Category Archives: Down syndrome

How to Increase Your Child’s Attention and Focus

Staying focused can be challenging for any child but particularly those with special needs. But there are tools and techniques to help keep your child happy and on task!

Find a tool or technique from the list below. Then, start your child with a task they enjoy for up to 20 minutes. Take a break, using one of the techniques, whether it’s a time clock, weighted blanket or music. If it works, have your child try a task they perceive as more difficult for 5 to 10 minutes, followed again by or using one of these techniques.  Repeat this strategy until you see that your child is able to show improved attention. Gradually increase the time on task.

Here are tools and techniques to try at home:

Visualize Time — A timer can reduce stress for your child, as they see how long they have until a task is over. You can go low-tech or high. Time Timer makes a clock as well as software for the computer, which shows a child how much time he/she has left — or how much has passed — via a diminishing red disc. Search for “visual timer” apps on your iPhone, iPAD or Android device. Or, an old-fashioned sand timer does the trick too.

Play Memory Games — Memory isn’t a muscle, but it can be exercised to improve focus. Memory games are fun and do not have to be complicated. Games, such as memory matching cards or Concentration, can be played as a board game or on an iPad/iPhone or Android device. Even a simple game of red-light, green-light, I-Spy or Simon Says forces a child to concentrate.

Puzzles — There are many types of puzzles that can help boost your child’s awareness, while building fine motor skills. But keep in mind that puzzles don’t always have to be something you touch. For example, word searches, crossword puzzles, tic tac toe and logic puzzles, use the power of deduction to help your child discover answers, by relying on the mind, not just eyes and hands.

Movement and Breaks — Give your child opportunities to move around. Schedule regular breaks and change work sites. For example, a child can work several minutes at the kitchen table and several minutes at the dining room table. Each time the location is changed, the student may experience a burst of mental energy. A 10- to 15-minute break for light to heavy physical activity can also help increase concentration.  Examples of activities include walking on a treadmill, wall push-ups or a brief walk. Learn about relaxation through breathing techniques at “Go Zen Mindfulness and Breathing.”  Additionally, it may help for children to do something with their hands, while seated. They might doodle, roll a piece of clay or play with thinking putty.

Deep Pressure — A weighted blanket/pillow used for 10 to 20 minutes, while working can provide deep pressure and increase attention.  Additionally, compression tops, like those worn by athletes underneath their shirts, may work similar to a weighted blanket/pillow. Have your child wear the shirt for 10 to 20 minutes.

Tuning In — Taking a 10-minute break to listen to quiet classical or calming music can help a child refocus to a task that may be difficult or monotonous but necessary to complete.

In addition to these techniques and tools, setting up a regular routine and work area is important.

Plan It — A child should use a structured daily planner to help them organize activities. A planner that is broken down by days of the week or days of the month and has sufficient room to write all the information needed or to place stickers in the date box is preferred. Using a calendar or a calendar app on an iPhone, iPad or Android device is also a good life skill.

Child’s Home Office — Help your child set up a well-organized “office.” Parents should schedule a weekly time that their child/adolescent will dedicate to straightening up the office and making sure all office supplies are well-stocked (e.g., Post-Its, pencils, pens, highlighters, paper, paper clips, etc). The child should find their best time(s) for studying (most alert times of day), and post these times as their “Office Hours.” This may also be a good time to experiment with different kinds of background noise levels that work best for doing homework. Some children/adolescents concentrate better in a noisy environment or while listening to music, while others may need to use ear plugs or sound blockers.

Results will not be immediate, but with practice and consistency, your child’s attention and focus should increase over time!

By Cindy Collins, Learning Disabilities Teacher Consultant, ECLC Chatham Schoolread-316507_1280


5 Easy Tips to Help Your Child with Special Needs Gain Independence

We often hear questions from parents about how they can help prepare their child for the transition to adult life.  One of the best ways to accomplish this is by offering the most amount of independence as possible with tasks at home and out in the community.  Some of these tasks include:

  • Morning Routine: Give your child the greatest amount of independence, as you safely can. Having them wash, brush their teeth, pick out outfits and dress themselves is a great way to start the day. Having your child prepare a simple breakfast, such as cereal and juice, is another way to build independence.
  • Schedule: Have them pay attention to the clock for bus arrival, etc.
  • Chores: Get them to put away personal items and make their bed, for example.
  • Mealtime Manners: Some ideas are to learn how to use a napkin, cut food, take small bites and say please and thank you.
  • Money and Banking: Consider giving your child an allowance to help with money skills. Another thought is having your child maintain his or her own wallet with an I.D. and some cash. Debit cards can be useful, as your child grows older.

The family is an integral part to helping children to transition to adult life!

ECLC of New Jersey family-eating-at-the-table-619142_1920.jpgChatham School Staff:

Patty Keiling, Speech Language Pathologist; Rita Klimkowski, Classroom Assistant; Patricia Navarra, Classroom Teacher

Tips to Prepare for Your Next I.E.P. Meeting

You just got notice that your child’s Annual Review I.E.P. (Individualized Education Program) meeting is coming up.  No need to worry! Feeling prepared for an I.E.P. meeting can make the experience easier. These tips will help you better prepare to meet with your child’s school and district case manager for the best possible outcome!

Mother with son

  1. A day or two ahead of the meeting, review the I.E.P. from last year’s meeting.  Familiarize yourself with areas of strength for your child, areas that the school was helping your child work on and related services.
  2. Keep a detailed record of the meeting. Jot down questions or items you want to discuss, and bring your list to the meeting. Take plenty of notes at the meeting. Write down answers or other questions you may have that come up. Keep in mind that some issues may come up in school, which do not appear at home.
  3. What is one skill you have seen your child progress in accomplishing? What is one area you would like to see addressed this coming year? Remember, you are an expert on your child! Share what you see as your child’s interests, strengths and struggles.
  4. Does your child receive Related Services (Speech, Occupational Therapy or Physical Therapy)? Giving positive feedback to your child’s therapist is important. Let them know that you see progress on the goals and objectives from last year.  Helping the therapist target a specific skill for the upcoming school year is a great way to share goals you have for your child with the therapist.  Therapists have many lessons they can work on with your child, but knowing what is important to you can help them have focus on specific areas.
  5. If your child is 14 or older, they will be invited to attend the I.E.P. meeting. Let them know they will attend at least part of the meeting.  They will be asked to sign an attendance sheet.  They will probably be asked questions about what they like about school.  Your child should not feel intimidated about attending his/her I.E.P., everyone at the meeting has your child’s best interests at heart!
  6. Keep a collaborative mindset. Stay positive, and do not be afraid to ask questions, seek clarification and share information about what you think your child needs.  It takes a village!


Further Reading:

What to Bring to an I.E.P. Meeting

How to Prepare for I.E.P. Meetings

Cynthia Collins, Learning Disabilities Consultant

Susan Sylvester, Learning Disabilities Consultant

“Do the best you can until you know better.  Then when you know better, do better.” ~Maya Angelo

Ready or Not, the Holidays are Coming !

You may read this with excitement, pleasure, or a need to look at your datebook and gift list! So much to do! So much fun and activity – sometimes too much fun and activity for everyone to comfortably manage. Changes in routine,  food, and family can be overstimulating for any of us, including a child with special needs or sensory issues. And, then there is that wish to have everything come out “just right” – just once! Lets take a breather …

Success is 90% Preparation: What are some ways we can prepare children with special needs for the upcoming holiday season?

Create a Holiday Season Calendar : Talking  about what the holiday plans are, where you will go, who you will see and what the experience will “look like” is important. Having a pictorial reference, such as a weekly calendar with pictures of the activities you will be doing will be a good reference and a way to review schedules and plans. Have some photos of holiday activities that you will be doing, or review photos from last year. You may already have an actual or digital scrapbook from prior holidays and these are a great reference for getting ready for this year.

Talk to Family: Communicate with your family members ahead of time, if they do not know your usual routines or needs. Explain any special needs or supports your child will need (Examples: We always sing a song before dinner. My daughter doesn’t like to be hugged or is afraid of loud movies). If visitors may bring gifts, let them know if there are food allergies or sensitivities, such as a sensitivity to perfume. If you are visiting family or friends, have your child bring a bag of items they find soothing or familiar (stuffed animal, games, toys or books), and help them find a quiet spot, if things get too noisy or busy. Have some familiar music to listen to and some favorite, comfortable clothes to change into.

Maintain Some Routine: it’s important to keep to at least part of your usual routine, as this is soothing and predictable. With all the new activities, schedule some of the usual activities you and your child enjoy together, such as 30 minutes of alone time with you or  watching their special show.

Let Your Child Participate: Have your child help decorate, so they can be part of the changes in their environment. Limit twinkling lights, loud music and decorations that make noise. It’s also helpful to assign a job, such as handing out napkins or taking coats to feel part of party festivities.

Relax!: And, for ALL of us – Let’s remember to take a breath, literally – get some fresh air. Take a walk. Work out by practicing yoga, stretching or meditation. Remember to make time for your own partner and friends. Attend a faith program (if that is an important to you). Read some of your new book or even just take a nap. Let’s be prepared, be flexible, keep our sense of humor, and reach out for a hand to help with holiday events or a hand to hold, if things get stressful.

Have a healthy and fun holiday season this year!

by Dr. Allison Weideman, school psychologist


Children with Special Needs at Risk for Flu Complications

It’s almost Thanksgiving, which means we’re deep into flu season!  The flu can be a big deal.  Mild influenza illness causes fever, headache, body aches, sore throat and cough, and the flu may keep you out of school or work for 1-2 weeks.

Children with neurological and neurodevelopmental conditions, such as epilepsy, intellectual disabilities, developmental delays, and cerebral palsy, may be more likely to develop pneumonia and Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome when they are sick with the flu.  They may even need to be hospitalized.

That’s really scary.  Even scarier when the CDC reports that children with neurodevelopment conditions historically have low flu vaccination rates.

The best way to protect your family from influenza is to be immunized — all of you!  Mom, dad, kids, and even Aunt Gladys who babysits on Fridays.  Talk to your child’s pediatrician about the safety of the flu vaccine, and schedule an appointment to be vaccinated.

Easing Anxiety About Flu Shots

So, now what?  You’ve scheduled the appointment for the vaccine but your child HATES shots, or going to the doctor, or anyone in a white coat.  The American Academy of Pediatrics and Family Voices share some tips on reducing anxiety related to medical visits and procedures:

  • Be honest- explain that a medical appointment has been scheduled, but don’t give your child too much of a heads-up if they will worry.
  • If your child has had anxiety over medical treatments in the past, call the office before leaving home to see if the appointment schedule is running on time.
  • Bring a favorite toy, book, or iPad to keep your child distracted in the waiting area or examining room. Plan a small reward to be given when the appointment is over.
  • Anxiety related to medical procedures is often caused by feelings of vulnerability. Give your child some choices to help them feel like they have some control during the exam. If they need to undress and wear a gown, ask if they’d like to keep their socks on.  Let them choose the arm for blood pressure or a shot, or ask if they’d like to have their eyes or their ears checked first.
  • If your child is very worried about receiving a vaccine, ask the doctor or nurse if the shot can be given at the beginning of the exam.
  • Reassure your child that medical caregivers and vaccinations help to keep them safe and healthy!

Additional Resources:

Family Voices

Healthy Children

American Academy of Pediatrics

Written by Anne Fields, RN, CSN, Chatham school nurse

Back-to-School Tips for Special Needs Parents

The beginning of the school year is fraught with challenges for any parent but in particular for those who have a child with special needs. Here are a few tips to help your child start the school year off right:

  • Discuss important information – Help prepare your child in the coming days by discussing key information for the upcoming school year. This should  include his or her bus driver’s name or bus number, the teacher’s name and classroom number, etc. These and other pertinent facts can be reinforced through the use of visual supports such as simple pictures and words.
  • Practice routines – Begin practicing morning and afternoon routines prior to the start of the school year to help ease the transition. A slower, more gradual return to school routines allows more time for your child to adjust and feel comfortable in the changes that come with a new school year.
  • Highlight child’s interests  – Discuss and review your child’s preferred school-related activities to help emphasize the fun aspects of school! Examples can include: coloring pictures in art class, singing their favorite songs in music lessons, and hearing their favorite stories during reading time. Of course, seeing their friends again is probably the biggest motivator!
  • Communicate with teachers – The beginning of the school year is an opportune time to update your child’s teacher on topics such as: how his or her summer went, preferred activities or trips, as well any changes in your child’s preferences (foods, play, or topics). This information is especially helpful if your child is new to the school or starting in a new classroom. (Attending Back to School Night is another great opportunity to meet with your child’s teacher and see the classroom!)IMG_9304

Walkathon Miraculous Success

As a nonprofit, you’re a little bit like the Wizard of Oz. In front of the curtain, you see the wonderful services being delivered to constituents. In back, there’s a swirl of activity and sweat to sustain the mission — something called fundraising.

We felt like the wizard waved a magic wand for us last weekend.We decided to launch a brand new fundraising activity and carefully laid all the groundwork for success. But, at some point, you look up and just hope it all comes together! When it does it feels like a miracle. That’s what happened at our first Walkathon “Stepping Up for Special Needs,” last Sunday. We extended the invitation, hoping for at least 100 people, and maybe netting a few thousand dollars. We realized we had to think small the first year, and grow it over time. Boy, were we wrong!

More than 500 people came out, and we cleared more than $30,000 in donations and sponsorships! It seemed miraculous but it was truly a testament to the strength of our ECLC “family” and the excellent work of our schools and adult services. Check out the video highlights!