Category Archives: occupational therapy

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

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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

Dear Principal Lindorff – I am sure you often hear praise for your staff. The arduous work that goes into helping a disabled child needs patience, love, and a kind person. Since April 2017 when Ethan enrolled in the ECLC Ho-Ho-Kus School, the teachers we have interacted with have been all those characteristics & so much more.

We truly feel blessed and grateful every day that Ethan is at ECLC.

My in-laws decided in August to take everyone to Disney. My knee-jerk reaction was “No, Ethan has autism, we cannot do Disney, the plane, the parks, and all that is involved.” On a good day, I have anxiety about keeping Ethan safe, so the thought of us being in the park during Christmas week with 70,000 other people wasn’t happening. Then, I spoke with School Psychologist James Wagner, and he changed my perspective.

Early fall, he told me a trip was possible, and he encouraged me to talk with other parents who had traveled with a disabled child. He told me to “prepare,” so I had tools and resources in place to help Ethan. At a support group, I learned how to put together a story board, and Psychologist Wagner showed me how to do it for the airport and plane. I also received feedback and guidance from other parents that had success, and some families that did not have success, which proved to be invaluable in planning for the trip.

Behaviorist Matthew Kuzdral also met with me and walked me through the visual story board and provided tips on things I could do to minimize airport problems, such as putting Ethan in a wheelchair, which symbolizes a disability, because a stroller does not. Thankfully, we followed the advice and reserved a wheelchair at both Newark and Orlando airports, which was a necessity in keeping Ethan safe, giving Ethan a sense of security,  mitigating tantrums, and most important, not having to worry about Ethan eloping, which can happen in a second.

Mr. Kevin Carney, Ethan’s head classroom teacher, also gave me advice, which we implemented and utilized, such as the starboard. Ethan happily earned stars toward a reward he wanted, which helped keep him on task and minimize park tantrums. Ice cream seemed to be a reward he was willing to work for! The ESY program Mr.Carney had in summer where the children pretended to take a trip in an airplane helped because Ethan had been exposed to travel for a whole week. I was able to take out some of the papers and projects he did in summer and use those to help Ethan with his fear of an airplane.

We spent months preparing from the guidance we received, and on Sunday, December 24, when the plane took off my husband and I felt a sigh of relief that “Ethan did it.” But it wasn’t just Ethan, it was your staff that provided the advice and tools we needed, so Ethan was able to successfully go through an airport routine, and get on an airplane.  Mrs. Brandy Springer, ECLC’s occupational therapist, also had coached me on some of the tools I could utilize to minimize sound and Ethan being enrolled in her Listening Program the past three months has helped with his auditory challenges, coordination, sensory stimms and even his communication.

At the advice of your team, we had the noise canceling headphones, which Ethan needed not just on the plane but in Disney parks and on some rides. We booked a disability stroller all week, had visual aids and storyboards, booked the wheelchairs, called the airline and Disney at the advice of your staff and prepared everything we needed to keep Ethan safe that week in the parks, pool, and at the hotel. From a bolt being installed on our room door, so Ethan couldn’t elope out, to getting the Disability Access Services (DAS) pass at Disney, it all made for a wonderful first vacation, that almost wasn’t.

Your staff is consistently supportive, but the best gift they gave us was confidence. Confidence that we could take a vacation as a family, despite our son having autism. Mr. Carney is always encouraging me to give Ethan more bandwidth and not let the autism hinder or paralyze us. He has made us see that Ethan is capable of so much, with the right tools. We had a week of “normal” because we were prepared, even for tantrums. Did Ethan have challenges related to his autism disability? Of course. One significant problem was noise, and a different routine. The storyboards of what was next were so helpful. I was prepared to handle those challenges because your staff had guided and coached us!

One thing we crave and rarely have is “normal.” We have adapted over time to our new normal, but some days when autism is flashing in neon lights and taking over Ethan’s brain, we crave normal. I am so proud of how hard Ethan worked through many challenges, and we saw the results of the school’s work all week in Disney. I love using Mr. Carney’s question when Ethan’s go-to behavior is negative, “Ethan what is a better choice?”  It works, getting Ethan to stop and think and coaching him on better behavior options.

I hope the attached photos will remind your educators that their work, their guidance to families, their care, makes all the difference. Thanks to them, we had a memorable  vacation as a family with Ethan’s grandparents, aunt, cousins, and a week of normal in one of the happiest places on earth … Disney World!

With such gratitude,

Dana Berkowitz

 

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

Making the Most of a New School Year

A new school year always brings a certain element of change to you and your child’s life. For your child, it may entail adjusting to a new school, working with a new teacher, or at the very least having some new classmates.

school-spirit-3

ECLC’s school in Ho-Ho-Kus helped new students feel at home with a Spirit Day celebration, featuring music, dancing, chalk drawing and bubble-making!

Here are a few tips to help ease the transition for you and your child:

  • Keep routines consistent – to the extent possible, have your child follow the same morning and afternoon routines. With a lot of new places and faces occurring during the school day, the more routine and structure the child maintains in other parts of their day the better.
  • Make your child feel comfortable – work to familiarize your child with the name of the new school, the classroom teacher’s name, and the room number. Frequently discuss and reinforce these topics with your child.
  • Utilize visual schedules – picture schedules (written or on an electronic device) can help prepare the child for the day’s activities. They can be individualized and tailored to your child’s skill level. ECLC’s SCERTS Model makes use of visual supports throughout the school building and in the classrooms.
  • Limit homework and instructional demands – the primary focus should be on your child adjusting to a new physical environment and new people. The initial goal is to help establish the school building and classroom as a comfortable, friendly, and fun place to be!

Matthew Kuzdral M.S., BCBA