#LightItUpBlue With Us For Autism Awareness and Education

Since April is World Autism Month, I’ve decided to #LightItUpBlue with Autism Speaks to increase understanding and awareness of autism.

Each and every one of us is unique and special in our own ways. Being unique and understanding one another is important, especially today. Thankfully, knowledge is at our fingertips for just about anything you need to know. As a parent, having this knowledge at our fingertips is especially important.

Today, 1 in every 68 children in the United States is diagnosed with autism. That being said, it is highly likely that you know someone with autism. Personally, we have both friends and family who have kids of all different ages who have been diagnosed with Autism.

My mother-in-law has been babysitting a boy, for nearly all his life, who was diagnosed with autism at a very young age – he has a difficult time communicating, he cannot speak using words, but uses sign language and other methods of communication. He is largely misunderstood by people who are not educated on autism and I feel like this is something that we need to generate as much awareness about as possible! The more we know, the more we are able to understand and understanding is a huge step toward meeting their needs.

Some facts about autism

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates autism’s prevalence as 1 in 68 children in the United States. This includes 1 in 42 boys and 1 in 189 girls.
  • An estimated 50,000 teens with autism become adults – and lose school-based autism services – each year.
  • Around one-third of people with autism remain nonverbal.
  • Around one-third of people with autism have an intellectual disability.
  • Certain medical and mental health issues frequently accompany autism. They include gastrointestinal (GI) disorders, seizures, sleep disturbances, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety and phobias.

Autism refers to a range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication, as well as by unique strengths and differences. We now know that there is not one autism but many types, caused by different combinations of genetic and environmental influences.

The “Light It Up Blue” campaign is about more than awareness — it is about increasing understanding and acceptance of autism.  This includes advocacy and support for anyone diagnosed with autism throughout their lives. It also includes advancing research into personalized treatments for autism and related conditions.  I encourage you test your understanding of autism by taking this quiz!

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Certain medical and mental health issues frequently accompany autism. They include GI disorders, seizures, sleep disturbances, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety and phobias. All of these issues are manageable, and we all know someone that is working to manage these every single day. The more we know about what others are faced with daily, the better we can understand where they are coming from and how we can help.

You can help make a difference too by taking the Light It Up Blue Quiz to see how much you know about autism. If you’re moved to do so after visiting AutismSpeaks.org, please show your support for and understanding of the challenges faced by individuals with autism by sharing a photo to #LightItUpBlue for Autism Awareness Month too. Also, check out Autism Speaks’ nationwide calendar of autism-friendly friendly events and activities in April.

Is Your Child In Danger? #TheRightSeat

Did you know that every 33 seconds a child under 13 is involved in a car crash in the United States due to incorrect or misuse of a car seat?

That probably isn’t the first thing you think about when you are hauling your kids to school, the grocery store, or anywhere else around town. And really, you shouldn’t have to worry about whether or not your child is safely snuggled into the right car seat every time you get in the car. Instead, make sure your child is in the right seat from the get-go.

Safety seats, if used correctly, can dramatically reduce the risk of fatality or injury. But over half of car seats are misused in a way that could reduce their effectiveness and 1 in 3 children killed in car crashes were completely unrestrained at the time of the crash. Just the thought of that is devastating.

So why not select the right car seat from the start?

And just because you THINK you know you have the right car seat, think again. Wouldn’t it just be best to know, without a doubt, that your child is in the right seat?

When both of our kids were born, we made sure we had the car seat correctly installed before we took our first car ride with them. I had it checked and triple-checked by a certified child passenger safety technician! We have also done this same thing each time one of our kids has had to move from one seat to another due to growing in age, weight, or height. I’m grateful for resources like SaferCar.gov/TheRightSeat with videos about how to install car seats correctly and how to make sure we had the right seat for size of each of our children when they were young.

Don’t wait until it is too late. Check out http://www.safercar.gov/parents/CarSeats/Car-Seat-Safety.htm to make sure you have the right seat buckled in the right way.

Car Seat Safety Tips:

  • Check age and size: Find a car seat that fits your child. As children grow, how they fit in their car seat will change. Make sure the car seat you purchase is designed to fit your child’s current size and age and allows room for growth.
  • Read the manual: Before installing your car seat in your vehicle and putting your child in the car seat, read the manufacturer’s instructions so you know how your car seat works.
  • Test it in your car: Not all car seats fit in all vehicles so test the car seat you plan to buy to make sure it fits correctly in your vehicle.
  • Register it: Register your car seat and booster seat at SaferCar.gov/TheRightSeat so you will be informed if there is a safety recall on your model.
  • All-in-one Seats: “All-in-one” seats can be a great option for your child as they grow.  They offer you the advantage of using the same seat for the following positions: rear-facing, forward-facing with harness, then booster seat. These seats typically have higher height and weight limits for the rear-facing position, allowing you to keep your child rear-facing for a longer period of time, which safety experts strongly recommend.
  • Get it checked: Be certain you’ve installed your car seat correctly by having it checked by a certified child passenger safety technician. Bring the car seat instructions AND the vehicle owner’s manual with you to a car seat inspection appointment!
  • General age guidelines: Remember, the best car seat is the one that fits your child properly, is easy to use, and fits in your vehicle correctly. The information here can help you choose the right seat for your child. Keep in mind that:
    • Children under age 1 should always ride in a rear-facing car seat.
    • Children ages 1-3 should be kept in a rear-facing seat until they reach the car seat’s top height or weight limit.
    • Keep your child in the back seat until at least age 13.straint type (car seat, booster seat, seat belt) too soon.

Make it your priority to make sure your child or a child you love is safe when they are buckled in. To make sure you have the right seat for your child, visit SaferCar.gov/TheRightSeat.


Do Your #KidsBuckleUp Like They Should?

If you have ever been in a vehicle accident, especially one where your kids were in the car, you understand just how scary that feeling really is. I know it all too well, unfortunately! We have been in a few accidents, and while none of them were any fault of my own, it was no less scary.

On impact, you are first startled and then your adrenaline is rushing through your body – you are ready to break out into tears. But then you look behind you, at your kids (and in our case, our dog!) buckled up in their seatbelts, and realize that everyone is okay. It is all okay. I still broke out in tears, but had to hold it together for my kids. One of those accidents was probably the scariest thing that has ever happened to me while driving. A car (with no insurance) pulled out and slammed hard into the side of our van. The impact was so great, that it pushed us across 2 lanes of traffic. Thankfully, there were no oncoming cars and we were able to get out of the way quickly.

Hopefully, if you have ever been in a car accident, it was minor enough that everyone was okay. But not all accidents are the same – some are much worse than others. From 2011 to 2015, an estimated 343,000 children age 8-14 were injured while traveling in passenger vehicles, and an additional 1,692 children died! YIKES, that is so sad!  A full 50% of those who died were unrestrained at the time of the crash.  Those are sobering statistics and as a parent of children that fall into that age bracket, I can only imagine asking the question, “What if they had been buckled up?”

My kids know that when they get in ANY car, the first thing that they do is buckle up! It has been that way since they were old enough to be out of a car seat and into a regular seat belt. And if any child was getting into my car, I would make them buckle up, even if they were not my own kids. As parents, we can also encourage them and lead by example – we buckle up first thing, every time we get in the car.

Now, my kids are 17 years old and that is still the first thing they do when they get into their own cars or when friends get into their cars with them. It is just second nature to them to buckle up – without question.


This spring, the Ad Council and the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) are unveiling new PSAs featuring characters from Fox’s upcoming summer road trip adventure Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul. The PSAs remind parents and caregivers that even if kids argue and plead, parents should stand firm and always insist that their kids buckle up and sit in the back seat (the safest place for kids under the age of 13). The movie chronicles a family’s misadventures throughout their summer road trip, which makes for a perfect fit with NHTSA’s road safety message.

Sometimes, fighting the kids to buckle up and making them understand the importance of it can be a never-ending battle. But when it comes to their safety, I am relentless and that is just something that I do not compromise on. Buckling up is not a negotiation! That’s why the new PSAs encourage us to: “Never give up until they buckle up!”

For more information or if you need more tips to convince your tween to buckle up, visit SaferCar.gov/KidsBuckleUp.  If you have a great tip, join the conversion on social media using: #KidsBuckleUp.

Simple Ways To Give Back This Season #DonateStuffCreateJobs

The holidays are a time of love, joy and pure magic for most of us. But if we are really being honest, there are a lot of people who struggle through the holidays. While everyone is celebrating, cooking, gathering with friends and shopping – there are those out there who are struggling to find jobs and keep the lights on.

So in a time of giving – a time that is a joy for some and a struggle for others – how do you help?

It’s simple. When you donate your stuff to Goodwill®, you create opportunities for individuals in your community looking to find a job and build skills, including veterans and military families, single mothers and many others.

Last year, people helped local Goodwill organizations collectively place 312,000 people in employment in the United States and Canada. In addition, more than 35 million people used computers and mobile devices to access Goodwill education, training, mentoring and online learning services to strengthen their skills. WE did that. Those of us that are donating our items and shopping at Goodwill. That is all it takes – it really is that easy.

So how do you help, exactly?

Step 1: Gather Your Stuff

Walk around your home and collect items you and your family no longer need — that shirt that’s been hanging in the back of your closet for three years, the toy trike your five-year old has outgrown, the holiday gift from grandma you never quite found a place for, etc.

Step 2: Give Them a Look Over

Donating items that are in working condition, contain all of their pieces and parts, and are free of stains and rips is the best way to ensure that your goods do the most good. While they accept most clothing and household items, there are a few things they can’t accept – if you are unsure, it’s best to give your local Goodwill organization a call first to find out any rules or restrictions around these items.

Step 3: Go to Goodwill

Ready to drop off your items? Just use the Goodwill locator app and check the box for “Donation Site” to find your nearest Goodwill drop-off location. Donating a lot of items? Some Goodwills offer donation pickup services – give yours a call to find out what’s available in your area.

While you are there – shop around! They have so many gently used and even new items that you may find that you didn’t even know you needed or wanted. When you shop at Goodwill, you are also shopping for a cause.

Consider Adoption of Older Kids

November is national adoption month. That can mean a lot of things to a lot of people. But it holds a very special place in the hearts of my little family. You can read a little more about it in our small story here.

When you think about adoption, there are many many ways that you could go about it. And oddly enough, I have had the blessing of experiencing adoption in more ways than one. But today I want to focus on foster care.

It is term that I am sure everyone has heard before, but what does it mean, really? Even after adopting a child who had been placed in the foster care system, I have found resources that I never knew about – and wish that I had. It is my hope that by sharing today that people will become more educated and get more involved.


There are 428,000 children in the U.S. foster care system and 112,000 are waiting to be adopted. That is just TOO many. And to make matters more complex, so many of those kids are seen as “too old” to be adopted by a family.

We know that feeling all too well, don’t we? Being told we are “too old” for something. You know, like being told we are too old to wear jeans or that cute chic unique outfit. I call BS, on both accounts. Adopting an older child can be a beautiful experience, especially if you are an older parent too. You skip the diaper changes, toddler stage, and move right into the fun – albeit difficult sometimes – stages.

Approximately 41 percent of children and youth photo listed on adoptuskids.org are between 15 and 18 years old, but only 17 percent of those adopted have been in this age group. Don’t those kids deserve to have a loving family just as much as any other child?

Dominique, our daughter, was 8 years old when we were blessed with bringing her into our home. Not yet a teenager, but also not what some would consider young. But not once, not or a single moment, did I think that she was “too old” to bring into our home.

The children who are in the foster care system are stuck. They need people who want to provide them with a loving, caring family. People who will simply bring them in and show them what compassion is. Someone who will give them a forever family, no matter how old they are, no matter how old you are.

FB_IMG_1445487687061National Adoption Month

Most of these kids grow up never having a family to count on. They move from home to home, never knowing how long they are going to be in one place. Most of them develop the idea of the perfect family, something that exists in their mind, and something that they think will probably never exist for them. And it breaks my heart to think that many of them will grow up without ever having known what it truly feels like to have a family.

I thank god every single day that we have our daughter. She is now almost 18 years old and she is an incredible young woman. You would never know her past unless she came out and blatantly told you about it. She is balanced, she is respected, and she has a heart that is so filled up. I hope that her story will inspire you to reach out and learn more about adoption and the foster care process.

Dominique Kemper

There are many misconceptions about adoption such as cost, rules and regulations. Many of them are just not true. If you are serious about learning more about fostering or adopting, please be sure to get information from a trusted resource. If you need help connecting with resources or a local agency contact adoptuskids. You can also contact the foster care program manager in your State or Territory.

No matter what their age, youth need the love and stability that a family can offer. I hope that you will take a few minutes and check out the Adoptuskids.org site. Look around and learn about fostering and adoption. Learn more about the success stories of those kids who have been adopted and how much of an impact it had on their life. Maybe today you can make a difference in the life of a child.

Looming Foreclosure? Let MHA Help Now!

No one thinks it can happen to them, but it does happen. I am talking about foreclosure. It is a nauseating word, but it happens every single day to millions of American families. While there are signs that the country and the housing market are recovering from this most recent financial crisis, there are still too many homeowners struggling to make their mortgage payments or facing the prospect of losing their homes. About one in 13 homeowners nationwide has fallen behind on his or her mortgage payments, putting them at a higher risk of foreclosure.

Don’t go through this alone!

Through the federal Making Home Affordable (MHA) program, 1.8 million families have received much-needed help by reducing their monthly mortgage payments an average of nearly $500/month.

The deadline to apply for mortgage help through MHA is Friday, December 30, 2016.

While the end of the program is quickly approaching, don’t worry—there is still time to gather your information and apply. Homeowners who submit an application on or before December 30, 2016 will still be considered!

Making Home Affordable can help homeowners:


Get Foreclosure Help Now Before It Is Too Late

If you’re struggling to make your monthly mortgage payments, call 888-995-HOPE (4673) ™. Housing experts are available around-the-clock (24 hours a day, 7 days a week) at no cost. They will help you understand your options and design a plan to suit your individual situation. You can also visit MakingHomeAffordable.gov to access free resources and information to help deal with your mortgage problems and avoid foreclosure.

With less than 3 months remaining to apply for help through MHA, we need your help spreading the word to the approximately 1 in 17 homeowners nationwide who have fallen behind on their mortgage payments, putting them at a higher risk of foreclosure! Please help us spread the word. You never know who you know that might be struggling to pay their mortgage and could use this help.

Share on social media:


  • #DYK the Making Home Affordable Program ends in 2016? Here are 4 things you need to know from @MHA4You #KeepYourHomehttp://bit.ly/2aJ3JvE
  • MHA ends December 2016. 4 things you should know about the application deadline from @MHA4You #KeepYourHomehttp://bit.ly/2aJ3JvE
  • Having trouble making your mortgage payments? Get help through @MHA4You: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rzo40F7l3xQ#KeepYourHome


1 in 17 U.S. homeowners have fallen behind on their mortgage payment. Making Home Affordable can help struggling homeowners reduce their monthly mortgage payments & avoid foreclosure.  Call 888-995-HOPE (4673) or visit MakingHomeAffordable.gov to learn more. [image]

Chronic Absenteeism is Real and Could Affect You

We are about 9 weeks (give or take) into the school year so far. My babies are JUNIORS in high school. I am not even sure how that is possible, honestly. They are doing adult-y things like driving, and dates, and jobs. But they are still my babies. And while I am big on making them do things for themselves, as a parent, it is still my responsibility to make sure they get to school, get good grades, and become functioning members of society.

Chronic Absenteeism

In the last 9-10 weeks, my son has missed nearly 9 days of school. That is really bad. Unfortunately, it was unavoidable. He was sick, the school made him stay home – so they were excused. But it really doesn’t matter. Even excused abscenes can take their toll on a student. Thankfully, I have the resources at my disposal and thought to email his teachers daily and not only let them know what was going on with him, but also ask for anything he could do from home to keep from getting behind on his work. We took measures beyond that by seeking medical attention too, so that hopefully it doesn’t not happen again.

It is so unfortunate to think about the millions of kids that are missing school each year leading to chronic absenteeism. We are very lucky and very blessed to have the wherewithal and tools at our disposal to ensure he did not fall behind from missing so many days at once. But MILLIONS of kids in the U.S. are just not that lucky. There are many reasons why students miss school when they don’t have to. Some are struggling in the classroom, while others may be having trouble with bullies, or dealing with challenges at home.

Chronic Absenteeism

Children who are chronically absent in preschool, kindergarten, and first grade are less likely to read on grade level by the third grade. Students who cannot read at grade level by the third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school.

To combat chronic absenteeism, the U.S. Department of Education, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, and the Ad Council have partnered to create the public service campaign Absences Add Up. Absences Add Up is part of the My Brother’s Keeper Every Student, Every Day initiative, a broad effort to combat chronic absenteeism led by the U.S. Departments of Education, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, and Justice.

Chronic Absenteeism

Key Takeaways for Parents 

  • Every absence matters.
  • Absences matter as early as elementary school.
  • Absences matter whether they are excused or unexcused.
  • Students who miss just two days of school each month, or 18 days in a year, are more likely to fall behind in reading, writing and math and less likely to graduate from high school.

The Absences Add Up campaign directs parents and community members to AbsencesAddUp.org, where they can find information about the importance of school attendance and resources to learn how to help children who are struggling in school, being bullied, managing chronic illness, or addressing mental health challenges. The site also provides parents with resources to assist with caregiving, housing and food challenges. For teachers, community leaders, after school programs, and mentoring partners, there is information about how to encourage school attendance and resources to help address issues like poor grades, bullying, and family challenges that cause children to miss school when they don’t have to.

Chronic Absenteeism

Support the campaign on social media.

  • 12 family emergency days + 6 vacation days = risk of not making it to graduation day. Visit AbsencesAddUp.org today. #AbsencesAddUp
  • 2 absences per month = less likely to read at grade level by the end of 3rd grade. #AbsencesAddUp AbsencesAddUp.org
  • The best way to ensure success for our kids? Get them to school every day. Visit AbsencesAddUp.org for tips #AbsencesAddUp
  • Did you know that missing 2 days of school each month makes it less likely a child will graduate from high school? #AbsencesAddUp
  • Every day in class = 1 day closer to graduation. Learn more about ensuring our kids’ success at AbsencesAddUp.org #AbsencesAddUp

We Can’t Keep Ignoring Learning Disorders

If more of us actually knew the signs of learning and attention disorders, I do not think that so many children would go un-diagnosed every single year. It is so sad that we as a community are so uneducated about what those signs are. One in five children struggles with issues related to reading, math, writing, focus, organization and behavioral issues, yet many children with learning and attention issues do not have a diagnosis.

If you are a parent, a friend or family member who thinks that a child might be going through learning and attention disorders, you are not alone in this. There are five learning and attention issues that are most common:

  • ADHD: More Than Moving Fast
  • Dyslexia: The Best-Known Learning Issue
  • Dyscalculia: More Than Math Anxiety
  • Dysgraphia: Wrestling With Writing
  • Dyspraxia: Trouble With Motor Skills

Understood.org Learning and Attention Issues

With the right diagnosis, parents and teachers are better able to understand what their children are going through. This leads to a better understanding of the help that they need in order to be successful. When a child is able to fully understand and overcome whatever struggles they are facing, they will finally feel normal.

The #BeUnderstood campaign was created support of Learning Disabilities (LD) Awareness Month in October, and to raise awareness about kids with learning and attention issues. These issues are a lot more common than most people think, and while learning and attention issues may not be as visible as other health issues, they’re just as real.

Understood.org Learning and Attention Issues

The goal of #BeUnderstood is to generate awareness about learning and attention issues and encourage people who are seeing or experiencing signs of learning and attention issues to visit Understood.org, learn about these issues, and take that crucial first step in getting their kids the help they need to thrive in school, at home and in life.

I think that there is a stigma that goes along with a diagnosis too, so people are afraid to say that their child has a disorder of any kind. But I don’t think that is the right way to think about it. Getting a diagnosis means getting help; getting help means success for the child, period. And getting help could mean anything from simply being more educated on the resources and actions that you could take to help a child, to actually seeing a medical professional. Help has many definitions.

I have had lots of personal experience with attention and learning disorders. Both of my kids, my husband, and even my niece have ha
d issues with education and behavior due to learning and attention disorders. My husband suffered from dyslexia as a child and even now as an adult. He is 39 years old, so back when he was in school there really was no help for that – or it was so uncommon everyone simply dismissed it. Kids would get left behind, called lazy, and punished for something that just really wasn’t understood. This happens still today.

Understood.org Learning and Attention Issues

My son is incredibly smart but struggles with attention. For so many years he was the kid that would get in trouble in class for talking, moving in his seat, fidgeting or needing to get up and move around. When really, all of that was simply helping him learn. While most of us can really only focus easily on one thing at a time, kids like my son and my niece who have borderline or full-on ADD or ADHD have a hard time focusing on just one thing. It may seem like they aren’t listening or paying attention, but they probably are, much more than you might think. It is all about being educated and knowledgeable about what we can do to help them succeed, not punish them.

And when they get older, like my son, they tend to put a lot of stress and pressure on themselves. This can lead to anxiety and even depression. This is absolutely not something that any child should have to go through, ever. My daughter struggled for years to catch up after being left behind at home, and although she does well today, she has to work much harder than most kids her age to maintain her GPA.


Understood provides parents with clear explanations about learning and attention issues. It also offers practical advice for parents on everything from how to partner with their child’s teachers and help with homework to how to explain their child’s issues to friends and relatives and plan family gatherings that are less stressful and more fun for everyone. Here are some of the tools that you can utilize to discover what Understood has to offer:

  • Interactive Quizzes:  to determine what might be happening with your child
  • Through Your Child’s Eyes: A series of interactive simulations and videos that enable parents to experience firsthand how smart people can struggle with a seemingly simple task when they have reading, writing, math, organization or attention issues.
  • Tech Finder: Expert-approved apps and games searchable by a child’s grade and issues.
  • Just For You: An opt-in system that provides additional levels of personalized content recommendations. (Parents don’t need to sign in to start getting customized recommendations on Understood; all they need to do to hit the ground running is check the boxes about their child’s grade and issues.) Parents who choose to complete a secure, confidential profile will receive recommendations for each child in their profile as well as for topics they’ve expressed interest in, such as siblings, travel and communicating with family and friends.
  • Decision Guide: Key questions to help parents think through big topics, such as whether it’s time to request a formal evaluation, let a child start dating or decide which path to pursue after high school.

Encouragement and interaction can go a long way in helping all kids. As busy parents it is sometimes hard to come up with things to keep our kids from getting “brain drain” over the holiday breaks. There are lots of fun ways to encourage kids to keep learning, even while they’re not in class.

Learning and Attention Disorders

Maybe you are a parent of a struggling child, or even a friend or family member who is watching the struggle from afar. Understood has resources for everyone to learn how to help these kiddos face these challenges. The You & Your Family section helps families with practical solutions and advice for social, emotional, and behavioral challenges. Having the gift of extra time with your child over the holidays means the opportunity to help them overcome whatever struggles they are facing.