The Holidays with a Special Needs Child (part 2)

We posted this on our Facebook page around Thanksgiving, but we think it is worth repeating. Article from

Special Needs ChristmasHolidays have always been times that families join together to share in traditions. Family traditions promote positive emotional development in children. They help children feel connectedness to others and develop a family’s sense of identity. Whether your family is traditional, blended, or non-traditional in any way, traditions can build relationship and strengthen bonds to last a lifetime. Your family can be creative in accommodating special needs in your traditions.
Traditions can be as traditional or diverse as families themselves. Consider each family member’s needs and values. Think about values you want to promote as part of your family’s identity. When your family includes children or adults with special needs, it is important to choose activities that everyone can enjoy. It is also important not to feel as if you have to do things the way everyone else does if it would be stressful or difficult for your family. Doing what works for you can reduce stress and helps create memorable traditions that everyone in the family can enjoy.

Tips for Developing Traditions with Special Needs Children:

  • When planning a meal for a child with food allergies or other special diet needs, try to offer several choices of special foods for the child if possible. Serve the special foods in festive dishes so your child sees his food as special too.
  • Share special family stories and memories, and be sure to include the special needs child as well as others.
  • If your child has difficulty sharing stories because of language issues, allow him to show pictures of happy events or times that were special for him.
  • Consider doing something special for others as part of your celebration. Have each person donate used items to charity, make a donation in the family’s name, donate food to a homeless shelter, or make cookies for neighbors.
  • Have each person share something they are thankful for, or share something they appreciate about the family. Again, help children with language issues share so that others can understand.
  • Read stories about the holiday together. Choose books with illustrations and words that your special needs child can understand.
  • Be sure to take pictures of everyone, and display them for everyone to see. After the celebration, help family members place photos in scrapbooks.
  • Watch a holiday movie together.
  • Include your children in decorating for the holiday. Provide your child with some appropriate choices for decoration, and allow her to choose what to display and where.
  • Allow your child to participate in food preparation, setting the table, and clean up as her ability levels allow.
  • Hold family meetings to plan activities and get everyone’s ideas for traditions.
  • Include your child in making invitations and sending thank you notes. If your child has writing difficulty, allow him to use stamps, color designs or images, or decorate with embellishments that are appropriate for his age and developmental level.
  • Keep realistic behavior expectations, and plan alternative activities for your child when she needs a break from others. Know your child’s limits, and ensure adequate nap time or time away from the noise and stimulation that sometimes comes at family gatherings. Learn other ways to manage behavior at family gatherings.

The Holidays with a Special Needs Child

College Students Making a Difference for Children with Disabilities this Holiday Season

Sixteen students at the University of Georgia are helping to make sure children of all abilities can enjoy the holiday season– by creating toys specifically designed for children with motor disabilities. The students are taking an assistive technology class called “Geeks With a Cause,” a part of the university’s Freshman Odyssey program, which pairs small groups of first-year students with professors teaching specialized topics.

The toys crafted by the students included larger controls and switches, making it easier for the children to play with them. One young girl with limited muscle control received a toy with adapted switches, which she was able to use to turn the toy on and off. “For her to be able to do something functional, for her to be able to do that; this is very exciting,” her mother said.

The adapted toys brought joy and tears to the toy recipients and their families, and touched the lives of the students in the class. Click here to read more!

One Parent’s Tips for the Holidays

Part of My Child Without Limits’ (MCWL) work is to help support its online community of parents and caregivers who share their ideas, experiences and inspiration with each other. One mother recently shared her tips to help parents of children with autism navigate the holidays. These tips include not going overboard with the decorations and shopping, finding help way in advance for parties, remembering the meaning of the holiday season and more. You can check out these tips by clicking here, and United Cerebral Palsy (UCP) and MCWL wish everyone a happy holiday season!

Giving Tuesday- Thank You!

On Tuesday, December 3, 2013, UCP-OC joined a call to action celebrating a day dedicated to giving. Begun in 2012, #GivingTuesday is a movement to create a national day of giving at the start of the annual holiday season, and follows Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday. #GivingTuesday proves that the holidays can be about both giving and giving back. It celebrates how Americans can do more with their wallets than just shop – and that we Americans can give as good as we get. See our holiday story here.

Thank you to everyone who helped support this year’s #GivingTuesday. Its success would not have been possible without you!

We Want to Hear From You

We love to share our families’ success stories. You can share these with Elizabeth Eckman, UCP-OC’s Marketing & Development Coordinator, at Tell us how you and your child live your lives without limits! Your stories could be featured on UCP’s websites, social media or in other UCP campaigns. We’ve already heard from many of you, so stay tuned to see more amazing stories and photos!

As always, we encourage everyone to visit our  Facebook page and website. If you ever have any comments or questions, please feel free to contact Elizabeth.

Child of the Month: December 2013

December 2013: Brooke

Brooke ended her first evening at the Friday Night Club telling us she met a friend; something we had never heard her say before.

Brooke & Natalie
Brooke with Friday Night Club Founder Natalie Cernius

At 15 months of age, we learned our daughter Brooke would have challenges ahead of her. Now 16 and with a diagnosis on the autism spectrum, social interactions with peers are often difficult and distressing for her, many times leading to seclusion. As she entered her teen years, Brooke saw her sister socialize with friends and wanted to participate in “teenage” activities, but it was difficult to find a place where she would fit in. We knew there were many teens for Brooke to meet, there was just nowhere for this to take place. As parents, this affected us deeply. Then two years ago, through United Cerebral Palsy of Orange County (UCP-OC), we heard about the Friday Night Club.

Friday Night Club opened Brooke’s world. This bi-weekly event is a place where teens with disabilities feel welcomed and accepted. It gives teens with or without disabilities the opportunity to play games, watch movies, sing karaoke and simply spend time with one another in an inclusive and fun environment. Friday Night Club gives teens with special needs something to look forward to.

Every person deserves a place to belong and friends to share in their journey, and Brooke now has that. This club brought out positive emotions in Brooke we had never seen, and more than anything we see self-confidence. In addition to Friday Night Club, Brooke looks forward to UCP-OC’s therapeutic fitness and music classes, as well as respite with a trained UCP-OC employee, which also gives us a much needed break. UCP-OC has given our daughter a home.

Kershberg family
Kershberg Family

With your help, Brooke can continue to look forward to Friday Night Club and the other UCP-OC services she and nearly 4,000 Orange County children and families utilize throughout the year. The Friday Night Club is just one of the many programs UCP-OC offers to end the isolation that so many children and teens with special needs feel. Programs at UCP-OC serve the critical developmental, social, and emotional needs of children and teens with disabilities and provide much-needed support to parents and caregivers, including education and skilled childcare.

We invite you to join us in giving back to UCP-OC this season in gratitude for all UCP-OC has done for our daughter and her new friends. We are grateful for a place where teens can feel accepted for who they are. 

UCP-OC relies on your generosity to fill these critical gaps in services. Children, teenagers and young adults with special needs are a growing demographic in Orange County, and are often isolated and overlooked. Together we can foster friendship and acceptance for all children with disabilities in Orange County. Please help children and teens live a Life Without Limits by sending in your gift or going online to today.

Thank you for making a difference in the life of Brooke and her friends at UCP-OC.

Hilary & Mark Kershberg

P.S. Visit to make a gift today and watch Brooke’s video of her journey to friendship.