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Looking For Free Special Education Advice Online? Don't.

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Looking For Free Special Education Advice Online? Don't.

I have worked in the education industry for 24+ years.  First, as a teacher then as an ABA Therapist.   For the past 18+ years, I have owned my own business and worked as a Special Needs Advocate and Educational Consultant.  Each of these positions have allowed me to learn new things while working on how to help children attain their goals and become successful.  For me, these last 18+ years have taught me many things (good and bad) along with meeting and working with families from the United States as well as internationally.  

Each day is a new experience.  Many things and situations that I witness draws on my years in the industry while including my education, skills and quite frankly common sense.  The reason I started my business was to educate and empower parents and families that have a child with special needs.  

Please read the following blog post and take it to heart.  If you decide to do nothing else, please read on.

Almost everyday, I am contacted by advocates and or attorneys looking for information to answer questions that they have. 

Some of The questions are:

1. How do I interpret test scores?

2. What are the parameters in regards to a parent signing an IEP?

3. Is my client entitled to transportation? 

4. I am working with a family but the child’s placement is wrong, what do I do?

5. My advocate is out of the country for the next two weeks and told me that they are not available by phone or email, what do I do?

And the list goes on and on. 

First of all, I cannot answer any these questions properly and accurately without knowing all of the information in regards to the child.  When I instruct these individuals that I would be more happy to help them but I need all the information that is pertinent to the case as well as any paperwork involved (this includes IEP, test scores, etc.).  I explain to them that they can book a call with me in order to go over their question (s) and thereby give them an answer to move forward with so they can represent their client to the best of their ability.

Although I am willing to help, I question why are these people representing anyone when clearly they are not qualified to do so. 

Additionally, who is hiring them and did the family not do their homework?

After doing some research, these are the very people that are on online forums trying to gain answers to their questions from other “advocates” and “attorneys.”

PLEASE, if you truly want to help your child, do not resort to going onto online forums in order to find out information regarding the law, support services, placement, what your rights are as a parent along with what your child’s rights are.  

Time and time again, individuals seek assistance from an online forum. 

These people answering you are not qualified at all. 

Any parent who has a special needs child and has turned into an advocate is not an advocate. 

Check their credentials.  Degree? Experience? Email address? (I have addressed this particular topic in a prior blog post).

Just this week, I had a parent call me whose child is currently in a boarding school which he pays for out of pocket but believes that it is not the right placement.  It is now January, where have you been?!  He contacted me to see if I could get his daughter’s placement changed.  In speaking with him, he disclosed that he had an “attorney” but she did not know what she was doing. 

So the bottom line is he spent money on someone that he thought could help and she was not qualified.  So not only is he exactly where he started but he is 5 months into the school year with no direction.

I explained my process to him and welcomed him to contact me if he desired to.  In closing with our conversation, I wished him the best because I knew that he was not going to be proactive in regards to the placement and he would be right back to where he is now come the beginning of the 2019-2020 school year.  I knew this because he has been fighting this fight for the past 5 years.

Having a child who is special needs means time is of the essence. 

You have only a certain window of time that you need to get everything done in.  If you try and it is not working, then it is time to change gears and re-evaluate the situation and  what needs to be done differently and how you can accomplish that.  Not to keep repeating the same thing and hope against hope that things will change.

Going to an online forum is NEVER the answer. 

Asking total strangers about your particular situation and child does not make any sense.  No one can give you a definitive answer about your situation and your child without knowing every detail.  A blanket answer is not THE answer.  

The second instance this week, an “advocate” called me because she did not know how to interpret test scores that a family questioned her about.  In speaking to her, I instructed her that I would be more than happy to help but needed the information emailed to me so that I could look it over myself.  At that time, if I had everything I needed which I believed could warrant a comprehensive answer then she could book a call and I would be more than happy to cover it with her and explain how to actually interpret the results. 

Let me follow this up with, I looked her up - she had no experience, not a professional email or any degrees that would tell me she is actually educated in this area or any area.  In speaking with her, I heard her baby crying in the background.  You cannot be taken seriously and be a true professional when you are at home taking care of your baby while trying to help a family.

Unfortunately, I have found that many of these “advocates” represent themselves as such but are anything but.  They are on these online forums dishing out advice when they shouldn’t be doing anything of this nature. 

Being an advocate is NOT something you decide to do when your kids are in school for a few hours and you are playing funsies with people’s lives.

Third instance - I had an attorney contact me because he did not know how to address a problem that a family was having who HE was representing.  The situation was complicated as it involved several problems that had been ongoing but never resolved.  Again, my response was the same as I gave to the other individuals who contacted me this week. 

He wanted a quick answer for a quick fix. 

He explained that he did not have a lot of time because if he took too long to follow up with the family then he would look bad and the family would question his competency (my word, not his).  Clearly, he is not capable of representing this family and perhaps others.  I explained that I do not give “quick fix” answers.  When I answer something, it is after I have done my due diligence on the topic and/or situation.  He was not happy with my response and hung up on me.  Is this the type of individual you would want representing you?  He too, is on an online forum answering questions.  Clearly, I would question anything he has to say as he states he is a lawyer with a specialty in Special Education.

Many of these advocates and lawyers feel the need to be on these forums always giving advice because they feel as though their presence will somehow validate who they are.  

Bottom line:  the amount of time these individuals are on these forums is vast.  If you had a “real business” then you would not have time to spend on these forums continually because you would actually be running a business and have clients to genuinely help.

These three situations are only a sampling of individuals that I have heard from this week.  In total, 6 people contacted me this week for advice, help, interpretation of the law and test scores.  These are not the people you want to hire or even request answers from.  As a side note, I have seen some of these particular individuals on some online forums to answer questions.  Ironic as they do not know the answers because then they contact me to actually get the answers.

Please please please do not go to these online forums to get answers about your child because these people do not know your child, your family or your situation.

What should you do?

  1. Do yourself a favor - do your homework before hiring an advocate or attorney.  

  2. Cheaper is not usually better.  As the old adage goes - you get what you pay for. The gentleman who contacted me this week said he paid an attorney who he admitted was not that much money (any money spent is too much if you get lackluster or no results).  Unfortunately, he is out the money and nowhere closer to where he needs to be and what his daughter is in need of.

  3. On that same note as above - don’t be taken in by the “Free Consultation.”  When anyone advertises their services as “free” it de-values them.  When I see this verbiage, it tells me that this person will take anyone on as a client because offering a “free” anything will bring people in.  They also think “well, a little money is better than no money.”  I have heard this from individuals who have contacted me because they want to become a Special Needs Advocate but do not know how to go about it.  I correct them and explain that as the saying goes - “you get what you pay for.”  As a parent, you should look for quality over quantity.  Advocates are a dime a dozen but GREAT advocates are hard to come by and if someone falls into the latter category then they will not be on these online forums to give advice in order to boost themselves up.  Their work speaks volumes as to who they are and maybe they are not cheap but more times than not, they are worth every penny.


As a parent of a child with special needs, there are many questions that come up and situations that need to be addressed.  It is an ever changing time whereby you need to keep a level head, spend time weighing the negatives and positives along with what is right for your family and what is not.  At times it is overwhelming but when you need clarification and have questions, please seek out the assistance from individuals who genuinely have your child’s best interest at heart and will do the right thing.  These individuals will be by your side and willing to “fight” as hard for your child as you will - sometimes harder.  

For me personally, I started my business to help the underdog.  EVERYONE deserves the same chance to be great. 

As a parent, please do not seek out assistance from individuals who don’t have that passion for your child or family.  

I can honestly say that the individuals who are on these online forums have a passion - for themselves, not for your child.


 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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ABA Therapy:  What Is It? Does My Child Need It?

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ABA Therapy:  What Is It? Does My Child Need It?

What is ABA Therapy?

ABA or Applied Behavior Analysis is a scientific methodology that applies techniques which are based upon the specific principles of learning to change behavior along with social interactions.  Some people may refer to ABA as behavior modification.  ABA Therapy is widely recognized as the most effective evidence-based treatment for autism.  ABA fosters basic skills as looking, listening, requesting, imitating as well as higher level skills such as reading, speaking and understanding another person’s perspective.  

Therapists work closely with families and education professionals in order to apply the principles of ABA to teach language, social, self-help, academic, daily living and life skills.

ABA is a type of therapy that focuses on improving specific behaviors such as communication, reading, overall academics, social skills, as well as fine motor dexterity, hygiene, job competence as well as responsibilities involving holding down a job.  ABA is effective for children and adults with varying psychological disorders that are present within a variety of settings.  Some of these settings include school, home and the workplace. 

It has been proven that ABA can significantly improve behaviors and skills and therefore decrease the need for special support services.

Who can benefit from ABA Therapy?

ABA is commonly used as a therapeutic intervention for individuals with autism.  However, ABA is a fantastic therapy to be used with individuals that also have been diagnosed with severe speech and language disorders like DAS (Developmental Apraxia of Speech).

How does ABA Therapy help?

ABA not only helps the autistic individual learn new skills and maintain positive behavior but also to improve social interactions.  ABA also helps transfer skills and behavior from one situation to another which is integral in controlling or minimizing any negative behavior.

How does ABA Therapy work?

ABA helps people to become more successful in natural settings such as home, school and community.  ABA involves ongoing data collection to evaluate whether behavior is changing in the desired direction and the goals are being achieved.  ABA manages the consequences of behavior by rewarding positive behavior and in some cases uses punishment to deter behavior (child is unable to go the park and play for that day).  The rewards used must be enticing to the child or they will not “work” for it.

ABA uses discrete trial training or verbal behavior training.  This incorporates effective teaching and reinforcement practices to help children with disabilities to learn new skills faster and more efficiently.

When should ABA Therapy be used?

In order for ABA to be the most successful, it should be applied to a child prior to the age of 3 or 4 years old with a  minimum of 20 hours per week.  ABA is applied in 2 hour blocks of time.  Anything less does not allow the individual to receive the optimal results.

Although you do not hear about ABA as much for the elderly, it can be quite helpful with individuals in this age group as it helps them cope with their memory, physical strength as well as relationships.

There are several expectations involved with ABA Therapy:

  1. You need to determine what behaviors need to be changed

  2. Goals and expected outcomes need to be set

  3. Ways to measure changes and improvements needs be set into place

  4. Evaluate the starting point

  5. Learn new skills while avoiding negative ones

  6. Review the progress made

  7. After reviewing the progress, you need to determine if and how much ABA is needed

How long should ABA Therapy be used?

There is no specific time frame as to how long an individual may need ABA Therapy.  This solely depends on the diagnosis and at what rate improvement has occurred.  For the greatest results, ABA requires the therapist to monitor and evaluate constantly.

What is Discrete Trial Training?

A child is given a stimulus or question.  The child is given the correct answer or a very strong hint as what the correct answer would be.  If the child repeats the right answer then he is rewarded for it.  If the answer is incorrect, then it is smoothed over with very little attention given to the fact that it is incorrect.  The same  question is asked of the child for 10 times.  Each time the child gives the correct answer, the clues are removed slowly until the child responds correctly and independently.  Each specific program is worked on until the child has achieved mastery of that program.  This requires 8 out of 10 times correctly and independently over 3 sessions.  The therapist will move on to the next program and trials however will always come back to the programs that have been mastered to alleviate the possibility that the child will regress or would be unable to follow through with what had been worked on prior.

It is important to note that the skills taught in the discrete trials must be practiced and generalized in natural settings.  You must reinforce the wide range of appropriate behaviors in a variety of settings until the level of reinforcement fades to a regular level.

How can I ensure ABA Therapy works?

I began my experience in the education industry 24+ years ago initially as a teacher and ABA Therapist.  Although ABA then was not as prevalent as a choice for therapy, it always worked.  I had then and continue to see now how children have turned into ”miracles” from the intervention and application of ABA Therapy. 

With that said, I have had parents contact me through the years with nightmare stories about how their child was awarded ABA Therapy but the experience was nothing short of a horror story.  If you have made the decision that your child would be a great candidate for ABA Therapy, after speaking with your pediatric neurologist, please make sure that everything associated with your child’s experience is nothing short of fantastic.

Here are some things that you must be aware of:  

1. Cherish the loose leaf binder

A loose leaf binder that the BCBA provides should house all of the programs that are written for your child along with the discrete trials and results.  These programs vary, however must be applicable to YOUR child.  These programs are written by the BCBA who may not necessarily be the individual administering the therapy.  However, the BCBA should meet with you, IN PERSON once a week as well as the therapist to go over the programs, how your child is doing, if changes need to be made and to answer any questions that you may have.

2. Keep Track Of The Timesheets

Within this loose leaf binder should also be time sheets that the therapist needs to fill out and that you need to sign.  However, do not sign the time sheets if they do not reflect the actual times that the therapists have been to your home!  Never give in and always monitor the therapist, BCBA, the binder, time sheets and actual therapy sessions. 

I cannot tell you how many times parents have signed time sheets because they felt that they were obligated to when in fact that was not the case.  For example, the therapist was late or had to leave early or did not show up at all.  ANY AND ALL CHANGES IN REGARDS TO TIME, DAYS ETC. NEEDS TO BE NOTED AND THE BCBA MUST BE MADE AWARE OF THIS WHEN IT HAPPENS.  Only communicate via email when something has to be noted. This way no one can claim that they did not know about it.  Always make copies of every note and time sheet after each session.  When you may not expect it, the binder make go "missing" and your chance to have copies will be no longer existent.  Agencies as well as therapists/BCBA's have a reputation of business practices that are anything but professional.  Cover yourself. 

3. ABA must be done at the table

Not in the child’s room, outside on the patio, etc.  Make sure the sessions are in full view for you to listen.  Too many times, parents have explained to me that the therapist was in the child’s room to do the therapy.  Absolutely not!!!  There must be accountability.  

4. The Therapist Needs To Be Great

Too many times I have heard from parents that the therapist and or the BCBA is not educated and most importantly not experienced.  This therapy like any other MUST be administered by an experienced and effective individual.  If they are not, then they are wasting everyone’s time, especially your child’s. 

Remember: Your child has a window of time and opportunity to gain the skills needed to be successful.  Why would you allow any individual to take that away from them?

 

5. DO NOT BE AFRAID TO COMPLAIN TO THE SCHOOL OR AGENCY THAT IS PROVIDING THE ABA STAFF

It is extremely difficult to find a great agency and even more difficult to find great ABA staff.  As a parent, do not give in and believe when the agency or school says we have no one else.  There are always other options.  There is too much at stake when it comes to your child. 

DO NOT LET OTHERS BE IN CHARGE OF YOUR CHILD’S DESTINY.  THEY HAVE NO RIGHT!!


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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Introducing: Private Therapeutic School Selection

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Introducing: Private Therapeutic School Selection

As your family liaison, I can research, vet and tour private therapeutic schools on your behalf so you can make the right choice for your child with special needs.

As a parent, there are many situations and hurdles you must address and overcome.  Whether it be a family issue, academic issue, professional issue or just the day to day goings on.  Being a parent is one of the hardest yet most important jobs one could have.  We all assume when a baby is born healthy, we are grateful and expect that the child will grow up like every other child.  However, when you notice something as a parent that is not right, Step 1 of this arduous process begins.  Not knowing all the twists and turns that life will bring to the family, it is a situation presented that MUST be addressed and addressed correctly.  There is no room for error as your child’s future is depending on you and all that you do for the betterment of their life.

Placement of your child in the proper school and the proper classroom is imperative. 

If your child has been placed, in what you believe is an incorrect setting then you need to be proactive to either have their classroom placement/staff member changed within the school that they are currently attending or placing them within a different district that could offer your child the appropriate fit or decide to place your child within a private school whereby the environment is the exact fit for your child for not only the academic piece but for the social and lifestyle piece as well.  I look at the situation as a puzzle that has many different pieces or facets to it.  In order for it all to work correctly, ALL the puzzle pieces MUST come together correctly and seamlessly.  If this does not occur then any strides and progression that your child may make will be at a much slower rate than what it should be.

Trying to find the one and only placement where positive outcomes are plentiful and set a standard for everything else can be daunting. The questions are endless..

  • What type of schools do I look for?

  • What should their curriculum include?

  • What is their classroom ratio?

  • What type of support do they offer?

The questions are endless but equally important.  You must have all of your questions answered and feel 100% comfortable with your decision.  If you don’t then your doubts will carry over to your child which in turn will effect their outlook, mindset and results.

That’s why I’m excited to introduce my latest product the Private School Search, concierge-like assistance in researching, vetting, touring and evaluating the perfect private therapeutic school for your child.

 

If your public school isn’t meeting their needs and placement in a local district that might be better suited for your child is out of the question, your child’s pubic school might pay for your child to attend a private school that is more equipped to handle their issues. This is common in districts that are unable to offer adequate support. This means that your child can attend a local private school and you don’t have to pay a thing.

Or you might opt to forgo your local district and pay for a school yourself if you have the means.

If you are located outside the United States but in search of an appropriate school to place your child in America, I act as your family liaison in the states who can complete the school selection process virtually with you in your home country.

I have had many requests from families to assist in the selection of the perfect private school and I’m happy to announce this is now a package that can be purchased.

Wherever you place your child, ideally they will be there for many years to come as they make great strides in a supportive environment tailored to them.

Why outsource your therapeutic school selection?

  • You can stay home, without interrupting your normal routine.

  • Having personalized support and guidance can be the difference between making the right choice the first time or having to go through the process again in another year when you realize the school you selected actually isn't a good match.

  • You can save time by not traveling to the schools yourself. Be there without actually being there.

  • The numerous perks that come with having a seasoned advocate as your voice, like asking the right questions at the right time.

There are several steps that I go through in order to find you the perfect placement for your child, no matter where you live.

If the school does not match the child’s needs no matter how nice the people are, then progress will be minimal or not at all.  Being nice or having staff tell you that everything is rosy, sweet and fantabulous does not get the job done.  You want results!!!  Clearly, you want the individuals that are working with your child to be nice and caring and feel as though they are invested in your child’s progress however, you DO NOT want someone to sugar coat things and not tell you the way they really are.  Honesty, this will only help them as well as yourselves to work on what is necessary while continually to encourage the details that have been mastered.

 

Research

A great deal is given to this first step as it is what builds and creates the necessary school to educate, empower and support your child.  After speaking with you in depth in regards to your child during an Open Opportunity Session, I research and compile a proper list of therapeutic schools that are specific to your child’s needs.

Once you have read through and gone over my list, YOU decide which schools would be the most appropriate for your child, with my assistance.  Many things need to be considered including proximity.

One of the most important questions you need to ask yourselves is if you want your child to attend a school that offers a day program only or you would like them to attend a school where they are further from home and board at the school.  Once the list has been narrowed down, I contact the schools directly to set up a day and time for a tour.  These tours that I schedule are one on one with either the Director/Clinical Staff or Head of Admissions.  In some cases, it can be all of these individuals.  I do not tour schools with other individuals (parents)  as I require all the attention to be on my inquiries and my interests on behalf your child.

 

Personal Tour

With the permission from the school, I will conference you in to see the school first hand.  I also speak with admissions and clinical personnel on your behalf so I am able to ask questions that are pertinent to your child.  I also request prior to the tour that I would like to meet with staff, therapists, classroom teachers  and more. 

By doing this and speaking with these people, it gives me as well as yourself a sense of what the academic and social life on campus is.  My position within this is not only being your liason but advocate for what your child needs and to ask the tough questions directly before a decision is made.  The last thing that you want is to choose the the wrong school for your child and have to change at some point because the school is not the “right fit" for your child and family. 

As you know, change is very difficult for children with special needs in so far as becoming a detriment to their progress.  Change in many instances can cause a child to regress, which no one wants especially the child.  This disruption  can cause greater frustration, anxiety and additional behavioral problems or the beginning of some.

 

Photos and Video

Within each school, I will take photos and video of the school.  Again, this is pending the approval from the school.  My main  reasons for doing this is so you can get an inside look at some of the classrooms, study areas, library, gym, amenities and more.

 

Evaluation

Once the tour is completed, I sit down and evaluate how well the child’s needs would be met at each school.  I provide a formal evaluation of my professional opinion.  I include a list of pros and cons along with recommendations so you can move forward and make the decision as to when and if you would like to apply to this academic setting.  

 

Prep For Admissions

After discussing all the pertinent information, the next step would be to prepare for the admissions process.  This is a very important part that needs to be discussed when touring the school as it is imperative you know what is expected and what the school is requesting within what timeline.

Although all the support services are extremely important, school placement is paramount! 

Having your child placed in a school and or classroom that is not appropriate and does not offer the least restrictive environment in order for them to learn at their optimal level is wasting everyone’s time especially your child's.  Don’t you get tired of having to contact the school, the teacher, the therapist, etc. because there are problems, things are not working, your child is not learning, your child is being bullied and nothing is being done about it, etc.?  You know the drill.  YOU are the only one who can change all of that. 

Don’t waste another moment of your child’s future with all this nonsense.  Make every moment count with a perpetual wheel of progress.  Don’t let the schools take advantage of you and your family. 

Don’t let the schools tell you what they think you want to hear. 

Don’t let the schools continue to waste your time.  Time is a very valuable commodity and for those who do not respect one’s time, then they have no respect for people. 

Why would you want to spend another moment trying to convince the school and staff what your child needs when they blatantly don’t care? 

How many times are you going to allow the school and staff to have you be on that wheel going to nowhere?  You keep moving but nothing is changing for the better or for that matter, changing at all.  Your child deserves the world and you are the only ones who can give it to them. 

Your child did not ask to be born with these difficulties.  As a parent, it is your job to be there and come through for them.  

Unfortunately, the school and staff can be that weak and/or broken piece of the puzzle that is responsible for the whole puzzle to disintegrate with no opportunity to become whole.  Why give them that power over you and your child?

Be proactive.  Your child is counting on you!!


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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The Best Amusement Parks for Children with Special Needs

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The Best Amusement Parks for Children with Special Needs

Summer is in full swing and as parents, you are always looking for new and exciting activities to engage your child in.  The following list encompasses some amusement parks throughout the United States and one just over the border in Canada, that offer accommodations to children with special needs along with their families.  Although I have highlighted many aspects of each park, I advise you to visit their website and even call to speak with an individual who can answer any questions that you may have in addition to provide pertinent information so you are well prepared should you decide to visit.

disneyworld-special-needs.jpg

Disneyworld - Orlando, Florida


They offer many services for guests with special needs.

  1. Advanced Ticket purchase

  2. Stroller and Wheelchair rental

  3. Strollers that can be used as wheelchairs

  4. Rider Switch

  5. Assistance in accessing attractions

  6. Break Areas

  7. Companion Restrooms

  8. Attraction Guides

  9. Dietary Accommodations

 

Universal Studios and Sea World Orlando will assist guests who are visiting the park.  If you are a family with special needs, the park suggests that you go to the customer service desk at the entrance to each theme park and notify them of your situation.

 

Source: Morgan's Wonderland

Source: Morgan's Wonderland

Morgan’s Wonderland - San Antonio, Texas
 

This amusement park is the only one in the world where all the rides are fully accessible and sensory friendly.  The park is based on inclusivity and fun. 

One example of a ride is an off road adventure where guests sit in vehicles designed to accommodate wheelchairs while they travel the rocky terrain and all the twists and turns that are associated with it.  Additionally, the park includes a sensory village, a lake for fishing and a garden that has calming music and art.  They also offer wristbands that are enabled with tracking devices that allows parents to know where their child is at all times.  Admission is free to visitors with special needs, but everyone else entering the park pays $5.  Reservations are required.

Some areas will include heated water for individuals sensitive to the cold.  Attractions include a boat ride through a jungle setting complete with animal sounds as well as waterfalls, pools, geysers, jets, water cannons and tipping buckets.

 

legoland-special-needs-kids-amusement-park

Legoland - Carlsbad, CA

 

Most attractions are accessible to guests with special needs along with detailed health restrictions that are posted at each ride. Legoland also has special hearing and vision accommodations for guests who have issues with sight and sound.  If you plan ahead, and contact Legoland 2 weeks ahead at the least then you will receive specialized care and attention.  Additionally, you can download an "Access Guide" from their website which outlines all the areas of the park that are wheelchair friendly.

 

Source:  Holiday World

Holiday World - Santa Claus, Indiana

 

This park has been named the cleanest and friendliest theme park in the world time and time again.  Holiday World has an annual special day called “Fun Day” when it opens its doors to 2,500 special guests all of whom have some form of mental or physical special need.  The admission is discounted and all the proceeds are donated to organizations that advocate on behalf of children with special needs.  If you like, you can download their “Rides Guide & Information for Guests with Disabilities” online before you plan your visit.

 

Sesame Place - Langhorne, Pennsylvania

 

This park is 30 minutes outside of Philadelphia and is popular among families with children of all ages and special needs.  When you enter the park, families with children with special needs can sign up for the "Ride Accessibility Program."  This program matches the individual abilities of the child to the requirements of each ride.  At that point, riders can choose 6 dry rides and 3 tower water rides they would like to go on.  Additionally, they can bypass the line.

Sesame Place also offers accommodations for children with vision or hearing impairments as well.

Sesame Place is the first theme park in the world to be designated as a Certified Autism Center

Sesame Place Team Members receive specialized training to ensure they have the knowledge, expertise and the temperament to work with all children especially special needs children.  The training that the team members go through focuses on sensory awareness, motor skills, program development, social skills, communication and emotional awareness, just to name a few.

 

 

Darien Lake Theme Park Resort - Darien Center, New York

 

This amusement park is located between Buffalo and Rochester, NY.  Not only do they have roller coasters and many attractions, they also have a 10 acre water park.

Darien Lake offers accessible parking which is conveniently located close to the park’s entrance as well as Priority Access Entrances to the rides that are most popular.  Children with special needs can bring up to 5 family members or friends with them to the front of the line.  There they will be assigned a riding time.

 

Six Flags - There are many locations for these parks throughout the US

 

Guests with special needs can receive an “Attraction Access Pass.”  This pass is available at all locations.  The purpose of this pass allows riders who are unable to wait in line for an extended period of time to sign up for a riding time and enter through the EXIT line with 3 family members or friends.  In order to take advantage of this great accommodation, the family MUST obtain a note from the child’s doctor that indicates the individual has a disability or other qualifying impairment under the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) and/or any applicable state law that prevents the individual from waiting in a standard line.

 

 

Source: Marineland

Source: Marineland

MarineLand - Niagara Falls, Ontario

 

This park is known for their attractions that include shows featuring dolphins, beluga whales and orcas.  They also offer discounted admission for individuals with special needs as well as a ride wristband for one rider and caregiver so they can skip waiting in line.

They also offer accommodations to individuals with special needs such as able to park in an area that is closest to the entrance.  This especially is helpful to individuals who may require a wheelchair or assistive devices.  Additionally, at the entrance, you are able to rent wheelchairs and therefore enjoy accessible friendly areas for shows, rides and restaurants.

 

Knoebels - Elysburg, Pennsylvania

 

Knoebels is located a few hours from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  They feature games, attractions, gift shops, rides and food stands that are accessible for individuals with special needs.

Admission is free.  Guests coming to the park can purchase individuals tickets for the rides they would like to go on.  Guests with special needs can receive a “Courtesy Pass” from the First Aid Station.  This pass allows the individual and up to 3 family members or friends to bypass the lines and enter the rides through the exit gate.  Additionally, wheelchairs and ECV’s (Electric Convenience Vehicles) are also available to rent at the park should a family be in need of one.

 

 

SeaWorld - San Diego, California

 

This park provides "Special Access Pass!” for guests with disabilities.  Once you sign up prior to your visit, you will be give a pre-scheduled time for each ride.  Additionally, prior to your visit if you fill out a Ride Accessibility Questionnaire, you will receive a list of rides and attractions that are personalized to the guests interests and needs.  SeaWorld also offers sign language interpreters for guests with vision or hearing impairments.  This accommodation is offered for their marine life shows and tours however you do need to contact the park at least 2 weeks in advance of your trip.

If you are planning to visit any of these parks or any other similar ones, make sure to check out the section of their respective web sites that are devoted to accommodations for guests with disabilities.

As with everything else, do your homework!  Leave no stone unturned so there are no surprises when you arrive.  Your focus is on your child and their experience along with making great family memories.  Most importantly - Have a Great Time!!!


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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It's Never Too Late To Change Your Child's IEP/ 504 Plan!

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It's Never Too Late To Change Your Child's IEP/ 504 Plan!

Now that the school year is coming to an end or in some areas have already ended until September, all hope is not lost.

By this time, you have had your child’s IEP/504 Plan meeting in order to put into place all support services and placement for the 2018-2019 school year.  Perhaps the meeting went well and you received everything that you have asked for at the time.  Perhaps the school was only willing to concede on certain items that you asked for and not others.  Perhaps your child will receive nothing that you had asked for and the meeting was a negative and draining experience.  It is not too late to go back and change things.  

Most parents feel as though once the school year has ended and a new IEP/504Plan has been drafted then their child is “stuck” with what the document states. 

Nothing could be further from the truth. 

Yes, you did sign off on what was discussed at the meeting but be aware, NOTHING is set in stone.  The summer is a great time to go over what was discussed, what you signed off on and prepare your case for August/September when school is back in session.

I hear from many parents prior to contacting me that they felt intimidated and pressured into agreeing with what the school set forth even though they knew in their heart, it was not the best decision for their child. 

If after your meeting you felt defeated and taken advantage of, then use the next 10 weeks or so to build your case so you can present it with strength and determination. 

Do not just roll over and accept what the district has forced onto you.

The summer is a great time to hire an advocate if you have been thinking about it or even if you have not.  A good, strong advocate will use the time to go over the entire case.  He/she will ask questions about the reports, school interactions, family interactions, testing results, social skills, academic standing, etc. 

This time is a gift.  If you have waited and thought about needing an advocate but never moved to the next step in regards to this, then now is the time.  Time is on your side.  An advocate can build your case, organize everything needed to represent your child and what is in their best interest. 

Although school is “closed,” administrators and secretarial staff do work.  Additionally, if your district has a summer enrichment program then some of the teachers are working as well.  Therefore, if you are in need of specific documentation that you do not have, these can be furnished to you. 

Summer is a slower time for the school districts as they do not have the full attendance of students to address, however the office staff is usually busy preparing for the upcoming school year so they are focused on that particular task.  Reports from support staff (OT, PT, Speech, etc.) may not be available to you during the summer if those individuals are not working and administration does not have them in their possession, although they should. The CPSE/CSE Chair should have each individual result applicable to your child.  This individual does in fact work during the summer excluding the time they are on vacation. 

In the case where the school will not prepare the information over the summer that you are asking for, you would have to wait until school begins again to have those given to you.  But everything else can be put together. 

Out of the entire year, the summer is the best time to write down concrete wants and needs for your child that usually, up to this point, have not been met if you have not done so during the academic year. 

Also, ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS ask for a copy of everything in your child’s file along with any additional documents.

Maybe, you had a communication log in place for the year. Request from the staff the actual log and if they state that they need to keep it, then tell them that you would like copies of the entire log. 

My suggestion to parents in regards to a log: each and every time it is sent home, make a copy of any entries.  This way you will have kept up with it during the entire year and will not feel inundated towards the end.  This will also ensure you have copies of everything and nothing has been ommitted.  Additionally, you may need to reference this log during the year when you need to call a meeting. 

This same rule holds true for the ABA binder. 

If your child is receiving ABA, either in the school environment or at home, MAKE SURE YOU HAVE COPIES OF EVERY PAGE IN THE BINDER! 

This will include the programs, notes, time sheets and any other communication that the therapist has added.  This will provide you with “proof” of what programs your child has mastered and which programs they are still working on.

If the time that has been recorded by the therapist does not match what you have kept track of, then DO NOT sign the time sheet!  Contact the agency or school that is providing the therapy and put in a formal concern.  This is a ongoing problem whereby therapists are recording hours that have not actually occurred.  A therapist sitting in your child’s room listening to music with them does not constitute ABA unless it is integrated into a specific program. 

BE AWARE OF ALL THE PROGRAMS THAT HAVE BEEN WRITTEN FOR YOUR CHILD AS WELL AS THE CHANGES THAT TAKE PLACE, IF ANY! 

I can’t tell you how many times parents are unaware as to what is going on in regards to ABA with their child.  This therapy, IF done right by a highly skilled individual who is effective, can be  a make or break when it comes to the IEP/504 Plan meeting.

As a parent or caregiver of a child with special needs, time is never on your side. 

In fact, time is critical to secure the appropriate support services and have them administered properly by an effective teacher and/or therapist.  Although there are many services not affiliated with the schools, it requires research and homework on your part to ensure that your child’s needs are being met completely and correctly. 

An advocate can help you with this tedious and laborious task as well.  An advocate can make phone calls, reach out to programs on your families behalf in addition to visit the programs (if geographically feasible) in order to get a first hand look as to what is being offered and if it would be a great fit for your child.  

 

Never give up. Always be proactive.

If you are being told something and you do not believe it is right for your child, then reject it and do your research so you can obtain that validity as to “what is right” for your child!  You are your child’s first line of defense.  An advocate is your “partner in crime” to make sure your child comes out not only ahead but can soar above all else!


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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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 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.


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 (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 a 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 meeting but stayed quiet for the entire duration of the meeting. She said nothing! She did not advocate at all, she 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” just 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 contacted 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!


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 you is - 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!


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.

This musical instrument for kids is fantastic.  It is colorful and includes 5 musical instruments that can be heard.  It is made from plastic so it is easy to clean.  All kids love music.  What better way to get your child involved with making music then have this toy at the ready.

This modeling clay is non-toxic so you don’t have to worry about your child playing with it.  It is great for your child’s imagination as well as fine motor skills and tactile stimulation.  Your child’s imagination is the only limit when it comes to what you can make with it.  Additionally, there are more than 40 fruity scents included in this pack.

This vest is made for children ages 3-7 years old.  It also has elastic panels so there is some stretch to it.  If your child is having difficulty when it comes to dressing themselves then this vest is a great way to help them while reducing the frustration.  I love it too because it is colorful and fun.


This game builds confidence and language skills along with working on listening skills.  All of these skills are difficult but this game makes it easy to practice as well as gives the child topics that they can use when in school or in other social situations.

I love this game!  It truly challenges your child to critically think in order to come up with the solution.  The game comes with a 48 page book, 12 puzzle pieces and 200 puzzle challenges.  It is colorful and super portable.  There are many levels of difficulty to challenge your child as well as being a great toy to develop problem solving skills.

These snap together color-coded cubes are one of the greatest way to reinforce and teach decimals, fractions and percentages.  You can also use them for color reinforcement, pattern making as well as a study accessory.  There are 51 cubes in total that comes in a plastic case with a handle so they can brought with you when you leave home.

This toy is great for visual stimulation as the colors are extremely bright.  I love these rings not only for the colors but because some  have nodules on them so they are fantastic for tactile stimulation.  Who doesn’t love stacking rings?  Get your child started early with development as this toy checks all the boxes.

Who doesn’t love money?  This set makes it great for kids as each piece is magnetized.  They are so realistic looking.  This set helps with identifying money, making change and counting.  Everyone needs to learn money skills as this is one of the most important things anyone will learn.  It is truly a life skill and the sooner that it can be introduced to a child the better it is.  This skill should be worked on continually as it will “pay” for itself exponentially in the long run.  The set consists of 45 pieces including bills and coins.

Who doesn’t love pie?  This set is fantastic for learning many skills such as patterning, counting as well as problem solving.  The pieces are awesome as they are so realistic and super colorful.  It comes with jumbo tweezers to help reinforce fine motor skills.  I love this toy as it has so many uses.  This toy is a must no matter what your age.

This game comes with 86 write and wipe cards, storage box and activity guide.  It is fantastic because there are no right or wrong answers therefore your child can practice while they build their self esteem and confidence.  This game also builds critical thinking skills and who doesn’t need practice in that area.  This is a skill once learned, lasts for a lifetime.

This game is a must!!! Telling time is one of the skills that every child needs to learn.  The earlier that a child is introduced to telling time, the more beneficial it is moving forward.  This game includes 41 pieces including a clock, dice and cards.  The pieces are colorful and easy to handle.  This is a toy that the whole family can partake in as it is fun and engaging.

So your child needs help with phonics?  This game is one of the best ways to teach and reinforce these skills.  Not only is it a phonics game but it is interactive as well.  The pen is a separate purchase however everything else you need comes in the box.  It comes with 36 double sided cards that are colorful and engaging.  So if your child needs help with practicing initial sounds, letter sounds, final sounds and rhyming words then this game is for them.  If your child needs help with building confidence, then this is the game for them.  There are so many advantages to this game and what it can offer your child, I consider it a must on my list to help children.

This set of action verbs is a great way to teach your child what jumping, kicking, blowing, etc. is.  Each card has a real person actually doing the activity so it is made very easy for your child to see the connection.  Not only does this company produce these cards but they have a whole library that can be purchased as well.  Some of the other sets include actions, opposites, nouns and categories.  These cards are an easy way to teach your child as the cards are brightly colored and very relatable.

These Conversation Cubes have 6 soft foam cubes and each cube has a questions that encourage an answer.  There are 36 questions in total along with a guide.  This toy is super portable and builds speaking and listening skills.  I also love this toy because it can be used for anyone of any age.  This toy is a great item for kids that have a speech or language disorder.  There is no right or wrong.  The answer comes from the child themselves.  This toy also encourages conversations among others.

Learning the parts of speech can be very confusing and frustrating, that is why I love this toy.  It breaks down the parts of speech with a definition of each and shows the child how they go together.  It comes with 16 blank writing cards along with a resource guide.  This toy is a must for all children!

Whether your child likes to write or not, this toy is a must!  How many times is your child asked to pick a topic and write about it?  Unfortunately, they cannot think of something that they feel comfortable writing about.  Well, this toy is a writer’s dream.  It comes with 86 double sided prompt cards that are color coded by subject along with 14 blank write and wipe prompt cards that can be used to customize what the child would like.  Writer’s block be gone!

For the creative girl in your life, the Crayola Pink Art Studio is the best thing since sliced bread. This set comes with paper, crayons, markers and colored pencils.  Everything she needs to create the perfect masterpiece.  It all comes in a fantastic portable case.

 
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I love the Prime Book Box for Kids.  It is a curated group of books appropriate for your child.  You can choose to have it delivered every 1, 2 or 3 months and shipping is free.  You can cancel anytime as well.  If you choose to, you can skip a shipment any time but I think once you see the books and read them to and with your child, you will both look forward to that box coming.  The book box starts at age Baby and goes up to age 12 years.  Each box contains either 2 hardcover books or 4 board books.  What a great way to instill the love of reading with your child.  Reading helps one to use their imagination and bring you to places that maybe you have only dreamed about.


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.


I participate in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon properties such as amazon.com and affiliates. If you purchase an item with a “BUY ON AMAZON ” button, I may receive a small commission at no cost to you.

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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!


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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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!


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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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.


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.


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 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.


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!


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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