Monday, December 17, 2012

Reflections on Sandy Hook

I will begin this new week as I have done after each new senseless loss and tragedy, especially after the death of my own son, with acts of kindness. And, my certified therapy dog, Jack, and I will return to serve our local elementary school of 2nd/3rd graders this week with more than just coveted holiday candy canes and reindeer ears (Jack). We will bring with us renewed purpose, more open hearts and listening ears, tighter hugs and greater appreciation for the tough work facing the educators/staff daily, many of whom I know would do exactly what those at Sandy Hook did. We don't respect this profession nor support it nearly enough, even as so many of our children arrive with increasingly complex needs. That, too, must change. 

Will you please join me with your own actions of compassion this week? You won't have to look far to uncover a need. Promise. 

Less rhetoric. More action.

My angel and greatest teacher, Eric Richard Winter. Jenna Winter Photo.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Reminder: Most of my special needs posts now appear on my professional Facebook page. Here are the links to  my current social networking sites.

Facebook- Special Needs Parenting Posts
Pinterest- Special Needs Parenting Board-Fav Resources
Twitter-Judy Winter
Tumblr-Winter Visions: pretty things. pretty words. pretty images. General interest blog.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Since all those festive commercials will soon be in full force, I've decided to post my annual holiday tips early, too. My hope is that the tips that are part of Creating Holiday Magic for Kids with Special Needs help make your celebrations a bit more joyful, no matter what traditions you honor. Feel free to share these tips, but please credit All rights reserved.

Creating Holiday Magic for Kids with Special Needs:

-Interact with family members with special needs, and encourage others to do the same. If the child uses a wheelchair, kneel to eye level and address the child directly. Allow other kids in the family to buddy up and assist the child with special needs in hanging ornaments, frosting cookies, setting the table, or passing out presents. Help that child participate whenever possible, while teaching other kids in the family valuable, lasting life lessons.

-Practice forgiveness whenever possible. Most family members don’t intentionally set out to exclude children with special needs. They often require education, support and positive examples to bring them up to speed. By focusing on creative solutions, families can help realize holiday magic for kids with special needs, too— and that’s in keeping with the spirit of the season.

-Buy age/skill-level appropriate gifts for the child with special needs. Regardless of how well intentioned, inappropriate gift selection for children with special needs hurts. When in doubt, ask parents for gift ideas, or obtain a copy of the child’s holiday wish list. Reserve baby toys (and baby talk) for babies! Key Note: Toys 'r Us offers an annual Toy Guide for Differently-Abled Kids, 'a toy selection guide 'for parents and friends of children with disabilities,’ to ensure the holiday toy wishes of kids with special needs come true, too. The 2012 guide with Nancy O'Dell on the cover can be downloaded here: Toys R Us.

-Communicate! Don't assume others can read your mind. They can't. Instead, arrange family meetings to discuss your child’s needs and how to best address them. Provide needed training and brainstorm ways to include the child with special needs in family activities. For example, if a he/she uses a wheelchair, address accessibility issues and plan activities in locations that don’t involve stairs. Speak up now to help prevent bigger misunderstandings and hurt feelings later on. Family members, you can reach out and initiate problem solving, too. Our children are always worth our best efforts, and your support to these families is priceless.

-Redefine your expectations. Throw all those visions of a perfect Hallmark family holiday right out the garland-draped window! Instead, ask what memories you want to create for all of your children. Having a child with special needs does not mean you must forgo memorable and fun holiday moments and traditions. Think creatively! It's worth the effort.

-Inclusion is the name of the game! Kids with special needs are children first, with big dreams and long holiday wish lists, just like other kids. Whenever possible, include the child in holiday festivities and activities like tree trimming, baking cookies, shopping for gifts, and attending church services (use the cry room if needed). Include that child in family holiday photos and videos, too.

-Address food allergies and noise/touch sensitivities and make allowances for themThe seasonal bounty this time of year can result in overload for many children, especially those with sensory, auditory and food issues. Kids with food allergies may not be able to eat all the traditional goodies most of us eagerly gobble up. Discuss alternative choices and inform family members about any life-threatening food allergies so they don’t offer the offending food to the child.

Wishing you the happiest of holidays!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Reminder to those visiting  my blog. I am now posting most special needs parenting comments/resources/links on my Facebook page Breakthrough Parenting for Children with Special Needs. Here's the link:

Monday, September 10, 2012

Sheryl Crow's Use of the R-Word at Michigan Concert-One Mom's A.M. /Morning AfterRant

Update: Oct. 23, 2012: Coulter's at it yet again. This time she used the word 'retard' to insult the President. Really? How 'intelligent' of her. So, that means I need to repost my Winter rant about r-word use/ignorance and I've done just that on my FB page and Twitter. 

You can talk back at Coulter, here. 

One reminder about my rant. I like Sheryl Crow. Coulter, not so much.
We can add Ann Coulter to this rant now, too.

Per request: For those of you who have no interest in being on Facebook, and also want to share this piece with others more easily, here's my Facebook piece about Sheryl Crow and her use of the r-word in her Michigan concert last night. Read and share. Teachable moment.

A.M. Winter Rant:

Okay, before I get into the meat of today's unexpected and longer-than-usual rant, which involves Sheryl Crow and the R-word, indulge me. I love Sheryl Crow and her music. When I recently scored second row tickets to see her in my backyard, I was one pumped-up groupie. This music dream only got better when hubby and I arrived at the Wharton Center for Performing Arts in East Lansing, Michigan last night and discovered there was no opening act. I had a perfect view of the singer and an empty chair to my right on an otherwise full floor. Crow and her band energetically and informally took the stage on time and proceeded to talk nice about our town. More points earned. Crow looked and sounded great. Blonder hair, slammin body, strong arms, looking more and more like her best friend, Jennifer Aniston, all the time. On the first song, her voice sounded better than ever. I'm loving the evening so far.

But the lovefest rudely ended when Crow invited the audience to sing along with her and joked about about how foolish this all looked. Then, she used the words 'look retarded' to further make her point. Oh yes, she did, just like her bestie Aniston, who got called on the same misuse of language a while back. The singer followed the r-word slip with words to the effect: 'That's not nice You've got to be careful what you say these days', complete with a smirk, pretending to chastise herself. Sincerity lacking? Nothing learned from her best friend's experience? Can't feign ignorance. Well, Ms. Crow, I can't pretend I didn't hear you say the word. 

Hate to spoil a good music party, but you started the rumble.

Reminder. This woman I've admired for a long time is a vocal activist for valuable breast cancer awareness/fundraising, a breast-cancer survivor and a role model for many woman. She is the single mother of two adopted children, and an important example for them. She's an extremely talented musican/songwriter who comes off as smart, kind and saavy in media interviews. Crow has big power to impact lives in postive ways, and she's done just that. Now suddenly, she appeared flip and cruel like a high school mean girl. Out of character? Or more of the same of those on-going/open-season hits on people with special needs by celebs and others? 

Enough, already.

Before she made my ears ring and heart sink, Crow talked a bit about herself, saying she used to be a more vocal activist, adding, "But when you have kids, who has the time?"

What she didn't count on was that I would be in the audience to challenge her words. Rather than reduce my role as an activist, my role as the mother of a child with special needs for nearly thirteen years demanded that role increase daily. I had to become a pit-bull activist/mom for a child with cerebral palsy who passed away far too soon, a reality that still has the power to bring me to my knees. 

Crow didn't know I'm passionately committed to improving the lives of those with special needs, including by trying to end use of deragotory, limiting, outdated hate speech. She didn't know that her word choice would cut me to the core, quickly bringing up all those tough and painful moments of trying to help my son successfully navigate a world that often refused to see his value, one quick to judge what they were certain was his 'grim' future. All those moments of swallowing unspoken anger, while trying to make things better for my son, suddenly reignited by the careless utterance of one word far too many people think doesn't matter. 

My role is to tell you why it does.

Sheryl Crow doesn't know my son loved the guitar and female singers, had a gift for music uncovered at an early age and has a popular annual music therapy camp named in his honor at the very University where she took the stage. She didn't know that Eric would have loved to attend her concert and I would have worked hard to make that happen, even if I had to carry his heavy wheelchair down a flight of stairs. She didn't know he would have been mortified by her flippant use of this r-word in his presence, and mine. 

She had no idea how much more difficult Eric's life and mine became when his physical challenges, including limited speech, caused many to wrongly assume that my son had an intellectual disability, too. Crow has no idea Eric was composing music through weekly music therapy classes shortly before he died. She had no idea that she had ruined a magical evening for this mom, and brought up tough, still-unresolved issues of parenting and loss before the guitars had even begun to sing.

To say I suddenly felt uncomfortable and angry would be an understatement, and I'm all about word choice. I could have feigned a nervous laugh, joined in with others in the crowd who still don't get what the fuss is all about. I wanted to bolt, but I stayed put, looking to make sense of a frustrating and on-going challenge of figuring out how to get people to understand why the careless banter of this one word is so offensive and destructive, and why it should stop.

The concert continued and Crow took to the front of the stage to the delight of the crowd. I was close enough to reach out and have my hand grabbed, as several people around me did. But I had no desire to reach out and connect with the singer. The excitement was gone. Nothing was the same as before she said the word. I spent the next sixty minutes convincing myself that is was my job to call her out on this. It's part of what I do. 

For the past twenty years, I've been a voice for the silent, the maligned, the underdog, trying to stop them from being the butt of rude, cruel jokes, helping them nagivate unnerving neighborhood school hallways and believe in their children's value. I speak up on their kids' behalf, when they can't or won't. So, I spent the rest of the concert writing much of today's rant in my head. I can't believe how often I must still do this. All I wanted to do was enjoy a concert and night out. But I'm a special needs advocate, and I take the role seriously. I don't care how big a star you are, the rules in my advocate's head are the same. You make fun of the population, or do things that get in the way of them living better lives, I will call you out.

Crow used a word now considered by some to be hate speech, and acted, as too many others do, as if it were no big deal, political correctness run amok. Just a joke, right? Would she had done that with other, more recognized hate speech during her concert? Would she have made fun of people who'd had mastectomies or have survived chemo and are left with physical disfigurement? Would she have made fun of other families who've adopted children like her, but then found out their children have hidden special needs, including intellectual disabilities, a big reality in today's world of international adoption? Doubtful. 

When the concert ended, I was left with an empty experience, not because Crow and her band didn't deliver musically. They did. But because the evening was tainted by a word Crow never needed to utter. She was doing just fine without it.

Reality is, I now see her differently. Maybe I scored these tickets so I could get the fuel needed for this rant to fight any complacency I might feel when I start believing we've come far in achieving valuable special needs awareness for this population and grabbing a share of their civil rights, too. Maybe this event was designed to keep me from going soft in my role of ever-vigilent advocate and writer's voice. 

I've ranted before about use of the r-word, but I'd ever experienced it firsthand in the presence of a celeb. Until last night. Sure, I could have ignored it, gotten past it and enjoyed the great concert. But I would have had to go against all I stand for. I'd be dishonoring millions of individuals with special needs worldwide, their hard-working, dedicated families, and all my work has stood for during the past twenty years. I'd be dishonoring my beloved son.

Reality is I had to fight harder for Eric every single day of his life because of the perpetuation, ignorance and lack of understanding of the value of this population fueled, in part, by continued use of one not-so-simple word. Retarded. The word continues to fuel painful, outdated and ugly stereotypes that help roadblock individuals trying make their lives count for something, too. That's why it's not just a word, and I refuse to be silent about it's careless, casual use just because this instance involved Sheryl Crow.

Crow has mucho talent, smarts, and big influence that could help create greater understanding and awareness of the special needs population and their tough fight for equality. If she doesn't know better, she should. Let's hope one day her own children aren't the subjects of cruel talk about children who've been adopted. Let's hope she teaches them that using the word retard in our school hallways, or ever, is not okay. Let's hope she teaches them tolerance, love and understanding for all. She seems like that kind of woman.

Words do hurt, and I will continue my efforts to help people better understand or at least, stop and think before they use them. I will also continue to appreciate Sheryl Crow's music, but something has changed. Perhaps she will apologize for her word choice or encourage others to end the use of the r-word at her future concerts. Maybe not.

Either way, here's my heartfelt request to you, Sheryl Crow. One loving mom, one spirited advocate to another. Please, consider refraining from using the r-word ever again in your concerts and public appearances. You don't have to honor my request. But I have to voice it. It's at the core of who I am. To quote lyrics to one of my once favorite songs of yours, 'I believe the change will do you good,' and I know it would positively impact millions of individuals with intellectual disabilities, and their families worldwide, too. Thanks for listening to MY words. 

All I wanted to do last night was have some fun. Sigh.

Rant over.

Sheryl Crow Uses R-Word at Michigan Concert

I came away from Sheryl Crow's Michigan concert with more than I bargained for. Check out my FB Sheryl Crow Uses R-Word at Michigan Concert special needs rant of Crow's use of the R-Word last night.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

August Words of Wisdom-William James

"The art of being wise is knowing what to overlook." -William James

Change is in the Creative Air

If you've visited my blog recently, you probably noticed it's been a while since I posted anything new. April, to be exact. That's because I've been busy creating new social networking sites and focusing on new creative projects.  I will now only be updating this blog, Winter Ramblings, the first of each month, probably with an inspirational quote. 

That said, you can now find my regular/daily special needs updates/posts at FacebookIn addition, you can find a few of my top special needs resouces on my Special Needs Parenting Pinterest board.  You can also follow me on Twitter.

For a change of pace and momentary escape from the demands of special needs, you can also visit my new Tumblr blog Tumblr Blog Winter Visionswhere I will be posting about new interests and projects, including fashion and photography.  Life balance makes all challenges, including special needs parenting, more doable. Take time to escape, if only briefly. 

Reminder: there are still many, many special needs posts on this blog, Winter Ramblings, that are still timely and that can provide you with parenting support and valuable links and resources. Please continue to search, access and share them. 

Thanks for all your continued support of my work. I'm excited about my creative future. I hope you'll take the ride with me.

To sum it up, you can find me here.
Facebook- Special Needs Parenting Posts
Pinterest- Special Needs Parenting Board-Fav Resources
Twitter-Judy Winter
Tumblr-Winter Visions: pretty things. pretty words. pretty images. General interest blog.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Media Alert-Terrific New Piece About RicStar's Camp by!

RicStar's Summer Camp: Looking Beyond Disability

RicStar's Summer Camp: Looking Beyond Disability
“Music therapy is a remarkably therapeutic tool that is used in a wide range of disabilities to help enhance social, physical, emotional, and behavioral skills in those individuals,” says Judy Winter, co-founder of the Eric “RicStar” Winter Music Therapy Camp in East Lansing, Michigan.
Music therapy is a research-based treatment modality with proven efficacy in a variety of populations.  Now in its 10th year, the Eric “RicStar” Winter Music Therapy Camp, also called RicStar’s Camp, has brought hope and positive change to hundreds of individuals and their families.
RicStar’s Camp started in 2003, just a few months after Winter’s son, Eric, passed away.  “Eric was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at birth and passed away in 2003 at age 12.  But during his life he was identified as having a great gift for music, and we were advised to put him in music therapy classes,” says Winter.  “He was composing music shortly before he died.  So when he passed away we decided to turn $10,000 worth of memorial gifts into beginning something that Eric always wanted, a summer camp where people could play music all day long.”
RicStar’s Camp is a three-day camp experience in music therapy and movement for individuals with disabilities and their siblings.  The “Buddy Up” program pairs campers without disabilities with their peers so they are able to learn from each other.  “We hope that those individuals go back into their communities and use inclusion to model acceptance of differences and people who might not be the same as us,” comments Winter.
The camp also allows anyone to join the camp, no matter their level of ability.  The camp is open to individuals of all disabilities and their siblings.  “We don’t exclude anybody at our camp -- everybody is welcome,” Winter explains.  “We take the very youngest to the very oldest.  We open up our doors to people with disabilities and without disabilities.”
The camp draws from around the state of Michigan, a few other surrounding states, and Canada.  Winter says, “We are filling in a need that certainly has not been filled in this way before.”  While the camp is full this year, there is a waiting list, and many other music therapists have expressed interest in starting similar camps in other areas.
What makes RicStars different from other camps?  The use of music therapists, volunteers, one-on-one attention, and enjoyable and therapeutic music activities offers a unique perspective that is honestly not done often.
Groups during the camp include Songwriting, Rock-n-Roll Combo, Silly Sing-Along, Xylophones and Tone Bars, Party Dancing (which “includes people in wheelchairs, so they, too, can do the chicken dance and YMCA at family gatherings and weddings and feel more included,” says Winter), Bean Bag and Parachute Fun, Handchimes and Boomwhackers (an amazing musical toy if you don’t know of them already), Movin’ to the Beat, Percussion Improvisation, Music Listening and Guest Performers, Sound Shapes, Song Stories, and Vocal Group.  Certified therapy dogs also attend camp to provide emotional support.  The entire camp culminates in the Be a Star Showcase, in which all campers get the chance to perform on stage.  Winter says, “That was very important to us because many of these individuals would not have had that opportunity or would not if not for this camp.  It’s wonderful to see the families storm the stage with their videos and cameras, just like other families do when they go to their children’s recitals.”
The amount of attention and care that goes into RicStar’s Camp is another distinguishing factor from other therapy camps.  “We focus on individual ability not disability, which means we look at each person and think about what might need to be modified to make them more successful while they are there,” says Winter.  “Everything is about giving them the opportunity to shine.” 
Many campers return year after year, which gives Winter and the RicStar’s Camp staff the ability to see progress and success stories in their campers.  “One camper, for example, couldn’t walk when she first attended camp.  Yet through camp she was motivated to take part in an activity that required that she stand up, and she did.  And now we see her walking into the camp doors every year.  We have individuals with autism who speak for the first time.  It’s pretty remarkable, and it speaks to the power of music therapy,” comments Winter.
Winter and the RicStar’s Camp staff are supportive of music therapy and its amazing potential, and they are very happy to share what they know.  Last week they received the 2012 Crystal Award from the city of East Lansing for going above and beyond the call of duty for improving quality of life in East Lansing, further proof they know what they’re doing and they’re making a difference.
As RicStar’s Camp has dreams to set up other camps in Michigan (the MSU outreach program in Detroit is first on the list), music therapists in other states are welcome to inquire about how they could begin their own camps.  “We would love to see this in the future as something that could be done in other communities and should be done in other communities.  We are really proud of the fact that we do it really well and that we’ve lasted 10 years.  It’s a popular camp and it’s life-changing for many families and individuals with disabilities,” says Winter.
Winter continues, “The camp is what it is today because we looked beyond disability and we focus upon individual ability.  So much of this population is undervalued, undereducated, undermployed, and undersocialized; we have so many stereotypes.  This population struggles tremendously with the stereotypes that prevent them from having better lives.  We’re all about taking those road blocks away and educating the public while showcasing the value of this population.  Disability impacts so many families, but we oftentimes don’t talk about it.  We try to take the shame out of disability.  We give campers and families a place to go where they are valued, we maximize their potential while they are there and treat them with the respect and dignity.”
Winter also mentions that people come up to the staff at the end of the camp with tears in their eyes and say the camp is the most important part of their year.  “That speaks volumes about what we do and I hope others can learn from our example and provides these kinds of opportunities for this population because they deserve the not only the opportunities but also the recognition,” says Winter.
Visit the Eric “RicStar” Music Therapy Summer Camp website for more information about volunteering or starting a music therapy camp in your community.
Visit Judy Winter at and her blog, Winter Ramblings.  You can also purchase her book, Breakthrough Parenting for Children with Special Needs on her site, bookstores, and online retailers.
Photos by Judy Winter and Erik Taylor.  Crystal Award photo courtesy of the City of East Lansing.
April 25, 2012

Worth Repeating. Best Buddies International

I like. I share.

Working Through New Blogger Changes

Patience with me, please, as I try to figure out all the new Blogger changes.  It's slowing down my posts, and messin with my creative brain as I try to find out new ways of doing the same old things (older dog/newer techno tricks). Bad combination.

But I will prevail!!  I hope....

Why does everything always have to change, especially technology?

Monday, April 16, 2012

Unnerved -Special Needs and Staring

Most families hate the staring their children and they endure when they venture out in public. It can and does keep families from going out at all. Been there. Done that. That's not okay. I've shared my column/tips on staring before, but given the on-going prevalence of this unnerving issue, here it is again as reprinted on Terri Mauro's popular special needs site at

When it comes to staring, shake it off and venture out. Your child, and you, deserve to move about in public freely. The more you do this, the less of a novelty your children with special needs will become, and the easier it will be for you to ignore the stares. Plus, you never know why someone is staring.

Advocate. Advocate. Advocate. Educate. Educate. Educate.

And then, take a nap and get ready to jump the next hurdle.

Judy Winter photography



Images courtesy of Design by Raven Muse, the mom of an 18-year-old with autism. You can get a ribbon there, too.

Best Buddies International

"Best Buddies is a nonprofit organization... that creates opportunities for one-to-one friendships, integrated employment and leadership development for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD)."

Find out how you can get involved in this terrific organization and mission, here.

True inclusion happens peer to peer.

Photo courtesy of Best Buddies.

Spread the Word -Actor/Ambassador John McGinley PSA

Actor, John C. McGinley of the television program Scrubs, is an ambassador for the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS). Watch his PSA on behalf of Special Olympics and call for the end of r-word use, here.

Then, please join us both in signing the pledge.

Respect is a much better word.

Here's my post briefly stating why I support this effort.

Watch Circle of Friends video 'Disable the Label' here.

Courtesy image. Used with permission.

Winter Rant -OWN Goes to India

I can't wait to watch Oprah's (OWN) travels to India, a country that fascinates me. I want to go, too, but for now, I'll happily armchair travel courtesy of O. Part 1 airs next Sunday, April 22 at 9 p.m. and Part 2 airs Sunday, April 29th at 9p.m. You betcha I'll be watching.

I'll also continue to travel to this complex and intoxicating country by savoring my stash of Vogue-India and its cool website.

Such beauty, grace and style. Fashion with smarts.

Oprah's Next Chapter schedule here.

My beautiful niece. Judy Winter Photography 2012

Judy Winter

KUDOS CVS Caremark ALL KIDS CAN -Play Ball!!

More kudos for CVS Caremark All Kids Can, which continues its solid and impressive commitment to helping kids with special needs live fuller lives.

Here's some especially cool spring/summer news from CVS:

CVS Caremark has launched its eighth season partnering with the Boston Red Sox on a special series of baseball camps for Little League Challenger teams, Miracle League teams and inclusive baseball teams. The CVS Caremark All Kids Can Baseball Camps provide New England children with disabilities an action-packed, dream-fulfilling experience playing ball at Fenway Park and getting batting tips from Red Sox Batting Coach Dave Magadan. The camps are part of CVS Caremark’s national philanthropic All Kids Can program, which focuses on helping children with disabilities learn, play and succeed in life.

Coaches of New England baseball teams for children with disabilities are encouraged to complete an application for a spot at one of nine camps. To be eligible for a 2012 Camp, applications must be submitted by May 1.

Find out more and apply here.

Now, I've got to figure out how to get them to do the same with my beloved Detroit Tigers.

Play ball!!

Courtesy image.