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All images and posts written by and copyright to Amanda Clements (nee Gray) 2009-2012 unless otherwise indicated.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Enjoying Christmas... even with food allergies

One of the memories associated with the excitement of Christmas in my childhood was the food. Special food that we wouldn't get all year round.

Savoury snacks like frankfurts dipped in tomato sauce. A whole bunch of meats and salads, or a baked dinner. Lollies. Soft drink. Cakes. Chocolates. All varieties of deserts.

So when I was diagnosed with a chronic health condition that meant refined sugar, yeast, dairy, and more recently gluten needed to be eliminated from my diet. Christmas was somehow not quite the same. Being excluded from sharing the communal meal, or enjoying the annual indulgence of certain treats, can be a very isolating experience. And if special dietary needs are not considered, it can also make you feel a little ignored...

But, thankfully, over the years my family have adjusted. My mother and I have also discovered different recipes... like the sugar-free fruit cake, sugar-free carob and most recently I have been able to adapt a recipe for pumpkin pie, using the juice from boiled dates to sweeten it.

Children with special needs and Christmas treats...

Children with special needs may have special dietary needs, physical issues or sensory sensitivities that may interfere with there ability to join in the Christmas feasting. If we want our Christmas Day to be truly inclusive, we need to make sure we find out if this is the case and what we can do about it.

Special dietary needs

Some children with Autism or Aspergers benefit from or require a gluten-free diet due to their digestive tract issues. The wrong foods can influence mood as well as cause stomach aches, constipation or diarrhoea.

The behaviour of some children with ADHD can be influenced by the amount of sugar and/or preservatives that they consume.

These are only some of the more common issues children with diverse needs and their families might face at the Christmas meal. Some things we can do is ensure that we have a number of gluten, dairy and sugar-free options that look and taste appetising available on Christmas day.

This, importantly, should include sugar-free and additive-free drinks. Carefully reading labels on fruit juice bottles is important as many brands add sugar and preservatives. Another treat is to freeze fruit juice as ice blocks. I found Nudie Crushies best for this as they are thicker and more like the smooth consistency of ice cream when frozen.

If you need recipes, the Gluten-free Goddess has some great suggestions.

My most favourite, well-stained cook book is called "Cooking Without" by Babara Cousins.

Alternately, I have found some good snacks in the Naytura food isle in Woolworths... Orgran being a great brand for gluten-free products.

Physical considerations

For some children with disabilities there are other physical factors that you will need to consider.

First, some children may not be able to successfully manipulate a knife and fork due to fine motor difficulties. One of the ways to deal with this is to have a range of easily manipulated, finger-foods available.

Other children may have difficulties with chewing or swallowing, and so having soft foods available will also be helpful.

Crushed rice+egg cups filled with salsa:
Gluten, sugar, dairy, preservative free, fun finger-food
You can fill the rice cups with anything you (or your child) like

Sensory sensitivities and preferences

We also need to take into consideration the sensory sensitivities and set preferences of children with diverse needs.

For some children, certain textures, aromas or colours will trigger a gag reflex or a meltdown.

Other children will have very specific food preferences... and will struggle to eat anything outside these preferences.

It is important not to see this as a behavioural issue. That is, we need to be careful not to think of a child with Autism who is having a melt-down because something green was put on their plate as being "naughty". Understand their specific needs and "go with the flow"...

This is just scratching the surface, I know.... so if anyone else has advice, or recipe suggestions, please share...



Wednesday, November 24, 2010

As we head into Christmas

The count-down to Christmas has begun.
All the lights are starting to be hung.
Everywhere gatherings are beginning.
So here's some things to get you thinking...

Present-giving is such a huge part of Christmas. I remember vividly the excitement that caused sleeplessness on Christmas Eve - then the joy of finding the present at the end of the bed in the morning... Much torn wrapping later, and the day was full of new toys, food and fun.

But present-giving can also cause tension. Trying to please everyone, trying to display pleasure at inappropriate gifts, arguments over money spent, offence at gifts returned.... we all want to avoid these things.

Gift-giving and children with disabilties

I recently listened to parents of children with disabilities discuss the difficulties of presents at Christmas-time. I thought it would be good to use this blog to help build awareness of the issues that we need to consider when giving gifts to children who have special needs.

Some things you need to consider:

  • Narrow interests: One thing it is important to realise is that some children with disabilities have quite narrow interests. For example, a child with autism may only use items that have Thomas the Tank engine on them.
  • Developmental appropriateness: You need to consider the developmental appropriateness of a toy - not just its age appropriateness. For example, some children who have vision impairments use their sense of taste to continue exploring their environment long after their peers have stopped mouthing toys. This means that toys with small detachable parts that might be age appropriate will not be developmentally appropriate for the child as they could be a choking hazard. Other aspects that need to be considered are the child's intellectual, gross motor and fine motor skills. Children with disabilities such as Down Syndrome or Autism may find it more difficult to hold pencils, pick up small items and play with things that involve threading, constructing and significant muscle control in the fingers. Others may find it difficult to balance and use the gross motor skills involved in riding bikes or climbing. And others may find the cognitive challenge of some games such as puzzles, board games, card games and craft activities, beyond their cognitive ability.
  • Sensory sensitivities: Some children with disabilities are very sensitive to certain textures, sounds and even colours. Toys that do not align with their sensitivities will not be used, and may even cause them some distress.

So how can you make sure you purchase an appropriate gift?

The easiest way is to ask parents. They will be able to tell you about the child's abilities, interests and favourite toys. And don't be offended if they give you a list of specific things or places to shop for their children.

Here are two sites that were recommended by parents:

This Australian site provides a range of toys suitable for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders, Communiation and Sensory Processing Disorders, ADHD, Physical Disabilities and Cognitive and Learning Delays. They have toys priced from under $5 to over $100.

The toys include a whole range of things, from puzzles to computer-based games.

Another parent recommended this Amazon search entitled "Bestsellers in special needs multi-sensory toys."

Spectronicsinoz also has a range of games, though they are more expensive and generally educational. Here are some examples of their games:

Spot on Games
Card Games
Switch-friendly computer games for children with physical disabilities
More computer games called Play with me

All the best for your Christmas shopping :) ... and may your Christmas be full of fun.


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