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  1. Event

    Autism Eats - Summer Lunch

    Autism Eats at Roots Pizza. This is an autism family friendly lunch. All behaviors are welcome! Pricing: $20.00 for adults and $15.00 for kids. RSVP required. Please go here to register. This is an external partner event. Please contact the organization directly with any questions or concerns: Lzohn90@comcast.net.
  2. The relationship a parent has with their child’s teacher plays a big role in their child’s academic success. When a child has a developmental difference, a positive parent-teacher relationship is even more important — as the stakes are significantly higher. To learn more about cultivating a good parent-teacher relationship, we sat down with Jennifer Rosinia, a developmental differences expert at the Erikson Institute. Why is a good relationship with my child’s teacher so important? A good relationship between parents and teachers has been shown to improve a child’s academic achievement, social competencies and emotional wellbeing. And, as it turns out, parents and teachers benefit from a good relationship, too! [Related: How to advocate for your special-needs child in CPS] When parents have a good relationship with their child’s teacher, they develop a greater appreciation for the important role they play in their child’s education, learn more about the school’s academic programs and how they can incorporate them into their home routines. For teachers, a positive parent relationship enables them to focus more on teaching and meeting students’ needs. What can a parent do to foster an effective parent/teacher partnership for a child with developmental differences? Dr. Susan Sheridan of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln offers three “Cs” for good relationships: communication, consistency, and collaboration. Communication with your child’s teacher should begin with the school year and continue throughout. Introduce yourself and let them know that you want to partner with them. Find out their preferred way of communicating, and then make sure communication is timely, and clear and open. Stay informed about what’s going on in school. Remember: The best communication in a partnership is two-way. Consistency might also be called “being on the same page.” An effective parent-teacher partnership sends a clear and consistent message to the child that they are working together to support their success. Collaboration between parents and teachers identifies and provides strategies to help your child achieve their optimal developmental and learning capacity. Share successes and concerns. Strategize ways to enhance and modify home and school environments. Collaboration means problem solving together, not blaming the other. [Related: Your child received a diagnosis. Now what?] My child has developmental differences. What is the first step I should take to ensure they will receive the support they need in the classroom? Forming an effective partnership with their child’s teacher should be the first step parents take to ensure their child will receive the support they need in the classroom. If a child has significant or complex support needs, parents might also want to seek testing to identify them. Schools are required to address needs revealed through academic testing.   How should I approach conflicts I might have with my child’s teacher about services my child needs? If parents have established an effective partnership with their child’s teacher, approaching conflicts should be relatively easy. The following suggestions might be helpful: ● Begin by talking with your child’s teacher. Starting with, “Can you help me with this?” can sometimes reduce the risk of a misunderstanding. Ask teachers for their perspective, opinion and suggestions, and try to avoid accusations. ● Remind yourself to listen. If you are focused too much on what you want to say, you might miss important information that could help resolve your concern. ● Schedule an observation. Spending time in your child’s classroom watching and listening could give you helpful insights about your child's relationships, activities and services. ● Seek creative solutions together. If you and your child’s teacher have established a good relationship and partnership, you are one step closer to working together to come up with a creative solution. Do not forget to include your child if they are old enough to participate. ● Respect boundaries. When in conflict, it’s easy to cross boundaries. Remember to schedule time to talk. If for some reason you dislike your child’s teacher, take care not to let your child know. You don’t want to disrespect the teacher’s authority. ● Still stuck? Speak with the principal. The principal will serve as a neutral party. They will listen to your concerns, gather information from the teacher, and then help resolve the conflict. If a child has an Individualized Education Program (IEP), the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that their parents are afforded a legitimate, authentic opportunity to participate in the decision-making process for their child, and should be encouraged to be active participants in their child’s educational plan. What other steps should I be taking with my public school district to ensure my child is getting the care they deserve/accessing all the available resources? At the end of the day, it’s all about relationships. Get to know your teachers and administrative team. If you can, be active and involved: attend school board meetings, join the PTA, or spend time volunteering in your child’s classroom. Additionally, if your child has a developmental difference, know your rights under the law. To learn more, visiting the Illinois State Board of Education is a good place to start. Jennifer Rosinia is an occupational therapist and child development specialist. She is currently on faculty at the Erikson Institute as a senior instructor. She holds a master’s degree in early childhood education and a doctorate in child development from Loyola University and Erikson Institute in Chicago. Photo by Natasha Hall on Unsplash
  3. Article
    As we begin to talk about the “s” word again ("school"), you may be weighing some options for your kids coming into the fall. If you have a toddler at home, you may also be entertaining the idea of preschool to help get your little one reintroduced to the world, interacting with peers — as well as adults other than your immediate family — and just beginning to develop social skills again as we emerge from our homes. [Related: What to look for in a therapeutic preschool] While preschool is not a requirement or necessary for later success in school, experts agree it provides an environment for children to explore, play with peers, build self-confidence, and strengthen their social and emotional development, all while having fun and learning routines. If you’re ready to send them off for more of these social experiences, you’ve likely fallen into a lot of options in Chicago for early learning. One factor to also consider in your search is whether your child would be appropriate for a “standard” preschool or a “therapeutic” preschool. It's a good idea to explore some differences in choosing a preschool or a therapeutic preschool for your youngster, as there are several distinctions that separate these two early learning options. Ratios In Illinois, preschools and daycares are mandated to follow predetermined adult-to-child ratio guidelines. Most stick to these minimum recommendations, which is a great question to inquire about when doing your research! These ratios are as follows: • For 2-year-olds a 1:8 ratio, with a maximum group size of 16 • For 3- to 5-year-olds, 1:10 ratio, with a maximum group size of 20 • For children 5 and above, 1:20, with a maximum group size of 30 In a therapeutic preschool setting, most classrooms are much smaller than the recommended maximums. Ratios are also much lower. A typical therapeutic preschool has a class size of 6-8 children, with ratios of adult support anywhere from 1:1 to 1:3. [Related: Preschool vs pre-k: What's the difference?] Therapy If your child receives speech, feeding, occupational, physical and/or behavioral therapy, a therapeutic preschool might be the way to go. This environment has these specialized therapists guiding interventions, providing individual therapy sessions, and helping to generalize different skills among peers. For example, a speech therapist may work individually with a child on answering questions or forming multiple word responses, and then bring the child back to the classroom to practice this new skill with their friends. Naps Here’s where therapeutic preschools may fall short. Therapeutic preschools are very therapy driven and most do not allow for a 2-hour mid-day nap, as a preschool or daycare set up would offer. If your little one is a power napper, a full day program at a therapeutic preschool may not be the best option for them. Diapers Some Early Learning programs require enrolled children to be fully toilet trained. This can be a real limitation for some families who feel their children are ready for the social and emotional benefits of preschool, but are not quite ready to spend the day in undies. At a therapeutic preschool, there are potty training programs implemented with each child, as this is a skill most are able to work on because of the low teacher to student ratios they maintain. Communication Both a preschool and a therapeutic preschool likely offer a lot of great communication options between the teachers and families. Notes going home, apps to receive updates, and face to face interactions help parents feel in touch and in the know about the day to day events with their children. However, if your child’s communication seems to be behind their age-matched peers, this can be a high frustration level for many toddlers who have a good understanding of what’s being discussed, but aren’t quite able to get their thoughts and feelings out effectively yet. A preschool classroom can be a frustrating experience when there are challenges expressing your wants and needs, or advocating for yourself. Important questions to consider: Is my child easy to understand? Can they ask for help when they need it? Are they able to speak up to advocate for themselves? Am I the only one who can understand my child? Reflecting on some of these questions may help lead you to the proper enrollment for your child. Enrollment Every child can be assessed and receive an IEP (individualized educational plan) at age three in order to have recommendations for placement at a CPS preschool. But did you know that your IEP is good for three years, and you are not required to join a CPS preschool at that time? Students in Illinois are not even required by law to attend kindergarten; however, they must be enrolled in either a home schooling program or a school district by age 6. Therefore, many families opt to pause enrollment from CPS to join a therapeutic preschool and reap the benefits of intensive therapeutic intervention, low student to teacher ratios, and engaging social and peer interactions. But don’t worry: Whether they graduate from preschool or therapeutic preschool, they can still join their peers in either a kindergarten or first grade classroom when they are ready! Making a Switch There are a handful of preschools in Chicago that enroll in the fall for the entirety of the year. Some have more strict guidelines on classroom placement based on birth date and ability level. However, many allow for enrollment throughout the school year, depending on birth date, availability and current ratios in their classrooms. Most therapeutic preschools enroll throughout the entire school year, and base these enrollments on the needs of the children and their families. So, if you are on the fence about what is most appropriate for your child, ask about enrollment commitments or cancellation fees, should you opt to enroll in a more therapeutic setting later in the year. Having this option may make enrollment in either program an easier commitment. Regardless of what you choose for your child, you want this early learning experience to be positive for everyone involved. Ask lots of questions, explore every option, and don’t limit yourself to only your neighborhood school. There may be a better fit for your child and their developmental needs that can get them well prepared to be independent little learners! Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash
  4. Event
    It’s a night to be supported, to ask questions and share resources, and to be with other parents who get what it’s like to deal with special challenges for their kids. Parents of kids with all types of developmental differences welcome (sensory processing disorder, autism, ADD/ADHD, PDD-NOS, mixed receptive-expressive language disorder, Down syndrome, physical disabilities, medical issues, etc.). Parents/family only, please (no therapists, students or business owners). Note: The July meeting is in person at Gigi's Playhouse, 3948 N. Lincoln Ave. Because many of our kids are medically compromised, we request that only parents/caregivers who are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 attend. The August meeting will return to Zoom.
  5. Photo by Jan Kopřiva on Unsplash They aren’t usually learned from a textbook, but social and emotional learning skills (SEL) are still critical to your child’s fulfillment and success. To learn more about SEL and how parents support their children’s development of these skills, we talked to Amanda Moreno, an SEL expert and associate professor at Erikson Institute. What is social and emotional learning when it comes to children?  What skills does it help children develop? There are several ways of defining SEL but in short, it covers non-academic skills that are needed to live a productive, fulfilling life connected to other people. SEL includes skills like emotional regulation, collaboration, social problem solving, kindness, and resilience. [RELATED: Why kids lie, and why it's okay] Why is SEL important? How does it benefit young children, both in the short and long term? SEL skills used to be referred to as “soft skills." That term is being used less, however, because it makes them sound "touchy-feely” when they are actually the foundation for academic skills. Just imagine how hard it would be to successfully engage in school, work and relationships without SEL skills. Parents usually understand that their children need both book and people smarts, but some SEL skills are less obvious than others. One example is that of a growth mindset. When someone with a growth mindset encounters a task that’s difficult for them, they assume that they just need to learn more and keep trying. They also recognize that everyone feels that tasks are too hard for them sometimes. In contrast, someone without a growth mindset will assume that they are incapable of completing the task, and always will be — and thus give up. Through SEL, parents can cultivate their child’s growth mindset by focusing more on process than outcome, and complimenting their efforts rather than static traits such as “smart.” For example, instead of waiting for your child to complete a puzzle or sand castle and then saying “good job,” you can say something like, “Wow, I notice how you keep turning the pieces in different ways,” or, “I see, when the walls of the castle cave in, you dig deeper for more wet sand to keep it in place.” What strategies can I use to increase my child’s SEL in everyday activities, especially now as life begins to return to normal? I am not someone who believes that children have dramatically lost skills in quarantine. Sure, they may be a bit rusty when it comes to interacting in larger groups (aren’t we all?), but it will just take some practice and confidence to get comfortable again. For children to regain their confidence in social interactions, they mostly need trust from their parents. Children use “social referencing” in challenging situations: If they look at you during their baseball game and you look nervous, they’ll be nervous, too. We need to find ways to manage our own anxiety and model resiliency. Doing so will help our children build their own. [RELATED: 10 tips to move your child from fear and anxiety to bravery] As my child grows, what behaviors signify developmentally on-track SEL skills? I love this question, because I think that due to our natural tendency to focus on the negative, it can be hard for parents to recognize growth in SEL skills. For example, we might think that after seeing gains in our child’s frustration tolerance, one big tantrum means all was lost. Instead of focusing on the tantrum, focus on the small wins. Sure, he had a tantrum, but has the amount of time between tantrums increased? Has the length of them decreased? Have certain things that used to be a trigger become easier? SEL development is not a smooth upward path, so be sure to notice the baby steps even when there are bumps in the road. Are there any resources in the community or classroom that I can access to help my child with SEL? Most schools do some form of SEL programming nowadays, and it is a good idea to find out what your child’s school is doing and get involved. Most programs have parent resources associated with them, which can help with consistent messaging across school and home. There are also many great resources online such as Zero to Three, CASEL, and Edutopia. Amanda Moreno, Ph.D. is an associate professor at Erikson Institute where she conducts research, designs and teaches graduate programs, and delivers professional development training on the intersection between emotions and learning.
  6. Event
    It’s a night to be supported, to ask questions and share resources, and to be with other parents who get what it’s like to deal with special challenges for their kids. Parents of kids with all types of developmental differences welcome (sensory processing disorder, autism, ADD/ADHD, PDD-NOS, mixed receptive-expressive language disorder, Down syndrome, physical disabilities, medical issues, etc.). Parents/family only, please (no therapists, students or business owners). The Zoom link will be sent out about 2 hours before the meeting.
  7. Event
    It’s a night to be supported, to ask questions and share resources, and to be with other parents who get what it’s like to deal with special challenges for their kids. Parents of kids with all types of developmental differences welcome (sensory processing disorder, autism, ADD/ADHD, PDD-NOS, mixed receptive-expressive language disorder, Down syndrome, physical disabilities, medical issues, etc.). Parents/family only, please (no therapists, students or business owners). The Zoom link will be sent out about 2 hours before the meeting.
  8. Event
    It’s a night to be supported, to ask questions and share resources, and to be with other parents who get what it’s like to deal with special challenges for their kids. Parents of kids with all types of developmental differences welcome (sensory processing disorder, autism, ADD/ADHD, PDD-NOS, mixed receptive-expressive language disorder, Down syndrome, physical disabilities, medical issues, etc.). Parents/family only, please (no therapists, students or business owners). The Zoom link will be sent out about 2 hours before the meeting.
  9. Event
    It’s a night to be supported, to ask questions and share resources, and to be with other parents who get what it’s like to deal with special challenges for their kids. Parents of kids with all types of developmental differences welcome (sensory processing disorder, autism, ADD/ADHD, PDD-NOS, mixed receptive-expressive language disorder, Down syndrome, physical disabilities, medical issues, etc.). Parents/family only, please (no therapists, students or business owners). The Zoom link will be sent out about 2 hours before the meeting.
  10. Event
    It’s a night to be supported, to ask questions and share resources, and to be with other parents who get what it’s like to deal with special challenges for their kids. Parents of kids with all types of developmental differences welcome (sensory processing disorder, autism, ADD/ADHD, PDD-NOS, mixed receptive-expressive language disorder, Down syndrome, physical disabilities, medical issues, etc.). Parents/family only, please (no therapists, students or business owners). The Zoom link will be sent out about 2 hours before the meeting.
  11. Event
    It’s a night to be supported, to ask questions and share resources, and to be with other parents who get what it’s like to deal with special challenges for their kids. Parents of kids with all types of developmental differences welcome (sensory processing disorder, autism, ADD/ADHD, PDD-NOS, mixed receptive-expressive language disorder, Down syndrome, physical disabilities, medical issues, etc.). Parents/family only, please (no therapists, students or business owners). The Zoom link will be sent out about an hour before the meeting.
  12. Article
    As the doctor held up our firstborn, the feeling of joy and overwhelming love was quickly followed by a heavy pit in our stomachs. My husband and I looked at each other and without words, we both had the same feelings and thoughts: While we were so happy, we also knew that raising a Black boy in America is a daunting task. Fast-forward two years and the words, “We recommend your child receive the diagnosis of Autism,” shattered our world. All of a sudden, we now had to raise a Black autistic boy in America. My husband and I were emotionally ill for weeks. My husband, especially, had a hard time accepting our new reality. His first reaction was to not follow through with the diagnosis. As a Black man, he had first-hand experience of the stereotypes and challenges our son would face. He knew that the world may never see him for who he is as a person; he knew he would be judged by the color of his skin and his diagnosis. He knew, because of this, people may give up on him or put him in a box and never give him a chance to show how great he really is. Ultimately, we followed through with the diagnosis because, without it, our son would not get the intervention he needed. We knew that without OT, speech, or ABA therapy our son’s development could stagnate and, as an adult, this would be more harmful. It’s an important reminder: Do not let fear stop you from making the hard — yet right — decision for your child. [Related: How to be an anti-racist parent] “The Talk” Every Black person in America knows what “the talk” is. It is not about sex. “The talk” has been something parents in the Black community have been doing for years. During “the talk,” we learn about our history; we learn some people still see us as inferior, some people hate us, and some people may use their power and position to hinder us from achieving our goals. We learn that the educational, financial, and housing systems in this country were set up to keep us out of the American dream. We learn that some community helpers, like police, overreach their power and sometimes hurt or kill us. So, we wondered: should we have “the talk” with our son? He has been taught to see the police as helpers, who will be kind to him if he gets lost or is in danger. The reality is, some police officers may see the color of his skin first and view him as a threat. The reality is, as our son gets older his meltdowns will probably be misunderstood. My husband and I decided to have “the talk” in phases. We took into account our son’s developmental understanding of social dynamics. We have talked about slavery, we have talked about the Civil Rights movement, and we have talked about racism. We have chosen to leave out certain details because ultimately it may be more confusing and traumatizing. We still need him to seek out the help of a police officer if he is ever lost or in danger, so we decided to be proactive and not reactive. At age 10, we took our son to our local CAPS meetings and introduced him to some of the officers present. We have also taken him down to the local precinct and introduced him to officers, as well. Our hope is that proactively communicating his diagnosis will help just in case, God forbid, our son ever has an encounter with police. [Related: Chicago venues that cater to kids with special needs] Angry Black Parent vs. Advocating Parent One of the nuances of raising Black children in America is that as parents, we have to fight stereotypes as well. Every single ER visit, we have been met with the questions, “Does Dad live in the home?” and “Do you have the same last name?” Our answer, which is “yes” to both, has always been met with surprise and sometimes shock. I even had a nurse say out loud, “Wow, that’s a first!” We have also shocked hospital staff with our organized documentation of our son’s medical history, our knowledge of his rights as a patient, and his benefits under his insurance plans. This is very important; we never want to be in a position in which racial stereotypes prevent our son from receiving the best healthcare. Make sure you are always prepared; do your due diligence. In addition, our approach when advocating for our son has always been from a place of knowledge. Our goal is that we, as parents, can avoid being racially stereotyped as the angry Black parents and change the narrative to “strong parent advocates.” My husband and I use this approach in other aspects of our son’s life as well. Raising children is hard; raising a Black autistic boy in America is even harder. My husband and I do not have all the answers, and we take each situation as it comes. Yes, we get angry and scared. Yes, it sometimes feels overwhelming. Yes, we have shed many tears. However, no matter how disheartening, exhausting, and stressful the journey may be, we never lose hope.
  13. 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.
  14. 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.
  15. 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
  16. 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!
  17. 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.
  18. 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.
  19. 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.
  20. 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.
  21. 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!
  22. 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.
  23. 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!
  24. 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!
  25. 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!

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