Monday, April 6, 2009

The Nature-Mood Connection?

I have a guilty pleasure that I indulge in while waiting for appointments. For me, it's the chance to sit back, relax and read a magazine, something I might not allow myself time to do otherwise. I was recently waiting for a Doctor's appointment and flipped through a Health Magazine (October 2007-perhaps the Doctor's office needs a new subscription?). Sometimes, flipping through magazines also affords me the opportunity to learn something new, affirm or reconsider my opinion on an idea or theory.

I came across an article discussing the value of going for a walk in a park. It cited a study published by researchers at the University of Essex in London. "While any kind of exercise is thought to be a mood booster, where you take a walk can make a big difference. A study found that people who stroll for an hour through green spaces like parks and nature preserves are more relaxed, energetic, and confident than those who amble through a shopping mall. The fresh air, sounds, and colorful scenery in nature offer positive stimulation for the senses." (p.100) I whole heartedly agreed with this statement, and it was nice to read that there was some level of scientific study to support it.

I know that I for one, was a bit tired and cranky from the demands of the day prior to getting outside with a group last week. I was happy, more relaxed, and laughing upon our return, ready for what the rest of the deay would bring. The group members appeared to have experienced a similiar shift as well.

Perhaps this is also part of the reason why, although we had a grand time of playing some partner games out in the park, by in large, everyone's favorite part was stopping to notice the tiny brillant green buds that are slowly opening on the trees.

We're looking forward to taking our on-going social thinking groups outside the box a bit and out into nature over the next few sessions-to breathe in the fresh air and watch as the earth wakes up.

Welcome Spring!

Behind the Scenes at the NEAQ

Two groups had a wonderful visit "behind the scenes" at the New England Aquarium. Accompanied by a Marine Educator, we were able to tour an area where scientists work and see the tanks from different views and angles than most of the visiting public. We were amazed by the giant lobsters and by the escape artist octopus! We also had the opportunity to see Harbor Seals getting their teeth brushed-a first for all of us. Both groups spent time watching the Penguins inside the Aquarium-great for some declarative communication together.
We wanted to share some photos that were taken by some of the trip members. It was a new and different way for us to experience the Aquarium-and we hope to have the opportunity to do this again.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Flexible Thinking

The development of Flexible Thinking skills are always a goal of our groups. Being able to consider multiple meanings, intentions, perspectives, etc, is a key trait for human connection and communication. It's also something that can be quite challenging at times, for many of our group members. For those of you who want to find out more, Michelle Garcia Winner and Dr. Steven Gutstein, among others, write about this topic at length.

One of our group members brought in a book to share with the group (that's exciting in and of itself!) called, You've Gotta Be Kidding! The Crazy Book of Would You Rather Questions. This book has a variety of "would you rather questions ranging from serious to disgusting to silly"(use your imagination)-in other words, very interesting to second and third graders! Initially, these sort of questions caused a bit of anxiety for other group members. They weren't quite sure how to interpret them. "Was the question serious?" "Would I really be asked to eat that?" "Why would someone ask that?", "What does it mean?", or even "That question is so strange-maybe the other person is teasing me?" Over the course of a few weeks, it's become a great child centered tool to explore all the different perspectives and flexibility involved in this task.

This past week, the group decided at snack, that they'd like to come up with their own "Would You Rather" questions-and post them on our blog. At one point, a child came up with a rather disgusting question (from an adult's perspective) at least. Rather than saying the question was inappropriate, the leaders wondered aloud WITH him, about what people reading our blog would think of us if they read that question. On his own-he thought about it and adjusted his answer-he wants readers to think good things about us! Ahh-the efforts to develop social thinking skills are working.

Hope you enjoy our current questions (albeit food centered-but all their own ideas):

Child 1: "Would you rather have pizza with vegetables AND bubble gum on it? Or Carrot flavored ice cream?"

Child 2: "Would you rather have broccoli cake or asparagus juice?"

Child 3: "Would you rather have ice cream on top of ice cream on top of ice cream? or Ice Cream?" (You'd be ice creamed!) *laughter*

Child 4: Would you rather race a nascar around Mt. Everest or climb to the top of the Empire State Building-on the outside.

Leader: Would you rather go to school in the summer time or go to camp during school vacations?

Maybe something like this can become an interactive, flexible thinking dinner time activity at your house.

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Superflex Group Blogs

We made a Rainbow Tower using gears at choice time. The Rainbow Tower is like the colors of Roy G Biv. (Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, and Violet). We want to show it to more people than just the ones in our group. It's really too bad that one of our group members was sick when we made this.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Harry Potter "Try It"

Although we were hoping the Harry Potter Movie would be released on time-we made a new flexible plan to have a Harry Potter Movie Night at AOB headquarters. A great group of girls joined us to create a "Hogwarts style" setting. We enjoyed pizza, magic wands, and non-alcoholic butterbeer! It was a great way to spend a Friday night together with some really cool people. And...we'll plan another HP "Try It" for the movie release in Theaters-stay tuned!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008 the Holiday Season

We came across this article, and thought we'd pass it along to you. We'll certainly be trying some of these tips out ourselves. Information about the author and her other work is at the bottom.

Permission to share granted by Joan Celebi -

Parents – 12 Holiday tips for harmony, balance and joy

This time of year, we look forward to the excitement and fun of the holiday season: Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, and the New Year are all occasions to rejoice and celebrate with family and friends. With the holidays, though, comes more than the usual amount of juggling, multitasking, planning, making, going, doing … the to-do list grows fast, and it seems to get longer every year.
What about you? Do you push yourself to the limits during the holidays? You’re not alone. For busy parents, being maxed out on both time and energy is already your normal state. Add on all the things we do during the holidays, and you’ve got a recipe for overload.
This year, I want to share with you some ways to not just survive the holidays, but be invigorated, refreshed, and renewed by them. My Twelve Holiday Tips for Balance and Harmony will help you navigate the holiday season with greater ease, less stress, and more time to enjoy, perhaps more than you have in a long time.
1. First and foremost, take care of yourself.
Did I say first? YES! When we need to cut corners, the first thing to go is our own self-care. But taking care of yourself needs to be at the top of your list. Get enough sleep. Eat well, and on time. Sip water throughout the day. Stay active. Take a moment every so often to breathe.
2. Sort out what matters most — and what doesn’t — in your holiday season.
Chances are there are some things you do every year that you don’t need to or even really want to be doing. Throw those out the window! These can be little things or big things. Your choice! You can only do so much, so save your time and energy for the things that are really important to you.
3. Decide what your “keepers” are for this holiday season.
Look inward and decide what kind of holiday is just right for your family. What are the most important things to YOU this holiday season? There are no right or wrong answers here! Choose the things that are meaningful to you and your family, and focus on those the most.
4. Be imperfect! And love it!
We all know we’re not perfect. But we often spend valuable mental and emotional energy wishing we could do things better. This is especially true around the holidays, when we’re bombarded with images of the model family, the ideal kids, the perfect dinner, the museum-quality home decor. We hold ourselves to impossibly high standards. Take the pressure off yourself. What if you were to actually celebrate what you formerly saw as your shortcomings? The imperfect parts of your holiday could even become some of your best memories.
5. Give a gift to yourself.
This doesn’t have to cost a thing. How about giving yourself a gift certificate? Something like: this certificate entitles the bearer to a nice warm bath. Or a cup of coffee with a friend. An uninterrupted half-hour to devote to your hobby. A night off from household chores. A walk in a nearby park. A book from the library to read — for fun. Whatever gift(s) you give yourself, no guilt allowed! Enjoy your gift to yourself fully, knowing that you work hard, and you deserve it.
6. Spend special time with your child.
This one of the most precious parts of any holiday. Yet parents have told me that sometimes a holiday goes by so fast, they don’t feel like they have time to really connect with their kids. Or that they never seem to get a chance to share the true meaning of the holiday with their kids. Or that they’re so busy trying to keep their kids busy and behaving, that they’ve got little energy left for much else.
Try this: choose in advance a particular time during the day when you and your child will spend some special time together. By consciously setting aside a piece of the day that you can purely enjoy with your kids, you’ll be making space for meaningful holiday moments and cherished memories that will last a lifetime.
7. Choose one tradition per holiday that brings your family together for a moment of joy, reflection, fun, relaxation, or just plain silliness.
Traditions are important — but a holiday can be so jam-packed with activity that the whole day can whiz by with no time to slow down. Make room in your day for one tradition that lets you simply enjoy each other’s company for a time — in a way that’s uninterrupted and just right for your family.
8. Get help.
Delegate as much as you can this holiday season. Ask yourself two questions:
WHAT tasks can you delegate?
WHO can you delegate the tasks to?
Once you get going on this, you’ll amaze yourself with how creative you can get at getting help! You’ll also be pleasantly surprised at how delegating even the smallest errand, task, or responsibility can give you a big boost in your time and energy.
9. Nevermind what other people think.
The holidays are full of moments when we wonder what other people must be thinking, whether we’re out in public or with friends or even family. Parents of children with special needs report that this is one of the hardest things they have to deal with. I want to encourage you to let go of what other people think. As a parent, your choices are yours and you make them for a reason. You and your family are who you are. No explanations necessary.
10. Take little time-outs when you can.
If you can get a morning to yourself, an afternoon on your own, or a night out, go for it! But it’s hard for many parents of children with special needs to get big chunks of free time. So take little mini-breaks when you can, even when you feel like you have enough on your to-do list to keep busy every second of every day.
11. Try something new.
Studies show that when people are in the habit of trying something new every so often, they feel better mentally, physically, and emotionally. Why not try something new this holiday season? Keep it simple. A new flavor of tea? A different outdoor game after the big dinner? I could go on, but I’ll let you come up with your own ways to put a little of the zing of something new into your holiday this year.
12. Be present.
The more special the day, the more it tends to go by in a flash. Slow it down a little, savor it, cherish it. Now and then, take a moment to stop and really look at and listen to whomever and whatever is around you. Take the day off mentally and emotionally. Give yourself the permission and the freedom to truly enjoy the special moments of the day.

Joan Celebi is the Special Needs Parent Coach, helping you conquer the chaos and create a more manageable, balanced life. Get her FREE “Guide to the Ten Essentials of Balance and Harmony,” and her FREE newsletter with tips and strategies for balanced living — all for parents of children with special needs — at

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Looking in on a Social Thinking Group

AOB’s social thinking groups use different modalities to address social thinking concepts including art, movement, creative play, building, and sometimes cooking. Today one of the activities was a cooperative game. The environment and activities are scaffolding in a way that allows the children to do as much of the interaction and problem-solving with limited prompting from adults. Here’s a brief look:

Four children are clustered around a Superflex** Cooperative Game. The children’s task: to work together to help our superhero, Superflex, travel to Social Town to defeat Rock Brain. They encountered some challenges along the way-and had to practice some superflexible strategies themselves.

One boy, Juan, had less turns at the previous activity than some others did. One the way to the game table, he calmly asks if he can go first this time. Charlie says, “Sure, of course.” Leader: “That’s great that Charlie agrees.” Juan says “oh” and checks it out with the other kids. They also agree, and the game starts.

The leader uses nonverbal communication so that the kids “think with their eyes” when there is a question of a turn, or something that is asked of an adult. As the group helps Superflex move toward social town-they all become excited. Henry says, “We’re doing it. High-fives all around.” And they all give each other a high-five. Charlie says he’s worried he might not get the answer right, but Sarah says, “We’ll help you.” Charlie then answers the question, and Juan pats him on the shoulder. Sarah says “you did it”, and Henry says, “way to go.” Charlie smiles broadly-a leader says, “I knew you could”.

Time is going by and it’s apparent to the staff that we won’t have time to finish the game. Not finishing things has been a big issue for this group. A leader comments-“hmm.., Superflex hasn’t made it to social town, and it’s almost time for snack.” The next child goes, and moves Superflex one spot closer to social town. Sarah says to the group “Hey Everyone-I’ve got a superflexible idea-we can stop this game here and finish it next week.” The group yells together- “Yeah! Go Superflex!”- High-fiving each other and move along to snack.

** The Superflex Social Thinking Program was created by Stephanie Madrigal and Michelle Garcia Winner