Adaptive Skiing at Silver Star Mountain Resort, British Columbia

adaptive skiing at Silver Star Mountain Resort Biritish Columbia

V loved adaptive skiing with Peter at Silver Star Mountain Resort

V has a serious need for speed, but most of all she loves being a part of all of our family activities – including skiing.

Last weekend we had the opportunity to visit Silver Star Mountain Resort in British Columbia, where we enjoyed mountain activities as a family – as it should be!  We had times scheduled with Silver Star’s adaptive ski program in advance, and were lucky enough to ski with Peter, the President of Silver Star’s Adaptive Snow Sports (SSASS).  Take a peek at V’s experience on the video below:


Download the song featured in this video – “Shine” by Collective Soul

Here are some tips for adaptive skiing at Silver Star Mountain Resort:

  • Connect with SSASS as soon as you book their stay so that they can get ski time schedule.  Remember, times are not guaranteed because it is a volunteer-based program, but they do their best to accommodate.
  • Prior to your trip, complete the applications and forms found here.  Make sure you print out the forms and bring a copy with you when you visit.
  • ISSASS works with people of with a wide variety of abilities and ages.
    If you have any questions about how the program can work for your needs, contact SSASS by phone (250) 260-3737 or ssass.info@gmail.com.
  • For questions about village accessibility and accommodation, contact Silver Star Mountain Resort Guest Services by phone (250) 558-6019 or infodesk@skisilverstar.com.

Disclaimer: My family was a guest of Silver Star Mountain Resort for purposes of this review.

V shredding it!
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Passport Photos for Children with Special Needs

passport photos for special needs children

We have a couple of winter vacations planned in the Great White North; I’m excited for my daughter with special needs to ski in champagne powder snow, eat Nutella crepes and hear French spoken in conversation when we visit Quebec next month.

We might share the continent and speak the same language (sort of, eh?), but US citizens still need a passport to visit Canada.

My biggest concern about getting a passport for my special needs child was getting the photo right.  My daughter is blind, doesn’t put her head up all the time, and has severe scoliosis so it’s tough to get pictures of her straight on.  And like so many kids, she has very little patience for the photo process.  I am always completely spent by the end of any photo session and I’ve learned to be happy with the best that we can get.

However, the Passport Agency doesn’t take “the best that we can get.”  They’re picky!  When I got my passport a few years ago I tried taking my own photo – diligently following all of the instructions provided online.  But when I presented it to the agent, it was rejected and I had to have retakes. Honestly, thinking about this possibility with my special needs child had me a little stressed.

This time we had the pictures taken at a local drug store and I brought troops of support.

passport photos with special needs child

Success! My special needs daughter now has a passport!

So…what did it take to get a passport photo for my special needs child?

2 parents, 1 grandparent, 1 photographer, 30 minutes and 3 options to see which the Passport Agency would accept.

Behind the scenes. V can't sit independently, so my husband held V up and would keep her chin up until the photographer was ready, while I kept her legs bent to keep her body from going into high tone from the stress. When the photographer counted to 3, we'd both pull ourselves out of the photo as much as possible, while Grandma chimed in to help remind V to keep her head up. Whew!

Thankfully when we submitted the photos the agent was actually very accepting of my daughter’s circumstances, and picked “the best we could get.”

A few tips for taking a passport photo for your special needs child:

  1. Have the photos taken at a slow time of day.  Mid-morning or afternoon after lunch and before school is out are good times.  Give the photo agency a call and see if you should have an appointment or if they have any suggestions for time or day of the week.
  2. Bring a friend (or two) to help out.
  3. Bring a white blanket or pillowcase.  The photo has to be taken on a white background. If your child is in a wheelchair, bring a white pillowcase or towel to put behind them.  My daughter’s wheelchair is reclined slightly, so we had to hold her to get her fully upright.
  4. Have several options to take with you.  Ours were taken at our local RiteAid – they know us well there!  They were really great, several associates helped out and the didn’t charge extra for the variety of photos.  They were cheering with us when we got one that we thought would work!
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Disneyland Grand Californian – Relaxation, Disney Style

This was my first stay at the Disneyland Grand Californian and it won’t be my last. I have to say it’s a pretty special place. The décor is comfortable and relaxing, very low key after a day in the park. Disney California Adventure theme park is right out your back door, no trams to take or long lines to wait in, which makes it really nice for kids (and parents) that need frequent breaks throughout the day. There is a large pool area that includes ADA lifts into all of the pools and jacuzzis. Because the Grand Californian is a newer hotel, built in 2001, ADA and wheelchair accommodations were part of the equation from the beginning, nothing was retrofit. Disney’s California Adventure was built at the same time, with the same standards – all attractions and restaurants are wheelchair accessible.

Here’s a little tour of Disney’s Grand Californian hotel:

lobby at Disney's Grand Californian

The lobby at Disney's Grand Californian

handicap accessible pool at Disney's Grand Californian

This is the play pool area with 2 slides and a handicap lift. There are 3 pools, 2 jacuzzis and one kiddie wading pool. All have lifts except for the wading pool.

my room at Disney's Grand Californian

A photo of my room at Disney

Room with a balcony view at Disney's Grand Californian

From the balcony I could see the pool area, as well as the California Adventure farris wheel and Paradise Pier roller coaster. I could hear some of the theme park, but just a little.

Tips for staying at the Disney Grand Californian hotel:

Bring some snacks and water from home.
The hotel has several great restaurants and a self-serve cafe so you will be well-fed, but it’s nice to have some snacks on hand that don’t cost a fortune, especially if you have any dietary restrictions.  There is a mini-fridge in all the rooms, bring some snacks and water from home and fill it up.  You can’t bring outside food in the park, but being so close to California Adventure means you can come back to the hotel for some down time.

Food tip, again – Whitewater Snacks will save you some money.
You will want to do a character breakfast and some nice meals on your trip, but for quick meals at a lower cost hit Whitewater Snacks.  It’s off the beaten path, tucked back behind the pool snack bar.  Here’s a link to the menu at Whitewater Snacks.

Room selection tip.
The room I stayed in overlooked the pool area and was very quiet and relaxing.  I toured other rooms, including one that was alongside the theme park.  That room was louder, fine for most families, but maybe not the best choice for a special needs child, especially one with sensory issues.  There are one-bedroom suites, and standard rooms with a variety of configurations.  Think about what your family needs – quiet, a table instead of a desk, etc and ask about these when you book your trip.

ADA rooms.
Because the Grand Californian was built with ADA standards, in general most rooms fit the minimum ADA requirements.  The big differences are the thresholds to the patio, hand rails in toilet and shower/tub area.  My non-ADA room was great for our needs, I would just need to ask for a shower bench from guest services to help me shower my daughter with special needs.

Disclaimer:  I was  guest of Disneyland for coverage of the #DisneySide promotion.

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Wine Country Trattoria at Disney California Adventure : Delicious, Relaxing, Kid-Friendly and Gluten-Free

I had you at Wine Country, didn’t I?

A few years ago I wrote about how few gluten-free options I found Disneyland.  I was so hungry most of that trip that I was exhausted and grumpy, which means nobody was having fun.  Thankfully things have changed and Disneyland and California Adventure have many more gluten-free options.

Wine Country Trattoria Disneyland California Adventure

Wine Country Trattoria Disneyland California Adventure

Today I found the Wine Country Trattoria and it far surpassed my expectation of “Theme Park Food.”  The restaurant sits above the walkway near Bugs’ Life; a relaxing haven of patio dining surrounded by rosemary hedges and shaded by vine-covered trellises.   Indoor dining is also available, but not as inviting.

There are two dining options:  A food counter with limited menu, and dining with table service.  I would definitely choose the table service dining.  It feels a lot more relaxed, includes the shaded terrace, and has a wider menu, especially for gluten-free options.

gluten-free bruschetta

Gluten-free bruschetta

Wine Country Trattoria has a nice wine selection, and gluten-free pasta, breads – even a gluten-free brownie with ice cream for dessert.  YUM!  The kids’ menu has pizza, pasta, chicken and fish options.  This mom was hungry and grumpy no more.  And best of all, it was so relaxing…of course the wine flight helped.

All restaurants at Disney’s California Adventure are ADA compliant, there is a ramp entrance to the Wine Country Trattoria for wheelchairs. As with everything at Disney, things can be busy, so reservations are highly recommended.  Buon appetito!

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Disney’s Official Word on the Guest Assistance Card Changes

With all of the conversation around Disney’s recent announcement to discontinue the Guest Assistance Card, here’s Disney’s official letter of reassurance and continuing commitment from Meg Crofton, President Walt Disney Parks & Resorts Operations, U.S. and France:

Disney's Official Word on the Guest Assistance Card Changes for disabilities and special needs I have no idea how everything will play out regarding this change, but I do know that Disney has a history of taking good care of special needs kids. Disney World made every effort to accommodate my child on our visit last spring.  At every attraction the cast members asked how they could help her have her best experience.  It wasn’t about getting ahead in the line, it was about finding ways for her to enjoy rides with her physical challenges.

Clearly this is a work in progress and Disney is making adjustments as the figure out how to strike this balance of providing options for special needs families and minimizing system abuse.  The good news is that Disney has heard your voice. I have great hopes that as their new policies come together Disney will be very mindful of what it takes for our kids to experience The Happiest Place on Earth.

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Baking Gluten-Free and for Diabetic Blood Sugar Control

gluten-free flour and low carb baking

My favorite gluten-free flour combination.

I’m a foodie, but not much of a rule-follower in the kitchen. I have a tenancy to develop my own recipes.  In my mind I’m an artist in the moment of painting a masterpiece – unfortunately I make very few notes along the way.  This makes my husband crazy; he’ll fall in love with a masterpiece, only to find that I have no idea how to recreate it.  I tell him I’ve given him the gift of enjoying the moment.

When I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease 9 years ago I went gluten-free, and started experimenting with different flours.  My penchant for creative cooking came in handy, and I eventually found my own stride with allergy-free alternatives.  Fortunately there are more gluten-free options available today, but I don’t love all of them and find I still fall back on some tried and true.

Enter New Year’s 2013.  My oldest, perpetually healthy child was diagnosed with Juvenile Diabetes, and I had a new challenge – like I needed one.  My mission was to find whole grain, healthy recipes with low carb counts that satisfied the palate of a teen.  Bonus points if I could make it gluten-free for me.  Here are my favorite flours for baking gluten-free and/or for diabetic blood sugar control.

Almond Flour

My first low carb discovery was the awesomeness of almond flour (3 grams net carbs per 1/4 cup!)   It’s a little mealy and dense to use alone in some kinds of baking, but makes an incredible crust for low carb yogurt and whip cream pie, coating for fried chicken, and base for bite-sized chocolate brownies.  I’ll also mix it with other flours to reduce the carb counts of cookies and other baked goods.  And it’s gluten-free, love that!  Make sure that you refrigerate it after opening to keep it from spoiling.

Oat Flour

Ever since I heard the story of the secret ingredient for Neiman Marcus cookies, I’ve been adding ground oatmeal to my cookie recipes to rave reviews.  When I went gluten-free I started using gluten-free oat flour in more recipes – it adds a great texture, taste, and fiber.  Bonus, it stabilizes blood sugar, is rich in vitamin, minerals, enzymes and antioxidants.  Oat flour is a little controversial in the gluten-free world, make sure that it is from oats processed in a gluten-free environment so that there isn’t a risk of contamination from other grains like wheat milled at the same facility.

Coconut Flour

Coconut flour is gluten-free and low carb.  It’s a little trickier to cook with because it absorbs liquids like a sponge, so less is needed.  I have added coconut flour into my baking mix, but I’m still working on the right ratio and how this impacts liquids.  I haven’t gotten it quite 100% right yet, but I have enough success to know it’s worth the effort.

My Favorite Gluten-Free Flour Combination

When I’m baking, the first thing I do is pull out my VitaMix and throw in raw almonds and gluten-free oats, 1 cup oats to 1/2 c. almonds.  I’ll use this alone, or in a 1:1 ratio with Pamela’s Gluten-Free Baking Mix.  The almonds and oats mix is lower carb. I used Pamela’s for my Gluten-Free Individual Pot Pies and my whole family loves them.  Quick note – Don’t try to grind the almonds alone or you’ll end up with almond butter.

Now I’m in the mood to bake something – I’ll try to write down the recipe this time…

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Disney’s New Disability Policy – Goodbye Guest Assistance Card

Disney World Guest Asstance card

Last week it was all speculation, but today Disney announced it’s new policy for guests with disabilities, which essentially looks like the Fast Pass, but with a return time based on the actual wait time for the ride.

This is Disney’s response to people without disabilities gaming the system, but what it really does is penalize those with a disability.

What Disney doesn’t seem to understand is that my daughter probably won’t be able to come back in 2 hours (or whatever) for our allotted time.  Due to severe medical issues we have to approach everything “in the moment.”  In a couple of  hours at our allotted time, my daughter may be in severe pain, or may be too overwhelmed by the trip and need to rest back in the room.  Our day at Disney is already much shorter than average because my daughter doesn’t have the endurance that she would without her disabilities.

And what about getting around to get your passes?  Getting from attraction to attraction to get our passes with a wheelchair really takes a lot of time and energy, eating up the precious few hours that my daughter has in her to enjoy the Happiest Place on Earth.

I realize that the ADA has tied Disney’s hands – they can’t request a doctor’s note or make a judgement on qualifies as a disability, but there has to be a better way.

The change takes effect Oct. 9. Disney officials said more details will be released after park employees are briefed on the new rules, hopefully some of the details give more options for families with special needs kids.

Color this Special Needs Travel Mom disappointed.

Here is the full story from my friend Barb Likos at TravelingMom.com.

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Never Traveled with Your Special Needs Child? Start Small.

Someone told me the other day how traveling with their special needs child just doesn’t work.  They had tried a family vacation once and it was horrible; their child was unhappy the entire time, which made it hard for the whole family.  I’ve heard this from many parents, and honestly, after our first couple of trips I may have been heard saying the same things.  Now my daughter loves to travel; she smiles when she hears the jet engine start up at take off, enjoys exploring new places and can’t wait to share her trips with everyone when we come home.

How did we get from excruciating to exciting?  We started small.

If the big Disney vacation is your first trip out, it’s sad to say but unless you live nearby, I can almost guarantee it will end in disappointment.  Set yourself up for success and take some practice runs to build up to that.  Your child is not used to all of the changes, noise, etc that a big trip involves, and you need an opportunity to consider what traveling with your special needs child looks like.  Practice runs give you some experience about what your family needs for a successful trip, and helps your child become more comfortable getting out.

To get started, go somewhere no more than a couple of hours away for a night or weekend away.  Your traveling with a safety net; you can come home early if you need to, and you’ll be familiar with things available to you – pharmacies, restaurants, etc.  Just keep your expectations in check and go with the flow.

Our first trip away was to a local beach – and most of that weekend away was spent in our hotel room.  My special needs daughter was overwhelmed by all of the change and wanted 100% peace and quiet.  We stayed in the room and couldn’t watch a movie or even talk, let alone go out and do anything.  Super fun.  Fortunately it wasn’t an expensive trip and we did see the beach… a little.

Lessons learned.  On our next trip we reserved a 1 bedroom suite with a balcony; V would have her own space, and if I had to spend the whole weekend in the room, I would at least enjoy the view. Booking this off season made it more affordable and less overwhelming.  This trip was much more enjoyable – we actually left the hotel room!

The moral of the story?  It gets better!

Every trip since has gotten easier as we’ve learned what works for our family, and as V has become more comfortable with change and new environments.  We’ve worked our way up to 8 hour flights and full days out on adventures.  At the same time we have learned how to manage expectations.  Vacations don’t look like they did before having a special needs child; we take things a little slower, book a room with amenities that make things more enjoyable, and take into consideration that we don’t have to see everything.  Maintaining an attitude of adventure and keeping things flexible means everyone has more fun.

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Enter to Win a Wild Waves Theme Park Family Fun Four-Pack!

Time for summer family fun and Wild Waves Theme Park is just the ticket!

Located right off I-5 just 15 minutes north of Tacoma, Wild Waves is more than a water park.  With 70 acres of theme park rides, water slides, and shows, there is sure to be something for everyone in your family – no matter the weather.  My teenage daughter has already been to the park twice this summer, taking advantage of the $14.99 passes offered through June.  One day was warm and sunny, the other, well… not so much, but both times she and her friends had a blast and closed the park down.  Our family is going this week and V, my daughter with special needs, can’t wait!  Her favorite thing to do is “surf” in the wave pool.

Park Features:

  • Rides that range from family-friendly to extreme thrill roller coasters that will get your heart racing.
  • Water slides and rides like the Zooma Falls family raft ride, a lazy river and a wave pool.
  • Daily shows including BMX and extreme sport stunt shows, penguin “Arctic Olympics” – hysterical!   And a concert series in the amphitheater, one featuring the band Switchfoot – one of our favorites.

Accessibility Tip:

Stop by the Information window before you enter the park for a disabilities guide that lists all of the attractions, mobility access and special requirement.

Take Your Family of Four for FREE!

Wild Waves is providing a Family Fun Four-Pack to 2 winners in a drawing announced Monday, July 1, 2013. CONTEST ENDS 12:00AM PST, Saturday June 29, 2013.  Enter below:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclaimer:  I was not compensated for this giveaway.  I was provided with 4 press passes for my family in order to share our experience and accessibility insights in a post later this week.  My intention in this giveaway is to provide more opportunities for my readers.  Good luck!

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Road Trip! 20 Ways to Keep Your Blind Child Entertained on a Long Car Drive

road trip tips for blind, visually impaired, special needs children Here’s some great information from Facebook friend Amber Bobnar who runs the WonderBaby.org website, a support and information site for parents of children who are visually impaired.

Road Trip Tips from Amber Bobner

How’s your child in the car? Some kids hate traveling and some have mixed feelings (I know one little girl who’s fine as long as the car is moving, but freaks out when it stops… her mom HATES stop lights!).

Road trip tips for special needs kids My son is good for about 30 minutes or so, but longer trips can be trying for him.

So when I got a question from a mom asking for advice about keeping her blind 2.5 year old son entertained in the car for a 10 hour trip, my first thought was, “Oh no! That’s way too long!”

But after posing the question to the WonderBaby Facebook page I was impressed with all the great advice.

Here are some of the answers:

  1. Try traveling at night if you can swing it. He’ll probably sleep for most of the trip.
  2. Plan for lots of snacks and forget about being nutritious if you can. Go for the good stuff! Use little throw away bowls and cups so it’s not a tragedy if they got lost or damaged.
  3. Tactile books with lots of textures.
  4. Maybe bring along the LeapFrog TAG Reading System. You just have to tap the hand held device on the page and it will read the story for you.
  5. Fill big tupperware food containers with sensory activities and switch out new ones every couple of hours. You can put anything in the containers. I like to fill them up with something like uncooked pasta and “hide” objects in them (zoo animals, shapes, letters, etc).
  6. Map out fun places to stop along the way so your son can get out and explore. Look for parks, children’s museums, etc on your route.
  7. We love the Disney Songs and Story series.
  8. We use Audio Hijack Pro to turn movies into audio files and let my son listen to them on the iPod.
  9. Load lots of music on your iPod. And don’t forget the car charger! road trip tips for special needs kids
  10. Get a good travel organizer and have lots of toys right next to your son’s carseat so he can grab them without any help.
  11. We like a made up game we call “Who’s My Character?” where we try to guess who the person is thinking of. Movie characters, TV characters, real people, sports players, etc.
  12. You can pick up books on CD for free at the library.
  13. Don’t forget to stay safe: Remember to put emergency contact info several places in the car (your purse, the glove box, the diaper bag); stay well hydrated and keep a caffeinated beverage to perk you up if you’re driving; stop and move around if you feel the least bit tired; bring a car charger for your cell phone; and give someone a trip plan so they know where you’ll be.
  14. Try a massaging mat (with a car adaptor) for him to sit on – it’s very soothing!
  15. How about a raised-line drawing board (it lets you create tactile images with a regular pen) and scented pens?
  16. We bought a travel tray that fits over our daughter’s car seat then added velcro to the tray. We added velcro to some of my daughter’s favorite tactile and noise-making toys and can stick them to her tray. Now she can play with them in the car and they don’t fall on the floor and get lost.
  17. Make some story boxes/bags to use with audio stories. You can pull out objects and toys that go with the story (find more story box ideas on the Paths to Literacy Pinterest board).
  18. The Maestro Classics series is fun. They play classical music and tell a story.
  19. Buy a bunch of new toys and place them in a bag. Bring out one new toy every hour so your son has something fun to look forward to!
  20. Sing a lot!

Bio: Amber Bobnar is mom to the sweetest and cutest little boy, Ivan. Ivan is seven years old and was born blind and multiply disabled. Ivan attends the Lower School at Perkins School for the Blind and Amber runs the WonderBaby.org website, a support and information site for parents of children who are visually impaired.

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