DISASTER SAFETY INFORMATION FOR FAMILIES WITH SPECIAL NEEDS – 2015 updated post with additional safety resources

Update: Sadly tornado “season” has been wicked during 2015, therefore I am re – blogging this post that originally posted in 2013. At the bottom of this post are additional safety resources including for earthquake, flood, hurricane, tsunami and wildfire preparedness.

I could not fathom what must have happened here to make a truck flip and be impaled on these trees.

Today there have been a series of tragic tornadoes that have ripped through the heartland of America causing severe devastation, including loss of life.  Some of the families impacted who have been impacted have family members with special needs.

In an effort to help families and communities who may have some unique challenges during disasters here is some information:


Be prepared.  Alert your local fire department if you have a family member with special needs of any kind, such as physical, sensory, cognitive or other.  Included would be family members with dementia, Alzheimer’s or medical problems.

Have a family plan for sheltering in place and evacuation.

Be sure to have an emergency kit in your home and car.  To know what should be in your emergency kit go to the RED CROSS Disaster Information page.   Don’t forget to add to your kit personal effects, such as your insurance information, copies of marriage and birth certificates and photos of your family members.

For families with children, especially with special needs, have a quick “grab and go” kit of favorite items and things you know will comfort your child during a time of distress.  Stuffed animals, battery operated video games, and books or drawing pads all are good things to bring along. So, be prepared in advance with this GRAB AND GO KIT.

Let others know your plans if you need to evacuate. Where you intend to go and how you will try to check in.


Many agencies including FEMA and the RED CROSS offer much information, including for for families with special populations.

GENERAL ASSISTANCE, including Access and Functional Needs Information:

 RED CROSS disaster safety checklist in multiple languges



Spirit of Autism

Autism Speaks



DEAFinc VIDEOS  (including the one below)

Other Disaster Preparation Resources

Earthquake Country Alliance 

ShakeOut Earthquake Drill registration 

Hurricane Preparedness 


Ready.gov for many disaster preparedness resources, including Floods and Fires



2012 Holiday Newsletter from Signing Families

 Just in case you missed our annual holiday newsletter here it is.. 
Happy 2013!

**Happy Holidays to ALL!

As we enter in to 2013 SIGNING FAMILIES will be offering ONLINE SIGN LANGUAGE interactive lessons via USTREAM

Watch for our special announcement early January and learn how you can participate- FREE!**

Happy Holidays from all of us here at Signing Families! May your year be full of the best of health, prosperity, love and joy!__

soleil ILY

Our heartfelt sympathies to all who lost a loved one or was impacted by the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School this month. Also, our deepest thank you to all who responded to assist those during this disaster and many more during 2012.

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Sign Language is FUN!

I remember my first intro to sign language course. It wasn’t even called American Sign Language (ASL) but SIGNED LANGUAGE  in ENGLISH.  WOW.. that set’s me back a few years.  Now ASL is recognized as a foreign language in many colleges and schools, therefore, allowing students to learn credit for their efforts and promoting signing in our communities.

SIGNING FAMILIES, my instructional company focuses on melding developmental psychology with sign language instruction. We are deeply rooted in the bilingual-bicultural worlds and have an affinity to work with children and families within the special needs communities.  Most of our connections are in fact within special education.

There are many great companies that are producing some sensational  ASL learning tools  to help those who are motivated to learn the basics of sign language. I happily will promote and offer reviews and links to those who I feel are really connected to ASL  and not just wanting to “teach sign” in order to line their pockets with your cash.

So without much further ado.. here are a few that really “get” ASL –

VISUALIZE ASL is the brainchild of Cathi Bouton.  I love that she has her heart and soul in the deaf world as well as the hearing.  Cathi told me that she wanted to give her students some interactive way to practice after classroom instruction.  Through research, trial and error and much sweat, Cathi created the VISUALIZE ASL Interactive Activities for learners of American Sign  Language.  I previewed the Basic Vocabulary and Fingerspelling CD along with the Match Games. Both were very good for novice learners and quite enjoyable. Both were soundly developed according to sign language linguistic principles -which I truly appreciated. I would offer this as a good supplement for college students, home educated students and those who wish to take on ASL instruction at the comfort of their home computer.   This can be purchased on their website or via AMAZON and HARRIS COMMUNICATIONS.  Check out Visualize ASL on YouTube too!

EVERYDAY ASL is another wonderful sign language instructional company.  I love how the duo of  Gilda Toby Ganezer & Avery Posner  developed a series of videos to demonstrate ASL IDIOMS. Also, they have APPS and YouTube Videos available.  The apps are my favorite as you can learn to sign “on the go”.

And, I would be really remiss if  I didn’t invite you to check out the many fun, interactive and inexpensive ways to learn ASL via my company SIGNING FAMILIES.  We have ONLINE VIDEOS for beginners, homeschool learners and even those who use sign language adaptively.

We also offer a series of  DVDs, communication charts, folders and bookmarks. ALL of our products are made with input from educators, students and people within the special needs communities. (Our I WANT, I FEEL CHART was made by request from families within the Autism Community)

Happy Signing!

Oh The Places You Will Go…..

This year has been one of grand high points and some that were a bit… not high.  Despite some of the events of the year that I would like to put way behind me, such as kicking cancer out the back door, I was so fortunate to put on a bunch of air miles for work (which really is loads of fun!) I was invited to be a guest speaker at several conferences, workshops and expos this year.  I had a wonderful time at MACWORLD 2011, EMS conferences in many states and much more.   I truly enjoyed meeting and greeting thousands at conferences where I was asked to speak about helping children with special needs during disasters or medical emergencies. It was an unbelievable privilege for me to work in tandem with many in the EMS community this year. I wish I could name each person individually who took time out of their day to learn sign language in order to effectively communicate with a child or adult who is deaf or uses sign.   I snapped a zillion photos this year.   These are from visits to California, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Virginia, New York, Florida, New Jersey, Wyoming and Colorado.  And, a few are from my own “backyard” here in the metro DC area.  Enjoy and Happy Holidays!


Wednesday, November 9, 2011 has been designated as the National Emergency Alert Test Day.  This will be only a TEST.  Information that is IMPORTANT for our deaf friends can be found here   (The video includes American Sign Language– ASL)

Below you will find the SIGNING FAMILIES Sign Expressions Emergency Card that was created for EMS, Firefighters, Law Enforcement , to name a few, to help facilitate communication with ASL users and Spanish speakers.  Send an email to INFO@SigningFamilies.com to learn how you or your organization can receive one or more cards for less than 75 cents each (this weeks special).

Post 9/11 – Lessons Learned by First Responders and Myself in Helping Special Populations

It is almost the anniversary of one of the saddest days in American history. A day when time seemed to have stood still. When the morning started as a day so crisp and clear it was almost too good to be true, yet ended full of darkness. And, the day which I asked myself over and over again…How are First Responders helping people who can’t hear, speak English, or are non-verbal -such as in the case of Autism?

Much has been written about 9/11 except for stories of what happened to those who couldn’t easily communicate with First Responders.  A few films were made. Some tangential interviews. Yet, not much was made public about how First Responders communicated ten years ago and how they would, if need be, interact, react and communicate today.  A recent publication  by  SAVEtheCHILDREN.org indicated that many states continue to be without viable plans in place to help special populations, especially children during disasters. I was astonished as from my own personal experience I would have suspected the opposite findings!

Since 2001, I have had the privilege of talking to thousands of First Responder.  Most who were intrigued and accepting of the idea that learning sign language (the fourth most common language in the United States) should be a priority for all EMS, Firefighters and Law Enforcement staff.  Thousands have  now sat in my SIGN LANGUAGE FOR EMERGENCY SITUATIONS workshops to hear about techniques to use during a disaster or medical incident to help a child with Autism, Down Syndrome, or Deafness. The participants have taught me as much as I have shared with them.  So while I believe that there is room for improvement, I am certain that progress has been made throughout many regions in the United States including making September Disaster Preparedness Month.

Perhaps many, including myself, have learned these lessons…

1. Communication is key during a disaster or medical emergency.  The first ten minutes are crucial. No one is asking to replace an interpreter or translator, but during exceptional circumstances, such as those of 9/11 or recent hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes – safety and help is tantamount.  

2.  To facilitate communication and help a child who has learning and/or  developmental challenges, use people in their surrounding area who many be of assistance to help with interaction between the non-verbal / English speaker and yourself.

3. Gestures can come in handy, although be careful, some gestures may be considered obscene by some cultures.

4. Helping children is not the same as helping adults. They will react differently. Children with Autism may drop and rock, scream, lash out (in fear) and/or flee. The latter is the most dangerous as some new information shows that children who flee often will go to water, thus a child may seek out a pool or pond during a disaster.

5. The first ten minutes of any disaster or medical incident is key. Knowing ten  signs (ASL), words in Spanish/ Chinese/ French/ Vietnamese (among others)  can save help to evacuate people to safety, find a child, or save a life.

In order to make safety an inclusive priority I have added some resource links below.  My biggest wish – we never need to use them as that would mean another disaster or medical crisis has occurred.


FIRST RESPONDERS TV – Deaf and Special Populations Video

EMS Educast-  Helping deaf populations

Inclusion – Help for Disaster Preparedness

Autism Society


DEAF Inc. Disaster Videos

Spirit of Autism by Debi Taylor.  Paramedic, mother of a child with Autism

SLINKY- yes, you read it right.  One SLINKY can help to transition a child who is fearful or non-verbal from place to place. Children with significant Autism may become engrossed in the shiny and round aspects of this non-personal object and be more willing to go with a First Responder/

Sign Language for Emergencies Mini-Chart


As a psychologist, special educator, and the mom of a working actor (Natasha Sattler), I am always interested in obtaining information to share with other families.  In this particular case, I want to ask these questions – Who exactly are the talent agents, managers and casting directors who work directly with children with disabilities? And, does the entertainment industry understand the intricacies of working with children with specific learning challenges, such as Autism, Deafness, Down Syndrome, or Learning Disabilities?  I want to explore these questions and many more this Fall on my radio program – ARTS, ENTERTAINMENT and the BUSINESS of it ALL- the PARENTING THE TALENT series.

Recently, there has been an upsurge of actors who are “nontraditional” on television.  Several wonderful deaf actors appear on the ABCFamily show,  SWITCHED AT BIRTH and PARENTHOOD has an actor portraying a child with Asperger’s syndrome. The Discovery Health Network dedicated a show about children with physical and learning challenges, including Jaylen Arnold from Jaylens Challenge. Bravo to the entertainment corporate executives who had the vision to show inclusion on television!

Keep in mind that although television is now more inclusive than ever, there exists no clear roadmap for any parent with a child who wishes to become a working actor, let alone a child with special considerations. For many families their child may have exceptional needs and extraordinary talent, yet the course to becoming a working actor often can be bumpy and without any guidance. Therefore, I wish to learn more from industry specialists.  I know how Natasha was able to overcome her learning disabilities, to be able to shine her way through auditions and secure work as an actor, however, what about others? What are their stories? Who can help them? Who are the talent agents, managers and casting directors that work with our friends in the special needs community?  I would love to hear from any or all who can help enlighten!  And if you wish to be a guest on the show – let me know!


 ARTS, ENTERTAINMENT and the BUSINESS OF IT ALL! (including the PARENTING THE TALENT series) is co-hosted by Dara Blaker and Louise Sattler  every Tuesday at 10 a.m. EST on BLOG TALK RADIO. This show is part of the 411 VOICES network.    Both Louise and Dara are available for guest speaking on topics educational and about “parenting the talent”.  Connect with us via PINE MEDIA. Thank you for reading!

Talent Agents and Young Performers – the “411”



◊  Today I was lucky to have interviewed on radio Danette Linicomn from The Liniocomn Agency.  She hails from Dallas and represents all ages and sizes. We really clicked!  She shared some sage advice which should be considered essential by any parent who has a child interested in the acting profession.  I  am happy to share it with you and also some great resource links below.

Here are some great suggestions:

1- Be careful for what you pay for.  The classes sound great, the commercials sound promising, but no one can guarantee that your child will make it in “show biz”- no one.

2- Be prepared.  Having a child actor is work for the whole family.  It also can be expensive and time consuming. Headshots, resume services and acting classes all cost money.  And when you are with your child at an audition or on the set, chances are your work productivity is compromised, too.  So, be aware and be prepared.

3- Danette recommends that only franchised and registered Talent Agents represent your child.  If they are not licensed or in franchised then it is possible that they are a “scam” or worse.  Be an educated and cautious consumer.

4- Education is important, including for working actors. Although many working actors are schooled on sets or within their homes. This is a personal choice.         

5- Actors come in all sizes and shapes.  Danette indicated that many casting directors now want “real people” which is why she has a REEL  department in her agency. (Submissions welcome )

6- Deaf actors and those who are fluent signers are sought after, as well. Danette will be joining forces with an LA agency that specializes with representing talent who have unique language abilities or special needs. (Addison Witt  Talent Agency)

7- Voiceover talent can make a living, however, this is a crowded field and many don’t  last long in this niche market.

Here are some excellent resources for parents of working actors to peruse and become informed.



 Note: The children in the photo above are all working actors who have been American Sign Language (ASL) models in video and print for my company SIGNING FAMILIES™   .  They are NOT represented by the the Linicomn Agency .   However, they do  show that acting kids come in all sizes and shapes!    

COMING UP ON NEXT MONTHS PARENTING THE TALENT SHOW August 30th  as part of the 411 VOICES Arts , Entertainment and the Business of it ALL series..

BACK TO SCHOOL PRODUCTS !  Do you have a product or service that would be perfect for home or set educated young performers?  Pitch it to me! Comment below and we will be in touch! THANKS!  

CONNECT WITH 411 VOICES here for more information and to learn about ALL of our radio shows

Educators Contest- Win Free ASL Products for Students!

 SIGNING FAMILIES™ has a new sign language series of materials ready to roll from our place to you home, school, hospital or organization.  Throughout the next few months we will be announcing contests to give away FREE products to few lucky winners.  Today we announce the EDUCATOR CONTEST- A CLASSROOM SET OF American Sign Language (ASL) Materials…. details are here:

To be eligible simply comment below or on the SIGNING FAMILIES FACEBOOK page by May 1, 2011 (6 pm EST) on why your classroom, your child’s teacher or some educator you know would love to get the ASL classroom set (enough for twenty students). This will include sets of the SIGNING FAMILIES™ new ASL- English and Spanish folder , bookmarks, ASL charts and a free DVD (either Baby, Toddler and Preschool Sign Language or Sign Language for Emergency Situations).  The value of this prize is well over $150.

I also will randomly pick two other educators to win a free set of bookmarks for their class and SIGNING FAMILIES DVD.  

 A few rules:

  • You may submit only one comment per person.  But, if you are really clever, you can have friends, family and co-workers comment on your behalf!
  • You also may comment on the SIGNING FAMILIES Facebook website found here: SIGNING FAMILIES ON FACEBOOK
  • We ship only in the United States and Canada for this contest. Please make sure the educator who is to receive the gift is in the US or Canada.
  • Homeschool educators are eligible and encouraged.
  • Parents may enter on behalf of their children’s teachers (or for themselves if they are educators)
  • Grandparents also may enter
  • Your dog may not enter unless they are donating the prize to their obedience teacher
  • The WINNERS WILL BE ANNOUNCED ON THIS BLOG and THE FACEBOOK PAGE ON MAY 1st and for a few days after. PLEASE CHECK BACK to see if you are a winner!!
If you do not win and wish to learn how you can take advantage of the deep discounts offered for the new product line please go to our website – SIGNING FAMILIES or email me for details.
Check out the photos of some of our SIGNING FAMILIES products (the folder is so new- no image available yet!)  Also, below the photos are some COOL ANNOUNCEMENTS….



WOW- thanks to all who read my last blog about why I think James Durbin should win American Idol!   I know some new readers visited so welcome and thanks!

Thank you to all who voted for SIGNING FAMILIES™ as part of the Start Up Nation 2011 Leading Women in Business Contest.  There are just a few more days of voting, so please if you have a moment- VOTE

I will know next week if I was one of their Winners…. http://www.startupnation.com/leading-moms-in-business/contestant/10186/index.php

I am so excited to have joined 411Voices. The 16 women (and growing) are incredible talents.  All with unique skills.  All experts in their fields.  This week alone we had the following 411Voices get national recognition and I would love to give them a shout out here with hopes that you will follow them and the 411Voices group collectively. (We would love to have you join us on Twitter @411Voices and FACEBOOK)
Meet Jenna Riggs (Mommyonashoestring.com).. She is a finalist in the NBC/Universal Green Creativity contest and we hope she will appear on the TODAY SHOW very soon with her adorable Jump Rope Markers!
Meet Shara Lawrence- Weiss.. here is her great television appearance for her company Personal Child Stories.   I love how she discusses the practical uses of “everyday objects and photographs” as a way to enhance learning with young children.  Watch by clicking the link:
And you will LOVE this video by Liysa Callsen, aka codadiva.  If you do not know what a CODA is I won’t give up the surprise.. just watch and be prepared to LAUGH!