Print Friendly and PDF

Autism comes in so many shapes and forms, so each parent's experience is different. But there's a commonality in the experience of most parents of autistic kids: life as we knew it is over -- and this is true of any developmental differences that someone's child might be faced with. That's why my husband and I never shy away from helping or guiding people whose children were newly diagnosed -- we know that having a support system is key to navigating the all challenges and beauty that come with special needs.

We all have a vision of what our children’s lives will look like from the moment we are expecting them (if not before). They'll go to school, all the way through college; they'll have a fulfilling career, marriage and family…. So when our first son was diagnosed at two years old, I had all kinds of questions. Will he grow out of it? Will he get married and have children? After 14 years the answers are now clear (No, he won’t grow out of it, no, he won’t marry or have children). But ultimately it is “happiness” we all truly want for our children; and that comes in so many forms.

FEATURED VIDEO

Here are 5 things all special needs parents need to know.

1. It gets better. Not necessarily because your child will improve, but because it will never be as shocking and new as it is when you first receive a diagnosis. In fact, you'll eventually have a plan in place, and you will have teachers and providers who will understand your child. After years of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), speech and Occupational Therapy (OT), my son can sit at a desk or table and learn. Though we also know that every once in a while, he must stand up and dance across the room. So when he's really enjoying something and comes flying across the kitchen before going back to his seat, we don't really notice anymore. In other words, it gets better because your attitude changes, your gratefulness for what your child CAN do will eventually outweigh what he can’t; and dancing across the room one day won’t seem so strange anymore.

2. Don’t compare. When your child starts preschool or any sort of group activity with other children of different abilities, there will always be the temptation to compare deficits and progress. No good can come of this! Every child develops skills at different rates. You will drive yourself crazy if you are keeping score. So focus on your own child and his strengths and find a way to use those strengths to make progress in other areas. My son loves to cook (and eat). So for years, his speech therapists have used cooking to teach language; and his ABA therapists have used it to teach compliance…. They took his skills and passions and made them work for him!

3. You can’t try every therapy, drug, and diet. I mean, you can….but if you do, you will never really see what is working. Find your balance of researched therapies and experimental ones. But remember to be skeptical: beware of practitioners who pray on desperate parents who will try anything and of any treatment that promises to “cure” your child of whatever it is they have. If there were a cure, you would know about it. Try to be practical and don't rush. It can feel like you need to get it all in while your child is still a baby, but likely, you have a long road ahead and will know the right time to introduce different interventions.

4. Work to have a good relationship with your school and therapists. While you clearly need to be your child’s biggest advocate, upsetting the teachers, therapists and any other aides who spend so many hours each day trying to help your child won’t get you anywhere. You can almost always find something nice to say before you launch into the many complaints you may have. My husband always made me pick up donuts or pastries before our annual IEP meetings. I thought it was silly, but disagreements are always better settled over sweets. It shows that even though you may want to challenge your child’s team, you still appreciate their effort.

5. Surround yourself with people who get it. This is probably the most important and the reason we started Wolf+Friends app, an app that helps connect parents who have children with special needs. Having a child that is not typically developing can be extremely isolating. Parents feel like suddenly their friends who have neurotypical kids just “don’t get it.” It is imperative to have at least one friend you can be honest with about your child and your feelings about your child -- someone other than your partner! Special needs parents have an instant connection and a secret language of inclusion and paras and triennial evaluations. Your other friends don’t know what these words mean. Find someone who does.

Gena Mann is the co-founder of Wolf + Friends, a modern lifestyle app for moms raising children with special needs such as ADHD, learning differences, developmental delays, anxiety, giftedness, mental health issues, sensory processing issues, down syndrome, and autism. Download the app for iOS here.

The very best of Motherly — delivered when you need it most.
Subscribe for inspiration, empowering articles and expert tips to rock your best #momlife.

As the saying goes, "failing to prepare is preparing to fail," and that seriously applies to parenting. With no fewer than one dozen items to wrangle before walking out the door on an ordinary errand, mamas have plenty on their mind. That is why one of the very best gifts you can give the mamas in your life this year is to reduce her mental load with some gear she can depend on when she's out and about.

Although it may be impossible to guarantee completely smooth outings with kids in tow, here are the items we rely on for making getting out of the house less of a chore.

1. Bugaboo Bee 5 stroller

This stroller is a dream come true for any mama on the go. (Meaning: All of us!) Lightweight, compact and easy to maneuver with just one hand, this is made for navigating busy sidewalks with ease—or just fitting in the trunk without a major wrestling match. It's designed for little passengers to love just as much, too, with a bassinet option for newborn riders that can be easily swapped with a comfy, reclining seat that can face forward or backward for bigger kids.

$699

2. Bugaboo wheel board

This wheel board will let big brother or sister easily hitch a ride on the stroller if their little legs aren't quite up for a full walk. We love the smart details that went into the design, including a slightly offset position so Mom or Dad can walk without bumping their legs. And because toddlers have strong opinions of their own, it's brilliant that the wheel board allows them to sit or stand.

$125

3. Nuby Keepeez cup strap

If you know a little one gearing up for the major leagues with a killer throwing arm, this is a must-have so parents aren't buying new sippy cups on a weekly basis. Perfect for tethering to high chairs, strollers, car seats and shopping carts, it allows Mama to feel confident she'll return home with everything she left with in the first place.

$6.99

4. Bugaboo footmuff

For those mamas who live anywhere where the temps regularly dip below 40 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter, this ultra-soft, comfortable footmuff is a lifesaver. Made with water-repellant microfleece, it keeps little ones dry and cozy—whether there is melting snow, a good drizzle or simply a spilled sippy cup.

$129.95

5. Bugaboo stroller organizer

Because we know #mombrain is no joke, we are all for products that will help us stay organized—especially when out and about. With multiple zipper pockets, a sleek design and velcro straps that help it easily convert to a handbag when stepping away from the stroller, it helps keep essentials from spare diapers to the car keys within reach.

$39.95

6. Bugaboo Turtle car seat

It may be called a car seat, but we love that this one is specifically designed to securely click into a stroller frame, too. (Meaning there is no need to wake up a sleeping baby for a car-to-stroller transfer!) More reasons to love it are the lightweight design, UPF 50+ sun protection shade and Merino wool inlay, meaning it's baby and mama friendly.

$349

7. Chicco QuickSeat hook-on chair

This hook-on baby chair will almost certainly earn a spot on your most-used list. Perfect for dining out or simply giving your baby a space to sit, it's portable and beyond easy to install. (Plus, it's a great alternative to those questionably clean high chairs at many restaurants!)

$57.99

8. Bugaboo stroller cup holder

Chasing after kids when out and about can work up a thirst, just like neighborhood strolls in the chillier months can get, well, chilly. So we love that this cup holder will help mama keep something for herself to drink close at hand. Designed to accommodate bottles of all sizes and easy to click onto any compatible stroller, it's a perfect stocking stuffer.

$29.95

9. Bugaboo soft wool blanket

Fair warning with this luxe stroller blanket: It's so cozy that you might want to buy another one for yourself! Made with Merino wool that helps it stand up to any elements parents might encounter during an outing, it will help baby stay warm during the winter and cool enough as the temps start to pick up.

$109.95

10. Munchkin silicone placemats

Made to roll and stow in a diaper bag, these silicone placemats will make dining out a (relatively) less messy experience. With raised edges that will help contain spills and a grippy bottom, they will stay in place on tables so that parents might be able to enjoy their own meals, too.

$8.99

11. Bugaboo Breezy seat liner

Designed to keep baby warm when it's cool and cool when it's warm, this seat liner will minimize fusses during all seasons—which is one of the very best gifts you can give a mama. Because accidents of all types can happen on the go, we also love that this seat liner is reversible! With a number of colors, it's also a fun way to help a stroller to stand out at the playground.

$79.95

12. OXO Tot Handy stroller hook

If you ever catch yourself thinking it would be nice to have another hand, these stroller clips are the next-best solution for when you are out and about. Perfect for lugging a bag or anchoring a cup, you'll want a set for every stroller you own.

$14.99

This article was sponsored by Bugaboo. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

Our Partners

The holiday season always makes me a bit sentimental. I especially think of my mother-in-law, who left us way too early and way too fast, because she loved the holidays. She passed away when I was only three months pregnant with our first child two years ago and I always had this gut feeling that she was at peace because she knew her two boys were taken care of and on their way to creating their own families. But that doesn't mean I don't selfishly wish she were here to see the amazing dad her son has become.

I knew from the beginning my husband was good with kids. Way before we even planned a life together and while casually dating in New York City, I knew. He cares a lot, he listens a lot and he remembers everything. Those three things make him the most thoughtful and loving person I've ever met. Add to the mix that he has an insane imagination and a great sense of humor and he is legit the center of attention whenever there are children around. The first time I saw him hold our friend's newborn, my ovaries twinkled and I knew he would be the father of my children.

FEATURED VIDEO

I found out I was pregnant with our son because of my mother-in-law. We were on our honeymoon and I dreamt that she was in the hospital and I told her, "I have a little secret to share, you're going to be a grandma again!" I woke up sobbing and didn't have the guts to tell my husband about my dream because I was mortified about having dreamt about her in a hospital, but also so sad because I thought I would never be able to say those words out loud to her.

We flew back home and as soon as we landed my husband got the call that she was in the hospital. My heart skipped a beat. Off he went to see her and the second he stepped outside of the house, I peed on a stick—it was positive.

Shortly after finding out I went to visit her in hospice and at barely 6 weeks pregnant I shared the good news. At some point she told all the nurses there and whenever I came to visit they would let me nap on the bed next to her. She spent the rest of her days coming up with name suggestions for us.

My husband always said that me being pregnant during the hardest time of his life made him see the light at the end of the tunnel. He was losing the woman who gave him life while I was growing the life we created together.

After her passing and my delivery, we found ourselves talking about how we never knew how hard it is to really be a parent. We made sure to tell our three other parents how grateful we are that they changed diapers, cleaned bottles and stayed up at night while we were tiny. I so wish I could tell her that, but I can't.

We talk about my mother-in-law to my son all the time, just like we do about his other grandparents. We share what she used to like—cooking apple pie, being in nature, playing with her dog. But we also slowly introduce the concept of her not being physically with us. Every time my son sees the photo we have framed of her after hiking Mount Katahdin in her 70s—something I can't even imagine doing now in my mid-30s—he squeals her name in excitement letting us know he recognizes her, despite never having met her.

And my heart breaks because I wish she could be here to teach him about nature and go bird watching together in Maine, something they are both weirdly into despite the generational gap they have.

Today, while our now 2-year-old napped and I loafed with my very pregnant belly, my husband decided it would be a great idea to make a house out of a cardboard box for our son to play with. Hours later we, as a family, were having the times of our lives playing with the house and I couldn't help but sob quietly as my two dudes passed a basketball through the window, wishing that she could see this with her own eyes.

I truly would not be able to do this whole being a parent thing without my husband.

When I stress, he calms me down.

When I'm out of ideas for entertainment, he invents a new game for all of us to play.

When I can't change a diaper because my current pregnancy has me constantly gagging, he makes a new rule that he will change all poopy diapers until the new babies come.

He's the love of my life, he's my son's hero, and I know a big part of that is because of who raised him.

I see my mother-in-law in my husband. I see her in my son. And I hope to see her in our two little girls.

I just wish I could see her seeing them because I know she'd be so proud.


Life

Let it be noted that my love language is not gift-giving. If you are the gift-giver extraordinaire and/or like nothing more than to receive the perfect something, then this tradition might not be for you. But it saved our Christmas and our bank account and for us, it's the gift that really keeps on giving.

For years we operated under the standard gift-giving and gift-receiving protocol. I paid much less attention to this before I was married of course, giving little to no thought on presents, because when you are young, say before 25, you are the present. Your mere presence is a treat enough, or so you think. My gifts in those years looked suspiciously like things you would buy in airport gift shops—hoodies and paperback bestsellers and fudge of every flavor.

FEATURED VIDEO

But marriage changed the rules on holidays. Suddenly, I was one-half of a couple and had received china and a roasting pan and hand-blown glass vases for my wedding. Per decorum, I should know what good gift-giving looks like.

And of course there were two Christmases now, one with my family and one with the in-laws, and I wanted to get it right. So, over the years, I developed this debilitating pattern: In the moleskin journal I keep in my purse for grocery lists, I had a second list of the names of immediate family. This was a running list that lasted all year.

If say, my mom mentioned that Pandora opened up a store in the nearest mall and then jangled her charm bracelet at me, I surreptitiously noted it in the book. If my brother's kids switched schools, I wrote down the new colors of allegiance and kept an eye out for this color scheme in all athletic and academic apparel.

I got good at gifts, great even, over the years. But … it was breaking the bank and sucking the life out of the holidays. Come November a fog of anxiety drifted into our house and didn't leave until New Year's.

This is not a way to live. And I must not have been the only one sinking under the pressure, because not too long ago my sister-in-law looked at me over a bowl of pad thai during my birthday dinner in the first week of December and said, "why don't we just do Secret Santa for the adults?"

I could have kissed her.

You do it for work parties all the time, so why not family? It would turn gifts into a kind of game and who doesn't like games? It was genius.

We set the ground rules:

  1. Everyone draws a name out of a hat.
  2. If you get your spouse, you draw again.
  3. There's a maximum spending limit so not one outdoes anyone else.
  4. No one leaks the name of who they got. (This last one never stands. I have managed to figure out every single person every single year.)

Christmas day has turned magical again.

It begins with a brunch that lasts all day until someone in early evening looks at the hardening cinnamon rolls and pigs-in-a-blanket and decides we need to order pizza. And we drink mimosas and toast each other and one-by-one step forward bearing the single gift we have brought. It's a single moment that doesn't get swallowed in the chaos of the day.

While the kids tear through reams of paper until all the adults are yelling "slow down!" so we don't actually lose the gifts under the debris, we have our one gift to hold on to and enjoy.

It has saved our Christmas so we can pay attention to the things that matter: the happy kids hopped up on sugar cookies and monkey bread, the family all together in one place for a day, Elvis singing his "Blue Christmas" in the background. We have ever so slowly taken back the day and focused it on the people, not the things.

If you or your family are on the fence about giving up the gift extravaganza, take in through the four psychological checkpoints (mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual health) and see if the Secret Santa trade-off doesn't make you feel better.

Life

There are less just two weeks left until the end of the month—and the decade. We're in shock here at Motherly and we're sure you are too. It feels like it just snuck up on us this year!

Well we're with you on the endless to-do list that usually pops up at this time of year (or, let's be honest—any time of year when you're a parent). It's a lot, but trust us when we say you've got this, mama.

If you've been missing the news this week while you run around trying to get everything done don't worry...we're keeping an eye on all the headlines you need to see.

Take a moment for yourself today and check out the headlines that are making us smile this week:

This mama edited her deployed husband into her Christmas card 

Danielle Cobo is a mama to twin boys and a proud military spouse. Her husband is currently serving overseas on a year-long deployment. He wasn't home for this year's Christmas card photo shoot, so Cobo's photographer, Shannon Sturgeon, did some photoshop magic to get the whole family in frame and the resulting picture is going viral.

"I am extremely proud of him and grateful for what he's doing because I think there's a purpose greater than our own," Cobo told Tampa NBC affiliate WFLA. "This year's deployment has been the toughest. By the time he returns, my husband will have missed half of our twins' lives. With that said, I wouldn't change a thing. I'm so proud of him."

When the card went viral, Cobo started getting messages from all over the United States from people who could relate to how she is feeling this holiday season. "I love the holidays," Cobo told WTVT. "I love Christmas cards. I save Christmas cards. It's just a way of showing people that though we are apart, we are a family."

Baby girl goes viral for adorable 'mean-mugging' photos 

Newborn photos are supposed to be adorable but this baby is looking adorably angry in hers. Baby Luna is taking over the internet thanks to the hilarious expression captured during her professional photoshoot.

"She's been mean-mugging since day one," Luna's dad Christian Musa told Good Morning America. "She's either mean-mugging non-stop, or just unimpressed."

Photographer Justine Tuhy says that while Luna (who was born November 15) was totally content during their photo session, "She just gave me the stare down the entire time as well."

This mom went viral for loving Christmas (and Wawa) too much

Mary Katherine Backstrom is the mom and writer behind MomBabble's website and social media accounts, and this week she went viral for the most hilarious reason.

Going live from her car in the parking lot of a Wawa gas station, Backstrom cry-laughed into her phone's camera as she explained how embarrassingly carried away with the holiday spirit she'd become. She was in the Wawa and saw the woman in line next to her only had a ginger ale, so she offered to pay for it to pay the Christmas spirit forward. Then, she came out of the gas station and saw a man washing her car's windshield.

"'This is my favorite part of humanity! I love Christmas so much, thank you for doing this,'" Backstrom recalls saying to the guy. "And I gave him a hug."

The problem? It wasn't her car. It was that dude's car. She just hugged and thanked him for cleaning his own car. 😂

She was so embarrassed that she just walked to her own car and pretended like nothing happened, then recorded her video and now the whole world knows about it.

Keep spreading the holiday magic Mary Katherine! You're hilarious.

Viral PSA reminds us to be kind to retail workers this time of year 

Whitney Fleming is the mom and writer behind "Playdates on Friday" and this week she's going viral for reminding the world to be nice to retail workers this time of year.

In a post that has been shared over 10,000 times, Fleming recalls a recent trip to Target. While chatting with her cashier she learned he'd had a pretty rough shift, as some moms who were stressed out during their Christmas shopping had taken it out on him.

"As the young man handed me my receipt, I handed over the gift card. 'Have a frappuccino on me. It's for dealing with all of us crazy, stressed-out moms.'

'Oh, no, ma'am. I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said anything,' he stammered. You could see he was nervous about getting in trouble.

'No, I'm sorry, I told him. 'Have a great holiday.'"

Thanks for the reminder, Whitney.

News

There was a time when giving birth in a hospital meant little chance for skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeding. Decades ago, babies were whisked away to nurseries and given formula (and moms were often given samples of formula to take home). If you wanted to breastfeed your baby, these hospital policies and routines could make it difficult.

That's why in the early 1990s the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children's Fund began championing the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI), "a global effort to implement practices that protect, promote and support breastfeeding." In recent years more and more hospitals in the United States have adopted the principles of BFHI in order to increase breastfeeding rates.

FEATURED VIDEO

The goal was laudable, but 30 years in, new research published in The Journal of Pediatrics suggests BFHI isn't having a positive impact on breastfeeding rates, and some argue it is having a negative impact on new moms. Specifically, "Statewide breastfeeding initiation rates were positively associated with targeted breastfeeding outcomes. Similar associations were not found for Baby-Friendly hospital designation penetrance."

A core tenant of BFHI is "rooming in"—babies and mothers are supposed to be kept together 24 hours a day. In theory, this is supposed to increase breastfeeding rates and bonding, but some moms and doctors say leaving infants solely in the care of exhausted people can be dangerous. Mothers can end up falling asleep while caring for the baby.

Dr. Colleen Hughes Driscoll of the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore was the lead author of a study published earlier this year that examined the number of infant falls at a hospital that was implementing practices to encourage breastfeeding in order to receive the baby-friendly designation.

"We found that as we improved our ability to support mothers with successful breastfeeding there was a surge in newborn falls," Driscoll told Reuters. "This suggests that we may be adding to the burden of maternal fatigue, and increasing the risk of newborn falls."

According to Driscoll, the old school practice of taking babies to the nursery were a barrier to successful breastfeeding, but also provided time for mothers to rest and recover. And it isn't just exhaustion, but also the intense pressure to breastfeed that has some advocates worried that baby-friendly hospitals aren't very mother-friendly.

Sarah Christopherson is the Policy Advocacy Director for the National Women's Health Network and had her own experience with BFHI. A mom multiple times over, Christopherson had previous experience with birth and infant feeding by the time she had a C-section in a baby-friendly hospital. With her previous babies she'd successfully supplemented her breastmilk with formula in the hospital, but this time, when she asked for a bottle she was met with criticism from hospital staff, she writes.

"The nurse was stern and disapproving," Christopherson writes, noting that the nurse implied that giving formula would be "giv[ing] up" on breastfeeding and that she would have to sign a waiver "acknowledging all of the risks associated with my terrible choice."

She continues: "'Reasons for supplementation' listed on the form include "'mothers who are critically ill,' have 'intolerable pain during feeding unrelieved by interventions,' or have 'breast pathology.' For mothers who simply choose to supplement, the form makes clear: 'The American Academy of Pediatrics says that routine supplements of formula for breastfed newborns should not be used.'"

Christopherson says the form made her doubt herself, and she tried to exclusively breastfeed. In the end, her daughter ended up dehydrated and jaundiced and was fed the formula that her mother had wanted in the first place.

Christopherson and others suggest that the problem with BFHI is that it is removing mothers' needs and voices from the equation.

The new research published in The Journal of Pediatrics suggests BFHI isn't having a positive impact on breastfeeding rates, but Baby-Friendly USA, Inc. (BFUSA) disputes the research. BFUSA, the "accrediting body and national authority for the BFHI in the United States...responsible for coordinating and conducting all activities necessary to confer the prestigious Baby-Friendly® designation and to ensure the widespread adoption of the BFHI in the United States," says the research was flawed and came to "damaging conclusions from incomplete data."

Critics of BFHI and BFUSA disagree on methodology but agree that mothers should be respected and have the information they need when making their own decisions about infant feeding.

That is, after all, why BHFI came about. Perhaps it is time for hospitals to worry less about adhering to strict policies and more about listening to mothers.

News
Motherly provides information of a general nature and is designed for educational purposes only. This site does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.Your use of the site indicates your agreement to be bound by our  Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. Information on our advertising guidelines can be found here.