11/13/2012 11:46 am ET Updated Jan 13, 2013

We Can All Help

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, much of the east coast was rocked to its core. As a born and bred New Yorker, I can tell you some (okay, a lot) of what people say about New Yorkers happens to be true. We are fiercely loyal to our city. We won't let anyone or anything hold us down long. And when all the hustle and bustle dies down (for reasons both in and out of our control), we all know what really matters at the end of the day: family, friends and giving back to those who need it the most.

When it comes to giving back and working with children with special needs, we also need one more piece of magic: creativity.

There are many ways in which children, both typically developing and those with special needs, can help when times are tough. Simultaneously, parents and educators should jump on these opportunities to teach functional skills, while playing up their student's strengths, and challenging children to grow and learn.

Here are some ways in which children with special needs can give back, while learning functioning skills vital to their education and development:

1. Math Skills: Have a penny drive, which can teach children counting and money skills.
2. Clothing/Dressing Skills: Gather clothing donations and organize based upon seasons. Talk about where you wear clothes (e.g., hat on your head, sunglasses on your eyes).
3. Social Skills: This is a perfect opportunity to practice politeness markers such as "Please," "Thank you," "Excuse me," and "Can I help you?"
4. Sequencing Skills: Kids can follow a simple recipe to bake cookies or organize goodie bags for those in need of food and other items.
5. Categorization Skills: Kids can gather canned goods and food, and organize the products based upon meat, bread, dairy, fruits and vegetables.

Jordan Wishner, MSW, social worker at the McCarton School in New York City, suggests incorporating technology to target map skills (e.g., using Google maps to locate donation spots), and targeting perspective taking skills by allowing children to choose toys to donate what they think their peers will enjoy.

This is just a starting point; the possibilities are endless! There are so many other important skills that can be targeted as well, including following directions, recall and comprehension, and conversational skills -- all while children are able to play a vital role in helping the people in their community. Have some more ideas? Share them here and let's help get everyone involved in the effort!