By Shannon Penrod

UPDATE:  I will be adding more resources as they flood in.  Check back regularly at the bottom of the list to see more fun things to do and get more great, free resources.

The reality has sunk in…you’re going to be home for awhile with your kids.  It’s a little daunting, but it doesn’t have to be, even if you have special needs kids.  You just Jem sevenneed to make a plan and keep them busy and having fun.  I have compiled a list of 101 fun things to do.  They won’t all be right for you and your kids, so just do the things that peak your interest.  Pick on or two a day.  Have fun.  I’ve made a real effort to find things that are free and only use materials you probably already have in your home.  Please feel free to add to the list!

  1. Read with/to your kids. Reading is fundamental!  There is no age limit.  Make it fun and interactive.
  2. Act out what you read. Don’t be afraid to be silly.  Create voices.  Feel free to move and get your children moving.
  3. Draw pictures about what you read. Read a chapter and then draw pictures about the chapter you read.  Show your kids what you drew and why, ask them to show you what they drew.
  4. Sing! Karaoke or acapella!  Singing stimulates the vagus nerve, which lowers stress.  Sing with your kids!  Some cable companies have a Karaoke channel, Disney Plus has great sing- alongs, but if you are saving money you can find lots of free karaoke videos on YouTube.
  5. Learn a new song from YouTube – Don’t know too many songs? That’s okay.  Learn something new.  Find a song your kids like and learn it with them.  Learn all the words.  Put some dance moves with it.  Don’t be afraid to take out your camera.
  6. Start a band – use pots, pans and other household items to make instruments. Improvise or play along to an existing song.
  7. Build a blanket fort. Use tables, chairs and blankets to create a special hang out!  Add pillows and favorite things to make it cozy and comfortable.  This might be the perfect place to read with your kids, with a flashlight, of course.  Don’t worry about making a mess!  No one is coming over, anyway!
  8. Build a pasta tower. This is a great STEM exercise.  Put a variety of pasta (spaghetti, lasagna and penne are the best) and marshmallows on the table and have a contest to see who can build the highest tower.
  9. Find a craft on Pinterest and do it. Don’t worry about having it be perfect. Half the fun of doing a Pinterest craft is seeing how different it comes out.  Search Pinterest fails and have a laugh!
  10. Find a science experiment on Pinterest and do it. Pinterest is filled with science experiments you can do with your kids, using common household products. Here is one of my favorites: https://www.pinterest.com/sheilakddjk1375/science-activities-for-toddlers/?autologin=true
  11. Make a music video to your favorite song. The sky is the limit.  Have your child pick the song and the story line of the video.  Have a blast trying to capture their vision.
  12. Make a short movie. It could be about anything.  It could reenact their favorite scene from their favorite movie or be something they made up.
  13. Learn a magic trick on line. Here are five magic tricks you can teach even a small child. Let them perform their own show, just like the kids in the video!  5 Magic Tricks for Toddlers
  14. Learn a dance on YouTube. Personally I am a fan of the Phil Wright.  He is a choreographer who does dance classes with families that are super fun.  Watch his videos and learn the moves with your kids.  There are several, but here is my favorite: Phil Wright: Let’s Groove
  15. Make an obstacle course in your house and have each family member run the course!
  16. Make a how to video. Is your child good at something.  Have them do a short “explainer” video to teach the rest of us.
  17. Bake something, anything. Have your kids help, make it fun.
  18. Play treasure hunt – hide a treasure and give your kids clues where to find it!
  19. Teach everyone how to do laundry – make it fun! My friend Karen says:  “We play Dry Cleaners. We clock in, register the laundry on our computer, process everything, and complain about the manager. It’s all imaginary, so it’s not like we literally use a computer program or anything, but both of my girls love this.”
  20. Take a class with your kids on KhanAcademy This is a free platform that has classes appropriate for preK – college.  Register for a parent account and a student account.  Take a class along side your kiddo, track their progress.  Did we mention it’s FREE!
  21. Watch an Opera and sing like the actors. The Metropolitan Opera will be live streaming amazing operas for free!  Take advantage of this wonderful opportunity.  Here is the calendar: Metropolitan Opera Calendar
  22. Play a board game! In fact play all the board games you have, just not all at once!
  23. Go for a walk, observe social distancing. There’s nothing quite like a walk around the block!
  24. Play beauty parlor. Let’s all do each other’s hair and nails.  Don’t be sexist and leave the boys and men out.  This is great fun for everyone.
  25. Play School and let your kids be the teacher. Be a good student and learn whatever your child decides to teach.
  26. Make your living room a bowling alley with water bottles as the pins. Bowling balls could be oranges, grapefruit, baseballs…the list is endless.
  27. Turn anything into a competition – who can make their bed the fastest, who can pick up the most toys in 20 seconds? Give prizes and awards.
  28. Play tag inside. It’s important to keep everyone moving.  Tag can be super fun!  If you don’t have space to run safely, try it while crab-walking! It takes up more space, but it slows everybody down!
  29. Visit the library virtually – Use Overdrive and the Meet Libby app and you can borrow digital books from your library for free!
  30. Put on a show in your living room – Act out scenes from your favorite Disney movies.
  31. Play FREEZE with your TV – put it on something active like sports, dance or exercise. Take turns pausing the TV and having everyone try to copy the frozen person on TV – hilarious!
  32. Exercise with work out video on Youtube or other social media. There are so many exercise videos on line, there is something for everyone.  I like this one because it is easy and features kids: Kids Working Out!
  33. Call a family member or friend on Facetime! Have some set topics and questions to help foster conversations.
  34. Have your child help make lunch or dinner. Make it fun for them and compliment them on being a good helper.
  35. Do yard work. This may not seem like fun, but it is actually really good for our kids to use their big muscles, get some sunshine, fresh air and fell like they are accomplishing something.  Clear weeds and leaves, plant seeds and flowers, dig up flower beds, etc.  It will help tire them out so they will sleep better.
  36. Put on music, hook up the hose and wash your car!
  37. Institute a 10 minute cleaning fest where everyone cleans, puts things away, dusts and vacuums for 10 minutes. Make it fun, be silly!
  38. Make race cars with Legos® or recyclables and race them. Race Cars from Recyclables
  39. Make puppets out of old socks. We love the Smarty videos, here is the one teaching how to make a sock puppet: SMARTY: Make a Sock Puppet
  40. Do a puppet show. Move the couch out, get behind it and do a show with your kids.  Videotape it so they can see it.
  41. Watch a classic movie with your child. Now is a great time to introduce your kids to all the classic movies you loved as a kid.  Have they seen all the things on this list?  Many are available on streaming services. Here’s a great starter list from Common Sense Media, that includes age ratings, and info about what might be upsetting to different kids:  50 Movies All Kids Should See Before They Are 12
  42. Get the crayons out and draw what you are feeling. Art is a great outlet for what we are feeling!
  43. Take an online typing class with your kids. Here are ratings for some that are free! Free Online Typing Programs
  44. Turn a laundry basket into a race car – push your child around in it. Then put toys or laundry in it and have them push it around.  This is good exercise and mad fun!!
  45. Play “The floor is Lava” with your kids – make sure to participate and supervise.  The rules:  The floor is pretend lava, so you can’t step on it.  You can start by filling the room with dining room chairs that help you get around the room.  Use caution.  Be safe but this is great fun.
  46. Do art projects with handprints and footprints. Turn your child’s foot into a Disney Princess Disney Princess Footprintsor a Marvel SuperHero: Marvel Character Footprints
  47. Take an online yoga class with your kids. There are so many on YouTube! Here is just one: Yoga for Kids
  48. Learn Tai Chi with your kids. Here is a video with ten easy to learn Tai Chi movements you can do with your kids! Learn Tai Chi
  49. Make a balance beam out of tape on your living room floor. Practice walking across it with different silly walks, don’t fall off.
  50. Dress up in costumes – either Halloween costumes or make your own silly costumes. Take pictures.
  51. Play a card game.
  52. Go through your toy box/bin and find toys you haven’t played with in a while, find new ways to play with them. For example, make a stop motion video with old figures.
  53. Build something unique out of Legos or other construction toys.
  54. See who can make the highest house of cards
  55. Have a video game tournament.
  56. Do the Hokey Pokey!
  57. Go for a drive and listen to a book on tape.
  58. Watch educational programing for all ages on PBS. Here in California our local PBS stations are offering curriculum aligned programming for different age groups. PBS At Home Learning Check with your local PBS station to see if this is available in your area.
  59. Watch an old fashioned musical and get up and perform with it. Here are 22 that are currently available on Netflix – be aware they are not all suitable for all ages. Musicals on Netflix
  60. Do silly tongue twisters. Here are 50 to get you started: 50 Silly Tongue Twisters
  61. Draw faces on your hands, do a puppet show. This doesn’t have to be rocket science.  Use a non permanent marker, draw eyes and a face on your hand and let the fun ensue.  Here is a cute (but blurry) video of a kid having some fun talking through his hand. Hand Puppet
  62. Draw faces on your toes. Sing a song.  Make a video.  Here is a great example: Singing Toes
  63. Teach your child how to load or unload the dishwasher – make it fun. Then challenge them to always put their dishes in the dishwasher as soon as they are done eating! Will they remember every time? Create an easy reward! Three meals per day – for every time you remember to put your dishes in the dishwasher, you get five extra minutes of reading time at night!
  64. Put wax paper under your feet and “skate” around the room. Be careful!  This can get pretty slippery!  This blog has great instructions: How to Wax Paper Skate
  65. Make a robot out of stuff laying around the house. Robots for Recycled Materials
  66. Play a game where you take small amounts of fragrant things from around the house, in the fridge and in your yard. Put them in separate cups, bowls or glasses.  Take turns blindfolding your kids and have them guess what they are smelling.
  67. Make mud, play in it and make old fashioned mud pies.
  68. Make and dress your own paper dolls. There a plenty of sites to help you – here is just one: Make Your Own Paper Dolls
  69. Play restaurant. Someone is the cook, someone is the waiter, someone is the customer.  Go from ordering to paying, your kids will love it.
  70. Get out your Christmas lights and hang them with your kids, wherever it makes you happy.
  71. Make a collage with your kids using recycled materials.
  72. Have your kids make a cooking show! Record it!
  73. Play follow the leader.
  74. Play Hot/Cold. Hide an agreed upon item somewhere in the house.  Start looking for it, the person who did it says “Cold” when you are not near the hid item, “Warm” when they are getting closer and “Hot” when they are really close.  The person who finds the item gets to hide it the next time.
  75. Rearrange the furniture with your kids – this is good gross motor activity.
  76. Make masks out of paper plates. Here are some fun ones from Life as Mama: Paper Plate Masks
  77. Challenge older kids to make a video for YouTube about their favorite subject…even if it’s video games.
  78. See who can make the silliest face in a selfie. Have friends and family vote.
  79. Play a video game as a family. We love to play Mario Cart as a family!
  80. Do calisthenics as a family. Older kids can do push ups, planks and crunches but all kids can do these moves: 5 Exercises for Kids
  81. Make a mural on the wall, by taking old wrapping paper and hanging it face down on the wall. Supervise your kids to only color or paint on the paper, not the wall. A fun thing to do is just draw shapes and lines, have them color each shape a different color. Geometric Art Projects
  82. Make toilet paper tube art! Toilet Paper Tube Art
  83. Make paper plate animals. Paper Plate Animals
  84. Make up a funny handshake with your kids. Be creative!  Make it fun.
  85. Make a crazy string sculpture in your house. Know where your scissors are before you start.  Tie string to a door knob and then tie it to something across the room.  Zig zag back and forth high and low until you run out of string.  Practice trying to cross the room without touching the string.  Make sure you take a picture before you cut your way out!
  86. Teach your child to sew a button on. Need a refresher before you teach? How to Sew on a Button
  87. Help your child to create a story or script – act it out. Don’t be afraid to be silly!
  88. Pretend you are on a boat, on an airplane, in an elevator, at the zoo. PRETEND!
  89. Pretend you are different animals, change frequently; take turns yelling out which animal to be.
  90. Play “I Spy”.
  91. Make a fairy house with recycled materials.
  92. Memorize a poem, scripture, monologue or speech –perform it!
  93. Pretend your kids are the parent and you are the kid! Let them order you around.
  94. Play balloon volley ball. Blow up a balloon and try to keep it from touching the ground by hitting it into the air.  Kids love this and don’t realize it’s good exercise!
  95. Make soup out of all the fresh veggies you have in the fridge. Have your kids help you find ingredients for the soup.
  96. Meet friends and/or family in a free Google Hang Out – Play a game together or read a story together. Don’t know how to do a Google Hang Out? How to Do a Google Hangout
  97. Make popcorn the old fashioned way. Don’t know how?  Here are some great instructions!
  98. Dance while vacuuming.
  99. Play retail store. Make someone the cashier and someone the shopper.  Have fun buying and selling your stuff!  This teaches pre-employment skills!
  100. Find free educational resources on line. A bunch are free right not, this blog details them all!  Free Educational Resources
  101. Take your kids on a field trip to a famous museum, virtually! Here are 12 of the best from around the world: 12 Museums to Visit Virtually
  102. Take a field trip with your kids…virtually!  Here’s a list:  Virtual Field Trips
  103. Need support with speech?  SpeechBuddy.com has put together a great list of activities and resources: Speech Resources
  104. Don’t get overwhelmed, do what looks fun! Come up with your own fun ideas and share them on the internet!

Tune in to Autism Live to hear more on how to cope during this uniquely challenging time!

Shannon Penrod is the host of Autism Live, a free resource, providing information for the Autism Community and those who care about the Autism Community.


My mother loved to knit.  She was the only woman I knew who could knit while reading a book.  She was famous for knitting, reading and watching TV all at the same time. Yep. She was the queen of multitasking, doing 3 and 4 activities at a time and knitting or crocheting was always the central activity.  My  Mom loved sharing her passion for knitting and delighted in giving free lessons.  In the mid 1970’s with all of the other women in our neighborhood my mother started a group called, “Knitting”.  Once a month all of the ladies in the neighborhood would go to one home, each month a different home, the ladies would drink coffee, chat and knit.  Before the end of the night a dessert would be served, something homemade by the hostess.

I find myself thinking about those “Knitting” nights more and more.  As a kid I both hated and loved those nights.  When it was our month toPatty Jo Pittman Penrod host “Knitting” my mother would insist that the entire house be cleaned top to bottom.  We couldn’t think of allowing the neighborhood ladies to enter our home if there was even a speck of dust.  The cleaning was a drag, but honestly I was kind of thrilled when the ladies would come over.  There was so much to learn if you stayed quiet, and I’m not talking about knitting.  The ladies talked and it was like a live 70’s version of Pinterest.  A quiet kid could get tips on everything from how to make 7 Minute Frosting, to how to clean grout between bathroom tiles.

I’m sure I expected to hear gossip and juicy tidbits about everything going on in the neighborhood.  The truth was much more innocent and infinitely more trans-formative.  These were ladies.  They talked about their lives without drama and they supported each other.  I learned so much from those ladies while their knitting needles clanked and hot black coffee was sipped from my mother’s best china.

In truth, I learned the most from watching my mother.  There was nothing better than watching my mother in her element.  She loved to show others how to make something they could be proud of and she had an amazing way of doing it while bolstering a person’s self-esteem.  She knew just what to say to make everyone feel like they were doing a good job, as women, as mothers and as knitters.

I don’t remember what happened to “Knitting”.  Eventually I got too old to be interested in what the neighborhood ladies had to say.  I was busy looking for my answers elsewhere, which is sad, but true.  I went away to college and it never occurred to me to ask my mother if “Knitting” had become a thing of the past.

As a working 21st century mom I find that most of the connection I have with my women friends is on the cell phone.  From time to time I threaten to host a modern-day version of “Knitting”, sans the knitting, but it occurs to me that you can’t have one without the other.  “Knitting” worked because there was the excuse that the ladies were doing more than just visiting.  It was the 70’s version of a quilt circle.  I don’t know what the modern-day version is…yet.  Let me know if you have any ideas.

Today, on Mother’s Day, I think of my mother and of the ladies of “Knitting”.  They were amazing women, caring mothers, devoted wives and loyal friends.  They were the pillars of our community and although many of them are no longer with us, their legacy remains, in their children and grandchildren and in all the projects they completed in “Knitting”.


By Shannon Penrod

Penrod Family

I think it’s important to celebrate the life of a person when they are gone.  People are remembered for their work, for the joy the brought their friend

s and love ones and for the memories they left behind.  My mom, Patty Penrod, left this planet a year ago today, but she left a legacy of love and laughter that will live on and on.  Today to celebrate her life, I offer one of her prize recipes.  This is one of those no fail dishes that is inexpensive, delicious and will please kids, teenagers and adults alike.  It’s great to make for potluck because it travels well, its a great staple for a Holiday

dinner and it perfection on a cold night when you want comfort food.  YUMMY!  *** The big disclaimer here is this is not a gluten free or even vegetarian dish (check the ingredients on the Jiffy mix box) so for those of you who look to me for GFCF recipes – THIS ISN’T!  For the rest of you, ENJOY! and keep my mom in your heart!


Patty Penrod’s Scalloped Corn


1 large onion – diced finely

2 boxes of JIFFY brand cornbread muffin mix

3 eggs

1 stick of butter, melted

2 cans of whole kernel corn – do not drain

2 cans of creamed corn

16 oz. of sour cream

Mix all the ingredients well.

Pour into a large buttered baking dish (a lasagna pan is perfect).

Bake for 1 hour at 350 degrees.

Eat it hot, eat it cold, reheat it…it’s all good!

by Shannon Penrod

Maybe it’s just me.  Maybe I’m crabbier than usual.  Maybe people are ruder. Or maybe my son has just improved to the point where it doesn’t occur to people that my son has Autism, but lately random people have been saying things to and about my son that just irk me. Image

First, it was the woman in a museum gift shop who sarcastically asked my son how old he was because we was playing with a toy that is meant for a much younger child. She then turned to me, rolled her eyes and said, “Really, Mom, how about some age appropriate toys?”  I didn’t snidely inform her that ages on toys are tied to development and all children do not develop at the same rate, nor should they be made to feel bad about that.  To be honest, I kind of froze.  I was so busy watching my son to see if he was going to get the sarcasm or understand what she was saying and be offended.

He didn’t, but it was because he and the nuerotypical friend he was with were having such a good time playing with the toys, they didn’t care. By the way, the nuerotypical boy, same age, didn’t pick up on the sarcasm either.   Still, I couldn’t just let it go, so when the boys were out of earshot I quietly took the woman’s supervisor aside and explained why she shouldn’t be making blanket assumptions about children’s abilities and interests. My comments were well received and I left feeling like the woman would be more aware before commenting again.

Then I went to see a new Dr. the other day.  I picked up my son from school and scurried him into the car to get there on time.  I checked his token economy chart to see that he had done a great job in school for the day.  His focus was great, he didn’t need prompting and he stayed on task all day.  It was time for him to get a break and a reward.  In the waiting room of the Drs. office I handed him my phone and told him he could have some uninterrupted game time.  He had earned it.  Then I grabbed a magazine for myself and in doing so the entire magazine rack came off the wall and spilled 3 magazines on the floor.  My son looked up and went right back to playing.  Along comes the nurse to help me pick up the magazines and she starts in on the full sarcasm assault of my son.   

“Way to be aware.”  She says to him. 

Oh man.  Really?  Because the irony here is that she is the one who is not being very aware.  Yes.  In an ideal world, my son would have jumped up and helped me.  And believe me there are times when he does.  But he’s just spent 6 and half hours being aware at school.  His brain is on a much-needed vacation.  And instead of giving him a clear direction and saying, “Gee, I’ll bet your mom would really appreciate some help!”  She decides to be passive aggressive and throw some sarcasm his way.  Now he’s supposed to stop doing the thing he finds rewarding, listen to her, detect sarcasm, take stock of his behavior, notice what he did wrong and then change it.  That’s a lot to ask of any 10-year-old boy playing a video game after a long day at school, but for one with ASD it’s the equivalent of climbing Mount Everest.  Both my son and I ignored her. 

In my head though I started the conversation where I would say to her: 

It’s possible that everything isn’t what you think it is.  Maybe the kid you think is rude has been fighting for two years to make eye contact with you, not because he wants to be able to make eye contact with you, but because he’s been told it’s important to you.

Maybe the child who is having a tantrum isn’t spoiled but has no other means of communicating their needs. 

Maybe that parent that you think hasn’t disciplined their child is exhausted from fighting to get their child life changing services. 

Maybe, just maybe, you don’t know everything about anything. 

Maybe you should think before you decide to speak.

Maybe you should take a stroll in a pair of shoes other than your own and open your eyes to the challenges that face many individuals.  

I wanted to say it, but I didn’t.

Perhaps what I should have said to her was what she said to my son. “Way to be aware!”

Shannon Penrod is the Host of Autism Live an interactive, online video podcast that provides news, resources and support for parents, practitioners and teachers working with children with ASD as well as individuals on the Autism Spectrum.  Her son was diagnosed with Autism at the age of 2. Visit www.autism-live.com to view the show and interact with Shannon and her guests.


by Shannon Penrod

When A Child Dies From Autism…

Last week, on Mother’s Day, Mikaela Lynch’s parents experienced a nightmare that didn’t end.  Mikaela, a nine-year old with Autism, went missing.  For four days volunteers, family members and friends of the family searched for her.  During that Mikaela Lynchunbelievably difficult time, Mikaela’s parents would have been told that their child did not qualify for an “Amber Alert”, which would have mobilized more help and created more media coverage.  Amber Alerts can only be used when there is evidence that the child has been abducted. Children with Autism who are known to “elope” do not fit that criterion, despite the fact that they may be facing life threatening challenges.

The Lynch family was also subject to some negative media barbs wondering why they hadn’t watched their child more closely. As if you can ever watch a child with Autism who elopes closely enough…as if these poor parents could transcend the human necessity of blinking, getting a drink of water or simply looking away for a split second.

I wish there were a happy ending to this story, that Mikaela had been found alive and that her parents could have sighed with relief and held their child in their arms, smelled her hair and felt her breathe.  That isn’t the end to this story.  Mikaela’s body was found on Wednesday, in a nearby creek.  For the Lynch family all that is left is to mourn.  For the rest of us, we have the responsibility to learn from this tragedy and hopefully prevent the next one…because if we don’t, more children with Autism will die.

I know what you’re thinking.  Autism isn’t fatal.  Children don’t die of Autism.  I hear this a lot.  When someone tries to explain to me why there are more children affected with Autism than Cancer, AIDS and Juvenile Diabetes COMBINED but it still receives only a small percentage of the funding these other medical issues garner, this is often the excuse I hear.  “Autism can be devastating to a family, but let’s face it…it’s not fatal.”

Tell that to Mikaela Lynch’s parents.

This isn’t a question of bad parenting.  A recent study estimated that over 50% of children on the Autism Spectrum will at some time engage in something called “elopement.”  No, they aren’t talking about running off to Niagara Falls to get married.  They are talking about when a child runs or walks away without regard to safety or rules.  Every parent who has ever had a toddler knows what this looks like – the child just takes off.  It’s scary for any parent, at any age.  Imagine for a moment what it would be like if your child never grew out of that behavior? Imagine feeling as though you could never let your guard down, not now, not ever.  It is unimaginable, isn’t it?  For a parent with a child on the spectrum it can feel that way sometimes.

The horrible truth none of us likes to think about is that it is impossible to watch our children 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  We can try, we can do our level best, but it is impossible.  Every year we hear about more children with Autism who go missing from their homes.  Some are found safe, many are not.  What follows is astonishing to me.  As in the case of the Lynch’s, the media and the public often point fingers at the parents.  If they knew their child was an eloper, why didn’t they keep them safe?  This is the rationale of someone who doesn’t want to face facts.  Until we make sure that all families facing these issues get help and support, we are ALL responsible.

The good news is there is support we can give families to help stop their children from eloping.  It takes time, and systems have to be put in place to keep the child safe while they are getting the proper intervention.  It takes money.  It takes trained specialists.  It isn’t something an exhausted parent can do by themselves.  We need to stop acting like they can.

If you or someone you know has a child who elopes, don’t wait and hope that it will get better.  There are organizations that can help you.    Call your local Autism Society and ask for help.  Contact a TACA parent mentor.  Apply for an emergency grant from Autism Care and Treatment Today!  Don’t wait.

If you are a grateful parent of a well child, and you are able to use your restroom, or step into the kitchen, or take a phone call without fear of losing your child forever, please, please, spread the word and support organizations such as the ones I listed above.

Lastly, send a loving thought to the Lynch family.  Their loss is immeasurable.

Shannon Penrod is the mother of a nine-year-old with Autism.  She hosts Autism Live, an interactive web show devoted to giving free information about resources and solutions in the Autism Community.  Ms. Penrod makes the choice in her writings to capitalize the “A” in Autism, despite the fact that it is not grammatically correct.  In her words, “Trust me, when someone tells you that your kid has Autism…it’s a capital A.”

Teachers are my heroes.  Okay, not all of them.  There are some people who should not be teachers.  If you’ve been watching the news lately this has been clearly brought home.  But, in my experience, the vast majority of people who dedicate themselves to educating our children are passionate, caring people who genuinely care about enriching children’s lives.  But even great teachers need good support and training or they can’t be truly effective in today’s classroom.

As a parent of a child with an Autism Spectrum Disorder, I have been enraged, saddened and horrified by some of the stories of how teachers have been attempting to cope with the ever-growing presence of Autism in their classrooms.  In December there was the mortifying story of the teacher who placed a fourth grader with Autism into a duffel bag as form of punishment for his challenging behaviors.  The mother was called to the school and discovered her son…in a duffel bag.  The good news is the child was alive.  We could spend an eternity talking about all the things that are wrong with putting a child into a duffel bag for any reason, but I think we have to stop for a moment and think about how you arrive at thinking a duffel bag is a punishment solution.  It is an epic example of not having the skills, tools or training to know how to cope with challenging behavior.  With only a small amount of training and support that teacher could have known how to safely and effectively redirect that child’s behavior.

Even more recently there was the case of the teacher in Riverside County who was sending a student with Autism into a cardboard box as a punishment for his challenging behaviors.  The media covered the story and parents were appalled.  A cardboard box…really?  The school responded and while they did not defend the teacher, they defended the cardboard boxes.  The school has tried to create “safe environments” for students with sensory issues; a quiet place where they can take a moment to collect themselves.  This allows a child to regulate their states – before things get to a boiling point.  It is supposed to be something that prevents challenging behavior.  In order to work properly it has to be used before the challenging behavior occurs.  The teacher was not properly trained so she used it as a punishment after the challenging behavior occurred.  The exact opposite of how it was supposed to be used.  When a quiet place is used correctly you will see a dramatic decrease in challenging behavior.  It is a very specific intervention for a very specific type of behavior.  Because the teacher was doing the intervention wrong the student was engaging in MORE challenging behavior!  He needed a break and the only way he could get one was by misbehaving.  Talk about a mess.  Now you’ve got a child misbehaving, sitting in a box and there is no learning happening, all because the teacher wasn’t trained properly.  This is heart breaking to me as a parent because the fix is so easy, and had the teacher carried out this intervention properly her whole classroom would have run differently.

I look at the news and I hear the stories of districts spending money on “scream rooms” and other barbaric concepts simply to cope with challenging behavior.  It makes me crazy…as a parent, as a teacher, as a tax payer, as a person.  First of all I want to ask the Dr. Phil question…How’s that working for you?  If you put a child in a scream room and the child’s tantrums don’t decrease then you really haven’t helped that child, you just found a way to isolate them.  Wouldn’t it be better to give our teachers the tools and information to deal effectively with challenging behavior so ALL of our kids can get back to the business of learning?

One of the people I respect the most in this world, Dr. Adel Najdowski, is about to give a free webinar for teachers on how to effectively deal with challenging behavior in the classroom.  It’s free.  It’s online so there are no travel costs.  If you are a teacher who wants to do better I hope you will attend.  If you know a teacher who wants to do better I hope you will invite them.  If you are a parent I hope you will invite your child’s teacher, their principal and their school district.  If we truly want to educate our children we have to educate ourselves and our teachers.  Here is the flyer for the webinar, spread it around.  No child should be in a duffel bag, a cardboard box or a scream room.  Let’s get them in the classroom LEARNING!  If for some reason you can’t see the flyer contact support@skillsglobal.com to reserve a spot for the webinar.

By Shannon Penrod

I got concerned this year that I had missed Thanksgiving.  I walked into stores expecting to see pumpkins and pilgrims that would signal to my Pavlovian brain that it was time to buy turkey…and oh yes, to remember to be thankful.  Instead I walked into stores and was bombarded by full on Christmas.  I almost had a panic attack when I ran into Wal-Mart for panty hose the other day and was assaulted by a sign that said, “Only 44 more day ’til Christmas!”  Only 44 more days!  Holy…oh, wait a minute…44 days is  long time.  What happened to Thanksgiving? Judging by Wal-Mart’s shelves it’s non-existent and Wal-Mart is not the only one to jump the gun a bit.  Did all of the world’s retailers sit down and have a secret meeting where they decided to just skim over Thanksgiving this year and just plow right through to Christmas?  Is the economy so bad they just assumed that none of us had anything to be grateful for?  I was mulling this over, and was actually afraid that I wouldn’t remember to be grateful without all the commercial prompting, when I had Grinchesque moment.     Stores don’t remind us to be grateful, life does.

I remember years ago hearing Reverend Beckwith speak.  He was talking about all the little things that manage to bring us down on any given day.  He asked us to stop and consider that whatever was gripping us might be the very thing we should be grateful for.  We might be frustrated that we have a sink full of dirty dishes to clean, but somewhere in the world there is a homeless person who is dreaming of being able to have dishes in a sink that need to be cleaned.  Talk about a reality check!  I remember going home and saying really nice things to my noisy and on the verge of breaking dishwasher, not to mention looking at all of the little blessings that I had taken for granted.

It’s so easy to get caught up in the minutia of our lives and to view it as unsubstantial.  Yet, when the mundane acts of life are threatened or taken away they are exactly the things we wish for.  We move through our days unaware of how lovely it is to be able to grocery shop until something prevents us from doing it.  It could be as simple and as temporary as a cold or something as serious as long-term illness or the death of a loved one.  Suddenly those simple tasks, the things done mindlessly on a Tuesday afternoon, take on new meaning.  We long for them.  What we wouldn’t give for just one day of blissful normalcy.

As I was worrying about the commercial wipe-out of Thanksgiving and what it would mean to my spiritual developement this week, I noticed that the posts of a high school friend had changed on Facebook.  Her husband and family were posting for her.  Stage four cancer had made it impossible for her to chat with us anymore.  Yes, life reminds us to be grateful.  When I might have complained about the long lines at the grocery store I remember what a privilege it was to be standing in line.  When the thought crossed my mind that gas prices are high I remembered how lovely it is to be able to pick my child up from school and talk to him about falling leaves.  I was reminded that everyday is a gift.

My high school friend departed this earthly world yesterday.  I know that she is at peace now and in a better place, but I can’t help wondering what she would have traded to have one more Tuesday filled with laundry and dishes and shopping as well as the laughter and love that tag along with them.  Yeah, I was definitely reminded to get my grateful on.

As a kid we would always decorate our Christmas tree and then stand back and admire it before we piled tinsel on it.  Occasionally someone would suggest that maybe we shouldn’t put tinsel on it at all.  That kind of thinking never won out because invariably someone would pipe up and say, “Every thing looks better with tinsel on it!”   As a child I agreed.  I’m not so sure anymore.  I suspect there are some things in life that no matter how much tinsel you put on it, there’s no improving it.  What I do know is that no matter how much commercial tinsel gets heaped on Thanksgiving I can and should remember to count my blessings.

The Gift of Peter Pan

By Shannon Penrod

In the song Return to Pooh Corner there is a line that says…It’s hard to explain how a few precious things, seem to follow throughout all our lives… Peter Pan is one of those precious things in my family.

I have always loved Peter Pan so I was thrilled when a little over a decade ago I was invited to attend a special performance of the acclaimed Broadway version starring Cathy Rigby.  The performance was special because it was being filmed for the Arts & Entertainment network.  I went to the Theater expecting a magical evening and I wasn’t disappointed.  It took my breath away.  It was a bitter-sweet evening, as I watched in wonder and also watched all of the children in the audience.  I was in my late 30’s with a biological clock that ticked louder than Hook’s dreaded crocodile.  The evening was perfect…except that I longed to have a child to share it with.

As luck and prayer would have it, I did end up having a child a couple of years later and I was thrilled that the performance of Peter Pan that I had attended was available on DVD.  My child LOVED the DVD from the first time he watched it.  He danced around the room and would crow like a rooster, following Cathy Rigby’s every move.  It was a special joy to me that my little boy loved that particular version of Peter Pan.  It made my world feel right.

Then my son changed.  It wasn’t overnight, but a slow slide into nothingness.  My child stopped dancing, and singing and then talking.  He still loved that Peter Pan DVD, but Autism had come to live at our house and now his enjoyment was displayed in sitting quietly when nothing else would soothe him.  Whenever he was sick, and for a while that was often, the only thing that made him feel better was that Peter Pan DVD – the Disney version couldn’t do it, but Cathy Rigby could. 

As my son worked to regain language, one of the first things he verbally requested was “Peter Pan!”  My son worked tirelessly for years to overcome the more disabling aspects of Autism.  Through those years we moved a couple of times and at some point the Peter Pan DVD got packed away and was eventually forgotten.  My son progressed miraculously and all was right with our world.

Then last month we were invited to a special performance of Peter Pan, starring Cathy Rigby!  I couldn’t believe our luck!  I couldn’t contain my excitement.  I talked to my son on the way to the theatre and asked him if he remembered anything about the version of Peter Pan that he had loved as a child.  He didn’t really.  I was dismayed, but hopeful.  I knew he was going to love the show, whether he could remember it or not.

We sat in the Theater as the overture began and I held my breath, it was a full circle moment that had taken more than a decade, but I was finally going to be able to share the magic of such a wonderful show with my own child! There are no words to describe how truly fabulous the evening was.  My face hurt from smiling so much.  My child was riveted, transported, transfixed, enchanted, swept away and moved.  I was in heaven.  I drank in the show, and my child loving the show, like a starved woman at a banquet.  I could have stayed in that Theater in that moment forever.  I would have gleefully moved in if they had let me!  I should also add that my husband who had never seen the live show, but at one point had the entire DVD memorized, sat on the edge of his seat with a goofy grin on his face the entire show.  He loved it as much as any of the children which was just the icing on the cake.

After the show, when I would have told you it could not have gotten any better, we were invited to go backstage.  My little boy shook with excitement when Cathy Rigby came up to him and quietly filled his hands with fairy dust.  She talked to him and I worried that he was going to pass out.  Ahhh, the eye contact was something to behold!  It was the perfect end to a perfect evening and the lovely bookend to a relationship with a truly magical show. But, it wasn’t the end at all…

The next morning my son woke me up singing.  Please understand that before Autism my son sang all the time.  After Autism my son hummed all the time and eventually sang on the rare occasion, softly, so no one could here.  Singing, it seemed, and the enjoyment of it, was just part of the collateral damage of Autism.  Over time it was just something we had accepted. 

I don’t know what the magic surrounding this particular version of Peter Pan is, I just know that there is magic in this show for me and for my child.  It is as though the show reached through time and touched something in him from years ago, something I thought had been lost in translation.  Ever since we saw the show, my child has been singing out loud whenever he has had the opportunity.  This morning he woke my husband and I up singing, ” Zip-a-Dee-Do-Da!”  Every night he has asked me to sing songs from The Wizard of Oz with him.  He has been making songs up, improvising lyrics, cracking us up and leaving us speechless.  I thought we had lost this forever.  But Peter Pan brought it back.  It was something I hadn’t even thought to hope for.

So…what can I tell you?  Our kids are only little for such a short time.  Getting to see their faces lit with wonder is such a precious gift.  Getting to share a moment of sheer delight with them is something to be cherished, a memory that will never fade or tarnish.  This is what seeing Peter Pan, starring Cathy Rigby can do.  This and possibly much, much more.  I’m telling you it’s magical!  This amazing show is on its way back to New York for the holiday season.  If you are looking for something spectacular to share with a child in your life, you can not afford to miss this show.

To Cathy Rigby, to the cast and crew of Peter Pan, and to Glenn Casale, the brilliant director of both this production and the one over a decade ago – Thank you!  Thank you for the magic!  Your work and your talent has made profound difference in the life of one special little boy.  Please consider your karma bank full and know that you are nightly included on one mother’s gratitude list.

By Shannon Penrod

Yesterday I found myself saying to someone, “I’m so far behind!  It’s mid- September and I don’t even have Jem’s Halloween costume!  It may seem like it’s far away, but Halloween is just around the corner and then seven seconds later it’s Thanksgiving and then it’s just a slow slide into Christmas and New Years!”  While I was ranting about the impending holiday treadmill my blood pressure climbed until I could see my pulse in my left eye.  How did I turn into someone who stresses about holidays months in advance?  I never used to be this way!  I loved the holidays!  Of course that was when I was single and childless.

Back in the old days I could shop on my own terms and didn’t have to have a babysitter or a shopping cart full of distractor toys to occupy a small child while I attempted to find just the right gift.  I remember showing up to holiday parties on time, with clean clothes on and my face fully made-up.  I was rested and full of joie de vivre!  I remember clearly the first holiday season after I became a mother.  I arrived at one party 40 minutes late with vomit in my hair and leaking breasts.  I ate a carrot stick and then fell asleep on a love seat while people reveled around me.  It wasn’t my finest moment.  That was the same holiday season that featured no batteries on Christmas morning, so none of the toys lit up or played music and there was no picture of my child on Santa’s lap that year.  I arrived at the mall too late on Christmas Eve and the line was already closed.  I felt like a total failure.

That’s when I stepped firmly onto the holiday treadmill.  This is the gerbil wheel that tells a mom if she hasn’t started her Christmas shopping by mid September, she’s never going to make it.  It is the anthem that screams “If you don’t get the Durkee Fried Onions now, they won’t have them at Thanksgiving! ”

I remember my mother baking and freezing Christmas cookies in September and October when I was a kid.  Every weekend she would make two kinds, so by the time December rolled around she could throw together a platter of homemade cookies that would make Martha Stewart cry with envy.  All those years that my mother baked the fall away, and I thought she was crazy!  Now I know the truth, she was on the treadmill!

Last year I attempted to get off the treadmill.  We scaled back.  I only opened two boxes of decorations and we didn’t even put all of those up.  I shopped less, gave fewer gifts.  I did almost no baking and we didn’t even get pictures taken.  We didn’t have a party and we scaled back on attending parties.  All in all… it sucked.  There wasn’t any hustle and bustle but there wasn’t much awe and wonder either. 

Now that I am a Mom and a wife I know that part of the joy of having pulled off a holiday extravaganza is the joy of seeing those surprised faces!  Sure, they never fully understand how much work went into getting 22 hot dishes on the table at the same time, or decorating a full house and buying presents for 50 people on a budget of $100!  But they still look happy and cared for and at the end of the day that’s what it’s all about.  So, I’m on the treadmill this year again.  I already have my teacher gifts and my Toys 4 Tots donations, at this rate, if I can keep it up, I may get to sleep in December.  To all those Moms who make it happen every holiday season ROCK ON!

By Shannon Penrod

My husband and I broke down and bought smart phones recently.  I know, I know, we were horribly behind in the technology trend to be able to communicate with the entire world at all times and in all locales.  At first the phone made me feel stupid, which made me question why they called them smart phones!  Then I started to get the hang of it and wondered why we held out so long…then last week a couple of things happened, which reminded me why I hesitated. 

My husband  let our son play with his phone.  This was not something new.  Our son loves technology – I had to have him show me how to take a picture with my phone!  Both my husband and I have allowed our son to play games on our phones.  We have a very important rule though, he isn’t allowed to download games.  We have to approve the games and approve the cost, then we download them for him.  My son completely understands this and has always been compliant, so I was shocked when my husband told me that our son had downloaded a game that cost $5. 

We grilled our son and he maintained that he had not downloaded any games.  We patiently explained to him that he did and if he couldn’t be honest about it he wouldn’t get to play with the phones anymore.  He still maintained his innocence even when my husband woke me up that night clutching his chest and telling me that he had actually bought something for $100!!  I told my husband to go to bed and we would look at it in the morning and try to figure out what was going on.

Charges continued to roll in during the night.  By morning there were over $350 in charges racked up and we didn’t know if there were more coming!  Now I was having chest pains. It’s funny how we all have our breaking point!  At $5, I wasn’t happy but I thought, “Oh, well!  We all make mistakes!”  At $100, I was taking the device away and taking the money out of his birthday account!  At $350 I was ready to fight it!  How on earth can an 8-year-old rack up $350 in charges without a password?

I started doing my research.  My son had not downloaded a game at all.  He made an in-game-purchase.  Several of them!  He was playing a FREE game, that we downloaded for him and within the game he was asked if he would like more stuff?  Would he like a zoo?  Within the game there was a monetary system and I guess like Farmville there were two monetary systems, one that was real money and one that was pretend money.  Unlike Farmville, if you went to purchase something with “real money”, which was named something cute, like, “city money”, you only had to click okay and real money would be deducted from your credit card!  There was no warning, no password, no security check, just a lovely little debit of real cold cash!  My son was asked if he wanted a zoo, he did, so he said okay – $100 – Bing!  Gone!

We asked for our money back and got it – along with a little lecture about how children under the age of 14 should not be playing the game.  Apparently there is a way to set up devices and games to disable the in-purchase ability of all users.  I encourage you to google how to do this for your smart device now.  I told a friend what happened to us and 3 days later her son rang up $500 on her husband’s iPad playing a “free” Smurf game.  He bought a virtual wagon for $100.  As his mother said, this is clearly a scam.  You can go to Wal-Mart and buy a real wagon for less than $100!

Smart phone??  Jury is still out on that.  You have to be smart to use it safely, that’s for sure.