Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Assessment 101: How Do You Choose a Good Evaluator?

Do you know what questions to ask when selecting an evaluator?
You want an evaluator who is skilled at interpreting test results and completing a report that offers a rich and complex understanding of your child.
Armed with information from a comprehensive assessment, you will be able to make good decisions that support your child’s development and growth.

Choosing a Skilled Evaluator
Your evaluator should have the appropriate level of education, clinical training, and required licensure. 
Dr. Aida Khan, clinical psychologist and pediatric neuropsychologist describes How to Choose an Evaluator.

Parents Ask: Can We Get an Independent Evaluation by an Evaluator of Our Choice?
Some school policies require parents to select an evaluator from a list of "approved evaluators." Here's how to politely but firmly decline.
The Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) published this Policy Letter that clarifies parents have the right to choose their independent evaluator.

Mistakes Independent Evaluators Should Avoid!
Parents need a competent, credible, independent evaluator.
In his series, Mistakes People Make, parent attorney Bob Crabtree explains that Mistakes by Independent Evaluators may undermine their credibility or render their opinions useless.

Reports from Evaluators: Should Parents Provide a Copy to the School?
Yes! answers Pete Wright.
I recommend that when parents obtain private evaluations, they share a copy of the report with the school district prior to a meeting.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

"Plan B: Empowering the Single Parent! Benefit their Child with Autism" Review

Divorce or the loss of a parent is devastating for any child, and these are issues that parents struggle to help their child understand.  Adding autism to the mix can complicate matters significantly.

Based on Author Barber-Wada's experiences as a divorced mother of a son with autism,
Plan B: Empowering the Single Parent! Benefit Their Child with Autism addresses many sticky topics.  This book covers topics like co-parenting, managing money and preparing your child for adult life.  Barber-Wada discusses keeping schedules consistent between the two homes, something that is especially important for kids who need routines to feel comfortable.

Filled with stories of parents who have learned how to manage single parenting, this books gives advice on tough topics like divorce, the death of a loved one and even remarriage and dating. 

If you have ever wondered how to help a child with autism deal with divorce or a parent's death, this book is for you.  And if you are looking for solid, practical strategies to organizing and arranging family life as a single parent, you should read Plan B.

You can order this book through Future Horizons.  Use the code PH to get free shipping and 15% off your order there.

If you live in Illinois and would like  to borrow a copy of this book, contact Family Matters at 866-436-7842!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Structured Teaching: Strategies for Supporting Students with Autism

by Susan Stokes Autism Consultant
     Written by Susan Stokes under a contract with CESA 7 and funded by a discretionary grant from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.

Structured teaching is an intervention philosophy developed by the University of North Carolina, Division TEACCH (Treatment and Education of Autistic and related Communication Handicapped Children). . Structured teaching is an approach in instructing children with autism. It allows for implementation of a variety of instructional methods (e.g., visual support strategies, Picture Exchange Communication System - PECS, sensory integration strategies, discrete trial, music/rhythm intervention strategies, Greenspan's Floortime, etc.). The following information outlines some important considerations for structured teaching to occur. It is one of many approaches to consider in working with children with autism.

Eric Schopler, founder of Division TEACCH in the early 1970's, established the foundation for structured teaching in his doctoral dissertation (2) by demonstrating that people with autism process visual information more easily than verbal information.

What is Structured Teaching (1)

Structured teaching is based upon an understanding of the unique features and characteristics associated with the nature of autism.

Structured teaching describes the conditions under which a person should be taught rather than "where" or "what" (i.e., "learning how to learn").

Structured teaching is a system for organizing their environments, developing appropriate activities, and helping people with autism understand what is expected of them.

Structured teaching utilizes visual cues which help children with autism focus on the relevant information which can, at times, be difficult for the person with autism to distinguish from the non-relevant information.

Structured teaching addresses challenging behaviors in a proactive manner by creating appropriate and meaningful environments that reduce the stress, anxiety and frustration which may be experienced by children with autism. Challenging behaviors may occur, due to (the following characteristics of autism:
  • Language comprehension difficulties
  • Expressive language difficulties
  • Social relations difficulties
  • Sensory processing difficulties
  • Resistance to change
  • Preference for familiar routines and consistency
  • Organizational difficulties
  • difficulty attending to relevant stimuli
  • distractibility
Structured teaching greatly increases a child's independent functioning (i.e., without adult prompting or cueing) which will assist him throughout life.

This article will address the features of a structured teaching approach. It is important to remember that to effectively use the features of this approach, the individual's strengths and needs must be taken into consideration.

Primary Components of Structured Teaching:

Physical structure

Visual Schedules

Teaching method

Physical Structure

"Locker / Cubby Areas"
Definition: Physical structure refers to the way in which we set up and organize the person's physical environment: It emphasizes where/how we place the furniture and materials (1) in the various environments including classrooms, playground, workshop/work area, bedroom, hallways, locker/cubby areas, etc.
Close attention to physical structure is essential for a number of reasons:
  • Physical structure provides environmental organization for people with autism.
  • Clear physical and visual boundaries help the person to understand here each area begins and ends.
  • The physical structure minimizes visual and auditory distractions.
The amount of physical structure needed is dependent on the level of self-control demonstrated by the child, not his cognitive functioning level. As students learn to function more independently, the physical structure can be gradually lessened (5).
Example: A high functioning child with autism may display limited self control. He will need a more highly structured environment than a lower functioning child displaying better self control.

Physical structure consists of a number of components:

  • Location: Physical structure should be considered in any environment in which the person with autism interacts, including classrooms, playground, workshop/work area, bedroom, hallways, locker/cubby areas, etc.

    "Design / Layout"
  • Design/Layout.
    • Clear visual and physical boundaries: Each area of the classroom (or environment) should be clearly, visually defined through the arrangement of furniture (e.g., bookcases, room, dividers, office panels, shelving units, file cabinets, tables, rugs, etc.) and use of boundary markers, such as carpet squares or colored floor tape. Children with autism typically do not automatically segment their environments like typically developing children. Large, wide-open areas can be extremely difficult for children with autism to understand:
    What is to occur in each area;
    Where each area begins and ends, and
    How to get to a specific area by the most direct route.
By strategically placing furniture to clearly visually define specific areas, it will decrease the child's tendency to randomly wander/run from area to area. Visual physical boundaries can also be further defined within a specific area.
Example: During group story time, a carpet square or taped-off square can provide the child with autism clear visual cues as to the physical boundaries of that activity. Floor tape can also be used in gym class to indicate to the child with autism the area in which he should stay to perform certain motor skills, like warm-up exercises.
Example: Color coded placements (according to each child's assigned color) can be used for snack or mealtimes. The placements will visually and physically define each child's "space" (and food items) on the table.
These visual cues will help children with autism better understand their environment, as well as increase their ability to become more independent in their environment and less reliant on an adult for direction.

    • Minimize visual and auditory distractions: Visual distractions can be minimized:
By painting the entire environment (walls, ceilings, bulletin boards, etc.) a muted color (e.g., off-white);
By limiting the amount of visual "clutter" which is typically present in most classrooms in the form of art projects, seasonal decorations and classroom materials;

By placing sheets/curtains to cover shelves of classroom materials, as well as other visually distracting equipment (e.g., computer, copy machine, TV/VCR, etc.);

By storing unnecessary equipment/materials in another area.

Example: In the play area, limit the number of appropriate toys which the children can use and then, on a weekly basis, rotate in "new" toys, while putting away the "old" ones.

Through the use of natural lighting from windows to reduce visually distracting fluorescent lighting;
By controlling the amount of light through the use of blinds, curtains, or shades, thus creating a warm and calm environment;

By placing study carrells and individual student work areas, bordered by a wall or corner of the classroom, away from group work tables can also reduce environmental visual distractions;
By carefully considering where the child with autism will sit in the regular education classroom.

Example: Tony, a student with autism was seated in the front of the class, facing away from the door or windows and away from shelves with instructional materials in order to minimize visual distractions.
Auditory distractions can be reduced through the use of carpeting, lowered ceilings, acoustical tiles, P.A. system turned off (or covered with foam to mute the sound) and headphones for appropriate equipment, such as the computer or tape players.

    • Develop appropriate instructional, independent, recreation and leisure areas in each physically structured environment.

    • "Crash / Quiet Area"
      In a classroom setting, these areas may include:
      Small group work area;
      Independent work area;
      1:1 work area;
      Play/recreation/leisure area;
      Sensory motor area;
      Crash/quiet area.
      At home, these areas may include:
      An independent work area;
      Play area;
      Crash/quiet area.
      Again, these specific areas should have clear visual boundaries to define each area for the child with autism. It is also important to keep in mind the various distractions which may be present in each area, and make accommodations accordingly.    

  • Organization: A physically structured environment must be extremely organized to effectively implement a structured teaching approach. Adequate storage of various materials (not in view of the students), which can also be easily accessed by the adults in the environment, is critical.
Example: A sectioned-off storage area (with high dividing units to keep materials out of sight of the students) within the classroom can be very helpful to keep the environment "clutter and distraction-free" yet provide easy access to needed materials.

"Picture Jig"
Students with autism can also be taught to keep the physical environment structured and organized through the use of pictures, color-coding, numbers, symbols, etc.
Example: In the play area, pictures of the toys can be placed on the shelves to provide structure when putting things away.


Thursday, January 23, 2014

Resources on Transition from high school

Most parents worry about their children's future, but this is especially true for parents of kids with special needs.  We worry about how to adequately prepare them for life after high school.  Often, our special needs kids need more help in learning independent living skills. For this reason, in Illinois, as soon as a student turns 14 and a half, their IEP team should have a meeting to make a transition plan.

Below, I have listed some valuable resources that address transition planning for kids with IEPs.  Check them out.

~~Here is a great overview of what transition plans are

~~This article provides information about your child's civil rights with regards to transition.  Click here.

~~The IEP for transition-age students.

~~Doing Your Homework:Making the Transition from School to Work & Future Education

~~IDEA 2004: Improving Transition Planning and Results

~~Termination Just Before Transition: Is this Best?

~~Parents Guide to Transition to College, Career, and Community. This article will increase your knowledge and provide tools to help you prepare for your child’s transition from K-12 education to postsecondary education and life as a young adult.

If you would like more information about transition plans in Illinois, please contact Family Matters at 866-436-7842.  An information specialist at Family Matters can provide you with information about your child's special education rights.  We can also review your child's IEP and/or transition plan and help you understand it.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Why Your Kids Need To Know Who Justin Bieber Is

written by Bec Oakley at

No matter how you feel about the fact that Justin Bieber topped the list of the most Googled people last year, it's a result that you should pay attention to.


Because giving your autistic kids a grounding in pop culture can be an important way to help them adjust to the world around them...

It's a common language
This is the way kids communicate with each other, so exposing yours to the lingo will give them a foot in the door to being understood and accepted by their peers. It will be easier for them to follow along (and possibly even join in) conversations if they understand what the other kids are talking and laughing about.

It's a common experience
You may not always love it but this stuff is part of our culture, and so are your kids. By exposing them to it you’re expanding the pool of people they can connect with by increasing their chances of having something in common with someone else.

Teachers use it
An increasing amount of time in the classroom is being spent online, and teachers often use popular culture references to make learning materials more relevant and motivating.

It's something familiar
This stuff is everywhere. If your kids already know the songs, TV shows, characters and films that they’ll see and hear at the mall, in the car, in the waiting room at the dentist or on the t-shirts of strangers then it might make these places just a little less scary for them.

The bottom line
I'm not advocating that you turn your kids into bland cookie-cutter wannabe consumers, try to quash their uniqueness or teach them that what's popular equals what's right. But the bottom line is that these are kids who have trouble fitting in, and having some knowledge about popular culture could be the ace up their sleeve that might just help make the world an easier place for them.

Image source: Flickr user vnaylon

Friday, January 17, 2014

Sexual Abuse of Children with Disabilities

Sexual Abuse of Children with Disabilities: A National Snapshot
was released last week at a congressional briefing in Washington, DC. 
The report provides an overview of the latest research on the incidence and prevalence of sexual abuse of children with disabilities. The report also provides information on factors that contribute to the high prevalence, the status of prevention and intervention services designed to address this problem, and critical gaps in addressing sexual abuse of children with disabilities. Additionally, recommendations for next steps to create a national strategy that advances the response to this epidemic are included.
To access the report please select the following link:
The report was created with generous support from the 
If you have questions about this report, or need the report in an alternate format, please contact the Center on Victimization and Safety or at 212-376-3096.

About the Center on Victimization and Safety
The Center on Victimization and Safety at the Vera Institute of Justice works to ensure that underserved victims of crime have equal access to victim services and criminal justice interventions by fostering collaboration and building organizational capacity among victim service organizations, culturally specific service providers, and the criminal justice system.
A cornerstone of our work is a portfolio of projects designed to end violence against people with disabilities. This portfolio includes research studies, training initiatives, technical assistance to foster community-based collaborations to improve responses to violence against people with disabilities, and evaluation efforts to identify what works when serving these survivors. Learn More. 

For more information about protecting special needs kids from sexual abuse, please contact Family Matters at 866-436-7842.  We provide workshops on this subject as well.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

An Alternative SPD Lexicon

When Pudding was first diagnosed, I had to learn a whole new vocabulary just to understand her therapists. I thought it would be nice to post a cheat sheet so that we all understand each other, my definitions aren’t exactly standard, but they do describe our life with SPD. So what does SPD stand for? Read on.

SPD- Sometimes Pretty Demanding.
IEP – Incredibly Enervating Process.
Motor Skills – What we develop as we drive our kids from OT, or PT, or ST, school, social skills groups, doctors, and specialists with reluctant, squabbling children doing their best to distract us. Requires…
Motor Planning - bringing enough snacks/ juice/ stickers/ fidgets to keep the kids relatively calm for the journey. Inevitably leads to a…
Gross Motor – how my car looks after all the snacks/ juice/ stickers/ fidgets end up dumped out on the floor.

To read more, click here.....

Thursday, January 9, 2014

What I Wish I'd Known about Raising a Child with Autism" Review

I recently read What I wish I'd Known about Raising a Child with Autism:  A mom and a Psychologist Offer Heartfelt Guidance for the First Five Years by Bobbie Sheahan and Kathy DeOrnellas, Ph.D.  As the title implies, this book is ideal for those just starting off on the autism journey.  Filled with all kinds of basic information about autism and its symptoms, it's the perfect book for the parent who suspects her child may have autism.

This book has tons of great information, but what I think its absolute best attribute is the tone.  Sheahan writes as if she is chatting with an old friend.  She is not afraid to share her mistakes or foibles with us, which makes this book incredibly validating to parents.  Sprinkled throughout are stories and quotes from Sheahan's own family, as well as other families with autism.  

Also, the general attitude is one of acceptance and understanding.  She encourages parents to really get to know their child, to understand his/her difficulties and try to work with them, instead of spending loads of time wishing their kid were normal.  She discusses how as parents we need to advocate for our kids and their needs, regardless of how that makes other people (including family and friends) feel.

For example, Sheahan has discovered that her daughter cannot handle multiple outings within the same weekend, let alone the same day.  She regularly schedules in downtime for Grace so she can recover from a birthday party or trip to the zoo.  She doesn't allow herself to feel guilty for possibly letting down her friends or family members, since this is what Grace needs.  I could so relate to this!

This is a definite must-read for parents starting out on the autism journey, but I think those with older kids can also benefit.  I know I did!


Don't forget that if you order this book through Future Horizons, you qualify for a 15% discount and free shipping.  Just enter in the code PH when checking out!  You can use this code to buy anything at Future Horizons, including conferences!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

What's the deal with Perseveration?

Originally posted on

What is it?

Perseveration means to respond in the same way repetitively, and can include behaviours like echolalia, stimming, stereotypies, obsessions and routines.

But repetition is only half the story when it comes to perseveration. It’s not just about doing the same thing over and over - it’s continuing to do that thing past the point where it’s reasonable to stop (because the conditions have changed or the behaviour no longer serves a purpose) or being unable to stop. And that’s the key idea about perseveration, the ‘being stuck’ part.

Perseveration can involve actions, thoughts, words, phrases and emotions. For example:

  • Continuing to talk on a topic after the conversation has moved on
  • Anxiety about an event which has passed or no longer a threat
  • Asking the same question over and over despite receiving an answer
  • Not being able to move on from feeling angry
  • Constantly talking about something that happened weeks ago
  • Banging a box on the table to get it to open even though it’s clearly not working
  • Giving the same answer to a different set of questions
  • Looking for a toy in the place where it used to be hidden
  • Texting a new friend over and over even when they don’t reply
  • Repeatedly going over previous conversations in your mind
  • Calling the new teacher by the old teacher’s name
  • Walking around with a towel in your hand long after your shower is over 

To read more, click here....

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Things I Hope My Kids Learn This Year

originally posted on

Image courtesy Pankaj Kaushal 

Today I was scrounging around looking for my sanity some paperwork when I found this instead. It’s something that I’d written to myself a few years ago, while we were buried deep in yet another round of IEPs and goal setting and standardized tests.

At the time I was frustrated that in all the detailed discussions of my kids’ educational needs we were somehow missing the bigger picture stuff. The really important things. We were bogged down in handwriting and test scores and sitting still, and none of it was what I actually wanted to write on the form where it asked "What are your main concerns for the year?"

I was too shy and overwhelmed back then to share it with their teachers... but I wish that I had, because at the end of the day these are the outcomes that I cared about the most.

Things I hope my kids learn this year

I hope they learn... there are safe places to be found outside our house.
I hope they learn... people can be kind.
I hope they learn... ‘the right way’ looks different for everyone.
I hope they learn... learning is something you can do for fun.
I hope they learn... needing supports doesn’t mean that you're lazy.
I hope they learn... the amount you try matters more than the number of mistakes you make.
I hope they learn... conformity is not a goalpost.
I hope they learn... the things they're interested in are worthwhile knowing.
I hope they learn... sport is about having fun, not throwing the perfect pitch.
I hope they learn... failure is a beginning and not an end.
I hope they learn... they’re worth getting to know.
I hope they learn... being curious is a wonderful thing, no matter what shape it takes.
I hope they learn... it’s always okay to speak up when something is wrong.
I hope they learn... they are overflowing with possible and can and able.
I hope they learn... that yes, they can learn.