“Must-have” Items for the Special Needs Mom (and their kids!)
We recently took a little beach trip where we planned to vacay “quarantine style” – avoiding large gatherings and public spaces such as grocery stores, restaurants, and the usual tourist traps (and we were mask-wearing, frequent hand-washing, etc.). We were very successful in our endeavor and even though our annual beach vacation didn’t include the usual stops at our favorite restaurants, shops, and souvenir storefronts…we quite enjoyed the VRBO I selected (because it had so many everyday conveniences we have at home + fun games and a pool table!) and we really enjoyed some new outdoor activities this year that let us appreciate all of the natural splendor the Emerald Coast has to offer! It was also more obvious than ever, how there are some vital items in our home that our oldest child with Down syndrome, Everett, requires daily. For instance, the beds in our VRBO were extremely comfy…but Everett sleeps with a compression blanket every night that keeps him snug, and IN BED all night long. Without his compression blanket, he would wake up several times in the night during our stay. He also needs straw cups with lids which I did not pack. Because Everett has low muscle tone, which is very common with kiddos with Down syndrome, he still needs a straw cup to drink liquids from. Mind you…these are not items my other children needed. They slept snuggly in their bunks all night and can both drink easily from open cups, sippy cups, straw cups…basically all the cups! All this to say – mommin’ ain’t easy and special needs mommin’ is next level so I thought I’d put together a list of everyday, must-have, essential, “ride-or-die” items that make our days easier while raising a child with Down syndrome and the many unique circumstances that accompany that diagnosis. Some of these items we use regularly (as in daily), some we use when the occasion calls for it and all can be purchased from Amazon or Target at varying price points. Here are all the details, including links!
Ride-or-Die Items for the Special Needs Mom (and their kiddos!)
- Adaptive clothing from Target – Everett is still working on adaptive skills such as pulling his own shorts and pants off/on. Thus far, he can successfully get them off (LOL) but we’re still working on putting them on. Adaptive clothes, like these Cat & Jack shorts from Target, allow us to work on those skills without the fuss of zippers and buttons. And since Ev wears uniforms to school, we load up on these shorts every August before school starts (it remains shorts weather where we live in Texas through October).
- Take n Toss cups – We love these cups and take them everywhere but we really use the heck out of them before we toss them :). We stick with the straw cup version (rather than the sippy cups) for Ev and we love the reusable straws that come in the packs. I’ve had better luck finding these straw cups at Amazon these days (as opposed to Target).
- Thermos 12 oz Funtainer – Love the Take n Toss cups, but they’re not airtight and can’t be packed in a lunchbox. When Ev starts school he will be toting a new 12 oz Thermos Funtainer with a rubber straw and flip cap that opens with the quick press of a button. Ev loves his current Funtainer but he’s a chewer and has gnawed the top part of the straw off and he’s lost the flip cap top (which protects the straw from germs). It took him a full year to do that though, so I figure a new upgraded Star Wars version (like this one from Target) will last us another year. You can purchase replacement straws for these water bottles at Amazon if your kiddo is a chewer too.
- Sensory electric toothbrush – Ev LOVES this toothbrush by Vekkia Sonic! He really digs the vibrating sensations and I dig the timer that tells me when to switch from top to bottom teeth! Highly recommend this for you kiddo if they like soothing vibrations…it really calms them down for what would otherwise be a turbulent toothbrushing session. However, every kid has different sensory needs so this may cause an opposite reaction with your child. My youngest for instance, despises the vibrating sensation so he has a different version that has a timer only. Toothbrush and replacement heads can be purchased on Amazon for a relatively low price tag considering all the features.
- Smarty Pants vitamins for kids – There’s a lot of compelling research out there that kids with Down syndrome don’t do well with folic acid. A lot of people don’t tolerate folic acid well, actually, and could stand to benefit from the organic version – folate! Every multivitamin in our home contains folate, rather than folic acid, including these Smarty Pants vitamins for kids. All three of my kiddos love them and take them daily. Take a look at the ingredients and see if they’re right for your children and definitely do what I did before purchasing and giving multivitamins to my kiddos – show the label to their pediatrician and get their approval first! These came highly recommended from our Pedi but everyone has differing needs and opinions so do your due diligence.
- Snugbug Compression blanket – Everett was waking up multiple times a night for a while and I did some research and came up with this product suggestion. It came highly recommended by parents of kids with both Autism and Down syndrome, so I thought I would give it a try and WOW! He slept through the night the first time we put it on his bed and he adores his little compression blankie now. Our oldest boys (including Everett) sleep in toddler sized bunk beds, so we purchased the custom size that fits a toddler mattress and it works perfectly. It washes and dries easily and quickly as well. I believe the instructions call for air-drying to maintain it’s compression, but we’ve tossed it in the dryer a few times and it still maintains its shape. And when we do air-dry it, the material dries really fast. It’s a little pricey at $50 but so far it’s been worth every penny in my book. Last I checked, there were some less expensive options on Amazon from competitors, but I can’t speak to the quality of those products. Snugbug is our tried and true so far!
- Tom’s Flouride-Free Kids’ toothpaste – Developmentally, Everett is still working on brushing/spitting/rinsing. And he still thinks toothpaste is a tasty treat lol. All of my kids love to ingest some toothpaste during toothbrushes, so we’re sticking with flouride-free for now! There are a lot of flouride-free toothpaste brand options these days, and we’ve tried many of them but it’s unanimous across all three boys – Tom’s Strawberry Flouride-Free Kids’ Toothpaste for the win!
- Overnight disposable underwear – Potty-training has very much been a process for Everett, way more so than my other two, and he still has nighttime accidents. And the bigger he gets, the bigger the accident. Luckily Huggies sells Goodnights overnight disposable underwear in a variety of sizes for big kids with different abilities who are working through those potty training years for a while. We’ve also used with success the Target Up & Up brand version of these sleep pants. They’re cheaper and just as effective, but no pull-apart sides like the Goodnights.
- Skip Hop wetbag – Wetbags are a must for anyone with littles who are still accident prone! These are my favorite! I have several colors/patterns and I love how they coordinate with my Skip Hop backpack (item #10!). They keep wet clothes sealed off from everything else in the diaper bag, and you can store dry extra clothes in the mesh zipper pouch on the front.
- Skip Hop backpack – This was actually gifted to us by my sister and mother-in-law at my youngest child’s baby shower and it is by far the best diaper bag I’ve ever owned. The fact that it’s a backpack (instead of a shoulder bag) is so handy. And I love the spill proof design that allows me to unzip it from the top while it’s still standing upright. I’ve reached for this bag and found the contents I’ve needed on many occasions, while multi-tasking and not even really monitoring what I was doing. The inner compartments allow for just the right amount of organization for me. Going on 3+ years with this bag and Skip Hop still sells this model in more color choices!
- Extra-wide New Balance Sneaks – I love my Ev, and I think he’s a very handsome boy, but y’all….he’s got some funky feet lol! They’re short, yet very wide, and he has a sandal gap that makes shoe shopping for extra extra wides, daunting to say the least. And when he was really little, he had to wear orthotic shoe inserts that required the widest of wide tennis shoes ever! Thank goodness for New Balance and their extra wide sizes, they’ve worked well for us for years. Ev no longer wears orthotics and his kid feet are a little slimmer than his chubby toddler tootsies, but he still does best with the extra wide version of New Balance’s 680 V6. Now if I can just figure out how to make him keep them on (he LOVES to shimmy out of his shoes)!
- Bite guard for bedrail – Oy vey – the chewing. And the teeth-grinding. I honestly thought this stage would never end as it was a very difficult phase for all of us. I’ve lost count of the cups and straws Everett has chewed through. And he needed a bedrail on his little toddler bunk (to keep from rolling out) so we added one, and then he proceeded to gnaw it like a beaver. Luckily, Amazon sells these washable bite guards for crib and toddler bedrails to keep littles from chewing up and destroying their teeth and their beds! I’ve personally noticed, that as Ev’s 6-year molars came in and his baby teeth fell out (with new “big boy” teeth right behind them)…the chewing and grinding has lessened up a lot. Fingers crossed that we’re on the backend of this chewing obsession!
- Blunt training scissors – One of the positive aspects of doing virtual learning through Ev’s school last spring was that I got a clearer picture of what was expected of him in his class AND his therapies! And it was really fun to work directly with Ev’s occupational and speech therapists – I got a lot of tips from them on household items and supplies we could use to help with his speech and fine motor skills. His OT recommended these blunt training scissors and they’ve been really helpful in teaching Everett how to cut paper! Highly highly highly recommend.
- Wright’s Law textbook – Okay, if you’re a special needs parent and you don’t have this book, stop reading this blog post, click here, and buy this book right now. No matter where your child is in their schooling process (Kindergarten, 8th grade, high school…), knowing how to advocate for them in a public school setting is paramount. This Wright’s Law text walks you through special education law and how it should serve as a guidebook as you determine what kinds of services are needed for you kiddo throughout their formative education in a public school classroom. According to the authors – “Special education law is confusing to parents, educators, advocates, and most attorneys. Wrightslaw: Special Education Law, 2nd Edition provides a clear roadmap to the laws and how to get better services for all children with disabilities.” This is more than a “must have”…it’s a “can’t live without” item!
- Wipes (regular and sanitary) – We use them for everything all day, every day. These days the Wet Ones are hard to come by but when we come across them in stores, we buy at least a couple of containers of the sensitive skin version. Pre-COVID 19 hoarding days, we stayed well stocked with these on a regular basis. I think old-fashioned hand-washing is the way to go, but when we can’t, I prefer wipes over liquid hand sanitizer. I recently purchased these from Amazon and I like them a lot too. Everett still doesn’t understand how germs work, and how licking things like door handles, walls, and even his tennis shoes (yuck!) can make him sick. So well before the current global pandemic, I was the mom wiping everything down before Everett could get to it. We also use regular wipes for messy faces, potty training accidents, sticky hands, and so forth. Again, because of the low muscle tone thing, Everett seems to get anything he has to work to eat all over his face in the process. If we give him goldfish crackers or chocolate cookies, for example…he always gets a big cracker/cookie ring around his little mouth. We love Huggies natural wipes because Everett has always had sensitive skin (so we try to avoid products with fragrances and added chemicals), so these are perfect for his delicate skin yet “grippy” enough to wipe away all the stuff. We’ve tried other brands including store-brands and it’s Huggies natural wipes or bust in our house!
- Jiobit tracker – So I polled my Insta followers who are special needs parents and asked them what their “must have” household items were for their differently-abled kiddos. Nearly every parent who responded addressed chewing and eloping concerns (see item #12 for a chewing solution). Eloping is a fancy, special education term for running away. Apparently it’s pretty common across kids with special needs as there are several tracking devices made for kiddos who are constantly hatching a great escape plan. Based on my research, it seems especially common in kiddos with Autism and Down syndrome but I’m sure it’s an issue across a lot of children with or without disabilities. I just know this – I have three kids, and my child with Down syndrome LOVES to escape. The other two are stage 3 clingers lol. At any rate, we researched it and finally decided to buy Everett a Jiobit tracker to keep up with him. Take a look at my Insta stories if you want a visual and video explanation of this device. Everett has slipped away from us quietly on a few occasions and it was traumatizing…the Jiobit tracker has given us some control over this issue and provided some emotional relief as it was a major stressor for us for a while.
As I wrap up, I’d like to address a couple of things worth mentioning here at the end: 1). I’ve been working on this list all summer and the prices seem to fluctuate a little given sales, promotions, timing, etc. So all prices are approximate. 2). My typically developing kids use a lot of these item too such as the toothbrush, wipes, and multivitamins. But honestly, I don’t know that they would if they didn’t have a sibling with special needs. So while this list was developed for special needs moms raising kiddos with different abilities, a lot of these items are great products for ANY kiddo. Proving, yet again, that we all have unique needs and our friends with diagnoses and developmental differences related to those diagnoses, are more often than not….#morealikethandifferent. Would love to hear what YOU think in the comments below!