27 Places To Visit In Florida That Really Shine For A Special Needs Family

packing for family trip

Florida is one of the best places to visit if your family is looking for a little sunshine and a lot of fun. As parents, we want our vacation to be an enjoyable experience for the whole family. So when it comes to planning a vacation as a special needs family, we go the extra mile to make sure there’s a little something for everyone, especially our little people with special needs.

Here are 27 amazing places to visit in Florida that are perfect for special needs families.


1. Walt Disney World

We love Disney for many reasons, but especially because they offer a Disability Access Service card that can be picked up at guest services. This card helps visitors with disabilities by offering shorter wait times and shaded lineup areas. Disney also offers break areas, companion restrooms, and awesome accommodations for guests with food allergies.

2. Aquatica

Aquatica is a special needs-friendly water park. In fact, it’s the first water park in the world to be designated a Certified Autism Center. Aquatica even offers a Park Sensory Guide to assist special needs families with planning the perfect trip.

Winter Park

3. LEGOLAND Florida

Kids love LEGO, and LEGOLAND loves kids. Using the LEGOLAND Hero Pass, guests with disabilities can board their first ride immediately, with the opportunity to reserve ride times at other attractions later in the day


4. Bright Horizons Diving

Bright Horizons specializes in adaptive scuba diving lessons for people on the autism spectrum or with other disabilities. They offer one-on-one swimming lessons in a calm, supportive environment, and encourage families to get involved too.

5. Alaqua Animal Refuge

Alaqua Animal Refuge is a non-profit animal sanctuary located on a 10-acre farm. They offer guided tours of the farm, which include horses, donkeys, goats, cows, and other animals.

6. Emerald Coast Science Center

The hands-on interactive and educational exhibits make Emerald Coast Science Center a must-visit destination. They offer everything from animal exhibits to robots with the latest technology.

Fort Lauderdale

7. Young at Art

Young at Art is a children’s museum that offers Sensory Sunday every second Sunday of the month. These special hours are just for families with autism or other sensory sensitivities and allow them to explore exhibits in a calm environment. Art activities even offer adaptive art tools.

8. Flamingo Gardens

Flamingo Gardens is so much more than just flamingos (although we think flamingos are seriously cool!). This botanical garden and wildlife sanctuary offers butterfly and hummingbird gardens, a black bear habitat, and other exciting wildlife encounters.

9. We Rock the Spectrum

This gym is for kids of all abilities, promoting social interaction and communication in a safe, nurturing, and inclusive environment. They offer open gym times, arts and crafts as well as Mommy and Me creative dance and movement classes.


10. H2Om Float

If you’re looking for a different kind of calming experience for your loved one on the spectrum, try float therapy. The float pools are warmed to body temperature and the added salt allows visitors to float effortlessly. (The pools have only 10 inches of water in them.) The addition of lights and music makes it a relaxing, tranquil experience.

11. Bravoz

At first glance, Bravoz may seem like your typical trampoline park, with a Ninja warrior course, mini-bowling, laser tag, climbing walls, and an arcade, but it’s the sensory-friendly sessions that set Bravoz apart. With music turned off and distractions dialed down, the facility transforms into an amazingly sensory-friendly environment.

12. Sensory Towne

If you’re looking for open play times, swings, and slides for kids and caregivers alike, check out Sensory Towne in Jacksonville. They also offer art classes, dance classes, and kids’ yoga.


13. Shake-A-Leg

Therapeutic sailing, swimming, and kayaking are just some of the amazing activities offered by Shake-A-Leg. This not-for-profit works with children and adults with physical and developmental challenges.

14. Island Dolphin Care

Island Dolphin Care offers dolphin therapy programs for children with special needs and their families. Whether you’re looking for a session in the water or from land, they have a session to meet your family’s needs.

15. Autism on the Seas

Autism on the Seas offers staff-assisted cruises for special needs families. They accommodate numerous special needs including autism, Asperger syndrome, Tourette syndrome, cerebral palsy, and many other developmental disabilities.


16. National Naval Aviation Museum

National Naval Aviation Museum offers more than 250 restored aircraft from World War I to present day. You can take pictures in the cockpits and check out all the historic memorabilia or enjoy the Kitty Hawk playground and onsite cafe.

17. Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park

This amazing marine adventure park has plenty of marine life, offers lots of shade for those with special needs, and encourages guests with special diets or food allergies to bring their own food.

18. Sam’s Surf City

Sometimes you just need a lazy day at the pool, or perhaps on the lazy river. Sam’s Surf City boasts a 750-foot endless river, seven pools, and 12 large water slides, for those days you’re looking to make a splash.

Peter W. Cross


19. Dinosaur World

Experience hundreds of life-sized dinosaurs at this laid-back family park. Food allergies and special diets aren’t an issue at Dinosaur World because you can bring your own cooler. Massive oak trees offer plenty of shade between exhibits. There’s also a dinosaur-themed playground.

20. Great Explorations Children’s Museum

Staff members at Great Explorations receive special training to increase awareness of the needs of visitors on the autism spectrum. They offer a program once a month for children with special needs and their families.

21. ZooTampa

This zoo goes above and beyond to make sure visitors on the spectrum have an enjoyable experience. They offer visual aids at the front gate that can be borrowed during your visit, and an autism-friendly version of their zoo map, which includes sensory-friendly tips for planning your visit.

St. Petersburg

22. Tradewinds Island Resort

If you’re looking for a special-needs resort, Tradewinds Island Resort is the place for your family. All the fun of the beach but with resort staff who are specially trained to meet the needs of your family. From in-room safety kits to gluten-free menu options, they’re sensitive to the needs of each guest.

23. Fort De Soto Park

Fort De Soto Park offers beautiful beaches, amazing cuisine, and a rich history. Enjoy a day on the nature trails or rent a couple of canoes and take in all the islands have to offer.

24. LOCALE Market

If your family enjoys food, LOCALE Market is a great option. With an amazing array of dining choices and even better conversation, you won’t be disappointed.

Daytona Beach

25. Lighthouse Point Park

Lighthouse Point Park , on 52 acres in Central Florida, features fishing, nature trails, an observation deck and tower, swimming, and pavilions. There’s plenty of wildlife to be seen along the trails, including tortoises, armadillos, and in the water nearby, even dolphins!

26. Marine Science Center

If you’re in the market for a hands-on experience, Marine Science Center is a child-friendly aquatic museum with a stingray touch pool and living reef aquarium. And who doesn’t want to touch a stingray?

27. Daytona International Speedway

If your family has a need for speed, Daytona International Speedway will get you going. The track offers 30-minute tours that are perfect for families.

Now that you have a few options, where are you heading? Maybe you should just give this list to the kids and let them decide. No matter where your family decides to go, everyone is sure to have an amazing time on your next getaway to Florida!

VISIT FLORIDA is Florida’s official tourism corporation, serving as the official source for travel planning to visitors across the globe. Check out the VISIT FLORIDA website to learn more and start planning the vacation your family will be talking about for years to come.

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I Love Parenting My Autistic Tween

It’s 5 AM, and my 11-year-old son is standing at my bedside, shaking me awake. He needs to tell me about something he learned in science class yesterday. Not related, but also very important, he wants to read me a section of the novel he is writing.

“Baby,” I say. “I need a minute. I’m really tired.”

“This is important, Mom!” He runs back out of the room, and I hear him preparing to write. He’s chattering to himself, his fingers drumming on the dining room table as his computer starts up.

I drag myself to the kitchen and see that he’s already emptied the dishwasher. Anxiety can be rough for kids on the spectrum, and to-do tasks are anxiety-provoking, so this is one less thing for him to worry about.

I make coffee and watch him tapping frantically at the keyboard, pausing to chirp and flutter his fingers, then diving back in to his chapter. He is writing a science fiction novel about a humanoid robot that becomes self-aware, who looks like all the other robots but believes that he is a real boy. A combination of Pinocchio and I, Robot, adding in an unconscious narrative of his own unusual neurology.

“They think I’m like the other robots,” he reads to me. “They don’t know I have feelings and ideas, that I learn and mimic what I see just to fool them. I want them to see me, but I’m too scared to show them who I really am. What if they don’t care? What if they lock me up?”

His writing pulls me back to years earlier, when I first started wondering about his behaviors and mannerisms.

“Thank you for helping us,” he said to the lady bagging our groceries one day. “You must be a good person, to choose a job that helps people. Not everyone decides to do that.”

“How old are you?” she asked.

“Three,” he said, and offered his hand to shake.

No doctor ever mentioned autism, not with his early speech and love of hugs, and he charmed everyone with his shrewd, literal observations of the world.

But his charisma turned to awkwardness as he got older, anxiety and mood dysregulation kicking in as he entered his elementary school years. Sensory issues escalated. Social challenges snowballed. Kids bullied him for being “weird,” and teachers misconstrued his unusual hand gestures, pressured speech, and misinterpretations of social cues.

He melted down, triggered by mysterious causes I struggled to pinpoint. He had few friends. Even with therapy and near-constant school meetings, it took years to get a diagnosis. And when we finally got one, it devastated me.

It’s hard to acknowledge the way I rejected my own child when I first saw him for who he was.

But having to fight for him in school and the larger world changed me. I grew angry as teachers and principals listed all the things that were wrong with him. Why didn’t they see what he was capable of? My own perspective shifted and refocused as doctors and behavioral therapists tried to train him to be more like the typical kids around him. I wondered why I was allowing others to train my child at all.

He stayed calm and productive when we supported him at home by reducing stimuli and avoiding overwhelming situations. He built Lego rocket ships with his sisters, helped his dad cook dinner, and took walks with me, discussing his plans and dreams.

We moved him to a school that didn’t tolerate bullying and celebrated the value of all learners. As his teachers learned about his needs, accommodating him with short breaks and a quiet space to work alone, his meltdowns at school reduced dramatically. After a year, he became a school ambassador and got straight A’s. He needed support, but also supported others, making friends through his efforts to include other kids who struggled along the margins.

It took time, far longer than it should have, for me to realize that this wasn’t about me or my expectations. It was about my son, about getting over my idea of what parenting was supposed to be and simply showing up and loving my kid. It’s hard to admit that I wept when I first heard a doctor say “autism,” to describe the shell-shocked, heartbroken mother I used to be. I lost sight of his deep belly laugh, his soft blonde hair, the way he cuddled close and asked me questions about space as he fell asleep.

My son transforms everyone he comes in contact with. The more I learn about him, and about autism itself, the less I want to change or “cure” him. In many ways, he is profoundly disabled. In other ways, he is extraordinary and independent. In all ways, he is funny, smart, and loving. The baby boy I was supposed to have, to raise, to hold close and adore.

I love parenting my autistic child.

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What I Realized When I Observed My Son With Autism At School

Today started out as a regular ol’ Thursday.  Alarm clocks ringing, bowls of cereal spilling, frantically looking for that missing homework paper that we most definitely finished late the night before, and then the silence that ensued as my last school-aged child hopped on the big yellow bus. However, today I had to change out of my jammies a little bit quicker and drop my youngest off at the sitter because our district was celebrating American Education week. Today was the day parents were invited to observe their child’s classroom.

If I’m being honest, I used to dread these days. My son is on the Autism Spectrum and while I love a peek at what goes on in school, seeing him struggle in a different environment is tougher than it is to see him struggle at home. At home, I know everything that goes on (well almost). After all, I am MOM!

Regardless, I would always go, show support, smile and sometimes cry inside. Half the time, I didn’t even know why. Probably, because it’s a million little things I’m crying for and about. Sometimes happy tears, sometimes sad tears. Mostly, what-if tears.

But I’m not reflecting to have a pity party.  I’m reflecting because today I went and I sat in the back of my son’s inclusion classroom. I smiled for 45 solid minutes.  I smiled at how he fit in, and sometimes stood out. I smiled at how he followed directions. And, I smiled when he didn’t, because he forgot to write his name on his paper (rookie mistake). I smiled at how he seems to have friends. I smiled at how he tried not to smile when he saw me walk in, but couldn’t. I smiled at how much his teachers clearly love what they do. And, man do they love what they do!

His teachers rapped about antonyms today and I mean they rapped. Yes, there were a couple of parents in the back observing, but I am certain they were not channeling their inner Biggie Smalls for us. They love my kid and his classmates and that love has sparked a love of learning in my little guy that I used to dream about.

So, in short, nothing amazing happened today. Well, the antonym rapping was pretty amazing! My kid raised his hand and forgot what he was going to say. A typical first-grade mistake from a not-so-typical kid. And that made me happy. I don’t think I’ve set the bar low. I’ve never been okay with mediocracy before, but I think I am now.

If there is anything I’ve learned in the past 7 years from being an autism mom is that average is okay. Heck, it’s wonderful! When we focus so specifically on the spectrum, and where a person may or may not fall, we can lose sight of the bigger picture. We use the word “special” a lot. Special needs, special education, special diet, special plan within the IEP, etc. But I’m done with special.

Today, I choose ordinary. And I’m proud to have gotten to a point in my life where average is not only okay, but pretty damn perfect. Obviously, every day isn’t perfectly average and full of smiles, but I will continue to look forward to ordinary days like today. Perfection is sneaky sometimes, as it can hide in a regular ol’ Thursday.

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Why I Celebrate My Son’s Autism On Halloween

The holidays can be a nightmare for people and parents dealing with autism. For parents, we hope this will be the year our children will eat the same thing as everybody else at the Thanksgiving table. We pray our children will sit — and if we are really lucky — look at the camera for a family Christmas photo.

We beg our children to wear the adorable suit and tie or frilly pastel colored dress for church on Easter Sunday. We wish our children would enjoy the excitement of the holidays rather than get sensory overloaded and become so anxious that most of our holiday celebrations are cut short. As the parent of an 8-year-old with autism, I get it. Every year I feel the same way about holidays and every year I find myself dreading them more and more… except for one.


Think about it. Halloween is the one holiday where “fitting in” is actually discouraged. It’s the one holiday when standing out and being as different as humanly possible results in positive praise and feedback. And it’s the one holiday where I can make my child’s obsession with odd objects (such as fire alarms and microwaves) something people actually pay attention to in a tangible way.

I remember when my son was four years old and his obsession was microwaves. I remember him expressing how he wanted to be a microwave for Halloween and I remember thinking “Dear Lord, no. People are going to make fun of you. Don’t you want to be something more ‘normal’ like everybody else?”

But my mind was quickly changed when — after a cardboard box and some silver spray paint later — my son actually got to see his passion come to life. And better yet, he got to share that passion with everybody else. Dressed like a microwave, my son could beep like a microwave, talk about microwaves, and flap with excitement about microwaves — and every single person loved it.

Since that first Halloween four years ago, it has become the one holiday where I feel like my son can openly express his interests, and the odder they are, the more excitement they generate from others. From a microwave, to a deck, to a fire alarm, to a tornado, and this year a haunted house, my friends and family actually wait to hear and see with excitement what Grandy’s current obsession is and how I can bring it to life for others to see. It definitely hasn’t been easy and every year I wonder how I will pull it off, but somehow I do, and the results are nothing short of magical.

So for autism parents, I get that the holidays can be hard. And I understand that Halloween may just be another holiday you dread trying to celebrate with others, but I encourage you to try and look at it in a different light. Don’t celebrate Halloween because everybody else is; celebrate it because your child is what everybody else is not — and on Halloween day, that is perfectly “normal.”

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What Going To Disney World With My Autistic Son Taught Me About Parenting

My oldest son, Ross, is autistic. He was diagnosed when he was 3 and is now a happy, thriving 6-year-old who just started kindergarten. Last spring we went to Disney World with my autistic son. My husband, my boys, my mother- and father-in-law, my sister-in-law and her husband and I all headed to Orlando to go on a new adventure to Disney World. An adventure that went far better than I expected.

Honestly, I’d set very low expectations for the trip and especially for how much Ross was going to like it. I was pleasantly surprised by how engaged he was and how much he liked it. I was also surprised by what I learned as a parent and how it changed how I parent all three of my boys.

1. It’s hard to accept that he is different, but I need to.

I think Ross spent 75% of the time in Disney World in his stroller. Most of that time he had noise cancelling headphones on and Netflix videos were playing through the bluetooth in the headphones for part of that. BUT, he loved it. A few years ago I would have prodded him to get out of the stroller and experience the parks the same way my neurotypical boys do. I would have tried to get him to go on rides or see more movies and he probably would have melted down. He was actually quite happy sitting in his stroller, looking around, hopping out for the occasional character. He also became obsessed with trading pins. This was the perfect activity for him and actually didn’t end up as terribly expensive as I expected.

In the last three years, I have had to learn to accept that he will experience things in his own way and that he enjoys things in his own way. He still talks about how amazing his trip to Disney World was and I’m glad I got over myself and let him decide how he wanted to experience it.

2. Being a little pushy is okay.

On our third day in Disney World the kids, my husband and I had reservations to Chef Mickey’s at the Contemporary Hotel. When we got there, we discovered that strollers had to be parked outside and there was no way that Ross was getting out of his stroller. Ross was over-stimulated from the parks and on the verge of melting down all the time but was also super excited to have brunch with Mickey.

We were at an impasse. I had gone up to the desk when we arrived and asked if strollers were allowed and they said no. In desperation, I asked my husband if we should just go and explain the situation. I always fear being too pushy or asking too much, but he doesn’t fear these things at all. So he asked if we could bring the stroller for Ross in and explained his situation and they said yes. My fear of being pushy or of judgement had always stopped Ross from being able to go in to what became his favorite part of Disney.

Note: I later found out you can get a “Stroller as a Wheelchair” pass for Disney and could have avoided the whole situation.

3. (Sometimes) IDGAF.

As Dua Lipa says, “I don’t give a f***”.  Ok, maybe I do a little but I’m trying to care less. Back to that third day at Disney and we got a table with a wheelchair spot at Chef Mickey’s and all was fine. Ross doesn’t like many new foods so was totally uninterested in eating. He sat in his stroller with the hood up and his headphones on. People looked and — at least in my head — they judged. So I took a deep breath and decided that IDGAF. This happened more than once in the course of the trip. From choosing bubbles over characters to melting down when someone cut in the waterslide line, I decided to take the approach that IDGAF what others thought. I was going to help my sons have the best vacation possible and not let others bother me.

4. I need to ask for help.

Perhaps the biggest thing I learned at Disney that made me a better parent was that I need to ask for help. I tend to try to do it all. Whether it was asking for help from Disney cast members or from my in-laws (they watched the kids several nights so my husband and I could have dinner alone) we could not have made it through Disney without lots of support. When I got back to the “real world” I tried to remember this lesson and ask for help because it’s definitely a lot easier.

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10 Kinds Of People You Encounter When Your Child Has ADHD

Although I’m somewhat of an ADHD parent rookie, my husband and I suspected it for years. Truth be told, we were somewhat relieved when we received our son’s diagnosis because we wanted to help him, but nothing ever seemed to work (ADHD parents, amiright?).

The ADHD struggle is real, and parents see things in their ADHD children that other family members and friends just don’t – the daily meltdowns about screen time or cookies, telling your child to put his shoes on five times and then having to touch his shoulder before he even acknowledges your existence, listening to the constant jabbering and questions (okay, I find this ADHD trait adorable and endearing), all the energy … ALL THE TIME, and of course, the constant communication from the school for behavioral challenges.

We know our children best. Period.

However, many of the comments I’ve received about my child’s diagnosis, and during the diagnosis process, have been truly astonishing — and I have three boys so nothing surprises me anymore! Below are the 10 types of people you will encounter when you share your child’s ADHD diagnosis.

1.  The Experts

The experts know everything. I mean EVERYTHING. They have all the answers on how to “cure” your child’s ADHD, from changing their diet to changing schools. They are not teachers, behavioral specialists, or even living with a person with ADHD, but they have no problem telling you what you should and shouldn’t do with your child.

2. The REAL Experts

These are the teachers, fellow parents of children with ADHD, special education instructors and counselors with actual hands-on experience. They only offer help or advice if you ask for it, and you definitely should ask for it. They have great information on everything from different approaches on how to speak to your child and talking to them about their ADHD, to how to work with your child’s teacher and creating a 504 plan. The REAL experts are saviors and if you don’t have them in your life already, find them.

3. The Opinionators

Opinionators have no problem telling you what they think about your child’s diagnosis and if they think your child actually has ADHD or not. You’ll hear everything from “He’s just a normal boy” to “I don’t see it.” They compare your child to other children, and share unsolicited observations — you know, in case you don’t notice yourself (insert eye roll emoji here).

4. The Anti-Medicators 

One of the first questions the anti-medicators ask is “Will you medicate?” If your response is “no” or “as a last resort” they immediately let out an exaggerated sigh of relief and cry out “Oh good.” If your response is “yes” then … run. The decision to medicate or not is a private one, between the parents and their healthcare professional. Kindly butt out, Felicia.

5. The Un-phasables 

If you tell an un-phasable your child has ADHD, they don’t so much as flinch – they don’t look or act surprised, or have any reaction at all. They don’t give you unsolicited opinions or advice but they listen to everything you say, or need to vent about. They are basically ADHD Switzerlands, with comments like, “I’m sure that’s really hard” or “That’s interesting.” If you have a bad ADHD day and need a timeout yourself, call up an un-phasable for a glass of wine – they won’t judge if you call your child an asshole while taking a breather.

6. The Anti-ADHDers

Anti-ADHDers do not believe in ADHD. They believe it is “over-diagnosed” so all children who are diagnosed just plain and simply don’t have it. They actually cringe when you say “ADHD,” like it’s some kind of political debate they disagree with. Some will go as far as actually making you feel like you need to defend your child’s diagnosis. The Anti-ADHDers believe a simple spanking or a better loving environment is all the kid needs.

7. The Hippies 

Cut GMO’s and gluten out of your child’s diet, along with using essential oils on your kid’s butt and his ADHD will magically disappear!

8. The Askers 

The askers are full of questions – how we knew to get our child tested, how the diagnosis process went, what his teacher says, etc. They gather all the information, as they find ADHD and the entire process interesting.

9. The Shamers

The shamers will make mental notes any time you raise your voice, lose your shit, or show the slightest bit of impatience and then suggest ways for you to parent differently. Basically they make you feel like a crappy parent after your worst moments (thanks guys).

10. The Supporters

But then there are the supporters. These individuals never offer unsolicited advice or opinions. They are the people WE NEED MORE OF. They support every decision we make for our ADHD child, because they know that we – the parents – know our children best and will always do what we think is best for them. Their comments bring legit tears to our eyes, because they are what every parent needs to hear, especially on a bad ADHD day.

“You’re doing a great job.”
“We are really proud of the parents you are.”
“We are happy you noticed this (ADHD), and caught it early.”
“That’s great your school is being so accommodating. It sounds like a great school.”
“Please let us know what we can do, or how we can help.”
“I know he is a difficult child, but you are doing all the right things.”

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This Is What Life Is Like In The Grey Areas Of The Autism Spectrum

Last summer, my older son, then 5 ½, went to school. It’s called “ESY” in New Jersey – Extended School Year – and many kids like my boy, who has type 1 diabetes, autism, ADHD, processing disorders and/or learning disabilities attend such programs.

For those who are unacquainted, the primary purpose of ESY is to provide continuity, so the children have minimal regression over the long summer break. It’s not “summer school” in the traditional sense. No new skills are taught, but the previous school year’s skills are repeated, services like speech and occupational therapy are still provided, and for children who need the routine, or for over-extended parents and caretakers, the program is often a blessing.

This year, when we went for the IEP meeting to revise his goals for next year, my son’s [most excellent] team informed us that he didn’t qualify for ESY this summer. Our school district changed the program a bit from last year, and my son had exceeded his expectations for this past school year, so they all felt it would be more harm than benefit for him to attend the program; the recommendation was to send him to “regular” camp with neurotypical kids, perhaps a diabetes camp if it was possible (my boy also has type 1 diabetes).

This is what we’re supposed to desire, right? We are supposed to want our kids to be “typical,” aren’t we? So why was this news giving me such mixed feelings?

In addition to not needing ESY this year, it has been determined that he’ll mainstream quite a bit more this coming school year. In IEP-speak, he has been increased from “less than 40%” of his day to “40-70%” of his day. In addition to his “specials,” for which he was mainstreamed in kindergarten – art, music, library, health, computers, and gym – he’ll be with a regular first grade class for math and science this year, as well. He’ll stay with his LLD (Language or Learning Disabled) class for all writing and reading-based subjects, and social skills. Again, this is great. It’s progress! At least, it’s supposed to be, right? Why don’t I feel more excited about this?

I have no illusions about my son or his abilities; he probably has a higher IQ than me, and the way in which he comprehends the world, when we catch a glimpse of it, is nothing short of incredible to me. It’s more likely that I underestimate him than overestimate him, to put it another way, so I’m sure that, academically at least, he will be fine when September rolls around and first grade begins.

But socially? Without camp, how on earth would I provide the social interaction and regimented schedule he needs, while still allowing for a fun family summer? And what will it be like for him when he integrates into the regular class each day next year?

It’s this living life in the grey area that is so difficult for me. Uncertainty and anxiety are constant states of being in our house, and it gets exhausting. My son has a variety of special needs, all of which work together to make him the individual he is. Every decision we make for him considers multiple levels of functioning, all of which affect the way he learns.

Which aspect do we prioritize, the diabetes or the autism? Well, that depends on the situation; sometimes it’s one, and sometimes it is the other. The trickiest part is knowing when to push him, and when to fall back, because he is very intelligent, and he is perceived as “high functioning,” but on many occasions, that doesn’t matter at all. The difference between him and his neurotypical peers is truly like night and day.

We field a lot of questions and comments from folks who, mostly, mean well, but don’t really get the complexity. For instance, “Oh, he has to go to the nurse for all diabetes care? He can’t do any on his own? My t1 was doing her own finger sticks by five years old!” No, he cannot do it unsupervised. You think we don’t push him enough to take care of his own diabetes? You’re right, we don’t push him at all! He will deal with diabetes his entire life, unless a cure is found, so while he is little, why not let the adults worry about it and lighten his burden a little, mmmmkay?

And then we get, “He speaks and interacts so well, is he really autistic?” He absolutely is, would you like to see him have a meltdown? Since he can pass for normal sometimes, or perhaps behave just a little “odd,” we get, “Maybe he’ll grow out of it, don’t you think? Look how good he is!” Yeah… no. He’ll just learn to mask his behaviors and idiosyncrasies even better as time goes on.

What I worry about the most though, and why I ultimately am glad to have kept him home this one last summer, is what happens when my sweet, sensitive boy becomes the target of a bully? Will he even realize he’s being picked on? It will most likely be from someone he considers a “friend,” because he doesn’t yet recognize when people are being undercover shady. And it’s bound to happen, because, let’s face it, my boy is a funny bunny. He’s weird. We embrace it. After all, I’m weird too, and so is his dad.

How do I protect him from being targeted by some kid whose parents still find it acceptable to use the R-word: while standing on line to get into his kindergarten celebration, someone standing in front of us was looking at the program, saw the listing for the class of only six children, and said rather loudly, “Oh, that must be the retard class.” I mean, really? It’s 2018 and you’re still using that word? The guy was extremely lucky that my husband did not hear him say it, but if parents are saying it, guaranteed some kid is going to say it sooner or later.

In the end, I am exceptionally proud of my son’s accomplishments this past school year, and I’m enjoying getting to “sleep in” this summer. We do some academic work each day, we read a LOT, and I have him at the park or the pool and playing with “normal” kids as often as I can. We’ll prepare him to deal with “normal” kids as best we can, and in the meantime, we’ll hold his hand and protect him from whoever we might need to. Living life in the grey area isn’t any of our strong suits, but it’s where we find ourselves, and even with all the uncertainty, life here is pretty darn great.

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What I Regret About Trying So Hard To Socialize My Child With Autism

When my son was two and diagnosed with mild autism by our developmental pediatrician, our doctor assured us that as he grew, our son would learn how to better socialize. I took out a paper and pen and wrote notes as the doctor spoke: “Cast a wide net. Befriend typical and non-typical children. Join groups and activities with your town and community, as well as others.”

I looked at my son, who barely spoke at the time, and paralleled played with other children without really interacting. Still, he would laugh and smile as he watched them. I bit my lip and sighed, wondering if he would ever have friends.

Sure enough, as if his doctor could see the future, our son did begin to socialize more. In social group therapy, he worked on asking other children to play. He would diligently and carefully state his name and ask the other child theirs. He was proud and excited every time he did it. He derived real joy from playing with his peers.

Once he was in kindergarten, he would come home and list his friends. We noticed that he played and interacted with one other child a lot, but appeared to have a whole group with which he interacted. We were thrilled and wanted to hone and expand their relationships, by having play dates and joining similar activities.

However, we soon noticed that his friends, and one in particular, were not always kind to our son. While they were mostly nice children, they would sometimes isolate, tease, and compete with him. Our son did not know how to handle these occurrences and would feel very upset.

We overlooked it many times as parents, validating the behavior by saying that this is how boys play, or typical kids tease — it always blows over. When our son would tell us he was sad, we would give him tips on how to better stand up for himself when these things happened. We were so concerned with him making and keeping friends that we forgot the most important things — his own self confidence and self worth.

After a particular incident with another child led to ours feeling emotional all day, we sat and had a talk with him. We realized just having friends didn’t mean he was doing well socially, and that it is also about helping him to choose his friends wisely and carefully.

This time, I spoke to him, without doctors, therapists or other children present. I told him a lesson that we both had to learn — that we must never accept a person as a friend who doesn’t make us feel good about ourselves. A real friend plays nicely, shares, doesn’t isolate or upset. It isn’t important to have “a” friend, it is important to have a nice friend.

Soon, instead of coming to me to tell on someone who made him feel sad, he began coming to me to proudly announce he and a friend shared snack.

It is my hope that we can continue to guide him to improve socially and connect with others in a more positive way, and to cast an even wider net.

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What Happened When My Child Saw Me Cry Because of Her

I recently did something in front of my daughter that I swore I’d never let her see me do. I cried. I’m not talking about crying during a sad scene in a movie or because I lost a loved one. I’m talking about crying because of her.

My 8-year old has ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and she’s had this diagnosis for a little over three years now. While ADHD gives my daughter many advantages (i.e., the ability to think outside the box), it also comes with many challenges. Completing her homework has always been one of them.

My daughter’s school has summer requirements for its students. Every day, my daughter must complete a bare minimum of 30 minutes of reading and 20 minutes of an online math program. There are other recommendations, like writing in a journal and practicing keyboarding, but it’s nearly impossible for a child like mine to be able to handle extra work when she can barely make it through the basic requirements.

I always try my best to make homework easier for her. I make sure she takes breaks, I let her choose the order of her assignments, and I reward her with screen time afterwards. While these do help her, they can’t take away from the tremendous amount of frustration and anger she feels when she is having difficulty with an assignment. Although she is very smart and has been known for seeing patterns and relationships with numbers the average person can’t see, she still struggles with math. And that is exactly what happened with her the day she saw me cry.

We were both sitting on stools in the kitchen and I was letting her use my laptop to work on her math program. She was having a particularly hard time with a math problem and was becoming increasingly frustrated. I was right there next to her on the other stool trying to help her and encourage her. I was there with a piece of paper and pencil, trying to explain the math problem to her in a different way that I thought she’d be able to understand better.

I was doing my best to bite my tongue and remain calm and collected. But it didn’t matter. She wasn’t listening. She wasn’t even on her stool anymore. She was on the kitchen floor, having a full-blown meltdown, screaming that she will never be able to do the math and that there was nothing I could do to help her.

As her frustration and anger levels rose, so did mine. What was I doing there? Nothing I was doing was helping her. She said so herself. I thought about the fact that her doctor and I decided to give her a break from her ADHD medication this summer in order to help her gain weight, since the medication prevented her from gaining weight during the school year. Did I make the wrong decision? She’s gaining weight, but she’s having a difficult time with her homework. Which is more important? 

As all of these thoughts were racing through my mind, my daughter was still having a meltdown. I knew there was no way she’d be able to continue the assignment now, so I told her to go to her Calm Down Area and that we’d revisit the math problem later. But she didn’t want to do that either. All she wanted to do was kick and scream on the floor. I was at a loss. I felt beaten down and hopeless.

Worst of all, I felt scared. I was terrified by the fact that I didn’t know how to help my own daughter. I was scared thinking about what was going to become of my daughter as a teenager and then as an adult. Every part of me felt like getting up and walking away, but I knew if I left that stool, all my daughter would feel is more fear and abandonment. And if her own mother could do that, what would the world do to her?

So I sat there, let my emotions take over me, and for the first time, let my daughter see me cry because of her. Once she saw the tears streaming down my face, her entire demeanor changed. She asked me why I was crying and I replied with the trembling truth, “I don’t know how to help you.” She got up from the floor and held me. Her little voice sadly said, “I’m sorry, Mommy.” I embraced her and together, we cried tears of sadness, frustration, and anger. It was a moment we both will never forget.

By letting my daughter see me cry, something I was so afraid to do, she realized for the first time how much her actions and words affected others. She realized how equally frustrating it is for the person who wants to help her, but can’t because she resists it. She realized how much I truly love her and want the best for her, always. She realized that I will never ever give up on her.

After we talked some more, my daughter got back up on her stool and let me help her with her math problem. She finished her entire assignment. Ever since that day, she has not had a single meltdown during homework. If she begins to feel angry or frustrated, she knows to take breaks. She is learning how to manage her powerful emotions and thoughts, and that’s all I can hope for.

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Please Teach Your Children Kindness When Interacting With Kids On The Autism Spectrum

Recently, we took a trip to the park down the street. My son saw some other kids about his age he wanted to play hide-and-seek with. He asked if he could invite them to play. I encouraged him to do that.

These kids told him they would play. They told him to go hide. He joyfully ran to hide. They counted, but it was just so he would hide and leave them alone. Meanwhile, they were laughing at their “ingenuity” and mocking my son.

I tried to explain to my son they weren’t really playing.

He went back and the scenario played out exactly word for word again.

I was heartbroken at the cruelty of these children. Sadly, I called an end to our time at the park and we walked home.

Some people with autism do not always understand social cues or cannot read facial expressions. I see it as curse and a blessing. A curse when my son misses cues. A blessing if it protects him from cruelty.

Please, teach your children to be kind.

The kids at the park didn’t have to say yes to playing with my son. They could have said they were busy, or that they didn’t want to play. I’m not asking that they always say yes to playing with my son. Frequently, he only wants to play one game and that same game over and over. I realize your child may feel too old, too cool, or just plain doesn’t want to play. Teach them to be honest with my son. But kind.

Kindness goes a long way in this world of ours.

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