Does Your Special Education Advocate Need To Be Local To Your Geographical Area?

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Does Your Special Education Advocate Need To Be Local To Your Geographical Area?

The answer is a resounding NO!

 

In the 18 years that I have worked as a Special Education Advocate, many families have contacted me and asked if I could help them even though I am not close in proximity to their home. 

 

The answer has always been YES!  Fast forward 18 years, my business serves families from all over the United States.

 

Parents are under the belief that an advocate that they hire has to be local for meetings but that is not the case.  I have been conducting meetings via the phone for the entire time that I have worked as an advocate and not only has it worked but it has worked well.  The most important point to remember is “proximity does not guarantee quality.”

 

Having an advocate sit next to you at a meeting, does not guarantee that the individual is knowledgeable, well spoken and most importantly, effective.

 

Let me give you a couple of examples:  

 

If you have been using a tax accountant for many years, built up a rapport with that person and they have done an incredible job for you since you have used them but they or you move - does that mean that you can no longer use them as your accountant?  Of course not! 

 

With the way our lives are built now - technology being everywhere, all information can be sent to the accountant that is needed in order for him/her to do the job.  Whether they or you live in the same state but hours apart, a different state, a different coast or even a different country; this should not deter you from using their services because nothing has changed in regards to their exemplary knowledge and work ethic. 

 

Think about it:  If you have been using them, feel comfortable with them as a person and are over the moon with the job that they have done for you then why would you not use them anymore?

 

Let’s say that you or a family member has been seeing a therapist and have built up a wonderful relationship of comfortability and especially trust, why would you not see that therapist any longer if you or he/she has moved?  Just because you cannot physically sit on their couch for the sessions does not diminish their capability, knowledge or effectiveness. 

 

There are many, many more individuals who are becoming a digital nomad when it comes to their business.  These individuals have an online business and continue to run their business from wherever they might be.  Don’t  discount them because they are not physically next to you at a meeting or sitting across from you at a session or beside you to interpret and prepare your taxes.

 

I have been calling into meetings for my entire advocating career and it works well.

 

As a parent, I understand and have been told time and time again that walking into a meeting is very intimidating. 

 

Although parents feel a great deal of trepidation walking into a school meeting, there is some level of comfort when an advocate is by their side. 

 

However, did you know that you too, as a parent, can call into a meeting? 

 

I can’t tell you how many conference calls I have had when it comes to either a CSE meeting or just a follow up meeting.  By doing this a parent can participate in the meeting from home or work, whichever works best for them, but is able to minimize the anxiety that they would feel when attending in person.  Of course, if your schedule does not allow to attend in person or you are just unable to do so for varying reasons, as long as the district approves you attending via telephone then there is no difference in regards to the information presented, the questions asked and the changes, if any, that need to be made.

 

Remember: you as the parent are in control. 

 

If you are unable to attend in person, the district MUST provide you with a CSE meeting for your child.  It is the law.  Therefore, if you contact them once you have been given a date and explain that you are unable to attend the meeting however you can and will attend via telephone, they are in a position to accommodate you.  Remember, you are legally entitled to a CSE meeting whether you are attending in person, calling in over the phone, working on your swing from the golf course or sending smoke signals while toasting your marshmallows.

 

Additionally, by not attending in person, you do not feel the physical pressure associated with making split decisions or signing documents requested at that time. 

 

Let’s face it, going to a CSE meeting makes you feel as though you are the target on a firing line.  Why put yourself through that?

 

Another aspect to think about is the cost.  For an advocate to appear in person, it costs far more than an advocate calling in.  For the calling in, you are charged for the time on the phone.  For the in person scenario, you are not just paying for the time attending the meeting but for the travel time associated with each way (coming and going).

 

In my opinion, the advocate that you choose should be a very well thought out decision.  You are putting your child’s future in their hands and it should be handled as such.  An advocate with an indifference to your child’s situation and to you as the family needs to be handled with thought, emotion and downright caring.  The decisions that you make today will impact your child not only tomorrow but every day moving forward.  The advocate is an integral part of your family and should be looked at as one.

 

As I stated earlier, “proximity does not guarantee quality.”  Plain and simple.


Want more? Discover The Ultimate Guide To Advocating For Your Child, a complimentary email course for confused and overwhelmed parents.

Need immediate insight into your child’s situation and how to address their current issues? Schedule your Open Opportunity Session for an expert analysis and strategic plan you can implement today.

 

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Is Your Special Education Advocate a Fraud?

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Is Your Special Education Advocate a Fraud?

For the last 24 years, I have worked in the education industry in varying capacities. I started off my career as a teacher and then worked as an ABA Therapist. However, my greatest love has been working as an Educational Consultant and Special Needs Advocatefor the past 18 years.

You may ask, why make the change?

The answer is quite simple. During my time in the classroom teaching, I saw firsthand the huge disconnect between what services a child desperately needed and what support services they were actually receiving. This disparity was the catalyst for me seeking the change. Not only were the children’s needs not being met but it was the pure disregard on the part of the individuals that worked in the education industry. The children were treated as a number and as disposable. This not only frustrated me but disgusted me as everyone has capabilities. Everyone has something positive to bring into this world and everyone can make a difference for the good!

The fact that these educators had a “I can’t be bothered” attitude was inexcusable.

Having children in the classroom who learned differently put more pressure on the teacher. I can’t tell you how many times I had heard from (while teaching) from other staff members, that it was easier just to push the child with special needs through. They complained that they only had so many hours in the school day and if they had to address each child’s needs then they could not stay on their schedule in order to get the curriculum taught.

I agree that the school day is only so long, however if the staff and administrators would work with parents to ensure that their child is placed in the correct classroom as well as receives the proper support services, then things overall would move along much smoother for everyone. Most importantly, the child would receive everything that they should and therefore they would be set up for success.

Many, many schools teach to test so the actual time that is spent on each topic within the curriculum is far shorter than it had been in the past. If a child cannot “keep up” their success rate will drop significantly.

This is where an advocate comes in.

Parents and their children are frustrated: They do not know if the child’s placement is correct, their support services (if any) are correct, and most importantly if their diagnosis is correct.

To go one step further, if the child is in fact receiving support services then the question becomes: are the services being administered as they should be? For the correct frequency? Is this information being recorded properly?

In the 18 years working as an Educational Consultant and Special Needs Advocate, I have had many, many families contact me because what they thought what they were doing was the right thing, turned out to be a nightmare. I can’t stress enough that if as parent you have decided that you need to hire an advocate, PLEASE do your homework before choosing one, no less paying one.

Here are a couple of situations that occurred to families I’ve worked with.

Case #1

A mom contacted me to ask some questions. She explained that she had hired an “advocate” to help her when she needed to attend her child’s IEP meeting as the school was not following through with support services.

The mom told me that although she paid this “advocate” the fee required, the woman showed up to the first IEP meting but stayed quiet for the entire duration of the meeting. She said nothing! She did not advocate at all, left all of the talking solely for the mother to do. It was a very short meeting as the school rolled over the mother while the “advocate” jut sat there.

After walking out of the meeting, the mother asked the advocate why she didn’t say anything and the advocate’s response was “The school had valid points.” The mother then went on to ask if the advocate even looked at the testing results, classroom tests, notes from staff, etc. prior to the meeting. The advocate admitted that she “glanced” at the paperwork that the mother had given her but did not feel the need to read it in depth.

This behavior is not professional, to say the least. The advocate was paid to provide a service which was not provided.

This is fraud!

Although this nightmarish situation took place, the mother requested another IEP meeting. Knowing full well that this “advocate” did nothing but took her money, she contact her once again to represent her at the meeting. When I asked her why, her response was the she did not know of any other advocates to contact so she thought having her there would be better than nothing.

Oh my goodness! NO! The advocate clearly had shown she did not know what she was doing and sadly, could care less. However, once again the mom paid her to attend the meeting. This time, the “advocate” called the mom the morning of the meeting and said that she could not make the meeting as she had laryngitis and could not speak.

I do not know where this mom got this “advocate” from, but this woman should NEVER work in this industry again. I explained to the the mom that there are many resources out there where one could find special needs advocates and attorneys however, BUYER BEWARE! It is a slippery slope and unfortunately, individuals like the one above gives the industry a bad name. Sad to say, this seems to be the norm from what parents tell me.

Case #2

A mom contacted me because she needed clarification about her son’s situation. Remember, each child should be looked at and considered on a case by case basis. No two children are the same and therefore the handling of the case is “custom made” to that child. If an advocate handles each child the same, then that is a red flag and you may want to find a different advocate.

This mom had hired an advocate for her son. She paid her and spoke with her briefly on the phone. However, after that, the advocate was nowhere to be found. The mom said she had continually tried to contact her via telephone but to no avail. All she received was a message on the voicemail stating that she (the advocate) was not working at this time due to a family issue.

Without asking any other questions, I knew that the advocate took the money and ran with it and most probably she was not the only one.

My only question was this: “How long have you been trying to contact the advocate?”

Her answer: “A few months.”

What? The mom went on to tell me that she called her son’s pediatrician to ask him if he knew anything since he was the one who recommended her. The pediatrician communicated to the mom that he had recommended this advocate to many other families that were in his practice and they too were calling him to inform him that they paid money to this advocate, to never hear from her again.

This is fraud!

In speaking to the mom, she had given me the name of the advocate. I was not familiar with who she was however after hanging up with her, I looked up the advocate. Her website was not up and by all accounts, she was longer “in business.”

As of our conversation, she was still hoping against hope that this woman would contact her. I called the mom back and informed her that the website was not in working order. The mom responded “I didn’t know that.” I was hoping that this particular information would be a turning point for her to become proactive but quite frankly it made no difference at that time.

As a parent, how you handle every situation is your business however when it comes to a child with special needs, time is of the essence.

Time is a precious commodity that cannot be wasted as you are playing with your child’s future and success.

The more time that is wasted until a decision is made, the more you push back any gains that your child may make. Think about all the time that this mom wasted waiting around for the “advocate” to contact her. She didn’t know what to do yet did not inquire either and now that child has been pushed back that much further.

Having a child with special needs is not a situation that can be taken lightly. I cannot implore you enough how you do not have time on your side.

Things to Look For And Remember When Hiring an Advocate:
 

  • The longer you wait to do something, the more detrimental it can become for your child.
     
  • If something is wrong, address it immediately. Don’t think it will get better, because it won’t.
     
  • If you need an advocate, find a great one. It will pay off in the long run. Remember, you get what you pay for.
     
  • You cannot be wishy-washy. Make a decision and stick to it.
     
  • The advocate is on your side. A good advocate will be honest with you and tell you if your wants and expectations are valid and within reason. If the advocate, says yes to you on everything or almost everything then they are ill-informed, ill-equipped and not on your side.
     
  • If you have decided to hire an advocate, they are on your side and should not sit by and let the school run the show. This is YOUR child and as a parent, YOU know your child best.
     
  • Vet them! Check to see that they have a working website, working email, and working phone number. Check to see if there are any reviews.
     
  • An advocate MUST respond to you via phone or email within 24 hours, at the most. This amount I am giving is very liberal. I have been known to be up at midnight sending emails out to parents and school staff and administrators because my day was so busy with meetings, conference calls and school visits. This is my job and my responsibility. Especially, as a parent, you deserve that extraordinary service and every advocate, in my opinion, should be held to this standard. If they do not possess this mindset, then you need to speak with them and explain what your expectations are. This should be discussed prior to you hiring them.
     
  • Find out what their process is. For example: The first thing that I do upon working with a family is I send out an introduction email to all school staff (teachers, administrators, therapists, etc.). I explain who I am and that I will be representing the family and child. I give them my contact information and communicate that they can reach out at any time for any issue (positive or negative). My goal is to always to keep the lines of communication open. This allows for a constant collaboration between home and school.
     
  • As an advocate, you become fully immersed with the family and most importantly the child. My philosophy is that your child is counting on me to do the best I can for them while working with you (the parent) and everyone else that should be on his/her side.
     
  • Unfortunately, many people advertise themselves as advocates. Buyer Beware. Just because a mom or dad has a child with special needs and went to school to get their child services, does not make them an advocate. More times than not I have seen people advertise themselves as an advocate and upon looking into it, there is no working website, phone number (if there is one listed at all) along with no degrees or experience.
     
  • Just because you have a child with special needs, does not mean you are an advocate. This is a very important job that should not be taken lightly. Unless an individual has a proven track record, do not hire them.
     
  • Although you should advocate for your child, there is fine line between being their mom or dad and being their advocate. You should ALWAYS be your child’s parent first. Leave the advocating to a professional.
     
  • Be very careful when choosing an advocate. There are very few out there that know what they are doing, are truthful and truly want the best for your child. This is not something one should do as a hobby out of their basement.This is not something one should do because they want to feel important.
     
  • If in your search for an advocate, you find an individual that has an email that is gmail, yahoo, verizon, hotmail or any other free non-branded email address then they are NOT running a business or taking it seriously. Any professional worth their salt has a branded email address. Like ilene@ilenemiller.com.

 

This post was written to help you as a parent — to inform and empower. I can’t say enough how important it is that you do something now for your child. Don’t waste another moment as your child is counting on you. Don’t let them down. He/she did not ask for these struggles and frustrations. Be your child’s hero. They will thank you for it and it will mean more than you can imagine!


Want more? Discover The Ultimate Guide To Advocating For Your Child, a complimentary email course for confused and overwhelmed parents.

Need immediate insight into your child’s situation and how to address their current issues? Schedule your Open Opportunity Session for an expert analysis and strategic plan you can implement today.

 

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Why Should I Have My Child’s Classroom Placement Changed?

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Why Should I Have My Child’s Classroom Placement Changed?

It is a long and arduous process trying to enlist all the individuals that are needed to diagnosis, test, meet and come up with a plan when a child is special needs. With that said, when everything is in place, everyone provides the therapy and help that is needed and agreed upon, the situation runs like a well oiled machine. However, when things do not play out as they should, the situation can become frustrating, anxiety ridden as well as what seems to be hopeless.

I can’t tell you how many times, families have contacted me for varying problems on varying levels. However, the one problem that seems to be a common thread is that their child has been placed within a classroom setting that is not considered to be the least restrictive environment or anywhere close to that.

If after all the doctor visits, the diagnosis, testing (from the physician as well as the school) and meetings, your child is placed in a classroom that you, as the parent, feel is not appropriate then you need to be proactive in ensuring that a change takes place immediately. Early intervention is the key but moreso the intervention needs to include the right decisions made for your particular child. 

For instance, if the child is receiving all the support services that are listed on his/her IEP but your child is placed in a classroom that is inappropriate, then only part of that child’s day is going to be helpful. 

The child’s IEP is like a puzzle. There are many different facets and when they all come together correctly, they work in unison for the goal of improving and teaching the child so they can move forward with skills that have been mastered.

 

Let me give you an example:

I had a mother contact me about her son. It was one week into the beginning of school so she was very proactive and caught things quickly before they had a chance to become a whirlwind. Although her child had an IEP with many support services to target different areas, the classroom placement was all wrong.

The teacher sent home a picture of the child, with his head down on the desk, sleeping. Her son was so bored in this class that he fell asleep. She contacted the teacher right away and asked what the scenario was behind the photo. The teacher explained that the class was working on a project and her son had completed it before any one else. Because of his boredom and the teacher not giving him another task, the child fell asleep. 

Honestly, I could not believe that the teacher even sent this photo home because it validated that she was unable to discern if the child actually belonged in her class. Basically, it made the teacher look questionable.

The mom contacted the CSE Chairperson to call a meeting as she wanted the child to be moved out of this inclusion classroom and put into a mainstream classroom. She was accommodated with a meeting and at the meeting she brought up her thoughts and concerns as to why her son should be moved to a class that was more appropriate for him. We received 1 answer and that was from the principal. 

The CSE agreed that he could be moved but the response from the principal took me by surprise. She said “We can move him but it will take awhile. I will have to see where I can place him as all the classes do not have room and are filled to capacity.” This was a stall tactic and very upsetting to the mom. 

My question then became this: “If a family just moved into the neighborhood and came to the school to register their child, would you tell them that the child could not start school for awhile because all your classes are filled to capacity and you do not know where you will place that child?” The response to my question was met with a blind stare from the principal along with no response from the CSE Chair or anyone else for that matter.

We ended the meeting with ”I’ll be in touch and will let you know when we plan on changing the classroom placement.” This response was from the CSE Chair. 

Not only was this response upsetting but the school was not following the law and placing the child in a least restrictive environment whereby he could learn and benefit from an appropriate education. 

This was unacceptable. 

For the following 3 days, I emailed the CSE Chair 2 times a day. Once, first thing in the morning and once at the end of the school day inquiring about the status of changing the child’s placement. 

My thought process was twofold. 

One - I was always kept top of mind. 

Two - She would get tired of seeing an email from me in her inbox and address the situation quickly. Well, it worked. The child’s placement was changed into an appropriate mainstream classroom yet all of his support services stayed the same with a combination of pull out and push in services.

What I tried to explain during the meeting was the fact that the child was bored because he was at a higher functioning level than the other children in the class. Although you always want your child to be with a variety of children and levels, they should always be in a class with some children that are on a higher level than your own child. 

The higher functioning children serve as a role model so the other children can learn from them. This learning is not structured but organic. They learn from the other children’s social skills, learning styles, listening to directions, completing a task, etc. The children that may be on a lower level of functioning are able to look to your child and use them as a model. This way it is a wonderful and productive way for children to try, address and master different skills with not only the assistance of the teaching staff and support staff but with their peers as well. 

Many children feel as though they are judged by the staff but feel less intimidated when being helped and working with their peers. Many, many times children will succeed further and quicker when looking to their peers for assistance. They are able to not only understand their struggles but see the struggles of others.

The moral to this story is ALWAYS place your child in an environment with children that are on their level but the class must also have children that are on a higher functioning level than themselves as well as a lower level. It gives the child a goal and when they are able to grab that brass ring (the goal), the accomplishment and self-esteem raised from that, skyrockets.  

 

If you feel at any time your child’s classroom placement is incorrect, speak up immediately. 

Don’t let the school tell you to give it some time. The more time you wait for the change to happen, the less likely it will. If your child is communicative, then ask them questions about their day all the time in order to get a sense of what the environment is like. If they are unable to communicate to you in regards to this, start a communication log with the school and invite them to write you a quick note as to what your child did, how they did and whether or not your child is proactive in forging friendships with those children. 

A child not having any “friend” in their class could indicate that they do not feel comfortable with anyone. This could be for a multiple of reasons - you need to try to pinpoint why. All children should feel that they have a “buddy” in their class. This lessens the feeling of isolation.

Your child spends a great deal of time within the classroom that they are placed. Not everything is perfect in regards to school,but placement needs to be!

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Want more? Discover The Ultimate Guide To Advocating For Your Child, a complimentary email course for confused and overwhelmed parents.

Need immediate insight into your child's situation and how to address their current issues? Schedule your Open Opportunity Session for an expert analysis and strategic plan you can implement today.

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Summer Programs For Children With Special Needs

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Summer Programs For Children With Special Needs

The school year is coming to a close within a few short months and as a parent, decisions need to be made as to what your child’s options will be for the summer months.

The purpose of this article is to highlight what options are out there.  This does not include every possible activity but certainly touches upon many that you may feel would be appropriate for your child.

 

Children with special needs should be enrolled in at least one program during the summer months, as this time can become an opportunity for regression. 

 

The progress that your child hopefully has made during the year should be built upon during the summer while addressing all if not most of the skills that were learned.  Transitioning to the summer is difficult for children with special needs as they get accustomed to the same schedule during the school year and therefore are aware of the expectations and the order in which they occur. 

Remember, any change for a child with special needs is that much more magnified in difficulty than that of a regular education child. 

However, the transition does not have to be so traumatizing as there are many programs out there throughout the country that allow for the skills learned in school to be continued.  Additionally, these programs have individuals who are trained educationally to work with these kids and work with them well.  

 

1. Equestrian Therapy

 

This therapy is also known as equine therapy or equine-assisted therapy.  This therapy uses horses to  help children grow emotionally.  Equestrian therapy is used for many different diagnosis. It is particularly helpful with individuals who have been diagnosed with autism, dementia, down syndrome, behavior, mental health issues, delays in mental development as well as brain injury patients. 

Therapeutic riding contributes to many positive aspects in regards to the emotional and social well being of individuals with specials needs, no matter what their age is.  Just because an individual has difficulties, it does preclude them from horseback riding.  The rhythmic motion of riding is extremely beneficial as it mimics an individual walking.  It is has been shown that individuals with special needs, specifically, physical disabilities, have improvement in flexibility, balance and muscle strength. 

If you decide on placing your child in this type of program, please ensure, especially for new riders, that the establishment provides a horse leader as well as 2 individuals who walk along the horse on either side.  These individuals are usually called sidewalks or a derivative thereof.  This not only makes it safer but it will cut down on any anxiety associated with participating in a new experience.

 

2. Summer Enrichment

 

This is recommended by your child’s teacher for a number of reasons.  If your child is not up to grade level, this could be a “catch up” time to better prepare them for the upcoming school year.  It also serves as a review for work that already has been introduced but perhaps your child had difficulty within certain areas. 

Additionally, it serves as a piece to address the cohesiveness of the academic year.  A break during the summer months, unfortunately for many children with special needs becomes a time when they regress.  Their schedule has changed not only in regards to the academic piece but for the socializing piece as well.  Their “routine” has been disrupted and for children with special needs, any change is detrimental.  This can cause regression academically, behaviorally and socially. 

Keep in mind, change for many of us young and older individuals, can be difficult to come to terms with however for a child with special needs that difficulty is magnified exponentially and therefore anything that can be done to help the transition move as smoothly as possible is especially important.

 

3. At-Home Summer Services

 

 In my many years of working as an Educational Consultant and Special Needs Advocate, I have found that although a child needs summer services, Summer Enrichment is not the correct fit. 

Let me offer an option that has worked and fits well with the many children and families that I have worked with.  Your child may be lagging behind and not up to grade level however sending them to the school building may be frustrating for them over the summer months.  It may feel as though it is a continuation of all the demands that are put on them during the formal school year. 

However, I have found that if the CSE approves this particular option, it has far exceeded the positives when correctly administered.  Ask the CSE if a teacher can come to your home for a specific amount of weeks (I recommend 6 weeks) for 4 days a week.  I would request that the teacher comes 2-3 hours a day.  This allows for the child to receive intensive help in areas that are weak and therefore better prepare them for the upcoming school year. 

If your child is doing well and is performing on grade level but just needs some review from the school year that was just completed, then the teacher could focus on those areas.  In addition to working on this, they can pre-teach the materials that will be covered for the upcoming school year.  This allows the child to be introduced to the curriculum prior to September. It allows them to practice the topic so when it is introduced within the classroom at the beginning of school, it is not as foreign and they are able to tackle the curriculum with pride and hopefully with a reduced amount of anxiety. 

Although many teachers do work during the few weeks teaching the Summer Enrichment Program, there are teachers who are willing and actually prefer to go to a child’s home to teach. 

Additionally, it allows the child to be in their familiar surroundings, feel more relaxed, secure and less anxious which in turn provides for a substantially positive learning environment. 

Not only does the teacher work on the academics but they should reinforce all of the concepts via games, manipulatives, music, etc.  This piece the child will remember the most and when they are asked in school to pull from their existing knowledge, these are the concepts that will stick out in their mind.

 

4. Art Classes 

 

There are many activities covered with different instruments (paint, brushes, markers, etc).        

        Here are some activities that you can do at home with your child:

            Crayons:  Allows children to express themselves with drawings and coloring

            Spray Paint: If the weather is warm, a great activity 

            Popsicle Stick: Spreading Paint with a Popsicle Stick

            Tissue Paper Butterflies: Children create a butterfly with tissue paper

            Fruit and Veggie Prints: Cut fruit in pieces (half, quarter, etc.) and dip in paint

            Hands: Use handprints to make personalized objects

            Sponge Painting: Children can use sponges as painting tools

 

5. Music Classes

 

Most kids love music, whether it be to dance to, play to, sing to, etc.  It is fun and allows the children to express themselves without judgement.  Additionally, it helps with coordination, listening skills as well as allowing them to be silly and show a side of themselves that may not be seen very often as so many demands are always placed on them.  These classes allow them to say “free to be me.”

 

6. Sports

 

Whether it is soccer, baseball, basketball, hockey, etc. these sports give the child a time to show off perhaps their strong skills in a certain area.  There are many programs that allow children with physical and mental disabilities to play baseball in a non-competitive and supportive environment. There are soccer programs that use buddies to assist the players as needed.  There are also programs that give people with physical and developmental disabilities the chance to play ice hockey in an environment that is non threatening.  The environment is adapted to the individuals level and ability.

 

7. Swimming

 

Swimming lessons provides children with vital skills to help with survival.  Swimming is a great activity, especially for children with special needs as it allows them to have fun in a non-competitive environment.  Swimming is also a great activity because it lets the child feel as though they are “equal” to others in the water.  It is a great family activity as everyone can share in the day. 

Swimming consists of many benefits however some of the most important is that it boosts physical activity level, helps to develop self-confidence, build self-esteem and it teaches a life saving skill.  Each time a child kicks, it builds muscle tone and strength.  It also helps with balance, coordination and developing motor skills.  Swimming also helps with range of motion as being buoyant in the water reduces the restrictions on the body.  Learning to swim helps develop spatial awareness well.  Drowning is the one of the leading causes of death for children with autism.

 

8. Karate

 

The benefits are immeasurable in regards to enrolling your child within a martial arts school.  It teaches not only structure but discipline as well.  Martial arts provides a competition within the child not with others.  Other benefits include the consistency and repetition of learning the “moves.”  Additionally, it helps with and works on focus, concentration, balance, tone, awareness, self regulation, core strength, reduced anxiety and spatial awareness.

Depending on their level of ability, children will be able to  attempt many activities.  As their parent, you are the best judge, as you know your child best, as to what your child is capable of.  One of the most important things to remember is to have patience and always encourage your child to do as much as they can and to do it on their own.  There is a great amount of satisfaction that an individual gains with being able to complete tasks on their own.  Another important point is to always keep in mind that the level of ability should match the child.  

Do not place your child within an activity that far exceeds what they are able to accomplish at that particular point in time. 

 

This will only cause a great deal of anxiety, frustration, behavioral and mental anguish. 

That is not to say that you should not place your child within a level that is slightly higher than what they are used to.  You always want your child to be challenged, not frustrated.  Also, placing your child within a level slightly higher will allow them to benefit from modeling of the other children that are able to succeed.  These other children can help your child not only with the task at hand but can provide a great socialization piece that may last beyond the activity. 

Always be supportive! 

For children with visual impairments, tactile activities are a must!

 

The most important advice that I can offer youis - do your homework! 

 

For any activity that you decide to enroll your child in, ask a lot of questions.  Make a list so you don’t overlook anything.  Bring that list with you.  Also, I have never come across a program that did not allow the parents to come and visit one time to see exactly how it is run.  You should also request to meet the staff of the class that you will possibly enroll your child in so you can get a “feel” as how things will go.  Bring your child with you so they can meet the individuals that they will directly have contact with as well as become familiar with the surroundings so the first day will not be so intimidating.

Most importantly, have a wonderful summer!


Want more? Discover The Ultimate Guide To Advocating For Your Child, a complimentary email course for confused and overwhelmed parents.

Need immediate insight into your child's situation and how to address their current issues? Schedule your Open Opportunity Session for an expert analysis and strategic plan you can implement today.

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18 Must Have Therapeutic Toys for Children with Special Needs

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18 Must Have Therapeutic Toys for Children with Special Needs

Whether your child has been diagnosed on the autistic spectrum or with any other disability that impairs their learning and life skills, it is important to teach children skills at an early age.  Early Intervention is the key to raising a child with special needs. 

Regardless of a child’s ability level, practicing life skills now can best prepare them to be successful currently as well as moving forward throughout their life. Basic self-help skills, such as dressing, socializing, eating, and grooming are an essential part of daily life along with fine motor and gross motor skills. These skills should be taught at a young age so that children can continue to develop them through the years as they grow.

 

Fine motor skills allow children to perform actions using small muscles in the hands (like writing, tying shoelaces, holding and manipulating eating utensils), while strengthening hand-eye coordination and isolated finger movements.  Fine and gross motor development involve using both small and large muscles.

 

The following is an abbreviated list of items that not only will help children address their difficulties but will strengthen their weaknesses in order to master a specific skill.

Please note: the age-appropriateness for each toy is determined by the manufacturer. I've stated my suggested age range for reference here, but you should always default to the manufacturer's instructions.

 

Special Needs Toys: www.specialneedstoys.com

(images courtesy of Special Needs Toys)

They have a one-year guarantee on everything and ship all over the world. Their toys range from mobile multi-sensory to swings to trampolines and other sensory-integration kits as well as small sensory toys.

 

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Rainbow Numbers

Encourages Fine Motor and Writing Skill Development
ages 3 and up

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Musical Cuboid

Encourages and Inspires Creativity
all ages

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Scented Play Clay

Embraces 3 senses (sight, touch and smell)
ages 4 and up

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Magic Moves Electronic Wand

ages 3 and up

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Glitter Bead Sensory Ball (set of 3)

ages 4 and up

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Therapy Bead Pack

ages 3 and up

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Jeliku

builds fine motor skills
ages 3 and up

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Koala

helps to build a child’s balance
ages 5 and up


Therapy Shoppe: https://therapyshoppe.com

(images courtesy of Therapy Shoppe)

A great resource for all types of learning tools.  They have been in business for 24 years and they carry a wide array of items that include sensory integration products, educational toys, special needs for learning and much much more.

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Finger Poppers

ages 5 and up

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Bi-Color Teaching Shoelaces

ages 5 and up

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Dressing Vests

ages 3 and up

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The Art of Conversation Cards

ages 5 and up

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Kanoodle Visual Perception Game

ages 3 and up


Learning Resources: https://www.learningresources.com

(images courtesy of Learning Resources)

A global manufacturer of innovative, hands-on educational products. The company has 1100+ products that are sold in more than 80 countries.  These products  serve children and their families ages preschool through middle school.  Currently, Learning Resources  has 25% off with free shipping on $50 or more with code Hop2It.  They also have some great items on sale as well.

 

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Equivalency Set

ages 6 and up

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Smart Snacks Rainbow Color Cones

ages 2 and up

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Magnetic Money

ages 5 and up

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Super Sorting Pie

ages 3 and up

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Speaker’s Box

grade 1+

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Big Time Mini Clock

ages 5 and up

although these come in a set of 6, it allows you to leave one at perhaps a grandparent’s home, babysitters’s home etc.

 

Children with Special Needs have a wide range of skills and abilities, no two children are exactly alike. These listed items along with many others on the sites assist with the social interaction and communication skills, sensory processing problems, etc. that children are struggling with.

Kids have different learning styles and abilities, so it’s important to support their individual needs. 

The products you choose should help your child to learn at their own pace along with giving them the guidance to reach their fullest potential.


Want more? Discover The Ultimate Guide To Advocating For Your Child, a complimentary email course for confused and overwhelmed parents.

Need immediate insight into your child's situation and how to address their current issues? Schedule your Open Opportunity Session for an expert analysis and strategic plan you can implement today.

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How Do I Choose Classroom Placement For My Child?

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How Do I Choose Classroom Placement For My Child?

Once you have had your child seen by the pediatrician and pediatric neurologist and have a clear and concise diagnosis, your next step is to request a meeting with the CSE (Committee on Special Education) in order to have an IEP put in place so your child can learn within the best environment along with the proper support staff.

An integral part of the IEP is the correct classroom placement. 

Everyone learns differently and therefore one environment that may work for one child may not work for another.

Some families feel that their child should be mainstreamed, no matter what.  Some families feel as though an out of district placement would serve their child best.  The one thing that needs to be kept top of mind is what makes the most sense for YOUR child at this very moment in time.  Over time, this will change due to the progress that your child makes.  The only goal is for the child to be placed in an environment where they will learn, be successful, gain confidence, become independent, minimize anxiety, if any and most importantly to achieve their goals set before them.

 

The following are different options that as a family you need to look into and decide upon.

 

Self-contained Classroom

This option means that your child would be removed from the general school population for all academic subjects in order to allow them to work in a small setting that is controlled by a special education teacher.  Students that are placed in this type of setting may be at different levels of learning along with learning different curriculum with different textbooks.  This type of placement is appropriate for individuals who require structure, specific and set expectations along with daily routine.

 

Resource Room

This option would be for a student who needs to keep up with a specific grade level subject matter.  The Resource Room is equipped with a special education teacher who works with a small group of students with techniques that are targeted and specific to the special needs population.

 

Inclusion Class/ Mainstream

The child is placed in a regular education classroom with his/her peers who are his/her age.  This classroom has a regular education teacher along with a special education teacher whose purpose is to adjust the curriculum to your child’s needs.  A very strong positive to this placement is that it enables the child to stay in the classroom with his/her higher achieving peers.  This modeling affords the special needs child not only to be challenged but is in a great environment for learning and picking up social cues.  The negative that is associated with this placement is that the teacher would not be able to provide the intensive help that the child may need.

 

Out of District

This placement will put your child in a specialized school that will address his/her academic and/or behavioral needs.  As with everything there are positive and negatives to this placement.  The positive is that it provides the most structure, consistency and routine within your child’s day. 

For children with learning disabilities, these factors are the most important.  Being in an environment where these factors are absent would cause a great deal of anxiety and/or behavioral problems.  Children like to know “what comes next.”  Without this knowledge, although a child could succeed, the absence of this particular piece of their day could make their day counterproductive. 

On the flip side, the negative in regards to this placement is that the child is removed from interacting with regular education students.  The modeling that the regular education students could provide is priceless as sometimes this is all the child needs for his/her learning to become cohesive.  Additionally, school districts are not quick to provide this learning environment as it is extremely expensive.

 

As a parent, ask yourself these questions when it comes to the most effective placement for your child:

 

  1. Does your child have friends within the mainstream environment?  

  2. Is the mainstream environment helpful, not hurtful?

  3. What environment does your child learn best in?

  4. What environment would be the least or most productive for your child’s learning?

  5. Does your child need structure and routine? (If so, to what degree?)

  6. Does your child flourish when they are amongst different staff (regular and support) as well as different children?

  7. What areas does your child struggle with? (For example: if math is extremely frustrating and causing a great deal of stress, you may want to consider having your child go to Resource Room for that particular subject so they can receive more targeted assistance)

 

If your child is old enough to verbalize to you what struggles they are having in school and what they would like to be changed, then listen to them.  They are the ones that are going into the school building to spend a great deal of time on a daily basis.  You only want their experience to be a positive one.  

 

Please remember: when you decide on a placement, it can always be changed.

Nothing is set in stone.  However, as a parent you need to stay on top of things and monitor the situation.  Unfortunately, you need to police your child’s day to day to ensure that they are learning at their optimal level and the help that has been agreed upon during your CSE meeting is actually being implemented. 

I have always thought of each child and family that I have worked with as a part of a construction plan.  We all have a place and a purpose to help the child.  We want to build them up within every aspect of themselves.  Children are a work in progress and the goal is to be in awe as to the person they will  become from all aspects: academic, behavioral, emotional and social.  Although it seems very hard at times, maybe even impossible, your child is depending on you and YOU CAN do this.  Mistakes may be made along the way, but those mistakes can be fixed. 

Stay focused and your family will achieve what may seem to be the impossible!


Want more? Discover The Ultimate Guide To Advocating For Your Child, a complimentary email course for confused and overwhelmed parents.

Need immediate insight into your child's situation and how to address their current issues? Schedule your Open Opportunity Session for an expert analysis and strategic plan you can implement today.

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Why doesn’t my child respond to me?

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Why doesn’t my child respond to me?

In my new advice column, I'll be answering your questions about raising and advocating for a special needs child.

Q: Why doesn't my child respond to me?

 

In this particular situation, there are a few things that may be going on:

  1. The first thing I tell parents is to take the child to the pediatrician.  Communicate your concerns.
  2. After a visit to the pediatrician, make an appointment with an audiologist to check to see that there is not a problem with the child’s hearing.
  3. After testing the child, if the audiologist finds that there is no problem with the child’s hearing then your next step would be to take him/her to a pediatric neurologist.

Be aware:  Not all pediatric neurologist are the same and there are some very ineffective ones out there.  Additionally, based on the many stories from families that I have worked with, they have included that the pediatric neurologist is very quick to prescribe medication.  At this point in the process, medication should not even be brought up or considered.

  • Not making eye contact could be that the child hears you (hears the words) but is unable to process what you are saying.
  • The child may speak however their expressive language could be more mature than their receptive language and hence no eye contact when spoken to.
  • The pediatric neurologist, after testing has been completed should give you a diagnosis and explain what can be done to address this particular problem.  
  • If the pediatric neurologist does not find any problem from his area of expertise then perhaps the problem could be behavioral.

Behavioral problems can be addressed in several ways at home.  By using a rewards chart (you determine what that reward is).  Make sure that you make it clear to the child what they are working towards.  Unknowns for children with disabilities (especially) can cause a great deal of anxiety.  Using privileges (or taking them away) speaks to the child. Making an appointment with a Behavioral Therapist can also be used. 

Be aware: Although there are many individuals that work in the education/behavioral field and have the proper credentials, this DOES NOT mean that they are the consummate professional and most importantly know precisely what needs to be done and how to carry it out.


Have a question you want answered? Discover The Ultimate Guide To Advocating For Your Child, a complimentary email course for confused and overwhelmed parents. If you still have a question after the course, just let me know!

Need immediate insight into your child's situation and how to address their current issues? Schedule your Open Opportunity Session for an expert analysis and strategic plan you can implement today.

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School Tour: The Community School

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School Tour: The Community School

As an educational consultant and special needs advocate, I periodically visit special needs schools to tour in person because I only recommend schools to my clients that I have personally visited and vetted. This blog post series highlights the top special needs schools in the United States I’ve had the pleasure of visiting and gives an inside look at what makes them so great.

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School

The Community School

 

Location

Teaneck, New Jersey

 

About the School

The Community School, Lower School consists of children grades Kindergarten through the Eighth (8th) grade.  The school teaches their students how to learn with learning disabilities and attention issues which in turn encourages independence and confidence.

 

 

Ideal Students

Children with learning disabilities and attention issues. 

 

 

Programs

The Community School offers a departmentalized program.  The students do not stay in one room all day, but they do stay with the same group all day.  The school day is from 8:20 AM to 2:50 PM.  Students start the day in homeroom for 15 minutes where they get organized for the day.  The students have eight (8) forty (40) minute periods within the school day plus a forty (40) minute lunch.  The school day ends with a 15 minute block in homeroom where students organize their materials in preparation to go home.

 

Program Description - Group 1 (Grades  2, 3, and 4)

  • 15 periods per week of ELA - Students are grouped according to their instructional level.  The ELA programs are based on multi sensory methods.  Students that require more intensive reading instruction are offered the Wilson Reading System.  This system is taught by certified Wilson instructors either in individual or small group settings.  Vocabulary, spelling, punctuation and learning to write expanded sentences, paragraphs and book reports are taught using specialized methods, strategies and techniques.  This is performed in the Language Arts classes.  Assistive technology, including the Kurzweil program is offered as part of the program.
     
  • 5 periods per week of Math - Math is taught in small groups according to level, instructional needs and learning style.  The math program is based on a multi-sensory approach using manipulatives, if appropriate.  Problem solving and the language upon which math concepts and processes are based are introduced, defined and reviewed frequently along with reinforcement.  Technology and computer programs are included in the program when appropriate.
     
  • 3 periods per week of Social Studies - Grade appropriate Social Studies is taught in a group.  Students develop skills in note taking and research when appropriate.
     
  • 3 periods per week of Science - Science is a hands on subject, therefore students work on projects and experiments on grade appropriate topics.
     
  • 1 period per week - Class Meeting - Social Skills/Problem Solving are taught by the school counselor and/or certified teacher
     
  • 5 periods per week of Physical Education
     
  • 1 period per week of I.C.E. (Innovative Challenging Experiences) - this class focuses on balance, coordination and fitness.  These techniques are taught by the Physical Education staff
     
  • 1 period per week of visual motor - this includes practice with graphomotor and fine motor skills
     
  • 1 Health class per week
     
  • 1 Technology class per week - this class includes keyboarding skills and practice activities for word processing , PowerPoint presentations, graphic arts, multimedia, internet research and more
     
  • 2 Art classes per week

 

 

Program Description - Group 2, 3 and 4 (Grades 5, 6, 7 and 8)

  • 15 periods per week of ELA - Same as Group 1
     
  • 5 periods per week of Math - Same as Group 1
     
  • 5 periods per week of Social Studies - Same as Group 1.  Additionally, students also learn to develop/strengthen skills in note taking, test preparation and research, when appropriate
     
  • 3 periods per week of Science - Same as Group 1
     
  • 1 period per week - Class Meeting - Same as Group 1
     
  • 5 periods per week of Physical Education
     
  • 1 period per week of I.C.E. (Innovative Challenging Experiences) - Same as Group 1
     
  • 1 Health Class per week
     
  • 1 Technology class per week - Same as Group 1
     
  • Art classes - will vary
     
  • 1 Art class per week (groups 3 and 4)
     
  • 2 Art classes per week (group 2)
     
  • 2 periods per week of homeroom (groups 3 and 4)
  • 1 period per week of homeroom (group 2)

 

Assistive Technology, Smart Boards and individualized techniques and strategies are used throughout the curriculum as needed.  The Community School also offers Speech and Language Therapy as mandated on your child’s IEP.

 

 

My Experience

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My meeting and tour was with Donna LaTour (Admissions - Lower School).  The children seemed happy within the classroom and the learning was a no pressure and a non-competitive environment.  The school was small enough to feel homey yet large enough to give the feeling of a public school building.  Transitioning was smooth and event free as the children knew what they needed to do and how to reach their goal.  The environment was very calm and quiet which assists with the learning process and therefore does not provide any distractions.

 

In addition to The Community School, there is the Community High School which houses grades 9-12.  In 2002, the Kaplen Family Field of Dreams. was added.  It is a recreational complex adjacent to the lower school and across from the high school.  The Field of Dreams is used for it’s baseball and soccer fields, jogging and walking track, fitness areas and stations, playground, tree and garden compounds, sitting areas, game tables, sculpture gardens, outdoor classrooms and picnic tables.  This area is used for the school’s physical education program, athletic programs, recreational groups, intramural athletics as well as for school events such as Field Day, assemblies, barbecues, carnivals and graduation.

 

I want to thank Donna LaTour for taking the time in order to show me around The Community School.  If you think that The Community School would be a good fit for your child, please feel free to contact them.  You can schedule a tour and speak with Donna directly. 

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Educators:  Are they in the industry for the paycheck and summer’s off OR Do they genuinely care about the special needs child?

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Educators: Are they in the industry for the paycheck and summer’s off OR Do they genuinely care about the special needs child?

I often ask myself this question even though I worked in the classroom for years prior to starting my own business as an educational consultant and special needs advocate.

This is the reason why I left teaching. I was tired of the politics and quite honestly the nonsense that was very prevalent within the school and even on a wider scale, the district.

Educators Actually Make Fun Of Your Child In Private

I can’t tell you how many times, I would take my lunch and sit in the teacher’s lounge during my break and walked out disgusted at the behavior that I witnessed. The staff would take this opportunity to talk about the students, make fun of them and just plain demean them. 

These are not people that care about the children.

This was not just in one school but in numerous ones as I initially worked as a substitute teacher and therefore allowed me to be in many schools in many districts. In my 24 years experience, 18 of those working for myself, I am disgusted each and every time I see how the children with special needs are treated and looked upon by the very people who are supposed to be in place to help them.

They All Say The Same Things To Placate You

How many times have you heard from your child’s school, more specifically their teachers: “Your child is a pleasure” or “Your child is doing so well” or “Your child is progressing nicely.” These statements from “educators” run rampid. They are meant to placate you, as the parent. In speaking with teachers, administrators, therapists, aides, etc. I hear the same exact verbage. 

It seems as though they have all been given a script to follow.

When you ask your child’s teacher questions, do you get a straight answer or do they “sugar coat” a response?

When you ask your child about a particular subject and what they learned, are they are able to answer correctly or at all, after you were told that they are progressing nicely and doing so well? 

Are you being told that your child has no socialization issues but the way your child acts outside of school would denote anything but? 

Are you told that your child does not have any behavior issues at school, but the reality is they do but will not admit it because it would shed light on the fact that the staff can’t handle your child which would be a direct admission of quite frankly, them being inept. Perhaps the staff has not been trained, perhaps after training they still don’t get it or perhaps they just don’t care OR it is a combination of them all.

They Don't Care.. At All

When it comes to teaching the special needs child, educators are overwhelmed. There are not enough hours in the day to focus on each child and their particular needs. Additionally, because districts do not want to pay, schools are short staffed and therefore many times the child is not receiving the support services that they are legally entitled to (per their IEP/504 Plan) or the individuals administering the services are not qualified and do a sub par job, at best.

Unfortunately, in order to help a special needs child properly, all of the pieces need to fit correctly. I have always thought of this process as a puzzle. There are many pieces that are required for a particular child. Each piece needs to be addressed separately first. 

Once this is done then each piece needs to be looked at as to how it fits in with all of the other pieces in order to yield a cohesive finished product. 

Unfortunately, when you work with many different individuals, not all of them are on the same level as to education, qualifications and just downright an attitude of engagement in order to make a difference for your child. 

Again, in my opinion and experience (this is what I have seen first hand) most educators look at the special needs child as a nuisance. One that is causing them to do more work and where there is an accountability factor. Everyone pushes the responsibility on the other and ultimately the situation becomes, as I compare it to, a dog chasing it’s tail. In this scenario, which is all too common, nothing gets done. 

The child is not receiving the help at the level and intensity that they should and therefore any progress, if at all, is slow and lackluster.

You Know Your Child Best... They Don't (no matter what their credentials say!)

It is very easy for school staff to sit at a conference table and tell you, the parent, what their opinion is. Quite frankly, if the information that you were being told was coming from a credible source who genuinely was invested in your child, then I would say that they would be worth listening to.

However, the bottom line is as parent, you know your child best and for some stranger to tell you what to do, how to do it, when to do is quite infuriating and crosses the line of being disrespectful towards you, your family and more specifically your child. 

Educators look at themselves as what they say is the gospel when in reality, they are blowing smoke in the wind. 

Educators look at each child and the assistance that they need as a “cookie cutter” industry. 

As you well know, each child is an individual and should be looked at and addressed that way.

Yes, each child may have an IEP or 504 Plan but is it followed and are the services administered, as the law states within these documents? 

Unfortunately, educators are lazy and don’t want to do their job, therefore it is easier for them and detrimental to your child when they look at your child within a group versus as a “special individual” with specific needs.

Evaluate Everyone.. Trust Few

My experience has brought me to the realization that a very small percentage of educators nowadays actually love their job and care about the kids. 

Very few individuals, nowadays, decided to enter into the educational realm for the pure love of helping the children. It is not just about helping the special needs children on a short term basis, but teaching them and providing the skills that they need to become a productive member of society.

When looking at a special needs child, everything should be looked at for the long term.  All of us can and should be productive members of society. 

We all are special in our own way with our own disabilities and an educator needs to find and tap into that special component of each child. Their job is to nurture and to help, not to dismiss who these children are, no matter what their difficulties are.

As I have said to parents many times in regards to their children: “You should not try to fit in when you were born to shine.” Everyone deserves the same chance to shine. No one has the right to take that away!


Want more? Discover The Ultimate Guide To Advocating For Your Child, a complimentary email course for confused and overwhelmed parents.

Need immediate insight into your child's situation and how to address their current issues? Schedule your Open Opportunity Session for an expert analysis and strategic plan you can implement today.

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School Tour: The Westfield Day School

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School Tour: The Westfield Day School

As an educational consultant and special needs advocate, I periodically visit special needs schools to tour in person because I only recommend schools to my clients that I have personally visited and vetted. This blog post series highlights the top special needs schools in the United States I’ve had the pleasure of visiting and gives an inside look at what makes them so great.

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School

The Westfield Day School

 

Location

Armonk, New York

 

About the School

The Westfield Day School is a therapeutic school for the underachieving student.  The school and staff is dedicated to helping students overcome difficulties and personal issues.  This is done through designed programs that are carefully created for individual achievement.  
 

The Westfield Day School was formerly located in Rye, NY which is located in Westchester County.  Presently, they are located in Armonk, NY where they have been for a little over a year.  The location is new for them as well as the building.  The school has all state of the art technology with a perfect layout that is conducive for the students to move through the building seamlessly.  The students currently attending are from Westchester County, Rockland County and Connecticut.  The new location of the school, although in New York, is very close to the Connecticut border.
 

 Westfield Day School's welcoming reception desk. Photo by Ilene B. Miller

Westfield Day School's welcoming reception desk. Photo by Ilene B. Miller

Westfield is a co-educational school for grades 7 through 12 with traditional school subjects and a standard curriculum.  The school offers rolling admissions so students can enroll any time during the year.

The Westfield Day School is based on 3 Principles:

  • An integrated support experience
  • A corrective learning environment
  • A comprehensive approach

The school’s approach is psycho-educational and supportive.  This includes individual and group therapy along with specialized instruction.

Westfield enables students to experience what is called a “corrective emotional experience.” This allows for the students to have the opportunity to handle school life under more “favorable circumstances.”

 Lauretta Haugh, Special Education teacher. Photo by Ilene B. Miller

Lauretta Haugh, Special Education teacher. Photo by Ilene B. Miller

 Julie Suchman, History teacher. Photo by Ilene B. Miller

Julie Suchman, History teacher. Photo by Ilene B. Miller

Classes are small with no more than 5 students per teacher. 
 

Staff and faculty create an atmosphere of acceptance and encouragement.  This helps keep students focused on their work, fosters personal growth, social development as well as encourages self-discipline.
 

A curriculum is developed that is based on the student’s application, prior evaluations and/or consultations with mental health professionals that have had an integral part of being involved with the child.  The curriculum developed includes a learning and therapeutic strategy.  All of this pertinent information is gathered in order to provide the Comprehensive Educational Plan.  This plan addresses each student’s psychological, educational or behavioral objectives, goals and needs.

 Foreign language classroom. Photo by Ilene B. Miller

Foreign language classroom. Photo by Ilene B. Miller

 

Ideal Students

The “typical” student who attends Westfield have the following difficulties:

  • Underachievement even though the student is intelligent
  • AD/HD
  • Learning Disabilities
  • Social emotional problems
  • Additional Special Education classifications

 

Westfield starts later in the morning (9:30 AM) in order to allow students to begin their day at their best instead of very early when they may not be as productive.

 

In addition to students working on projects, attending seminar style classes, participating in gym and the Creative Arts program, they attend regularly scheduled group counseling sessions and individual meetings with the school therapist.

 A quiet reading room for students. Photo by Ilene B. Miller

A quiet reading room for students. Photo by Ilene B. Miller

 

Programs

The core courses that Westfield offers include:

  • English
  • Global History, US History
  • Government, Economics, Psychology
  • Biology, Chemistry, Physics
  • Algebra, Geometry, Pre-Calculus
  • Health, Physical Education
  • Spanish, French
  • Art, Music

 

The Interim Placement Program

Westfield offers an intensive program for students who are unable to remain in their current school during the academic year for various reasons.  The IPP (Interim Placement Program) can accept students at any time during the the school year for a minimum of 2 weeks.  Possible reasons for a student to attend could include needing a medical leave of absence, need an extended break from the private of public school they are currently attending or are in need of mental health or psycho-educational evaluations.  Once the student is accepted, they can continue their regular study toward their degree until they are ready to return to their original placement.

 

The Summer Program

This program is offered in the same way as the regular program, however it is for 3 - 1/2 days per week.  The summer program runs for 6 weeks.

For those students who need to maintain academic consistency throughout the summer, Westfield offers enrichment classes in language arts, creative arts, health and fitness.

The classes included are:

  • Academic remediation/enrichment
  • Regents review and preparation
  • SAT tutorial
  • Creative Arts Program
  • Westfield Book Club
  • Fitness series
  • High school preparation for middle school students
  • Young Writer’s Workshop

 

 A social studies classroom. Photo by Ilene B. Miller

A social studies classroom. Photo by Ilene B. Miller

Some common questions that are asked:

 Westfield Day School's lunch room. Photo by Ilene B. Miller

Westfield Day School's lunch room. Photo by Ilene B. Miller

Will my child be able to meet the New York State Regents Exam requirements?  

Yes.  A regents exam preparation track is available for all students, who may take the state exams at Westfield.

SAT’s?

Westfield offers SAT preparation by qualified instructors, and the ETS (Educational Testing Service) has also approved Westfield as a testing site.

Is Westfield approved by the State?

The Westfield Day School is part of the New York State educational system.

How long do students stay at Westfield?

It varies.  Students may stay for a brief period, to finish an academic semester or as long as needed in order to graduate.

 

 A quiet hallway. Photo by Ilene B. Miller

A quiet hallway. Photo by Ilene B. Miller


My Experience

I had the pleasure of meeting with the Academic Director, Pamela Heldman, who was kind enough to open the doors of The Westfield Day School in order to give me a tour of the school and educate me on what the school offers. 

The tour was not only informative but extremely comprehensive.  From walking through their doors and meeting the receptionist to meeting some of the children and staff, the environment is one of relaxation, non-judgmental, helpful and truly one of success.  EVERYONE that works at Westfield is totally engaged in the curriculum and most importantly with the students.  Each and everyone wants and strives for the children to succeed at their highest level possible. 

The staff have invested themselves and treat the children like they are their own and works tirelessly to help, teach, mentor and listen. 

Pamela was absolutely fantastic.  She explained everything in extreme detail and opened up the whole school to me in order to take photos and converse with multiple individuals. 

 Harlee, the school's therapy dog. Photo by Ilene B. Miller

Harlee, the school's therapy dog. Photo by Ilene B. Miller

A great addition to the school is Harlee, the therapy dog.  She is the sweetest little dog who brings a smile to your face from the moment you see her.  Harlee followed Pamela and myself around the whole time I was there for the tour and as you can see from the picture I took of her, she is a real ham!  She loves the camera.

 The conference room. Photo by Ilene B. Miller

The conference room. Photo by Ilene B. Miller

 A colorful classroom. Photo by Ilene B. Miller

A colorful classroom. Photo by Ilene B. Miller

 

If your child fits into any of the categories in regards to the population that Westfield addresses, please feel free to contact Pamela for a tour.  It will be well worth your time.  I was very impressed with this school and all that it has to offer the students presently enrolled as well as any students that enroll in the future.  Time touring this school will be time well spent.  

 Westfield Day School. Photo by Ilene B. Miller

Westfield Day School. Photo by Ilene B. Miller

I would like to again personally thank Pamela for all of the time she spent with me.  My visit was nothing short of fantastic. 

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  School Tour: The Harbor School

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School Tour: The Harbor School

As an educational consultant and special needs advocate, I periodically visit special needs schools to tour in person because I only recommend schools to my clients that I have personally visited and vetted. This blog post series highlights the top special needs schools in the United States I’ve had the pleasure of visiting and gives an inside look at what makes them so great.

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School

The Harbor School

 

Location

Eatontown, New Jersey
 

About The School

Harbor School is dedicated to providing a nurturing environment for students with a wide range of physical and academic challenges.  The programs that they have provide support in different areas.  These areas include social, life skills, transition as well as a wide range of therapy services.  The therapy services are Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy, ST Counseling as well as BCBA.  Additionally, the school uses a variety of technology tools in order to serve the students.
 

harbor-school-tour-review

Programs

The academic programs at Harbor School include:

  • Literacy and Reading: An individualized approach is the way they work with the kids.  The school maintains the integrity of the New Jersey Learning Standards.
     
  • Language Arts: The curriculum is catered to the individual need of the student, therefore no two curricula are the same.  All the students  are exposed to a wide variety of language arts material.  The school is aligned to the Common Core Standards.
     
  • Handwriting: All students are encouraged to write and participate using the most appropriate model that fits their needs.
     
  • Math: All students partake in functional skills math.  Once again, an individualized plan is based on the need of each student.  This part of the curriculum is also followed by the New Jersey Learning Standards.
     
  • Social Studies: This part of the curriculum at Harbor not only teaches history but functional life skills as well.  Students are encouraged to go out to the community in order to put into practice what they have learned in the classroom.
     
  • World Language: Harbor teaches a variety of cultures.  They implement a whole school approach using Core words.  They also use the iPad, verbal speech as well as American Sign Language.
     
  • Science: A variety of topics are taught.  These topics are in accordance with the Next Generation Science Standards.  Science is approached using multi modes as it encourages students to use a hands on approach in order for them to learn at their highest potential.
     
  • Computers: Harbor uses a variety of computer based learning including Vizzle, Brain Pop as well as Learn 360, just to name a few.  Additionally, the students use tablets, iPads and other communication devices that allow for them to interact with their peers, family and staff while they are in school as well as when they are at home.
     
  • Health: The health curriculum is based on the age group as well as the individual needs.  The curriculum is developed in conjunction with their adaptive physical education program.  The program focuses on hygiene, healthy eating, advocating for yourself as well as requesting appropriate medical assistance.

Certified teachers are assisted by trained paraprofessionals who provide individualized as well as small group instruction within a small class setting.

 

Ideal Students

Challenging students who need to have their academic, functional, social, behavioral and transitional needs met.

 

 Occupational therapy room

Occupational therapy room

My Experience

I was lucky enough to meet Anne Gunteski, Principal of Harbor School.  From the moment that I met with her, the love of the children and why she is at Harbor came shining through.  During our extensive tour, she acknowledged each and every child that we passed in the hallways as well as met in the classrooms.  She knew every child like the back of her hand.  The children felt comfortable in their surroundings, whether it was talking to Anne, learning in the classroom with their teacher or partaking in a special class like art or music.

Harbor School is a welcoming environment for any child whose needs fit their particular curriculum.  The children are very comfortable and happy with the environment that Harbor provides.  The learning skills that they are able to perfect while being at Harbor allows for them to carry forward once they graduate and therefore to become a productive member of society.

Harbor School is definitely a school that shines above in regards to what they provide academically as well as socially.

 

 

 

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At What Point Do You Need to Hire a Special Needs Advocate?

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At What Point Do You Need to Hire a Special Needs Advocate?

As a parent or caregiver of a child, there are many questions that you ask yourself regarding the huge responsibilities associated with such a position. These questions are magnified tremendously when your child is special needs.

 

Do you find yourself asking these questions on a consistent basis:

  • Am I handling this particular situation correctly?
  • Should I institute a time out for that behavior?
  • Is my child prepared to act appropriately in different situations - e.g. restaurant, wedding, playground?
  • How do I speak to my child at an appropriate level so they understand the issue as well as the repercussion?
  • How do I approach school issues and social issues with peers?
  • Are they well mannered?
  • Does my child need therapy? OT, PT, Speech, ABA Therapy, A smaller classroom (self contained) or be mainstreamed in for certain subjects and time of day?
  • My child does not pick up on queues, what do I do?

 

The list can go on and on. 

These seem like very basic questions to ask yourself however for a special needs child, they are not so basic. 

More time and effort needs to be spent on each of these and perhaps broken down into smaller pieces. All of these can be worked on between home and school with the assistance of the school staff and therapists. Remember that for your child to succeed, there MUST be a collaboration between home and school. If your child is not receiving this help in addition to other assistance and you have spoken to the school numerous times in regards to providing this, then you need to come to the realization that you can not do this alone.

If you have sent endless emails, had endless conversations with all of the individuals that work with your child on a daily basis as well as the administration and nothing is changing, then it is time that you hire an advocate. Do not let your child’s school sugar coat your child’s day, their needs and the actual learning environment. Putting your child in a classroom with a teacher or an aid for a substantial part of the day with no other students just because they do not want to deal with the child perhaps having an issue with another student, is unacceptable.

  • If your child needs support services and the school does not believe that in fact the child does, you need an advocate. 
  • If your child has an IEP or 504 Plan in place and is still not receiving what these legal and binding documents state, you need an advocate.
  • If you feel as though your child is not placed in the proper learning environment, you need an advocate.
  • If you child requires additional support services and the school is not open to making that change, you need an advocate.
  • If your child’s behavior is progressively becoming worse, you need an advocate.
  • If your child is attending school and all the school is doing is pushing your child through because they do not want to commit to your child and help them to succeed, you need an advocate.
  • If the school is representing your child academically “much better” than they are actually doing just to pacify you, you need an advocate. Schools will have a child “cheat” with the help of staff so they can justify that no new services need to be implemented or what is in place currently does not need to be changed. Time and time again the school states, “your child is doing so well” when in reality that “A” that your child received on the latest test was because a staff member “guided” the student with the correct answers. The results are not true to form.

 

How many times have you heard from staff, therapists and administration when you go to your child’s school: “Your child is so sweet” or “He/She is such a pleasure” or “He/She is doing so well.” Bluntly put, these are all smoking mirrors to make it seem as if they care and have a handle on what is going on, what is needed and that they truly know your child. Do not let this change your feeling as to what is REALLY going on.

 

There are a multitude of scenarios however each and every one deserves the time and effort in order to provide an optimal system of learning, socializing and growing. Each case should be approached individually. No two children are alike and therefore my advice is do not let your child’s school lump them into a group. Each and every child should be looked at on a case by case basis. If the school does not do this, then you ABSOLUTELY need an advocate.

 

If you are feeling overwhelmed and intimidated, you NEED a great advocate to dissect and make sense of everything. 

A great advocate will clear time with the school and go and observe your child. By going into the school and watching your child within different venues of their day is a real eye opener. This helps exponentially to get a clearer vision of the situation and allows you to determine what is your next move. Schools depend on the fact that parents look to them for guidance and help. The reality is, there are very few schools who are genuinely looking out for your child’s best interest and want to be an integral part of who that child becomes.

 

Life is full of learning opportunities, however you need to know when to seize those opportunities. Children with special needs can and will be successful at them, however they need that help. Whether it be from family, friends, school staff or an advocate. They deserve every opportunity that is available. A great advocate can make sense of it all, put into practice what needs to be done and help not only the child to move forward but the family as well.


Want more? Discover The Ultimate Guide To Advocating For Your Child, a complimentary email course for confused and overwhelmed parents.

Need immediate insight into your child's situation and how to address their current issues? Schedule your Open Opportunity Session for an expert analysis and strategic plan you can implement today.

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Are You Tired of Being Intimidated by Your Child’s School and Their Staff? Here’s What You Need to Know

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Are You Tired of Being Intimidated by Your Child’s School and Their Staff? Here’s What You Need to Know

I cannot tell you how many times parents contact me about the massive amount of problems they are having with their child’s school. 

At times, it can be that their child is not receiving the support services that they are legally entitled to. At times, their child is receiving “support services” however the quality of the service and the caliber of the individual administering them is not qualified and therefore is sub-par, at best. At times, the services are provided when the individual “feels like it.” Last but not least, the individuals providing the services are just not “the right fit.” Unfortunately, this happens all too often and only provides a greater level of frustration for the child and the family.

 

If you have experienced any of these scenarios or are currently going through this situation, what you need to know is that it does not have to be this way and that it needs to stop immediately. 

As many of you know, early intervention is the key. However, if you have started the process, perhaps not as early as you would have liked, the investment in time should yield the same positive results.  

As I have stated before, in order for a child to thrive and be successful, one specific item needs to be the constant throughout. That is, there must be a collaboration between home and school. If this is non existent, then your uphill battle will become that much more difficult.

 

As a parent, you know your child best. 

Therefore, whatever the school staff and administration tells you, can be weighed against your knowledge of your child and their needs along with the guidance of your child’s neurologist. In a later post, I will address how to find a great pediatric neurologist. No matter what your child’s school tells you, you should never make any decision hastily. Think about it and tell them that you will get back to them within 48 hours - and make sure you do. You always want to present yourself as professional and “do what you say.” 

 

You may not agree with what you are being told by your child’s school. Please know, THAT IS OK. 

You do not have to agree on everything or anything that they say. Also know, this is where the pressure and the intimidation will rear it’s ugly head. NEVER feel pressured. Believe it or not, you are in control. Many schools and their personnel feel that they have the right to tell you what you need to do for your child, when they do not. They also feel they have the right to hound you until you give in. DO NOT GIVE IN! They makes themselves bigger than they are and make themselves appear more powerful than they are. Individuals who do this are weak and are using their intimidation tactics to make up for THEIR inadequacies. School personnel also will always back each other up even when some may know what they are saying is not the truth. They seem to believe that there is power in numbers and therefore this would help put pressure on the parent. 

 

Write Everything Down.

Whether you are just starting the journey to have your child classified or have been in this process for a while, one of the the most important things to remember is to put everything in writing. ALL correspondence needs to be sent via email so you have a trail of communication. This applies for the family as well as the school. Make it clear from the beginning, that all correspondence that the school sends you, whether it be the teacher notifying you of the type of day your child had or a particular grade on a test or a behavior issue - DO NOT respond unless it is communicated in writing. By doing this, it shows the school that you are taking the reigns of the situation. This also makes the school accountable for their actions as if they do not comply with your request, it only makes them look bad. Should you have a conversation with any staff member on the phone, YOU MUST follow up that conversation with an email summarizing the conversation. Always, thank them for letting you know about “XYZ” and you will be in touch with them to follow up. 

REMEMBER, PUT EVERYTHING IN WRITING!! 

Too many times parents have conversations or are in the school for something and there is no accounting for that time. SCHOOL PERSONNEL WILL ALWAYS LIE! THEY WILL ALWAYS DENY THAT THEY SAID WHAT YOU ARE STATING THEY IN FACT SAID OR DID. By putting everything in writing, not only does this give you a timeline of actions but true accountability on both sides - home and school. Remind the individuals that you are only trying to do the best for your child and so should they. For the parents that I have worked with, this has always worked. After being intimidated by school staff, the parent has started emailing everything as well as put forth the process that is expected by them - the intimidation has stopped. When the staff knows that they can be called out on something they have said or done and there is no evidence of them doing such, they again get away with it. Once this expectation is put into place, staff members will think twice in regards to what they do and certainly what they say to the parents.  

 

Your child can be helpful here.

Additionally, please encourage your child to tell you the best they can how their day was. If there were any incidences, verbal or otherwise with staff, any situations where they were made to feel uncomfortable or anything that may be construed as not part of a “normal day.” 

Keep a log at home with the date and what your child tells you. 

DO NOT TELL THE SCHOOL YOU ARE KEEPING THIS LOG and DO NOT TELL YOUR CHILD THAT YOU ARE KEEPING THIS LOG EITHER. 

The last thing you want is for your child inadvertently to say something to anyone at the school, child or staff. This is what I call “tipping your hat.” You NEVER want to do this. If after doing this, you are still having a problem with intimidation, it may be time to hire an advocate. Although staff will continue to lie, a good advocate will keep on top of the situation, request a school visit in order to get a first hand look into the child’s day during different classes. A good advocate knows what to look for and therefore will question situations and interactions seen at the time of the visit. In my 18 years of working as an educational consultant and advocate, I have never had a school who had not responded to my emails or therefore any other requests that I have made. This requires constantly pursuing them.  

 

You ARE in charge.

As a parent, you need to be in charge within yourself as well as with the school. Your demeanor, legitimate requests as well as putting everything in writing should change the dynamics that you have with the school. If it does not, then you will have to give some thought as to what your next step should be. As the saying goes: “Too many cooks spoil the broth.” Remember, YOU are the chef and the school is the sous chef. They take direction from you.


Want more? Discover The Ultimate Guide To Advocating For Your Child, a complimentary email course for confused and overwhelmed parents.

Need immediate insight into your child's situation and how to address their current issues? Schedule your Open Opportunity Session for an expert analysis and strategic plan you can implement today.

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School Tour: Sage Day

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School Tour: Sage Day

As an educational consultant and special needs advocate, I periodically visit special needs schools to tour in person because I only recommend schools to my clients that I have personally visited and vetted. This blog post series highlights the top special needs schools in the United States I’ve had the pleasure of visiting and gives an inside look at what makes them so great.

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School

Sage Day

Location

 Mahwah, New Jersey

 

About The School

Sage Day School is a private, credited, therapeutic school located in Northern New Jersey that admits children grades 4 through 12.  Sage Day has four (4) different locations: Sage Day Middle and High School located in Princeton, New Jersey, Sage Day High School located in Boonton, New Jersey, Sage Day Lower/Middle School located in Mahwah, New Jersey and Sage Day High School located in Rochelle Park, New Jersey.

 

Programs

Regardless of which Sage Day School a child attends, they focus on 4 Key Features:

  1. Student Well Being
  2. Community - Focused Culture
  3. Customized Therapy and Academics
  4. The Sage Graduate

 

Additionally, they use a Team Approach which is very basic.  Faculty, therapists and the appropriate staff meet on a regular basis to discuss the student’s needs as well as issues.  Communication is key here as it is imperative that everyone is all on the same page and working with the child to allow for the optimal positive result.  

Strong academics are a must.  The school’s goal is to serve the whole child, from their academics to their emotional needs to social situations.  I envision the school as a puzzle - all the pieces have to fit properly and work together seamlessly.  At times, when it does not, appropriate changes are made with the only goal being of serving the child completely.

Complimenting the strong academics is a comprehensive clinical program that includes individual, group and family therapy that is completed during the school day.  Many times the child is tired to first go to an outside therapist after school or perhaps the parent or caregiver do not have the means to bring the child to an outside therapist. For whatever the reason, having the child be able to fulfill the therapeutic needs at the school make it easier for everyone, especially the child.  Most important it allows for the child to feel the most comfortable in an environment that is safe for them to speak freely and not feel judged.

 

 

Ideal Students

The population that attend Sage Day are considered to be emotionally fragile.  This fragility can be present for many reasons but the most important aspect is that it is being addressed head on with caring, interested, well qualified people who are at Sage Day for all the right reasons.  Some diagnosis’s that the children possess are depression, anxiety disorder, school phobia as well as others.  The school has a comprehensive intake procedure in order to see if a child genuinely belongs at Sage Day.  If it is determined that Sage Day is not the appropriate placement for a child, they will be very forthcoming with the family and tell them so.

 

My Experience

I had the distinct pleasure of visiting Sage Day School located in Mahwah, New Jersey and meeting with the Executive Director, John Reilly and Clinical Director, Alison Hipscher.

 

 Mahwah, NJ location. Photo courtesy of Sage Day

Mahwah, NJ location. Photo courtesy of Sage Day

From the moment I walked into the school, I was greeted by the secretary to the principal, who was welcoming, kind and exuded such pleasure working in this school.  From there, I went on to meet the principal who was just as welcoming, kind and possessed a strong demeanor of someone who was in control and ran a “tight ship.”

I was lucky enough to spend a considerable amount of time speaking with John and Alison in order to learn about Sage Day, their curriculum, their support services and the environment that the school lends itself to in regards to not only the students but their families, which is so important.  Why, you ask?  The family is such an integral part of the success of each and every student who attends, whether it be the lower, middle or high school level.

Alison was kind enough to give me the tour of the school, explaining everything in depth with leaving no stone unturned.  We spent a considerable amount of time together: visiting the classrooms, the therapy rooms, meeting some of the students (which were so sweet and happy) as well as meeting some of the staff.  Everyone that I met was happy, had a positive feeling of engagement and truly wanted to be there and loved what they were doing.

The staff and administration set expectations and standards that are followed however they continually evaluate them in order to improve.

The time I spent at Sage Day - Mahwah was uplifting, hopeful and genuinely a ray of sunshine for the children who are sometimes not “taken care of” as they should be.  It was time well spent and if appropriate, I would recommend Sage Day to families hands down.  This school is a diamond in the rough should you be interested in finding a school within their geographical area.

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How to Find An Amazing Special Education Advocate For Your Child

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How to Find An Amazing Special Education Advocate For Your Child

As a parent, there are many decisions that need to be made in regards to your child. Some decisions have more of a major impact than others but nonetheless, each one creates a piece of the road that they will follow for now and moving forward.

If you have done some research, you will know that there are many, many individuals that advertise themselves as advocates. 

A good majority of them, talk about how they were able to get services for THEIR child. This does not make a person a good advocate or an advocate at all. They do not have a degree that is associated with children or psychology nor have they been advocating as a serious professional. Boasting that one is an advocate and taking on a case here or there or filling up some spare time that they might have during the day, again does not make one an advocate.

I can’t tell you how many times I have looked into other “advocates.” I find them in Google or in a directory. My point of researching others that claim they are an advocate is purely to educate myself on who is out there and what they are proposing to provide to families. 

The majority do not have experience with children at all. 

They have never been in the classroom, have never counseled children, have never served as a therapist for children, whether it be ABA or any other type. How can one be an advocate if they have never been in the classroom, worked with children or understand how the school districts work? This is my point. They can’t be! 

They aren't running a legit business.

Additionally, upon finding other “advocates,” I have tried to contact them whether it be by phone or email. More times than not, the phone number listed does not work and when clicking on their website, that does not work either. It is either expired or the page says it is under construction. You cannot do business like this. If this has happened to you, please beware. There are many people posing as an advocate but all they really do is take your money and provide no results. Yes, they may advertise free consultations, cheaper rates and more but the bottom line is that if you use these people, you are putting yourself into a vulnerable situation of spending money (no matter how cheap it may seem) and your child will still not be receiving the support services that they need. As the old adage goes: You get what you pay for.

Should you decide to hire an advocate, one of their responsibilities is to tell you the scope of your case at the beginning, not at the end. 

What seems to be from a financial situation, a “bargain” will more times than not become a black hole. As time progresses, you will be continually paying this individual and ultimately have yourself, what appears to be, another mortgage payment each month. Again, transparency is the key. No advocate can predict with 100% certainty what services they can get approved for your child however, if they are skilled at what they do then they can certainly provide you with a scenario close to the actual outcome.

The only goal is to advocate in order for your child to receive the appropriate support services that will allow them to grow and flourish in addition to educate them and prepare them for their bright future.

How To Evaluate An Advocate

On the other hand, finding a good advocate is easier than one might think. When you find one, look at their website - it should be totally transparent. A website is a must. If the individual does not have one, DO NOT HIRE THEM!  Everything should be listed and questions you may have in your mind should be answered. If you have additional questions, you should call - the phone number should work and speak with the individual directly. If the number does not work, DO NOT HIRE THEM! Within a short period of time, you will know if that person is qualified to represent your child or not. The key is to ask alot of questions: about their education, their experience as well as their process. If you are still not clear on these things then DO NOT HIRE THEM! 

True advocates will have recommendations from other families that they have worked with. Many times, these are testimonials on their site. Keep in mind, the information for each child is extremely confidential and should be kept as such, however some advocates may have parents that are willing to speak with you directly in order to explain their own personal experience.  

I have worked with many families that before coming to me have had a negative experience with a different advocate. Some problems included not returning phone calls, not answering emails to them as well as to school personnel, not showing up at a meeting, whether it be in person or over the phone and the list goes on and on. This is totally unacceptable! As a family, you are totally invested in your child and therefore the advocate should no doubt, be as well. Ask around for recommendations. The majority of my business is based on referrals from families that I have previously worked with as well as the many schools that I personally have visited.  

School Recommendations

I will never recommend a school to a family unless I myself have personally met the staff, children and toured the facility. Each school that I have on my referral list is vetted by me personally. Anyone can throw out a name but it does not mean that it would be the appropriate fit for the child. For me, every family that I work with and every child that I represent, is approached on a very personal level. Each and every child that I work with is treated as though they are my own and therefore I would not recommend anything that I did not feel would be 100% helpful.

Choosing the wrong advocate, sets you back in time, money and most importantly your child’s progress.


Want more? Discover The Ultimate Guide To Advocating For Your Child, a complimentary email course for confused and overwhelmed parents.

Need immediate insight into your child's situation and how to address their current issues? Schedule your Open Opportunity Session for an expert analysis and strategic plan you can implement today.

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Is Your Child’s School REALLY Putting Their Best Interests First?

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Is Your Child’s School REALLY Putting Their Best Interests First?

Through my 18 years as being an advocate for special needs children, I have seen many different situations and problems that families are forced to face. First, hearing and having to accept your child’s diagnosis and second - what to do next. From changes within the family to the child’s academic environment, parents are confused and overwhelmed.

Although the public school system offers many different support services, parents need to go through a process of finding a competent physician who can diagnosis the child properly before even sitting down with the school to discuss the changes and services needed for that child. In a follow up post, I will discuss how to find a doctor who genuinely will work with the family in order to help the child reach the goals set before them.

Schools Districts Aren't What You Think

Unfortunately, in some cases school districts do not offer many support services. Perhaps the services are not available in the specific school that their child attends and therefore may have to enroll in a different school within the district. Sometimes, the school district that the family lives in does not have the appropriate services at all and then the child would need to attend a school within a different district. Or in some case scenarios, the child does not belong in the public school system at all and requires to attend a therapeutic school. In order to determine what is best for the child, the process can be long and drawn out.

The majority of schools that I have had interactions with blatantly refuse to send a child out of district and moreso do not admit that the child needs a therapeutic learning environment at all. Although each child is different, I hear the same verbiage from the schools. They say they can handle the child, they say that the child is doing well ( in some cases, the child is exceeding expectations), they say that things don't change overnight and the family needs to give it time. I have had this conversation with schools (too many times to count), but the bottom line is everything that they are saying in each of these cases is false. The majority of schools and their staff blatantly lie. Why? Because they want to exude the image that they are doing everything right and the problem lies within the family unit. It makes their job easier by just sweeping the situation under the rug. The truth is: in order for a child to flourish not only academically but personally, there needs to be a collaboration between home and school. Without that, everything becomes an uphill battle. The school ends up providing an environment that DOES NOT lend itself to learning and growing but creates an environment of anxiety for the child.

 

You Won't Believe This

Many of the horror stories that I have heard from families range from staff bullying the child to a security guard at a public school grabbing the child to staff members changing grades on a paper and/or test so it makes the school “look good” to telling the parent that the best way to handle their child because they are disruptive is to put them in a classroom by themselves with a staff member of some type for the day, everyday, until the child “gets better.” The school engages in this behavior because they do not want to deal with the child and the issues at hand. I equate this with being put in solitary confinement. How does this help the child? It doesn’t! 

However, the most disturbing instance was when the school called CPS on a mother and had her arrested. Why you ask? The child had been bullied relentlessly. The mother spoke to the school over and over again about this and they never addressed it. The bullying became so bad that the child came home one day with choke marks on his neck. The mother immediately called the school to notify them and they made up an excuse by saying the child was just playing with other students and it was nothing. After that incident, the mom was frightened for her child to continue attending that specific school. She communicated this to the school along with the many other times she explained to them how the school was not an appropriate learning environment for her child nor a place where she felt he was safe. They ignored it in the past as well as dismissed the latest occurrence. Due to the fact that she kept her child home and ultimately because CPS was contacted by the school, she was arrested. Now mind you, she not only was trying to take care of her child but she herself had to retain a criminal defense attorney in regards to the arrest. This is one of the most horrific examples of how school districts manipulate and lie while not being proactive to address the initial bullying situation with the child. The staff and administrators are lazy. They don’t want to work and they certainly don’t want to help; which by the way is their job.

 

Schools Manipulate

I can’t tell you how many times I have sat in a meeting whereby every single staff member and administrator have communicated the same piece of information in the same way. Be aware, that prior to any meeting that you, as a parent has scheduled, everyone (staff and administrators) have had a meeting amongst themselves prior. They talk about the case, decide what they will and will not say and attend that meeting in order to intimidate the parent (s) or caregiver (s). Some parents have equated walking into a meeting feeling as though they are a part of a firing line. How awful and inexcusable when the school is “supposed” to be helping your child. They push you against the wall and make you feel as though you have no choice but to accept what they are saying. You ALWAYS have a choice and do not let them tell you otherwise. NEVER sign any papers until you have read them fully and had someone else look over them as well. Whether that be your spouse, a family member, an advocate or attorney.

I have one nightmare story after another in regards to families hiring an advocate and/or attorney. This topic, I will address in a future post. Not all advocates and attorneys are the same, so beware and if you are at that point, question everything until you have all your questions answered fully. If you still have any questions or do not feel right about that individual, DO NOT HIRE THEM! Your gut feeling is usually right.

 

Be Wary Of Helping Hands

In my opinion, there are very few individuals who get into the education industry to genuinely help the child. For the ones that do, they do a phenomenal job and are an integral part of that child’s life. These are the people that a child will remember moving forward and be ever so grateful for the time and interest spent on their behalf. However, on the flip side, most educators are in this industry because “it’s a job.” They have no dedication, interest or feelings of empathy for these children who genuinely need the specialized support services. I have seen first hand how support services change a child. They allow the child to progress, become very good at something which in turn increases their self esteem exponentially and allows them to feel part of something larger.

 

Special Needs Children Deserve The World

Should you feel as though the school your child is attending, whether it be public, private or even a therapeutic one is not providing the appropriate learning environment coupled with the appropriate services, make that change. With children who are special needs, time is of the essence and change is very difficult. As hard as the situation is on you, it is even harder for your child. Remember, they did not ask for this but what they are asking for is your help to do the right thing for them. Special needs children are just that - SPECIAL!


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School Tour: Riverview School

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School Tour: Riverview School

As an educational consultant and special needs advocate, I periodically visit special needs schools to tour in person because I only recommend schools to my clients that I have personally visited and vetted. This blog post series highlights the top special needs schools in the United States I’ve had the pleasure of visiting and gives an inside look at what makes them so great.

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School

Riverview School

Location

Cape Cod, Massachusetts 

 

About The School

Riverview School is an independent, coeducational boarding/day school that is located in Cape Cod, Massachusetts.  The children that attend range from ages 12 to 22 years old and possess varying complex language and learning issues which include Down Syndrome, Autism as well as intellectual disabilities.  They are located on a sprawling 16 acre campus that is pristine and extremely welcoming.

 

Programs

Riverview has two (2) programs available.  One is the Middle/High School which is for students 12 -19 years old as well as a program called GROW, which stands for Getting Ready for the Outside World.  The GROW program encompasses students 17 - 22 years old who have complex language, learning and cognitive problems.

 Artwork by the children of Riverview School. Photo by Ilene B. Miller

Artwork by the children of Riverview School. Photo by Ilene B. Miller

Riverview offers many opportunities for students on different levels.  Cafe Riverview is certainly one of them.  This cafe is a hands-on classroom for the students that are enrolled in the GROW program.  For those students who are interested in food service, they are afforded the opportunity to learn about the hospitality industry whereby they are educated in restaurant operations and how to prepare food and serve it to the public.  Their hours of operation are 6:30 am to 2:00 pm everyday and as a bonus they are also equipped with Wi-Fi.  The students love working here as it boosts their self esteem and allows them to be a huge part of the their own success.  If you are ever in the area or just passing through, going to Riverview Cafe would be an absolutely treat.  

Riverview School offers a wonderful athletic program to the Middle/High School students which is totally inclusive.  Emphasis is put on sportsmanship and teamwork.  This program is modified in order to meet the needs of the students.  The program offers soccer, basketball, softball, tennis, cross country and track and field.  Each student is able to sign up for one sport per season with a total of three (3) seasons.

For the GROW students, the school offers health, nutrition and fitness.  The students can choose from participating in Zumba, yoga, intramural sports or can use the Wellness Center.  The Wellness Center has been completely updated and is beautiful.  I was extremely impressed with all the types of equipment offered.  The Wellness Center is staffed with a certified fitness instructor who works on not only the physical equipment component but nutrition as well.

 

Ideal Students

Students that attend Riverview have been diagnosed with varying disabilities, some of which are anxiety, autism, down syndrome and dyslexia.  These are just a few of the disabilities that Riverview focuses on however there are many more.

 

My Experience

From the moment I drove up the school, I was impressed with the layout of the campus as well as the dynamics between some of the students.  As I made my way into the main building, I saw students socializing, laughing and joking around.  This spoke volumes to me as it represents the environment and all it means to these students.  Students that attend here are from all over the country.

 A welcoming and pristine hallway. Photo by Ilene B. Miller

A welcoming and pristine hallway. Photo by Ilene B. Miller

Environment

The school focuses on the “whole child” so all facets of the child are met.  They have built a non-competitive, success oriented program so each child feels comfortable and can take risks although it might be “out of the box.”  The school’s main goal is help each child gain the academic, social and independent living skills needed in order for them to achieve THEIR goals.  

The school provides a very nurturing and accepting environment whereby the students are surrounded by their peers and therefore they feel as though they are part of a community that works together to reach the same goals.  There is total acceptance and no one is left to feel as though they are an outsider.  This school allows for each child to achieve their personal best whether it be through academics, athletics, cooking or taking on responsibility as in specific chores.  They are allowed to find the best within themselves and nurture that with the constant and positive enforcing assistance of every staff member at the school.

Dorms

The dorms that the children live in feel like “home.”  They are decorated to make one feel welcomed.  Each student has beautifully made their space their own which in turn makes them feel happy.  However, just like home, the students do have chores that they are required to complete.  They are required to keep their space clean as well as doing their own laundry at an off campus laundromat that the school transports them to, just to name a few.

The school has a lovely library whereby it provides all that is needed to complete any assignment for any class.

 Entrance to the library. Photo by Ilene B. Miller

Entrance to the library. Photo by Ilene B. Miller

Students

I had the pleasure of meeting many students within three (3) of the classrooms I visited.  Each and every one of them was welcoming, funny, smart as well as attentive.  They were asked to stop what they were doing for that moment and focus their attention on me in order to introduce themselves and to provide me with a little information about them.  Each and every one of them had different personalities but the one thing that was uniform in all the students was how happy they were to be at Riverview.  They were asked how they liked living and attending Riverview.  Each of them gave me the thumbs up and told me how amazing the school was.  The majority of the students had attended for several years and felt as though it was home.

I was surprised to hear several students tell me they are from around the country, and not nearby. Despite being so far from their family, they seemed thrilled to be at Riverview with their school family.

They were sweet, caring and many told me to enjoy my tour of the school while many thanked me for coming to their school. It’s a place where they can flourish, be themselves, be accepted and challenged to become better and stronger.  All with the goal for them to be prepared for the world ahead.  Every individual that I met from administrators to staff were wonderful.  They had a smile on their face and you could genuinely see that they love what they do and they genuinely want to see these children succeed. They seem to treat each child as though they were their own.  The commitment and interest was overwhelming and extremely impressive.

Riverview School is a one in a million educational opportunity for the students that attend here.

Riverview has made my list of the top schools to refer out to families that I work with. My criteria is extremely stringent so many schools that I visit do not make my list, however Riverview School gets a check mark for everything.

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