New Director Announced

Dear Rock Brook Community,

On behalf of the Rock Brook School Board of Trustees, I am pleased to announce the appointment of W. Glenn Famous as the next Executive Director of Rock Brook School.

The Board has engaged in a thorough and thoughtful process to find an outstanding candidate to replace Mary Caterson who will be retiring at the end of the school year. Glenn has had a long career in public education serving as Principal in several elementary and middle schools in South Brunswick, New Jersey with a strong record of accomplishment. His commitment to children and their families, as well as to the staff who support them, is well recognized. His leadership, creativity and problem solving skills will add to our continuing efforts to help our students reach their full potential.

The formal transition process will start April 1 with Glenn and Mary working together through the end of the school year. We look forward to having Glenn join the Rock Brook family and will be planning opportunities for all of you as stakeholders to meet him. This is an important next step for Rock Brook and we look forward to the future of our program and our continued commitment to the children and families that we serve.

Rick Sugam
Rock Brook School Board of Trustees

Original release

Social Communication Disorder vs. Autistic Spectrum Disorder

Children who are experiencing social problems may appear to have Autistic  Spectrum Disorder (ASD), but some of these children fit the criteria for Social (pragmatic) Communication Disorder (SCD). Children with either ASD or SCD often have a corresponding Developmental Language Disorder, which also needs to be considered during the diagnosis and treatment process.

The most clearly defining factor between ASD and SCD is that those children who receive the Autistic Spectrum diagnosis show or have a history of restricted and repetitive patterns of behaviors, activities or interests. These might include having difficulty with transitions, lining up toys, extreme focus on a specific topics, etc. Children with SCD have social interaction and language difficulties that are similar to those that kids in the spectrum have without the restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior.

The approach to treatment can be similar and should support the social communication challenges of the children in varied situations. It is important to include peer opportunities and teach the peers how to initiate and maintain interaction with children who have social communication difficulties. This provides an opportunity to understand the strengths of friends with ASD and SCD and appreciate them.

(For more information see the article in the ASHA Leader magazine date April 2018)

Emotional Regulation/Dysregulation

Emotional regulation refers to the response to ongoing demands of experience with a range of emotions that is socially acceptable and flexible. Emotional regulation is a complex process and something many of our students work on daily in the Rock Brook School Community. When our students are more emotionally regulated, they are better able to engage with other people and are more available for learning. Sometimes they are tired and hungry or not feeling well which we can take care of. Other times they are upset about something they can or cannot express and we try to figure it out and talk about it. Sometimes it is due to internal responses that result from their own neurological make-up with no clear antecedent.

We work on emotional regulation and working through situations at school in a variety of ways, and three main approaches include: 1) Provide processing time; 2) Use simplified language; and 3) Provide visuals. Here are some specific strategies that are in no specific order:

1) Model what is expected as it decreases anxiety and increases predictability.

2) Use the phrase “First…then….. (“First finish writing three sentences…then take a break”).

3) Give a choice “Now or one minute…” (Usually the kids pick one minute…)

4) Show how many (egg, math problems to complete”) or how long (“Work for five more minutes”) and use a timer

5) Use the phrase “I start…you finish…”

6) Verbalize the rule for the situation.

7) Use Video modeling.

8) Simple tasks : give the child something to do when they are upset to calm them down that is an easy task such as sorting objects, squeezing play dough etc.

9) Use Incentive/Token Charts

10) Visual Schedules and Social stories. We find some strategies work better with specific students and then we have to switch them around and try something new. We have learned what works and what doesn’t and when we have to make changes and we keep trying!

Benefits of Joint Reading

Parental involvement in children’s academics has proven to be very beneficial to their success in school. Children’s early reading experiences with their parents prepare them for formal instruction in literacy. Being involved in your child’s reading directly influences their language and literacy skills. Specifically, positive impacts on their compression and expressive language skills have been reported. Parental involvement in children’s reading is more impactful to their literacy development than is family background, social class, and parental education. Although the most beneficial joint reading starts when your child is young, it can be beneficial at any age, such as elementary and high school. It’s never too late to engage your child in literacy practice. During joint reading, parents and children take turns reading from the pages with whatever language skills and imaginary skills are available to them. Usually parents take the lead in reading the story, pausing for their child to fill in an idea, and encourage them to take over the story whenever they wish to. Often times, the parents allow the child to take the lead and scaffold as needed.

Here are some examples/ideas to help promote joint reading with your child:

  • Ask your child questions. For example, for a beginner reader, ask simple “wh”- questions (e.g., what, where, when, why). For a more advanced reader, ask your child to make predictions, ask how the characters feel, and ask what your child has learned.
  • Identify and discuss new vocabulary words.
  • Choose themed books to elaborate on words from a particular category.
  • Play games with words, such as a synonym or antonym game.
  • Make a word web by writing or use picture symbols (whatever is applicable).
  • Hone in on prepositions and play a “Simon Says” game and have your child work on following directions (e.g., Simon says put the ball under your chair) and link these ideas to the book.
  • Have your child retell the story (using the pictures to help if needed). Story retelling is a very beneficial skill which helps your child demonstrate comprehension, fosters imagination, and helps make connections to their world.

Appreciating Our Children’s Teachers, by Lisa Patterson


This week is teacher/staff appreciation week. For students with special needs, qualified, dedicated staff is a critical component to the development and overall well -being of the child and the family. This week, we have a special guest blogger. One of our Rock Brook parents shares her appreciation of the staff who works with her child. 

See if you can follow this: I have a friend here where I live, in Princeton, whose sister has a friend who lives in Australia.  My friend told me that, immediately after her sister’s friend gave birth to a child with special needs, a check from the Australian government arrived in the mail.  No forms to fill out.  No evaluations to schedule.  The Australian government understood that there would be extraordinary expenses associated with having a child with special needs, and they were pro-active and generous.

Not so here in the US.  Ask any parent about his/her experience in raising a child with special needs, and you will hear one harrowing tale after another.  (Given the reading audience of this blog, I guess I’m preaching to the choir.  Sorry.)  My husband and I had our daughter Audrey evaluated when she was still a baby, and she starting receiving Early Intervention services by her first birthday.  But we discovered rather late in the game that these public services (speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy and cognitive therapy) were generally inferior to those offered by expensive private practitioners.  So, we shelled out some big bucks for supplemental “out-of-network” services.

When Audrey was three, Early Intervention ended, and she was enrolled in Special Education through our public school system.  The teachers there didn’t know what to do with her.  In our efforts to have her placed in a “least restrictive environment,” we ended up with teachers and administrators who were clueless about how to help a child as severely disabled as Audrey is.  I spent a stressful and depressing year meeting, arguing, cajoling, and fighting.  It was awful.  The next year, we placed Audrey in a more restrictive environment, where she was surrounded by other severely disabled kids, and where she was generally ignored for two academic years.

Enter the Rock Brook School.  Actually, Audrey’s class pictures tell the whole story best.  When she was three and in a district school, the school photo came home of her crying, and a teacher’s arm was in the frame trying to keep her from bolting off the stool.  The next two years’ photos weren’t much better.  Then – and I still thank God regularly for this – Audrey was moved to the Rock Brook School.  Here is her 2011-12 school picture:



What a smile.  And as we are completing our fifth year at Rock Brook, the photos still tell the story through her broad smiles.  Not that it’s all about the school pictures.  Audrey loves Rock Brook, her friends there, and her teachers.  Plus, she’s learning!

At every Rock Brook parent-teacher conference and IEP meeting, I thank Audrey’s teachers and therapists, and the school’s administrators.  I say something along the lines of, “We are so fortunate to have you and this school in our lives.  I don’t know what we’d do without you.”  And my eyes well up.  Even as I write this, I’m tearing up again.

The Rock Brook team is knowledgeable, loving, patient, generous, dedicated, selfless, and nothing short of a blessing to our family and to all the families it serves.  During Staff Appreciation Week, we can’t show our appreciation enough for all that they do, and the peace of mind that they give us beleaguered parents, who can rest assured that our children are being given superlative educations.  Imagine my elation when the school announced its expansion into high school last year.  What a relief to know that Audrey can have the benefit of staying at Rock Brook for ten more years.

THANK YOU, everyone, for all you do for our precious children!!!!!!

Changing the Conversation About Autism

Barry Prizant, Director of Childhood Communication Services in Cranston, Rhode Island and an adjunct professor at Brown University has published a new book, “Uniquely Human.” The book is about changing the conversation about autism. It is often referred to in conjunction with Steve Silberman’s New York Times bestselling “NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity” which provides neurotypical people practical strategies for understanding and supporting people with ASD.

In the late 70’s, Rock Brook hosted a conference on a new area of focus in the field of speech pathology, called Pragmatics i.e. understanding the function or use of language for communication. Dr. Prizant was one of the key note speakers and helped us understand that looking at how we use language to communicate was as important as how we produce speech sounds to communicate. He also did a lot of work with echolalia and documented that it is a strategy for acquiring language.

Overtime this area of focus on use of language became more important as the number of students in the autistic spectrum grew. For individuals in the spectrum communicating to other people does not come easily especially if you don’t want to talk about the same things they do and if social interactions in themselves are difficult and overwhelming. In the book Dr. Prizant encourages all of us to try to understand behaviors and how they are communicative events and not just “non-compliant” or manipulative behaviors. The approach is a compassionate one as we problem solve situations as language difficulties impact the ability to express feelings or needs. We try to do this for all our students regardless of their diagnosis and we all need to humanize people with autism and all disabilities. Behavioral reactions are often as a result of people who are more vulnerable, more sensitive and have difficulties communicating and seeking support.