Category Archives: Special Education

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!

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 


Simple Ways to Encourage Reading

Studies show that reading is beneficial to children in many ways including social growth, intellectual progress, and emotional understanding. But how do you encourage your child to develop a love of reading?  Here are just a few ways to integrate reading into your life and help your child develop a lifelong love of books.

  • Read to and with your child for 30 minutes a day. Talk about what you have read and find books that intrigue or excite your child.
  • When a child is an infant or toddler, supply lots of books to look through and make reading a part of their daily routine either at bedtime when he/she is more likely to be sleepy or as another part of your daily activities.
  • Go to the library and get your child his/her own library card. The idea that they can borrow and read anything opens up an amazing world for children.
  • Model good reading by reading books for enjoyment yourself.
  • Write notes to your child in their lunch or around the house that they will want to read.
  • Put signs around the house that label items.
  • Play games to find words and letters while you are out doing errands.
  • Work with your child’s school to find ways to encourage reading.
  • Create a cool place to read in the child’s room or playroom. A tent or nook can really make reading fun.
  • Listen to storytellers at story hour.
  • Don’t be too picky about what books your child is reading – any reading is good reading.
  • Listen to audiobooks in the car instead of playing on handheld devices.
  • Read as a family.
  • Take field trips to places he/she has read about.
  • Encourage your child to write a story themselves.
  • Praise any progress in reading.
  • Give books as gifts. There is just something about having books to call your own that every child should experience.
  • Text your child.
  • Have fun!  Reading should be a joy not a chore so make it fun in your own way!

Autism and College

Leaving high school and navigating through the social, emotional and educational maze known as  college is complicated for everyone. But if you’re a student on the autism spectrum who is about to enter higher education for the first time, it might be a little bit more complicated for you. Many autistic teens out there have the intellect to make higher education a breeze, but are lacking in some of the social, time management and organizational skills they’ll need to make the grades they deserve. Luckily, there is a wide range of colleges out there stepping up to offer support and help for students with autism spectrum conditions.

Regardless of where a student falls on the spectrum, there are college programs designed for him/her.  Whether the student/parents have concerns about navigating college social life, getting appropriate accommodations, getting to places on time or dating and relationships, there are resources that can guide you and your young adult along the way. Many post-secondary institutions around the country offer training and certification programs as well as individualized and group support services. Here are a few to look into further depending upon the needs of your child.

  • Mercyhurst University has a unique program called Autism/Asperger’s Initiative (AIM). This pioneering program is designed to help students overcome the kind of challenges that most students with autism face. AIM concentrates on honing particular skill areas. such as social skills or executive functioning skills.
  • Drexel University Autism Support Program: Drexel has one of the most comprehensive autism support programs out there for college students today, aiming to create a more diverse experience that includes those with not only cultural differences, but neurological ones as well. Through DASP, students can find peer mentor training, support from advisors, as well classes and programs to help them better adapt to life in college. Additionally, students can work to become advocates for the condition on campus and eventually pay their help forward by supporting successors.
  • Boston University Supported Education Services: Free to anyone attending BU, this program offers individualized assistance with building academic skills and supporting students with autism disorders during their time in college. It can be a great way for them to get help in adapting to college life and finding the motivation to seek out social interactions. Additionally, BU is a great place to follow the latest research being done on autism today, and students in the life sciences may even be able to take part in making discoveries that could change how the medical field sees the spectrum.
  • University of Connecticut SEAD Program: The goal of this program is to help students and their families make the transition to college a smooth one, assisting the former in learning more about their disability and how to function as an independent adult. It is open to any student accepted to the university with an autism spectrum disorder and is available at varying levels of intensity. Participants receive access to support from staff, weekly meetings and a range of materials that can make the college experience a whole lot less intimidating.

Assistive Technology

Look around you. What technology do you see? Smartphones, tablets, and laptops? Our world is extremely tech-driven and the advancements are evolving faster with each day.  For years, different modes of technology have been used to improve the quality of life of people who have various developmental disabilities. Thankfully this means that there are more and more choices for assistive technology that can be used for children with autism. There are so many different types of technology that can be used to help children.  Let’s take a closer look at the vast types of technology that can be used in the classroom, at home or on-the-go!

  • Augmentative and  Alternative Communication Technology (AAC)  -Research shows that any type of AAC support will only enhance and increase verbal output! Making language visible through the use of technology for children with language delays and impairments assists in continued speech and language growth and development. These can help students effectively communicate in the classroom, socialize, and complete routine activities of the school day. Some of these include: communication boards and wallets, eye gaze boards, simple voice output devices, electronic communication devices, speech synthesizers, communication enhancement software and computer based communication systems.
  • Teaching Tools and Supportive Strategies – Technology can provide a visual support to children especially to facilitate learning. There are a number of options both high and low tech. For example: scheduling apps, visual timers, behavior support boards, social media communication and video modelling. Visual symbols and technology can help make concepts more concrete for children with disabilities.
  • Reading Tools – There are many adaptive technology tools for reading such as: change in text size, spacing, color, background color, use of pictures with text, adapted page turning, book stands, and talking electronic devices.
  • Writing Tools – Adaptive technology can assist with: pencil with adaptive grip, adapted papers, slant-boards and other computer processing technology.
  • Seating and Positioning Tools – There are several new pieces of physical technology that can help students stay in a seated position and focus better. For example: non-slip surfaces on chairs, blocks for feet, bolster or rolled towel, adapted or alternate chair, side-lying frames, standing frame, floor sitter or chair inserts.

Understanding the IEP Process

Discovering your child has special needs in school whether it is in regards to reading, writing, math, attention, social or cognitive skills can be a hard pill for parents to swallow.  Thankfully our public education system provides a legal process and plan to help children succeed.  In order to receive special education services, first the child must have an Individualized Education Plan or IEP.  Let’s take a look at this legal document and the process that accompanies it.

What is an IEP?  An IEP is a legal document that is required by the Federal Law – the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.  Any child (age 3-22) receiving special education services will have one of these to address each child’s unique learning issues.  The IEP will include:  a statement of your child’s Present Level of Performance (PLOP), goals for the coming school year, a list of services that will be provided, a list of modifications or accommodations, and a method of measuring progress.

What happens at an annual IEP Meetings?  Once a year the child’s special education team including: classroom teachers, therapists, and special education team members meet to discuss the measurable progress and needs of the child. This meeting is meant to review what has worked for the child and what has not worked.  The team will also discuss the most recent evaluation of the child and how this information can help improve the child’s education.

What if you have a dispute about the IEP? There may be times when the special education team and the family do not agree on the special education plan.  In these circumstances there are steps that can help resolve the issues.  The session may be mediated so that both parties can hopefully reach an agreement.  If the mediation does not end to the satisfaction of the parents, a complaint may be filed.  A process session will come up with a resolution that will be agreeable to both parties.  If all of this fails a civil lawsuit can be filed.  Thankfully not too many disagreements get to this level.


For further resources check out:

Center for Parent Information and Resources

Friendship Circle – Special Education Resources

Conditions Related to Autism

Being handed a diagnosis of Autism or being told your child is on the Autism Spectrum can be overwhelming enough, but finding out that your child has related conditions may be just too much to handle.  Unfortunately, Autism does have several related conditions to  Autism and are often diagnosed alongside other conditions. Here are a few that you may need to be aware of. . . .

  • ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)– Most people with ADHD have difficulty with both inattentiveness and hyperactivity-impulsivity. For some people with ADHD, their difficulties mainly lie in just one of these two areas. ADHD has an impact on day-to-day life, including school, work and relationships. Here are some further links to the confusion between Autism and ADHD.
  • Learning Disorders – People with autism can have different ‘degrees’ of learning disability, which can affect all aspects of their life, from studying in school to learning how to wash themselves or make a meal. Dyslexia is a common lifelong specific learning difficulty which mainly affects the development of literacy and language related skills. It affects the way information is processed, stored and retrieved, with problems of memory, speed of processing, time perception, organization and sequencing. While other children struggle with attention, organization and attention disorders.
  • Social Communication Disorders – A person with social communication disorder will have difficulties with verbal and non-verbal communication that cannot be explained by low cognitive ability, will have difficulties in learning and using spoken and written language, and will give inappropriate responses in conversation. Social relationships, academic achievement and occupational performance can be affected. (Source: National Autism Society)

While this is a brief list of conditions that are related and can happen in conjunction with Autism here is a more complete list of conditions associated with Autism.

Conditions Related to Autism

History Fair 2015

“Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” George Santayana

Milestones students should be very proud of the History Fair they recently hosted on January 30, 2015.  History came alive for students, parents, administrators and guests as all grade levels showed off their passion for learning about historical events that impacted (and in many cases continues to impact)  our world politically, socially or culturally.

The Elementary school delighted the audience with a variety of modes of presentations.  These included an originally written and performed play about Christopher Columbus and other early explorers.  Students and teachers alike dressed for the parts and were able to explain using historically accurate details the financing, travel and troubles that Christopher Columbus endured on his trip to what would become known as the New World.  Other students showed off their technological savvy with smart board presentations and computer games featuring information about natives and also about ships used to travel across the Atlantic.  Still other students pleasantly surprised the audience with food and spices from “the Old World”.  Learning about history never tasted so delish!

The Middle school students demonstrated not only their love of ancient civilization like the Egyptians and the Greeks but also their rapidly increasing technological, research and communication skills.  The audience was amazed at the presentation skills and computer skills used in creating many smart board presentations including text, pictures and in some cases originally created computer games.  In each room students were able to show off their research in the form or board games, models, tri-fold boards, speeches and skits.

At the high school level students exhibited a wide array of complex topics including  the Manhattan Project, the History of Rock-n-Roll, the struggles of the Civil Rights Movement, the rapid evolution of the Internet and the impact of the Civil War to name just a few. In addition to discovering the exciting world of past events, these students showed a sense of responsibility to teach the audience about their topic through well-thought-out displays and computer presentations.  All students should be very proud of the way they made history come alive inside Milestones.  Their creativity and hard work showed!  Congratulations students and faculty!

What is PECS?

Communication is a skill that many of us take for granted.  For some people, (children and adults alike), with autism spectrum disorders communication can be beyond frustrating.  The PECS program can help.  The Picture Exchange Communication System, also known as PECS, is a form of alternative and augmentative communication in which a child is taught to communicate with an adult by giving them a card with a picture on it. This extremely useful tool is based upon the idea that children who can’t talk or write can be taught to communicate using pictures.

First used with non-verbal children with autism, the Picture Exchange Communication System has also been used with adolescents and adults who have a wide range of communicative, cognitive and physical difficulties.  For people struggling with communication difficulties, the PECS program allows them to communicate non-verbally. Children using PECS are taught to approach another person and give them a picture of a desired item in exchange for that item. This child initiation of communication can be used at home or in the classroom. Virtually anything that can be symbolized, can be added to the picture board to help a child get their point across or express their feelings.  Due to this, tantrums and frustrations are kept to a minimum and encourage the child to communicate in other ways including verbal communication.  There are several studies that now support that this non verbal method encourages verbal communication.  To read more about these studies please read. 

What is Executive Functioning Disorder?

Planning, organizing, time management, and attention to details are all characteristics of executive functioning.  This set of mental processes help connect past experience with present action.  Let’s look at the basics of executive functioning disorder and how it can impact your child and your family.

The basic areas impacted by the executive functioning of the frontal lobe:

  • manage time and attention
  • switch focus
  • plan and organize
  • remember details
  • curb inappropriate speech or behavior
  • integrate past experience with present action

Executive functioning can be broken down into two categories: Organization and Regulation.

Organization involves gathering information and structuring it for evaluation. Regulation involves taking stock of the environment and changing behavior in response to it.

Executive Functioning Disorders are usually discovered during the elementary school years while homework and projects become the norm in a child’s life.  The following are warning signs that a child may be having difficulty with executive function include trouble in:

  • planning projects
  • estimating how much time a project will take to complete
  • telling stories (verbally or in writing)
  • memorizing information
  • initiating activities or tasks
  • retaining information while doing something with it (for example, remembering a phone number while dialing)

If you or your child’s teacher suspect an executive functioning problem discuss it with your child’s teacher and pediatrician.  While there is no single test to identify trouble,  psychologists, teachers, speech-language pathologists, and therapists rely on different tests to measure specific skills. Given the right tools a student can identify and improve weak executive function.