Saturday, January 10, 2015

Invisible Solider

Dear Solider,

The other day I saw you at the grocery store.  You were chasing your little one around.  A lot.  You looked tired.

"Travis, put that down!!" "Travis stand still!" "Travis stay here!!!"

Then you turned your back to load your groceries and Travis came up to me.  He held his hands up to me and gave me a hug.  Then he proceeded to load ALL the Hershey Bars in my shopping cart (that's a boy after my own heart).  You turned around looking panicked and opened your mouth to yell, but I stopped you.  "He's here!"

You came over looking frazzled and not really in the holiday spirit.  You opened your mouth to apologize to me.  But then you heard laughter and turned around to see your son tickling my daughter.  In her wheelchair.  Two children.  One with Cerebral Palsy and one with Down Syndrome. Your frown turned into a smile as you recognized another invisible solider.  We chatted and laughed about our kids and you took your son home.  I unloaded all the chocolate and checked out.  Your son brought a smile to my face the rest of the day.

You see, not all soldiers are stationed far away.  There are many you see every day.  We don't fight with gun and grenades.  We are your neighbor or even a member of your family.  We keep in the shadows so we can fight for the most important thing in our lives.  Our children.

We fight our own enemies.  We fight insurance, doctors, therapists, and supply companies.  We fight so our children have access to all they need to help them grow and thrive.  Somedays we even fight the world so they can see how wonderful and amazing we know our children are.

We stand with our troops.  When one of them takes a hit we gather around them.  We offer encouragement, resources, and most of all we pour our hearts and strength  into them so they can stand once again.  We are there for each other.

Happy New Year my troops and my friends.  You have helped me make it through many battles this year and without you I may have been taken prisoner by the enemy of despair.  We have fought long and hard together and I am proud to stand and serve by you all.  May your days be full of hope and victories and your losses be few.  Know that I am there ready and willing and able to battle with you.

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Amy Fields is a mother of two special needs children.  You can follow her journey on her blog, Many Kinds of Families

Thursday, January 1, 2015

“I Need a Break!” – Respite & Other Stress Relievers for Family Caregivers

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Recent research indicates that family caregivers of children with special needs actually have accelerated aging down to the cell level, up to a 10 years difference from other parents.  This is made even more difficult by the fact that children are with disabilities are more likely to be raised by single parents than children without disabilities.  However, there are things that parents can do to preserve their physical, and mental, health.

Talking with other Parents
Sometimes speaking with other parents who have “been there” is all that is needed.  The latest study indicates that peer support helps reverse the lengthening of “telomeres” (aging.)  There are support groups as well as “matching” with a trained volunteer parent of a child with the same condition through Parent-to-Parent.  The American Self-Help Clearinghouse lists support groups nationally, including one-to-one telephone assistance (see Resources.)




Exercise, Quiet Time, etc.
Parents need to take care of themselves so they can take care of their child.  Sometimes families may be able to involve their child, which is always best if possible, such as going on walks or doing yoga together.  Even if your child doesn’t participate, there may be a way for a parent to try to do healthy things while supervising their child.  For example, sometimes my daughter will play on a videogame while I do exercise videos in the same room.  There’s such a variety such as aerobics, “stepping”, and even walking videos that can be done indoors if the weather is bad.  Or a parent can use a treadmill, exercise bike, or even a simple “pedaler” while their child looks at a book, or watches TV or a video. 
Parents may just need some downtime, rather than “doing something.”  Sometimes families can read, do puzzles, etc. alone or together while their child is engaged in another independent activity.  Or sometimes reading to the child, or just being in the same room reading together, is calming.  Music or meditation can also be helpful.  Even if having a “quiet corner” that the parent uses to regroup with candles, aromatherapy, etc., could give the parent the relaxation that s/he needs.  If both parents are present, one parent can watch the child while the other takes a mini-break, even if it’s just for 5 minutes.
Ultimately, parents of children with disabilities may just need to get away for a bit.  Parents have to feel comfortable with the person who will be with their child, so it may be a gradual process.  Families may want to stay home the first time, then increase the time away.  Even a few hours a month is beneficial.  In some states, children with developmental disabilities or other conditions, receive respite services.  The source of respite will differ from state to state.  Many times, the Title V (Maternal/Child Health) Program can give families leads on how to find care.  Family Voices/Family-to-Family Health Information Centers and Parent-to-Parent programs can also give parents helpful resources.  There is also a national respite locator for families (see Resources.) 

There are many ways that parents can de-stress, for either a short time period or hours.  Parents of children with special needs can talk to other families, take care of their physical/mental health, or just get away for a bit and come back refreshed.


Support groups - American Self-Help Clearinghouse




Mental Health help


ARCH national respite locator



Helpful Contacts:

Title V (Maternal/Child Health)
Family Voices/Family-to-Family Health Information Centers
Remain Hopeful,
Lauren Agoratus is a parent/advocate who works for the Statewide Parent Advocacy Network and serves as the NJ Coordinator for Family Voices (, a national network that works to “keep families at the center of children’s healthcare” at or FB  She also serves as NJ representative supporting caregivers across the lifespan for the Caregiver Action Network (formerly National Family Caregivers Association) in a volunteer capacity at or FB


Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Mad Scientist

My two boys are SpongeBob SquarePants fanatics.

They are maniacal about their obsession.

The dinner table is often the preferred arena for reciting lines from their favorite episodes.

This year, their bizarre behavior did not escaped the careful eye of Jolly Ole Saint Nicholas. So, the ever omniscient observer in the bright red suit, brought them this ingenious invention:

A life-like representation of Bikini Bottom

We had a blast setting up the "absorbent-and-yellow-and-porous is he, pineapple-under-the-sea" aquarium. It was very inexpensive and came with everything, except the fish. The boys loved it. It seemed to be, by far, one of my better finds for a cool and care-free Christmas present.

Or was it?

Yes, dear readers, I am sorry to report, this ingenious idea may not have been such a clever one after all. Let me explain.

When I was a kid, I took a trip to our local fair and won a fish from successfully throwing a ping pong ball into a small goldfish bowl. You may remember the game?

But the thrill of my victory was short-lived and poor Romeo was kept in his glass bowl where rarely, if ever, his water was changed. Despite a few failed attempts at "jumping-out-of-the-bowl" suicide, he was indestructible, living for many years, in stagnant and murky water.

 Perhaps it was the memory of that hardy, low-maintenance fish that made me believe an aquarium would be a more humane and easier environment to keep clean and display a few furless, finned friends.

I was wrong.

It appears that I am aquatically ignorant.

With the introduction of our new aquarium, I  have transformed into nothing short of a mad scientist.

Who knew, there were things like ammonia, nitrates and chlorine levels that need checking. Who knew that cycling a fish tank is the first step in preventing what's called New Tank Syndrome, a toxic form of cloudy water that can kill a fish as fast as you can say "love that dirty water"!

I have been doing my best to perform test samples of the water, checking the pH and ammonia levels. I have made frequent water changes. I have mixed unusual concoctions of powders, liquids and noxious chemicals. All of this to ensure a crystal clear environment that promotes the favorable well-being of our newest family member.

I have become obsessed.

My new lifestyle caring for this aquarium has become like a new mission in life for me, a lifelike microcosm and all-too-familiar representation of the role I play every day in caring for my children.

What on earth was I thinking?

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Lisa Peters writes about family life at

Wishing you all a very happy and healthy New Year!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Baking Memories 4 Kids

I've had a secret!!   A big one!!!  And I managed to keep it from the kids and that is a pretty darn near unqualified miracle around here.

Let me backtrack a bit.  To about the summer/ fall before.  Our family was nominated by another awesome family for a trip to Disney World.  This trip is expenses paid and we stay in the Give the Kids the World Village.  It is an amazing opportunity and a very big blessing for our family.

Baking Memories 4 Kids is non profit and is an awesome organization.  You can lean all about them by clicking here.  They are also on Facebook and you can find them and like them there.

So how do they send kids and their families on these trips.  By baking cookies.  And they are darn good cookies!  So good this gluten free lady committed a big no no and ate one (or two I'm not telling!!).  They are yummy, home made, and every container of cookies people buy help send families with terminally ill children or children with life threatening medical conditions to Disney.

We are excited to go.  We go in February.  Today was the big reveal.  We were allowed to invite friends, family, and the mail man (she was busy though lol) to Panera in Charlottesville.  They have been so amazing in supporting Baking Memories and hosted our reveal party today.  They also gave us lots of yummy food!  Always a plus in my book!!

We arrived at the Panera and Frank was already there with the news!  We got to be TV stars:).  I don't think Marvin quite realized what was going on at first since I told him we were taking a day to celebrate my birthday and meeting our cousins.  Even bumping into my two friends didn't tip him off. Now that full realization has sunk in he's making plans on what he is going to do (and Amanda, I'm sorry to say he doesn't want to ride an alligator.  He's worried it will eat him, lol).  Here are some pictures of our day!

Here we are with Frank.  He lives to surprise the kiddos!!  It was worth keeping the secret for so long to see the look on their faces!!

Cary Lynn, the star of the show, got plenty of attention.  Amanda, my friend, whose family is going with ours the same week loves my little girl.  And Cary Lynn loves Amanda.  Just mentioning her name brings smiles to my little girl's face and that means a lot to this mama.  Grandma also got lots of cuddles too!  For a little girl who spent so much of the beginnings of her life in a sterile hospital with not a lot of attention she makes sure she gets it now!
Marvin is hanging out by the camera.  My little man who is so charismatic in small groups was a bit overwhelmed today with all the attention, but he did great!

I love my kids.  This vacation is a chance for our family to live a normal life for one week.  One that doesn't involve doctors, therapies, and all that jazz.  For a family like ours these moments are precious.  Because we don't know what's going to happen in the future.  Every moment we can spend together is precious and when you live with a medically fragile child it's something you don't take for granted.

Thank you Baking Memories 4 Kids.  You have given us an amazing gift.  I'm so grateful for this chance and we are so ready for this trip.  Marvin is packing a backpack as I write this:).  We are ready and so excited!  Thank you seems inadequate but you will never know how much this means to us!!  Look out Disney, here we come!!

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Amy Fields is ready for Disney!!!  While she is waiting you can follow her on her blog Many Kinds of Families.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Why having accurate medical records is important for family caregivers

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Parents need to make sure that the details of medical events occurring for their child with special needs are correct.  This is particularly important during hospitalizations, when changing health care providers, or transitioning to adult health care.   

How to keep records
Parents should keep brief notes of visits and especially bring a small spiral notebook or online if they have access during hospitalization.  They should also get “clinical summaries” after appointments and have their child’s PCP (primary care physician such as a pediatrician) copied.  Family caregivers can request copies of other records, such as hospitalization, from the department that cared for their child such as gastroenterology etc.  If the child has complex needs, families may have to get records from each department.  In addition, parents can request results of testing such as x-rays from radiology and any procedures from surgery.  It is important when getting surgical records to also request pathology reports (results.)  It may also be a good idea for the child to wear a medical id bracelet that has all of their basic information on a flash drive.

Making sure records are correct
Parents can compare the doctor’s notes with their own.  It is vital that any major events such as “coding” and needing to be resuscitated are documented correctly.  Correct records will result in better care and inaccurate records can have negative implications. 
What to do if records are inaccurate
Families can discuss the record with the appropriate department that treated the child.  Sometimes, older records can’t be changed in the computer system.  However, parents can ask to have the record “amended” which means an additional note will be attached to the record to clear up any confusion.  Families should request a copy of this additional record in writing.  They can use this not only for their child’s medical history file but also for new health care providers who are just learning about their child.

Why good medical records are so important
Inaccurate medical records can adversely affect a child’s health care.  For example, pulmonologists and neurologists would need to know if a child went into respiratory distress during a seizure.  Nursing staff would need to know of infections that the child acquired in the hospital such as urinary tract or c-dif (clostridium difficile) infections to which the child wouldn’t otherwise be susceptible, and take precautions.  Surgeons and anesthesiologists would need to know if a child had to be reintubated with a breathing tube after a procedure.  When children are have complex needs or are hospitalized, they may have many providers, so these details will help prevent adverse events. 
Families can ensure that the medical information being shared about their child is correct.  This will result in better health care and better outcomes for their child.  
American Academy of Pediatrics-Build Your Own Care Notebook
Washington Department of Health-Care Notebook 
For self-advocates - My Health Pocket Guide
Helpful Contacts:
Family Voices/ Family-to-Family Health Information Centers
*For more information on this topic, see Reviewing and Amending Medical Records” factsheet from the Statewide Parent Advocacy Network at
Remain Hopeful, 
Lauren Agoratus is a parent/advocate who works for the Statewide Parent Advocacy Network and serves as the NJ Coordinator for Family Voices (, a national network that works to “keep families at the center of children’s healthcare” at or FB  She also serves as NJ representative supporting caregivers across the lifespan for the Caregiver Action Network (formerly National Family Caregivers Association) in a volunteer capacity at or FB


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Pirates of the Parenting World

Last week, Weston and I visited with Dr. George, his primary care physician. Dr. George is an important and supportive figure in our lives. He stands beside us and faithfully weathers many of our unusual family crises.

He is a good friend.

Appointments with Dr George are unusual because we do not talk about healthcare alone. We talk about life and Weston's personal well being.

During this appointment, Dr. George decides to address the typical apathy that often defines the attitude of teenage boys toward their mothers. I have written about it many times on my blog. You may remember Weston's OMG, I can't believe I have such a clueless mother mind set.

But today, Dr. G explains to Weston that he is very fortunate to have me as his mother. He tells him I am a pirate.

Describing me as a sword wielding, pistol slinging hellion of the sea, sailing her ship into uncharted territory, thwarting the efforts of the established regime whose misguided objective is to subdue Weston's fiery spirit.

Weston smiles just a little, picturing his mother in this devilish light. I am a little surprised too by this comparison since I usually see myself as a type of law-abiding and revoltingly accommodating superwoman. But in thinking about this further, I believe Dr. George is right.

I am like all parents of children diagnosed with special needs, I am a pirate of the parenting world.

When you think about it, special needs parenting is not about following the rules, and obeying the laws, it's about breaking them. It's about questioning authority and pushing boundaries, aligning yourself with rebellious others, instilling fear and awakening the imprisoned hearts of a blind and passive public.

It's about commandeering a group of misunderstood misfits through dangerous waters and fighting aggressively to fulfill the selfish needs of these brave and ragged few.

It is a difficult lifestyle filled with danger and adventure, a series of intense battles interspersed with a few welcomed reprieves.

It's about mastering weaponry and finding the fire in your soul to fight bravely to the death.

You care little for what others think and find amusement in the fear you provoke in others.

But there is also an unusual kind of duality associated with being a pirate.

A certain code among thieves.

A need for being as civil as you are savage,

as cooperative as you are querulous

and as disciplined as you are unruly.

You are a master of the mundane and a survivor of storm.

You trust no one.

You sail alone, always adrift, and even among fellow pirates you find few friends. Similar spirited temperaments and accompanying bravado create frequent dispute and deadly skirmishes among pirates.

And yet with these unique few, brilliant seamanship can occur with the precise timing, execution, skill and camaraderie that builds over the many years of serving and sailing together.

But perhaps most importantly, is the indestructible energy force behind all of these dastardly deeds.

The motivating drive behind all acts of piracy and rebellion,

The burning and intense desire to seek a treasure whose worth is immeasurable.

Yo ho, yo ho, it's a pirate's life for me.

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Lisa Peters writes about family life at

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Dear Santa

My son just e-mailed Santa.

Yes, it's only November.

Yes, my son is 18.

Yes, my son did request a Talking Ben stuffed toy.

Yes, the toy is listed as being for children age 3.




I barely batted an eye this year. There is truth to the belief that practice makes "perfect."

None of us are perfect, but as we practice parenting the children we actually have, as opposed to the children we thought we wanted, wished we had, or are jealous we don't have, we at times reach the "gap" they talk about in meditation. We can get to that place without thought. That place of is-ness. That place of being. That place of alignment.

Eckhart Tolle says, "When you complain, you make yourself a victim. Leave the situation, change the situation, or accept it, all else is madness."

One can hardly leave one's child. One can hardly change one's child. One can only accept one's child.

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Carrie is a parent and advocate of a child with special needs and even more special gifts. She blogs at where this is pretty much her favorite topic. Carrie’s book, WIL OF GOD: Embracing the Relentless Love of a Special Child, is available in print on Amazon and all e-readers.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

National Adoption Month

I bet you can guess what subject is near and dear to my heart and my life:).

I know every month has 8 million awareness causes.  November is also national novel writing month (because I know you are dying to know that).  But I am not planning on writing a novel (yet) so let me get back on topic.

If you follow my blog you know I'm adopted.  When I was dating my husband I made a point of telling him I wanted to adopt.  His response, "no problem".  But he wanted to try having our own kids first.

Well the years passed.  So did the miscarriages.  I watched other people around me get pregnant and have families.  It was hard.  So I broached the subject of adoption again.  This time I got the green light.

So I did the research.  I was all ready to hop a plane and fly to a foreign country to get a baby.  But then I looked at the cost.  It was staggering.  My every practical husband suggested that we "adopt local".  So we did.

It wasn't easy.  It took three long years and lots of broken hearts.  Long nights and days of crying. But then Marvin came home to us.
He was 18 months old and had special needs.  But looking at him made those three years worth it.  So very worth it.

So the years passed.  We still felt that our family wasn't complete.  So we went through another couple of years of paper slogging.  And then Cary Lynn came home.
It hasn't been easy.  Choosing to adopt can be a challenge in itself.  Taking a leap of giant faith and adopting two children with massive special needs has added to the challenge.

But it has been an amazing journey.  The bumps in the road have made me a stronger person.  These two little people took my world and turned it upside down.  They are my all and my everything.  My heroes.  They have made me the person I am today.

But right now there is a growing need.  There are over 397,000 children in the US who are living without permanent families.  Out of those 101,666 are legally free for adoption.  But nearly 32% of these children will wait 3 or more years for a mama to bake cookies with them and a daddy who will tuck them in at night.  Every child needs a place to belong.  There is NO such thing as unadoptable.

Children are our hope and future.  Children who age out of the system are more likely to NOT finish school, end up in jail, and even worse repeat the same cycles that they lived through.  That is not OK. They deserve more. Adoption is a powerful way to bring permanence to a child's life and to let them know that they do matter.

So this month whether you choose to celebrate national novel writing month, tree awareness week, world vegan day, or national maintenance week keep in mind that there are so many waiting children who want nothing more than to celebrate these special times with family.

It's not an easy road to take, but it is one of the most incredible journeys and rewarding experiences that you will ever have.  Trust me on this one.

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Amy Fields is a mother, taxi cab driver, and has been know to jump out of phone booths in tights and a cape.  You can follow her at Many Kinds of Families

Saturday, November 1, 2014

How social skills help children with special needs and family caregivers

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One of the key factors for success in life for children with disabilities is having good social skills.  This can affect everything from early childhood to school to adult life. 

What are Social Skills?

          Social Skills are how children interact and communicate with those around them.  This includes their peers as well as adults.  Social skills affect how well children get along at home and school.  They have implications for success in academic life, community living, and employment in adulthood.  In fact, social skills are the largest barrier for successful employment for young adults with disabilities.

          One tool for success in helping children with social challenges is the use of Social Stories.  The stories explain what will happen and prepare the child for the event.  The stories are used repeatedly so that the child knows what to expect.  This allows students to avoid feeling overwhelmed and acting out, so they are more successful.  Sometimes a “social autopsy” will be done with the student after an event that didn’t go well to discuss what went wrong and how to improve next time. 

School Age

          Many students, especially those with developmental disabilities, benefit from Social Skills instruction.  In some cases, a psychologist can work one-to-one with a student until they are ready to work in a group, where it really counts.  Some parents choose to do this privately through their health insurance.  However, Social Skills is a “related service” under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA.)  This means that it can be put into a student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) and offered during the school day.  Just like other related services such as speech, physical, or occupational therapy, Social Skills instruction should be listed with duration (how many minutes) and frequency (how often each week) and as an individual or group

activity.  Support for developing and enhancing social skills can also be provided in before- and after-school and summer programs if needed. 

Transition to Adult Life

          It is essential that families start early with Social Skills and then enhance these skills during transition.  There are opportunities in school called Structured Learning Experiences or Community Based Instruction.  These offer students an opportunity to practice employment and social skills in a structured environment with support.  The most important component is that this takes place in the community.  Students who participate in these programs are more likely to be successful and independent, which is a plus for families who may no longer have to be caregivers through the lifespan.  Successful transition to adult life will maximize the potential of the individual with special needs so that they can live independently to the best of their ability.


Carol Gray’s Social Stories

Social Skill Autopsies: A Strategy to Promote and Develop Social Competencies

Parent Center Hub:  Social Skills and Academic Achievement

U.S. Department of Education:  Guide to the Individualized Education Program (see section on “additional guidance” which refers to social skills and the law)

Wrightslaw:  Is the school required to provide social skills training?

Helpful Contacts:

Parent Training and Information Centers
PTIs help families with special education, including getting social skills on IEPs.  PTIs can be found at

Centers for Independent Living
CILs maximize skills needed for independent living, including social skills and self-advocacy.   CILs are found at

Remain Hopeful,


Lauren Agoratus is a parent/advocate who works for the Statewide Parent Advocacy Network and serves as the NJ Coordinator for Family Voices (, a national network that works to “keep families at the center of children’s healthcare” at or FB  She also serves as NJ representative supporting caregivers across the lifespan for the Caregiver Action Network (formerly National Family Caregivers Association) in a volunteer capacity at or FB