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A Note from the Director's Desk...

My parents grew up in large, impoverished families. My mother shared stories of Christmases with no holiday cheer where the only gifts received were shiny red apples. A product of their impoverished childhood was that their children, me and my three siblings, grew up in a household where the Christmas season was bursting with holiday cheer. My mother decked not only the halls, but every window, doorway, bathroom mirror and banister. Our Christmas trees were magnificent, covered in Noma lights, tinsel and handmade ornaments. The ​kitchen counters were continuously laden with containers of​ beautifully decorated cookies and cakes; a buffet of holiday fare beginning when classes were dismissed in December and continuing until the school bus picked us up in the new year.
         My husband would say I inherited my parents’ over-exuberant holiday mentality. I ​have always ​deck​ed​ our home, halls and even our pets with holiday decorations. Our young daughters loved all the pageantry; our son with autism did not. He struggled with the idea of rearranging furniture to accommodate a temporary tree and the idea of opening packages full of surprises (he still does not like surprises) was overwhelming. The noise and chaos of our early family Christmases were very hard on him. Our desire to have him to join in the ‘fun’ was ruining the holiday for all of us. Eventually we learned that forcing on him what WE think the season should be was certainly ruining ​HIS holiday.
Over time we morphed our Christmases into something a little more mellow, a lot less hectic. We’ve learned that his need to celebrate the season peacefully is just as important as our need to honor the traditions we love. If he joins us Christmas morning- awesome. If he decides to wait until midday to open his gifts- so be it. There’s a pla​c​​set ​for him ​at​ ​the ​Christmas dinner​ table​ ​but ​if he chooses to take ​his plate to his room- that’s cool, too. He can participate in as much or as little as he wants​ without penalty or prejudice. The traditions ingrained in me by my parents are not lost entirely but instead have morphed into what is needed for a joyous, peaceful Christmas season for my son and ultimately, my entire family. 
May this wonderful Christmas season give you the opportunity to experience peace, joy and most importantly love, by making memories with your family and starting new traditions while honoring old ones.  
 Merry Christmas! 
What is The Center for Exceptional Families?
We are a non profit made up of mentors, parents, and advocates who strive for positive outcomes for those with disabilities, including their families. Some of the services we provide are:
Knowledgeable Parent Mentors
Our mentors are parents of children with disabilities. They have life and work experiences plus training that make them uniquely qualified to help parents and schools work together to improve outcomes for children with disabilities.
We provide information for caregivers of children with disabilities like resources, presentations, workshops, and other materials. We also connect with schools and other community organizations.
Family Fun
TCFEF is proud to present Sensory Cinema in Jonesboro, which allows caregivers, children and adults with disabilities to watch movies in a sensory friendly environment. We hope to expand this program to more cities.
Family Engagement Project
The Center for Exceptional Families partnered with the Division of Elementary and Secondary Education to develop a project to gather information from families regarding their understanding of High Leverage Practices and determine if these practices played a role in their child's educational journey. A set of questions were developed for interviews. Families from diverse backgrounds across Arkansas were invited to participate and each family was interviewed by TCFEF staff. The results were documented in video. From these interviews, trainings were developed and more trainings will be developed to be used for families and school staff across Arkansas.

TCFEF would like to again thank all our families that could participate in this project. Their experiences reflected the challenges and successes of so many of our children's educational journeys. We hope this video is used as a learning tool for years to come. We want all our Arkansas families to know their stories are powerful. We hope to develop more opportunities for families of children with disabilities and adults with disabilities to share their stories with others.
Tip from your Director!
"Leave preconceived ideas of what the holidays 'always have been' or 'what they should be' out of your celebration. Honor the past while embracing your NOW. Relax, rest, and smile a lot." -Shelby
Tips from your Parent Mentors!
"Holidays can be a sensory overload for many, but can also be a soothing time as well. Christmas lights can be overstimulating in a crowd but could be enjoyed in a car with the family. Kneading dough for cookies can be a great tactile activity for OT while out for the holidays. Remember: enjoy the holidays, just know you can accommodate!"
-Teresa, Northeast Region
"When traveling alone with a special needs child, consider stopping at big store parking lots instead of rest stops for breaks. (Convenience and safety). Limit traveling at night. When traveling as a family, stop at points of interest along the way so everyone can enjoy and have a learning experience!"
-Loreena, North Central Region
"If possible, have guests sit at a round table; it gives a better line of sight for facial expressions and lip reading. Try to keep background noise at a minimum and lighting not too bright or dark. If your family uses signs, make copies for the holiday meal such as "please pass," etc. Check your child's hearing aid batteries and make sure they have a fresh set."
-Karen, Southwest & Central Regions
"Communication is key! Communicate the holiday plans like traveling, visiting relatives, participating in events, etc. with your child, either verbally or by using a visual schedule. Also communicate your family's needs and limits with others before and during social gatherings with friends and/or family."
-Michele, Delta Region
Holiday Articles with More Tips!
Disability Friendly Holiday Events!
Sensory Story Time with Santa in Benton on December 3rd. Click here to learn more.
Sensory Friendly Santa in Little Rock on December 12th. Click here to learn more.
Sensory Friendly Santa in Rogers on December 5th-12th. Click here to learn more.
Drive Through Breakfast with Santa in Hot Springs on December 4th to benefit The Call, a nonprofit that works with churches to help youth in foster care. Click here to learn more.
Sensory Santa at Milestones Pediatrics in Cabot on December 4th by reservation. Click here to learn more
Sensory Friendly Holiday Crafting at Southern Charm Studio in Searcy on December 17th (teens and adults) and December 18th (kids)! Click here to learn more.
Trail of Holiday Lights! Enjoy the holiday festivities in your vehicle or at special holiday events in different towns across Arkansas! Click here to learn more.
Sensory Friendly Santa Claus at AIM Clinic in Bentonville on December 11th. Click here to learn more.
Holiday Train Rides in NW Arkansas on AM Railroads! Various dates available. Choose seating when you buy tickets online. You can call ahead to let them know your child has a disability. Click here to learn more.
Christmas Party and Santa's workshop on December 11th in Little Rock for people with Down Syndrome and their families! Click here to learn more
Socially distanced Santa Drop by Arkansas Air and Military Museum on December 4th at 1:00 PM in Fayetteville. Click here to learn more.
Sensory Friendly Night for GloWild on December 16th at 5:00 PM in Little Rock. Click here to learn more.
Shop for the Holidays and Support Artisans with Disabilities!
The Blue Umbrella is a unique gift shop where artists with disabilities can sell their creations! The idea is a collaboration between Arkansas Department of Health Services (DHS) and Division of Developmental Disability Services (DDS). It is located inside Arkansas DHS at 700 Main Street in Little Rock! Click below to learn more about shopping and also becoming an artisan for the shop!
Northwest and River Valley Region

The Center for Exceptional Families is hiring a mentor for your area! Are you a parent or self advocate who is passionate about helping children with disabilities and their families? Email:Shelby.Knight@tcfef.org
Office Closure
Closed for Christmas and New Years!
The Center for Exceptional Families would like to wish you and your family Happy Holidays. Our office will be closed from December 17 - January 3rd.
Arkansas Dept of Education Spotlight
Arkansas Purple Star Schools
Arkansas Purple Star School Awards are given to schools that are military-friendly and show a commitment to serving students from families connected to our armed forces.
The CAYSI Project, through the Arkansas Department of Education, identifies Children and Youth with Sensory Impairments. They provide services for children with hearing AND vision impairments as well as trainings and information for parents.
Independent Futures That Work Project
Disability Resources
Respite Care Vouchers
Respite care is a service that provides caregiving for your child with a disability so you can have a break. Funds are available with $300 per quarter and up to $1200 per year! If you already have respite care through Medicaid, you won't qualify. Funds are given on a first come, first serve basis.
Webinars and Trainings
How to Choose the Right ABA Provider.
Free webinar from Sunshine ABA on December 10th at 6:00 PM. Click here to learn more.

Crisis Management Training
Free webinar from Sunshine ABA on December 31st at 7:00 PM. Click here to learn more.
Behavior Strategies:
Tips for Managing the Holidays

Free webinar from ADSA with Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) Stacy Taylor on December 7th at 11:00 AM. Click here to learn more.
Paid Survey Opportunity
Attention Fathers of Children with Disabilities!
Researchers are studying the stress and coping of fathers of children with disabilities. The study includes a survey and virtual focus group. Participants will receive a $40 gift card. Click to sign up or find out more!
Community Shoutout!
River City Cruisers
Thank you to the River City Cruisers for their donations of $1000 this year! We turned their gift into The Center for Exceptional Families' Binder Project! We were able to give out over 50 of the 504/IEP binders so far to parents which include labeled tabs, pens, highlighters, etc. to keep their children's records organized for the year!
Ways to Support Our Center!
Support TCFEF with a Facebook Birthday Fundraiser! To learn more Click here!
Holiday shopping on Amazon? Learn how to support TCFEF by Clicking here.
You can support us when shopping for groceries at Kroger! What are you waiting for? Click here!
Searching online? Use Microsoft Bing and support TCFEF! Doesn't get any easier than that! Click here!
Want to help more directly? Consider a tax- deductible donation directly to our organization through Paypal! Click here!
Get Involved!
Which of the following would you like to see offered by TCFEF?
Facebook Lives
Youtube Videos
Virtual Question and Answer Sessions
Kid/teen content