Embracing National Hug Day!

National Hug Day is real- it is an annual event created by a man in Michigan named Kevin Zaborney. Kevin was a juvenile delinquents’ treatment specialist at Boysville in Mt. Morris, Michigan. He dreamed up National Hugging day as a way for people to feel more comfortable showing affection towards others. He picked this time of the year because it fell around when most people feel lovely- in between holidays and in winter.

Hugs should always be asked for permission before given. For people with special needs, some of the best ways that they can show emotion or gratitude may not be through words but through physical gestures, such as hugs. For people with autism, communication is difficult.

I have worked at KenCrest for over 6 years and met many people who have intellectual disabilities- some are severe and some not. I have received hugs from children, and adults. For some reason, children are more prone to hug then most adults. However, once I can get someone who is comfortable with me, usually they open up to talking to me and even in some cases, asking for a hug when I leave them.

The best hug I received, however, traces back to my brother. He really is not comfortable with being touched in any form without asking first. I force my hugs on him and he gets annoyed (this part I do not recommend). Being the oldest sister to two boys, I often feel like I have to put on a shield of strength and a façade that I am strong so that they will be strong too.

This time last year, when I was going through some personal things, I was spending time with my brother talking to him about a loss we recently felt in the family. I started to break down in tears. For the first time, ever, my brother came over to me and gave me the best hug I will ever receive in my life. The hug made me forget what it was that I was going through, it made me see how far someone could come with emotion, and how much a hug can mean more than so many words ever could.

So, on this hug day, I ask you to think about someone who you know that needs a hug, someone you think may not know they are really cared for, or someone who just can use a smile. Ask them first, of course, if you can give them a hug. The benefits can really warm a heart.




About the Author:

Eileen P. Falchetta

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Managing the Holiday Stresss

The stressors of the Holidays hit us in different ways. Some of us have financial stressors while others manage the stress of holiday parties. Helping someone on the spectrum manage the numerous changes in their routines and schedules and even their meals, etc. can raise the blood pressure for everyone in the family. The following tips may assist in minimizing the stress and help ring in the spirit of this time of year…

  • Set realistic goals/plans for the holidays. Don’t try to overdo and fill every minute with a festive activity. Set time aside to set back and take in the spirit the holiday season can offer.
  • Stick to a budget for holiday gifts…don’t over extend your family’s means.
  • Plan in advance to complete the baking and the shopping and spending time with family and friends.
  • Gradually decorate your home…don’t change everything at once.
  • Avoid flashing/blinking lights if possible.
  • Maintain consistent behavioral intervention (if currently in place) through the holiday season. Relaxing the limits will create a spike in behavior and raise confusion for the individual on the spectrum.
  • Practice/rehearse the need to share new toys/gifts as others will be interested in playing with something new.


Of course, if the strategies above don’t work, making cookies as a family may be a fun way to enjoy the holiday and reduce stress at the same time. Here is a Gluten Free/Casein Free recipe for you to try…

Gluten Free/Casein Free cut-out Christmas Cookies:

  • 1 ½ sticks (10 ounces) unsalted butter (or Earth Balance for CF) at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 4 large egg yolks at room temperature
  • 1 t grated lemon zest or lemon juice
  • 1 t vanilla
  • 3 cups Gluten Free Pantry French Bread & Pizza Flour Mix
  • In your electric mixer, beat butter, sugar and salt until creamy.
  • Beat in egg yolks, lemon and vanilla.
  • On slow speed, beat in the flour one cup at a time until just combined.
  • Divide dough into three equal parts, flatten into disc, wrap separately in wax paper and refrigerate until firm, at least 30 minutes.
  • When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Flour the work surface and your rolling pin with rice flour and roll out one disk at a time to 1/8 inch thickness.   The dough will break up a little bit on the first roll, but then becomes very easy to work with.  On the other end, the dough will be hard to work with after it warms up too much, so keep extras in the refrigerator until you are ready to use.
  • Cut into desired shapes with cookie cutters.
  • With a metal spatula, transfer to a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.
  • Depending on the size, makes around 40 cookies.
  • Bake 10 – 12 minutes, until lightly golden.  Cool on parchment.


  • 1 pound box of powdered sugar
  • ¼ cup milk (or almond milk for CF)
  • 1 t vanilla
  • 1 stick butter (or Earth Balance for CF)

Beat with an electric mixer until creamy, scraping the bowl often.

Frost the cookies as desired and top with sprinkles before the frosting sets.





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Blog Spotlight: #GivingTuesday !

#GivingTuesday is Comimg!

Thanksgiving – Black Friday – Small Business Saturday – Cyber Monday – and finally, #GivingTuesday!

KenCrest is excited to be participating in #GivingTuesday for the first time this year! Volunteer groups from several businesses and organizations will be joining in our efforts:

Volunteers will be simultaneously working on 12 projects throughout Philadelphia and its suburbs on Tuesday, December 2nd. Projects will include painting, cleaning, doing yard work, waterproofing outdoor furniture, and a festive Holiday Party for KenCrest consumers in Gwynedd, generously catered by Meridith Catering.

Miss the volunteer sign-ups? You can still support KenCrest on #GivingTuesday! Please consider sharing on your social media networks how you have been supported by or have supported KenCrest! Use the hash tags #KenCrestCares & #GivingTuesday to show your solidarity with KenCrest on December 2nd.

You can also: Retweet a KenCrest tweet – Share a KenCrest Facebook post – Donate to KenCrest Online

Every little bit makes a difference on #GivingTuesday!


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Sensory Spook Stations


Take a deep breath.  A crisp chill in the air, the sound of rustling leaves, and entire aisles at the grocery store devoted to pumpkin must mean one of two things; either I have entered utopia or Halloween is just around the corner.  Part of the wonderment of this time of year is that a small part of us wants to be scared.  What is more fun that one good “boo” between friends or family members?  If your children happen to find haunted houses a little too anxiety provoking, then here is a way to make your house the most intriguing on the block without creating an emotionally overwhelming atmosphere.


How to create your own Sensory Spook Stations:

1)      Create an entryway with a preexistent archway, borrow/rent one from a neighbor or garden shop, or purchase some chicken wire (just pick up a bit extra for other projects).  Mold an entry space and decorate it with colors matching the rest of the stations.  For the kids who are still too young to leave a caregiver, leave a few treats with a sign “for those who dare not enter” by the entry.

2)      Start with a tunnel.  You can use a large loop of chicken wire and cover it with trash bags so it looks mysterious and place dark towels or a runner rug on the inside to keep tiny hands and knees scuff-free.   You can also tape large cardboard boxes together that have been spray painted black.  In either case, poke just a tiny hole for light every few feet.

3)      Place a small speaker by the corner of the exit of the tunnel so that it carries through at least part of the stations and fills the tunnel with sound.  If you have a large enough area, you can put these same tunnels between all of the sensory spots.  For an added bonus, put multiple types of fabrics down on the bottom of the tunnel and hang just a couple strips of paper, fabric, or even wet spaghetti noodles inside of the tunnel so that the kids feel it on their faces as they crawl through.

4)      Have at least 3 sensory stations including any of the following:

  1. Black light room:
    1. i.      Use giant boxes that you can get from your local grocery store (if you happen to be adventurous; find huge boxes at a local manufacturing plant-if you tell them your plans then they may be more inclined to offer you some free boxes).
    2. ii.      Tape boxes together to eliminate light from the outside.  Purchase a small black light (some even run on batteries so you don’t have to hide any cords).
    3. iii.      Decorate the inside of the boxes with neon paints.  Don’t worry about being neat or tidy.  Just go crazy with splashing it everywhere.  The kids will like it.
  2. Disgusting trophies:
    1. i.      Have a few “pedestals” or smaller tables set up in a section.
    2. ii.      Make easy to read note cards with things like “Brain of a king,” “Skull of a warrior,” “teeth of a werewolf,” etc.
    3. iii.      Purchase a few cheaper props but get creative with the coverings or holders.
      1. You might want to put the brain in clear gelatin and place it in a sturdy glass bowl.
      2. The skull could be placed in a borrowed football case or one purchased from a local craft store.
      3. Small items like teeth can be strung on a chain or rope to look like a trophy necklace and placed on a piece of decorated cardboard that can sit on a recipe book stand that you might have in your kitchen.
  3. Feel the squeeze
    1. i.      Set up a small enclosed area with higher walls using any substance.  I prefer fiberboard because it’s lightweight.  You can also use a crate border with bungee cords (see images of build your own bouncy ball creates for specifications).
    2. ii.      Fill the space with just enough bigger bouncy balls (I prefer the large exercise balls) so that the space if full, but the balls can be manipulated by a child.
    3. iii.      Allow the kids to walk through 1 at a time and get squished and squeezed while trying to push their way through the space.
  4. Secret boxes
    1. i.      Set up a few boxes (in sizes large enough to fit mixing bowls).  Place a sign on the outside giving the item a creepy name like “eerie eyeballs.”
    2. ii.      Fill the bowls with the items-in this case grapes in cold water.
    3. iii.      Make a hole in the box just large enough for a child to put a hand in the bowl to feel what is inside. Other options might be:
      1. Brain bits- chucks of Jello.
      2. Squishy insides-mashed bananas with a little red food coloring for added creepy factor when they pull their hand out.
      3. Baby squid tentacles-pull off all the nubs from a Koosh ball
      4. Monster blood-any cheap ooze that you can find in the toy aisle near the clay.
      5. Dead tarantulas-dried edible hibiscus flowers
    4. iv.      PLEASE NOTE: leave a spot marked with a funny title like un-grossing table with baby wipes, hand sanitizer, and paper towels.
  5. Windblown
    1. i.      Set this up similar to the entry tunnel but every few feet put a fan on high in an opening.
    2. ii.      Guide the air in but try to keep it close to the opening so it doesn’t allow too much light into the space.
    3. iii.      If you have a willing parent or teen, have them waiting near the exit with an air gun for added surprises.
  6. Boil and trouble
    1. i.      If you happen to have a willing adult, set up a bubbling brews sensory station.
    2. ii.      Cook a few tasty, but scary/gross looking items like black soup with a little food coloring for fun.  All this takes is a little decorating of the “cooking area” and some creative adjustments to recipes like spider bites (using gluten free pretzels for legs attached to tiny, colored gluten-free cookies).
    3. iii.      This station works best if you have a close-knit neighborhood community.

5)      End Sensory Stations with a simple prize for having survived such as a bouncy eyeball, plastic spider ring, or any other fun treat that can be purchased in bulk from a local grocery store or Target.  Finally, make sure your folks get a gluten free treat.  See some ideas listed in our 10/30/2013 blog.  My personal favorites that will be in my treat cauldron this year are the gluten free spooky fruit snacks from Target and snack size bags of Popcorners from Wegmans.


Blessed Bewitching Everyone!

Autumn Dae Miller, Ph.D. spends her days as a mild-mannered Princess fighting for the rights of individuals of all abilities to find the full extent of their fabulousness.  By night, Autumn weaves her spells of wonderment while training her four cats to look as spooky as possible for the trick-or-treaters.



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#GivingTuesday Blog Post

We are excited to announce KenCrest’s involvement in this years’ Giving Tuesday. #GivingTuesday will take place on December 2, 2014; the Tuesday following Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday, which encourages organizations, individuals, and businesses to transform how we talk & think about giving back to our communities. KenCrest will join more than 2,000 organizations in the country that will be participating on that day in their own unique ways.

To celebrate, KenCrest is creating a Day of Service and encouraging people to volunteer throughout our service areas. Volunteer activities will include a variety of activities – painting & light maintenance work, to reading to children at our Early Education programs. 

KenCrest will also be engaging people through our Facebook and Twitter pages to get the word out about the meaningful work that the organization is doing to help those with intellectual disabilities and Autism. If you aren’t able to volunteer with us that day, you can participate by sharing your support of KenCrest on your own social media page.

Volunteer groups or individuals interested in volunteering with KenCrest should contact Barbara Ballard, Donor Relations Specialist at 610-825-9360 ext. 1129 or barbara.ballard@kencrest.org.

To learn more about the #GivingTuesday movement, visit their website: www.givingtuesday.org or their Facebook page www.facebook.com/GivingTuesday.

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Back To School!

With the summer winding down, many school districts are getting ready to return to school. Many colleges and numerous school districts have already started the back-to-school routines. Many parents struggle with the task of getting their kids ready for the morning bell while some families enjoy the return to routines. The back-to-school series will focus on various aspects of helping families manage the challenges of school routines and finding the right mix between structured activities and the idle time that kids desperately need in order to just be kids. The first installment looks at the various schools that focus their curriculum on autism and designing a program that is best suited for the student with autism.


10 Impressive Special College Programs for Students with Autism

  • Drexel University Autism Support Program
  • Rutgers Developmental Disabilities Center
  • Mercyhurst College AIM Program
  • Midwestern State University
  • St. Joseph’s University Kinney Center
  • Boston University Supported Education Services
  • University of Alabama College Transition and Support Program
  • Autism Collaborative Center at eastern Michigan University
  • University of Connecticut SEAD Program
  • Marshall University Autism Training Center



10 Local Schools with Curriculums designed for students with Autism


  • A Step Up Academy – Jenkintown, PA
  • Autistic Endeavors Learning Center – Philadelphia, PA
  • Comprehensive Learning Center – Southampton, PA
  • Devereux Kanner/Kanner Cares – Downingtown, PA
  • Green Tree School & Services – Philadelphia, PA
  • NHS School – Philadelphia, PA
  • Pathway School – Norristown, PA
  • TALK Institute and School – Newtown Square, PA
  • The Melmark School – Berwyn, PA
  • The Timothy School – Berwyn, PA







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Back Yard Barbecues

This is the final installment in our summer series. We look at the summer-ending Labor Day picnics and offer ideas for a good time. The tips below will make your last summer hoorah a pleasant time for everyone.

  • Create a social story for your child to know who will be at the family picnic
  • Rehearse “taking turns” and “playing nice” with others
  • Plan to praise your child for managing his/her behaviors during difficult social situations
  • Try to keep your child in sight while he/she plays with others…you will want to intervene quickly if needed
  • Plan for short “quiet” breaks to manage the sensory overload that your child may be experiencing
  • Come with your child’s favorite snacks
  • Come with food prepared form home that you know your child likes
  • Prepare activity bags for your child
  • Pack ear plugs/head phones
  • Pack sunscreen and bug repellent
  • Have wipes on hand as needed
  • Remember to hydrate-drink plenty of water if spending time outside

Here are three recipes you may enjoy…

Reference: www.livingwithout.com

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On the Road or In the Air

This installment in our summer series will offer tips for summer traveling in the family vehicle or via an airplane. As I stated in the first installment, the key to a successful trip is preparation. I hope the tips below will make your journey a pleasant trip for everyone.

Tips for Long Car Rides

  • Prepare activity bags for
    your child
  • Consider a personal DVD player
  • Pack ear plugs/head phones
  • Pack favorite snacks and beverages
  • Have wipes on hand as needed
  • Pack their favorite pillow and clothing for the ride
  • Bring their favorite CDs and other media options to occupy their time
  • Bring activity books for use in restaurants…don’t forget the crayons
  • Let your son/daughter take photos of the journey…assist with a journal of the family vacation
  • Avoid rush hour traffic if possible
  • Add extra days, if feasible, to include overnights and relaxing by the pool

Tips for Air Travel



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Cheers to Your Summer Vacation

This installment in our summer series will offer tips for swimming at the neighborhood pool. This can be a fun activity for most kids as the water is a good way to “Cool Off” from the high temperatures. Hopefully the tips below will offer some assistance to make the trip to the pool an enjoyable activity for everyone!

  • Before entering the water, review the Rules of being safe in and around the water (e.g., Do not go into the water without an adult; No running around the pool area; No fighting or horse-play in or near the water.)
  • The water acts as a sensory activity for anyone deciding to play or swim in the pool or ocean. It can help someone on the spectrum as it may act as a calming activity for him/her.
  • Having music playing nearby can help as it acts as another sensory activity to help maintain calm while in the water.
  • Have water toys on hand to add to the enjoyment.
  • Be aware of the water temperature…too cold or too hot can have a negative impact for someone on the spectrum.
  • Have goggles handy in case the chlorine is too strong.
  • Bring water to drink and plenty of sunscreen!!!
  • Most importantly…ALWAYS remain nearby when your child is in the water…even if it’s shallow water.




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Summer Series Kickoff: Cheers to Your Summer Vacation!

Summer is upon us! For many families, vacations are planned, trips to the beach, and swimming at the neighborhood pool will be a new routine for the coming months. This can be a challenge for many families, but for those families with a family member on the spectrum, the challenges can be difficult to overcome. The following series will focus on summer activities and will offer tips to make every summer activity an enjoyable one for you and your family.

The first installment in this series will focus on the family vacation. Taking the family on a journey to a new and exciting location can be fun and memorable for everyone. Follow the tips below to minimize the stressors that sometimes are associated with traveling with the family:

  • Read everything you can about your destination location.
  • Preview videos and other materials available about your trip. Help your son/daughter with autism learn about what to expect once you arrive.
  • Research activities that are available and any schedules to consider in order to plan for your child’s success.
  • Prepare for your child’s needs and pack accordingly. For example, if you’re visiting a location that has loud noises associated with the destination, plan to bring along ear buds or a head set with his/her favorite music. If you’re visiting a location that has foods that your child may not enjoy, research other options in the area. Some resorts will have a refrigerator in your room to pack preferred food items for the trip.
  • If you’re vacation includes a trip to an amusement park, visit guest relations/services first in order to obtain additional information to make your visit a success
  • Plan for “down time” each day in order to manage the stressors.
  • If your vacation includes extended periods of driving, pack activity packets to keep everyone occupied during the journey.
  • Develop social stories to match the expected activities/events during the vacation.
  • If you’re planning to be in the sun…pack plenty of sunscreen.

In this summer vacation series, follow along as we discuss tips for use at the pool, traveling, and attending the backyard barbecues.

Happy 4th of July!


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