Tag Archives: physical disability

Best Children’s Books on Disability

By: Sarah Peabody, Physical Therapist

According to the Center of Disease Control, developmental disabilities affect 1 in 7 kids in the U.S. and 1 out of 9 children under the age of 18 receive special education services. Explaining a disability to children can be difficult for many reasons. The children’s books below each have a unique way of illustrating what really matters. These books are a great addition to any home, school, library, or waiting room.

With inspiring messages and an emphasis on strengths, they help all children understand kids with different needs. These powerful messages share stories and celebrate victories of all kids in spite of a range of different disabilities. If you are struggling to find a way to start a conversation with a child or a child’s sibling, friend, classmates, or family, these are a great way to start conversations about disability and inclusion!

Books about kids with physical disabilities:

  • Hip, Hop, Hooray for Brooklynn Bunny: This book is great for encouraging children to persist in achieving long-term goals and to cooperate with wearing an orthopedic brace. This book focuses on the whole child working toward a positive outcome over time. Whether it’s jumping rope, or wearing a brace, the message of this book is to keep trying.
  • Danny and the Merry-Go-Round: One day while watching kids play and ride a carousel, Danny becomes frustrated by his inability to participate. It’s not easy to join in because he is living with cerebral palsy. Luckily, a little girl befriends him and they embark on an adventure. It’s a touching story, made more powerful for its way of showing children with disabilities that they are valuable people.
  • Meet ClaraBelle Blue (The ClaraBelle Series): Written by a mother of a child with cerebral palsy, this book celebrates differences by illustrating how much we all share in common. ClaraBelle’s favorite line is “I’m ClaraBelle Blue and I’m just like YOU!”
  • My Belly Has Two Buttons: This book was written for children who use feeding tubes, and the main character is excited to show and teach everyone he knows about it.
  • Ben’s Adventures: This series was written by a parent with a son with cerebral palsy. Ben shows that despite his disability, he can dream, he can play, and he can interact and have meaningful experiences.

Books about kids with autism:

  • Looking After Louis: The story of Louis, a boy with autism in a general education class, is told from the perspective of one particular classmate. This is a great book to explain to young children how autism can affect behavior and promotes understanding of others.
  • Andy and His Yellow Frisbee: When a girl notices that Andy spends most of his recess spinning a frisbee by himself, she befriends him despite his trouble connecting with others. It’s a great story, told through the shoes of Andy’s older sister, providing a great perspective on Autism that even the youngest kids can understand.
  • Ian’s Walk: Ian is nonverbal.  His older sister Tara takes him on a walk and is embarrassed that he does things out of the ordinary including staring at the ceiling fan in the drugstore and putting his nose against the bricks by the post office. But when he wanders off on his own, she must try to see the world through his eyes in order to find him.

Books with a focus on inclusion and coping with a disability:

  • We’re All Wonders: This story shows how one child copes with his own differences, and other’s reactions to them. The reader will find comfort in Auggie’s imaginative tactics and his positivity about being able to change the way others see him.
  • Susan Laughs: This book celebrates the similarities and differences between children with and without disabilities, and encourages acceptance and tolerance of differences. It’s not until the end of the book that Willis reveals Susan uses a wheelchair. It’s a simple, yet powerful, way to show how people aren’t defined by the barriers they face.
  • My Sister, Alecia May: This book is written from the perspective of a younger sister of a child with Down Syndrome. Although Alecia May can be hard to be around, she is a lot like other 6-year-olds. Rachel appreciates the unique qualities of her sister and learns to stand up for her when others tease her. A great book about inclusion!

Books about kids with a learning disability, anxieties/worries, and more:

  • Hudson Hates School: This book is a useful introduction to dyslexia for children. It reassures children that dyslexia should not be a barrier to success if it is properly recognized and managed.
  • Eagle Eyes: This book focuses on a child who has ADD/ADHD and learning difficulties.  It acknowledges the difficulties that Ben experiences at home and school because he has trouble controlling how he moves and thinks. The hallmarks of ADHD are discussed as well as ways to cope with them.
  • When My Worries Get Too Big: This is a great book that makes it easy for kids who struggle with anxieties to not feel so alone. The included stories are fun, engaging, and filled with encouragement to help kids come up with their own calming methods when anxiety issues arise.
  • I’m Not Weird, I Have Sensory Processing Disorder: If you have a child that struggles with sensory processing disorder (SPD), this book will help your child relate to the main character as she describes what it is like for her each and every day. This is a great resource to explain to others what it feels like living with sensory issues that affect them constantly throughout the day.
  • Whole Body Listening Larry at School: This is an excellent book to teach the concept of whole body listening and following directions. The story begins with two new students attending school who have trouble listening and following along with the class schedule, social cues, etc. Larry helps them by teaching them how to listen with “their whole body”.

Books geared towards siblings:

  • Sara’s Secret: This book explains the story of a grade school-aged child that has a brother with a severe disability. The main character struggles with not wanting her classmates at her new school to find out about her brother in fear of being teased. It is a beautiful message of acceptance and inclusion as the main character delves into her emotions and realizes the bond between she and her brother despite his difficulties, which is not any secret to hide.
  • We’ll Paint the Octopus Red: A great resource for those who are awaiting the arrival of a new baby brother/sister who has a disability (this book specifically geared towards Down Syndrome). It also has a great message that with help and patience, their sibling will be able to overcome any obstacle.
  • Leah’s Voice: Parents and educators can use this book as a great resource for teaching siblings, friends, and classmates about autism, inclusion, and acceptance. Although the focus is on a sibling with autism, its important message on the acceptance of differences and treating everyone with kindness is for all children.
  • Views from Our Shoes: This book includes numerous stories of siblings that share their experiences as the brother or sister of someone with a disability with a wide range of various difficulties. Their personal stories introduce young siblings to others like them and allow them to compare experiences.

For more information on the services Easterseals provides for children with disabilities, visit:http://www.easterseals.com/dfv/our-programs/

Knowledge is Key

By: Amy Liss, Relationship Coordinator

Every month we seem to have a day that brings awareness to a specific disability. For example Friday, March 25, is National Cerebral Palsy Awareness Day encouraging people with cerebral palsy to share the many things they enjoy and can do using the hashtag #CerebralPalsyCan.

11182119_10104980955721620_7285392519176070049_nWhile I think these days are great, I personally believe that every day should be Awareness Day. My dream had always been to be an elementary school teacher. Although I may not be teaching in a classroom, my goal is to “teach” every day. Whether I’m giving a speech in the community, giving a tour of our building to someone that hasn’t heard of Easter Seals and its mission, driving up and down our hallways meeting new families, or engaging in conversation with long-time friends, I feel that I am always trying to educate.

For those of you reading this that may not know me, I’m 33 years old and have Spastic Quadriplegic Cerebral Palsy. There are many different types of Cerebral Palsy. I am lucky to be able to speak and have a mind that works pretty well most of the time. 🙂

Next time you come in contact with a person with a disability, here are 5 things I believe you should keep in mind:

  1. Just because a person is nonverbal doesn’t mean they don’t understand what you are saying. Treat them normally. Talk to them at a level they understand. Do not talk down to them.
  2. Most people with a severe disability need a companion to help them. It is important that you remember to talk to the person and not to their companion. For example, people tend to ask my companion questions instead of directing them towards me. They say “does she like college basketball?” If the question was formed, “do you like college basketball?”I could talk for hours about March Madness.
  3. I’mMarchMadness.jpg an identical twin and I have a younger sister who is 28. My family did a wonderful job of including me in all family activities. Throughout my life, I’m grateful that I’ve always been accepted and included. Sometimes your special needs child can occupy a lot of your time and that is understandable but it is important to remember that siblings need attention too. Try to spend one-on-one time with each sibling. In my family, we call these “you & me kid days.”
  4. Patience is crucial. Sometimes others don’t take the time to get to know people with disabilities because it may take them longer to do things. If you take the time to get to know someone with a disability and include them in your group, you may quickly notice that we’re more alike than different.
  5. Be as open as possible. Tell others about you or your child’s disability. That’s how we educate.

amy group.JPGYou may be surprised at how much YOU can teach!

Amy works as the Relationship Coordinator at Easter Seals DuPage & Fox Valley. Learn more here: http://eastersealsdfvr.org/about.

Summer in Chicago

The Importance and Impact of the ADA

By Shannon Kelly, Easter Seals DuPage & Fox Valley Development Intern

This past Sunday was a huge milestone for the disability community as the Americans with Disability Act turned 25. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the purpose of the ADA which was enacted in 1990 is to “prohibit discrimination against people with disabilities in employment, transportation, public accommodation, communications, and governmental activities. The ADA also establishes requirements for telecommunications relay services.”

This month really made me think about the power that the ADA has in society and what an impact it has on people with disabilities. I was born four years after the ADA was established, so I never experienced sidewalks without curb cutouts or inaccessible government agencies. While these may seem like small matters, the reality is that they make a huge difference.

And since the act was passed 25 years ago, it easy to take these things for granted, but it is important to remember the
advocates that fought diligently to make things like accessible public transportation and employment equality a reality. Their hard work and success in passing the ADA is still affecting millions of people with disabilities each day.

Accessible Metra train.
Accessible Metra train.

The ADA has made a profound impact on my life as a wheelchair user, and my ability to be independent. During the summers, I live at home in Elmhurst with my family and often spend time in Chicago. Last year I had an internship in the city and I often went to Navy Pier, Millennium Park, and attended different concerts and events. Driving into Chicago is not the most exciting thing to do, so I normally take the Metra train to the Ogilvie station and then take buses to get around downtown. The Metra is equipped with lifts and cars with more room for easier access and the CTA buses all have ramps that allow people in wheelchairs to get on. These features make it so much easier for me to get around and do everything I want to do.

Ramps at Millennium Park
Ramps at Millennium Park make it easy for everyone to access.

The ADA has also required buildings and public areas to become more accessible. I went to the Art Institute of Chicago recently, and was pleasantly surprised with their level of access. There was ramps and elevators to every exhibit as well as accessible restrooms. Millennium Park is also one of my favorite places to go in Chicago and it is very accessible for people with all disabilities. The Jay Pritzker Pavilion is a great place to check out events and it has resources to accommodate many different needs.

While the ADA has helped many people with disabilities lead independent lives over the past 25 years, the fight is not over. There is still much to be done in order to ensure people with disabilities have equal access in the community and to opportunities.

Public transportation has been greatly improved since the passing of the ADA, however only 69% of Chicago’s CTA train stations are currently accessible. The city of Chicago is working towards updating these stations, making sure they are more accessible to everyone, but it is a process and doesn’t happen overnight.

Additionally, the ADA requires all buildings built after 1990 to be accessible, but there are many older building and housing complexes that are hard for people with disabilities to access. And while the ADA prohibits companies to discriminate against applicants requesting reasonable accommodations, there is a very high unemployment rate among people with disabilities. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says that “17.1 percent of persons with a disability were employed, and in contrast, the employment-population ratio for those without a disability was 64.6 percent.”

Moving forward I believe it is important to continue to improve the infrastructure of buildings and public transportation to make them more accessible. Acceptance also plays a key role. When members of the community and employers become more open minded towards differences, it will help society become more inclusive of people with disabilities.

During the past 25 years there has been great successes and accomplishments through the ADA, there’s no doubt about that. We have come a long way and I can’t wait to see everything that is to come!

The Bean at Millennium Park.
The Bean at Millennium Park.

Accessible Family Vacations Part 2: 5 Tips for an Accessible Trip to Disney

By: Heather Barilla, Center parent & Travel Agent

Heather Barilla is a mom of 3, one having special needs. I have been traveling to Walt Disney World all my life, visiting over 40 times (but who’s counting?). I have also been traveling to Easter Seals DuPage & Fox Valley for almost 10 years! I loved planning Disney Trips so much, that I started my own business, Palm Tree Travel Agency, an Affiliate of Magical Moments Vacations.

Now I’m booking and planning Disney trips (and more!) for families just like yours. I have found Walt Disney World is by far the best place to travel with special kids.  The cast members are welcoming and understanding, the parks and resorts to be accessible and easy to navigate.  I have found a place where we can be with our special family, and not be that different after all.  It’s truly become our vacation destination.

When To Go:

A question I hear often is, “When is the best time to visit Walt Disney World?” Anytime is great!  Disney has planned special events throughout the year that are all enjoyable, including the Flower and Garden Festival that starts in March and Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party in the fall.

Flowers at Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party
Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party

While traveling in the peak seasons can be manageable, planning trips to Disney in less crowded months may provide a more enjoyable experience. My daughter didn’t walk until she was almost 3.  We chose to vacation in September, when it was mostly preschool families and adults. May and October have great activities and less crowds, and can be some of the best times to visit.

Whenever you decide to go, planning is essential in getting the most out of your Disney Vacation.  Dining reservations can be made 180 days in advance of your arrival date, and if you are booked at a Disney Resort, you can make reservations for your entire stay, up to 10 days.

Resorts:

One of the first things to consider when planning a family trip to Disney is accessible accommodation. Disney offers many types of rooms and resorts for all family sizes and any budget.

Each Disney resort has handicapped rooms.  This isn’t just for wheelchairs, there are rooms especially created for visual and hearing needs as well.  For families that need a place that is super wheelchair friendly, I’d choose the Contemporary Resort or the Bay Lake Tower.  The Contemporary Resort has a wheelchair friendly layout with a variety of dining options and the Bay Lake Tower’s pool has a zero depth entry, with a handicapped chair lift.

Disney Resorts have all sorts of transportation options.  Moderate and Value Resorts will offer buses to all the parks.  Some Deluxe Resorts offer monorail, boat and bus service.  Bus drivers will lower the buses to accommodate wheelchairs if you can’t transfer.

Theme Parks:

With multiple parks at Walt Disney World, there is always something exciting going on. Once you enter the park, head for Guest Services where you can obtain the Disability Access Service Card.  You don’t need a doctor’s order, all you need is your personal information, and be willing to have a photo taken. Once inside, you have access to all the different parks.

Magic Kingdom
Beautiful day at Magic Kingdom

Magic Kingdom is one of the main attractions at Disney World and is where Cinderella’s castle is located. Getting to Magic Kingdom is easy by monorail and buses. So many rides at Magic Kingdom are for the whole family and many don’t require a transfer.  A great escape is Tom Sawyer’s Island.  There are paths and caves and areas to explore and run.  Or, you can sit quietly on a rocking chair and enjoy the view.

Epcot is my kids’ favorite park.  Here you can experience nature, science, and the world. Our favorite exhibit is the World Showcase, where you can interact with cast members from different countries and there is an accessible boat ride in the Mexico exhibit. We also recommend The Seas attraction which is based on the movie Finding Nemo. Each evening at Epcot there are Illuminations which includes a firework show. Accessible seating is available near the Port of Entry shops.

No matter what theme park you go to during your time at Disney, the FastPass+ makes it easy to pre-plan and be prepared.  All parks use the FastPass+ system, and the My Disney Experience App is simple to use on your phone or computer.  I have found that planning FastPass+ selections an hour apart has kept my family moving with minimal waits, and occupied for the morning, ready for our afternoon break.

Dining:

When it comes to dining while in Disney World, there are a variety of options to choose from. Disney s chefs and staff are accommodating when it comes to special nutrition needs.

When booking a dining reservation, you are able to select certain allergies that may be present in your dining party. Once you check in at the hostess desk for your reservation, always mention again that you have a special dietary need.  Your ticket that is taken to your table should have the word allergy stamped on it which alerts your server and the chef.

If you go to a restaurant with a buffet, you can always request that your children’s food is prepared and brought out separately. This will ensure it is not taken from the buffet to eliminate cross-contamination.
In order to ensure that all your dietary needs are taken care of when you arrive, contact Special Diets at Walt Disney World before you travel.

Cruises:

Disney cruise ship
One of the many Disney Cruise ships

Taking a Disney Cruise gives you the opportunity to see destinations such as the Bahamas, the Caribbean, Europe, Hawaii, and Alaska. Disney’s Staterooms are large, as they have families in mind.  The handicapped rooms on Disney Cruise line are huge.  You have tons of space to move around, store your chair, and easily access all your room’s amenities.

One of the unique things that Disney Cruises includes is the Kid’s Clubs. They are designed for kids of every age level and you will have an opportunity to talk with the counselors to make sure all your child’s needs are met, and what extra procedures might be necessary.

Disney Cruise Line gives you a wonderful all inclusive experience with your family unlike any other.  It truly is an opportunity to play with your kids, or have some alone time for just you parents.

Want more information? Email me at heather@palmtreetravelagency.com or check out and like my business Facebook page at facebook.com/palmtreetravelagency.

For more information about Easter Seals DuPage & Fox Valley please visit EasterSealsDFVR.org.

Accessible Family Vacations

By, Sharon Pike, Parent Liaison

Summer vacation is on its way! Many families and I discuss the difficulty in scheduling vacations. Not only do our busy schedules make it hard to go away and relax, but finding an accessible family-friendly destination can be overwhelming.

But family vacations are where wonderful memories are made. I found several destinations below with a little help from a Center parent.

Shared Adventures, Santa Cruz, CA

day on the beachShared Adventures is a non-profit organization that puts on an impressive array of programs through the summer for special needs children and adults.  In July, they host an annual Day on the Beach, which offers adaptive or assisted kayaking, canoe rides, scuba diving and floatation for people of all ages!  Volunteers erect plywood “paths” for wheelchair access; you can also rent beach wheelchairs.   The day ends with live music and free food!

Splore, Moab, Utah

Splore, is a not-for-profit that provides outdoor activities for special needs children and adults at affordable prices.  Theywhitewater organize river trips, rock climbing, hiking through a partnership with Red Cliffs Lodge.  More of a resort that a hotel, Red Cliffs Lodge offers an impressive variety of accommodations and activities. There are wheelchair-accessible rooms adjacent to the lodge.  Sidewalks with ramps let to all patios and to the museum.  The meals are “traditional cowboy fare”, the chef can rustle up special menu plans upon request.  Utah prides itself on offering accessible recreation!

Island Dolphin Care, Key Largo, FL

Island Dolphin Care is a not-for-profit magical place for children with special needs and their families to enjoy and discover new abilities through dolphin therapy.  Parents and their children celebrate their strengths and even new inspirations through classroom activities and dolphin therapy.

The founder, Deena Hoagland‘s goal was, and still is, to help children with special needs and their families who have developmental and/or physical disabilities, critical, chronic or terminal illnesses and emotional challenges.  Deena is a mom who witnessed the remarkable recovery of her disabled son Joe, at the age of three after swimming with dolphins.  Her son was born with a heart defect that required many open heart surgeries. During one surgery, Joe suffered a massive stroke which paralyzed his entire left side.  Through repeated therapy sessions with dolphins and hard work, he regained use of his left side.    Deena believes that all children with special challenges should be given an opportunity to enjoy life‘s experiences through a full range of activities, including dolphin assisted therapy, all children love to smile, laugh and have fun!

I learned about this destination from Center parent, Lynn Matusik, whose family has now traveled twice to the island Dolphin Care. Who better to talk about their recent experience then her?

Lynn: Our son Sam LOVES the water.  We thought it would be a wonderful experience for him if he could somehow swim with dolphins. Due to his severe disabilities and being 100% dependent on others we were not sure if this would be something he would ever be able to do.

During one of our weekly therapy visits at Easter Seals, our therapist told about a place that a fellow client had visited called Island Dolphin Care which is located in the Florida Keys.

We did some research on Island Dolphin Care and found it to be a family oriented facility.

sam with dolphinsOur first trip to Island Dolphin Care was in 2014.  From the moment we saw his name on the board, walked out of the elevator (yes the ENTIRE facility is handicapped accessible!) and were greeting by staff, we knew this was the perfect place for our son Sam.  The staff at Island Dolphin Care are incredible, welcoming, knowledgeable, patient, unbiased and understanding.

Sam participated in the IDC (Island Dolphin Care) 5-day program.  There are four days of classroom time and 5 days of dolphin swim time.  In the classroom, families and their children are able to work toward IEP or therapy goals if they chose, with a therapist while applying those skills by participating in aquatic related crafts and projects.  It was truly a time to laugh and enjoy family time in a non stressful environment!

Swim therapy time with the dolphins was INCREDIBLE!  Our son worked with his therapist, dolphin trainer and a dolphin or sometimes two!  Sam was able to work, interact, and play safely with his dolphin in a structured environment.  IDC also provides swim time with siblings so they are also able to interact with the dolphins along with their brother or sister.  The last swim day at IDC is for one parent or caregiver and child.  They swim freely in the water among all of the therapy dolphins and other families.  The dolphins at island dolphin care are so patient, gentle and loving with the children that words cannotsam with therapistt express the emotions that parents feel when they see their child interact with these beautiful creatures.  Seeing our son Sam smile and hearing his giggles were truly priceless.

IDC is a place where parents can leave the stress of caring for a child with special needs behind and just enjoy their child.  It is an exceptional experience that the entire family can participate in and enjoy!

IDC will also provide you with hotel accommodation information, places to eat, other attractions, etc. to help make your stay in Key Largo one that you can enjoy with your entire family.

We could tell you so much more about our trip to IDC and our son Sam but  we would love for you to experience the magic first hand with your special needs child!

More information can be found on their website: www.islanddolphincare.org.  Tell them Sam Matusik sent you!

Thanks Lynne for that great information!

I can’t wait to hear about your family adventures this summer. Look for my next blog post for more family-friendly vacation ideas!

For more information about Easter Seals DuPage & Fox Valley please visit EasterSealsDFVR.org.

Headed to the Gym

Physical activity for people with disabilities is crucial. If we don’t participate in the proper amount of physical activity, our physical impairments could get worse. For me, the proper amount of physical activity is physical therapy twice a week and getting out of my chair as much as I can. I know this is incredibly important, however, I get distracted. I’ll make plans with friends ex: go shopping and it creates a distraction. Obviously, I can’t always be exercising or stretching; I would not have a social life or go to work, but I have to balance physical exercise with the demands of life.

National Center on Health, Physical Activity, and Disability state:

“More recently, the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans provides science-based guidance to help individuals with disabilities aged 6 and older improve their health through appropriate physical activity. These benefits are even more important if you have a disability, since people with disabilities have a tendency to live less active lifestyles”.

This is a challenge that everybody deals with. How much do I work out? What exercise classes are best? We all struggle with balance. How many hours of therapy give my child a life and also maximizes independence? It’s a hard question that I don’t have the answer to.

 However, some people commit their life’s work to physical fitness. The community of Easter Seals DuPage and the Fox Valley Region would think of our wonderful physical therapists as people who dedicate their lives to physical fitness and we do appreciate them. However, some people with disabilities decide to shatter stereotypes in the world of physical fitness. Craig Koonce, a power lifter who has Cerebral Palsy does that every day. He defies the odds in a gym. Koonce goes to the gym everyday to prepare for weight lifting competitions. He won state in Pennsylvania  in 2010 for power lifting and he went on to nationals.  He dreams of starting a center that takes holistic approaches for both disabled and able-bodied individuals. Check out his story here.

We can’t all be like Craig. I could never spend that many hours in a gym. That amount of physical activity does not appeal to me. Personally, I set aside certain parts of the day to have my personal care attendants get me out of my chair. It can be as simple as laying on the couch and watching my favorite TV show or after work, I usually stand with an attendant for a good ten minutes. USA Today states, “If you are in a negative-thinking cycle for more than 10 minutes, stop thinking and start moving. Move your body every hour; sitting saps motivation”. The magazine also says, building incentives and giving yourself a rest day is a good way to keep working out.

You can set your own regime and choose your own activities but it’s important to remember that physical activity is crucial when you have a disability. Plus, the holidays are practically here…if you exercise, you won’t feel as bad when you eat all those holiday goodies!