parent education

Top 10 Christmas Gifts For Children With Special Needs

Top 10 Christmas Gifts for Children With Special Needs(600).jpg

At this time of year, parents often ask for Christmas gift suggestions for their child with special needs. For these parents, it can be quite challenging to find the right gift - a gift that is fun, not over-stimulating, and has some therapeutic value.

So in time for the holidays season, I have created a top-10 list of my current favorites. I have also included its potential therapeutic value under each link so you can see which gift would be best suited for your child. (Click on each item to view its description)

1. Sounds Shapes

  • Gross motor skills
  • Impulse control
  • Sensory input

2.  Cabasa

  • Fine motor skills
  • Stimulation and sensory needs

3. Ocean Drum

  • Relaxation
  • Sensory needs
  • Impulse control

4. Melodica

  • Fine motor skills
  • Oral and breath control
  • Eye-hand coordination

5. Ukulele

  • Fine motor skills
  • Eye-hand coordination
  • Gross motor skills

6. Kazoo

  • Oral motor skills
  • Breath control

7. Legos

  • Fine motor skills
  • Joint attention skills
  • Task focus
  • Sharing
  • Turn-taking skills
  • Problem-solving skills

8. Eggspressions

  • Social skills
  • Emotional awareness
  • Emotional Development

9. Trampoline

  • Sensory input/needs
  • Gross motor skills
  • Balance/coordination skills 

10. Dizzy Disc

  • Sensory input/needs
  • Gross motor skills
  • Balance/coordination skills


I hope you discovered something new and useful from this list. If you have any toys that you would like to add to this list, please add it in the comment section below.

Happy Holidays!

John Mews, MA, MTA

For FREE songs, videos and tips on how to support children with music click here.


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Why is it Important to Teach Your Child to be Thankful?

Does you child have a lot of expensive things, such as an iPad, Xbox, Nintendo DS, DSI, 2DS, or an iPhone even?


If so, did they receive these gifts as a reward? Or have you been showering these expensive gifts on them simply because they are your child? And when they received these gifts, did they express their gratitude?

Over the years I have seen children with the most expensive shoes, gadgets, and clothes. Many of these children had severe behavioral problems, like acting out in school and/or showing disrespect for their parents and teachers. I asked the parents how they received these gifts, and I found that often these gifts were given for no particular reason - not even because it was their birthday or Christmas.

I believe that children who aren't taught to express gratitude will face many difficulties later in life. Positive psychology demonstrates that the more we are grateful, the happier and more fulfilled our lives will be. Betsy Brown Braun , a child development and behavior specialist, states that not only is it mannerly to say "thank-you," but that thankfulness is connected with living a happier, more resilient, empathic and self-fulfilled life. 

I had the good fortune of being born into a very giving family. Yes, things were given to me when I didn't necessarily deserve them. But fortunately my parents also taught me to be grateful for the gifts I had received. 

Teaching children to be thankful can be a challenge because as they naturally develop their sense-of-self, they tend to become self-centered. But, a child that has learned to be grateful will have better social skills, empathy and self worth.

As a music therapist I have taught children to be thankful through music.  I was inspired by the season of Thanksgiving to write a song entitled, "I am Thankful." This song includes two tracks, one with vocals and one without so you can sing along and insert the things for which you and your child are thankful. The song also comes with a lyrics sheet and chords so you can play along if you are musically inclined. One mother told me she played this song to her two young boys and was excited to hear them going through the house singing about the things they were thankful for! 

Here is an easy way to teach your child to be grateful. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I am offering a 50% DISCOUNT on this song through the end of November. All you need to do is click on the picture to the right and type in this code when you place your order: THANKS

Get it soon as it is only available until November 30th! And share with as many people as you can!

Gratefully yours and Happy Thanksgiving!

John Mews

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Help Your Child With Autism by Changing Their Routine


 Routines are important for most of us. We typically wake up at the same time, find the keys in the same place, and all the dishes are properly put away. We create routines and consistency in our lives to reduce stress and to keep things going smoothly.

This is particularly important for children with autism because they process information in a different way than most children.  Keeping things predictable can help reduce stress, filter out distractions, and help them to focus on the task at hand.

But what happens if our keys go missing? Or we find our car has a dead battery? What would we do? Panic? Fortunately most of us have developed healthy coping skills to deal effectively in situations like this.

I’ve seen therapists as well as parents create strict routines for their children with autism, and they keep those routines going for far too long! I often ask, what happens if the school bus is late? What happens if the fire alarm goes off  at school? What would your child learn from these strict routines about dealing with the unpredictable things in life?

Yes, I agree, whenever we start something new, we must first adhere to a strict schedule to eliminate distractions and keep the stress level down.  But I do believe that once your child has learned this routine and can manage it without stress, then we need to start implementing changes to their routine.

For example, I begin and end each session with the exact same tune, but with different words (“Hello” and “Good-bye”). Depending on the child’s functioning level, I will slowly incorporate a few changes to the lyrics and sometimes the order of which the song is placed in the schedule to see if there is a response to this change.  This can be a powerful tool in helping teach a child with autism how to cope when things don’t go exactly as they might expect. Then we explore options about what to do next, where we can go, how we can change things, what our options are and most importantly, how to manage the stress caused by the change.

How are you helping your child cope with changes in their routines or in everyday life? I hope you find this helpful and are encouraged to experiment by implementing subtle changes into your child’s routine.  This will better equip them to deal with the realities of life. Every moment something changes and something is different. Their success in life depends upon how well are they able to cope with change.

I’d love to hear how you incorporate subtle changes into your child’s daily routine to help them cope with change. Please leave a comment below.

Here are some resources I recommend to help you and your child cope with change.


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5 Helpful Tips to Make Your Child's I.E.P Meeting More Tolerable Than Terrifying


For most parents, Individual Education Plan (IEP) meetings are stressful and sometimes feel like a waste of time.  Here are some helpful tips that should help you get the most out of your child’s IEP.




1. Focus on your child’s strengths


Rarely have I participated in an IEP that uses the child’s strengths as a focal point. I believe that it is critical to use the child’s strengths as one of the building block for success. Wouldn’t you find it demoralizing if someone only focused on your areas of weakness and was constantly trying to fix you?

2. Your child needs a break area/quiet place to go to  

Most children need a break to avoid becoming over stimulated. Take time to familiarize yourself with the break/rest areas available in your child’s school, and see if they fit his/her needs. You may be surprised by some of the so-called “quiet” areas that schools consider to be the break/rest area. For example, one school I worked with used a noisy high-traffic lunchroom as their break room. Not a great idea, right?

3. I is for Individual! Your child’s IEP should be customized for your child’s individual needs

This should be common sense but many IEP’s can be hurriedly cut and pasted from another child’s IEP, or even from your child’s previous school year. Things change over time, and your child’s specific needs will change over time as well. Insist that the IEP be customized for your child’s current needs and learning capabilities.

  4. Your child’s goals should be measurable!

How will anyone know if your child has achieved his or her goal(s) or not? Should the goals be re-evaluated? This is where measurement tools are very useful and important. Does your school have up-to-date tools to measure your child’s successes? If so, how and when are they being used? Be sure that your goals can be easily measured and observed. Otherwise, you will never know if your child is successfully achieving his or her goals or not. It may be as simple as asking your child’s teacher for a brief monthly progress report.

5. Be an ally! Your child needs you on the team!

Most IEP meetings I have been involved with started out as an emergency meeting. Schools and/or parents often wait until there is a serious problem, and then call an emergency meeting in an attempt to fix the problem. I’ve often sat uncomfortably witnessing both parents and teachers lashing out at each other in frustration. To avoid this, I believe it is very important that parents build a strong relationship with their child’s teacher and school administrators as early as possible. Keep in mind that teachers have an incredible amount of responsibility, and it’s tough to know and remember everything that is in your child’s IEP. Helping to educate them can be a great relationship builder and will go a  long way toward ensuring your child’s success in school.

Here are some books I recommend.


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As Seen In Autism Parenting Magazine

Using Music to Help Children Develop and Strengthen Impulse Control

Have you ever found yourself in the middle of a parking lot and your child keeps wandering away and you shout “STOP!” for fear they’ll get hit by another car? And their response was more like you said “RUN!” and they just bolt away from you? This might seem like a dangerous situation to you, but to your child it’s a fun game!

Children at a young age learn to play chase with family. They often run around the coffee table shouting, “I’m going to get you” or “I’m coming after you.” To a young toddler this is a fun interactive bonding game and they haven’t yet learned to differentiate dashing at home vs. dashing in public!

To change this, try making “STOP” a fun and playful game!

I would often see a child running down the hallway after a session.  The parent screams “STOP” and what do you expect? Yes! The child continues running around laughing! Then you feel like you have no control and are tempted to put them on a short leash right?  Well, you don’t need to. Here is one of the songs that I use to make the “STOP” game easy and fun, and you’ll find it works anywhere. 

I use the song “This is the way” and at the end we all stop…and freeze.  This is very important for young toddlers, and particularly children with special needs, because they often have difficulty with controlling their impulses. Working on these impulses will help your child gain self control and you will find improvements at home, at school, and in public places. STOP now means STOP and its FUN to STOP!

It may take several tries to learn the rules and enjoy playing the STOP game.  Remember to stay positive and reward your child when they do STOP and FREEZE!

Adding music and play makes learning fun for everyone!

The video on the right shows two ways in which I used music to develop and enhance impulse control. 

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Image courtesy of Chris Roll/

Image courtesy of Chris Roll/

Video Blog: Making The Most With Mewsic:

Here are some musical adaptations on how you can help develop and strengthen impulse control in children.

Five Tips for Making Back to School Easier For Families of Children with Special Needs

Can you believe it? I know many parents are cheering right now that its back to school time. However, I know those of you with children with special needs are probably feeling something quite the opposite.  Back to school time can mean lots of anxiety, tantrums, and stress!


image courtesy of: david castillo dominici/

image courtesy of: david castillo dominici/

Here is a short list of things you can do to help your child transition back to school:

1.Begin Introducing Day/Night Schedules

          Your child has been on summer vacation mode and it will be a challenge to quickly get them into a different routine. So get a jump on it by gradually setting earlier bedtimes each night, and reintroducing regular morning rituals such as waking earlier, combing hair, and brushing teeth.   You might even take them for a short drive in the car afterwards to get them used to leaving the house. 

2. Start Introducing School Routines at Home

            From a teacher’s perspective, the challenge is getting children to pay attention and do their homework.   You can help by giving your child small tasks at home to practice, such as spelling a word or staying seated while working on a puzzle.  This will help them get used to staying in their seats for longer periods of time.

3. Take Practice Runs

         After introducing some school morning rituals, why not actually take your child to school?  This will help familiarize them with the trip and they’ll be less anxious and better prepared for that first day of school.   

4. Take Pictures

            Take pictures of the school, the classroom and the teacher on the first day (with permission of course).  You can use these at home as visual aids to help your child understand the order in which things are scheduled to happen over the course of the day.  This should greatly reduce anxiety about the “unknown.”

5. Make it Fun and Musical for Everyone

            While practicing these transitions and routines it’s easy to get frustrated or anxious, so I’d recommend turning them into a game or a musical.  You can make transitions easy by singing while you are doing them. For example, if it’s time to brush our teeth, you might sing “Brush our Teeth, Brush our Teeth” to the tune of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.”  You don’t need to be a music genius.  Just be creative and make it fun!

I hope these tips will help you start off the school year on a positive note!  Best of luck and please click the links below for more FREE tips and hints on keeping your home, life and family relationships healthy and vibrant.

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Music Therapy is Not The Same as Music Lessons!

Photo Courtesy of:  Alexandra Stead

Photo Courtesy of: Alexandra Stead

As a parent, you should be sure you clearly understand the difference. 

Music Therapy might seem like a new kind of therapy, but in fact it has been used for hundreds of years.  In the last fifty years, music therapy has become a widely accepted treatment modality for patients with a broad range of illnesses and disorders.

Still, many people have never heard of music therapy, and are unfamiliar with its benefits.  I believe one of the biggest reasons for this is the varying levels of quality we see in music therapists that are practicing today.

Sadly, many parents may be wasting their money on ineffective music therapy treatments.  If you are a parent using the services of a music therapist, you should routinely do a progress check to make sure goals and objectives are being achieved.  This is only possible if parameters are established in the beginning so that you can effectively measure therapeutic progress. 

To better understand the difference between music therapy and music lessons, I think it is helpful to think of the difference between physical fitness training and bodybuilding.   With physical fitness training, the goal is to improve health and proper body function.  Bodybuilders however, have a very different goal, and that is to achieve cosmetic “perfection” by a particular date, such as a bodybuilding contest.  In both cases, the same exercise equipment is used, but for very different goals and objectives.

Music lessons help students attain a high level of performance “perfection” which can be showcased on a particular date, such as a recital. On the other hand, Music therapy helps clients enhance cognitive, social and learning abilities, with no attempt to achieve perfection.  Achieving musical proficiency is not the focus in music therapy, and is certainly not a requirement. Music and the instruments used to create music are simply tools for the music therapist to achieve his or her goals.

Using brain-imaging technology, scientists have shown that when we hear music, we stimulate both sides of our brain.  We believe this explains why our clients with speech difficulties respond so well to music therapy – the part of the brain that control’s speech is also being stimulated by music.  Since music stimulates the brain so broadly, we have seen music therapy be very effective for a wide range of interventions for children with special needs.  Music rewards engagement, and this can be a powerful motivator for children. Therapists can use music to reward desirable behaviours and eliminate undesirable ones.

For children with special needs, their quality of life is closely related to the time of intervention – the earlier the better.  Therefore, we believe children with special needs should begin therapy as early as possible in their development. It is crucial that time not be wasted on ineffective music therapy interventions or music lessons that have no therapeutic benefit.

If you’d like to learn more about how music therapy can benefit your child’s needs, please give us a call for a free consultation. 

As Seen In Autism Parenting Magazine