Austin Kids' Directory Blog

5 Ways to Make the Holidays Easier for Children with Special Needs

5 Ways to Make the Holidays Easier for Children with Special Needs

The most wonderful time of the year brings with it family celebrations, school parties, and visits with holiday favorites like Santa Claus. While it’s an exciting time, it can also be overwhelming—especially if you have a child with special needs. The good news: The tips and strategies provided below can help ensure the holidays are memorable and merry for all.

1. Be predictable. Surprises and unforeseen events have the potential to send a child with special needs into disarray. One way to help avoid that problem? By creating calendars or visual schedules to help your child know what to expect that day. For example, if your family is getting together for a turkey dinner, include pictures of food and the family members you’ll be visiting. Apps like Choiceworks let you create visual schedules with activities planned for the day.

2. Avoid overstimulating sights, sounds, and smells. For children with sensory aversions, the holidays can be overwhelming. Between the flashing lights, loud holiday music, and perfume-scented sections of stores, it’s easy to see why. A few ways to help: Share photos of Santa and other holiday favorites before your child meets them; invest in a quality pair of headphones for your child; and designate a quiet place in your home where your child can go to decompress when needed.

3. Teach other children about your child. Why not give your friends and family an idea of what to expect if you’ll be visiting with them during the holidays? For example, consider sending a letter or email to those who have children, detailing a little bit about your child’s personality. Let them know if your child tends to ask a lot of questions, craves attention, or likes to hug. A little notice beforehand could avoid awkward situations and hurt feelings.

4. Buy suitable gifts. Amazon is chock-full of gifts designed for children with special needs, like these sensory water beads and foam puzzle blocks. You can also make it easier on loved ones if you send them a list of toys your child would enjoy, since buying for any child can be tricky enough.

5. Relax. At the end of the day, unexpected things may happen that are out of your control. If you can roll with the punches, though, your child will likely follow your lead.

With some advance planning, you might find you can shift your attention from meltdowns to what matters most—enjoying the holidays with the people you love.

Diane M. McCullom is the senior vice president of clinical operations at Dallas-based Epic Health Services, a leading provider of pediatric skilled nursing, therapy, developmental, enteral, and respiratory services, as well as adult home health services, with operations in 18 states. Epic has three locations in Austin.

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Austin Kid’s Directory Fall Fair & Fairytale Threads Consignment Event

Austin Kid’s Directory Fall Fair & Fairytale Threads Consignment Event

Come to the Austin Kid's Directory Fall Fair on October 22nd from 10am-2pm. Some of our advertisers will be offering information about activities, schools, childcare, medical services and more!

Here's a sneak peek at some of the participants who will be there: The Swim School of Austin, Harmony Public Schools, Ageless Living Home Health, Austin Yard Cards, Extend-A-Care for Kids, Cafe Monet, SpaceTime Park and Jump! Gymnastics.

Admission and parking are FREE and there will be giveaways, freebies, hands-on activities, demonstrations and more! Pikachu will make a special appearance for GoGames360 from 11-noon!!

Our event is being held in conjunction with the Fairytale Threads Children's Consignment Event where you will have the opportunity to shop for new and gently loved items at great prices. Find clothes for newborns-kid’s 16, Jr. sizes & prom wear, maternity, books, gear and toys for kids, babies and toddlers and teens...and on Saturday many of the items will be marked 50% OFF!

Hope to see you there!!

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5 Fun Ways to Get Active With Your Kids

5 Fun Ways to Get Active With Your Kids

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly 1 in 5 children in the United States has obesity. With September being National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, it is a great time to discuss fun ways parents can keep their children—and themselves—physically active.

Here’s the thing: Children with obesity are more likely to carry the medical condition into adulthood, which could potentially lead to debilitating physical and mental problems, including diabetes and an increased risk of certain types of cancer.

What can parents do to help ward off obesity in their children? For starters, energy balance is critical. Make sure your kids are getting enough sleep, eating the ideal amount of calories, and partaking in regular physical activities—which can be a ton of fun if you follow our recommendations below.

* Introduce your children to nontraditional sports. Think skateboarding, mountain biking, and canoeing. Not every child excels at the most common sports like football and baseball, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t athletic—it could just mean they haven’t found their niche. Luckily, Austin is jam-packed with trails and waterways for your kiddos to test their skills.

* Walk, don’t drive. Now that the dog days of summer are behind us, the temps are at that sweet spot when walking is a much more viable option—so lace up those tennis shoes, and the next time your family decides to visit your local hangout, why not walk instead?

* Make a new family rule: No sitting still during TV commercials. Can you imagine the fun this rule might ensue? Encourage your kids to dance, do jumping jacks, stretch, or anything else that prevents them from sitting still. Bonus: You don’t have to completely cut out television time with this rule.

* Design an obstacle course. Three-legged races, hurdles crafted from old blankets, bean bag tosses—these are all activities you can create with items you likely already have in your home. Watch as your child’s imagination takes off as they come up with even more challenges.

* Play a modified version of “I Spy.” We all know the original version of this game, but here’s a new spin: Make a list of items in your neighborhood that you want your child to “spy,” then go for a walk in hunt of the items. Want to make it even more interesting? Put a time limit on the search in order to encourage your child to get moving!

If you have as much fun as your children will while participating in these activities, don’t worry—we won’t tell.

This article was written by Diane M. McCullom, the senior vice president of clinical operations at Dallas-based Epic Health Services, a leading provider of pediatric skilled nursing, therapy, developmental, enteral and respiratory services, as well as adult home health services, with operations in 17 states. Epic has three locations in Austin.

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Why Is My Child Having Trouble Sleeping? Orthodontics May Be Able to Help

Why Is My Child Having Trouble Sleeping? Orthodontics May Be Able to Help

Getting the right amount of sleep has an incredible effect on childhood development. Over the last 20 years, science has given us insight into the importance that sleep plays in the function of the human body, and we now understand that we have just barely started to scratch the surface. How we breathe and sleep, along with what we eat, have dramatic effects on growth, learning behavior, mood disposition, hormonal harmony, disease state, and memory. Often the dental professionals are the first to notice that your child might not be getting the necessary amount of sleep to be healthy.

Sleep Is Vitally Important for Your Child’s Growth

We cannot live without sleep, and a significant proportion of the population is sleep deprived. While we are able to survive with this deprivation, the quality of our lives is affected and the health implications are tremendous. Children are particularly affected by sleep deprivation. Not enough or poor quality sleep impacts children’s mental and physical development and their general health. Mood swings, behavioral problems and cognitive problems can all be indications of poor sleep, according to the Sleep Foundation. Getting the right amount of sleep helps children deal with the normal anxieties of everyday life, alleviates unnecessary stress, improves memory, and helps increase the ability to focus. These factors are particularly important when it comes to your child’s academic success.

Children who get the recommended amount of sleep go to school ready and eager and able to learn. They get better grades, are able to engage in healthy ways with other kids and adults, and participate in more extracurricular activities. On the other hand, children who lack sleep usually have harder times focusing, are prone to moodiness, and show a lack of desire and motivation for activity and social engagements.

I want your child to be the healthiest he or she can be, and that means getting the right amount of sleep. Dentistry is not just about creating pretty smiles, even though it’s extremely pleasing to see toothy grins that reach from ear to ear. The teeth and oral hygiene have far-reaching effects on the well-being of the body, and sleeping is no exception.

What Role Does Orthodontics Have in Healthy Sleeping? More Than You Think

Many times, professionals in dentistry are the first to hear about sleep problems. After learning about issues sleeping, we look for signs of sleep breathing disorders and any obstructions that could be impeding the ability to breathe and therefore affect the sleep. According to the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine, sleep apnea affects more than 20 million Americans, causing sleep deprivation and impacting every aspect of individual health and daily life. Sleep apnea causes a person to stop breathing for several seconds, which results in several nighttime awakenings. Because of these repeated interruptions, these patients (children or adults) suffer from lack of sleep.

Because dentistry and orthodontics alone cannot eliminate all the causes of sleep breathing disorders the dental professionals work together with a team of other specialists. Dr. Tamez, the Ear Nose & Throat (ENT) specialist, works closely with us to help entire families reach their genetic potentials and thrive. As a team, we strive to improve your family’s well being, from physical health to mental health. Sleep is a part of that holistic approach, as it impacts every aspect of your family’s life.

We’re Here as a Team to Help Your Family Sleep Better

It’s never too late to begin to breathe and sleep to your full potential, but there is no more pressing a time than in early childhood as it can impede physical and mental growth. However, no one doctor can accomplish this goal. It truly takes a coordinated team of committed professionals. We want your child to be able to have a healthy, happy, and successful life, reaching his or her full potential. It’s getting the right amount of sleep that will help your child achieve their dreams in life. Please give us a call to find out how we can help 512-863-8580 or visit our website at

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Thinking About Preschool?

Thinking About Preschool?

Choosing the proper preschool environment for your child can prove a daunting task. Thinking through some of the following questions will help you narrow your choices to find a good fit for your family.

Think Philosophy
Which philosophy most aligns with your own? Think about your experiences as a child going to school and how these experiences have shaped your own values and work ethic. Which do you feel will meet your family’s needs?

Child-centered: Child-centered learning environments allow children to dictate the topics and activities they will participate in over the course of the school year.

Teacher-led: In teacher-led learning environments, the teacher creates the schedule and chooses the learning topics and activities.

Child-led: Child-led learning environments provide individual learning opportunities and align with the belief that children learn best when they are interested and engaged.

Faith-based: Faith-based learning environments provide learning opportunities that are organized according to the faith beliefs of that community.

Think Location
Do you want a location close to work? This option is beneficial for parents who have a longer commute to work. With this option, working parents have the ability to work longer hours if needed while remaining close to their child.

Do you want a location close to home? This option works well if more than one adult will be picking up the child at the end of the day or if you are a stay-at-home parent. In addition, children are more likely to attend the same kindergarten as their preschool classmates which may mean an easier transition to kindergarten.

Think Impressions
Tour a few locations. What are your first impressions? Is the school clean? What are the security procedures? Do you feel welcomed? Do the children and teachers seem happy?
Observe Interactions. How does the teacher speak to the children? Is the teacher positive and nurturing? How does the teacher handle behavioral problems? How do the children interact with each other?

Think of Questions
Ask questions relating to discipline procedures, curriculum and activities, social and academic goals, and possibilities for parent involvement. Answers to these questions will provide you with a better idea of the overall structure and educational values of the school. Additionally, you may want to ask questions about teacher turn-over, teacher education level, and on-going professional development. Schools providing growth opportunities for their teachers are more likely to have teachers who are up to date on the latest in the field of early childhood education.

Think Extras
Some schools provide enhancement programs such as dance, martial arts and gymnastics during school operating hours as well as experiences outside of the school day to connect with other families: field trips, sports activities, family fun nights, and community out-reach programs. These extra perks often help build a sense of community within the school by providing a way for your family to connect with other families.

by Susan Brunk, M. Ed. Associate Director of Curriculum, Stepping Stone School . Stepping Stone School is a comprehensive early care and education program in the Austin, Round Rock, and College Station areas that profoundly nurtures children and prepares them for lifelong happiness.

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