Speaking on Special Needs & Temperament

Special needs, diverse abilities, individual differences. Over the years I have learned quite a bit about these words. What I have come to believe is this: all of us to some extent have special needs. As human beings, we all ‘need’ different things to help us learn, grow, and engage with the world. Some of us encounter more obstacles than others. Ultimately, those who care for us, guide us, and love us come to understand what our individual needs are.

When it comes to understanding temperament alongside diagnosed special needs and diverse abilities, we can utilize similar parenting tools. Temperament tools are ‘universal,’ Meaning they can be utilized for all children, regardless of ability.

When we give a five-minute warning to the child that is slow-to-adapt in transitions, it doesn’t matter what their ability is. All children can benefit from a ‘heads up’ about a transition. If we pack a bag of extra snacks for the child that has an irregular biological clock, we can do the same for a child with a diagnosed medical need. Similar parenting tools for all different kinds of individual needs.

As the parent of a child with diverse abilities, knowing that there are parenting tools I can tap into ‘just like everyone else’ made me feel that for that moment in time, my daughter and I could utilize the same ‘parenting book’ as others. Utilizing the tools specific to a child’s temperament, helped me recognize that ALL children have individual needs. When caregivers recognize the benefit of understanding individual temperament and how to engage specific temperament tools to guide children’s behavior (regardless of ability), both adults and children can be impacted positively.

Lori Korthals, M.S.

Mother of three. Lover of all things child development related. Fascinated by temperament and brain development. Professional background with families, child care providers, teachers and community service entities.

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How did Bobby’s parents manage?

This summer while on a trip back to my childhood community, I visited a cousin who is now 90+ and living in a care facility. Eloise and I took a walk through the hallways and I was surprised to run into Bobby who is also a resident.

Bobby is the brother of one of my high school classmates. His family lived on a farm near ours, went to the same church, and was just always a part of the usual activities in the community. So, why do I mention Bobby? Well, it’s because Bobby has special health and behavioral needs. As a child and teenager, I didn’t think too much about Bobby – he was just Bobby and everyone helped take care of him. But as an adult, I look back and think, “How did his parents manage? How did they take care of Bobby and his brothers as well as give time to their marriage and personal lives?”

My guess is that while Bobby’s parents had their ups and downs, they took care of themselves. Providing care for a child with special health and behavioral needs means that the parents/caregivers are in it for the long haul. The caregivers must take care of themselves first so that they can take of their child.

Powerful Tools for Caregivers is a program for caregivers of children with special health and behavioral needs. Caring for a child with special needs changes parents’ lives. In this program parents learn tools to manage self-care. Here’s an example of one tool – taking action with stress reducers.

Participants in the classes learn to identify their personal warning signs and sources of stress. Then they think about what they have done to successfully reduce stress. People share things like: walk, visit a friend, listen to music, read, not try to do everything, play a sport, etc. Stress reducers are personal and what suits one person may not suit another.

The important point is to find ways to reduce stress – something that is enjoyable and works for you. Even little things can make a big difference for parents. As I remember, Bobby’s parents found ways to reduce stress. They were a part of church activities, Bobby’s dad played horseshoes with the neighborhood men, and Bobby’s mom tended pretty flowers in their yard.

If you’re interested in learning more tools to help you thrive as a caregiver of a child with special health and behavioral needs, check out Powerful Tools for Caregivers classes in your area.


Donna Donald

Donna Donald is a Human Sciences specialist for Iowa State University Extension and Outreach who has spent her career working with families across the lifespan. She believes families are defined by function as well as form. Donna entered parenthood as a stepmother to three daughters and loves being a grandmother of seven young adults.

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Classroom Strategies to Support Special Needs Children

iStock_000005759838Small[1]Downs_1 copyThe beginning of the new school year can be an anxious time for parents of a child with special needs. Parents may worry about whether their child will be accepted into a new classroom. They may also worry about their child’s classmates and the teacher that is assigned. The school year is a long time, so every child deserves an environment that is suitable for learning and growing.
All children have the need for belonging, and yet, for children with special needs, they can often be left out by their classmates or left behind in their classroom studies. Having a learning disability doesn’t mean a child cannot learn, it simply means, the approach a teacher takes must be intentional so that the child CAN learn.

A few strategies that can make a big difference in the classroom include:

  • limiting distractions – teachers who are organized ahead of time, who can limit the number of interruptions or distractions can help a child stay focused on the learning.
  • breakdown instructions – teachers who will keep instructions short and who will repeat the instructions help students who need that reinforcement.
  • devise opportunities for students success. It may not seem important, but when students with special needs experience success in the classroom, it creates excitement that will reinforce their desire to try again! It is the support of the teacher, acknowledging student success that can make all the difference.

So parents, as school draws near, advocate for your child and watch your student succeed!

Barb Dunn Swanson

With two earned degrees from Iowa State University, Barb is a Human Sciences Specialist utilizing her experience working alongside communities to develop strong youth and families! With humor and compassion, she enjoys teaching, listening and learning to learn!

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The Stress of Special Needs

iStock_000005759838Small[1]Downs_1 copyThe demands of parenting often are multiplied for parents of children with special health and behavioral needs. However, these parents will be better able to provide care for their children if they also take care of themselves. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 15 percent of U.S. families have a chronically ill child with special health needs. The extra demands cause stress that affects the whole family.

Caring for a child with special needs can require additional time, which can mean you have less time for your other children, your spouse or aging parents, who also need your attention. Maybe you’ve been criticized or judged by others who simply do not understand your child’s condition. You may feel isolated from other parents, because how could people who don’t have a child with special needs possibly know what you are going through?  Parents often are trying to learn about their child’s disability and find treatments and resources. They’re coping with the emotional and physical challenges of providing care as they coordinate healthcare treatments, advocate for their child and pay for necessary services. No wonder parents of children with special needs often are exhausted and even depressed,

Join us this month as we self-care tips and resources that can help parents cope. We will discuss ways that family members can support each other and we’ll also talk about when and how to reach out for assistance. In addition we will explore resources for reducing stress that are available through ISU Extension and Outreach.

August 2016

Lori Korthals, M.S.

Mother of three. Lover of all things child development related. Fascinated by temperament and brain development. Professional background with families, child care providers, teachers and community service entities.

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Friendships and Children with Special Needs

Children with special needs should be offered opportunities to create friendships. Some children will make friends very easily while others may need a little help from adults. Here are a couple of ideas on how to create peer interactions for children with special needs.

  • Encourage and arrange play dates
  • Organize the area in which the children will play
  • Have more than one of the same toy so children can play with the same toy, imitating and mimicking each other
  • Join in and play to keep interactions going
  • Never force friendships between children of any age or ability

“Friendship among typically developing children and children with special needs is not only possible but beneficial. With support and encouragement from adults, young children with and without disabilities can form connections that not only provide enjoyment but help promote their growth and development in multiple domains”. (eXtension.edu, 2011)

We would love to know your  ideas on how to encourage friendships for children with special needs.

For more information on friendships and children with special needs: Peer Support for Children with Special Needs

Lori Korthals, M.S.

Mother of three. Lover of all things child development related. Fascinated by temperament and brain development. Professional background with families, child care providers, teachers and community service entities.

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Plugging In For Special Needs

I’m texting my daughter wondering when she needs me to pick her up. I’m writing my blog on my laptop. And I listened to the podcast on an iPad. Technology is important to me.

I listened with interest to what Dr. Susan Walker and the guys had to say… I was curious. I wanted to know where I fit in. I was hoping they weren’t going to tell me I was too ‘plugged in’. They didn’t. They made me feel like I was using the technology in a way that really supported my parenting. How refreshing for once! Instead of being told it’s too much I was told…think about how you are using it to support your family life in a positive way.

I started to wonder how I would share with you positive impacts it has made on our family… I hesitated to share this particular story but then decided that maybe there was someone else who wants to know if they ‘fit in’….. Technology can help parents find that emotional and social support they need when they have a child with special needs.

My daughter as Aspergers. She has difficulty in social situations. She is disorganized and struggles with self-confidence. She has amazing in-depth thoughts and ideas but struggles to express them verbally. We got her a phone for her 12th birthday. We initially wondered if she would be able to utilize the phone because she is intimidated to talk typically. But we were ‘hopeful’ that she might take to texting.

The child amazed us in a matter of hours. Her texts were stunning. Long full thoughts with CAPITAL letters and EXCLAMATION points!!!! She was thrilled to be able finish her thoughts without losing her confidence like she does when speaking. We were thrilled! And admittedly annoyed when she would correct us or impatiently text again and again waiting for an answer.

Technology supported her in a way we never guessed. The iPad has given her big imagination and a place to listen to/read books, as well a place to create The cell phone has give her a voice. As parents we struggled with the idea of ‘plugging her in’ wondering what others might say because she is 12.

Technology supported our parenting. It supported our child. It’s boundaries are limitless so it is up to us to set boundaries and find boundaries. Make sure that technology does not ‘replace’ your child’s learning but supports it. Also that it is appropriate for your child’s current development. Support groups and websites for parents of children with special needs are a fabulous place to let technology build us up as parents and fill our parenting tool box.

What ways has technology supported you or your family?  How have you benefited from getting your family ‘plugged in?

Lori Korthals, M.S.

Mother of three. Lover of all things child development related. Fascinated by temperament and brain development. Professional background with families, child care providers, teachers and community service entities.

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