Category Archives: New Jersey

Pets & Children with Special Needs

Thinking about a pet for your family?  Pets can be a wonderful addition to a family for many reasons and have a positive benefit, especially for children with special needs. 

Girl with dogResearch involving children with autism has found that having a family pet from a young age tended to improve social behaviors, such as introducing themselves, asking for information or responding to people’s questions.

The fact that animals are non-verbal can be a positive and soothing factor for children with sensory or communication issues As we pet owners know, there are many lessons a child can learn through pet ownership and care. 

The benefits of pets include:

  • Relief from anxiety and stress.
  • Learning about compassion and emotions.
  • Greater emotional knowledge about companionship, building a bond and making a friend.
  • Encouraging socialization and development of related social skills.
  • Understanding rules and chores in a concrete way.

Before you jump into adopting a pet, recognize that owning a pet is a lifetime commitment. Like any long-term decision, advance thought and preparation is key!

Also, consider adopting a rescue animal, but carefully evaluate if this choice is  suitable for your child. There are many wonderful dogs and cats patiently waiting for a “forever” home at your local animal shelter or pet adoption agency. 

Choosing the Right Pet

Dogs and cats are popular pets for good reason. Dogs come in all sizes and personalities. They provide unconditional love and acceptance; enjoy being touched; can play with the family, and can go places with you.

Dogs do require a high level of care, such as regular walking, brushing, and training. It is important to research breeds that are child-friendly and suitable for your home and lifestyle. Consider whether barking or dog play behavior might frighten your child.

You may be surprised to learn that there are more pet cats than dogs across the county. Cats are the top choice in part because they require much less daily care and are less expensive to own than dogs. They also live longer, on average, because they are smaller than most dogs. 

CatIf you are considering a cat, just as with dogs, it is important to find the right match. Cats tend to have distinct personalities and don’t exhibit the same type of behavior as dogs. As cat lovers know, cats are affectionate, friendly and will bond with you. They enjoy closeness and petting and play.

However, cats do not roughhouse like dogs. Cats tend to be more quiet and sensitive than canine companions. For those reason, cats can be a good choice for a sensory -sensitive child who might be frightened by loud barking, jumping and lively dog behavior.

Not all children, or adults, are comfortable with animals. This can create a very stressful situation for both people and pets! If you are in doubt about your child’s comfort level with any animal, it is not the time to bring home a pet.

If you would like to have some type of pet experience in your home, fish may be the answer. Fish are low maintenance pets, and watching water movements has been found to be soothing. No guessing why they are the No. 1 pet in America!

fish-bowl-846060_1920Fish, require maintenance and good, consistent care. Learning responsibility is important, but as the parent, you will always need to monitor and supervise the care and ensure the safety of both your child and your pet. Small, furry pets such as guinea pigs and hamsters are often appealing. However, they have to be handled very gently and care must be taken to have their cages always locked, so escape or unwanted attention from other pets does not occur.

No matter what you decide, a good suggestion is to expose your child to the pets you are considering before you bring one home. Here are some ways to check out pets:

  • Spend some time with friends who have pets, visit a rescue group or foster a dog before adopting.
  • Prepare your child by reading some books about pets together.
  • Create a checklist, social story, or visual images of what to expect and how to behave with your pet.

Additional articles on this topic:

By Allison Weideman, ECLC Chatham School Psychologist

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Audiobooks Can Turn a New Chapter in Reading for Your Child with Special Needs

With summer approaching, it is the time for summer booklists and dreamy thoughts of poolside or beachside reading.  It is also time to help children prepare for their summer reading fun.  I encourage all families to make use of a free and widely available tool to increase language and literacy abilities in students: Audiobooks!

Web girl-1176165_1920If you are an audiobook enthusiast, you already know how much there is to learn from this powerful and addicting resource.  If considering using audiobooks for the first time with your child, don’t hesitate!   Summer is the perfect time to explore the world of audiobooks and relax somewhere special, while the written word is brought to life.

Audiobooks increase accessibility to and independence with written material. Many students with special needs often have different relationships to reading material than other people; there are often large barriers between our students and the content contained in print. Our students deserve equal access to literature.  Audiobooks help to breakdown hidden barriers contained in print and level the playing field.   With the press of a button, your child is in business.

There are many difficulties people with special needs may encounter when trying to access text, including:

  • Decoding for some children and adolescents can be difficult work and very labor intensive, which impedes comprehension of the material.
  • Longer or thicker books may be intimidating to students causing anxiety, avoidance and diminished self-confidence.
  • They may have difficulty turning pages and/or visually scanning text.
  • Students may decode well but may have difficulty with inferential thinking (ability to read between the lines)
  • Families may have less time to do so because their child may require more care in other areas, such as with eating, bathing, getting dressed or dealing with behavioral challenges.

Audiobooks increase comprehension by 76 percent!   Did you know your child’s reading level may not be her comprehension level?  Your child may be like many people and able to comprehend two levels beyond her own reading level!    Why not embrace opportunities for your child to listen to audiobooks and learn information he is developmentally ready for?  Audiobooks provide context that supports understanding of more challenging words and ideas.  Audiobooks are typically read by esteemed actors whose voices imbue text with meaning.  Different voices are often acted out making it clear who is speaking and helping the child follow along with the plot.

Boost language skills and content knowledge! The words, sentence structures and ideas used in books differ greatly from the functional language and ideas we communicate every day.  Literacy experiences through audiobooks provide children the gift of gaining exposure to rich vocabulary and novel, creative ways of saying things.  Children acquire background knowledge that allows them to think about and converse about broader, more worldly topics and helps them make connections more easily to the curriculum at school.  When enjoyed with a parent or sibling, audiobooks provide great springboards for family discussions.

Combining print and audio increases recall significantly over reading print alone! Audiobooks can be listened to as a person reads along with the text.  Using two modalities as opposed to one has been shown to help students remember the text better and also score higher on tests.  For more advanced readers who may not have the stamina or confidence for a longer book, part of the book can be read and part can be listened to.  Alternating chapters is an option, as is reading the first few chapters and listening to the last few.

Multiple formats to choose from make finding an audiobook easy. Choose from CDs or downloadable digital books (e.g., Audible, Google Play, Overdrive) In my experience, students newer to audiobooks may benefit from the CD format, as tablets and smartphones are often discriminated stimuli for other forms of entertainment or are distracting because of their other features.  Also, CDs are acceptable for a student to listen to in bed, whereas tablets and smartphones should not be in a child’s room at night.  Most audiobooks are available from the library, as libraries share their inventories.  It is possible and convenient to reserve audiobooks from your library’s Website then pick them up at the front desk.  Keep in mind that apps such as OverDrive allow for modifications that may be helpful to some students, such as listening at half speed.

Explore the wide world of audiobooks. Just like when choosing a book, certain audiobooks are a better fit than others. Consider your child’s interests.  If an audiobook is not a great match, please don’t give up trying.  Try different selections until your child is interested.

How to Get Audiobooks

Your local library is a wonderful source of audiobooks on CDs and downloadable audiobooks.  If you do not have a library card, add a trip to the library to your summer plans!

Another easy option for getting audiobooks is using Audible or Google Play.  You can purchase audiobooks through their Websites or apps.

Audible’s Website offers a free one-month trial.  After that, a subscription fee of $14.95 applies monthly.  For that price, you get one audiobook, which can be accessed through your multiple devices.

Google Play is something you may already use.

  1. If you have not used Google Play before, run a search for Google Play.
  2. From the Website, use the menu on the left side of the screen to select Books.
  3. From the new menu on the left, select Audiobooks.
  4. Run a search or browse selections.
  5. Purchase the desired item.

Written by Laura Koch, Chatham School Speech Language Pathologist

Let’s Go Bike Riding!

Spring is here, and bike riding is the ultimate warm-weather activity! Parents always ask, “How can I teach my child to ride a bike?” There are a number of ways to teach your child to pedal and balance on a bike. bike-775799_1920First, a brief word about safety. Always practice in a protected area with a minimal amount of distractions and obstacles. It takes a lot of attention and focus for children to spot an obstacle, process the information and react quickly enough to avoid it. Parents will need to give their children hands-on support and constant cuing for safety awareness. And, of course, always wear a helmet!

Begin by teaching the child to ride a regular upright scooter. This is a great way for kids to learn how to get their feet up off the ground and how to balance. BikeIt is especially useful for children with gravitational insecurity. While gliding on the scooter, the children are also practicing steering, avoiding obstacles, getting on/off and braking.

 

 

Another way to practice balancing on a bike is by using a glider. GliderA glider is a bicycle without pedals. Have your child sit on the glider with both feet on the ground and begin pushing forward with their legs, propelling the bike forward for short distances. The goal is to get both feet off the ground for a few seconds, while the bike is moving, to learn the sensation of balance. Aim for gliding for 8-10 feet.

 

 

For children who need practice with pedaling, there are many over-sized tricycles available on the market. At ECLC of New Jersey, we use this large tricycle, which is available at Walmart and Target. Our students LOVE it! Children can also practice pedaling on a stationary bike to learn to pedal smoothly and continuously.Trike

 

 

 

There are a number of bike riding ‘camps’ available specifically geared to the special needs population. iCan Bike uses adapted bicycles, a specialized instructional program, and trained staff to enable individuals with disabilities to learn to ride a conventional two-wheeler. According to their Website, approximately 80% of the people who participate in the iCan Bike program learn to ride a bicycle independently (at least 75 feet with no assistance). iCan is a five-day program, with students riding for only 75 minutes each day! For more information, see their Website.

Written by Chatham School Physical Therapy Staff

Let’s Plant a Sensory Garden!

Garden

What is a Sensory Garden? A sensory garden is meant to appeal to ALL the senses, not only our visual sense. They are often utilized with special needs populations and are found to have therapeutic value for many individuals.

We are most familiar with the sights of a garden. Enhance the visual appeal with plants of varying flower colors, including red, soft grey and mixed color foliage. Consider plants with different textures and shapes and some (like grasses and tall plants) that will sway with the breeze.

The sense of sound will be enhanced with features, such as wind chimes,  grasses that rustle and textured paths that make sounds as you walk on them. Having a birdbath will add bird calls and visual interest. If you have a pathway, incorporate  gravel or stones that produce sound when walking.

For the sense of touch, include plants that can tolerate some touch and “petting.” Hosta, coneflowers and yarrow are all quite tolerant of touching. Vary the textures of plants, so that you have some smooth leaves and flowers and some larger or fuzzy textures (purple sage). Some plants are just fun to touch, such as lamb’s ears, astilbe (with its fern-life foliage) and sunflower heads.

For the sense of smell, choose plants with appealing scents, such as roses, lily of the valley, honeysuckle, and the annual nicotinia, which produces a scent at night. Grow some annual herbs, such as mint, thyme or rosemary. Pick them for a salad or crush the leaves in your hands to experience the scent.

What are native plants and why should I have them? Native plants and trees grow naturally in a geographic area, and provide food and sustenance to birds and butterflies.  Many of the plants and trees we see in garden centers are lovely, but they are not native to the United States. They don’t provide the needed support for our native wildlife and are not as hardy.

Consider plants, such as coneflowers, sunflowers, yarrow, hosta, beebalm, coreopsis, veronica and native blueberry shrubs. Any variety of milkweed is an important food plant for monarch butterflies. These are all perennials, so they return each year.

How to get started! Planting and tending a garden is a wonderful child and family-friendly activity,  and a fantastic way to welcome Spring! And, of course, when your plants and flowers come into bloom, you can enjoy them all season. Whether you want flowers or food,  there are easy growers to get start started on this Spring.

A garden can be a large plot of ground, or as simple as a container or a flower pot.  It can be fancy or as simple as three ingredients (pot, soil and seeds).

There are many seeds that will grow well  when planted directly in the garden. Some easy and hardy annual  flower seeds are zinnias,  sunflowers, marigolds, cleome and alyssum. Seeds are available at garden centers,  home stores and even some supermarkets.

It’s fun to look through the seed packages together and decide what to grow. Easy, high-producing vegetables include tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and zucchini, which are easily planted from small containers. If you are adventurous, hot pepper varieties are pretty. Luckily, all seed packets have instructions! Watering and weeding your garden are two activities everyone can do together. And, then, pick some flowers for your table, or make a salad, and enjoy what you have created!

 

Pretty Plans

Among many flowering native shrubs you can consider planting is this gorgeous Hydrangea quercifolia plant!

For further information:

10 Steps to Building a Garden.

Top 10 Native Plants for the Northeast.

10 Plants for a Bird-Friendly Yard.

Why Native Plants Matter 

Sensory Nature Adventures and Play – for families of children with disabilities.  

Gardens for the Senses. 

Written by Allison Weideman, Chatham School Psychologist

 

 

12 Tips for More Thoughtful Use of Technology with Children

Smart technology is ubiquitous. It  is a daily part of our lives and the lives of children with special needs. Myriad apps touting educational benefits, near limitless content on electronic devices and intensive marketing efforts have lead many to hope, if not wholly believe, that smart technology will make children and adolescents smarter.

As parents and educators, we have survived the transition to an exciting brave new mobile world and are left with many unanswered questions about how effective a role and how dominant a role these devices should play in the quest for positive learning outcomes. Research into these questions is just beginning!

While we await more information and wrestle with our own views and emotions regarding the pros and cons of technology, we can all agree on one thing:  technology, with all of its allure, is certainly here to stay. Now, each day, we must make efforts to strive for thoughtful use of technology. Below are several guidelines I use as a speech-language pathologist with my students at ECLC — and as a mother to my children at home — to thoughtfully integrate technology use with established learning practices.

  1. Remember, when it comes to learning speech skills, there is no substitute for learning through authentic communicative experiences.  Communication is, above all, a social exchange between two or more people, and communication is inherently motivated by various purposes.  No app or form of electronic communication can replicate the richness of face-to-face communication.
  2. Consider enhancing screen time by joining your child.  The vast majority of apps are closed set: the content, sentence structure and use of language remains fixed. Remember when children were little and we shared joint attention on a block tower or other toy?  Share attention on the device and participate in conversational exchanges about the content you are viewing. Communication between two people is open set– meaning there are limitless ways to incorporate content, sentence structure or use of language.  For young children, continue to follow this maxim: Be your child’s favorite toy!
  3. If you want your child to use a certain app you find educational, consider using guided access to lock that app.  If an app is not intrinsically rewarding, students will swipe out of it, usually very quickly.
  4. Refrain, as much as possible, from use of smart technology in the community unless your child is using devices for augmentative or alternative communication.  Allow children and adolescents the opportunity to engage in multi-sensory experiences that help them form the gestalts and language of their natural environments.  Also, keep children available for meaningful communication experiences to happen!
  5. Reading books on a tablet seems benign enough, right? While reading books on a tablet would be preferable to many other ways to spend time on the iPad, keep in mind that research favors reading tangible books.  The eyes move differently while reading a page versus reading a screen, and memory for details, sequencing and temporal understanding is greater when reading a book!
  6. A great benefit of technology is for reference–to deepen understanding.  Images, tutorials, articles, maps, sounds–can all be used to make a point.  Many students in therapy request using the iPad to support their communication, particularly by using pictures and the calendar to provide visual cues.  Use technology to augment, not replace learning.
  7. For earlier communicators, milieu teaching techniques can be interestingly applied to technology.  Learn how to throw a wrench to your child’s predictable technology use by trying out the following: set the tablet  in guided access mode, set the language to a foreign language, change the password, darken the screen, move a favorite app into a different folder, put the case on backward,  give an incorrect charger… Will your child communicate that there is a problem that needs to be addressed? You can help your child learn through these opportunities.
  8. Be mindful of posture with technology use.  Consider using stands to prompt improved posture when seated.   Encourage children and adolescents to lie on their stomachs (prone) or propped up on a pillow.
  9. Many students like apps, music and videos at full volume.  Consider apps like Volume Sanity to set a maximum volume. Avoid listening to headphones in the car or on the bus.  Sound delivered to the ears from personal listening devices at high decibels for extended time can cause permanent noise-induced hearing loss.
  10. When spending time together or when working on homework or other more complex cognitive tasks,  place devices in another room. Refrain from allowing them to intrude frequently on family time.  Research shows that multitasking with devices disrupts the brain’s ability to think deeply during complex problem solving tasks.
  11. It is imperative to power down prior to bedtime because of the stimulating effects the light has on the eyes and the brain.  For a restful sleep and increased likelihood of students being rested and available for learning at school the next day, devices should not be in the room at night.
  12. Determine the primary purpose of technology use.  Categorize technology use by leisure, creation, education, motivation or reference. Instead of allowing for copious or unlimited leisure time, encourage using apps like GarageBand, Pic Collage, Dragon Dictation, Clicker and Minecraft to create.  Use TED-Ed, SkunkBear, Brainpop, Youtube tutorials for learning. If your child is very motivated by tablets, try having her receive the tablet as a reward for working on a target skill, be it academic or functional.

Written by Laura Koch, Speech Language Pathologist

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