Sunday, December 31, 2006

Laughing at Those Pesky Little New Year's Resolutions

Those of you familiar with my work as a writer have probably already figured out that I'm big on adding a humorous take to even the most infuriating and exhausting life challenges. My experience says that savoring regular loud guffaws, complete with a couple of loud, ugly snorts, can be a pretty useful survival tool, one that allows us to claim renewed perspective for even the toughest life events.

I believe that a hearty belly laugh, or even a good joke that makes us smile wide enough to show all of our teeth, holds the power to cure most of what ails us. In my efforts to help you end your year on a more positive, uplifting note, and keep all those 2007 resolutions that you are making (or not) into perspective, I encourage you to read the words of one of favorite columnists, and my friend, John Schneider. John's words about his own failed New Year's resolutions in today's Lansing State Journal made me laugh as I choked down my healthy bowl of oatmeal sprinkled with wheat germ and blueberries, and prepared to wave bye bye to 2006.

I hope that John's refreshing, human take on our mad pursuit of New Year's perfection rarely achieved will brighten your year-end celebrations, and put your own take on New Year's goals into clearer focus, too. Enjoy! / John Schneider, columnist/ Sunday, Dec. 31st entitled: "I'm not perfect yet, but it could happen in 2007."

You can also check out John's blog at

...And be sure to come back and read mine regularly, too!

So long 2006! I'm ready for you 2007! I think....

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Taking Time Out for You!

One of the toughest realities facing parents of children with special needs is the loss of treasured personal freedom.

If you are thinking about making valuable New Year's resolutions that can make a difference in your life in 2007, consider personal time away from the demands of special needs high on your list of priorities.

Remember all those carefree hours you once spent going to the latest movies, hanging out with friends or going for a beer after work? What about all that free time you once wasted reading current magazines cover to cover, or gardening, washing the car, or singing along loudly to the radio on last minute weekend adventures to the beach?

Remember when you could actually take the time to shut the bathroom door to answer nature's call?

Gone in an instant.

These once simple daily decisions have been replaced by big family commitments and limited free time. But with thoughtful planning, you can begin to regain some of that precious time away for activities that will help leave you feeling refreshed and renewed. Reclaiming personal freedom in families of children with special needs often requires creative thinking and lots of juggling, especially if your child has physical, medical or behavioral needs that make finding, and keeping, babysitters difficult.

Then there is the sticky little issue of the costs involved with special needs parenting that often strain family budgets to the max, especially when one parent has given up their income to stay home and raise the children.

Don't let these realities stop you.

While such concerns can make time away seem like a luxury you can't afford, time away from the demands of special needs parenting is crucial to your physical, mental and spiritual health. Think of it as going to the well when you are very thirsty. A solid commitment to self care can help you better face the unexpected parenting challenges that lie ahead, and even handle them more successfully.

With a brand new year just around the corner, this is a great time to add personal time back into your life. Here are just a few simple and inexpensive tips designed to help you escape the demands of special needs in 2007, if only briefly.

Feel free to add some of your own- then go take a walk!

Address and Prioritize Child-Care Needs.

Seek support from family, friends and community agencies to meet this need. Knowing that you have help in place on a regular basis is priceless and grants you the freedom to take time out just for you, free of guilt.

Read a Favorite Magazine Cover to Cover.

Try to avoid tough-life stories and hard news. The idea is to lighten your own mental load for a bit so you can return to your parenting role feeling more inspired, motivated and relaxed.


Take long walks, go for a run, or work out in the privacy of your home. Jump rope, take a bike ride, or dance in front of the mirror. Exercise helps relieve stress and can heighten self esteem, enhancing your ability to handle your parenting challenges more effectively and more positively. Practice deep breathing, too.

Give Your Partner a Foot Massage.

Or just cuddle together on the couch and share your fondest hopes and dreams. Ladies: paint your toenails, condition your hair, shave your legs or take a bubble bath. Use great smelling lotions and soaps that help improve your mood.

Make Time for Those Leisure Activities that Matter Most to You.

Golfers can practice their swing in their own backyard or at a nearby park. Anyone can shoot hoops in the driveway or at a local playground, community center or during open gym at the local high school. Visit the library or go out for great java at a favorite neighborhood cafe. If you enjoy taking photos, carry your camera with you. There are lots of great photo ops to be had during those daily outings.

Advertise for Help in College Newspapers that Attract Students Majoring in Education or Health Careers who are Eager for On-the-Job Experience.

Once you have quality childcare in place, commit to a regular date night and make it a priority. Nurturing your relationship with your significant other can make a big difference in how you handle your special needs challenges, while also enhancing and further solidifying parenting teamwork.


Watch funny movies, tell funny jokes, ready funny stories, even laugh at the absurdity of your own parenting demands. Laughter is healing and a great stress release. And it's one terrific, and free, coping tool on the toughest days.


Having a child with special needs produces a wide range of powerful emotions that need a healthy, safe release. Journaling helps us express strong feelings without fear of judgment or harm.

Nuture Your Faith.

Find solace in heartfelt, honest prayer. Whatever your beliefs, there is solace and comfort to be found in spiritual practices, especially during the most difficult days.

Visit Museums, Cathedrals and Synagogues.

The beauty of these places can feed your spiritual side, and your soul, leaving you refreshed and reconnnected with something larger than yourself.

Sit and Do Nothing.

Meditate or light a favorite candle. Quiet time is rare in families of children with special needs, and the addition of it to our hectic daily lives can prove healing, soothing and relaxing. When we are quiet, it is easier to hear our own voice, and as a result, become clearer on the parenting choices we need to make now.

Take a Nap!

Many parents of children with special needs often walk around sleep deprived. Taking a nap whenever you can to help support your body's need for additional slumber, may leave you feeling more energized and in a better frame of mind for facing your demands.

You can find more tips and resources to help you better meet the demands of parenting a child with special needs in my book Breakthrough Parenting for Children with Special Needs: Raising the Bar of Expectations.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Movies of Note

As 2006 quickly comes to a close,and a brand new year waits in the wings teasing us with all those enticing new life adventures, I again find myself in need of some renewed inspiration for all those professional and personal challenges that I am sure to face in the Near Year.

So I've added a little mindless holiday fun into my life, seasoned with some solid inspiration for 2007, something I highly recommend for all parents.

At no time was this simple recipe for year-end renewal greater, or more necessary, than during the nearly thirteen years that I parented a child with cerebral palsy, complete with its many rewards and significant daily demands.

Because Eric's needs made every day life a bit more complicated than that of many other families, I learned early on to look for inspiration and renewal in simple ways, like that found in going to the movies (or renting a dvd on those days when getting away was nearly impossible with my son's demands). One of the things I love most about the holidays are all those great new movie releases, and the rare break in my schedule to actually indulge in my passion for them.

As a writer, speaker and advocate for those with special needs, I am particularly fond of stories that inspire or motivate us to become better human beings. I like those that champion the causes of the common man and woman. I love tales that call us to action.

I like movies that make us think, and then challenge us to act more boldly and fearlessly in our own lives. I like movies that help us believe that we, too, are part of the solution to real-world challenges, big and small. I like movies that make me feel better about the future of our world, not worse.

I cherish movies with good writing, great acting and real substance- movies that feed my brain, while also fueling my heart and soul. I like being reminded of the potential and the power that each one of us holds to change the world for the better, no matter how dire universal events appear at first glance. I like being moved to tears for all the right reasons.

I deplore senseless acts of violence and cruelty and crudeness in films that contribute little if anything to the betterment of mankind, and leave me in danger of feeling hopeless about the world's dicey course, and terribly concerned for the future of our youth. (Think lighted match in a room overflowing with spilled gasoline).

I like walking out of the movies feeling moved and empowered and responsible for my role in creating my own rich and colorful life tapestry. I appreciate knowing that my valuable time and money have been well spent. I like believing that all those people who made the movie somehow valued my intelligence and their own creative integrity. I love movies that challenge adults to do better by the world's children, especially through our critical parenting choices.

I like seeing underdogs succeed, in light of all the bad odds and the loud voices of those ever-present naysayers.

I like leaving the theater feeling ready for another year, whatever life plans to throw at me. I love believing my carefully thought out New Year's resolutions really are possible, not just pipe dreams fueled by too much holiday chocolate washed down with too many glasses of warm wine.

I like knowing that I've got yet another chance to pursue all my fondest life dreams, and a clean slate to do it on. I like thinking that I can still finish the important work that I began during this year--that my life is not over until it's over.

As I prepare for another year of trying to create greater awareness and understanding of the value and potential of those with special needs, in a society obsessed with physical perfection and celebrity, I welcome this brief and energizing seasonal break.

And sometimes, I just want to be entertained.

Here are a couple of year-end movies that worked for me.


I wish that everyone could see this movie. BOBBY explores a day in the lives of the people who work at or are staying in the Ambassador Hotel, on the day that Bobby Kennedy is shot. The film's power is in its simple story telling; it shares with the viewer the stories and personalities of everyday folk going about their daily lives. This human focus is made more powerful by the commitment Bobby Kennedy came to have for all those who struggle or face discrimination of any kind, something fueled by his own pain and loss and introspection after the death of his brother, President Kennedy. BOBBY reminds us that we all lost something big that day, and the world has never quite regained its just course, or its innocence.

Perhaps if enough people see this movie, that harsh reality will change, and maybe the hope and light and concern for the human condition that Bobby Kennedy shared with the world will be again be reignited. After viewing this movie, we can hope...and then we can act.

Also recommended: THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS: starring Will Smith.

Inspiring, motivating and worth the price of admission if only to see Will Smith's young son in his amazing film debut. The kid is cute as can be, and he can act. This is a great real-life story about one man championing over the toughest life odds. I especially like the message to all dads to step up and be good parents and role models for their children, especially their sons, an example sorely needed in today's world. This movie will remind you that you don't have to look far to find someone who has it tougher than you do. This happy ending will leave you cheering, and the real-life example of serious parent power at work will inspire you.

Next Up: Dreamgirls

And be sure to catch CARS now out in dvd.

Don't forget to write me and tell me what inspires you in the New Year, but no attachments please! I won't open them! If you want me to read your heartfelt words, please put your messages in the body of your email.

Happy 2007!

Breakthrough Parenting for Children with Special Needs

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Gifts Money Can't Buy

It's hard to believe that Christmas Eve 2006 is one week from tomorrow.

Between now and then, the masses will descend in droves to shopping malls with too few parking spots, or attend work parties and family gatherings that test our social graces and sanity and latest diets, and take part in last-minute online shopping. All this in our determined, if sometimes frantic annual effort to uncover the perfect gift, enjoy a perfect family moment, or create a sense of holiday magic that too often will elude us.

In our rush to create holiday perfection, most will become sorely disappointed and increasingly disallusioned.

Many of us will overspend, overeat, and fly through this season taking little or no time to embrace the true meaning and spirit of this sacred season. Too few will sit silently mesmerized by the power of those tiny white lights on evergreens to charm us. Too few will stop to actually think about why those Salvation Army kettle bells are ringing outside the busy shops,or stop to ask others how they are doing with their own life challenges, then really listen to the answers.

Too few will question the magical appearance of those oversized snowflakes that often fall unexpectedly on Christmas Eve, or stop to pay tribute to those who no longer grace us with their physical presence.

Too many adults will miss the enchanting ways in which children, wise little creatures that they are, mirror the true magic of this season in their gentle faces, bold questions, and wide-eyed wonder. Children are great teachers.

Far too few of us will put down our cell phones and have a face-to-face conversation with another human being, including with those busy store clerks.

Instead, we often fly through the very life moments and spiritual practices and experiences and personal reflections that can help fuel us on to face the difficult life challenges presented us during the rest of the year. In a world overcome by high tech and bad news, this is one time of year when we have permission to slow down and be transported to a quieter, more beautiful place that can help recover from the madness of the prior year. No wonder so many of us are so exhausted.

My gift to you this holiday? Some simply words from a newspaper column I wrote a few years ago about my definition of the word holiday gift, and how having a child with special needs redefined that term for me. I share it with you today, with one week before Christmas, in the hope that during this season of wonder and retail madness, you will slow down long enough to read it, then reflect on your own priceless blessings, most of which will never be found in any store. I know.

I wish each one of you a joyful holiday season and a terrific New Year, one that again offers us all the exhilirating promises of sparkling new beginnings. I hope you make those new choices matter, and I'd love to hear all about them.

Please visit my website to find out how you can share your life experiences with me.

Happy Holidays!!!


"What do you want for Christmas?" my twin sister asked me.

Janice had e-mailed me from her home in Los Angeles, the land of movies stars, gold Mercedes and physical perfection, far from her deep Midwestern roots.

Before I became the mother of a child with special needs, I recited wishes easily: silver jewelry, fine cotton garments and anything from Tiffany in Beverly Hills.

But that was before I had a child with cerebral palsy, something that forever changed my definition of a gift.

My reply to Janice was vague.

"I love books and good tea and uplifting classical music," I e-mailed back. "But I really don't need anyting."

Why was her question so tough, and my answer so obvious?

I began a list that started in my head and traveled to my heart. I want more sleep, gentler circles under my eyes and increased energy for superhuman parenting demands. I want freedom to pursue my career with no personal constraints. I want more time to nurture my marriage and quality child care for all kids.

I want to make a difference in the lives of others.

My wishes quickly gathered emotional steam.

I'd love to see my son walk and tell me about his day. I wish adults would look past his wheelchair and risk inviting him to their house to play. I want Eric to ride a bike or skate through his neighborhood on a hot summer day or chase fireflies or do a human cannonball into a pool.

I want Eric to sneak out of bed early on Christmas morning and marvel over Santa's magic or swat a pesky mosquito and confidently voice his hopes and dreams, something made nearly impossible with his limited motor skills. I want him to ask me the tough questions about cerebral palsy, including "Why?"

But I already know that if these gifts never grace my life, I won't love Eric any less, or marvel more when he struggles to say, "I love you." His physical challenges have demanded that I stop long enough to savor fireball sunsets, and freed me from the commitment of Sunday morning soccer, which grants our family a sacred day of rest.

Our daughter, Jenna, was only six when our special needs adventure began. Now she towers over me, resplendent in ballerina toe shoes. Her sophisticated and heartfelt poetry puts my own poetic ramblings to shame. My first-born helped prepare me to successfully parent a child with special needs, because it was Jenna who first taught me how to love unconditionally.

I wish I could give her back all those moments stolen by the demands of having a special sibling. Yet, I would never trade the compassionate young woman she has become, embracing the skills that empower her to champion over future adversity.

My children's gifts are priceless, indeed.

In return, I wish them a more compassionate and tolerant world. Yet in this day of hate crimes, road rage, global warming and escalating war, I am not naive enough to believe this is guaranteed.

The intensity of my parenting journey has blessed me in countless ways. My faith in God has been solidly nurture and keeps me on course. I have gained valuable communication skills while advocating for needed societal change.

But I would love more precious moments with nurturing friends who remained loyal when Eric's parenting demands made reciprocation impossible. They understood, and when I returned from exhile, these incredible, talented women warmly embraced me.

Today, I still overindulge in books and fine clothing and silver jewelry, but I no longer need these things to feel complete, a gift in itself.

So I suggested my sister send me a gift card from a national bookstore where I will probably buy another special needs resource to help me better meet my daily parenting demands. My decison won't make me a poster child for the retailers, but it will make me proud of whom I have become.

Fact is, I already have enough gifts to last me every Christmas for the rest of my life. If I never again received an enticing, ribbon-draped parcel or prized blue box from Tiffany, I would still be rich beyond measure with gifts that money can't buy.
Breakthrough Parenting for Children with Special Needs

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Remembering the Life of a Child through The Compassionate Friends Worldwide Candle Lighting

A quick reminder to all those who have lost a child, or to those who want to support others in such a loss, this Sunday, December 10th, is the annual Worldwide Candle Lighting started by The Compassionate Friends.

At 7 p.m. local time, candles worldwide will be lit in memory of children who have died throughout the world.

"The Compassionate Friends is a national nonprofit, self-help support organization that offers friendship, understanding, and hope to bereaved parents, grandparents and siblings. There is no religious affiliation and there are no membership dues or fees."

What began as a rememberance on a much smaller scale on the Internet in 1997 has become a worldwide movement and yearly tradition that gives families worldwide the opportunity to honor their loss, while also paying tribute to their children's lives.

For one evening, the world grieves together. There is powerful healing in the reality that on this single evening millions of flames burn brightly across the globe. For one evening, our grief is universal and understood. We do not carry our loss alone. There is comfort and solace in such numbers.

My family has taken part in this ritual for three years. We find something comforting in this peaceful, quiet act that validates our loss and helps offset the emotional reactions that loom large during some family activities and seasonal events, actions that many who have lost a child may find surfacing during the holiday season. These are powerful, tough-to-explain emotions that the masses who have escaped such tragedy rarely understand.

But on this evening, however briefly, we are allowed to sit quietly, mesmerized by a candle flame and recall fond memories of our son's life. We laugh loudly, or let healing tears fall silently. We are reminded of our son's continuing presence in our lives and in our hearts.

It is a priceless holiday gift that we give ourselves yearly, a simple act that I highly recommend.

For more information on the Worldwide Candle Lighting and the important work of The Compassionate Friends, visit

May it grant you peace, if only for an evening.
Breakthrough Parenting for Children with Special Needs

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Giving Thanks for Children with Special Needs

As we find ourselves again facing that lovely, quiet, humble little American tradition known as Thanksgiving, I now know why I love this day more than most of the noisier celebrations we honor each year. In this complex world in which we live, I love a day that has as its sole purpose the simple act of giving thanks, even as we stuff ourselves into gastric oblivion.

This holiday embraces the old-fashioned idea of being thankful for what we already have. Pausing to give thanks for the abundant blessings already in our lives, no matter how small they may seem at first glance, is an act too often overlooked in today's materialistic world. On Thanksgiving, we are free of witnessing events like those involving crazed adults fighting over overpriced games and toys, at least until the coupon clipping and shopping frenzy begin in earnest. That day-long reprieve alone is a relief and makes me happy to celebrate this gentle day.

Thanksgiving invites us to slow down for a few hours, not a bad idea, especially for those facing the daily challenges of parenting a child with special needs.

I know that it can be tough to uncover the blessings in your children's challenged lives, and in your own, especially when so much of what families hear about disability is negative and focused on a child's perceived shortcomings and apparent brokenness. Depending on where you are in this parenting journey, this day, this year, may or may not seem deserving of your thanks. All the more reason to dig deep and reflect.

This Thanksgiving, take few moments between the turkey and pie and football and family squabbles to really look at your children, to see where their strengths and gifts lie, to honor what your children bring into your life, to see how far you have come on this rocky journey. For one day, put aside your tough role as an advocate and just be your child's mom or dad, sharing hugs and kisses and board games and movies and walks and talks and quiet time together.

Give thanks for your tears.

Give thanks for what you and your child have achieved so far in life, no matter how hard-won or small the gain. Give thanks that we live in a country that is years ahead of many others when it comes to understanding the value and rights of these children. Give thanks for Internet access that has opened up the world for all of us, helping people connect worldwide and access valuable resources, while networking with other families who are also trying hard to juggle it all, just like you. There is comfort in numbers...

On this day, give thanks for the ways in which your child has made you a more responsible parent, a better human being, one who is more tolerant, less judgemental, more patient, and a better child advocate with the ability to multi task on little sleep. Be thankful that your child has taught you that it's okay to ask others for the help you need. Give thanks for your growing recognition that it is our individual differences, and those of our children, that really do make the world go round. Give thanks for all of your children.

Give thanks for the freedom to celebrate your personal faith, and all the ways in which it helps you face, survive, and even celebrate the gifts of each new day of life.

Pausing to reflect on the gifts of special needs, even when you have to search hard for them, can help give you a better handle on your challenges, giving you more energy for the challenges that lay ahead. It balances out the rough moments. Reflecting on your blessings can be a powerful motivator, helping you focus more on what's possible for your child, and on the important role that you play in that child's life success, a positive focus that may help create additional blessings in your life.

Since I try to practice what I preach, here are some blessings from my own life that I will be giving thanks for tomorrow:

-Seeing my book Breakthrough Parenting for Children with Special Needs published and out in the world, where it belongs, thus honoring a big promise I made to my son before his death to help other children with special needs (and their families) live better lives.

-Meeting so many wonderful families at my book signings across the country whose commitment to and love for their children with disabilities has given me great hope for the future of these children, and others still to come. I am grateful for the many blessings you have shared with me this year, including your examples of courage, love, commitment and faith toward your children. These all fuel me on....

-I am grateful that I had the honor of meeting many wonderful people this past year who recognized and supported the value of my work, including: Timothy Shriver, Felecity Huffman, Marlee Matlin, and others. It has been a year of great blessings, amazing moments, heartfelt stories, and my own healing from the loss of my much-loved son.

-I am thankful that Eric's spirit is still strong and very present in my life and in my work, and that my daughter has now successfully taken her place as a responsible young adult in the world, while continuing her three-year relationship with a wonderful, talented and spirited young man!

-Finally, the food choices at the table this time of year are simply the best!

Blessings are everywhere; we just need to take time to slow down, reflect and then honor them. Once you begin searching, the list just seems to grow...and for that balance in my life, I am incredibly grateful.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Chicago is My Kind of Town

I'm blogging this from Chicago, one of my all-time favorite cities. This big-city jewel has a intoxicating energy that always leaves me eager to return. If I go too long without a visit to Oprah town, I find myself on edge, the writer in me screaming for a much-needed fix of cosmopolitan inspiration. The captivating blend of great shopping, deep dish pizza, and the sight of the Chicago Tribune Tower always energizes me. I am a reporter at heart.

My son, Eric, also loved this accessible city, which only adds to its charm for me. I still remember the huge grin on his face as he surveyed the giant skyscrapers from his wheelchair for the first time. My son was clearly mesmerized by the sight of it all, much as I was the first time I visited a big city.

Today, those memories remind me of why we placed such a huge focus on the importance of putting leisure time activities, including vacation and travel, back into our lives after our son's birth. While those adventures took careful and thoughtful planning because of Eric's special needs and wheelchair use, they always left us feeling as if our family was no different from any other, if only for a little while. Creating those memories were worth every ounce of effort they required.

On our trips to Chicago, Eric's wheelchair always came in handy. We would load it down with Miracle Mile purchases carefully selected with the help of my fashionista daughter, Jenna, now twenty two and living on her own. My son's solid sense of style closely mirrored his sister's and every selection of apparel was carefully made. Remarkably, this hip brother and sister retail team always agreed on the choices made.

During such outings, the intensity of the special sibling bond and deep, heartfelt connection that I observed always brought me such joy, as do the memories of them now.

On this return trip, I feel Eric's spirit with me strongly as I rewalk those steps alone, savoring the memories of shopping adventures I enjoyed with both of my children by my side...Today, I am both a grieving mother longing for another life adventure with my son, and a proud mama working hard to come to terms with empty nest now that my daughter has successfully claimed her place as an adult in this world. As a parent, I have been twice blessed.

Now I must work to reclaim my sense of self and uncover a new place in the world, one no longer defined by years of daily parenting demands. I am rediscovering who I am as a woman. My new path is proving both unnerving and exhilirating.

As a child, the little gypsy in me dreamed of running off to the big city, especially the literary capital of New York, to claim my fame and fortune penning literary insights that got me noticed. But I traded in that little child's dream and chose instead to raise my family while living in the more predictable, supposedly safer surroundings of surburbia, complete with white picket fencing. My priorities had changed.

Today, my life demands have changed dramatically, leaving me free to travel more easily. It is one blessing of my new, more independent life as an author.

Now I travel as often as I can. Chi town is one city that keeps me returning often with it lure of big city living and my appreciation of Midwestern hospitality and the warmth of its people. And my writing goals today are less ego centered and more focused on helping improve the lives of others.

Fact is, Chicago is a big city with a great small town heart.
All that and Oprah, too.... I'll be back again soon.

Where will your next adventure take you?
Breakthrough Parenting for Children with Special Needs

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Educate Yourself!

While speaking about my book in front of another large group of parents and professionals a couple of weeks ago, I was again reminded of the importance of telling parents the power of these two little words: EDUCATE YOURSELF!

Wherever I go, one or more parents always expresses their frustration over how to get their children the services and resources they need through the Individualized Education Program Team meeting (IEPT). Yet, when I ask if they have educated themselves about the law and their children's rights before going into the meeting many stare at me as if I've lost my mind. Far too many parents think that it is someone else's job to educate them during this exchange, and that professionals will do it with a huge, kind-hearted grin while sharing all the valuable educational goodies in their possession. Wrong.

It is your job to do your homework before you ever set foot in that room. Not knowing the terms of the game leaves your at a great disadvantage, and your child's future at risk. How can you expect to create an effective IEP when you don't understand the terms of that meeting? Not doing your homework keeps you from advocating effectively, and ultimately, hurts your child. No one has as much to gain from preparing well for this meeting as do you and your child.

Navigating the educational system, especially as it relates to the Individualized Education Program Team Meetings (IEPT) is not for the fainthearted. That means you had better be prepared BEFORE you enter that room. If you expect the school to tell you (and generously offer) everything that your child is entitled to (think of it as a gambler showing all their cards in a big stakes poker game), you will be seriously disappointed.

The reality is that school districts are dealing with serious budget concerns that are increasing yearly and they are working overtime to figure out how to balance those huge deficits. These problems aren't going away- and while it is not your responsibility to carry their budget concerns on your back, it does make it even more important that you educate yourself to get your child what they are entitled to by law.

(Note to Professionals: While I respect the big budgetary challenges facing you in today's world, please do not to place the burden of your budget needs on the families who are working hard to get their children the services to which they are entitled by law. Your anger/frustration about this issue is often missplaced. You should be directing your concerns to the governmental/educational agencies and politicians that have placed your districts in this position, and denied you the resources you need to meet the legal/educational rights of these and other children (parents can do this, too). Balancing your district's budget is not the job of the parent. Most already have more than their share of responsiblity on their plates and many are struggling under the weight of it all. It is a demanding role that parents cannot walk away from).

Never forget that knowledge is power. No where is this more evident that in an IEPT meeting. The reality is that parents are their child's best advocate, and that effective advocacy requires that you take time to prepare well for meetings and appointments. If you leave it someone else, your child loses.

Now take a deep breath- and go prepare well. Your actions will make you an Increasingly Empowered Parent (My new definition of the IEP). See the difference?

To help you do your homework, here's one great, family-friendly resource to help you better understand the law as it impacts children with special needs.

You can get a lot more great resources and lots of IEP info/tips in my book Breakthrough Parenting for Children with Special Needs.

You do have my book, right?.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

I LOVE Little People. Big World.

With the exception of Dancing with the Stars, I admit I've grown a tad weary of whole reality series phenomenon that threatens to fry my brain and steal my hope for the world's future. But then I stumbled acrossed Little People. Big World. on The Learning Channel, and now I'm back on the reality board.

I love this show! I love this family! I love their parenting style and commitment to family. I love their imperfections! And I love the Learning Channel for putting it in our living rooms!

Kudos TLC! The show is informative, entertaining and family friendly (no V Chip needed here!). This show is all about parents working hard to be parents, not their kid's best friends. These parents are real and human, committed to teaching their kids the important stuff like manners, civility and a hard-work ethic, in light of having some extra personal challenges.

Briefly, here's the gist of the program. Two parents, Matt & Amy Roloff, are both short statured, (for more on dwarfism and the current acceptable terminology, check out They are raising 4 children, one of whom, 16-year-old twin Zach, is also short statured. The program follows the daily lives of the family as they work their farm (Roloff Farms) and try to raise all the kids to be the best they can be, while also facing the physical and societal challenges presented them by dwarfism.

Disabilty advocacy never seemed so effortless or more powerful or more fun. The Roloff family will leave you cheering!

These parents spend real quality time with their family for all the right reasons, while educating the rest of us about ability. And that gutsy mom, Amy, is one wise soul with an infectious enthusiasm for life that jumps right out of the television screen right into your living room. My mom hat is off to you, Ms. Roloff! You are one charming woman...

If you haven't yet discovered this family and programming gem, do yourself a favor --tune out the television wasteland choices and tune in to TLC Friday nights at 8 p.m EST. But be warned. The show is addicting. But it's a healthy addiction, and I can almost guarantee that you'll feel better about daily life and redefining disability after spending some time with the Roloff family.

Little People. Big World. is a giant of a family show with great heart. I like knowing what's going on in the lives of this incredible family.

Now I gotta watch the last episode I taped...

Check it out!

Monday, October 30, 2006

Surviving The Death of a Child

Huge apologies to those of you who have been checking for new entries to my blog since September 11th. So sorry to make you wait this long. I'm still here. I've just been caught up meeting other life demands.

As the whirlwind activity resulting from my initial book release last March (and the subsequent travel for media and book signings and HOT, humid summer that was part of it all), finally began to settle down, I found myself a bit spent and needing time to catch up on other life stuff that had been put aside out of publication/promotion necessity.

(Note to would-be authors: You need to know that marketing and promotion before and after publication is a big part of your job, too. Unless you're a celebrity or have already sold millions of books (think Harry Potter), self promotion is a huge piece of the publishing pie. Don't say I didn't warn you)!

My renewed focus on restoring life balance includes spending less time checking my book sales on and more time on my grief work over the death of my son.

(Note to publisher: Rest assured that I will continue to take advantage of every single opportunity to spread the word about my important book, as I have so far in this exciting book-author process!).

Now that Breakthrough Parenting for Children with Special Needs: Raising the Bar of Expectations has taken its rightful, solid place out in the publishing world, and I have fulfilled a huge promise to my son to see this uplifting resource in print, I feel like I can finally breathe again.

Since Eric's death in 2003 at age 12, my days and nights have been filled with book project demands, leaving little time to mourn, something that eventually catches up with you no matter how hard you try to outrun it or deny it. Grief is a complex, grinch of a subject and not for the faint of heart. It must be honored and respected. Like the confident blond, blue-eyed beauty at the school dance, grief refuses to be ignored. It is powerful stuff.

In the pages of Breakthrough Parenting, I share several emotional, inspiring moments from Eric's life and death, in the hope that these words will help other children and families facing similar challenges lead better lives. But these past few weeks, I have been taking some much-needed time to mourn privately. The healing is slow, unpredictable, unnerving and at times, exhausting. I now understand why parents never really get over the death of their child.

The big challenge is to learn from your loss, grow from it, and then figure out how to reclaim a new life for yourself, one that does not include your child's daily physical presence and demands. The prior demands of special needs, and all that entails, help complicate grief work, magnifying the intensity of your loss.

These are tough issues of loss and reintegration that I continue to explore in my own life as I prepare for what's next?. It is no easy feat to reclaim your heart and soul and life purpose when your world has been ripped apart in such an unsettling and dramatic way. The death of a child cuts deeply and the wound still throbs daily. My best guess is that such a horrific wound never really fully heals. I'm just learning not to pick away too deeply at the fragile scab every day.

As I have traveled on this bittersweet grief journey, I have uncovered some wonderful, healing tools. As promised in the past, when I discover a particularly valuable resource, I will share it with you. That is the case with the book How to Survive the Loss of a Child: Filling the Emptiness and Rebuilding Your Life by Catherine Sanders, Ph.D. (Three Rivers Press-Random House Publishers).

Since my son's death, I have accessed many different books on the subject of grief, many have been of comfort. I have shared several of those in my book in the chapter addressing the death of a child. But no resource about how to face this terrible loss has comforted me more that Catherine Sanders book. While my grief is not as intense as it once was, this is the resource I refer to time and again.

Sanders knows the loss territory well. She, too, lost a child in a dramatic and unexpected fashion. It took her ten years before she was finally ready to address that grief fully. Sanders shares her remarkable wisdom, and her own painful journey, in a way that offers hope, inspiration and solace to others facing the cruelest life loss.

To those who are struggling with the loss of a child, Sanders gentle wisdom and professional expertise on grief proves healing and comforting. She makes a wonderful life guide, and serves as a life-saving buoy in the rough currents of grief.

My hope as you face your own loss is that you will be gentle with yourself and seek out whatever support you need. Such wise, bold actions will help you heal. This is no time to be brave or retreat into isolation or over scheduling that keeps you from your important grief work. I know.

Also be sure to check out Compassionate Friends, a wonderful online resource for those facing the loss of a child. There, you will find much to help you walk this rocky path well.

I wish you peace...

Monday, September 11, 2006

Remembering September 11th

Five years ago our nation lost what little was left of its innocence. Wives lost husbands, husbands lost wives, parents lost children, children lost moms and dads and grandparents, aunts and uncles. The magnitude of the loss is great on so many levels. It is difficult to put into words, even for a writer used to writing about tough life stuff like death and trauma. We all lost something precious on that day.

As the twin towers crashed to the earth that terrible day in NYC, we watched history unfold in horror and disbelief. I remember thinking that up until that event my worst nightmare as a mother was wondering if someone would manage to get my son and his wheelchair out of the building to safety in the event of another tragic school shooting. That was, and still is today, a real concern today for many families, another unfathomable horror, one born on American shores.

But the increasingly thin line that now separates sane acts from the horrific crossed over to a whole new degree on 9/11. None of us will ever again be quite so lighthearted, so seemingly invincible, not even in our laziest moments of slumber. You don't get over such senseless, hate-filled acts ever. Somehow we do adjust, rewiring our wounded psyches and hearts and egos enough to continue about our daily lives in the best way that we can, given the ever-present and often unseen enemy. At times, it feels like we are all actors in a dark play, trying to pretend that everything around us is normal, a world filled only with beauty and wonder and people chasing big American dreams. But the world is no longer that innocent, and neither are we. And we never again will be. When will we wake up to that reality?

Now more than ever, it is crucial that our acts of goodness, kindness, tolerace and acceptance of differences build up steam and momentum; we must not retreat from being humane, from fighting hatred and injustice. We need to challenge our young people to better understand the critical role they play in impacting the world in more positive ways, in building the nation's future foundation, one that has nothing to do with fame and celebrity and materialism and self gratification, Nick and Jessica, or overpriced designer handbags.

We can start our work right now by being better models for our kids, fully present in their lives, teaching them the skills they need in order to make a difference in this crazy world, teaching them to give back to others and to model respect and tolerance for the value of the many world cultures that co exist with ours, including on our own shores. By helping empower our youth to understand that they CAN be part of the solution to such world madness, we offer the world, and ourselves, hope for a better future. We can't put this world back on course for very long without them. It is their inheritance.

While the media clearly feeds our belief that the world is indeed a frightening place with danger lurking around every single corner, the reality is that there is much good in the world. We just don't run tag lines across the bottom on CNN non stop for such acts. But there are people risking their lives every day for our freedom, neighbors watching out for neighbors, parents helping the most challenged children have better lives, adults becoming mentors. Trees still stand, flowers still bloom, cats still purr, children still laugh, the seasons still change, the surf still pounds the shoreline. We still go on, day by day. Wounded, limping at times, still holding our heads high, boldly, even menacing at times to others. We are a tough, kind hearted bunch.

Terrorists did not kill our spirit, our resolve, our fight, our heart, our democracy on September 11th, 2001. Did they make us take notice? Without a doubt. Did they take the wind out of our sails? Perhaps for a bit. But evil can never truly triumph over good. And the actions of a few cannot compete fully with the commitment of the masses to love, move forward and take care of one another. Hated is a powerful weapon. Love is more powerful.

As a nation we do need to awaken, to check our arrogance. We have a bad habit of forgetting the trials of the rest of the world as we enjoy the freedom and materialism our country affords. We behave as if we are superior to all others on planet earth. We're not. We are all human, too, with human failings and free will, regardless of the constraints placed upon us. We have much work to do on our own shores to make the world a better place. Each one of us should take the time to do a gut check on ourselves- how are we spending our gifts, talents, resources? Do we take time to pay attention to what's going on in the world- to help make a difference in our own hurting backyards? Are we rasing our children to be good citizens who give back?

September 11th reminded us that we are all human and we do depend upon one another to survive in some way. No one is immune to suffering, to loss, to trauma. The scale of this event makes it tougher to ignore those facts, as it should.

Today, a call has gone out for a moment of silence and reflection, a time to remember those whose lives were cut short in this unspeakable act of hatred and senseless violence. I believe we should take time for silence every single day to see where we are in our own lives and see where we are headed with our personal decisions and actions. We need to examine how we each own a part of the solution to peace and acceptance that this world so desperately needs. When will we finally figure out that the time for real action is now?

So while the strains of the National Anthem and God Bless America are repeated over and over today, I hope you take the time to really listen, to think about what this word and music really means and feel it, don't just listen casually as you return emails, run the kids to soccer practice, cook dinner or feed the cat. September 11th really happened, and we cannot forget what that means to all of us or to our children's futures.

One person can make a difference, for good or evil. I have seen it time and again. The only thing that stops real freedom and allows evil to triumph, even if only for a few seconds, is our inaction, our laziness, our self centeredness. We can andmust make better decisions. It's time for us to make some tough personal choices that impact our nation and our world in more positive ways, for the sake of our children.

The world needs healing and we can choose to be part of the necessary healing. I hope that you choose well.

God bless America, and every single one of us, too.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Walking Free

I believe strongly that one of the greatest gifts that any family can give their children, especially those with special needs, is the gift of a healthy mom and dad with good coping skills. And that comes from pursuing fitness on a regular basis.

I know how tough it can be to fit such activities into your busy, overscheduled and challenging lives. I also know the benefits outweigh any excuses you can conjure up not to do it. Parenting a child with a disabilty can feel like running a marathon without the proper training- the stressses are far too real, sometimes intense, and they take a toll on your body, mind and soul. That makes you at increased risk for burn out, something regular fitness can help prevent. I know.

Throughout my son's short life, we worked hard to stay physically fit, and we included Eric in that fitness plan to ensure that our lack of childcare or the ability to get to a gym (or afford one) did not interfer with our good intentions. It was worth every ounce of effort.

Physical fitness can save your life in more ways than one.

To further inspire you, I am sharing a piece I wrote about the value of physical fitness and parenting a child with special needs a few years ago before Eric's death in 2003 at age 12. To learn more about Eric, visit or get my book Breakthrough Parenting for Children with Special Needs: Raising the Bar of Expectations.

Now read on, then get your own bodies moving!


It was the kind of cold and snowy Midwestern morning when personal motivation is tough to come by. As I burrowed deeply into a cozy cocoon of toasty blankets, my fat Siamese cat purred contentedly at my feet. I echoed her gentle sigh of complete contentment. In this perfect life moment, I harbored no desire to get out of bed, lace up my shoes and go walking. Nada. Zip. None.

Still, I released a loud groan of acceptance and propelled my body over the edge of the bed anyway, then sat wiping heavy winter sleep from my eyes. My furry friend blinked at me sleepily as only cats can do, enticing me back to bed. The only thing that prevented me from diving back under those still warm covers was knowing that I couldn’t disappoint my walking buddy. We’d covered too much important ground together.

My walking partner is my ten-year-old son, Eric, who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair. His spotless Nike shoes have never met pavement. But his disability doesn’t prevent us from meeting our family’s fitness goals together. Eric loves taking daily walks and running with his father. Our son has accepted the important role of fitness coach,coaxing us up steep hills and encouraging us to challenge our pace. In an interesting role reversal, Eric has become the taskmaster!

On this particular November morning, Eric and I cautiously tested the slippery pavement at the beginning of our familiar four-mile course. The frosty air quickly painted his cheeks and gentle snowflakes tickled his nose, causing him to giggle. As Eric breathed in the clear, crisp air that helps improve his health, my body and soul began healing, too.

In 1990, Eric’s traumatic birth dramatically altered the predictable course of our lives. My husband had run several marathons, including Pike’s Peak in Colorado. I’d embraced walking, a fitness activity with its roots deep in my childhood.

As a young girl,I’d felt elation whenever my shoes hit the deserted country roads filled with stones and gravel. The healing sounds of birds and the laughter of children playing hide and seek in tall cornfields nearby, captivated me. I can still hear the loud, crunching sound of pebbles as they lodged in the well-worn tread of my tennis shoes. I savored sweet berries from roadside bushes, and carefully put my hand through a barbed wire fence to pet the wild horse and donkey that I strongly believed had been denied any real freedom.

Even as a child, I loved to champion the cause of others, especially the apparent underdog, including animals.

During those long, leisurely walks, I treasured both solitude and personal freedom. I was hooked on walking. It was a simpler time in my life. As the years went by, walking helped me sort through teenage angst and survive the traumatic breakup of my first true love. As I increased my mileage, I dreamed of exotic lands that I would one day visit. The more ground I covered, the bigger my dreams became.

I had no idea how such simple acts would prepare me for my future challenges.

In the months following Eric’s birth, the reality of his disability sank in slowly. His life-threatening illnesses and repeat hospitalizations proved exhausting. I was at risk of losing perspective. So as in childhood, I hit the pavement to escape my tremendous responsibilities and reclaim my sanity, if only briefly. Walking allowed me to return home and boldly face the next parenting challenge. Without its enormous benefits, I could not meet the daily physical, emotional, and spiritual demands required to parent both my children well. Such a simple act resulted in lasting benefits.

Walking has become my friend, my confidant and my counselor. It’s allowed me to raise my son more normally, in light of his disability, improving the lives of everyone in our family. The first time my husband and I took a walk with Eric, his heightened sensitivity to light, sound and cold forced us to return home. But those first important steps represented a new beginning. We continued to walk, losing pounds and relieving stress, while regaining valuable perspective and enjoying priceless family moments.

Walking has given our son an increased sense of belonging.

Today, Eric is a local celebrity and serves as an example that fitness is important for everyone, including the disabled. After seeing my son in his special-need’s jogger that allows him to move more easily through snow and sand and rough terrain, people feel freer to approach us and ask about Eric’s needs. As a family, we’ve participated in several races, including the annual eight-mile walk around Mackinac Island, a heavenly family oasis free of motor vehicles located in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

It was there that Eric proudly received his first medal, the only person in more than one thousand entrants to enjoy the beauty of the Island race from a wheelchair. As we placed the medal around his neck, Eric beamed, sharing the enchanting smile that has stolen many hearts during the past decade.

There were times when it would have been easier for us to stay indoors, hiding our son and our fate from the world. We could easily have sacrificed our health and become a family in crisis, overweight and overwhelmed, even self medicating by using any number of potentially addicting and dangerous drugs of choice, including food, alcohol or worse. We have always refused to take that road, yet I now hold a greater understanding and sensitivity of how someone can make such choices to cope...

By choosing to include Eric in our fitness plans, we’ve claimed a richer, healthier existence, one that has helped heal our once grieving hearts. During those walks, everything about our life seems more normal. Such priceless gifts allow me to drag my still sleepy self out of bed on a cold, snowy Midwestern morning, while my lazy cat purrs loudly, enticing me back to bed.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

ADHD & Yoga

I understand far too well the excessive time demands that face most families of children with special needs. So I'm committed to doing my best to bring to your attention any timely, helpful and promising information that I run across regarding treatment options for a wide range of disabilities.

Here's one brief sample.

This week, I discovered an interesting blurb in YOGA JOURNAL ( I admit that I love yoga and have practiced it on/off for many years (before it was cool to do so), but I'll save that journey for another day's blog... The information that I uncovered this week is worth sharing with those of you who face the daily challenges of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder/ADHD.

Written by Jenny Andrews, the piece reports that a 2006 German study found that kids taking drugs for ADHD may benefit significantly from yoga practice. These gains include helping children to develop increased powers of concentration- an important consideration with another school year just beginning. In my book, anything that may help children with special needs achieve greater educational/life success is worthy of further investigation.

I believe that yoga practice can be beneficial for a wide range of special needs, but I also believe that each individual needs to do their own research and decide if a particular resource option is right for their own child and family. To learn more about the benefits of yoga and ADHD, visit and be sure to let me know what you think by emailing me at Here's the link to the Andrews article: Yoga and ADHD.

I never get tired of hearing your success stories... they fuel me on.


Sunday, August 20, 2006

Josh Blue Rocks!

One more quick entry today!

I just can't go another day without extending my big congratulations to Josh Blue, the talented, very funny comedian who recently won the title of Last Comic Standing on the popular television program on NBC!

John happens to have cerebral palsy, but any concerns I had about his receiving nothing more than the pity vote quickly disappeared as the seasoned comic took to the stage week after week with material worthy of a pro. Josh captured the loyalty of the audiences both in studio and at home while skillfully using his disability in his act without coming off as self deprecating.

As a skilled comic (and he is a comic first) Josh had no intention of focusing on using his cerebral palsy to capture the pity vote; he was using his tremendous talent as a comic to win this thing. And while so many comics today seem to believe they must use profanity and address even the most vile subjects, (some better left to late late night routines), Blue's comedy was cutting edge without being offensive, allowing families to watch a feel good story together without concerns about personal embarrassment, censorship or a v chip. Josh Blue won it all by just being incredibly funny, not profane. How refreshing in every single way.

Did I mention that Josh's parents were in the audience each week, with pride and love clearly evident on their faces? I have no doubt that their parenting played a key role in Josh's success and I hope that now that he has been catapulted to tv stardom, we will hear more about his life growing up with a disability.

Congrats to the entire Blue family, and to the cool viewers who wisely looked beyond one man's disability to vote for the best comedian!

What a terrific example this story is for all those with special needs, and their families, especially as the new school year begins-- and I felt you should know about it! Against tough odds, Josh Blue won Last Comic Standing. Now what talents will you nuture in your child this year?? Begin today!

Check out Josh Blue at and more about me at!

Back to School!

Ah, the joys of facing a brand new school year!! Unstained clothing, fresh haircuts, over-sharpened pencils, shiney red apples, crisp morning air, and young children giggling innocently and nervously at their bus stops, while also trying their best to scuff those brand new shoes. It's a time of fresh, unlimited possibilities!

I adore Fall! It's my favorite season. I love wearing hip boots and slouchy writer's sweaters and heading off on leisurely weekends to indulge shamelessly at those yummy cider mills. Bye bye humidity, sweaty brows, and out-of-control hair! Hello hot spiced cider, warm sugary donuts, and stunning, vibrant colored leaves. Relief from that crazy 100 degree heat and stifling humidity (global warming anyone???) is finally here, along with a bit more parental freedom for you, right?... Sounds like good fun.

For many parents those three powerful little words back to school often result in unedited shouts of joy and excitement, fueled greatly by grand visions of greater daytime freedom, (tempered a bit by the unwelcomed reality of all those shocking back-to-school clothing bills)! All things considered, it can be a really cool time of year.

But for parents of children with special needs, the beginning of a new school year can also elicit some heavier emotions including fear, intimidation and issues of trust. These parents face the tremendous challenge of letting their precious babies go, no easy feat when you've had your maternal protection feature in overdrive for five years. Been there, done that... For parents of children with special needs, severing the tough special needs parenting cord can take longer than in most families, it takes a sharp emotional knife!

Throughout the coming months, I will do my best to share with you my parent-tested words of support designed to help you begin letting go. I will also provide you with valuable resources to help you address many on-going school issues more successfully and with greater personal power. School issues and personal empowerment are subjects I have granted a lot of space and voice to in my book Breakthrough Parenting for Children with Special Needs: Raising the Bar of Expectations. If you don't have a copy, I recommend you get one during your back-to-school shopping adventures! (Big surprise, huh?).

In my blog, I will refer to some of those entries, while also sharing some of my other essays that have been published elsewhere (fortunately, I own the rights!). By sharing more of my work about the day-to-day challenges I faced parenting a child with special needs (until Eric's sudden death at age 12 in 2003), I hope that you will be further energized and inspired, while granted renewed hope for your own child. I am committed to helping you become better prepared to take on your daily parenting challenges.

That support starts today. I am talking to those of you who are sending your child off to school for the very first time. This right of passage can represent an emotional time of anticipation tempered by the sometimes harsh realities of navigating the world of public education. It's not for the faint of heart... but it is possible to do it well, with increased finesse and much less grief, with the right support!

So let's begin today with a letter that I wrote to my son on his first day of kindergarten in 1995 (when there was no Internet!). On that exciting and unnerving day, I penned honest words that represented a mother's deepest wishes for her child. These heartfelt words represented the beginning of my desire to realize some hard-won life dreams for both of us. Together, Eric and I walked many rocky miles. Achieving success along this dicey journey was never easy. It was always possible.

When I began this school journey with my second child, I had no idea how tough the challenges would be as we pursued Eric's right to a free and appropriate education- legal lingo that sounds so simple and pure and easy, but it was anything but. As I faced the education dragon head on in all my naivete, it was critical to our success that I reminded myself of two valuable facts. I loved my son with every ounce of my being, and I strongly believed in his right to pursue a good education. I knew that education would help Eric achieve his full potential, just as it does for all the other neighborhood children. Those unwavering beliefs set the necessary, solid foundation required for us to meet for all the challenges we faced throughout Eric's incredibly rewarding life, including in the public school setting.

I hope that my words of unconditional love for my son with cerebral palsy (seasoned with a ton of my innocence early on) will prove supportive to you. I encourage you to write about your own child's first day of school. If you want to share it with other parents who read my blog, email it to me (no attachements please!) at or I'd love to read these letters, and I have no doubt others would, too.

Parent-to-parent networking is one of the greatest survival tools you will have in the years ahead- support it and access it whenever you can! You are now beginning a challenging, amazing educational journey. For the sake of your child and yourself, make wise choices. Through this blog and my public appearances and work as an author/speaker, I will continue to walk this rocky and rewarding journey with you and offer my support. I promise.

You are not alone in this special needs parenting adventure...that's a powerful realization. For additional inspiration, watch my upcoming interview on the Family Channel (check your local listings). I will appear as the featured guest on CBN's Living the Life on Wednesday, August 30 to discuss my book Breakthrough Parenting. Check it out!

Letter to Eric

Today, as you begin kindergarten, I'm writing you a letter.

It's a tradition that I began with your sister, Jenna, seven years ago.

The first day of school is a fall rite of passage, like brilliantly changing leaves, crisp evening air and earlier bedtimes. For our family, it also represents hard-won success. Some professionals believed the physical challenges of cerebral palsy would prevent you from learning in a regular school environment. Armed with cold, hard statistics, they warned of a life of segregation. But our family doesn't bank on statistics. We invest in the human stuff, like love, faith and hard work.

We chose a different road.

From the moment you first dramatically graced our lives, we've focused on your ability. In turn, you have exhibited a spirit of survival that astounds me. We've endured too many moments of grief and ignorance. Yet, what I remember most is your first smile and giggle, your first word and your success at a regular preschool.

You are a wise and handsome child, with inquisitive brown eyes that miss nothing. Much of your ability to positively impact others has come from their first impressions of you as a cute child. Your long and lanky frame holds just thirty hard-won pounds, but you are far from being a lightweight in this life. There have been critical hospital stays, invasive procedures and moments when your life was in peril. But today, we celebrate school and a powerful lesson in letting go.

Today, our family is no different.

In your new back-to-school outfit of GAP overalls, white Mickey-Mouse T-shirt and black Oshkosh shoes, you charm me. But I know there will be new challenges. The ground we tread is fresh, one that will present big challenges to some who are uncomfortable with inclusion, a word that promises equal educational opportunities for all children, as if we should need a word for such a human goal. Some people won't understand our fight and won't want to. Other skilled educators will use their training while also teaching from their hearts.

This will be a year of challenges. When people assume physical challenges include mental impairment, you'll be the first to forgive. I pray that others in this new world take time to discover how gifted and talented you really are. I'm exciting about meeting all those new friends who look past your wheelchair and into your eyes-and into your soul. I eagerly await book fairs, walking down school hallways and making red finger Jell-O at Christmas.

As your special bus disappears from sight, I'm a wreck. In a rare moment, I doubt. Are you ready? Am I ready? Your bus is equipped for wheelchairs. It separates you from your able-bodied classmates. Someday, that too must change.

You grin at me through the tinted bus window. You are more ready than I am.

As the bright, yellow school bus disappears from sight, as it did with Jenna many memories ago, I'm overcome with emotion. Safely inside, I release the tears of far too many moments with those blind to your value because of your disability. But my tears of frustration and anger can't help but give way to the unconditional love I have for the child who has been my greatest life teacher.

As you begin this new journey, son, you must grow in independence. But dad and I will be beside you to champion the dreams that others try to tarnish. Forgive them.

On this exceptional day, words can only begin to express what I feel in my heart, Eric Richard Winter. Thank you for coming into my life and teaching me more than I ever thought I had to learn. You are a great teacher...

With much love,
p.s. Have a wonderful first day in kindergarten!

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Catching Up

I'm back!!!

After spending nearly five months of meeting book release commitments that kept me on the road instead of on my tush at my computer, I'm back, at least for a little while, and ready to resume blogging on a more regular basis! Thanks to all of you who have continued to check my blog with determination and dedication, searching for brand new stuff (so sorry!). Here it is! 'Just in time for my back-to-school/education ramblings. You won't want to miss that. (next blog, I promise!).

The past four months have been a whirlwind of reviews, media interviews, book signings for Breakthrough Parenting for Children with Special Needs: Raising the Bar of Expectations ( And I've been sending thanks and books to a lot of deserving people. Plus, I have worked hard to answer all those terrific emails from many appreciative readers. Thanks to each one of you for taking time to share your kudos, heartfelt stories and wonderful amazon reviews (which do help sell books...). I love reading your words; they help fuel my passion for my work, and for my life. They give me hope for the future of our kids, and I will be drawing from them as I write in the weeks ahead.

I must admit to also indulging in more than a few much-needed vacation days (I especially love Lake Michigan!), while also spending some cherished time reflecting on life with my son. Memories are everywhere, and they are there every single day...I cherish these reminders of life with my son, it is sacred time that I plan to protect a bit more ferverently now that the initial book release demands have eased a bit.

The human side of me needs time for tears and introspection, even more than the writer in me requires time for penning emotional words and ramblings. Grief doesn't end because you voice your loss to the world online or write about it in a book. A mother's grief is very powerful isn't something you get over, ever. I will blog about the reality of facing and surviving the death of a child in greater detail in my emotional ramblings to come. Perhaps it will help another parent hold on...

So much has been happening in the world these past few months, not just concerning special needs, and I have opinions on almost all of it. But let's get back on track first with some of my professional highlights from the past few months. In short, here's some of what I've been doing instead of blogging!

-Seeing Breakthrough Parenting embraced by both families and the professional market has been incredible. I believe strongly that we must work together well if all children are to have better lives! The adversarial stuff (all the heightened drama we help create) needs to end. The energy can be better spent on great solutions that help kids succeed.

-Appearing on major television shows to talk about my book (great exposure for the cause), including the Hour of Power at the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California- that place is a stunning piece of architecture with beautiful, healing gardens, and with some pretty terrific staff/volunteers on board. My appearance on CBN's Living the Life (Terry and Lousie you are terrific!) will air August 30th-check your local listings (the Family Channel).

-Being interviewed by a lot of fun, skilled broadcasters from a bunch of radio stations across the country, including Steve Cochran from WGN, the Voice of Chicago! Steve talked about his own lessons growing up as the sibling of a brother with learning disabilities, and he was not the only radio/tv host to admit to having personal experience with special needs issues. Thanks Steve for your honesty and the valuable air time! People like you help me take the shame out of talking about this subject publicly! On behalf of families everywhere-- thank you!!

-Being reviewed in Parenting magazine, the Chicago Tribune, and Health News Digest among mentions in many other press was/is terrific.

So was:

- Receiving a letter of support for Breakthrough Parenting from Maria Shriver, First Lady of Califonia!

-Meeting so many terrific families and lots of cute kids at my book signings.

-Finding my book on the shelves in the major bookstores in major cities across the country, including: LA, Washington D.C., Philly, Detroit, often in the general parenting section! Finding BP face out on the top shelf in the 5th Avenue Barnes and Noble in NYC was a writer's literary (and a proud mom's)dream come true..

-Receiving the Chief Everything Officer Award in Community Outreach from AOL/Dove at a luncheon at famed Gotham Hall in New York City!

-Receiving that award from Felicity Huffman, and meeting keynote speaker Marlee Matlin- one of my heroes. Both women were incredibly charming, spirited and friendly! Cute, too... I've got the photos to prove it-check my website.

-Private meeting with Tim Shriver, Chairman of Special Olympics in July in Washington D.C. during the heat wave! What a gracious and inspiring champion of those with special needs!

-Being asked to speak at several professional conferences beginning this fall...
I repeat, we must bridge these challenged relationships and work together for the sake of kids-- it is my loud new mantra.

I am leaving out many other highlights, but you get the drift of what's been happening to me these past few months. Now it's your turn: write me and update me on your lives. I will begin rambling again in earnest about tough special needs issues next entry (this week I promise).

Be sure to enjoy what is left of summer. Although I admit that I am ready for Fall and sweater weather. This hot, humid summer has turned me into a night creature.

Now, take a deep breath, because school will start again soon. I'm going to try to make this year a bit less stressful for you. If you haven't already done so, be sure to get a copy of my book. It includes lots of empowering tips/information on facing school issues, and the success stories of other families to show you what's possible.

But before school starts, there is still time to take your kids outside and gently catch lighting bugs tonight (the simplest pleasures are free)! It has been a bumper year for the enchanting little twinklers! Be sure to set them free when you are done so someone else can enjoy nature's magic...

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

It's July 4th-Let the Fireworks Begin!

Once again, we Americans find ourselves celebrating the rich history of the United States, the remarkable country in which we live.

Happy Birthday, America!

No doubt we are facing some serious challenges, including poverty, child abuse, educational reforms, crime, gang and drug problems, and the war in Iraq.

Then there is that little issue of dumbing down our culture with way too much Paris Hilton (now what exactly is it that she is contributing to society?), and those wildly out-of-control Sweet Sixteen reality TV teens, a program our young people could clearly do without. These young women (our future??) throw tantrums worthy of a the most out of control two years old (but more profane) for expensive cars they don't need or deserve. Then, they are rewarded for their behavior with lavish parties that cost more than most weddings. While millions of children are starving...

These girls scare me almost as much as Iran, and leave me asking just one question: when exactly when did their parents lose all their control, dignity and sanity? Reality check time mom and dad--reclaim your parenting power asap! Just how and when did we become so removed from the rest of the world and what is happening in it?

Yep, these are uncertain, even frightening times, but trash television, overindulged and under-disciplined children, and celebrity worship at the tabloid altar aside, I still believe that this is the greatest country in the world in which to live.

Granted, we've got major work to do on our own homeland turf before all U.S. citizens fully realize the real freedoms intended by our forefathers, including for those with disabilities. And far too many of our kids need a serious reality check about what is happening in the rest of the world while we party down each day. They need a greater appreciation for the blood, sweat and tears spilled by their forefathers to ensure their daily freedoms. Too many people have died to preserve our rights, and they are dying still. How can we ignore that fact?

The good news is that in this country, it is possible to make the changes required to make the lives of all of our citizens better. We can make better choices as to how we raise our children. We can teach them compassion and tolerance and good manners. We can raise them to believe in their value and that of their neighbor. It is our very freedom of choice that empowers us each day, and gives us the opportunity to continue to make the U.S. the best country in the world in which to raise a child with special needs.

A well-spoken young woman reminded me of just that during my recent book signing in California. As she purchased a book to send to her brother in Sri Lanka, she told me that she was determined to help him advocate more effectively there for his son with Down syndrome, no easy task. We talked about the fact that many countries are still miles behind America when it comes to addressing the needs of those with disabilities, even when it comes to advocating for the most basic human rights and dignity.

As this spirited young woman shared with me her deep desire to convince her brother to move to the United States, especially for the sake of his son, I was deeply moved. She reminded me of the many blessings that we do have living in this country. Sometimes, we forget too easily.

When it comes to special needs issues, it can be easy for us to focus on what we don't yet have, while taking for granted the painstaking gains we have made. Yet, those gains are numerous, and we must take time to recognize them in order to be motivated to create more change. We have come a long way in our attempts to ensure that our the lives of children with disabilities are the best that they can be! But the work is far from over. We need to be an example for the rest of the world; like our children, they are watching us closely.

I parented a child with cerebral palsy, a wheelchair user, for nearly thirteen years until Eric's unexpected death in 2003, I am all too aware of the daily challenges that still face children with special needs and their families in this country in 2006, some of which are inexcusable. I know that taking on many of these challenges can be incredibly frustrating, even infuriating. I have experienced my own issues about lack of accessibility that threatened to block the rights of my child to have full public access, whether to attend a 4th of July parade or his neighborhood school. (for more about Eric, visit

I'm familiar with the limiting, outdated mindset that too often permeates this country by some who still want to devalue our kids, while our society continues to raise celebrity, physical perfection and beauty, narcisism and fame, to a whole new stratosphere. I know that there is a ton of work that must be done before children with special needs, and their familes, can expect to receive the best that this country has to offer. I know there is no quick and easy panacea to resolve such issues, not even in the land of plenty.

But in the United States of America, making those changes is possible. Ground-roots advocacy is what we are built on. It's who we are. The important, historical changes of the past on which our country's history stands solid have been fueled by its citizens! That kind of action continue to reign supreme as we tackle the challenges of raising children with special needs to lead increasingly independent and fulfilling lives. Our voices will be heard, but only if we raise them up.

When it comes to these rights, we are miles ahead of many other countries, some of which would prefer these children not be born, and see no value in them once they are. It helps us to remember that just thirty years ago, many kids with special needs in this country were institutionalized. Today, children with similar challenges are in our communities and neighborhood schools and workforce, where they rightfully belong. That is progress, and it must continue. Each one of us is called to do just that.

Yes, we still need to address the need for valuable resources and funding for kids and families that did not follow this promise of better lives and increased freedoms for our children. That complex, ongoing struggle will not be solved any time soon. Funding and politics will always stand in the way of achieving full human rights. But our freedoms allow us to challenge such roadblocks and pursue better solutions, solutions that will move us closer to true equality for all. It won't happen overnight. But the reality is that funding and politics don't change lives and history, our citizens do.

In America, we have the blessed freedom to protest racism and human indignities, to speak our minds vigorously (and quite loudly) as part of our right to protect the heritage afforded us by our forefathers (who fought very hard for them). We can speak loudly as we work to try to create greater awareness of the rights and value of all human beings. Our freedoms grant us the priceless opportunity to continue to move the special needs advocacy bandwagon forward. Yes, I'm talking the same kind of freedom that makes so many of us yell pretty darn loud at many sporting events, with or without a beer in hand.

It is my hope that when we celebrate our freedom again next July 4th, we will be able to include some valuable new gains made for those with special needs. We already have the freedom to pursue needed change in this country. It's the kind of good stuff we are built on. But it requires personal advocacy and clear, determined voices to be realized.

We must exercise our rights. Far too many people remain silent on issues of injustice and freedom for all, protecting only their own piece of the freedom pie. And we clearly lack tolerance of others speaking their minds fully, (something that seems to be on the increase) while vigorously defending to the death our own. That, too, is America. We have the right to disagree, sometimes in less than stellar ways. In fact, sometimes in our attempts to protect our own space and interests, our manners can be really atrocious, something to which the French will no doubt quickly attest. We can do better by our forefathers.

We are a loud, gutsy, loyal, arrogant and self-centered, beer drinking, SUV-driving & pizza-lovin' noisy group, who can be also be incredibly kind and generous, smart, innovative, loving, and supportive of our neighbors, ready to stand up and do whatever battle is required to support our fellow Americans, even those who are perfect strangers, in times of need. That is America at it's finest. Don't mess with us (or our sports teams), or pay the big price! Our is one fierce battle cry.

So on this summer day in July, one that includes all the traditional icons of flags waving, small-town parades, chargrilled Angus steak, noisy and colorful fireworks (including from my nearby neightbors who think this holiday is about their right to hold a really loud week long midnight celebration), let's pause to give thanks for the daily freedoms we have. We aren't perfect, but backed by the promise of liberty and justice for all, we can build a better, stronger, more caring country and world, one that celebrates the rights of all, including those with special needs. One that will more fully include, welcome and value all children.

Tip for this week: Exercise your American rights, and speak up for your children. If you want change, help create it! Because complaining, however loudly or profane, does nothing to create important, lasting change, and it dishonors the basic rights that our forefathers and so many good folk since, have fought so hard for, even died for. This is your country, your freedom, your rights we are talking about here. Honor them with every ounce of your American being.

And whenever you are presented with the opportunity to exercise your sacred right to vote, do so. Real change, the kind that will be recorded in history, requires bold action, not just lofty words and dazzling fireworks.

Now, I'm going to go eat a hotdog loaded with mustard and pickles...right after I salute my porch flag, and my husband the chef! God Bless America!

Happy 4th!

Friday, June 30, 2006

One Inspiring Father & Son

I am well aware that we just celebrated Father's Day 2006 two weeks ago, complete with gifts that no doubt included a wide array of carefully chosen, colorful new ties, and an assortment of cool new outdoor grills as tokens of our appreciation for the dads in our kid's lives (we could be a bit more creative with our gifts people, but that's for another blog, another day).

The good news is that I have a belated gift to offer up to these hard-working men, one that recognizes and honors terrific dads of children with special needs everywhere- one that will hopefully inspire them to be all they can be. And I simply must ramble on about it.

If you don't know about Team Hoyt, the amazing father and son whose remarkable tight bond has been fueled by years of running marathons and completing triathlons together, I'm going to change that fact. In recent years, this father and son have been honored in the press all over the world, including in Sports Illustated. But more importantly, the Hoyt duo continues to leave lasting imprints on people's minds and hearts, by modeling the power of a parent's unconditional love, a parental commitment that focuses on ability and possibility, not the limitations of a disability.

Dick and Rick Hoyt call Massachusetts home, but the world has become their athletic turf. The story of these two amazing athletes is made even more remarkable by the fact that Rick Hoyt has cerebral palsy and is a wheelchair user. But that hardly defines his value to the world. Rick is a graduate of Boston University, where he is also employed. He's a spunky and determined man, much like his dedicated father, who gives new meaning to parent involvement and to being a dad. Rick Hoyt is a chip off the old genetic block... and that stellar pedigree has proved golden.

For more than 25 years Rick's father, Dick, a retired a lieutenant colonel in the air nation guard,has served as Rick's feet and arms. Together, they have completed 24 Boston Marathons, and countless triathlons. Today, they are known as Team Hoyt, with a lofty mission to integrate the physically challenged into everyday life. Dick and Rick Hoyt have lived this reality; they know it's possible. They have set a new bar for the rest of us. None of the old stereotypical excuses offered here. For more about their efforts, check out:

Because of my son, Eric, who had cerebral palsy and passed away in 2003 at age 12, I believe in living, breathing heroes. Team Hoyt fits that bill. You can learn more about their story and become inspired in your own life. It's impossible not to be lifted up at least for a little while by the Hoyt's rock-solid commitment to athletic pursuits and to life success, no matter how tough your day has been. Focus on what is possible in your child's life, and do everything you can to make it happen.

Another clear message you can't overlook when talking about Team Hoyt is this: Dads matter to their kids, big time. Just ask Rick Hoyt. His dad (and mom) believed in his value right from birth, and they never looked back. (For a similar story of the power of parental love, check out more of my life with my son Eric at or in my book Breakthough Parenting for Children with Special Needs: Raising the Bar of Expectations).

I hope you have a life changing week- one that helps builds your child's self esteem in ways that only a dad can! (Hint: Spend some fun one-on-one time together, and yes, dads, this can include the pursuit of sports). Just remember Dick and Rick Hoyt...

Monday, June 19, 2006

Happy Father's Day!

This is a quick entry and a bit late, but I must say a quick Happy Father's Day to all you terrific dads out there! Too often the efforts of dads can be overshadowed by all those great moms in our kids lives- but your role is just as important to your kids. So big thanks for all you do- and if you aren't involved in your children's lives like you should be, take a new look at your role and step up your game. Your children will thank you for it- and they do deserve your best effort.

Remember that parenting is your responsibility, too.

This week, spend some one-on-one time with your children and give 'em all you got, especially actions that feed their self esteem and create confident, healthy children (think bear hugs, kind words, laughter) or go see that great new movie CARS together. They will remember these great moments forever......and so will you.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Life as a Writer

If you are one of those cool people who has been reading my blog regularly bless you! No doubt, you're already hip to the reality that my entries are rarely brief-- but they usually stay on point, (well that might be a stretch at times). Fact is, I have rarely been called a writer (or speaker) of few words, unless an unyielding editor commands it.

But today, I was overcome by the need to make a quick, short entry to say just one thing, and I dropped everything else that demanded my attention to focus on getting these words out to accomplish that mission! (You should see the mess of papers on my office floor that I gotta go pick up now and refile! Geez!). I was suddenly possessed, with the need to shout from the mountaintop (okay from the second floor of my house) some words that I'm pretty sure Oprah would define as coming from my psyche as part of a grand lighbulb moment, IF I was sitting on the couch with her.. (Oprah, please call me!)

I love being a writer!

I love meeting all those people that my avocation has allowed me to meet. I love the fact that so many willing and eager subjects (and yes, even the naive) share the deepest part of their souls with me without even knowing who the heck I am or without asking for my driver's license or firstborn. After all these years, I am still amazed that total strangers trust me to retell their stories well, with sensitivity and fairness and accuracy, and assume that I will honor all those annoying off-the-record comments that some interviewees simply can't seem to live without. I love that in this tabloid day and age, people are still that trusting.

I LOVE the fact that I can spell without using spellcheck! Something that is freeing, especially since spellcheck is too often wrong. Kudos to my high school college English teacher for training me well, even though I did not appreciate her wisdom or red pen at the time. Thanks Judy Faber!

I love the fact being a writer grants me permission to take the time needed to really listen to someone's words in order to uncover the life jewels that they have been guarding tightly for years, those emotional tales housed deep within their gut and locked away in their memories. These are stories that rarely see daylight because we live in an incredible fast-paced world that finds itself too busy to really listen to them. I love the fact that I get the honor of bringing such stories to light.

In my work, I serve as a bridge that connects the public to some remarkably human life stories, and as a result, sometimes lives are forever changed. Wow!

I've been so immersed in the publication and speaking and special needs advocacy process these past few years, that I haven't had much time to just sit back and really reflect on why I love what I do, and how the heck I got to this point in my career. But today I must do it!

I love to hear people's stories, and I love words! And I am especially fond of those stories others seem to think aren't worth their time and energy. I love tales of the downtrodden, championing the underdog, and all that human interest stuff. You can have sports and politics and celebrities. There's room for us both, cause I ain't interested in your turf. Doubt I ever will be.

The power of the written word continues to amaze me. When used well, language, whether written or spoken (I love both) has the remarkable ability to change lives, foster vital discussion even on the most sensitive issues, bring warring factions together, serve as a lifelife, provide hope and inspiration and thanksgiving, help turn people's toughest days around, and allow us to recite powerful, hope giving prayer during times of personal devastation. Words can help end wars.

They can do that and so much more.. As a writer, I can't even put all the gifts into words!

So for today, I'm not writing about special needs or helping your child be the best he or she can be (don't worry, I'll return to it in my next blog). Today, I just needed to ramble on and pay tribute to the incredible profession that helps me do this work well by repeating the simple proclamation that first began this ramble, which I admit has now gone on a bit longer than I first envisioned.

I love what I do. I love being a writer. I love telling your stories.

It's one cool gig....

I hope you love what you spend most of your life doing, too. If not, it's never too late.

I should know! I've now got the clips and shiney new author's book to prove it!

Tip of the week! Spend some time doing what you really love, not cause you have to, but because you simply must. You'll be better for it.