Tag Archives: autism

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

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


Giving Tuesday!

Like nonprofits all across the country, today we are promoting the idea of Giving Tuesday! During this busy holiday season, we are hoping that our supporters will take a break from cyber-shopping, the malls and Main Streets to consider making a donation to our organization.
The generosity of private donations allows us to continue in our mission of serving more than 700 children and adults with special needs across our different entities.
Federal and state moneys can’t do it all. We created the ECLC Foundation to fill the gaps in our budget and bolster our schools and adult programs, so we can keep growing and innovating with the latest tools and technologies. Giving Tuesday is a chance for us to make a case for our terrific cause.

Our Occupational Therapist Named Best in New Jersey for Serving Students with Special Needs

Brandy Springer seems to do it all. As an occupational therapist at our school in Ho-Ho-Kus, Springer provides one-to-one therapy sessions for a large caseload of students every day. She created and teaches an after-school yoga program and incorporates yoga into the classroom and therapy. She manages special diets for dozens of students. She is a regular speaker at education conferences around the state, and she provides workshops for ECLC parents, covering topics, such as sensory integration, stress reduction and feeding and nutrition.

In addition to her many professional achievements, Springer embodies her sunny name. Like the season following winter, Springer lights up the room with her radiant smile and her warm personality can thaw the frostiest of hearts.

Those professional and personal qualities, coupled with her dedication and hard work, have brought Springer to the top of her profession as a school occupational therapist. She has been named New Jersey’s “Related Services Provider of the Year” by ASAH., a nonprofit that represents 135 private, special education schools and agencies serving students with disabilities across the state. Each year, the honor goes to an outstanding occupational therapist, physical therapist, social worker or speech therapist at one of ASAH’s member schools or agencies. Winners are chosen at the regional level, and then an overall state winner was selected during the ASAH conference in Atlantic City on Nov.15.

O.T. Brandy Springer does it all and with a smile!

O.T. Brandy Springer was recognized by ASAH, a nonprofit that represents 135 private, special education schools and agencies serving students with disabilities across the state.

Springer has worked at ECLC of New Jersey’s special-needs school in Ho-Ho-Kus for five years and is a valued asset to the staff. “Brandy is the kind of person who is not only willing to take on challenges, but takes them on with enthusiasm, professionalism, and complete dedication,” said Ho-Ho-Kus Principal Vicki Lindorff. “Whenever a request is asked of Brandy, you can expect one of two answers: ‘Sure!’ or ‘No problem!’ She is the type of person who never says ‘No.’ ”

This award marks the third year in a row that ECLC of New Jersey’s school staff members have been recognized for excellence at the state level by ASAH. In 2013, one of ECLC’s veteran Chatham school teachers, Judy McGrath, was named the state’s “Educator of the Year,” and in 2012, Sharon Luberto, who is the physical therapist at ECLC’s school in Ho-Ho-Kus was named the “Related Services Provider of the Year.”

“We are so proud of Brandy for this recognition. Through her work at our school in Ho-Ho-Kus, she is making a tremendous difference in the lives of children with special needs every day. She also supports our staff, parents and other professionals in the field,” said ECLC Executive Director, Bruce Litinger. “We are so proud of her achievement.”

Springer is also giving back by passing on her expertise to students and colleagues in the field. She is a fieldwork supervisor for occupational therapy students from Eastwick College, Seton Hall University and Ithaca College, and she provides workshops through a grant from the state Department of Education, via Rutgers University, for the Safe Schools program at locations all over New Jersey. In addition, she was a co-presenter at the 2014 Council for Exceptional Children conference in Mahwah.

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)

New P.R.I.D.E. Center Opens for Adults with Special Needs — New Jersey Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno Helps Cut the Ribbon!

On. Oct. 1, we officially opened a new P.R.I.D.E. center for our adult clients with special needs, including autism, Down syndrome and other developmental disabilities, and recognized major donors who made the new center possible through their generosity.

The P.R.I.D.E. Center opened following a $450,000 capital campaign to transform a drab warehouse space into a cheery, bright center with activity rooms, a teaching kitchen, a model apartment, and a technology center. The center also includes a dedicated work area where adult clients earn a paycheck by completing contracted work, such as shredding and packaging, for local businesses.

A former ECLC Chatham school staff member, Toby Cooperman, and her husband, Leon, were instrumental in the campaign’s success. They donated a $125,000 challenge matching grant, which inspired others to give. This infusion of funds allowed ECLC to finish the campaign in a short six months.

The grand opening also highlighted October’s “National Disability Employment Awareness Month,” which recognizes the contributions of workers with disabilities. The theme for 2014 is “Expect. Employ. Empower.” With a nod to these three goals, P.R.I.D.E. Director, Dot Libman, said, “With this new center, we are truly able to fulfill what our acronym stands for: Promoting Responsibility, Independence, Decision-making and Employability. At P.R.I.D.E., we always look to empower our clients and look to support their capabilities and nurture their strengths.”

ECLC welcomed elected officials, including Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, for the milestone event. In her remarks, Guadagno applauded ECLC and said she came to the event because she wanted to “see happy people, getting what they need.” She said that after visiting 32 facilities like P.R.I.D.E what she has learned is, “The biggest pain, the biggest nightmare of a parent isn’t that these facilities exist, it’s that there aren’t enough of them. What will happen to my child when he ages out? What will happen to my child when I die? Those are the issues, and you’re dealing with them right here.”

State Senator and former Governor Richard Codey, Morris County Freeholder Deputy Director David Scapicchio, Morris County Freeholder Kathryn DeFillippo and Florham Park Mayor Mark Taylor all joined in the celebration and helped cut the ribbon.