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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

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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.

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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

Our School in Ho-Ho-Kus Commemorates 25 Years of Success!

With the quick snip of a silver ribbon, our Ho-Ho-Kus school commemorated a big milestone: 25 years of educating students with special needs!

During the ceremony, Principal Vicki Lindorff accepted a stack of official government proclamations and embossed certificates and enjoyed words of congratulations from elected officials, business people, ECLC trustees and other guests. Waldwick Mayor Thomas Giordano (representing the borough with Councilwoman Deb Dellavechia) said many kind words, including, “ECLC has been here since 1990, and we are very grateful to the educators, to the students, and especially, to the parents, who have made the school the great success that it is.”

On behalf of the local elected officials, aides to the Office of Bergen County Executive James Tedesco III and a staff member from state Sen. Kevin O’Toole, and state Assemblymen Scott T. Rumana and David Russo delivered brief speeches as well.

However, the school’s true meaning and impact on children was perhaps best expressed by a parent, Christine Coleman, who spoke about the difference of sending her child to a school that is solely dedicated to children with special needs, like her 9-year-old son.

“After my first visit to ECLC, I knew this was the place for my son,” said Coleman, whose son has been enrolled for two years. “They give students opportunities that other schools do not. Everyone here, the teachers, the specialists, the therapists, the paraprofessionals, they get it when it comes to working with children with special needs.”

The moment all have been waiting for when Ho-Ho-Kus Principal Vicki Lindorff cuts the silver ribbon with help from students and gathered officials!

The moment all have been waiting for when Ho-Ho-Kus Principal Vicki Lindorff cuts the silver ribbon with help from students and gathered officials!

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ECLC’s administrators and trustees are all smiles on this exciting day!

Celebrating Dr. Seuss!

The Cat in the Hat Came Back to our Ho-Ho-Kus school today! Students celebrated the great Dr. Seuss’s birthday by “dropping everything to read” and then visiting each classroom to share book-related activities they had created! Hats off to the writer who reinvented children’s literature!Matt and the Cat in the Hat

Teacher Relates to Students Because of Her ‘Disability’

When Victoria Johnson, who teaches at the ECLC school in Ho-Ho-Kus, walks into her classroom, she understands and feels the depth of the students’ frustrations on a personal level. The reason for this strong connection is that Victoria has struggled with her own learning disability, since she was a child. Her personal experience of struggling to overcome a disability provides her with a unique understanding and insight into her students. After years of under-performing in school, Victoria was classified with a learning disability (a processing disorder) in the sixth grade.

“At the time, my self-esteem was extremely low, and I had just about given up on learning. You can try so hard, and if you have difficulty processing information receptively and expressively, it becomes very challenging to learn. People don’t want to take the time to listen to you if you are not fast enough to get your point across,” she remembers.

Victoria Johnson inspires students every day!

Victoria Johnson inspires students every day!

But, Victoria persevered and eventually began to think of becoming a teacher of children with special needs. She wanted to pass along the strategies that had helped her succeed and help students with special needs gain the confidence to learn in different ways and build up their self-esteem to accomplish their goals.

Today, no matter what challenges a student is facing, Victoria can see through to the root of the problem and find a solution. Her mantra?: “I love these students!” She uses her strong organizational skills to reach goals and deadlines. And, she teaches her students that a sense of humor helps, to laugh at your struggles and mistakes rather than shutting down and giving up. She loves to teach students how to advocate for themselves and not to be afraid to try new things.

During her time at ECLC, Victoria has taken on a leadership role beyond the classroom. She has helped coordinate the annual prom, chaperoned weekend sleepovers at the school, taken students for holiday shopping trips, and mentored new staff members and graduate students. She also has successfully created partnerships in the community, involving students with packaging items for a local food bank. Her generous heart knows no bounds. She has walked in Autism Speaks walk in our area and organizes penny collections for the Kiwanis Club and soda can pop tops for Ronald McDonald House. We are so lucky to have Victoria as part our ECLC family!

Tips on Behavior Management: Reinforcement v. Punishment

Contributed by Oksana Huk, ECLC Ho-Ho-Kus School Psychologist

The terms reinforcement and punishment are often used when discussing behavior management, but their definitions are often misunderstood.

Reinforcement is simply the attempt to increase a behavior; while punishment is the attempt to decrease a behavior. The term positive refers to giving something to someone, and the term negative refers to taking something away.

 When managing difficult behaviors the best approach is to withhold the reinforcement for the undesirable behavior and provide reinforcement for an alternative behavior. This way, a person’s needs can still be met, but by using a socially-desirable behavior.

So let’s take an example from the classroom. Suppose a student is repeatedly calling out in class. We might learn that the reason the student is calling out in class is to gain attention, and every time they gain attention for calling out, they are being positively reinforced for calling out.IMG_1994

If we want to decrease the frequency of calling out, rather than giving something aversive to the student or taking something desirable away, we would no longer provide the desired attention when they call out. If they don’t receive the reinforcement for calling out, they will stop calling out.

Notice that nothing is taken away from the student for calling out, nor is anything aversive given to the student. The behavior is not punished; it is just not reinforced.

Reinforcement is used rather than punishment, because it is always easier to reinforce a new behavior rather than punishing current behaviors! Very important, we also have to teach an alternative behavior. So if the student wants attention, we will teach them to raise their hand and give attention every time they raise their hand and positively reinforce that new behavior. With proper reinforcement, the behavior will continue over time.

  Reinforcement Punishment
Positive Giving something desirable to increase the frequency of a behavior(e.g., increasing the frequency that someone will eat vegetables by giving them dessert after they eat them) Giving something aversive to decrease the frequency of a behavior(e.g., decreasing speeding in the future by giving a speeding ticket)
Negative Taking something aversive away to increase the frequency of a behavior(e.g., increasing the frequency that someone will wear that seatbelt by taking away an annoying sound when they click their belt) Taking something desirable away to decrease the frequency of behavior.(e.g., decreasing fighting between siblings by taking away toys)

Soccer Season Kicks Off!

This week our Chatham school soccer team played its second game of the season on the beautiful municipal turf field behind the school. Our students have a chance to get off the sidelines and play on soccer, basketball and softball teams, against students from other local special-education schools. Our physical education teachers act as coaches, and while everyone likes to win, their goal is to support our students and help them improve their playing skills to the best of their abilities. The sports programs helps build our students’ motor skills and gives them time for informal socializing and relaxation with classmates. Most importantly, like any young person, they love being part of a team, proudly wearing a uniform and earning their varsity letters andIMG_2443 jackets!