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  1. Whether you are just starting to consider an IEP for your child or your child has had one for a few years, it is important to understand the terms, organize your documents and know how to advocate for your child. NPN has teamed up with autism expert and special education advocate Mo Buti to educate parents on the ins and outs of the IEP process.
  2. Whether you are just starting to consider an IEP for your child or your child has had one for a few years, it is important to understand the terms, organize your documents, and know how to advocate for your child. NPN has teamed up with autism expert and special education advocate Mo Buti, to educate parents on the ins and outs of the IEP process. Your child has been evaluated and found eligible for special education services. Now, you will be attending your first Individualized Education Program (IEP) meeting. During this webinar, autism and special education advocate Mo Buti discusses what to expect during an IEP meeting, how to prepare for the meeting and key points in the IEP document.
  3. Whether you are just starting to consider an IEP for your child or your child has had one for a few years, it is important to understand the terms, organize your documents, and know how to advocate for your child. NPN has teamed up with autism expert and special education advocate Mo Buti, to educate parents on the ins and outs of the IEP process. This 20-minute webinar will help parents of children with and without an Individualized Education Program (IEP) navigate what to do with reports obtained outside of school. Whether you have an assessment, a tutor's progress report, a doctor's report, or other forms of documentation, this webinar will inform you how to use this information to assist the school in determining appropriate services for your child. You will learn tools you can use right away including: Types of reports that can be used to obtain an IEP or used for appropriate modifications to an existing IEP Sample emails to school administrators The time frame schools legally have to respond to your requests How to be an advocate for your child with special needs
  4. Whether you are just starting to consider an IEP for your child or your child has had one for a few years, it is important to understand the terms, organize your documents, and know how to advocate for your child. NPN has teamed up with autism expert and special education advocate Mo Buti, to educate parents on the ins and outs of the IEP process. If your child has an Individualized Education Program (IEP) and you have found yourself wondering if the IEP actually meets your child's needs, then this webinar is for you! Special education advocate Mo Buti joins us for the second installment of NPN's IEP series with My IEP: Red Flags. You will learn about some possible "red flags," learn how to identify them and then what to do to resolve these concerns in a proactive way. This webinar will help you address what to do when there is: No homework Feedback on benchmarks Lack of communication And, much more!
  5. As a parent, you want to ensure that your child receives every opportunity to thrive and reach their full potential. Preschool can play a significant role in achieving these goals. For children who may not fit into a standard preschool setting because of a disorder, diagnosis, or disability, a therapeutic preschool program can be life-changing. If your child would benefit from a therapeutic preschool, it is critical that you do your research. In my own experience, I found the following factors incredibly important. [Related: How to advocate for your special-needs child in CPS] Your goals as a parent A therapeutic preschool can provide support by meeting critical developmental milestones in areas such as speech and language, social skills, feeding, expanded gross and fine motor skills, and more. It is important that the program meets the unique goals you have in mind for your child. Flexibility of the program The more flexible a program is, the more it will meet your child’s needs. Does the program require you to make a year commitment or allow month-to-month? Does it offer both morning and afternoon sessions? Are you able to start at two days a week and increase if it is going well? Rigid rules and policies may not fit your child’s specific needs. Well-educated and experienced staff Top therapeutic programs tend to employ individuals with a bachelor’s or master’s degree. This additional education will manifest itself in better outcomes for your child. A multidisciplinary team This means a team of professionals with expertise in speech-language pathology, occupational therapy, feeding therapy, ABA therapy, and more. This diverse team allows children to receive the most well-rounded and comprehensive care and allows a program to treat the whole child. Student-to-teacher ratio A program with a low student-to-teacher ratio can provide more personalized care. A standard preschool program may have 8 to 10 children for just one teacher, while a good therapeutic program may have just 3 or 4 students per teacher. [Related: IEP 101 (video)] Reviews and results In my time as a speech-language pathologist, I have had a front-row seat in observing therapeutic services for children with a wide range of developmental delays. I have discovered that the gains children make vary greatly from program to program. The progress your child makes in a therapeutic program is a direct result of the effectiveness of the clinicians. Look for online reviews and references from satisfied parents so you know that your child is receiving the best care possible. Open-door policy The best therapeutic programs want parents involved in their child’s progress. An open-door policy that allows parents to drop in to observe their child’s day (such as through a two-way mirror) is the hallmark of a quality program. The results of a therapeutic preschool program can be truly transformative for your child. Ask questions. Ask around. Look online for reviews. Doing your research will pay off, as you will find the right program to become your “partner” in helping your child reach their full potential.
  6. This 45-minute webinar offers information and resources about the special education process once your child enters school. Parents will learn special needs laws, terms and acronyms, timelines and strategies for advocating for your child. Watch the above video. Whether your child is in Head Start, Pre-K or Kindergarten, you'll benefit from this overview of the processes and procedures necessary for your child’s education. Topics include parent rights and responsibilities, the special education process, special education options, and where to find resources and support.
  7. For most parents, back-to-school time means buying the kids a new backpack and shoes, and maybe taking them for a haircut. For parents of kids with special needs, however, going back-to-school can be much more stressful for both them and their children than just a shopping trip to the mall. Children who are not successful in school, either for emotional/behavioral or academic reasons, often feel happier and calmer over the summer break when they are not dealing with the demands of school. If this is your family’s situation, there are several things you can do to try to minimize the stress of back-to-school for you and your child. Review your child’s IEP Whether the IEP was drafted six months ago or just prior to summer break, it is helpful to refamiliarize yourself with the services and accommodations your child will be receiving in the upcoming school year. Check to make sure that the IEP still reflects your child’s needs or whether some aspects need to be modified due to changes over the past few months. Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), an IEP meeting to review the IEP can be requested at any time during the school year. You do not need to wait until annual review time. Organize your child’s school records If you child has been in special education for more than a few years, chances are you have a lot of paperwork accumulated from the school and outside providers. Summer break is a great time to review your documentation and develop an organizational system. I use an accordian file for my own child, but many of my clients prefer a three-ring binder. Not unlike tax documents, we recommend that you maintain your child’s special education documents during the length of time they are in school. While a parent has a right to request a copy of their child’s educational records at any time under the Illinois School Student Records Act (ISSRA), it is still a good idea to maintain your own copy for comparison and easy access. Request a back-to-school IEP for the beginning of the year For both my own daughter and many of my clients, I frequently request that an IEP meeting be scheduled approximately 3-5 weeks into the school year to ensure that the services are being implemented smoothly and to review and tweak the IEP. For children undergoing a significant transition (e.g., to a new school or new placement), I would not hesitate to request a meeting to review that transition. Ideally, we recommend that this type of back-to-school meeting be included as a necessary accommodation in your child’s IEP, especially when experiencing a significant transition, but if that is not the case you can also simply contact your special education administrator and request it at the start of the school year. Schedule a special back-to-school meet-and-greet/tour for your child prior to the first day of school Many children with special needs need prior exposure to new experiences to help ease their anxiety. If this sounds like your child, we recommend reaching out the school to request a special meeting and/or tour with your child’s LBS and/or classroom teacher. This is especially important if s/he is undergoing a significant transition. However, for many kids, it is necessary even if they are just moving up a grade into a new classroom. Most Illinois school districts implement several days of institute training for school staff prior to the first day of school and it is simple for them to schedule time for your child to visit. As with the back-to school IEP meeting, it is recommended that you include this special meeting/tour in your child’s IEP accommodations in their IEP every year.
  8. As special education attorneys, we frequently receive calls from parents who want to know whether their children with special needs are entitled to any services or accommodations at private schools. Unlike students in public schools, students with disabilities in private schools are generally not entitled to an IEP under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), however, there are a few options available that parents may want to explore. Individual Service Plans: The IDEA does establish a “proportionate share” arrangement between school districts and private schools. This means that public school districts must utilize a certain share of their funding for children attending private schools within the district’s boundaries. Through the proportionate share arrangement, private schools and the local districts conduct annual meetings and discussions regarding what types of special education and/or related services they will provide. The local school district will then draft an “individual service plan” or “ISP” for the child. An ISP is less detailed than an IEP, but will document the types of service provided, as well as the location and frequency of the service. To find out what type of service a school district will be providing to a private school student, a parent should contact the district administrative office of the school district in which the private school is located. If your child is not yet eligible for special education, the district in which the private school is located is also responsible for conducting the initial case study evaluation for potential eligibility. Part-Time Attendance: In Illinois, we have a unique section of our School Code, 105 ILCS 5/14-6.01, which allows students with disabilities in private schools to also enroll part-time in their local school district of residence to receive special education services. A request for part-time attendance must be submitted by a parent to the school district where the child resides. If a parent chooses part-time attendance, the resident district of the student is responsible for all evaluations and IEP services. However, the actual IEP services depend on the amount of time the student attends the public school and is generally determined by the public school, in conjunction with the IEP team. For example, if the child needs a specialized reading class for a learning disability, the public school has the discretion to determine what class the child will attend. The public school is not required to create special classes or services to accommodate the part-time attendance schedule. Section 504/ADA Accommodations/Services: Children with disabilities in private schools are entitled to receive reasonable accommodations/ modifications through Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, if the school receives federal funding, and under the Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act (ADA) even if the school receives no federal funding. While many private schools may also offer special services for children with disabilities, to attract new families and keep families together, they are not required to provide actual services under Section 504 or the ADA, just accommodations/modifications. Some private schools will create an “accommodations plan” for the child to document the accommodations, however they are not required to do so. Lara Cleary and Jennifer Hansen are partners with the law firm of Hansen & Cleary, LLC, a boutique law practice focusing on the representation of children and families, individuals with disabilities, medical and mental health practitioners, private schools, and other non-profit agencies in Chicagoland and throughout Illinois.
  9. Is your whole family about to lose their minds to cabin fever? Don’t let it get you down! There is so much free or cheap indoor and outdoor fun to be had. Here are some activities you and your special-needs kiddo can enjoy. Around town activities Free museum days Adler Planetarium, Chicago Children’s Museum, dancing with the kiddos at the Chicago Cultural Center, sensory Saturday at the Field Museum, the Shedd Aquarium and the Chicago History Museum. Conservatory exploration Explore beautiful plant life at the Lincoln Park Conservatory and the Garfield Park Conservatory. It’s always free and it feels like you are visiting the tropics! Live theater See a play that will accommodate those who have sensory issues at Lifeline Theatre and Chicago Children’s Theatre. Music Get out and do some serious dancing with your kiddos! Beat Kitchen has a whole kids' concert series! Indoor water parks Splash Landings Aquatic Center in Glenview, The Water Works in Schaumburg and Pelican Harbor Aquatic Park in Bolingbrook Trampoline park Sky High Sports offers discounted open play every Tuesday just for your special-needs kiddos! Obstacle and agility courses For those kiddos who crave climbing and hanging, check out Ultimate Ninjas for open-play weekends. Outreach play Misericordia offers a great play program that gives you a chance to meet and mingle with other parents while volunteers play with your child. Free play KEEN Chicago: Kids Enjoy Exercise Now! Chicago Park District's special rec programs CPD has a lot of available programs for our kiddos. You do have to sign up early as spaces fill very quickly. Sledding and skating Try sledding at one of the Chicago Park District parks. Our favorite hills are Oz Park, Horner Park, Gompers Park and Warren Park. Get skating in at Maggie Daley ice skating ribbon, Warren Park and Wrigley Field. Indoor home activities Sensory bins Create one or a few sensory bins using Insta-Snow, water beads, dried beans, shaving cream or cotton balls to hide and search for treasures. Dress up! Put those old costumes to good use and get dressed up for some pretend play. Have a very posh tea party, get rescued by your favorite little superhero or have your kiddo cure all of his or her stuffed animals boo-boos! Dance party Turn on that music and work out some serious energy! We have different genres programmed on Pandora, like Disney, Kidz Bop, Laurie Berkner, Fresh Beat Band and School House Rock, to name a few! Build a blanket fort and camp inside Make some s’mores Rice Krispies treats with the kiddos and heat up some hot chocolate! Family game day Play Twister, Charades, Old Maid, Hungry Hungry Hippos or whatever you have on hand to enjoy together! Art day Hold a painting party and drink apple cider from fancy glasses. Try re-creating a famous artist’s piece using paint, construction paper, beans, yarn or pasta! Winter can be lots of fun if you get a little creative! Enjoy!
  10. After working as a special education teacher for a few years, I attended law school with the sole intention of becoming a special education attorney who represented parents of children with special needs. In 1998—right out of law school—I was lucky enough to get a job doing just that. For years, I attended hundreds of IEP meetings involving all types of special education issues. However, about five years ago, my perspective and practice were forever impacted when my own child was diagnosed with a disability. I now better understand the emotions, including the fear, uncertainty and anguish, that can come when your child has special needs. Following my child’s last IEP meeting, held at a time when she was really struggling in school, I decided to write down my best advocacy tips to share with anyone who asked. I hope that my varied experiences at IEP meetings can help others navigate the special education world for their own children: Use private providers. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA) allows parents to bring private providers to IEP meetings to share their expertise about the child. These individuals, such as an OT, SLP or therapist, can provide the IEP team with great information for the creation of IEP goals, accommodations, modifications and when discussing placement options. The IDEA also allows parents to obtain private evaluations and requires school districts to consider the information at an IEP meeting. If you are looking for an evaluator, find one that has experience with school districts and will accompany you to an IEP meeting. An evaluator who is reluctant to attend an IEP meeting is not one that you want to spend your money on. Educate yourself. Learn your rights prior to attending IEP meetings with district personnel. Know the law, the procedures, and the special education terminology (there are a lot of acronyms). The Illinois State Board of Education’s website is a good place to start as it contains hundreds of informational memorandums. You can also access both the federal and State special education laws and administrative rules on that site. In my experience, district personnel respond more positively to parents they perceive as informed, interested and involved. Begin preparing early. Most school districts are willing to provide parents with draft copies of evaluations and goals in advance of an IEP meeting. Document your request in writing (more advice: always document everything in writing) and send the letter or e-mail a few weeks in advance of the meeting. I usually ask for the paperwork to be provided to me for a client at least five days in advance of the meeting. You can also develop your own agenda and issues for the meeting. Make copies for each member of the team. Stay focused. The most common mistake we see from parents who have reached an impasse with a school district is that they try to accomplish too many things at one time. Recently, a friend who also happens to be a very successful litigation attorney asked me to review a seven-page letter to the district following her daughter’s IEP meeting. I edited the letter to 1.5 pages! Too much detail waters down your main issues. I’d have been surprised if district personnel could even get through half of the original seven pages. Parents need to determine what they really want. Other issues can be brought up later; you don’t have to worry about waiving them. Under the IDEA, an IEP meeting can be requested at any time. Do not be intimidated. The district IEP teams may, at times, seem voluminous and have a lot of varied or difficult opinions about your child. But who knows the child best? YOU! Parents should listen to the educational team and consider their recommendations, but should not be afraid to disagree. With that said, always be as kind and cooperative as possible. I have seen more parents get what they want with kindness and respect than by being rude and aggressive. Finally, if you are nervous, bring a support person to the IEP (spouse, other family member, friend) and ask them to take good notes. Lara Cleary is a partner with the law firm of Hansen & Cleary, LLC, a boutique law practice focusing on the representation of children and families, individuals with disabilities, medical and mental health practitioners, private schools, and other non-profit agencies in Chicagoland and throughout Illinois.
  11. With all the hustle and bustle of the holidays, our special kiddos can get lost in the "sensory-overload shuffle" and may not feel very festive. Here are a couple of suggestions to keep parents and kids full of the holiday spirit. A sensory-friendly version of A Christmas Carol at the Goodman Theatre offers lower sound levels, the house lights left on and the opportunity for kids to walk around as much as they please. The theatre is also providing a designated area to retreat for those that need some quiet time. Dec. 30 at 2pm. Are the holidays just too much overall? Step back and just take in a movie with your kiddo to relax without all the holiday pressure. Check out AMC's Sensory Friendly Movies and Studio Movie Grill's Sensory Friendly Movies. Or take them to a museum where they can let off some steam and not be bombarded with the holiday hustle. Try The Children's Museum, Kohl Children’s Museum or Dupage Children’s Museum, all of which have sensory-friendly days. Create a holiday tradition. My daughter, Lia, loves the twinkling lights of the holiday displays so we pick one night put on her coziest holiday jammies and pack snacks and a thermos of hot cocoa and go for a car ride to see Sauganash's holiday lights. It’s become such a wonderful tradition in our family! For those kiddos who thrive on the excitement, like mine does, go all out and do Winter Wonderfest at Navy Pier (tons of rides and ice-skating rink) or the CTA Holiday Train or Bus! Lights, crowds and fun for all! Yes, it's complete sensory overload, but some kids really love this and then maybe you can get a great night’s sleep out of the routinely sleepless child. Check Groupon and Living Social for special offers. For both Winter Wonderfest and the CTA, mention to the employees that your kiddo is special needs so you do not have to wait in those long lines. It works—we’ve done this every year. Shopping is not always easy for our kiddos. Try to do the bulk of your shopping while they are in school, on a play dates or at family member's home. Don’t be shy to ask your family or friends for help. Like they say, it does take a village! Call in those favors now. You are going to need all the time you can get! Locally owned The Sensory Kids Store is a wonderful place to get your kiddos something extra-special online! Try to create an opportunity to get some much-needed alone time for you and your significant other. Check out Free Parents' Night Out offered by CST Academy. You can have three hours all to yourself! Be sure to register in advance. Don’t forget about yourself. All the running around making sure everyone is happy can kill anyone’s spirit. You need to make sure that you are taking care of yourself as well. Get a small treat for yourself every time you get something accomplished from your list. Get a mani/pedi, get a latte and sit down somewhere to read an article from your favorite gossip magazine, or take a few minutes to enjoy some of the beautiful holiday decorations around you. You get the idea. Breathe! And finally, the holidays are about being together and cherishing all we have. Remember to try to give back however you can by volunteering or donating to a worthy cause. Misericordia, KEEN, Easter Seals and Ronald McDonald House are just a few of the many wonderful organizations that help our special family members. There is always a need for volunteers at most organizations that give us all so much! Check out the volunteer opportunities near you. No matter how you celebrate this holiday season, I hope you all are able to enjoy your loved ones to the fullest!
  12. As parents to a wonderful, energetic special needs 8-year-old, my husband and I are constantly thinking of ways to enjoy our chaotic lives as much as possible. And because our lives are anything but "normal," it’s not always easy to enjoy all the typical fun things like dining out, going to live theatre, visiting a museum or taking a vacation. We are always fearful that Lia will act out because of boredom, frustration or sensory overload. If she gets upset, it is money wasted because you leave so other paying patrons can actually enjoy their experiences. But the good news is Chicago has come a long way in making life more enjoyable for those with special needs! The entertainment industry is finally listening and becoming more inclusive. Here are our favorite Chicago-area spots that are especially accommodating to kids with special needs. Restaurants: There are also some restaurants that offer a special-needs night courtesy of Autism Eats, a non-profit that partners with local restaurants to offer special-needs nights featuring buffet or family-style service and adjusted music and lighting. Hotels: Chicago Marriott Northwest. Recently we were given a certificate for a one-night stay at this hotel, but Lia has terrible sleep issues and falls out of a regular bed. We contacted the hotel and they said they would do what they could to help. We arrived and someone was waiting for us to make sure the mattress they put on the floor with rails and pillows would work out. We had the best time even when she had a tantrum in the hotel restaurant. The manager came over to us to assure all was ok. I can’t stress enough how amazing this was for us! Theaters: Lifeline Theatre Sensory Friendly Show, Blue Man Group. All lower the sound, turn up lights and let your kiddo run around and provide places to retreat for those that need some quiet. Some also offer headphones, fidgets, social narratives and parent guides to support your kiddo. Goodman Theatre offers a sensory-friendly version of A Christmas Carol! Movies: AMC Sensory Friendly Movies are on the second and fourth Saturdays of the month and Studio Movie Grill Sensory Friendly Movies are monthly. Theatre lights are turned up, sound is lowered and there are no previews! Places to play: The Playground for Everyone: Amazing park in Elmhurst created for kids of all abilities. Lia can do a mini zip line safely! Siegel’s Cottonwood Farm Special Needs Weekends: The pre-registration date has passed to gain free admission the Oct. 28-29 special-needs weekend at this pumpkin farm, but all special needs families are still welcome to attend! In addition to pumpkin picking, there's zip lines, pony rides, corn maze, train rides and more. The Field Museum Sensory Saturdays: The Crown Family PlayLab opens one hour early (9-10am) for special-needs families, then you can explore the rest of the museum for free all day. Must pre-register. Chicago Children's Museum Play for All days: On the second Saturday of every month, the museum opens an hour early for families and children with disabilities. The first 250 to register gets free admission. Kohl Children’s Museum's Everyone at Play days: Monthly Sundays from 9:30-11:30am are reserved for special-needs families. DuPage Children’s Museum's Family Night Out and Third Thursdays: See website for details. Parents, get out there and have some fun with your kiddos! We all deserve it!
  13. The transition from summer to the new school year can be difficult for any child. It definitely is for my 8-year-old special-needs child, Lia, so my husband and I have tried a lot of techniques and have found some things that work. We’ve also come across some great ideas from other parents. Keep in mind that not all of these suggestions or ideas will work for you, but it’s worth a try for kiddos that struggle getting back into the school routine every year. Keep it low-key – If you are planning to take some time off before school starts, do some low-key activities rather than high energy, wild vacations. This could ease the child’s transition. -Physicals and immunizations – Doctors’ offices get very busy at this time of the year, so schedule visits early. -Supplies and school clothes – Don’t wait until the last minute to shop! Having spent many years in retail I know firsthand that back to school shopping is one of the busiest and most profitable for retailers. There are some great sales right now! Having said that Lia HATES shopping! I suggest having a well thought out list handy with all your back-to-school needs. When you are on your way to work, on your lunch hour or on your way to the gym, stop quickly to pick up those needed items right then and there! -Picture schedules – Create a picture schedule of daily routines. This will let your kid know what to expect throughout the day. Include dressing, grooming, eating, bus rides, school, teacher and aide pictures. If you have therapy after school or you have to pick up your kiddo early, make sure you include this in the picture schedule as well. -Dressing routine – Label five stacking bins Monday through Friday with an outfit for each day. Let your child pick the outfits if able. This will give her a sense of involvement and ownership. -Bed time – Ease your kiddos into their school bedtime schedules. It’s not easy! Limit screen time at least an hour before retiring for the evening. Take long baths to relax (Epsom salts, lavender oils, favorite tub toys, etc.). If your kids have been going to bed late all summer then start their bedtime transition about a week before school starts by moving up their bedtime routine anywhere from 10 to 15 mins earlier each night and wake them 10 to 15 mins earlier each morning. -School bus - Make sure you know the bus company's name, phone, route number and pick-up time! Once you get the confirmation card in the mail call the bus company to confirm this information a couple of days before school starts. Times may change and you may not be updated. This has been known to happen! -Teacher and aides - Get to know the staff in your child’s class as well as the office. Make sure you have the teacher's email address and phone number. Be sure to let them know what type of summer you have had and the current situation with transition, tantrums, therapies, or anything you are currently working on (life skills, behavior modifications, etc.). Lastly, I always suggest getting involved in the school. Join the LSC or “friends of….” committee to get to know other parents/teachers and principals. You want to get to know as many people as possible in case you come across any concerns or issues. This also creates a network of support for you child. Remember to maintain a positive attitude about summer ending and school beginning. Let your child know the new school year will lead to seeing old friends and hopefully making new ones. Here’s to a wonderful and successful school year!
  14. I have an 8 ½-year-old little girl, Lia (pictured, above), who has been diagnosed with severe intellectual disabilities, sensory processing disorder, autism and hypotonia, and is non-verbal. I do not, nor will I ever, claim to be the resident expert in any given field except when it comes to knowing my own kiddo. With that said, I know how frustrated and bored my little darling is going to be this first week of summer vacation. My husband and I had to figure out how to keep her busy, entertained and regulated for 76 days! Yikes! Lia attends a Chicago Public School. Unfortunately, she, along with many other children with developmental differences, does not qualify for ESY (Extended School Year, a.k.a. summer school). To add insult to injury, we were too late to get her signed up for any affordable summer camps. We promised ourselves we will be more on our game next year! Our first thought was OMG we are NEVER, EVER going to survive this summer. She is already showing signs of dysregulation and frustration. Because we are not direct descendants of the Rockefellers, we had to begin researching and planning. Alas, there is some hope, not for all 76 days but we may just survive this summer yet! My husband and I have decided to sign her up for as many activities as possible that are not only affordable but that would be accepting of kiddos like Lia. We started building a list of feasible activities. We concentrated on free activities because let’s face it, why pay a lot of money for something if there is a possibility your child will have a difficult time and not stay for the activity? We also included anything we would need to pay for but felt was well worth the money. Here's our list. What's on yours? Free summer activities: The beach - We’ve been going to Foster Beach for years but recently started exploring others like Loyola Park and 31st Street Beach. Chicago Park District pools - We visit many free pools and sprinkler parks in the area. We especially like River Park pool because when the staff is on a safety check break, we play in the attached sprinkler pad while waiting for the pool to re-open. This is key! We also like Chase Park, Hamlin Park and Gompers Park. Chicago parks - Maggie Daley is our favorite! There are also a number of accessible parks for kiddos with physical challenges. Kids Bowl Free - Register on this site and your kids can bowl two free games every day throughout the summer at Waveland Bowl or Lawn Lanes. Great for those not-so-great weather days! Kohl Children's Museum (Everyone at Play) - On select Sundays, the museum is open early (and is free!) for families with children with special needs. Free museum days – Most Chicago museums offer free days, even in the summer. Lia loves the Museum of Science and Industry the most! KEEN - Kids Enjoy Excercise Now - This non-profit provides free sports and recreation programs for young people with disabilities. In July, all KEEN families are invited to Wisconsin for a free, fun-filled day of water-skiing, swimming and more! Worthwhile memberships and programs: The Morton Arboretum - The garden has a great kids' area with some membership-included fun events throughout the year. The membership is reciprocal and offers admission into other garden venues around Chicagoland. Whealan Pool – This Forest Preserve pool only costs $7 for adults and $5 for kids (3 and under are free). A membership includes three different Forest Preserve pools. Brookfield Zoo – The special exhibit "Dinos and Dragons" features animatronic dinosaurs and live reptiles—even a komodo dragon. You can also see the new wolf pups. So darn cute! M*NSAR (Maine-Niles Association of Special Recreation) – M*NSAR has many wonderful programs for our kids. We are taking swimming once a week throughout the summer. AMC theaters – This movie theater chain offers sensory-friendly films (lights are up, sound is down, kids can run around and play in the aisles) on the second and fourth Saturdays of the month. Finally, we will fill in the gap with extra therapies, potty training class, playgroups, special needs carnivals, festivals, holidays and birthdays. Our calendar is filling up quickly but we are still not there. That’s ok—we are allowed some down time. I hope this helps you fill in some free time this summer. Now go enjoy your wonderfully special kids!
  15. Many parents have questions about their child’s behaviors, feelings, thoughts and academic progress. You may have asked yourself many times, Is this normal? Will my child just grow out of it? Children have robust and complex emotional worlds and they can suffer from emotional and neurodevelopmental illnesses just like adults. Here is a list of a few things to pay attention to if you are concerned about your child: Your gut feeling The most significant, reliable and valid warning sign for an underlying psychological issue with a child is the gut feeling of his or her parent. Since your child was born, you have been an overt and covert learner of your child’s behaviors, feelings and thoughts. As such, you have more knowledge about him than anyone. Suspicions that your child is falling behind, struggling in school, having trouble making friends or not behaving in a typical way are extremely valuable and important. If you suspect something, it’s okay to vocalize this suspicion and seek professional guidance. Many parents feel fearful and shamed that they are suspicious about their child’s development, but it does not make you a helicopter parent, truly. You are an in-tune and loving parent. If you are worried, please reach out. Psychologists like me are here to help. Homework refusal A child who refuses to complete and turn in her homework is by definition a child who is struggling developmentally. Many times these children are labeled as lazy or undisciplined. I encourage all parents to reject the myth of a child being “lazy” and instead explore why their child refuses or heavily resists homework compliance. Children with learning impairments often develop avoidant behaviors because their work is too hard, but they feel a sense of isolation, anxiety and embarrassment so they avoid the thing that makes them feel bad. Children with attention impairments also struggle to focus and may avoid homework participation due to the very real stress they feel when trying to complete it. Lastly, children with anxiety or persistent depression are highly avoidant of homework as they struggle to summon the emotional resources necessary for its completion. Behavior problems at school While many children will have some behavioral management problems at school from time to time, frequent calls from teachers and other caretakers is a strong correlation to neurodevelopmental problems. Children who act out at school are often struggling emotionally and cognitively but do not have adequate coping skills and resources to manage. These children can be labeled as problematic or “bad,” but once again I encourage parents to reject these labels as so many children who act out have very real undiagnosed cognitive issues that need empathy, acceptance and guidance. Undiagnosed children who are overpunished at school often only get worse in their behaviors. Behavior problems at home Children with underlying feelings of sadness, anxiety, attention problems or learning impairments will often manifest their struggles in bouts of extended tantrums, defiant behaviors, antagonism and aggression. Angry outbursts are not uncommon and many children have them, but frequent outbursts, violence and acts of consistent defiance are a sign of a child who is struggling to cope. It is not uncommon for children with behavior problems to be labeled as “bad” or “defiant,” but many of these children are suffering quietly from learning impairments and/or emotional disturbances. Please know that if you have a suspicion that something isn’t right it’s important to seek guidance. In my experience, a parent’s gut instinct is the most reliable test in the world.
  16. As Chicago parents, we have many, many questions about our children’s education. These questions start before our little ones are even born: Should I send my child to CPS, look at private schools, or move to the suburbs? What is my local school? Is it “good”? Parents of diverse learners face many more questions as their children grow: How will my child get her needs met once she is in school? Is CPS up to the challenge? How do I start the process of enlisting school support? More questions arise once your child is in school. You may start to hear teacher concerns or have your own concerns about reading, behavioral difficulties, attention, etc. Some of these questions may be: Can my child’s needs be met in her current classroom? Will he have to leave his friends and teacher? Will she be labeled or seen as “different”? Will he qualify for special-education support? In my years as a school social worker and a diverse-learner clinical staff member, I have seen how daunting these questions can be for parents. Here are some key points to help you through the process of engaging support for your diverse learner: IEP (Individual Education Plans) and 504 plans are different. An IEP is a plan based upon an educational diagnosis that is determined due to a school-based educational need. A 504 is a medical plan based upon a student’s medical diagnosis. An IEP carries with it support from a special education teacher or speech pathologist; a 504 does not. But they do look a lot alike. Students on a 504 can receive educational accommodations and modifications, such as extended time on tests. Conversely, students can have medical accommodations provided through an IEP. CPS schools are not inherently “bad” places for special education. As in suburban schools, CPS schools have uninspired, bitter teachers who are waiting to retire, and they also have knowledgeable, passionate, miracle-worker teachers who make significant gains with diverse learners. Teachers and members of clinical staff do what they do for the kids. Don’t be afraid to raise your voice. I am a social worker, not a speech therapist or school psychologist. After more than a decade on the job, I am not ashamed to say that I do not fully understand every clinical assessment of every child. As clinicians present their evaluations, please feel free to stop us to ask questions. If you disagree with our findings, let us know. Determining eligibility for support is a collaborative process. We want to make sure that we have all of the facts before making this important decision. Know where to park your squeaky wheel. Are you having an issue with your child’s special education placement? Were you told that your child would require a paraprofessional, yet this position has not been approved at your school? Ask school staff (typically the school counselor) for the name of the person who is in charge of these decisions. If that person does not call you back, contact their supervisor. Some overarching decisions do not come from your local school. You will increase your odds of getting action when you reach out to those in charge rather than rely upon school staff. Parents wield much more power than they know. Your child is your child, not anyone else’s. If you tell other parents, family members, neighbors, etc., about your child and her needs, you will find that everyone has a story about a diverse learner and the school support that the child has or has not received. Please know that this experience is not your experience or that of your child. Try to start from a place of trust, believing that your child’s school support team will do all that they can for your child. Please remember that you are not in this alone. You are your child’s life-long advocate, but you are also a member of his or her school support team. Your questions, thoughts, feelings and hopes for your child are important for the school team to know and take into account.
  17. For 20 years I have been a parent of a child with special needs. You can imagine how often I have shopped for, and with, my child. Over the course of those years, I have encountered numerous vendors, proprietors and salespeople. There are retailers to whom I would never return and those who I frequent. There are common characteristics of those vendors, and quality of merchandise is not high on the list. Foremost, both the sales personnel and the shop are inviting. When I walk into a store I want to feel welcomed, and my daughter, who has Down syndrome, wants the same. There is often an assumption that a child or an adult with a disability is not aware of, or cares about, common courtesy. A simple "Hello, how are you today?" is all it takes to feel welcome. An acknowledgement of our presence goes a long way. It is a good practice to assume that the child or adult with special needs understands all or most of what you say. Oftentimes a person's expressive ability (speaking) is much slower or more impaired than his/her receptive language abilities. This means that although a child may not be able to answer your question, he/she does understand the questions and comments you are making. To this point, it is imperative that you develop the practice of talking to the child, not about the child. There is nothing more offensive than to have my daughter standing next to me and a person ask me about her, as if she is not there. In addition to speaking directly to the child, it is important that you give the child time to process your questions. Don't make the assumption that because she or he did not answer you, he/she is being rude. My daughter was once asked a question by a vendor, and over 2 minutes later walked back over to him and gave an answer. From an outsider point of view, it looked as though my daughter, 1) didn't understand the question, and 2) was inconsiderate. Neither was true, but because the vendor quickly gave her a positive response, my daughter was encouraged to engage more. As a result, she seeks out that vendor and we are in his shop frequently. Just recently, my daughter and I were shopping for gardening supplies. When I came home, I told my husband that we always need to buy our flowers and vegetables from this vendor. Here is why: As my daughter and I walked around the shop, the saleswoman nodded her head "hello" (nonverbal communication). When she was finished with her current customer, she came over to us and introduced herself, shaking my daughter's hand (interaction). She could see we had already started to fill our basket with items and she turned to my daughter and said, "Oh, I see you've already made some great choices! I love the succulents that you have picked out!" (engagement and positive reinforcement). She then asked us if we needed help and I said yes, we were looking for a plant to fill a planter. She turned to my daughter and asked her if she wanted a flower for the new pot. She waited for a response. When my daughter said "yes," she then said to her, "Would you like a red flower?" (Waited for answer, which was "no.") "Would you like a yellow flower?" (Waited.) "No." "Would you like an orange flower?" "Yes!" Immediately she responded, "I love orange, too! Let's go find an orange flower for you to plant." As the proprietor of the store rang up those items, I asked her about the saleswoman, whose name was Pat. Was she a special ed teacher or therapist working here for the summer? No, Pat is a master gardener. Is she a parent or sibling of a child with special needs? No, Pat is just Pat. Pat had no "official" training or education in working with children with special needs. She was simply enthusiastic and engaging with both myself and my daughter. Her interactions immediately built a rapport and she gave my daughter what we all seek the most: dignity and respect. One final thought: Be aware that anyone in your store may have a family member with a disability or special needs. How you talk about people will be noted. When you use "person first" language ("I have a client who has Down syndrome," rather than "that Down syndrome girl"), family members take note. When you interact directly with a person with a disability, family members take note. I once took my children to a new salon for haircuts. Afterward, my son, who was only 10 at the time, pulled me aside and said he always wanted to get his hair cut there. I said I didn't know he cared about his hair that much, and he said, "It's not the haircut. They were nice to Emily." He has been getting his hair cut at that salon for the past eight years. We all have.

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