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2017 Speakers Will Inspire More Joy in Your Life

I am very excited about the speaker line-up we have for the 2017 Happy Mama Retreat, and what they will offer our mamas! You don’t want to miss this year’s retreat (if you haven’t registered yet, click here).

First, I will start Saturday morning by welcoming you all to the retreat and talking about the Power of Your Child’s Personal Truth. Then, Heidi Bolden, a psychologist from Fast Braiin, will share Essential Principals for Mama Self-Care. She will be followed by parent coach Elaine Taylor-Klaus, who will lead a presentation and workshop on Strategies to Nurture Relationships and Get Your Family Working Together as a Team. We will round out the conference portion of Saturday with our own Sarah Wayland, educating us on The Critical Impact of Stress on Behavior, for Child and Parent Alike. By the time we reach our big relaxation and self-care break Saturday afternoon, you will have the tools and inspiration to choose and create more joy in your life.

>>> View the 2017 Retreat Agenda Here <<<

But, that’s not all! Sunday morning we will come together again to learn from John Wilson (aka “Big John”), the director of SOAR — he will teach us how to Unlock the Super Hero in Our Children with Special Needs. John already greatly impacted my family once, and I know he’ll bring the same powerful insights and truths that helped us to his presentation at Happy Mama.

>>> View the 2017 Speaker Bios Here <<<

Of course, the speakers are only a small part of this life-changing retreat. We will continue to relax, unwind, and build community and support one another as only mamas on this special parenting journey can do.

I hope to see you at the retreat in May! Register here, if you haven’t already done so for the 2017 event.

Happy Mama Retreat 2017 Speakers on Self-Care and Special Needs Parenting

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SOAR Summer Camp for Kids with ADHD and LD

The Advantage of Outdoor Summer Camp Experiences for Children Diagnosed with ADHD

by John Willson M.S. LRT/CTRS, Executive Director of SOAR, sponsor of the 2016 Happy Mama Retreat

As the Executive Director for a program specifically serving youth diagnosed with ADHD, I am often asked the question “What benefit will my child gain from attending an outdoor adventure camp?”  Perhaps you want to know the same thing. Let me begin by asking you to do a simple exercise. Think about a place of serenity, healing, and rejuvenation. Can you visualize it?  I believe most of you imagined fresh air, the sound of a nearby stream, and the wind rustling through the trees.

The outdoors can be such an amazing place to nurture the human spirit. In September of 2004 Frances Kuo and Andrea Taylor submitted their research: A Potential Natural Treatment for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: Evidence From a National Study, in the American Journal of Public Health. The research conclusions indicated that “green outdoor settings appear to reduce ADHD symptoms in children across a wide range of individual, residential, and case characteristics.” This point is further emphasized in a wonderful book by Richard Louv titled Last Child in the Woods where he coined a phrase “Nature Deficit Disorder” to express the distance that has formed between the outdoors and a lot of children in our world today. Adventure summer camps help tackle both of these conclusions by filling the gap between children and nature, and in turn helping reduce some of the symptoms of ADHD.

Camp can and should be a time for children to have fun, expand their abilities, and learn more about their potential. It can also be an amazing place to learn and practice important life skills, especially for children diagnosed with ADHD or other learning disabilities. Outdoor adventure programs are specifically designed to empower children to make healthy choices, learn more about themselves, overcome challenges, and relate lessons learned from these experiences to other aspects of their lives back at home. Campers have a chance to make new friendships, which give them an opportunity to practice important social skills and meet lifelong friends. Children will also encounter an array of opportunities to foster new problem solving skills and to gain a measure of independence by taking on responsibilities such as keeping up with their personal belongings, doing their own laundry, and preparing their own meals during adventures.

Along with developing important social relationships, summer camp is a wonderful opportunity to nurture leadership, develop communication skills, and explore new areas of interest. While at camp, most programs have systems set in place to allow students to rotate responsibilities, ensuring each child has an opportunity to explore their leadership potential. In addition to fostering leadership, a summer adventure camp experience can also give young people a chance to participate in new activities. Let’s face it, time is a commodity, and during the school year there is only so much exploration that can occur. Many kids today don’t get a chance to be outdoors nearly enough. Outdoor adventure camps, on the other hand, offer a wide spectrum of activities that some kids couldn’t even imagine doing at home that will foster activity, creativity, and ingenuity. Possibilities include: rock climbing, hiking, canoeing, rafting, SCUBA diving, snorkeling, horseback riding, surfing, high ropes courses, and so much more! At SOAR, students will climb a cliff, then during reflective discussions look at the link between skills used during the climb, and similar skills needed to navigate friendships. For instance, the safety rope attached to a climber is a great representation of the trust relationship between the child and the people who support them. Therefore, we take extra care with the ropes, as we should with those relationships. We call this the metaphoric transfer of learning. These experiential opportunities are a few of the great gifts that outdoor adventure can give to children.

I recently attended the wedding of a former camper. When she saw me she rushed over and screamed, “Big John, you came!” She looked so beautiful on this important day, and I was so impressed with how far she had come. Her parents joined me and reflected about the girl she was. Her mother expressed with tears in her eyes, “We couldn’t have done it without you. We never thought this day would come.”  You see, camp isn’t just a way to fill time in the summer, it’s a wonderfully unique opportunity to help children develop their potential, nurture their spirit, and provide a platform to launch their development. When you find the right camp for your child, the result can be increased self-esteem, a new found sense of independence, and a magical place where children get to be exactly who they are.


About SOAR

SOAR was founded in 1977, by an adult with a learning disability, who believed that focusing on an individual’s strengths, rather than their deficits, was critical in ensuring success. Throughout the past 40 years, our programs have been adapted around the specific needs of the LD and ADHD youth we serve. Our understanding of this population is in everything we do—the way we approach challenges and adventures, the way we structure each day, the way we handle conflicts, and in the way we celebrate each participant’s abilities. With the goal of success in mind, our program provides challenges that allow participants to increase self-confidence, develop life skills, and experience success. SOAR offers summer camps across the United States in NC, WY, FL, CA, NY and internationally. Learn more at soarnc.org or contact SOAR’s Admissions Office at 828-456-3435.




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April 5, 2016Penny Williamsnews
Do you ever allow yourself to hope?

Do You Let Yourself See Your Child’s Future?

Guest post by Happy Mama Retreat 2016 sponsor, Leslie Josel, Principal, Order Out of Chaos

My son turns 18 today.  Eighteen! Do you mind if I just take a second to process that? Now, I’ve been through the whole “my-child-is-turning-18” thing when my lovely daughter did so four years ago. But there is something about Eli turning 18 that hits me in my core so deeply that when I truly think about it I can’t breathe.

Since Eli is my youngest, I know his birthdays mark me in time. But that isn’t it. I also know that I might hear the “I’m 18 and I can do what I want” mantra. Doubtful. Truthfully, as long as my husband and I are “paying his way” that doesn’t really hold true.

If I am really honest with myself it’s that I never allowed myself to “see” what 18 would look like on him: Who Eli would be; what our lives would be like. And I am sure many of you can relate. All through Eli’s early years it was enough just to make it to the next minute, hour or day; projecting to the next ten years was a luxury I didn’t really afford myself.

I had very small goals ten years ago. Tiny. “Let’s see if Eli can get dressed for school this morning without my husband having to sit on him to do so.” “What are the odds that Eli will make it through a birthday party, karate lesson, trip to the supermarket without demanding we leave within 5 minutes of arriving?” “How many minutes of peace will I have before Eli starts yelling at me that he doesn’t want to…”? And on it went. Sound familiar? Now not every day was like that. But many were and many were rough. Really rough. But I don’t have to go there. You get it.

So how the heck did we get here? It feels like I turned my back for one second and when I turned back found this tall, handsome, kind, quirky, happy, talented love of a son staring down at me. The son who would scream for hours now uses that voice to act in a Shakespeare troupe at school. The son who impulsively ran across the street without looking where he was going is now a cautious and responsible driver. And the child who was told by his elementary school in 3rd grade that they couldn’t “educate” him and would need to go elsewhere has become a second semester senior who will be attending college in the Northeast this fall.  It’s all a bit much.

Truth be told, even during all of the tough times, we always saw glimmers of the young man Eli might become.  My husband often said, “If we can just freeze dry him and wake him up when he’s eighteen things will be different.”  While I may have thought that was wishful thinking, deep down I was hoping he was right.

But beyond the hope, there was something actually happening that I was certain about. My son worked hard to get here. Heck, my whole family did along side him. But we didn’t do it alone. There were teachers, guidance counselors, therapists, camp counselors, family, friends, theater coaches, one tough fencing instructor, one even tougher driving instructor and countless other mentors along the way. We called it Team Eli. And still do. People that believed in my son, his strengths, his gifts and most important, his purpose. And that allowed Eli to believe in himself.

So happy birthday my Eli. We can’t wait to see where the next ten years will lead you.

Leslie Josel, Principal, Order Out of Chaos

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Time’s running out! Only one month left to register!

Our 5th annual Happy Mama Conference & Retreat is shaping up to be one of the best yet. I am super excited!

We are back at Lutheridge, in Asheville, NC. We really enjoyed this peaceful setting last year. It affords lots of opportunities for quiet solitude, as well as building community with other mamas who understand your special parenthood.

We have a fantastic speaker lineup as well!

  • Sarah Wayland, Special Needs Care Navigator & Relationship Development Intervention (RDI™) Consultant: Kids Do Well When They Can — Understanding What Your Child is Trying to Communicate
  • Katrina Hayes, Special Education Advocate: Wearing Confidence at School Meetings
  • Ann Palmer, Author, Speaker, Autism Professional: Taking Care of Your Family, Taking Care of Yourself
  • Penny Williams, Author, Journalist, Retreat Co-Founder, Fellow Warrior Mama: You are Enough

2015-05-22 19.07.29And don’t forget the activities and time to relax and unwind. The time that’s all about you, Mama! We will again take the Lazoom Comedy Bus Tour of Asheville Friday night (I’ve never laughed so hard, truly). You will have the opportunity to take a yoga class, participate in stress-reducing adult coloring, make your own journal and learn how journaling can be therapeutic, get a temporary henna tattoo, make (and eat) s’mores, and spend time chatting with mamas who ‘get it’.


Registration closes at midnight on April 9, 2016. We still have rooms available in Thornburg hall and in the cottages by the lake. Double occupancy (sharing a room with another mama) is $420 and single occupancy is $465. That’s all-inclusive from dinner Friday night through lunch Sunday afternoon.

This can be a life-changing weekend for you. Put yourself first for once. Register now!

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March 9, 2016Penny Williamsnews

Four things every successful supermom knows

Every Successful Super-Mom Knows*Note to all you Superdads out there: this applies to you too – so read on!

About once a week my kids accuse me of being ADD. I’m not, actually, but they see the challenges I have managing the details of life, and it can look A LOT like the things I’m coaching them to manage.

Besides, it’s fun to razz Mom a little.

After listening to one of our guest experts recently, I’ve discovered the truth. I suffer from:


Being the grown-up in the family with the most executive function can be a challenge on the best of days. Add to that single parenting, menopause, full time job (ok, more than full time), and mostly it can be exhausting. Personally, I have complete compassion for the other moms out there who add their own ADHD to the mix – hats off to you girls!

For the most part, I wear my elevated executive function status like a badge of honor. I’ve got it – all!

Seriously, there are days that I handle things seamlessly, bopping from here to there, with a smile on my face, and a task-list in my hand.

But on other days, the balls are dropping so quickly that I can’t even remember the ones I’ve missed. I can hear myself muttering expletives; or worse yet, yelling them at my kids! The challenge comes when I realize that the ratio of “got it” days to “oh crap” days is not in my favor.

In reality, how we handle dropping balls is about biology. How well our brain operates under life’s stressors is directly correlated with our stress level and attitude. It’s not all that different from our kids and their ADD – a stressed out, overwhelmed brain simply can’t function at optimal capacity.

So what’s the solution? Something I call:

Simple Self Care for Super-Moms!

Taking care of yourself isn’t all that hard, and doesn’t take that much time or investment. It can make a huge difference in terms of how you are able to manage your life, and the lives of your family.

Here are my four simple steps:

    • 1. Manage Triggers Consciously – Know what sets you off – pushes your buttons – and find ways to side step them if you can. This requires letting go of some things, or delegating others (or getting some coaching around specific triggers, which, by the way, was my salvation!) Learn about the threat cycle and practice the steps religiously when you do get triggered.
    • 2. Do for You – A wise woman once told me that if you want your family to give you what you need – tell them what you want – or better yet, give it to yourself! Simply spending 30 – 60 minutes each week doing something just for you can be sufficient fuel to balance the most challenging weeks.
    • 3. Practice Radical Compassion – At ImpactADHD we work with parents everyday around having compassion for our kids and their ADD. It’s equally important that we do the same thing for ourselves. If you are able to see that everyone has best intentions, and does the best that they can in the moment, including you, then supporting yourself on the rough days becomes easier.Ultimately, it requires letting go of the “should,” not taking things personally, and seeing setbacks as opportunities to learn and adjust, rather than mistakes or “failures.”
    • 4. Let Go of Resentment – This is often the hardest because it is so intertwined in the others. We get triggered by the idea that we “have” to do everything; we get resentful that we don’t have time for ourselves; and instead of having compassion for our family members and what they are capable of, we get frustrated that they aren’t doing more. All of these are completely normal and appropriate reactions.

AND your reaction is a big part of what is STRESSING YOU OUT!

Finding a way to be “ok” with the situation, even seeing how much it helps your kids that you are carrying a heavier load, can actually help decrease how much the situation stresses you out.  Being a super-mom isn’t a bad thing, and it isn’t necessarily a good thing either. Finding a way to support yourself in being the kind of mom you wants to be is what is important. Spend some time looking at how you’re doing managing and supporting your own life, and take some simple steps forward.Ultimately, it will make thing better for the whole family.

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March 3, 2016Penny Williamsnews
Inspiring learning

2016 Speaker Lineup Can’t Be Missed

This year’s speaker lineup offers something for everyone. Sarah Wayland will be providing effective strategies for parenting challenging children. Educational advocate, Karina Hayes, will be teaching us how to successfully advocate for our children. And, Ann Palmer will offer tips and strategies for protecting and nurturing our relationships when we have special needs children in the mix. Here’s more about each speaker:

View More: http://erikanizborski.pass.us/sarahwaylandSarah Wayland, PhD

Special Needs Care Navigator & Relationship Development Intervention (RDI™) Consultant

Sarah Wayland is a Special Needs Care Navigator with the goal of ensuring that no parent ever feels as lost and confused as she and her husband did when embarking on their journey as parents of two exceptional children with special needs.

Nothing gives her more joy than teaching parents about effective strategies for raising their challenging children, and working with individual clients as an RDI consultant. These parent education programs helped her and her husband figure out the best ways to teach their children the skills they need within the rhythm of normal daily life. This was especially profound, as their lives had become anything but normal. Sarah works to give other families what RDI and parenting classes gave her family: Hope.

In addition to teaching and working with individual clients, Sarah is co-editor of the book, Technology Tools for Students with Autism, and has written articles for the 2e Newsletter, Washington Parent Magazine, the Gifted Homeschoolers Forum, andExpert Beacon.


yellow headshot 2014Katrina Hayes

Special Education Advocate

Katrina Hayes is a passionate Special Education Advocate who currently resides in Cary, North Carolina. Amongst her numerous accomplishments, she was the 2011 Girls Inc. of NYC Volunteer of the Year. Being the strong, smart, and bold individual that she is, Katrina is also a Graduate of Partners in Policymaking and a Disability Rights North Carolina Board Member.

Education-wise, Katrina studied Medical Biology and obtained her M.Sc. During her free-time, she loves to stay active by bowling, playing skee ball, and even rock-climbing. Katrina has a brother and is the proud mother of a son—both of which have autism. She urges them—along with everyone else to NEVER be afraid of who you are. Her courageous and positive spirit is contagious.   www.speakupadvocacy.com


Palmer headshotAnn Palmer

Author, Speaker, Autism Professional

Ann Palmer is the parent of an adult son with autism, an author and presenter, and a professional working with families for over 20 years. She is currently a faculty member of the Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities (CIDD) at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, training multidisciplinary graduate level students on working with families.

Ann is the author of three books: Realizing the College Dream with Autism or Asperger Syndrome, Parenting Across the Autism Spectrum (winner of the Autism Society of America’s Literary Work of the Year), and A Friend’s and Relative’s Guide to Supporting the Family with Autism. She is also the co-author of Working with Families of Children with Autism. She has been published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, the MAAP, the newsletter of the Maap Services for Autism and Asperger Spectrum, the Autism Asperger’s Digest, Exceptional Parent Magazine, and Tweens and Teens News Magazine.

In addition to these great speakers, the Happy Mama Retreat offers a weekend of respite, and a community of mamas who “get it.” Register today (click here)!

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