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Making the Most of Holiday Traditions with a Child with Special Needs

The holiday season is here, and few activities are as meaningful to children as holiday traditions. Embedding your child’s speech and language goals in enjoyable, real-life tasks is a wonderful way to make the work they are doing in therapy as meaningful as possible. And research has shown that, the more meaningful the activity, the more likely your child’s speech and language is to grow from the experience!

Here are some ideas for how to make the most of these meaningful holiday traditions:

  • Target sequencing and following directions by having kids help prepare holiday meals.
  • Target categorization by having children sort holiday gifts.
  • Target spatial concepts while decorating the house (e.g., put the gifts under the tree; put the candle on the menorah, etc.).
  • Embed articulation targets in fun holiday activities (e.g., target “L” sounds while “Lighting candeLs” on the menorah; target consonant clusters while “trimming the tree”).
  • Reinforce parts of speech (nouns/verbs/adjectives) throughout vacation (e.g., “Look at the pretty, white, cold snow”; “Eat the yummy Christmas cookies”).

From all of us at Rock Brook – Happy Holidays to you and your family. We hope you will come visit our blog in the New Year!

Including Your Child in Thanksgiving Preparations

November is always a very special time of year. No matter how busy we are we take time to stop and be with friends and family for Thanksgiving.

At Thanksgiving time, families have the opportunity to make traditions and do fun things together that are so important for strengthening bonds between parents, children and grandchildren. We all enjoy routines and memorable events. For students with special needs, rituals and routines become especially important! Think about what you enjoy doing with your children at Thanksgiving and during the month of November. If you always make certain foods for the holiday, include your children in the preparation. For children who read, they can help tell you what is next in the recipe or what else needs to be purchased when shopping with you at the grocery store. For non-readers, you can make a word document shopping list or recipe with clipart images for your child to “read.” Augmentative communication devices can be programmed to have the desired items listed and catch phrases such as “We need…” “Let’s get…” or “Next add…” can be used before selecting a food item when shopping or making the recipe. AAC devices can be taken to the grocery store. Students learn that their device is their voice and that it can be used in all areas of their lives. It is powerful for children to be able to order what they want at a fast food restaurant all by themselves! These events build memories that they can talk about later.

Remember to take photos of special family events and family members. The whole family will enjoy sitting down together and looking at the pictures from time to time. Encourage your child to tell about what he likes to do with Grandma, Uncle Pete, or Cousin Sam. Help them to express feelings about events. “It was fun playing Uno with Pop-Pop on Saturday. I won!”

This time of year is truly special. All of us at Rock Brook School wish you and your family a very Happy Thanksgiving.

Top 10 Most Overlooked Legal Entitlements When Advocating For Your Child

Freemanby: Hillary Freeman, Esq. of Freeman Law Offices, LLC

1)  FAPE:  District’s have an obligation to develop an IEP that addresses the student’s individualized needs. Districts will often try to deny services to a student by saying “we don’t offer that here” or “this is all we offer.” They may also state that the child’s grades are fine so the student is not eligible for a particular program. However, if the student has academic, social/emotional or behavioral needs that impact his/her educational performance, the student is entitled to services and supports to meet that particular need. This may include but may not be limited to speech/language instruction; social skills instruction; occupational therapy for handwriting, sensory needs and/or life skills; physical therapy; behavioral support; counseling; assistive technology and/or augmentative communication.

2) Stay Put:  A Child Study Team may not change a child’s program if the parents or guardians request a Mediation with the Office of Special Education Programs (“OSEP”) within 15 calendar days of receipt of the final written notice (in an IEP or otherwise). Notifying the district of your disagreement is not sufficient unless the district is giving you a draft IEP. If the IEP is final, then parents MUST file a Petition for Mediation with OSEP to prevent the proposed IEP from going into effect. This most frequently applies to (but is not limited to) (a) changes in placements/programs; (b) related services being reduced or eliminated; (c) the duration of the “extended school year” program is reduced; and/or (d) eliminating or changing “extended school day” programs.

3) Unilateral Placements or Retaining Private Services :  When parents do not believe their son or daughter is making progress (ex. education, social/emotional; behavior; life skills), they often hire private agencies to supplement their child’s educational program or place their child in a private school to compensate or supplement what the district is offering through the IEP. Parents may have a right to seek reimbursement from the local school district for providing those services. Unless there is an emergent situation, parents MUST provide the district with written notice of their intent to privately retain services 10 (business) days in advance of hiring the outside provider. Otherwise, reimbursement may be reduced or denied.

4) Independent Educational Evaluations (“IEE”):  Once a student has been classified, the district’s Child Study Team has a legal obligation to administer a reevaluation every three years or more often if deemed necessary. Upon completion of an evaluation, parents may request an IEE at public expense if they disagree with the results of the district’s evaluation. Districts however, may no longer limit the parents’ right to an IEE by insisting that it first be permitted to conduct the evaluation in an area not already assessed by the initial evaluation or reevaluation. The district must pay for the IEE unless it requests a Due Process hearing within 20 calendar days and is able to prove that its evaluation is appropriate.

5) Observations by Independent/Private Evaluators:  For any independent evaluation, whether purchased at public or private expense, the school district must allow the evaluator to observe the student in the classroom or other educational setting upon request. The district may impose reasonable limitations with respect to the duration and scope of an observation by an independent or private evaluator. However, such limitations must also be imposed on the district when the district conducts its own evaluation. The district’s policy may not be limited to outside evaluators only.

6) Goals:  It is very important that your child’s IEP goals and objectives are measurable. It is very difficult to establish that a child has not made progress with vague wording. When the goals are specific, observable and measurable, the IEP team (which includes the parents and/or guardians) to measure the student’s progress. The IEP must also state how the child’s parents will be informed of their child’s progress towards the annual goals and what criteria will be set for the child to have “mastered” each goal by the end of the year.

A) Vague Goal:  Johnny will act in a socially appropriate manner.
B) Measurable Goal:  Johnny will initiate a conversation with a same aged peer in the classroom setting three out of five opportunities to do so as measured by collected data.

7)  Transition Services:  IEPs must include transition services when the student reaches age 16 or younger as deemed appropriate by the IEP team. Appropriate transitions plans are designed to help the student learn academic and functional skills that they will need to be successful in the post secondary environment (such as college, vocational program, the account for the student’s strengths, preferences and interests after high school and then address the student’s academic and functional achievement to help the student be successful in the postsecondary environment. The plan should include instruction, related services, community experiences, the development of employment and other post-school adult living objectives, and, when appropriate, acquisition of daily living skills and functional vocational evaluation.

8)  Length of School Day and/or School Year:  The length of school day and/or school year shall be offered for the same length of time as established for non-disabled students. However, the IEP team may extend or shorten the length of the school day or year based on the needs of the student.

9) Graduation:  Graduation is considered a “change in placement” that triggers the 15 day clock to contest the IEP. If your child is (a) under the age of 21; (2) has not mastered all of his or her IEP goals; or (c) still has functional/academic needs that have not been addressed, the student may be entitled to continued services from the school district either in the school environment or another setting.

10) Partial Agreement with IEP:  Parents may consent to implement part of the proposed program without waiving their rights to contest the balance of the proposed program. If that situation arises, parents and/or guardians should ask the Child Study Team would continue working with them to reach a resolution. If not, then the parents should request a Mediation from OSEP (not the district) within 15 calendar days to invoke their “stay put” rights and maintain the IEP that is currently in effect until the dispute can be resolved. (See above).

Thank you Hillary Freeman for serving as guest blogger.
You can contact Hillary by visiting

Parents Night Out

Rock Brook School will hold its next and last Parent’s Night Out for the 2016-2017 school year.  Saturday, April 1, 2017; 5:30 -9:30 pm at it’s location at 109 Orchard Road, Skillman, NJ. Open to the public, parents enjoy an evening out while their children have fun in a structured safe environment. All activities are supervised by Rock Brook’s highly trained special needs staff. Siblings welcome. Click on  APRIL 2017 PNO Sign Up Form  to download the registration form or call (908) 431-9500.



Halloween and Trick-or-Treating with a child with special needs

It’s that time of the year again! Halloween excitement is in the air. Children get to dress up as their favorite character and collect treats with friends. For kids with special needs Halloween can present certain challenges. Here are tips for making trick-or-treating an enjoyable experience for both you and your child!

  • Kids Who Can’t Speak Can Still Ask for Candy- If your child uses augmentative communication, get the “trick or treat” message out this Halloween using high-tech (iPad, dynavox) or lowtech (cards or a sign) devices. Get creative and decorate a spooky Trick or Treat sign with your child!
  • Sensory Issues- your child may reject a costume that is scratchy, too tight, too loose, or just doesn’t feel right. Create a costume out of comfortable, familiar clothing. Your child’s favorite black sweat pants and t-shirt morph into a skeleton when you add white tape “bones.” A soft and loved hooded sweatshirt can be decorated as a dog, cat, bunny or devil with felt or construction paper. Your child’s costume may be as simple as a hat or as complex as their imagination — and yours — allows.
  • Scary costumes and tons of noise are frightening- If the noise and commotion bother, stay home and give out treats. Play a game of “guess what costume will come to the door next” to make the unexpected less scary.
  • Food Allergies- If your child has food allergies consider bringing highly preferred items that can be substituted for the candy they chose. You may also want to give neighbors safe Halloween treats in advance to hand out to your child.
  • Practice makes perfect- role-play, have your child practice ringing the doorbell, saying “trick-or-treat” and “thank you” after choosing a treat.
  • Read a social story for trick-or-treating:

My Child Gets “Speech”… What Does That Actually Mean?

Speech Language Specialists work on “goals” which are based on the type of communication difficulties your child has. A communication disorder may be evident in one or more of the following areas.

  1. Speech – encompasses articulation of sounds, fluency, and/or voice.
  • Articulation– production of speech sounds. Difficulties may be in sound substitutions, omissions, additions or distortions.
  • Fluency flow of speaking. Difficulties may be in rate, rhythm, repetitions of sounds, syllables, words, or phrases.
  • Voice vocal production. Difficulties may be in vocal quality, pitch, loudness, resonance, and/or duration.
  1. Language – encompasses an individual’s comprehension of spoken (listening and speaking), written (reading and writing) and/or other symbol system (American Sign Language). Language is often classified as expressive (speaking and writing) or receptive (listening and reading). There are five language domains that fall under three areas.

Form of language

  • Phonology the sound system of a language and the rules that govern it.
  • Morphology the rule system of “morphemes” (minimal units of language with meaning). For example, add the morpheme –s to the word “cat” and it changes the meaning of the word (cats).
  • Syntax– the rules that govern how words are combined to make sentences.

Content of language

  • Semantics– word and sentence meaning.

Function of language

  • Pragmatics using language functionally and socially appropriate.
  1. Central Auditory Processing – encompasses deficits in a person’s ability to process information without having a hearing impairment.

Central Auditory Processing Disorder

Central Auditory Processing Disorder (CAPD), also known as Auditory Processing Disorder (APD) is a learning difference where people have difficulty with listening to and processing spoken language. A person’s hearing may be fine, but they have difficulty making sense of what they hear. The brain misinterprets what is heard; therefore a child’s response may seem off target or not what their communication partner expected it to be. The term CAPD or APD refers to how the Central Nervous System processes auditory information. APD is not a result of a higher-order cognitive, language, or related disorder. For example, children diagnosed with autism may have receptive language difficulties due a higher order global disorder, rather than due to a central nervous system processing disorder. Those diagnosed with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder may have trouble with comprehending and recalling verbalizations. This may be due to difficulty remaining focused and attending, rather than to a neural processing disorder.

CAPD may be suspected by a Speech/Language Specialist, but is diagnosed by a series of tests that are administered by an audiologist, no earlier than the age of 7. An audiologist will first determine if a child’s hearing acuity is within normal limits. The audiologist will evaluate a person’s ability to understand and recall speech in quiet as compared to the presence of background noise, and how each ear performs when it receives these messages. The ability to decode or understand sounds, combine sounds, listen for a pattern, and determine where a sound is coming from, is assessed.

If a diagnosis of CAPD is made, a Speech/Language Specialist will be helpful in not only providing therapy but also by affording in-class support to the teaching team. A whole class or personal FM system is often beneficial. FM systems allow the child to hear a teacher’s voice more clearly and loudly while making background noises less problematic. Rock Brook School uses both personal and whole-class FM systems when appropriate.

Strategies that can be employed both in the classroom and at home include the following:

  • Have the child sit in the front row or close to the source of the sound.
  • Reduce background noises when possible. For example turn off the TV or computer when giving directions to your child.
  • Always get a child’s attention, “eyes on me” when speaking.
  • Use visual aides to assist in understanding such as tangible items, gestures, pictures, or printed words.
  • Speak slowly and in short phrases rather than using long complicated sentences.
  • Have your child repeat the directions you have given. Keep them short and one-step, at least initially. For children that can read, write the directions on paper or use their iPad to record directions in pictures/words.
  • Repeat and re-phrase information if the message is misunderstood.
  • Teach your child to be a self-advocate!

September – Back to Routine!

It’s that time of year again — Time to shop for new shoes, backpacks and lunch boxes. Back to school time can be stressful for many parents and students, but for families with special needs children, getting back into the school routine, after summer break, can be even more of a challenge. Children, and many adults, benefit greatly from structure, organization and routine. Here are ten tips to help ease the transition:

  1. Provide structure as the beginning of school comes closer. (i.e. regular bedtimes, regular daily schedules of activities such as packing snacks and lunches as well as selecting clothing the night before).
  1. If appropriate, plan for the transition back to school with photos and/or social story.   It could include information about summer vacation to share with friends, but also pictures of school, teachers, etc.
  1. Learn the school routine – review the bus pickup, bus route, and if possible daily routine at school ahead of time so student knows what to expect.
  1. Visit the school a week or so ahead of school start date. If meeting the teacher isn’t possible, walk around the school, see the principal and office staff, and visit the classroom.
  1. Make sure all medical information is up-to-date and any special information that the school nurse or school staff needs to know is included. Prepare a one-page guide to your child if you feel it’s necessary for teaching, therapy and nursing staff.
  1. Talk to your child about what’s going to happen, and do so frequently so the information will sink in.
  1. Associate school with fun and remind them of enjoyable events and  past achievements.
  1. Make sure you have your IEP available and ready for any questions you may need to ask as the school program starts.
  1. Buying new clothes and school supplies are activities which also signal the beginning of school and the eventual adjustment to the school routine.
  1. Designate a “launch pad” or location for your child to keep their book bag and lunch box.