All posts by Mike Sperling

Transition Plans

Moving on and finding a new path after high school can be stress filled for both parents of special needs children and the students themselves. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) mandates a public education for all eligible children ages 3 through 21 (in most states), and makes the schools responsible for providing the supports and services that will allow this to happen. So from the toddler years through young adulthood, schools legally provide for students. Beyond this time the ADA and other legal provisions can help students as they grow into adulthood. It is imperative, therefore, that students and their families understand the transition process. What are some things to consider with the transition process?

  • HighSchool Graduation –There are several forms of high school diplomas including: a GED (General Education Development (GED) Diplomas), IEP diplomas, and a high school diploma. It is important to talk to your child’s school about the meaning of each diploma and which is available to your child.
  • Career Development– Programs, like the one at Milestones, offer employment skills including working with others, money, sales, cashiers, and other aspects of working in an office or store environment.
  • Life Skills and Independent Living – Depending upon your child’s skills, he/she may want to master certain life skills, and self-care skills to become more independent both at work and at home. Check out Milestones Life Skills Checklist on our website.
  • College Preparation – Many students choose to continue their studies at colleges or universities in the area or community colleges where they have the opportunity to have Milestones support from our transition team. We offer internships and training with our staff and partnerships with employers in our area. Read more about this on our website. 

Using Technology and GPS

Over the past few years, there have been many news stories of children with special needs who have wandered off or been separated from their parents. With the evolution of technology and global positioning trackers, protection for children is just a bracelet or necklace away. Tragedies can be averted with the tracking devices that can be worn as wristwatches, anklets or clipped onto belt loops or shoelaces. Here is a quick look at some of the newest devices.

  • Amber Alert GPS – The Amber Alert GPS product is a durable, child-friendly product that allows children to call a parent through the touch of a button via AT&T’s 3G network, as well as allows parents to call and track their kids.
  • Filip – This device is a simple mobile device that children aged between 5 and 11 could wear on their wrist.
  • Angel Sense – AngelSense provides a GPS and voice monitoring solution to keep children with special needs safe and well cared-for. The solution includes a wearable GPS device – designed to address sensory issues and a friendly app based on smart analytics.
  • Safety Link – SafetyLINK wearable devices are available as wristband, key fob, clip-on also self connect to the anchor device. When a child leaves home without permission the device sounds an alarm and send notifications to parents.
  • Eyes On – The EZ-100 from EYEZ-ON gives families of wandering special needs children added peace of mind and the confidence to engage in activities and adventures with the whole family. 

Talk to your child’s pediatrician or occupational therapist about which option would be best for your child.

Life Skills Learning this Summer

For many families, summer means a change in routine and a time of relaxing with friends and relatives. For students, summer translates into no homework and not having to sit in a classroom all day long. Summer, however, should not mean an absence of learning. Here are a few tips to maintain life skills throughout the summer so that your child returns to school in the fall with strong self-care skills, organization skills, and other life skills that can be practiced outside the classroom.

  • Library Card – Have your child apply for a library card at your public library. This means that he/she will need to approach the librarian, fill out paperwork and use communication skills.
  • Organizing a Bedroom or Closet – Rainy days lead to comments such as, “I’m bored!” Organizing a bedroom or closet can help students makes decisions and take control of their surroundings.
  • Garage Sale – Yard sales or garage sales can help with communication skills, organization skills, and math skills for budgeting and pricing of items.
  • Planning a Trip – Summer is a great time to plan a trip to a favorite location or museum. Planning takes mapping skills, money skills and time management skills.
  • Overnight or Camping Skills – Planning and executing an overnight trip means packing, self-care activities and lots of communication skills.
  • Shopping Trips – These types of excursions can help your child practice many skills including planning a shopping list, working with money and dealing with the public including cashiers.
  • Dining Out – Practice life skills at a local restaurant where your child can order, dine and help deal with the bills.
  • BBQ or Picnic – Planning for family or friends to come over means working with a menu,. setting a table and talking to friends.

10 Tips to Avoid Summer Slide

“Summer slide” is the tendency for students to lose some of the achievement gains they made during the previous school year. This can include social skills, reading skills, math facts, or other areas of learning loss. This loss of academic and social skills can be curtailed by following some advice from educators, therapists and scholars. Here are ten tips to avoid the summer slide this year.

  1. Read every day either with or to your child. Check out summer reading programs at your local library and encourage your child to read anything including magazines, comics, novels etc.
  2. Audio books on long road trips can keep children interested in literature as well as expand their vocabulary.
  3. Journaling – Ask your children to write a daily journal of all of the things that they learn each day. This will help with writing and organization skills.
  4. Social Skills – Arrange play dates or excursions to practice social skills.
  5. Summer Enrichment – Fill in learning gaps by visiting museums, historical locations, and other locations that can expand your child’s knowledge.
  6. Math Facts – It may seem like a drag to your child, but practice math facts and other math problems regularly throughout the course of the summer.
  7. Turn the Mundane into Learning – A trip to the grocery store, cooking or other daily chores can be learning experiences that include reasoning, math and social skills.
  8. Quality Camps – Try researching summer camps that will challenge your child. Many camps provide opportunities to expand their minds and sharpen their critical thinking skills.
  9. Use Technology – There are copious amounts of apps that can be used on mobile devices to sharpen skills that are easy to navigate and can be a lifesaver on road trips.
  10. Have Fun!  Camps, reading and science experiments can be fun if you do it right. Make sure you are having fun with your child this summer.

Autism and Employment

Finding meaningful employment can be a struggle for anyone. As a caregiver or parent of a young adult with ASD moving into the workforce, you want to not only to prepare your family member on how to gain and maintain employment, but also aid in where to look for help and guidance on the transition from school to the workforce. Milestones Day School and Transition Service can help provide many resources as well as trained personnel to take you and your young adult to the next phase in this journey. Here are a few tips.

  • Work with your son or daughter to assist them in articulating their strengths, talents and challenges to their transition teacher or counselor.

  • Encourage your child to request a career assessment from the school’s transition coordinator or a vocational rehabilitation counselor.

  • Explore the option of supported employment where a job coach, co-workers, business supervisors, and mentors who can be utilized as employment supports for people with autism.
  • Encourage skill development at home such as teamwork, counting change, social skills, taking directions, manners etc.
  • Encourage self-advocacy where your young adult speaks for him/herself in a challenging situation.
  • Work with teachers and transition team members on employment opportunities and how they may or may not match with your young adult.

Resources –

The Symbolism Behind the Autism Jigsaw Pieces

In 1963, the puzzle piece logo was first introduced by the National Autistic Society. We often see this logo on bumper stickers, pins, key chains, coffee mugs, license plates and any number of keepsake items or promotional materials. Historically the logo was meant simply as a method of raising autism awareness. For many families impacted by autism spectrum disorders, it has come to mean a commitment to funding research for a cure. Today, however, the symbol has come to be a bit more complex and is not without its critics. Here is a quick breakdown of the symbolism of the puzzle piece, its colors and the criticism of these.

Puzzles can be difficult to solve given the number of pieces and the intricacy of the puzzle. Autism, like a puzzle, has many complexities and mysteries. ASD is not easily defined within set terms and definitions. The logo tells people that even though the disorder is not easy to understand, it is worth understanding and spending time on for the sake of those who have it it. It is a rallying point for people who want to bring the attention of other people to autism. The different shapes represent the diversity of people who are dealing with autism whether they are autistic or they are the family members of someone with autism. The interconnectedness of the pieces symbolize that this disorder affects all of us. The colors used are bright and basic, which symbolizes hope for defeating the disorder.

While the puzzle piece logo seems like a memorable and harmless advocacy symbol, it does have its critics. Many families do not like the branding that their child is a puzzle to be “solved” but rather a unique individual. Others are critical of the logo in that it shows the puzzle is missing a piece, or something is missing from their child or family member.

What are your thoughts on this logo? For almost sixty years this logo has been raising awareness for research and funding for autism needs. Whether you are a critic or supporter, it seems this logo is here for a while longer.


Reluctant Readers and Autism

Reading can be such a joyous and special time to escape into another world and learn about so many things around us. Sharing reading with a child can be a great way to connect and learn about social skills and ideas that are new to the child. Unfortunately, for many children, reading does not come easily and thus they are reluctant to read or, at the least, must be coaxed into reading more. Many children with ASD often have trouble with reading and relating to characters or plot lines. Here are a few ideas to help with reluctant readers as well as a few series that he or she may find interesting.

  • For younger readers who do not have the attention span needed for longer books, choose age appropriate books with lots of pictures and a catchy rhyme or plot. In addition keep reading time short and at a time when they are most likely to pay attention. Build up minute each time you read together. Make it fun!
  • Read aloud and talk about what you learned or the characters that you like or dislike and why.
  • For school age children, find books that are on a topic that interests them whether it is Minecraft, Barbies or the Solar System. Letting them choose puts them in control.
  • Using audio books while a child follows along can take the pressure off while still providing vocabulary and a plot.
  • For older children, try books that they can relate to with characters their age such a Diary of a Wimpy Kid or Timmy Failure series. Reluctant readers who are on the spectrum may benefit from shorter chapter books that have pictures that relate to the story and have straightforward story lines. Avoid stories that have subtext or double meanings as it may get confusing.
  • Remember that reading is reading, so it doesn’t really matter what it is, as long as they are enjoying it and are invested in it. If that means graphic novels or books that drive you nuts, so-be-it!

Autism and Pop Culture

Not too many years ago, autism and all autism spectrum disorders were fairly taboo to speak of, especially on television shows and in movies geared toward children and teens.  Thankfully, in the past few years, prime time shows have begun to de-stigmatize autism by portraying main characters who has varying degrees of the disorder. Several shows including Parenthood, The Big Bang Theory and, most recently, Sesame Street have introduced characters who either have autism or have characteristics that highlight the disorder. For millions of viewers, parents, therapists and even those who have autism, this means that more and more people have begun to be more open, accepting and tolerant of differences.

The Big Bang Theory‘s main character Sheldon Cooper shows many signs of Aspergers Syndrome. For example, Sheldon plays a scientific genius who works at a local university and shows several characteristics typical to those who have Aspergers, such as extreme attention to detail, repetitive actions and a lack of social skills. Directors and producers claim he is not autistic but he does seem to portray many characteristics common in Aspergers. Regardless of whether Sheldon is meant to be “on the spectrum” in the show his character has brought the discussion to a national level. This awareness and openness will hopefully lead to understanding and tolerance. It may also help students who have ASD relate to a character they see on the screen.

Sesame Street has just introduced a new muppet, named Julia, a friend of Abby Cadabby and Elmo who is bullied as a result of being different. Even viewers this young  can learn that a child with differences is not worse or bad or somehow “less.” The goal of Sesame Street and Autism: See Amazing in All Children,” initiative is to is to reduce the stigma associated with autism.The initiative also aims to educate kids as well as their parents on how to have successful interactions with kids on the spectrum.

To read more about the Sesame Street initiative follow this link to Autism Speaks.

Special Education Advocates

Every child deserves a rich and meaningful educational experience. When a child has special needs, however, the experience may be very different from his/her peers. How can parents find out their rights and their child’s rights when it comes to special education, IEPs, 504 Plans and modifications in and out of the classroom? Special Education Advocates are a great tool that can help parents navigate the sometimes overwhelming world of special education.

While advocating for your child requires some level of self-education and research about your child’s needs and disability, it may also require the help of a professional advocate. An advocate is someone who helps a parent or family to understand the special education process. Advocates can provide information about special education options and requirements, and can help parents seek a specific service or program for your child. Advocates usually have a broad range of professional and or personal experience within the special education system – as teachers, lawyer advocates or parents of a special needs child. They have the insider knowledge of how to navigate the special education process so that your child will get the services he/she deserves. 

Advocates are intended to help empower you as parents with information and provide concrete steps that will help you get your child the services needed. Many advocate groups provide workshops and mediation services as well. Here are a few resources to check out while researching advocacy and how it works.

Special Education Advocacy 

Advocate Support for Parents 


Connecting through Blogging

Being a parent of a child with special needs can be stressful, overwhelming and down-right hard at times. It can extremely painful to watch as neurotypically developing peers advance and evolve through milestone after milestone while your child struggles along at home and at school. It can be sad to see the hurt in your child’s eyes as they try to do what others around them do. It can be exhausting to deal with meltdowns, communication issues and social interaction triggers. For social media savvy parents, there seems to be some relief in a new method of connecting with parents in the same situation – blogging.

Blogging is not something that is new, but is new to many parents who are using it as a release from the daily grind. The wide range of types of blogs coming from parents who have a child on the spectrum are amazing. From moms of the newly diagnosed kids to moms of adults on the spectrum, there are blogs that can help you connect and deal with whatever issue you are currently facing. There are even blogs written by children and adults with Aspergers or autism spectrum disorders. For siblings who are looking for answers and someone to listen, there are blogs of that nature as well. 

No matter what stage or life event you are dealing with, blogs from parents, siblings or those affected first hand by ASD can create a sense of community and a feeling that you are not alone out there navigating this by yourself.

Find a blog that you can connect with through these resources or better yet start your own blogs.

Autism Speaks Blogs 

Top 10 Blogs by People with ASD 

Autism Blogs Directory