Rep. Jayapal’s emotional ‘fear versus love’ speech for Equality Act was absolutely groundbreaking

1 month, 7 days ago

On Tuesday, during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on the proposed Equality Act, Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal explained how this issue is not simply an ideological one for her, but also a very personal one. In a very moving speech, Rep. Jayapal revealed that her child came out to her last year as gender nonconforming. She clearly began the day interested in supporting the Equality Act that would add both sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of protections housed under 1964’s Civil Rights Act. 

Rep. Jayapal: The Equality Act is a landmark civil rights bill to make clear that discrimination against LGBTQIA people has no place in our society. It rectifies an unacceptable situation and sets forth comprehensive protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

It is here that Rep. Jayapal decided to open up about the profoundly personal impact this civil rights bill would have on her as a mother. The speech was marked by some honest emotion, something we don’t frequently see in the halls of our Congress, and it was perfect.

Rep. Jayapal: And it occurred to me that we’re talking about fear versus love we’re talking about fear versus freedom and I didn’t intend to say this today, but, excuse me. My beautiful, now 22-year-old child told me last year that they were gender non-conforming. And over the last year I have come to understand from a deeply personal mother’s perspective. I’ve always been a civil rights activist, I’ve always fought for my constituents in my communities to have equal rights, but from a mother’s perspective I came to understand what their newfound freedom—it is the only way I can describe what has happened to my beautiful child—what their newfound freedom, to wear a dress, to rid themselves of some conformist stereotype of who they are. To be able to express who they are at their real core.

And since this deeply impactful moment last year, my child who has always done well in school but has carried what a mother can only describe as a heavy burden of conflict in their own being that I could not fully identify or help to express. Since this deeply impactful moment last year, my child’s embracing of their non-conforming gender identity and all that it has allowed, all that it allows in terms of their creativity, their brilliance, their self-expression … the only thought I wake up with every day is my child is free. My child is free to be who they are and in that freedom comes a responsibility for us as legislators to protect that freedom, to be who they are. And to legislate, as Dr. Wily so beautifully said, to legislate our behavior toward all people in our society.

They should show this speech in schools. Perfect. 

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Tech and Online Resources for Autistic Children

1 month, 8 days ago

Receiving a diagnosis that your child has autism is life changing. It can be hard to know what to do and where to turn for help. Fortunately, you are not alone. Autism is becoming more and more common. In 2000, 1 in 150 children were diagnosed with autism. By 2014, that number had jumped to 1 in 59.¹ As diagnoses of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) increase, so do the resources and tools available to support children and their families.

Help Your Autistic Child with These Tech and Online Solutions

If you’ve been searching for solutions, we’re here to help. We’ve done independent research and talked to parents in order to put together a guide to the best tech and online resources for families living with autism.

It’s Autism Awareness Month

Autism Speaks encourages you to wear blue during April to support their global effort to increase both acceptance and understanding of people with autism. Learn more at

Smart Tech for Kids with Autism

Parents often have a love-hate relationship with technology, but it can provide help and peace of mind when used the right way. These are two tech solutions that both parents and kids with autism love to use.

AngelSense GPS Tracker

SafeWise Top Pick

angelsense gps tracker device


Frequent UpdatesSensory-Friendly2-Way TalkListen-In Feature

Visit Site

This GPS tracking system was designed by a father of an autistic child. He created this smart gadget specifically for children with autism and developmental delays.

“It has so many amazing features that allow me to connect with my son while keeping him safe,” says Jessica, mom of an autistic child. “AngelSense is capable of monitoring the speed in transit when he’s with caregivers, auto pickup when I or an authorized guardian calls him, real-time location alerts, and so many other great features designed to meet the needs that parents of children with special needs have.”

AngelSense is a GPS tracker that attaches to your child’s clothing. It can be affixed anywhere and that flexibility can help children with sensory issues. Best of all, kids can’t remove it. Multiple features, including real-time GPS tracking, two-way talk, and multiple alarms, make this a tech tool that helps both parents and kids feel safe.

“AngelSense has been a lifesaver for my family,” says mom L.W. “It came in handy when my son who is autistic left school without anyone noticing. I was alerted as soon as he left the building and was able to pinpoint his location to his teacher. Within 15 minutes he was safely back at school. Thank you so much for giving my family peace of mind!”



Used in schools, TeachTown offers tools and programs designed to “improve the academic, behavioral, and adaptive functioning of students with disabilities.” The company is laser-focused on serving specific populations, including children diagnosed with ASD. One mom, Brāv Ambassador Dr. Christine McLean-Lee, has seen positive results in her 5-year-old son, who uses the program at school.

“I am the mother of an amazing autistic child,” says Christine, “TeachTown is an Applied Behavior Analysis program that he uses at school. This program is interactive and encourages functional and expressive communication, social learning, and imitation skills.”

TeachTown has programs for children from 18 months old through middle school. The programs address the cognitive, academic, and social/emotional challenges that children with ASD and other developmental disorders face. Resources are available for teachers, clinicians, and parents.

Online Resources for Families Living with Autism

Whether you’re looking for a support system or the latest news, research, and discussions about autism, a wealth of resources is just a click away.

Resources for Caring for Autistic Children

If you’re a caregiver, parent, teacher, or clinician, these resources can provide information, insights, strategies, and support.

Shut Up about Your Perfect Kid: The moms we talked to love the blog and social media accounts of this “movement of imperfection.” The site is a celebration of “special kids” and the challenges and triumphs of their “ordinary parents.”

Autistic Self Advocacy Network: This nonprofit organization started as a grassroots movement that advocated for disability rights for the autistic community. It is run by autistic individuals  and focuses on working toward a world where autistic people will have “equal access, rights, and opportunities.”

LetMeTalk App: This free AAC talker was designed for non-verbal individuals to give them an intuitive way to communicate basic daily needs like “I want to eat.” It’s an easy way for non-verbal children to communicate their wants, needs, and emotions.

Not all resources are the perfect fit for every family, so Jessica recommends looking for help based on the specific needs and challenges that you are dealing with.

“There are a lot of really great resources out there, but I think which ones are best depends on where on the spectrum your child is and what needs you have as a family. Personally, the best guidance I have received has come from adults on the spectrum. They offer an insight into my child’s world that I don’t have.”

Resources for People Unfamiliar with Autism

Christine recommends these FaceBook Pages to learn more about autism.

AutismTalk: This page gives people dealing with ASD and Asperger’s Syndrome a place to connect, communicate, and support one another.

Autism on the Mighty: Sponsored by The Mighty, this FaceBook Page is a digital community that aims to connect and empower people facing disabilities and other health challenges.

Autism Support Network: If you’re looking for a peer-to-peer network where you can share knowledge, challenges, and support, this is it. The network also provides the latest news, conferences, and other information about autism.

Jessica has also found a lot of support on social media, but she offers some insight into which groups are best for parents and other support people who are helping an autistic child or adult.

“I found a few closed groups on social media, and through their discussions I have learned so much more about sensory processing disorder, social issues, and other related topics than I did from doctors or professionals…[but] you must be honest about your intention in the group you want to join. I requested access to a few groups that denied me because they were groups for support from fellow autistics. I think it’s really important to respect that kind of atmosphere because adults on the spectrum don’t have enough support in general.”

two special needs children using a tablet

How to Get Involved

There are a number of national and local organizations dedicated to supporting autistic people. To find local resources, check with your child’s school or doctor for referrals to services and support for families. When it comes to national organizations, both the moms we interviewed shared their favorites.

National Autism Association

Jessica recommends this organization, especially if you’re just starting your journey with autism. Check their website for local chapters and support groups.

“My favorite is the National Autism Association. Besides having a lot of great resources to learn more about autism and the related issues, they also offer the Big Red Safety Box to families with autism. The package includes resources and tools to help keep your child safe.”

Autism Self Advocacy Network

Christine enjoys the unique perspective provided by the Autism Self Advocacy Network, and she turns to it for research and education. You can get involved by sharing your experiences, volunteering, or donating to the ASAN.

“This is an organization that claims to be run for and by autistic people. I find that they are strong advocates and always provide a perspective that is different from that of a researcher, parent or therapist.”

Living with autism can be a challenge, but it’s one that you don’t have to face alone. Building a strong support system and taking advantage of technology and other online resources can transform your struggles into triumphs.


1. CDC, “Autism Spectrum Disorder Data and Statistics”

Caveat: SafeWise strives to use inclusive language in all of our publications. Although we usually opt for person-first language, we found that in the case of autism, there are many opinions about person-first versus identity-first language. For this article, we followed the lead of the parents we interviewed and used identity-first language. Although the semantic approaches may vary, we remain committed to respectful and inclusive language, and we want to hear your thoughts and questions. Please send feedback to

The post Tech and Online Resources for Autistic Children appeared first on SafeWise.

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Detecting Early Signs Of Autism

5 months ago

What is autism spectrum disorder (ASD)? Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental behavioural disability that causes significant social, communication and behavioural challenges. These children communicate, interact, behave, and learn in ways that are different from most other people. The child may have normal intelligence quotient and still have autism. It is characterised by impairment of social interaction, defects in language development and communication skills, stereotype, repetitive, restrictive patterns of behaviours, interest and activities which limits and impairs daily functioning.
Structurally there is no malformation of the brain or neurons. The number is rising at an alarming high rate with still undefined reasons.
What is the cause for Autism? Scientists don’t know the exact cause of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), but research suggests that both genes and environment play important roles.
Environmental factors:
‘Environment’ refers to anything outside of the body that can affect health. This includes the air we breathe, the water we drink and bathe in, the food we eat, the medicines we take, and many other things that our bodies may come in contact with. Environment also includes our surroundings in the womb, when our mother’s health directly affects our growth and earliest development. Researchers are studying many environmental factors such as family medical conditions, parental age and other demographic factors, expo¬sure to toxins, and complications during birth or pregnancy.
The cause appears to be multifactorial as no study is conclusive of a single cause.
Genetic factors:
In identical twins who share the exact same genetic code, if one has ASD, the other twin also has ASD in nearly 9 out of 10 cases. If one sibling has ASD, the other siblings have 35 times the normal risk of also developing the disorder. Researchers are starting to identify par¬ticular genes that may increase the risk for ASD.
Most people who develop ASD have no reported family history of autism, suggesting that random, rare, and possibly many gene muta¬tions are likely to affect a person’s risk.
What are the early signs?
Autism should be suspected if there is absence of:
• Babbling by 12 months
• Gesturing (e.g., pointing, waving bye-bye) by 12 months
• Single words by 16 months
• Two-word spontaneous (not just repletion of words) phrases by 24 months
• Loss of any language or social skills at any age

When should we suspect Autism?
The following actions, if ‘not done’ by the child can raise suspicion of Autism.
• Not pointing at objects to show interest (for example, not pointing at an airplane flying over)
• Not looking at objects when another person points at them
• Have trouble relating to others or not have an interest in other people at all
• Avoiding eye contact and wanting to be alone
• Having trouble understanding other people’s feelings or talking about their own feelings
• Appearing to be unaware when people talk to them, but responding to other sounds
• Being very interested in people, but not knowing how to talk, play, or relate to them
• Repeating or echo words or phrases said to them, or repeat words or phrases in place of normal language
• Having trouble expressing their needs using typical words or motions
• Not playing ‘pretend’ games (for example, not pretending to ‘feed’ a doll)
• Repeating actions over and over again
• Have trouble adapting when a routine changes
• Having unusual reactions to the way things smell, taste, look, feel, or sound

What are the different kinds of experts who the parents should meet?
The child should meet paediatric neurologist for exclusion of secondary causes leading to autism such as tuberous sclerosis, exclusion of seizures etc.
The next visit should be to development paediatrician or child psychologist for the confirmation of the diagnosis. They apply certain questionnaire based tests which help in the diagnosis of the disease. After the diagnosis is confirmed, the child requires therapies from occupational therapist, speech therapist, applied behaviour analyst and therapist.

What are some do’s and don’ts that parents of autistic kids must take care of?
• Autism is generally associated with hyperactivity so these children should not be given high sugar based foods as they increase the hyperactivity.
• They require a lot of physical exercises to control their hyperactivity
• Alternative therapies like Yoga, Music therapy, swimming by a person trained especially for special children have scientifically shown difference in the child’s behaviour.
• The results of GFCF diet is controversial and not promising so better be avoided.
• There is no role of stem cell therapy as a treatment option so should not be considered.

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At Long Last: Sleep Training Tools For the Exhausted Parent

5 months, 1 day ago

Are you tired? Not sure how to help your kid sleep through the night? Here is my comprehensive guide to sleep training tools and methods to help tired parents and kids sleep better. These sleep training methods will work for infants, toddlers, and through school age. 

Free Bonus: I created a guide comparing my favorite sleep training techniques to help you figure out the best method for you and your child. It’s a quick two page PDF you can save and reference later as you try this yourself. Click Here to get the guide, free.

So, we’ve covered why fixing your child’s sleep problem is not selfish because it is good for you and for them. I imagine that lots of parents fix their kid’s sleep issues without a lot of difficulty. Then there are the parents who have made it to see me in Sleep Clinic. Generally, these parents have tried and failed to address their child’s sleep problem, for various reasons. Since there is a lot of information to cover, I’m going to break this out into a question and answer format, as I review all of the different effective sleep training methods .


What do you mean by sleep training?

When I refer to sleep training, I’m talking about behavioral (non-medication based treatment) of two common problems, sleep onset association disorder and limit setting disorder. Some kids have a mixture of both.

When should I consider sleep training?

I would wait until a child is at least 6 months of age, although some people have recommended trying it as early as two month of age (note that I don’t endorse this). I actually think that it is a bad idea to start before four months of age,  preferably once he is no longer feeding during the night. However, if your child is still feeding multiple times during the night and is over six months of age, that could be part of the problem. If your child has issues such as autism or developmental delay, these techniques will still work but must be applied more slowly.

When should I not start sleep training?

If you are worried that your child may have a medical problem which is disrupting sleep, please talk to your pediatrician.
If you want to pursue co-sleeping as a lifestyle, you may find it more difficult to adopt these recommendations, although they can be put into play if you are room or even bedsharing– it is just harder. I believe that cosleeping is associated with worse sleep long term for parent and child. If you are cosleeping and want to stop, here is my guide on how to stop the cosleeping habit.
If you have a major life event coming up– a move, a visit from the in-laws, a big project do at work.
If you have  major stresses in your that would make embarking on about a week of disruption.
For more on this, here is a comprehensive guide on when not to sleep train.

My child feeds at night. Is that part of the problem?

It certainly can be. Most formula fed infants are capable of sleeping through the night without feeding by six months of age; this milestone happens later for breast fed infants, probably between 9-12 months of age. Here’s my article on how and when to wean night feeds.


Ok, we’re ready. Whats the first step?
Free Bonus: I created a guide comparing my favorite sleep training techniques to help you figure out the best method for you and your child. It’s a quick two page PDF you can save and reference later as you try this yourself. Click Here to get the guide, free.

I think the most important thing is taking a hard look at your child’s bedtime ritual. I saw the great Jodi Mindell speak at the 2012 Sleep Meeting here in Boston. (Here’s a question and answer she did on some of these issues at She emphasized that bedtime need to be consistent, positive, and have a clear trajectory. High quality consistent bedtimes are associated with better sleep quality throughout childhood. Here’s a post explaining why this is. Let’s break this out a bit:

Consistency means bedtime happens about the same time on typical days, and has the same events in the same sequence. A good bedtime for babies and preschoolers through early elementary school age is between 7:30-8:30 PM.
Bedtime should included enjoyable, positive activities like stories and songs, with the last part occurring where the child sleeps. 
Bedtime should be short and sweet (<45 minutes), with a forward momentum. Meaning that you go to the bathroom, then the bedroom, then lights out. Keep things simple and moving. Don’t move your child towards bed, then away, then towards it again.
If your child has an aversion to being in their crib or room, it’s important to spend some pleasant, fun time playing there during the day to emphasize that it is a positive place.

In our house, we mark the start of bedtime by going upstairs with the boys between 7-7:15 PM. They brush teeth and bathe every other night. When one or the other attempts a digression (Wrestling! Running around naked! Peeing on the floor!) we firmly redirect them to the task at hand. They get in their pajamas, read stories, sing songs, and go to sleep on their own. If one parent is doing both bedtimes, the older one helps put the younger one to bed. Lights out is by 8:30 PM for the older boy. 

Recently, I’ve been reading The Power of Habit (affiliate link), which has some terrific insights into the importance of bedtime. Remember, the most powerful reinforcer of behavior by your child is positive reinforcement (kind words, contact, affection). This is WAY more effective than, say, sticker charts.

Habit cue reward.001

If you are reading this post, you and your child have likely fallen into some bad habits around bedtime (fighting, lying with them until falling asleep, eating a chicken dinner in bed, etc). By establishing a consistent time and pattern of bedtime, you are going to essentially revise these habits so that, with time, your child will actually crave their lovely and predictable bedtime.

If you are working on starting a good bedtime, here’s a video on how to start a good bedtime routine.

We already do all that stuff. Our child still can’t go to sleep without us and wakes up at night!

Here’s where it gets a little bit more complicated, and this is the place where many parents struggle– the realm of traditional sleep training methods. Children who can’t fall asleep on their own and who wake up frequently at night likely have inappropriate sleep onset associations and will require a little bit more intervention. The goal of all of these interventions is the development of the ability to self soothe– specifically, falling asleep solo at night.


There are a couple of evidence-based tools you can use if you put your child in bed and he cries or fusses until you come back into his room:

Bedtime fading: This strategy involves temporarily moving your child’s bedtime later while teaching him to fall asleep on his own. This can help use your child’s natural sleep drive to make falling asleep easier. Usually I recommend moving the bedtime later by 30-60 minutes depending on prior experience. For example, if the family has previously tried to put their son down and he cried for 45 minutes before they gave up, I will move the bedtime 45 minutes later or more. There is evidence that removing the child from bed if they do not fall asleep after 15-20 minutes then putting them to bed again a few minutes later (a “response cost”) is effective but I think that it is generally too complicated. Once your child can fall asleep within 15 minutes, you can move the bedtime earlier by 15 minutes every two days until you reach the desired bedtime (usually between 7:30-8:30 PM is best). It’s important to avoid letting your child sleep in in the morning or falling asleep in the late afternoon in the stroller or the car, as they will be less tired at bedtime. This is one “gentle” sleep training method. 

Avoiding “sneaky sleep” in the later afternoon.
Not allowing your child to sleep much later in the mornings, unless they are getting up at an uncomfortably early hour.

The “cry it out” approach:  The behavioral term for ignoring an undesirable behavior is “extinction”; obviously most parents don’t love the term. There are two ways to do this. Unmodified extinction involves putting your child down at the appointed hour, closing the door, and letting things play out. Many people struggle with this quite a bit. Graduated extinction (also known as the Ferber method), is where you check on your child at set intervals (e.g. 1 minute, 2 minutes, 3 minutes, then every five minutes until they fall asleep). When you check, the interaction should be very brief and without physical contact. Dr. Mindell recommends the script, “It’s night night time. I love you. I’ll see you in the morning”. This method is very effective but can be challenging to carry out. Some children may vomit. If this occurs, I recommend going in, cleaning up the child and bed, and leaving. It feels horrible, but you don’t want to reinforce vomiting as a tool to get what you want. Trust me. With time and experience, I’ve come to believe that this is pretty difficult to implement in children who have moved from a crib to a bed.
“Camping out” is another evidence based gentle sleep training method consisting of gradually withdrawing your presence from your child’s room at sleep time. It may result in less crying and be a better fit for some families, but takes longer than “cry it out.” This is another way that people use when they performing “gentle” sleep training.

Remember, when camping out, when your child looks to your for guidance, you have to provide, brief, minimal interactions. It helps to have a script. Look at your child and say, “I love you. It’s time to go to sleep. Good night.” Do this EVERY time.
Here’s a step by step guide for how close to be to your child, along with a video on how to do this. Each step should be between 1-3 nights. This starts if you are currently rubbing your child’s back to help her fall asleep. You move up the pyramid over time. Sleep_webinar_Ruth_FINAL__1__pptx

The “excuse me” drill is another gentle sleep training technique where you provide very frequent reassurance at first and withdraw it over time.

This gentle sleep training method is really for kids who are old enough to talk and have some abstract thinking– imagine age 3 and up. During the excuse me drill, the parent who usually stays with the child until he falls asleep (let’s say Mom in this case), will say, “excuse me, I need to step out and ___________ for a second. I’ll be right back!”. The excuse doesn’t really matter. Here are some suggestions:I need to…

check the soufflé
buy a lottery ticket
practice my breakdancing
bang out ten pull ups
(In all seriousness, boring excuses (“I need to check on your brother, take out the trash, etc”) work best

At first you will come back in very frequently– every few seconds on the first night. When you come back, you praise your child for staying in his bed, looking cozy, acting brave, etc. It is OK to touch him. Then you leave after making an excuse and come back a few minutes later. Over several nights, you reduce the frequency of checks. What makes this gentle is that you are not allowing your child to stress or be alone for more than a few seconds at first. The point is that nothing is more reinforcing for a child than parental attention and reassurance. Hopefully, your child will start falling asleep with you out of the room. Coupling this with bedtime fading is a great combination for an older, anxious child, and this has been studied in children with developmental issues (specifically Angelman syndrome) as well. Like all sleep training methods, it should be part of a detailed plan.
Nursing moms should try to avoid having nursing be the final activity prior to sleep onset. Ideally, the other parent should put the child to bed.
The binky can be challenging. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends pacifier use up until 6 months as part of a number of interventions to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). In older babies and toddlers you may find yourself replacing it frequently at night. If you are not ready to get rid of it, Dr. Mindell recommends keeping some pacifiers in the corner of the crib. When you put your child to bed, guide their hand to the binky and have her put it in her own mouth. That may help her find it on her own in the middle of the night.

Often, sleep training may be more difficult for one parent than the other. When we did this, I sent my wife out for the first night so she wouldn’t have to listen to our older son crying. It may be a good idea to turn off the monitor if you can hear your child anyway.

What do we do if she wakes up at night once we start this?

If you fix bedtime, the nocturnal awakenings will go away over time. I usually recommend that parents just do what they have been doing in the past for nocturnal awakenings. The middle of the night is all above survival.
It’s not working. Help!

The most common reason why you have not been successful is being inconsistent. You need to be almost robotic in executing the same plan every night. Here’s my inventory of the top ten sleep training mistakes.

My child is an older and primarily has issues with bedtime. Any specific tips on working on this?

Bedtime fading as noted above can be really helpful in this context.
A bedtime chart showing what is expected of your child every night can be really helpful. Here’s a nice one you can purchase here. Sticker charts can be helpful as well. Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson has tips on implementing this here. Dr. Deborah Gilboa discusses the limitations of sticker charts here.
One strategy which I love is the bedtime pass. This works like a hall pass. Give it to your child and explain that she can use the pass to come out of the room one time for a curtain call e.g. a glass of water or another trip to the bathroom. After that one instance, she is expected to stay in her room and will be brought immediately back if she comes out. The research on this technique showed that kids tended to hoard the pass and not use it at all. Dr. Greene has a great summary of how to implement this. From Dr. Greene’s site:

So how do you use bedtime passes? Simple.

Give your child a special card good for one free trip out of their room each night or one visit from a parent – for a brief, acceptable purpose such as a drink and a hug. Many families decorate the cards, often with the child.
Require the child to get in bed at bedtime, but be sure the free pass is close at hand.
When the child uses the pass, the card is surrendered for the rest of the night.
If children leave the room again that night, they are walked back without a word and without eye contact.

You may need to carry out an extinction strategy which is more challenging to implement in a child in their bed who can easily get out of his bed, and out of his room. I strongly advise against locking children in their room. If your child comes out of his room, take him back to his room with the brief speech noted above (“It’s night night time. I love you. I’ll see you in the morning”.) If he comes out, put him back in his bed and close the door for one minute. If he is not in his bed when you reopen the door, close it for two minutes. Keep increasing the interval until he gets the message that you expect him to be in his bed. Another alternative can be putting a gate or two in the doorway of the room. (The second, higher gate is for kids that can climb).


What else do we need to know to succeed?
Free Bonus: I created a guide comparing my favorite sleep training techniques to help you figure out the best method for you and your child. It’s a quick two page PDF you can save and reference later as you try this yourself. Click Here to get the guide, free.

You can carry out these steps gradually. Let’s say your child falls asleep nursing in your lap in the rocking chair. You can stop nursing to sleep for a few nights (often useful to nurse earlier and have the non-nursing parent put the child to sleep), then stop rocking for a few nights, then put your child to sleep drowsy but awake.
Keep sleep diaries so you can monitor your progress. Here’s the log we use in clinic:PEDIATRIC SLEEP LOG
Be consistent. Intermittently giving in is a very strong way to reinforce undesirable behavior.

Will my child hate me? Does sleep training hurt my child?

There is no evidence to suggest that sleep training causes any damage to children, and lots of evidence that it helps– that children and adults are both happier and better adjusted after sleep training. This is touched on in the AASM article below. Dr. Mindell noted in her presentation that she is publishing a review of 35 studies which showed no significant evidence of harm. Over at Science Of Mom, there is a great review of this science as well.

There was a great summary published by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine in 2006 which reviews the evidence for all of these recommendations. You can download it here:  Practice Parameters for Behavioral Treatment of Bedtime Problems and Night Wakings in Infants and Young Children.

If you are consistent, your child should be sleeping better within a week. Remember, things get a bit worse (the “extinction burst” of worsening behavior) often on the second or third night. Don’t give up!

Parents: please share your experiences in the comment section below. What worked? What didn’t? Are you still struggling with these issues? If you are, let me know and I’ll try to help.

I hope that you have found this helpful. If so, you can support this site by shopping at in my store at Amazon.  Any purchases through that link (even it if is not in my store) will provide a small amount of support to the website at no cost to you. I have curated some of my favorite sleep hygiene products and bedtime stories.   Thanks!

The post At Long Last: Sleep Training Tools For the Exhausted Parent appeared first on Craig Canapari, MD.

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How a Child’s Brain Becomes Depressed and Changes

5 months, 25 days ago

How a Child's Brain Becomes and Changes When Depressed

Some people are born with a genetic makeup that makes them more prone to depression, but that doesn’t mean they will automatically become depressed. The converse is also true. Somebody born with different genes is not necessarily immune to developing the condition.

How Does A Child’s Brain Get Depressed?
Just as in adults, there’s no single known cause of adolescent depression. People develop depression due to a myriad of factors, including genetics, childhood experiences, learned behavior and thinking patterns, stress, and social support. Most often, it’s a combination of several of these things coming together in just the right – or wrong – way. Depression often starts developing in early childhood and can be diagnosed in children as young as three. According to the Mayo Clinic, factors which could lead to depression in a child include :

Differences in the Brain

Research has shown that the brains of adolescents are structurally different than the brains of adults. Teens with depression can also have hormone differences and different levels of neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are key chemicals in the brain that affect how brain cells communicate with one another and play an important role in regulating moods and behavior.

Traumatic Early Life Events

Most children don’t have well-developed coping mechanisms. A traumatic event can leave a lasting impression. Loss of a parent or physical, emotional, or sexual abuse can leave lasting effects on a child’s brain that could contribute to depression.

Inherited Traits

Research shows that depression has a biological component. It can be passed down from parents to their children. Children who have one or more close relatives with depression, especially a parent, are more likely to have depression themselves.

Learned Patterns of Negative Thinking

Teens regularly exposed to pessimistic thinking, especially from their parents, and who learn to feel helpless instead of how to overcome challenges, can also develop depression.

Depression Is a Brain Pattern

In the book, The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time, Alex Korb explains how a brain becomes depressed like this:

The flow of traffic through a city is complex and dynamic – sometimes jamming up inexplicably and other times flowing smoothly, even at rush hour. The stock market and larger economy follow similar patterns as does the weather and even pop culture. Mathematically, these types of complex dynamic systems share many similarities, including the way the whole system — whether a traffic jam, a tornado, a recession or recovery, a viral tweet, or the next fad — can get caught in a runaway pattern: either an upward or downward spiral.

So why do tornadoes happen in Oklahoma but not in New York? Because conditions are just right — the flatness of the land, temperature changes, humidity, and wind direction and speed. But there’s nothing wrong with Oklahoma.

The same is true of your brain. In depression, there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with the brain. It’s simply that the particular tuning of neural circuits creates the tendency toward a pattern of depression. It has to do with the way the brain deals with stress, planning, habits, decision making, and a dozen other things — the dynamic interaction of those circuits. And once the pattern starts to form, it causes dozens of tiny changes throughout the brain that create a downward spiral.”

Trauma Changes a Child’s Brain Putting It at Risk for Depression
We know that adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) lead to changes in the adolescent brain which put it at greater risk for depression.  Sadly, common life experiences and treatment that wouldn’t be considered reportable abuse can be traumatic to a developing brain. Death, divorce, poverty, lack of nurturing, bullying, illness, and much more can detrimentally alter a child’s brain. That’s why it’s so important for parents, teachers, and community leaders to recognize that even lower levels of trauma may put kids at risk for developing anxiety and depression. According to one study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences :

Childhood maltreatment experiences may lead to poorer communication between the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex in girls and boys, but poorer communication between the amygdala and prefrontal cortex in girls only,” explains Herringa. “These brain changes, in turn, are associated with the development of anxiety and depression symptoms by late adolescence (age 18).”

Research has discovered that depressed children have brain patterns similar to those seen in adults diagnosed with the disorder. According to research, preschoolers show clinical symptoms synonymous with adult depression. In fMRI scans., they also showed amygdala reactivity and brain activity which correlated with the severity of their symptoms. 

Depression in the Adolescent Brain

Every child experiences sadness and goes through emotional stages as they develop. Just because a child is sad doesn’t mean they are depressed. If the sadness becomes persistent or interferes with normal social activities, interests, schoolwork, or family life, it may mean they are depressed. According to Mental Health America 2017 statistics,  11.01% of youth (age 12-17) reported suffering from at least one major depressive episode during the past year and 7.4% of youth (or 1.8 million youth) experienced severe depression.

Trauma changes a child’s brain putting it at greater risk for depression.Click To Tweet

Childhood depression often goes undiagnosed and untreated because the symptoms are viewed as typical emotional and psychological changes that occur during growth. Depression symptoms in children will often cause problems within the family unit. Many parents will become frustrated with and focus on their child’s’ behaviors rather than looking at what their child is experiencing — possibly depression. Parents often discipline their child’s behaviors, in an effort to decrease them. Unfortunately, this may cause the child to feel more depressed and reinforce a downward spiral. 
How a Child's Brain Becomes and Changes When Depressed
Symptoms of Depression in an Adolescent or Teenager

Estimates from a study published in American Family Physician state that up to 15 percent of children and adolescents have some symptoms of depression. Symptoms of depression in children can often be difficult for parents to spot because they look like the normal behaviors of going through puberty and being a teenager. If you’ve ever raised a teen, you know that appetite changes and moodiness are often normal.

Depression is going to be a more extreme, persistent version of those. It is going to be more than just passing boredom or a lack of interest in school. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP),  signs of adolescent depression include:

changes in appetite or weight
appearing sad, irritable, or tearful
a decreased interest in activities your child once found pleasurable
a decrease in energy
difficulty concentrating
feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
major changes in sleeping habits
regular complaints of boredom
talk of suicide
withdrawal from friends or after-school activities
worsening school performance

1. Physiological symptoms

Many teenagers with depressive symptoms experience real physical symptoms such as headaches, upset stomach, fatigue, or pain in other areas of their body. 

2. Lack of interest in activities

Many teenagers decrease or stop participating in their favorite activities. Computer games that were once obsessed over, athletic teams or participating in sports, clubs, social activities or hobbies may no longer interest them. 

3. Difficulty concentrating

A common depression symptom among all genders and ages is difficulty concentrating. Many teenagers report that they have trouble focusing in school, at jobs, or while completing tasks as simple as browsing the computer. 

4. Excessive guilt

Excessive guilt reported by teenagers with depression symptoms can present as the teen “beating themselves up” for small mistakes or decisions. It can also appear as being afraid to make future decisions for fear they will be “wrong.” Self-harming might be present.

5. Irresponsible behavior

Many teenagers with depression participate in irresponsible behavior that can appear out of character for them. Some teenagers will present rebellious behaviors, such as running away from home, refusing to do schoolwork, engaging in risky sexual behaviors, and/or smoking or partaking in drug use. 

6. Changing Eating Habits

Like adults with depression, teenagers can experience changes in their eating habits. For example, teenagers will often lose weight due to a decrease in appetite or overeat as a way to cope with their depression. 

7. Prolonged Sadness

Teenagers will often display a persistent, pervasive sadness when depressed. Frequent crying episodes, feeling of hopelessness, and a decrease in laughter can be indicators that your teenager is depressed. 

8. Anxiety

Anxiety is a common companion of depression in teens and adults. Panic attacks, feeling overwhelmed, and a preoccupation with worry can be symptoms of anxiety. Anxiety can also present physically as a pounding heart, sweating, stomach aches, breathy problems, and headaches. 

9. Social isolation

A big indicator that a teenager is struggling with difficult emotions and feelings is how they treat their friends. Teens will often withdraw and isolate themselves from their peers, family members, and others when they are depressed. 

10. Conduct problems

Depression symptoms often co-occur with conduct problems during adolescent and teenage years.

Helping a Depressed Teen 

 A good starting point when helping and supporting a teenager deal with depression can be creating a safe space for them to talk. There is no need for you to “say the right thing” and try to fix problems during the conversation. Let them talk. Your job is to listen. Responses tend to make teenagers feel judged and shut down.

Ask them what they need or believe would be helpful to continue a beneficial dialogue. Next, go with your gut. If your intuition is telling to seek further help, do so. As a parent, you are the expert on your child but securing professional assistance with depression can be crucial for your teen. 


For more help dealing with teen depression, please visit this helpful depression worksheet.

Depression Symptoms in Young Children

Many of the symptoms listed above will also be present in depressed younger children. In addition to those, you may also see some of the following: 

1. Self-blame and negative self-evaluation

Depression in children will often be displayed as them expressing disappointment in themselves or things that they have achieved. They may also view themselves in a negative light. You may hear them say things like, “I’m not a good person” or “God is not happy with me.” 

2. Disinterest in playing with toys or friends

A strong indicator that a child is depressed is their lack of interest in playing with friends or toys. Most children will engage in play without being prompted. If a child isn’t interested in having fun, something is wrong.

 3. Verbal outbursts and crying

Many children are brought to therapy due to verbal outbursts, tantrums, and crying spells. Children often display these behaviors due to their inability to express why they are upset. 

4. Bullying others

Depending on the age and gender of the child, they may display a variety of bullying behaviors. For example, females tend to engage in more relational bullying, such as attempting to isolate peers, whereas males might physically bully their peers.
Helping a Depressed Child

Depression symptoms in younger children need to be addressed promptly because, as stated earlier, it can alter their brains and have life-long consequences.  Dr. Brie Turns offers the following advice for dealing with depression in children:

One of the biggest recommendations that I have for parents raising a child with depression symptoms is to be incredibly careful about the messages that you say to your child. We all say things that we regret, but parents are advised to speak very carefully when reacting to a child who is depressed. Make sure that you aren’t emotionally reacting to bad behaviors with more negative behaviors. Children develop self-perceptions based on feedback from others . If their parents are yelling or saying hurtful things, this can spiral the child down into a deeper hole.

Additionally, parents can start to monitor and adjust their chil’d diet. Research has shown that an unhealthy diet is linked to depression. I am not saying that depression is caused by a poor diet, but when a child has a poor diet, they are more likely to also have depression symptoms. 

Parents can also monitor their children’s peer relationships. If parents notice certain children are being hurtful or mean, they should set up play dates with friends that are more kind and cooperative.”

For more help with overcoming your child’s depression, check out Dr. Turns’ depression worksheet.

Contributing Author

How a Child's Brain Becomes and Changes When DepressedDr. Brie Turns is an assistant professor of Marriage and Family Therapy and a licensed associate of marriage and family therapy. She has previously taught at Purdue University-Northwest, Texas Tech University, and Lubbock Christian University. She currently teaches at Fuller Theological Seminary-Arizona.

Dr. Turns has spoken at local, state, national, and international conferences regarding families raising a child with an autism spectrum disorder. She has published numerous articles, book chapters, and magazine articles on various topics within the field of family therapy. Dr. Turns has been invited to speak at various universities including Yale, Brigham Young University, the University of Louisiana-Monroe.

In order to provide research-based information to help others solve everyday problems, Dr. Turns has recently launched the site


The post How a Child’s Brain Becomes Depressed and Changes appeared first on The Best Brain Possible.

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Children’s Lack of Sleep Is a Hidden Health Crisis

7 months, 2 days ago

By Dr. Mercola

It’s recommended that school-age children get nine to 11 hours of sleep a night, while teens need eight to 10. Preschoolers and toddlers need even more to function optimally — ranging from 10 to 14 hours a night.1 But many kids are falling short on fulfilling this basic need, putting their physical and mental health at risk.

In England, sleep disorders among children are also on the rise, an investigation by The Guardian revealed. The number of children and teens aged 16 years and under admitted to a hospital due to a sleep disorder rose from about 6,500 in 2012-2013 to nearly 9,500 in 2017.2 Most of the admissions were due to sleep apnea, with 8,274 admissions alone in 2017-2018.

Why Are Children Finding It Hard to Sleep?

One of the joys of childhood should be the ability to drift off to sleep without a care in the world, or at least without the difficulty that plagues many adults. Children, however, may be kept awake at night due to anxiety over everything from school and peer pressure to social media and terror incidents.

At one private sleep clinic in London, The Guardian reported there had been a 30 percent rise in anxiety-related referrals for sleep issues among children in the past year alone.3 Not only can anxiety make sleep difficult, but — in a vicious cycle — lack of sleep can trigger more anxiety.

Practical issues may also be playing a role. With parents sometimes working late, children may not have regular bedtimes or bedtime routines that are conducive to sleep.

Vicki Dawson, founder of The Children’s Sleep Charity, which provides support to families for children’s sleep, told The Guardian, “We are increasingly seeing families where both parents are out working and this can mean that bedtime becomes later, bedtime routines may be rushed or abandoned all together … A good sleep routine is key in supporting a better sleep pattern.”4

Dawson mentioned dietary issues as well, including excessive sugar consumption or intake of energy drinks that children may consume because they’re tired during the day. Both can interfere with getting a sound night’s sleep. This ties in with obesity, another factor that may be influenced by diet and which can significantly interfere with sleep.

Is Obesity to Blame for Kids’ Sleep Problems?

In the U.S., over 18 percent of teens and nearly 14 percent of young children are obese,5 which raises the risk of sleep apnea. The most common type of sleep apnea is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which causes the airway to become blocked during sleep, leading to reduced or blocked airflow.

If a child is obese, there’s extra stress put on the upper airway, which can cause it to collapse, leading to sleep apnea. Left untreated, pediatric sleep apnea can lead to:6

Behavior issues such as hyperactivity and poor impulse control

Cognitive dysfunction and inattentiveness

Heart disease later in life, especially if the child is, and continues to be, obese

Mood problems

According to the American Sleep Apnea Association, studies suggest as many as 25 percent of children diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) could be suffering from OSA.7

As such, many of the behavior problems and learning difficulties attributed to ADHD might actually be consequences of chronic fragmented sleep. Further, there are other contributors to sleep apnea in children aside from obesity. One of the first may be lack of breastfeeding, as breastfeeding longer than one month is linked to a lower risk of habitual snoring and apneas.

Researchers believe there may be a “beneficial effect of the breast in the mouth on oropharyngeal [middle part of the throat, behind the mouth] development with consequent protection against upper airway dysfunction causing sleep-disordered breathing.”8

It’s thought that breastfeeding helps expand the size of the child’s palate and shift the jaw forward, helping prevent sleep apnea by creating enough room for unobstructed breathing. That being said, if your child is obese, losing weight can dramatically improve sleep apnea (and therefore overall sleep quality) by reducing pressure on the abdomen and chest, thereby allowing the breathing muscles to function more normally.

Obesity is another double-edged sword in that it may contribute to sleep problems while lack of sleep may also contribute to obesity. Michael Farquhar, a consultant in sleep medicine at the Evelina London Children’s Hospital, told The Guardian:9

“We have two main epidemics among children. One is obesity and the other is mental health, and underpinning both of these is sleep … We always thought sleep was a consequence of obesity but there is an increasing understanding that sleeplessness contributes to obesity.

When you are sleep-deprived, your body responds by altering the hormones that affect appetite and hunger … you crave unhealthy things when you are tired.”

US Teens Short on Sleep: Could Later School Start Times Help?

According to a Sleep in America Poll, 58 percent of teens average only seven hours of sleep a night or less,10 which is significantly less than the recommended eight to 10. One challenge is certainly electronics, with many teens staying up late to browse social media or play video games. However, teens are also wired with different sleep and wake patterns, which favor staying up late and getting up later.

Despite this, many middle and high schools start the day as early as 7 a.m., leaving teens little chance to sleep in. One National Sleep Foundation poll revealed that 60 percent of kids aged 18 and under say they’re tired during the day while 15 percent said they’ve fallen asleep at school.11

They’re now urging educators to use later school start times for teens to facilitate better sleep, along with adopting sleep education curriculum to teach students about the importance of sleep and the negative effects of getting too little.

Mary Carskadon, director of the Chronobiology and Sleep Research Laboratory at E.P. Bradley Hospital in East Providence, Rhode Island, told ABC News, “Teenagers are getting way too little sleep … They are being asked to get up at the wrong time. They are being asked to be in school when their brains are asleep.”12

In 2014, the American Academy of Pediatrics also issued a policy statement urging middle and high schools to delay the start of class to 8:30 a.m. or later in order to “align school schedules to the biological sleep rhythms of adolescents, whose sleep-wake cycles begin to shift up to two hours later at the start of puberty.”13 Dr. Judith Owens, lead author of the policy statement, explained:14

“The research is clear that adolescents who get enough sleep have a reduced risk of being overweight or suffering depression, are less likely to be involved in automobile accidents, and have better grades, higher standardized test scores and an overall better quality of life …

Studies have shown that delaying early school start times is one key factor that can help adolescents get the sleep they need to grow and learn.”

Why It’s Risky for Teens to Skimp on Sleep

Lack of sleep has major effects on health, performance, mood and more. At least one study suggests that teens who start school at 8:30 a.m. or later had improvements in academic performance, attendance and tardiness.

In a survey of over 9,000 high school students, the later start time allowed more than 60 percent of them to get eight hours of sleep a night, and the number of car crashes for teen drivers was reduced by 70 percent when a school changed its start time from 7:35 a.m. to 8:55 a.m. Further, the researchers reported:15

“Teens getting less than eight hours of sleep reported significantly higher depression symptoms, greater use of caffeine, and are at greater risk for making poor choices for substance use.”

What’s more, research suggests that high school students who sleep six hours or less each night are twice as likely to engage in risky behaviors as those who sleep for eight hours (and only 30 percent of the students in the study averaged eight hours of sleep a night).16 This includes:

Using alcohol, tobacco, marijuana or other drugs

Driving after drinking alcohol

Carrying a weapon

Being in a fight

Sleeping less than six hours a night was also linked to a threefold increased risk of considering or attempting suicide. Lead author Matthew Weaver, Ph.D., associate epidemiologist in the Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, said in a news release:17

“We found the odds of unsafe behavior by high school students increased significantly with fewer hours of sleep … Personal risk-taking behaviors are common precursors to accidents and suicides, which are the leading causes of death among teens and have important implications for the health and safety of high school students nationally.”

Electronics Play a Major Role in Childhood Sleep Issues

Electronics are a formidable force when it comes to childhood sleep quality, with 56 percent of the parents in one survey blaming them (including social media and cell phones) as the primary reason why their teen has trouble falling asleep or staying asleep.18

What’s more, among those teens with frequent or occasional sleep problems, 72 percent said their doctor had recommended turning off electronics and cell phones to address sleep problems. Exposure to LED-backlit computer screens or TVs at night significantly suppresses melatonin production and feelings of sleepiness.

When your brain “sees” blue light at night, the mixed message can add up to serious health issues. In 2011, for instance, researchers found that evening exposure to LED-backlit computer screens affect circadian physiology. Among 13 young men, exposure to five hours of an LED-lit screen at night significantly suppressed melatonin production along with sleepiness.19

If your child views screens at night, it’s therefore essential to block exposure to blue light while doing so. In the case of a computer, you can install a program to automatically lower the color temperature of the screen. Many use f.lux to do this, but I prefer Iris software for this purpose.

In addition, when watching TV or other screens, be sure to wear blue-blocking glasses after sundown. For children and teens, however, electronics should be shut off ideally at least one hour before bedtime and preferably as soon as it gets dark.

Top Strategies to Help Your Child Sleep

Sleep deprivation, or a lack of quality sleep, has a significant impact on your overall health and may lead to the following:

Increased risk of car accidents

Increased accidents at work

Reduced ability to perform tasks

Reduced ability to learn or remember

Reduced productivity at work

Reduced creativity at work or in other activities

Reduced athletic performance

Increased risk of Type 2 diabetes, obesity, cancer, high blood pressure, osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease

Increased risk of depression

Increased risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease

Decreased immune function

Slowed reaction time

Reduced regulation of emotions and emotional perception

Poor grades in school

Increased susceptibility to stomach ulcers

Exacerbation of current chronic diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis and cancer

With just one hour less sleep a night, increased expression of genes associated with inflammation, immune excitability, diabetes, cancer risk and stress20

Accelerated premature aging by interfering with growth hormone production, normally released by your pituitary gland during deep sleep

It’s therefore essential to help your child develop healthy sleep habits early on. If you believe sleep apnea is the issue, have your child evaluated by a professional to get a proper diagnosis and treatment plan. You may also have considered natural remedies like melatonin, but be aware that there are other options.

While occasional melatonin supplementation in healthy children may help sleep and is unlikely to cause harm, most sleep problems should be addressed via improved sleep hygiene and behavioral changes.

However, there is some evidence that melatonin supplementation may help children with autism, ADHD or other neurodevelopmental or psychiatric conditions.21 In particular, Canadian Family Physician suggested:22

Napping during the day should be avoided

Dinnertime should be at least two hours before bedtime

Screen time (watching television, playing computer or video games) should be discontinued at least one hour before bedtime

Regular bedtime routine including routine sleep and wake-up times should be maintained

Children should sleep in their own beds

Sleep environment should be dark and quiet; room should not be too hot

Caffeine, nicotine and alcohol should be avoided

In addition, I’d add installing blackout drapes in your child’s bedroom, avoiding exposure to blue light at night, having your child wear blue-light blocking glasses after the sun sets and getting exposure to bright light in the morning as much as possible to help reset your child’s circadian clock daily.

Even doing homework too late at night may make it difficult for your child to fall asleep, so try to have any responsibilities wrapped up early so your child has time to unwind before bed.

Being a good role model is also important, including limiting your own exposure to electronic devices and blue light at night, and finishing up your work prior to bedtime so you can be fully present and help your child through a relaxing bedtime routine.

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Shaping the Future: What to Consider When Designing for Children

8 months, 12 days ago

© Kyungsub Shin

© Kyungsub Shin

Le Corbusier stated in his seminal text, Towards a New Architecture, that “…man looks at the creation of architecture with his eyes, which are 5 feet 6 inches from the ground.” Logical and rational codes such as this form the standard for much of architectural production – but of course, these “norms” are as constructed as architecture itself. This particular standard is especially irrelevant when designing for children, for whom the adult-centric assumptions of architecture do not and should not apply.

As of 2018, children (i.e., people aged 15 years or younger) make up 26% of our global population; a statistic we should all appreciate given that a whopping 100% have, in fact, been children at some point ourselves. While there are a multitude of factors that shape the kind of adults we become, the architecture we encounter as children – be it the stacks in the library where you played hide-and-seek or the door handle you had to stand on tiptoes to reach – can have a great impact on your perspective of the world. When designing architecture for specifically for children, we are in a way molding these future perspectives, and it is therefore vital we treat the process with both rigor and empathy.

“Memories like these contain the deepest architectural experience that I know. They are the reservoirs of the architectural atmospheres and images that I explore in my work as an architect” – Peter Zumthor, speaking of his childhood memories in Switzerland

It is perhaps practical to first consider this from a literal standpoint: a young child’s eyes are, on average, about 3 feet 6 inches from the ground. Bad design for children is relatively simple to pick out as it typically ignores this fact (and often continues to fail from there.)

© arch-exist

© arch-exist

As many architectural governing bodies (such as the AIA and RIBA) push for more localized standards for school design, particularly those aiming to promote safety and healthy learning environments, architects must still consider things such as. What spaces will encourage learning? What plans will promote play? How can we create the right level of social interaction between ages?

Generally speaking, there are no universal laws for good design. But thanks to decades of research regarding the sociological and psychological development of children at universities across the world, there is data to at least suggest a number of key principles: the encouragement of social interaction, the promotion of playful learning, and the involvement of nature. How these things principles are realized can vary immensely. 

In his speech to congress, the new Sandy Hook School architect Jay Brotman referenced how design for children, in particular schools, depends heavily on the individual community and the context. This, with the added individuality of the architect, creates a bespoke and organic design process from the off. Certain schemes promote certain characteristics, and some projects lean heavily on certain techniques, all doing so to achieve a successful child-friendly space that suits the function best. Through delving into what makes a successful, child-centric design, we can begin to make note of the binding attributes that great schemes share.

“We have an innate capacity for remembering and imagining places.” – Juhani Pallasmaa, the Eyes of the Skin


While often not the most appealing of design influences, safety is by far the most important characteristic of any scheme for children. This need not, however, refer to the “bubble” approach to safety; an approach which lazily often results in soft edges with soft materials in soft designs. A more basic understanding of safety for children is the notion that, as an adult, you are able to see the child anywhere in the space. 

Courtesy of VERSTAS Architects

Courtesy of VERSTAS Architects

© Andreas Meichsner

© Andreas Meichsner

Schools and kindergartens are key proponents of using plan to protect their children. VERSTAS Architects demonstrate this in their Saunalahti School scheme, where a dominating, linear brick facade creates a border to the public, and the enclosed area uses the typology of the site to ‘herd in’ the students, without the feeling of complete enclosure.


Article 31 of the UN Convention on the Rights of a Child states that “every child has the right to relax, play and take part in a wide range of cultural and artistic activities.” Architects have a responsibility to design spaces that enable the essential natural creativity and freedom of play, and nurture it. This can be achieved in several ways, but can be boiled down to structured play and abstracted play.

© John Donat RIBA Library Photographs Collection

© John Donat RIBA Library Photographs Collection

© arch-exist

© arch-exist

U.K. based Turner Prize winning design collective Assemble created an exhibition that summarized the themes of abstract play in 2015. ‘Brutalist Playground’ used the play areas of the 1950s and 1960s social estate architecture, promoting the ability of their solid and non-descript forms to create a space that encourages children to fill in the blanks with their imaginations. According to the research, these spaces gave the children the autonomy to do as they pleased, learning and growing along the way. ASPECT Studio applied many of the same principles into its colorful Wantou & Vanke Paradise Art Wonderland park in Heifei, China.

© Antoine Espinasseau

© Antoine Espinasseau

Contrasting this open-ended approach, the work of French architects NP2F demonstrates equal success from a more structured approach. Utilizing the traditional methods associated with urban sport spaces and play areas, NP2F guided the development of their Evolution Ground Alfortville project in such a way as to “promote a decompartmentalization of sport spaces,” maintaining a known method of interaction for the children. The project, with its areas of “urban gentleness” creating an adaptable, highlights this approach in a multi-use space. “The importance given to detail (ground, morphology, folds and boundaries) allows us to offer to the young people of the ZAC, beyond a simple football ground, a “configured” space, space of encounters and exchanges,” the architects explain in the description of the project.


In a world designed for adults, sometimes one of the most important features of child-centric architecture is child-only features. Enabling children to interact or navigate with the architecture in a way that is unique to their circumstance can be essential to the idea of play, letting the children truly be independent and self supporting through the nature of the design.

Courtesy of Matter Design + FR|SCH

Courtesy of Matter Design + FR|SCH

Courtesy of Matter Design + FR|SCH

Courtesy of Matter Design + FR|SCH

Five Fields Play Structure by Matter Design + FR|SCH shows how multiple levels of space can be juxtaposed into a fun, condensed setting, that allows adults to access each part but at a hindered pace and freedom to the children. “Dedicated to imagination” and “resisting literal and singular readings”, the structure is designed with the nimble nature of its client in mind. Sitting on a green, sloping context, Five Fields uses a carefully imagined plan to create several areas where children can interact with the architecture on their own terms, “liberating the kids to fly through the spaces”.


© Katsuhisa Kida

© Katsuhisa Kida

The one thing universal about children it is that no child is the same. By extension, no one interaction with a child is the same, and the day-to-day ways in which a child uses space may differ significantly. This is partly the reason why your traditional square, isolated classroom has been proven inefficient in the teaching and developing of young people. Spaces must be malleable, and must be able to adapt to any given situation. They must also be open, and have access to nature, as children are not meant to be restricted to the confines of our adult preconceptions of space.

One of the greatest examples of this adaptability and openness is the award winning Fuji Kindergarten by Tezuka Architects. The distinctive oval shaped plan, which features a large green space in the center and a generous, wooden roof terrace all around promotes the natural movement of children through the space. The kindergarten, as a consequence of this plan, has one of the highest athletic abilities in the area, as children who go there move on average 4km per day. The classrooms themselves have no walls, as the continuous plan means the children can never get lost or wander far away, and this open architecture is summed up by Takaharu Tezuka when he says:

© Katsuhisa Kida

© Katsuhisa Kida

© Katsuhisa Kida

© Katsuhisa Kida

This kindergarten is completely open, most of the year. And there is no boundary between inside and outside.So it means basically this architecture is a roof. And also there is no boundary between classrooms. So there is no acoustic barrier at all. When you put many children in a quiet box, some of them get really nervous. But in this kindergarten, there is no reason they get nervous. Because there is no boundary.

© Dorte Mandrup

© Dorte Mandrup

© Adam Mørk

© Adam Mørk

This openness and involvement of nature is something that Danish office Dorte Mandrup consistently shows within their work, from the hillside-like Råå Day Care Center to the more urban Kanderborggade Day Care Centre.


© Sean Ahlquist, University of Michigan

© Sean Ahlquist, University of Michigan

Courtesy of Luckey Climbers

Courtesy of Luckey Climbers

In many recent projects, research and design are fused together in order to create specialized spaces for certain groups of younger people. The research project Social Sensory Architectures use their work to create spaces that are both comforting and helpful to children with autism, while Spencer Luckey’s abstract, undulating platforms “form a blank canvas for the children to establish their own narrative” in a gender-neutral playground.

Catalytic Action create design play structures within refugee communities, letting the children take ownership of the design to provide relief and independence to a community of children that often has to grow up faster than others.

Courtesy of CatalyticAction

Courtesy of CatalyticAction

Providing spaces for counseling and support within schools is a key issue, as the mental pressure of being a child has arguably never been more of an issue. Architect Karina Ruiz emphasizes the importance of locating these spaces in key areas, in order to avoid disenfranchisement or the feeling of isolation. “Simple things like moving a counseling wing and putting those where students are located—near commons, near libraries—and then making them transparent.”

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Outfitting Your House for a Child With a Disability

9 months, 26 days ago

Are you outfitting a home for a child with a disability? The U.S. Census Bureau reports that around 12 percent of the population is disabled while the PEW Research Center puts that number even higher. That means while only 5.4 percent of children five to seven years old are disabled, they still comprise a pretty large part of the population.

For those children, having a home that they can feel comfortable in is very important. Outfitting your home for a child with a disability, however, can be a nuanced process. Each type of disability is different and each requires special modifications to the house. Home modifications for disabled kids can also be costly depending on the amount of work that needs to be done.

If your house needs modifications because of a disabled child, or you’re looking for ways to create a space where your child with a disability can lead a safe and happy life, this guide will help. We’ll discuss the most common impairments and adaptations that can be made for every situation.


Creating a Space Where Disabled Kids Can Thrive
Modifications for Children in Wheelchairs
Modifications for Visually Impaired Children

Modifications for Children with Sensory Concerns
Modifications for Autistic Children
Resources for Parents of Special Needs Children

Creating a Space Where Disabled Kids Can Thrive

Creating a Space Where Disabled Kids Can Thrive

Whether you recently acquired your new ability status, have moved into a house that needs updates or have a sudden need to make your home accessible, it’s important to assess the needs of your disabled child.

You will want to create a space where your disabled kid can feel at home, feel safe and free to be themselves. It’s important to consider the safety of each room, as well as the exterior of the house and common spaces. Consider your child’s unique needs and how you can make your house safer for them.

Adapting a Home to Medical Equipment

Adapting a Home to Medical Equipment

If your child will need medical equipment or medications, there are a few things to consider, such as safe storage for medical supplies and medicines. You may need to add outlets or additional power options if your child’s medical equipment is powered by electricity.

You must also consider whether your child’s equipment needs a backup power source. Would they need a generator during a power outage? If so, you should have one or two on hand. If your house has stairs and your child is mobility challenged, you may need a stair lift to ensure they have access to the whole house.

Staying in Budget when Modifying Your House

The cost for accessibility modifications can be anywhere from $1,600 to $14,160. Since there are such a variety of customizations, the gap is quite large.

Some children may struggle more than others. If you need to buy multiple pieces of equipment or make extensive modifications, it can get very expensive. When purchasing the equipment, consider which purchase is more important. Those that are life-sustaining or give your kid mobility will be the most important—prioritize these.

If you are having trouble affording the equipment you need, consider a loan. If you own your house, you may be able to use its equity to make modifications to it. The first step is to get a cost estimate from a contractor, then talk to your bank about acquiring the funds.

Staying in Budget when Modifying Your House

Undertake as many of the projects as you can on your own. Modifications such as grab bars and stepping stools can be easy to DIY. Contract out what you can’t do yourself with a local handyman or contractor and compare prices.

Since children grow fast, it can make more sense to buy secondhand equipment. Talk to your doctor first to discuss whether or not the items you need are safe to buy secondhand. If they are, you can look for used mobility equipment, therapy toys or adaptive furniture on Craigslist in your area. Medical equipment that must be sanitary is not a good choice for this option.

When to Move Instead of Modify

Modifying a house for a disabled kid can be difficult. Making renovations can get costly, so sometimes it makes sense to move into a house that is already accessible. If the costs to modify a house far exceed its worth, it may not be smart to modify.

If serious modifications are needed (like taking out walls or widening hallways), it can drive costs up fast, making it more affordable to move. If you live in a two-story house and your child cannot get up the stairs (or use a stair lift) on their own, it may be smart to move into a one-story house.

If the layout of your house does not allow for the necessary modifications or if the rooms are too small to accommodate your medical equipment, it may be time to move.

Talk to your real estate agent about new home options that are more fitting for your needs and compare costs of purchasing vs. modifying.

Modifications for Children in Wheelchairs

Modifications for Children in Wheelchairs

Your child in a wheelchair will have very different household needs compared to a child who is visually impaired or has cognitive struggles. Thought should be given into what modifications will make it easier and safer for your child in a wheelchair to get around.


Throughout the house, flooring should be non-slip, which includes hardwood flooring, laminate flooring, most ceramic flooring and vinyl flooring with an embossed surface. Laminate flooring is a popular choice, as it is very durable and scuff marks are easily removed. If selecting carpet, low pile carpet should be used.

Exterior Modifications

Modifications will likely need to be made to the exterior of the house to make it safe and easily accessible for your child in a wheelchair.

The front door should be widened to at least 36 inches to follow ADA recommendations for doorways.
You will need to install an entrance ramp if there are stairs outside your house. The entrance will need to be step-free, meaning a level threshold, or have a small ramp to make it easier for your child to enter. There are many different options for wheelchair ramps.
Concrete and sidewalks outside should be level and outfitted with traction control.
There should be nothing blocking the entryway or path to the entrance. It’s best to have a five-foot square space in the entryway for the wheelchair to maneuver.
Motion sensored lighting will make it easy for your child to access the entryway at all hours.

Adapting a Home to Medical Equipment

Doors, Hallways and Stair Modifications

Again, it’s incredibly important for your child to be able to move around inside the house easily.

Hallways should be wide enough for a wheelchair to navigate through (at least 42 inches).
Doors throughout the house should be a minimum of 34 inches but preferably 36 inches.
In some situations grab bars on either side of the stairs will work, especially if it’s a small stairway. Larger stairways may require a stairlift installation.

Kitchen Modifications

Since your child will not be doing the bulk of the cooking, kitchen modifications don’t need to be as extensive as they would be for a disabled adult. But there are still a few modifications that can help your child feel welcome and at home in the kitchen.

If your child will be able to warm things up for themselves and get snacks, it’s important to have at least one low cabinet or pull out drawer that they can utilize. This should also house something to eat on and utensils.
If possible, have a wide open floor space so that your child can easily navigate the kitchen.
There should be a kitchen table of appropriate height so that your child can pull up and eat, work on homework or craft.
It would help to have a grabber device in the area so that the child can grab any snacks that are out of reach or light items they need.

Kitchen Modifications

Bathroom Modifications

The bathroom can be one of the most dangerous areas in the house due to slipping hazards and will likely require significant adjustments for a child in a wheelchair. Since each situation will be different, it can be helpful to watch your child maneuver the area and see where they are struggling. You can add grab bars and make modifications as they are needed. You will also want to:

Ensure your bathroom is large enough for a wheelchair to turn around in.
If possible, eliminate any edge or obstruction that would make it hard for them to get into the shower. Doorless showers can make it easy for a child to get in and out of the area to wash.
Install grab bars along all sides of the shower so that your child can get themselves in and out easily.
Place a seat inside the shower and position it so that your child can move easily from their chair to the bench.
Make sure the floor has a no-slip pad to prevent injuries associated with slipping.
Modify your sink for wheelchair access by either lowering it or reinforcing it to hold the weight of someone leaning on it.
Lower the mirror so that someone in a wheelchair can see into it.
Install grab bars by the toilet so that your child can easily maneuver onto it. The toilet area should be around 48 by 56 inches with at least 18 inches from the side wall.

Living Room and Bedroom Modifications

The living and bedroom areas should be positioned so that it’s easy for your child to move about.

Arrange furniture so that there is nothing obstructing pathways in the house. Keep electrical cords off the floor.
Designate a spot in the living room where your child can park their chair to join in on the activities.
Avoid having area rugs as these can obstruct a wheelchair.
Make sure there is ample room for your child to turn around and move freely in a wheelchair. Open-concept floor plans are great for this.

Modifications for Visually Impaired Children

Modifications for Visually Impaired Children

Modifications for a visually impaired child should make it easier for them to navigate the house or evacuate in case of an emergency. Fortunately, modifications for the visually impaired can be done more easily and are often less expensive than modifications for the mobility challenged.

Exterior Modifications

The exterior of the house should be modified for safety when your child enters or leaves the home or spends time outdoors.

The areas around the house should be well-lit and free of debris or things your child can easily trip on.
It’s helpful to have grab rails available to your child if there are any stairs or steps up into the house.
Keep items like tools or toys stored in the same area.
Move fragile or dangerous items into a locked shed or garage.

Doors, Hallways and Stair Modifications

Any area that your child will be traveling through often will need to be cleared of debris and safe for them to move about.

Tack or tape down any rugs or runners. Add non-slip mats underneath if you are able.
Tape down any electrical cords or ensure they are not laying where your child can trip on them.
Keep hallways and stairwells well lit.

Doors, Hallways and Stair Modifications

Kitchen Modifications

The kitchen can be a particularly dangerous place for the visually impaired. These modifications can help reduce the chance of injury.

Food, drinks and anything consumable should be labeled very clearly. If your child is blind or has extremely limited vision, you will need to label food items with braille. Here is a website that goes into extensive detail about labeling food items for the visually impaired.
If your child will be heating up snacks or doing small cooking tasks, label the microwave or dials on the stove top. Make sure everything they will need is always in the same location.
Keep dangerous things like knives and medication out of reach so your child can’t grab them.

Bathroom Modifications

The bathroom can also be dangerous for children who can’t see well (or at all). You can prevent injury by making sure special modifications are in place.

Install a safety rail at the edge of the tub or in the shower.
Mark their toothbrush with a rubber band or piece of tape so that it is easily identifiable.
Buy towels and mats that have contrasting colors to the floors and fixtures in the bathroom. All mats should be non-slip.
Use non-slip surfaces on the floor of the shower or tub.
Purchase non-spill dispensers for soap, shampoo and other liquids.

Living Room and Bedroom Modifications

Your child should feel the most at home in your living areas and bedrooms. There are several modifications you can make to the room so that finding needed items becomes second nature to your visually impaired child.

Use textures whenever possible so that your child can distinguish between things more easily.
Keep all pathways clear of obstructions that your child could possibly trip over. Make sure other children in the house are aware that they will need to pick up after themselves consistently.
Avoid area rugs or install non-slip rugs in common areas.
Make sure everything your child would need has a “home” and try to remember to put it back after you’re done using it every time. Teach your children to do the same.
Remove low-lying objects like coffee tables and ottomans that your child could trip over.

Modifications for Children with Sensory Concerns

Modifications for Children with Sensory Concerns

Sensory processing issues like hypersensitivity or hyposensitivity can be caused by a number of reasons. For children with sensory processing issues, dealing with sensory information can be confusing and at times frustrating. They may exhibit resistance to change and trouble focusing, problems with motor skills, lack of social skills or poor self-control.

If you have a child with sensory needs, you will need to outfit your house so that it feels like a safe space for your child.

Throughout the House

Sometimes, even the normal hustle and bustle of a home is too much for a child with sensory issues. There are things you can to do tone down the intensity of your house so your child can function properly.

Paint the walls in your house with neutral, soothing colors and avoid bright, bold colors.
Install light dimmers so that you can dim the lights when needed.
Keep your home free from clutter and unnecessary decor to cut down on the distractions.
Avoid having candles or diffusers that may emit strong odors.
Use weighted blankets in your child’s bedroom so that they can sleep better.

Create a Safe Space

Create a Safe Space

It’s a good idea to have a safe space your child can retreat to if they need a moment to regroup. A “sensory corner” that is quiet and stocked with cozy, comfy things is a smart idea.

Pick a corner that is dim, quiet and warm. You could even consider building a little “fort”. They sell fort beds, but you can also get creative and make a DIY fort.

Fill it with blankets and pillows, quiet, imaginative toys, squishy seating like bean bag chairs, and books or some music they can listen to.

Provide for Sensory Input

While some children thrive with sensory avoidance, others actually need sensory input. If you have a sensory seeking kid, your home can become damaged as your child explores their surroundings seeking different sensations.

Create safe spaces for sensory experiences by adding things your child can play on like a trampoline for jumping or safe, padded spaces for jumping into. Noisy toys, seats that wiggle and bounce or any kind of toy where your child can create sensory experiences is helpful. Each child will be different, so keep an eye on your child to decipher their specific needs.

Modifications for Autistic Children

Modifications for Autistic Children

New studies report that around 1 in 68 children in the United States are on the autistic spectrum, with the majority of them being male. Cases can range in severity, so it’s important to assess your child’s individual needs and outfit your home accordingly.

Exterior Modifications

There are several things you can do to ensure that the exterior of your house is safe for your autistic child. It is common for autistic children to want to be outside and in motion, so leaving the home to go outside unsupervised is sometimes an issue.

Use locks and alarms on doors and windows so that you will be alerted when your child enters and exits the home. You will also want to make sure your yard is safe from dangerous items like yard-work tools or sharp objects.

Kitchen Modifications

Kitchen Modifications

The kitchen can become a dangerous place for an autistic child if the proper precautions aren’t taken. There are a few things you can do to make it safer and more difficult for them to injure themselves or others.

Install durable surfaces and keep breakables out of reach. If your child has an outburst or participates in exploratory behavior, they can be destructive in the kitchen.
Arrange kitchen furniture so that your child has an appropriate place to sit and work if they need to. Keep furniture away from shelves and anywhere else that they could possibly climb.
Label things to explain their function or enforce rules. Images that say “STOP” or “NO”  work well to deter your child from getting into things they shouldn’t. You can place these on doors that are not to be opened or containers that hold poisonous substances. Cleaning supplies should be locked away in these drawers or cabinets.
Put sharp items such as scissors, knives or any other sharp tools high up or secured in a place where your child can’t access them.
Keep lighters or matches locked up so your child doesn’t burn themselves while exploring their world.
Store things in cupboards or pantries as much as possible to cut down on clutter which can upset autistic children.
Buy appliances with safety features such as child locks or hidden controls.

Exterior Modifications

Living Room, Bathroom and Bedroom Modifications

In the rest of the house, you will want to use special precautions to make sure your autistic child doesn’t harm themselves or cause damage to your house.

Avoid using fluorescent lighting as these can tire autistic children out. Choose incandescent lighting whenever possible.
Build a playroom or safe play space where they have free reign. Create an environment where it’s easy for your child to focus on you or their learning activities and explore the world around them.
Reduce visual stimulation by coloring the rooms neutral or soothing colors and keeping the home clutter-free.
Make electrical outlets safe by placing plastic covers over them when they are not in use. You will want to ensure that wiring for electronics is concealed in a way that the child can’t access the wires.
Appliances can be made safe by using plastic child-proof knob covers for doors, faucets, ovens and stove burners. Lock the door to rooms that house the washer and dryer or power tools.
Organize functional items in see-through plastic bins so that your child knows where everything is. Use visual labels like symbols or photos to mark these bins.
Use visual signals to help your child understand limits and set expectations. Using colored tape to designate boundaries on carpets, floors and walls can visually remind children where their bodies should remain.
Make fire safety a priority and always keep matches and lighters out of reached or locked up. Supervise your child closely when there is a fire in the fireplace or a barbecue with open flames. Make sure smoke detectors are always working properly.

Resources for Parents of Special Needs Children

Resources for Parents of Special Needs Children

There is a wealth of information available for parents of special needs children on the internet. Whether you’re interested in learning more about the needs of your child, gaining financial assistance or looking for emotional support, there is something available. We’ve listed some of our favorites below.

General Information and Support

The Autism Society provides information for parents of children on the spectrum.
The Council for Exceptional Children provides information and resources about special education.
Family Voices provides children and youth with special health care needs information and support.
The Federation for Children with Special Needs provides support for parents of special needs children.
Parent to Parent USA offers support to parents of children with special needs.
IncludeNYC has several resources for parents of special needs children.
The National Low Income Housing Coalition provides information about housing solutions for people with special needs.
The National Fair Housing Advocate Online educates about the issues of housing discrimination. has a number of helpful resources for parents of children with disabilities.

Financial Resources

The USDA Rural Housing Home Repair Loan and Grant Program provides loans and grants to very low-income homeowners to repair, improve or modernize their dwellings or to remove health and safety hazards.
The National Resource Center on Supportive Housing and Home Modification provides a state directory for finding a broad range of local resources for home modification financial aid.
The National Center for Learning Disabilities gives scholarships to high school seniors who have been diagnosed with a learning disability.
Possibilities is a financial resource for parents with disabilities.
Project 10 is a site that provides information about scholarships, grants and financial resources for those with disabilities.

The post Outfitting Your House for a Child With a Disability appeared first on The HireAHelper Blog.

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