Schools in a Spin: Teachers, parents debate use of fidget spinners in classrooms, by Allison Slater Tate

A friend who lives in a different state recently asked me if my children had “fidget spinners” yet. I had never heard of a fidget spinner, so she showed me a picture of the palm-sized gadgets and told me that supposedly, they could help some kids focus while they play with them.

The next day, my 14-year-old son wandered into my bedroom to ask me a question, and I noticed something in his hand. “What’s that?” I asked him. “My fidget spinner,” he said casually. “I bought it on Amazon a few weeks ago.”

Two things became apparent: I no longer know everything my child is buying for himself on Amazon, and fidget spinners are officially a thing. And they are: Mandy Wideman, a mother of three in Alabama, told TODAY Parents, “They’re huge here in Birmingham! I just drove to two stores tonight to look for them. One had sold out and the other one said they had sold over 200 today and over 2500 in the last week!”

Amy Fortenberry / Amy Fortenberry Florida mom Amy Fortenberry says of fidget spinners, “What’s started out as a focus or attention device for children with ADHD has become a fad and a craze. Bottle flipping is so 2016!”

Soon, my own children were begging for more fidget spinners in various colors, one of my children’s teachers began keeping a supply of them in her desk to hand out to kids who could benefit from using them in class, and articles began popping up all over my Facebook feed, most notably a first-person essay in Working Mother by Christina Bolusi Zawacki entitled, “I’m a Teacher, and Trust Me When I Say That Fidget Spinners Are the Effing Worst.”

It seems that fidget spinners — which some teens are also making themselves in their garages out of bicycle chains or on 3-D printers — are the new slime-making or bottle-flipping craze, dividing parents and teachers as to whether they are good or bad for kids and their classroom environments. Some parents believe children with ADHD benefit from having a fidget spinner (or a related item, such as a fidget cube or tactile putty) in class with them, but because they can cause classroom distractions, some schools are instituting bans.

(To read more of this article, please follow the link below…)


Aussie scientists ‘unlock’ deadly peanut allergy, by Andrew Rochford

Peanut square

Australian scientists are confident they’ve found a solution to the deadly peanut allergy affecting thousands of children.

Under a new trial, children with the deadly allergy are being fed ground peanuts mixed with a probiotic in a bid to alter the stomach to accept nuts, and not reject them.

According to the scientists, 80 per cent of children in the trial were able to tolerate peanuts by the end of the study.


Matthew Reed at the peanut allergy trial. Source: 7News


Aussie scientists are working to unlock the peanut allergy affecting three in every 100 children. Source: 7News

Allergy and Anaphylaxis Australia figures show three in every 100 Australian children suffer from a peanut allergy.

The figures also show just 20 per cent of those children outgrow the allergy.

“I’m worried all the time,” parent Leanne Reed said.

(To read more of this article and watch a video, please go to the link below…)

You Don’t Have to Solve Your Children’s Problems For Them. By Dr. Mary Reckmeyer


Everyone knows a kid like my nephew Tom.

Tom was the 2-year-old who threw a temper tantrum, just because. Maybe it was because his mother looked at him the wrong way, or he wasn’t allowed to put the sugary cereal in the grocery cart, or he didn’t want to take a bath.

He became the 8-year-old who was afraid of dogs — even really small ones. Later, he was the teenager who wouldn’t touch the gourmet meals his mom prepared and who thought fast-food burgers were the only food worth eating. He was the high school student who often found better things to do than attend all of his classes.

Tom’s issues are common — but how much time and energy would you put into “solving his problems”?

When a child like Tom is someone else’s, parents know exactly what needs to happen. Ground him, call the counselor and make him attend aversion therapy. But when he’s your child, you wonder what the right answer is, and you can become consumed with these issues and define him by his problems.

Parents want to be the best they can be at raising happy and productive children, but unfortunately, there is no “easy button” that applies to every family and every situation. With an array of parenting advice lining the bookshelves in bookstores or delivered to your screen via your favorite online search engine, only one thing is clear: There’s no one way to raise a child. There is no “right” way to raise a child either. Blanket parenting advice just doesn’t work for everyone. Parents have their unique strengths, and each child has his individual personality. The variations in innate abilities, strengths and environmental factors are endless.

(To read more of this article, please follow the link below…)

Queen’s Birthday Honours List Recognises Child Advocates, by Kirsteen McLay-Knopp

Couple Collage1

A couple in  Invercargill New Zealand, who have fostered children with special needs for over 25 years, have been recognised in the 2016 Queen’s Birthday Honours list, receiving the Queen’s Service Medal.  Talking about their decision to become foster carers, John Mooij says, “Everyone’s lives pan out in different ways. Some want to travel, some want to get their kids off their hands. Not everyone could do this, but it’s something we love.” [Source: The Southland Times].

This is not the first time people have been recognised for services relating to the care of and advocacy for children, but it is wonderful to see that this is becoming increasingly common.  Children’s issues, including the right to a place to be and grow up in are increasingly being seen as important and it is great to see, in this case, the care of children with special needs being acknowledged and supported.

“We don’t need a world full of rocket scientists but we just want our children to be the best they can and to have good life skills and get on and enjoy life, because that’s what it’s there for.”

inver couple 1

Foster Carers Lynda and John Mooij   [Source: Southland Times}

Mrs Mooij said she hoped their honours would draw attention to other children in need of a permanent foster home, particularly those with special needs.

“I get upset by how many placements some children have – especially those with fetal alcohol syndrome – who go from house to house.” [Source: Radio New Zealand News].

Lynda and John Mooij have five biological children between them and have fostered more than 21 children over the years.  They currently have four “forever” foster children.

The couple modestly say they are “…just a couple of foster carers from Invercargill…”, but it is encouraging to see how their important work has been recognised and how it has drawn attention to foster care, in particular for children with special needs.

10 Powerful Truths About Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) That Will Change Your Perspective, by Mike Berry


For the majority of the world, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is misunderstood and often judged. But, there are powerful truths that can change your life when you understand, and embrace them.


That’s the word that comes to mind when I think about FASD. Anger.

I’m angry that my child’s birth mother would make the selfish choice to drink during her pregnancy, angry that the claws of addiction dug deeper than the conviction of pre-natal care, angry at the numerous therapists, doctors, and authorities who’ve downplayed or disagreed with my child’s diagnosis over the years, angry at a world that judges before seeking the truth, and angry when I think about the missing pieces of my child’s life.

The child I chose with love.

Most of all, I’m angry that he will never have a normal childhood. A part of his brain is absent thanks to a stupid choice, a lack of self-control, and an unwillingness to guard his precious life before he took one peek at the world. I know this sounds harsh but this is the stuff I wrestle with often. Sometimes it eats at me, grinding away at my soul like a jackhammer grinding away at concrete. Other times, it’s sadness. A deep longing to go back in time, before his conception, and beg his birth mother to not make the choice she would eventually make.

Yes, we reel in pain over this disease. After all, that’s what it is. It’s brain damage, and the worst kind too, as far as we’re concerned. We live with the devastation of our child’s violent outbursts that have brought trauma on our family so deep that we’re not sure we’ll ever heal from it. We wrestle but, we’re hopeful. In the midst of our life, which often looks more like a pile of ashes than a life, we have a hope and a belief that our child, our son, will succeed. It began a while ago, when we embraced some powerful truths about FASD…

(To read more of this article, follow the link below…)

“The Forever Years and Furry Friends”: How kids benefit from the company of “creatures great and small”, by Kirsteen McLay-Knopp

Si & Willow FY

There’s a kind of “link” in our psyche between kids and animals.  So many children’s characters ARE animals… Scooby Doo, Daniel Tiger, The Wonderpets, Canimals, Lassie, Carebears, Franklin, The Octonauts, Skippy the Bush Kangeroo, My Little Poney, Boowa and Kwala, Wags the Dog, Ninja Turtles, Pooh Bear, Piglet and their friends, Felix the Cat, Mickey Mouse and his friends, Big Bird, Kermit and other Muppets, Dinosaur Train, Tom and Jerry, Roadrunner, Boots the Monkey, the Penguins of Madagascar, Curious George, the Pink Panther, The Lion King… these are just ones I can think of off the top of my head (some of my old childhood favourites and ones our children love now), I’m sure you can think of others.  Kids’ toys, cuddly soft toys in particular, are usually animals of some sort– teddies have to be the all time favourite across generations.

Why do we draw this link between kids and the “creatures great and small” of our world?  And how does interaction with real, live animals benefit children?


Most people would agree that children seem to naturally be drawn to animals… as adults, managing early interactions for kids in our care is important.  Very young children sometimes don’t have a healthy respect for / fear of animals.  Conversely, others may like the idea of a cat, dog, horse or whatever, but be terrified when they actually meet a real live one.  Animals, like kids, can be random and unpredictable and have their own personalities.    Protecting animals from over-enthusiastic or terrified children by teaching kids how to respond appropriately (and in ways which keep both safe ) shows our children that while we love them, we also care for and respect the creatures of our world and that animals are important.  Taking responsibility for animals by feeding them at regular times and caring for them when they are injured builds our kids’ empathy and reliability, helping them mature emotionally.

Wild Willow

This is our family dog Willow, a Stafford-shire Terrier/ Hunt-away cross we picked up from our local SPCA about 11 months ago.  (She looks pretty crazy in this photo, with her tongue lolling out).  She was three months old when we got her and a lot smaller!  Learning to “live in harmony with Willow” was a bit of a challenge for our family at first.  She seemed to have boundless energy and wanted to literally throw herself at anyone and everyone she met.  She was also a very good escape artist and had a bad chewing habit.  She chewed the trellis along the top of our fence as though it was gingerbread, took chunks out of our deck, ate one of our son’s shoes and chewed the plastic hand off one of our daughter’s dolls.  The kids changed a song they knew about God so it fitted the dog… “our dog is so big, so big and so mighty, there’s nothing our dog cannot chew…”.  We’ve now blocked off the area near the trellis, restricted Willow from the hedge (which she used to manage to get through, despite the wire mesh we put there to prevent it)  and found that you can buy a natural spray (it smells like rotten apples) to spray on the house to prevent chewing there.  She sleeps inside at night, but wears a muzzle so there won’t be any more problems with shoes, dolly hands or anything else.  My six year old son (pictured with puppy Willow at the top of this article) loves dogs, and it was he who most wanted to get a puppy.  Initially, however, he was quite scared of Willow, because she was so boistrous, and was only comfortable with her when she was on a lead.  As the kids have grown more used to Willow, Willow has also mellowed– she is, after all, now 14 months old, an adult dog.

Willow Pumpkin FY

A big advantage of having a dog is that she gets us all outside more often than we might be otherwise.  Often, especially at weekends, the kids will groan when we say we are going to go and walk the dog, especially if they are doing something like watching TV or playing on the i-pad.  Once they are out walking Willow, however, they enjoy throwing her ball to her and get exercise and fresh air themselves and, because the whole family are involved in walking the dog, we are also interacting with one another– Willow has drawn us together.

I tell the “story of Willow” to illustrate the benefits of animals to families and children.  We also have a rabbit and a cat and all the animals are definitely regarded as part of our family.  They have shown our children patience, companionship, responsibility and unconditional love.  I believe that it is a natural part of being human to live with animals and I can only imagine that adults who dislike or, in the worst cases, are cruel to animals, have had either a negative experience of them (perhaps not tempered by a responsible adult intervening) or have had limited or no experience of animals at all.  It is also worth noting, here,  the co-relation that often occurs between cruelty to and abuse of animals and similar actions directed towards children… see a previous post on “The Forever Years” at the link below.

I read a bumper sticker on a car recently, whilst parking at the “doggy park” where we commonly walk Willow.  It read “dogs not drugs”, which to me  expressed how animals can take us “out of ourselves” and “ground us” in a healthy and natural way.  For kids a pet can provide a sense of stability and connection, especially in situations where other factors are less than ideal.

Another interesting  finding is that emerging readers often prefer reading aloud to an animal friend than to another human.

Reading to a Cat

Psychologists have long been aware of the benefits to children (and to human beings in general) of interaction with “furry friends”, so much so that some interesting animal related “therapies” have been devised, some of which I’ll out line, briefly below for your information.

Animal Assisted Therapies (AAT) are any kind of therapy involving animals being part of the treatment for a variety of conditions.  Dogs are a common choice in AAT, perhaps because they tend to engage with patients and require engagement in return.  The goal of AAT is to improve a patient’s social, emotional, or cognitive functioning.

The  biophilia hypothesis (Edward O .Wilson, 1984)  is based on the premise that our attachment to and interest in animals stems from the strong possibility that human survival was once partly dependent on signals from animals in the environment, indicating safety or threat. The biophilia hypothesis suggests that now, if we see animals at rest or in a peaceful state, this may signal to us safety, security and feelings of well-being which in turn may trigger a state where personal change and healing are possible. 

[Source: Schaefer K (2002) Human-animal interactions as a therapeutic intervention Counseling and Human Development, 34(5) pp.1-18].

527416b2838a4.preview-620Equine therapy, also known as equine-assisted therapy (EAT), is a treatment that includes equine ( horse-related) activities or an equine environment to promote physical, occupational, and emotional growth in persons with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, autism, cerebral palsy, dementia, depression, developmental delay, genetic syndromes (such as Down syndrome), traumatic brain injuries, behavioral issues, abuse issues, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), drug and alcohol addiction, and other mental health problems.[1] Since the horses have similar behaviors with humans, such as social and responsive behaviors, it is easy for the patients to create a connection with the horse.  Riders with disabilities demonstrate accomplishments in national and international sport riding competitions.  


Dolphin Therapy involves swimming with dolphins.  Children have a one on one  session with a therapist and dolphins in a marine park.  The goals are similar to those of AAT and EAT (see above).


Therapy Cats are cats used as companions to help people with illnesses and anxiety.  Cats are chosen to be used in therapy based on their temperament.  With regard to children in particular, the cat must enjoy being held and cuddled.

There have been arguments made that therapy animals can work as well as or better than conventional pharmaceutical medicine for helping people relax, lowering stress levels and blood pressure decreases, [Associated Press (December 1, 2009). “Even hairless Sphynx cats give patients a warm, fuzzy feeling”. USA Today. Retrieved 2012-01-14.}, causing the heart rate to slow down.  According to one report, therapy  cats can help children and teens with special needs to “feel relaxed”, and that the human-cat communication is beneficial. [staff writer (March 4, 2011). “Jersey City dance school mourns loss of therapy cat”. The Jersey Journal. Retrieved 2012-01-14.]

(Just as an aside, cats and their crazy antics are among the most highly searched Youtube videos).


A “Therapy Cat” in action with a young cancer patient

As well as Willow, our dog, our family have a black cat called Zoe and a black and white lop-eared rabbit called Puff.  Each animal has his or her own personality and figures strongly in the lives of our children.   Puff, our rabbit, is eight, old in bunny years (we got him when my second son was a baby).  He had a “wife” , a white lop-eared rabbit called Lippity (at one stage they had 14 babies together… we gave those to friends and to a pet shop and had Puff neutered).  Lippity’s funeral was sad for our four children… and for us.  She is buried with her own special headstone made from a painted rock in our garden.    I remember similar “funerals” from my own childhood, but I feel a sense of joy and warmth when I think of those pets (such as an old cat who used to make “tunnels” under my bed sheets and didn’t mind being pushed around in a doll’s pram).

K & K FY

These pets were part of the reason I wanted our own children to have animals as part of the fabric of their “forever years”.   Our “furry friends” live in the moment and ask for nothing more than food, care and love. Because a pet’s death might be their first time losing a loved one, the grieving process can help kids learn how to cope with other losses throughout life.  Perhaps there is a reason why, in normal circumstances, we out live our animals.  As well as all their other great qualities, animals teach us and our children to value life.

Zoe's tea FY

Related Links:



Dyspraxia, Dyslexia and an Anxiety Disorder: Living with and Loving our Special Son, an interview by Kirsteen McLay-Knopp with Kirstin, a kiwi Mum

Family FYKirstin kindly allowed me to interview her about life with and for her son Toby, who has recently been diagnosed as having severe dyslexia and mild dyspraxia (a developmental disorder which affects fine motor skills and can present as problematic for children undertaking tasks such as writing and tying shoe laces).  As well as this, Toby, age 9, has been diagnosed as having an anxiety disorder.

“When he was little, Toby never crawled, he just shuffled along on his bum,” Kirstin recalls.  “Apparently that can be an indicator of dyslexia.  Then, once he started school, it became clear that Toby had major difficulties with reading and writing.  We asked the school whether he had dyslexia, but they said he didn’t.  By Year 4 Toby was playing up and causing major disruption in class.  We know now that it was because he couldn’t understand and he wasn’t receiving the help he needed, but the school didn’t recognise this at the time.  Toby was usually punished by being sent out of class… which, of course, was exactly what he wanted.”
Kirstin and her husband felt certain that there was more to Toby’s behaviour in class than just “naughtiness”.  Finally, they made the decision to change schools.  At the new school, Toby’s learning difficulties were identified within a week.
“It was such a relief to have professionals say that there were issues behind the behaviour and learning difficulties,” Kirstin recalls.  “You often feel these things in your heart as a parent, but it’s really great to know for sure, it means you can move forward.”
Toby’s dyspraxia and his anxiety disorder also affected his brain-bowel co-ordination.  Kirstin says that knowing this makes it easier to understand him having “accidents”.  “Not knowing and thinking that this shouldn’t be happening, that a kid his age should be getting toileting cues, sometimes made us harder on Toby than we should have been,” she says.  “Understanding is the key, then you can look at strategies for moving forwards.  With help from support organisations, we’ve now been able to put measures in place to help Toby in this area too.  The advice of other parents who have “been there” is invaluable, as is the reassurance offered by professionals with experience working in this field.”
Kirstin says now that it is apparent what the issues are, measures can be put in place to help Toby cope.  “His anxiety disorder means Toby gets stressed if, for example, there are lots of other kids around making a noise,” she says.  “He now knows when he needs to go off for quiet time by himself, which helps him get “back on track” and his teachers accommodate that too.  As parents, his Dad and I have had to learn to be more patient, as our stress rubs off on him and his anxiety disorder makes him more sensitive to everything.  Lots of children are like this anyway [pick up on parental stress], but with Toby it’s magnified.”
“Toby has always been Toby with his own special personality, which we love,” Kirstin says, “so there’s a degree to which his diagnosis hasn’t affected our family too much, we’d already lived with who he was for 8 years before receiving a professional diagnosis.  But it just feels good knowing that there is a reason for behaviour which otherwise can seem quite random and frustrating at times.”  Kirstin says children with dyspraxia don’t cope well with spontaneity or changes from routine.  “I heard one Mum say that with dyspraxic kids you can be spontaneous… so long as you give them three weeks notice first!”
Dyspraxia and dyslexia can be genetic, as can childhood anxiety disorders (which may or may not carry on into the adult years), Kirstin says.  “My brother had dyslexia, but it wasn’t picked up until he was in High School,” she says.  “Teachers and others are more aware of these conditions and attuned to how they present than they were some years ago.”
Toby is now in Year 5 at Primary School and, thanks to extra support and a teacher aid, has recovered most of the reading he had fallen behind on.  “It can be hard for him,” Kirstin says, “his little brother, who is two years younger, finds reading easy and Toby takes this and other things very personally.  We try to encourage him by stressing how far he has come in the last year or two and being honest with him about the fact that he was not receiving the right support for who he is before.  We recently went to an Intermediate School Open Night and I was so thrilled that Toby was excited about the future… in the past the thought of big changes like this could bring out his anxiety… he’s even been known to make himself throw up as a result of becoming anxious, like at the start of a school marathon.  We used to find homework very, very difficult too.  Toby hates writing, but fortunately some strategies which are used for children with dyspraxia and dyslexia have been put in place to help with this.  As Toby’s confidence grows in any particular area, his anxiety levels are also better able to be managed.”
Kirstin says she and her husband hope that in the short term future Toby will “integrate into Intermediate School without too much difficulty.  Things have certainly gotten so much better with him since he has been diagnosed and also as he’s gotten older.  For the long term future we just hope that things won’t seem so hard for him and that he’ll find something he really enjoys and can work at.”
Kirstin says it’s really important for parents who feel their child might have issues affecting their learning, to talk with others and not feel shy or embarrassed.  “People often don’t want to think that their child is ‘different'”, she says, “especially in the case of ‘hidden disabilities’ such as Toby’s… it can be easier, sometimes, to bury your head in the sand and ignore what you know in your heart.  In our case, we had a gut feeling and we didn’t let up until Toby received the appropriate support.”
Photograph above: Toby kayaking with his brother and Dad, thanks to Kirstin and her family for supplying this 🙂

21 things I want you to know about a down syndrome diagnosis, by Ange Longbottom


Has your baby just been diagnosed with Down syndrome? First of all, congratulations on your pregnancy or the birth of your beautiful baby. I’m also a parent of a child with Down syndrome, and here are 21 things I would like you to know:

1. You may be feeling shocked, scared and alone. It’s OK, so did we. It will pass. What you may be feeling now is transient. Your life has changed for the better, you just don’t know it yet.

2. Your baby may be more like you than different.

3. There is no “one size fits all” with Down syndrome. Your baby will be unique, beautiful and very much their own person, just like you.

4. Your doctor may present a negative view about Down syndrome and paint a bleak picture. I promise you that life with a child with Down syndrome is not bleak. Far from it. It’s bright. Very, very bright.

5. You might think the other children in your family will be impacted in a negative way, but they will love and accept their sibling and may be changed in ways that will make you burst at the seams with pride.

(Read more at the following link…)