Special Education Classroom Necessities Part 1 – 6 Toys That Teach Cause and Effect

Boy Playing Drumbourine

Whether you’re setting up a new classroom for children with special needs, or just updating your existing classroom, the possibilities are endless! Enabling Devices offers everything you need to outfit you with the highest quality, most innovative adapted toys, electronics, and communication devices. But before you order, there’s so much to know. We hope this post — the first in a series of informational blogposts about special education classroom necessities — will help you to determine what best meets your teaching needs and the needs of your special students. This week’s focus? Toys that teach cause and effect.

The Basics:
Learning about cause and effect — the relationship between one action, behavior or event to another — is crucial for understanding how things work and ultimately, for making one’s way in the world. Toys that teach cause and effect help children to develop intentionality and a sense of control over their environments, which in turn, increases self-esteem. Understanding cause and effect also helps children in academic pursuits such as reading, math and science. For children with motor challenges, toys controlled by capability switches are wonderful vehicles for teaching these skills. Enabling Devices has many adapted tabletop toys that can be used with or without switches. Here are five of our favorites:

 The Five Function Activity Center (#510) Children learn cause and effect by activating any of this toy’s five functions: Press the bright yellow plate to play its built-in AM/FM radio, the red plate to feel vibration, the wooden roller to sound a buzzer, a pull ball to turn on the music box and the orange one to turn on the light! In addition, this toy helps children to develop sensory awareness and improves eye-hand coordination.

The Drumbourine (#872) Just activate your switch and the striker will hit the tambourine, playing a strong steady beat. Release the switch and the music will stop. The radiant light graphics on the instrument attract all children.

The Twirling Bead Chain (#6470) Press the bright red gumball switch and the carousel will twirl while lively music plays and lights sparkle. Release the switch and the carousel stops. Great for teaching cause and effect, this toy also encourages reaching, and provides auditory and tactile experiences.

Shooting Stars (#2001) teaches cause and effect by rewarding the child with flying stars, music, lights, and vibration when he or she pushes its textured oval. Added benefits include auditory, visual and tactile stimulation.

Our ATL Bundle (#4089) will go a long way toward outfitting your special education classroom and teaching your students about cause and effect. This carefully assembled classroom kit contains five of our newest and most popular adapted toys and five of our bestselling switches.

Nothing says cause and effect like a jack-in-the-box. Students will adore this switch activated Curious George Jack-in-the-Box (#614) that brings to life the beloved literary character.

Keeping Kids Safe

With every passing day, the list of celebrities accused of sexual harassment and assault grows. But celebrities aren’t alone in their proclivity to be abusers, and those in contact with them aren’t the only people at risk. These facts were made abundantly clear by the #MeToo campaign, which began in mid-October. A social media campaign that went viral, #MeToo encouraged millions of women and some men to come forward and acknowledge that they had been victims of sexual assault and/or harassment, bringing international attention to the epidemic of sexual abuse.

Though the #MeToo campaign was groundbreaking, it failed to draw attention to the shocking statistics about the sexual abuse of people with disabilities.

According to  Disability Justice “People with disabilities are sexually assaulted at nearly three times the rate of people without disabilities.” And, says Disability Justice’s website, “A 2005 survey of people with disabilities indicated that 60 percent of respondents had been subjected to some form of unwanted sexual activity…” and “Eighty-three percent of women with disabilities will be sexually assaulted in their lives.” What’s more said the survey, only 3 percent of these incidents are ever reported. What can we do to prevent such abuse from happening? Here’s a start:

Educate yourself
When adults who care for children understand what is developmentally appropriate, they are more likely to pick up on cues that something may be wrong. Stop it Now.org has tip sheets that provide examples of behaviors that may indicate a child or teenager is being abused. For instance, younger children who are being abused may regress to behaviors they have already outgrown such as wetting or soiling accidents. Other signs include, having “new words for private body parts… resisting removing clothes for baths, bedtime, toileting or diapering, asking other children to behave sexually or play sexual games and mimicking adult-like sexual behaviors with toys or stuffed animals.” Older children, may exhibit the following behaviors: “writing, drawing, playing or dreaming about sexual or frightening images … developing a new or unusual fear of certain people or places, exhibiting adult-like sexual behaviors, language and knowledge, and leaving ‘clues’ that seem likely to provoke a discussion about sexual issues.” In teenagers, self-harming behaviors such as cutting, substance abuse, compulsive eating or anorexia, depression and suicide attempts may indicate that sexual abuse is happening.

Educate children
Adults should speak to their children in developmentally appropriate ways about the differences between healthy and abusive sexual behavior. For example, says Stop It Now, “Teach children the proper names for body parts and what to do if someone tries to touch them in a sexual way. Make sure young children know that no one has the right to touch their private parts (unless for medical reasons) and that they should not touch anyone else’s private parts.”

Respect children’s boundaries.
Don’t force children to hug and kiss people if they aren’t comfortable doing so. Knock before entering a teen’s room, and give them privacy in the bathroom, or when they’re changing clothes.

Keep lines of communication open
Let children know they can talk with you or another trusted adult and that no topic is off limits.

Says Stop It Now: “Research shows that having someone to talk with and confide in plays a key role in how well a child will bounce back from stressful events. Having a safe, responsible and consistent adult for a child or adolescent to turn to is critical.”

 Familiarize yourself with community resources
Know where to turn if you believe that a child may be being harassed or abused. When a child is being hurt by an adult or family member, it can be painful to face up to that fact. We may wish it wasn’t happening, or try to deny what we believe to be true. Sometimes, our suspicions are wrong. But don’t let your wishes or fears keep you from getting a child the support he needs. Reach out and do all you can to protect her.

School Days, school days…

The first weeks of a new school year typically bring excitement, exhaustion and for some children — especially those with special needs — a fair amount of anxiety. Certain products available through Enabling Devices can help take the edge off that anxiety, helping students to calm down, focus and attend to their classwork. In turn, these products can decrease the likelihood of disruptive behaviors, and increase the likelihood of positive social interactions. Here are some suggestions for products that encourage success in school. Some are sold in classroom kits while others can be purchased individually.

Classroom Fidget Kit (#4393)
According to Occupational Therapy for Children, “Fidget toys are often used to provide sensory input in a less distracting way. They can help improve concentration and attention to tasks by allowing the brain to filter out the extra sensory information (e.g. listening to a lesson in the classroom, paying attention to a book during circle time). By having a fidget toy, a child may be able to better ‘filter out’ excess sensory information in their surroundings and their own body, which is causing distraction, and encouraging this sensory information to be focused on a toy in the hands.”

Enabling Devices’ fidget kit comes with 13 different small and discrete fidget toys that help students become calm, focus and regulate their nervous systems. Students can choose from fidget toys including our Desk Buddy Sensory Bars, finger squash its, gel bead balls, pencil finger fidgets and many more.

Therapeutic Balls Kit (#9085)
Like fidget toys, therapeutic balls help students to feel calm, help to regulate their nervous systems and quiet all the noise in their heads. Writes Craig Kendall for the newsletter of the Aspergers Society, it’s important to change therapeutic balls frequently. “Your child may get bored with them and then they will not hold his attention anymore. Save the really good fidget toys for situations in which attention is extremely important, and take them away after the situation is over.” That’s where Enabling Devices’ kit comes in handy. With 13 different varieties of therapeutic balls, including Digi-squeeze balls in five different firmness levels, koosh balls, sensa-rings and mini porcupine balls, students will never grow tired or bored and the balls will continue to serve their purpose over time.

Large Textured Therapy Ball (#9070)
Does your student have difficulty sitting quietly in a chair? He may have more success, if he sits on a ball. According to Sensoryprocessingdisorder.com, “An exercise ball chair is the best seating solution for children (or adults) with issues regarding balance, postural control, attention, and sensory seeking behaviors of the vestibular and proprioceptive sense.” Enabling Devices’ therapy ball has hundreds of small bumps making exercise ball activities even more stimulating.

Chew Pack (#3039)
Ideal for children with oral motor problems, these tools “provide direct sensory input and oral stimulation for the mouth (perfect for those kids who put inedible objects in their mouth in order to seek oral stimulation),” explains Occupational Therapy Children.com. “Chewing provides lots of proprioceptive (body awareness) feedback to satisfy the sensory input that children may be seeking in their mouths. Chewy items also indirectly provide calming and attention regulation through the trigeminal nerve pathways.” Enabling Devices’ Chew Pack includes ten different chews in a variety of shapes, textures and hardness levels. Included in the kit are our Chew Stixx Tough Bar, Chew Stikk, Sensory Stixx, Textured Grabber, Grabber, Car Chew, Butterfly Chew, Stem Chew, Tri Chew, Tuffy Chew, Vibrating Oral Massager.

Weighted Vests (#3953L, M or S)
Enabling Devices’ weighted fleece vest creates deep touch pressure (DTP) and is a great way to keep kids feeling warm, cozy, and secure. Its inside pockets hold weights that can be easily changed. According to Friendship Circle’s Casey Ames, “There are quite a few studies that show that using DTP in the classroom can help improve children’s performance. One study found that children with ADHD improved their in-seat behavior, attention, and task completion while wearing a weighted vest,” says Ames. “Another study looked specifically at fine motor activities like writing and found that DTP had a positive effect on on-task behavior. It’s also been shown that children with autism specifically have better in-seat behavior when using DTP.”

Here’s wishing your child a wonderful school year! Let us know if we can help you to identify tools that will help your child find success and comfort in the coming months.







Five Tips for Recess Success

Ask many kids “What’s your favorite subject?” and they’ll say, “recess.” But for students with special needs, recess can be the most challenging time of day. Recess is hard for some children because they have trouble managing unstructured time. For others, delayed social skills can lead to exclusion or even bullying. Children with physical disabilities may be left out because playground facilities aren’t fully accessible, while those with sensitive nervous systems may be disturbed by loud playground voices and chaotic surroundings.

But there are steps schools can take to prevent bullying and make recess a happy, healthy and socially successful time of day for everyone. We’ve gathered some suggestions and information about what some schools are doing to address this back to school issue.

Help students plan for transition
Students with developmental disabilities and autism spectrum disorders often have difficulty moving from one activity to the next. Preparation and roleplaying may help. “Various studies suggest that rehearsing hypothetical situations beforehand reduces anxiety and helps special needs kids cope more effectively,” say the folks at AngelSense.com. Try talking about recess beforehand or even creating a social story to help your child anticipate the transition. Teachers can help by reviewing the day’s schedule and providing special cues for children who need them.

 Help students plan how they will spend recess period
If you’re a parent, familiarize yourself with all the options. Does the school have clubs or lunch bunches that your child can attend? If not, can you request that the school offer some? If you’re a teacher, consider creating a checklist of possible recess activities and make it available to all students.

Offer structured activities during recess
A recent study by Stephen Leff and J. Munro, PhD, “Bully-Proofing Playgrounds During School Recess,” found that “providing structured activities increased the rates of cooperative play among children. There was also less physical and rough play.” In other words, bullying behaviors during recess were minimized when students were actively involved in structured games and sports.

Train older students, peer buddies, volunteers and teaching aides for recess duty
At many schools, recess is a time when staffing is low. After all, teachers need breaks too. Yet, inadequate supervision can lead to bullying and aggressive behavior. If teachers aren’t available to supervise, make sure volunteers or school personnel who know how to support students with special needs, are providing good supervision during recess.

Adapt recess games so everyone can participate
According to Spark PE, many recess activities can be adapted so children with special needs and their typically developing peers can play together. For example, soccer, jump rope and softball can all be played in a style and with equipment that works for students of all abilities. For more information on adapting recess games, visit sparkpe.org.

Respect children’s needs for solitude and downtime
Whereas some students want badly to play with their peers, others may welcome the opportunity for some quiet time to decompress. If this is the case with one of your students, don’t insist he join the group. Allow him to read, play a game on his iPad, or walk around the playground. If playground noise is disturbing to him, allow him to wear noise cancelling headphones or listen to the music of his choice.

Six Ways to Create a Welcoming Classroom

If you’re a teacher, chances are you’re already preparing to begin a brand-new school year. Perhaps you’ve been setting up your classroom, ordering supplies, and planning lessons and activities. Most likely you’re doing your best to anticipate the learning, social and emotional needs of your students. After all, the nonprofit Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) reports that “social and emotional learning [SEL] teaches children to recognize and understand their emotions, feel empathy, make decisions, and build and maintain relationships.” In fact, a 2011 meta-analysis showed that “incorporating these programs into classrooms and schools improves learning outcomes and reduces anxiety and behavioral problems among students.” A recent update to the study reinforced the findings of the 2011 study. But just hoping for a socially and emotionally positive classroom environment isn’t enough. Strategies and know-how are essential to making your classroom a place where all children, regardless of special needs, are able to thrive academically, socially and emotionally. Here are some tips to give you a head start.

Facetime Matters
And we’re not talking about the app. Take time to meet individually with each student on a regular basis. Tailor the meeting format to the individual child’s developmental age. For example, if meeting with a preschooler, or a child with delayed communication or attention issues, keep the meeting brief and let the child take an active role.

Have a plan for resolving conflict when it inevitably occurs
Instead of viewing conflict as an interruption of learning, view it as a learning opportunity. ”When developing problem-solving techniques is seen as a vital aspect of healthy progress, our interpersonal challenges cease to be distractions and take on the color of opportunities for meaningful learning,” writes teacher Mary Kate Land for Edutopia.

Keep in mind that children who misbehave do so for a reason. Instead of sending them out of the classroom or punishing them, take them aside and try to discover what may be causing the problematic behavior. Listen, be empathic and once the student is calm, help them to come up with some more appropriate strategies they can use when similar situations arise in the future.

Look Inward
Though extremely fulfilling, teaching can be a stressful and emotionally draining profession. This is especially true when you’re teaching students with special needs. Take time to decompress and refuel by doing things you enjoy. If classroom situations make you tense, angry or sad, talk with a friend, supervisor or counselor to determine what’s triggering those feelings and to come up with strategies to manage them better.

Create a culture of kindness
Be a good role model for students by treating everyone in the class with compassion and respect. “Whether it’s complimenting students or promoting positivity, being the one to show kindness will help them see it in action, learn gratitude and see how they can be kind through regular, small acts,” suggests Generation On.

Come up with activities that help students to get to know you and each other and find opportunities to discuss topics such as feelings, compassion and empathy whenever they present themselves.

Spearhead an effort toward schoolwide SEL
SEL techniques work better when they are embedded in every aspect of the school culture and among all members of the faculty and staff. There are many SEL curriculums on the market. Do some research to find a curriculum or curriculums that might work in your school or classroom and present it to administrators.

Don’t accept the status quo
Don’t assume that teasing, cliques and disrespectful behavior are unavoidable. Research has shown that “children can learn respect, empathy, responsible behavior and other social and emotional competencies that help them succeed in school and life.”

Generation On suggests holding a school bully summit, enlisting students’ help in creating Rules of Kindness for the classroom, provide opportunities for each student to be “Student of the Week.” During that week, ask class members to write notes to the student of the week sharing positive traits about him or her.

For more information on SEL, visit CASEL.

Five Strategies for Raising Graduation Rates for Students with Disabilities

Recent data shows that high school graduation rates in the United States are higher than in any other time in history. According to the 2017 Building a Grad Nation Report by Civic Enterprises and the Everyone Graduates Center at the School of Education at Johns Hopkins University, in 2015, “about half of all states reported high school graduation rates of 85 percent or more.” By 2020 those states are poised to graduate 90 percent of their high school seniors.

But sadly, the data on students with disabilities tells a very different story. The same Grad Nation report also found that “Thirty-three states reported high school graduation rates for special education students below 70 percent, and nearly half of those 33 had graduation rates for students with disabilities below 60 percent.  Four states—South Carolina, Louisiana, Mississippi and Nevada—graduated half of their special education students.”

Unless the graduation rates of students with disabilities, poor and minority students improve, the Grad Nation report concludes that the country won’t meet the 90 percent graduation mark.

In an article for Nonprofit Quarterly, Noreen Ohlrich, calls the gap in graduation rates between those with disabilities and without them “scandalously wide.”

So, what if anything can be done to level the playing field? Here’s what some of the experts recommend.

1. Mainstreaming
Multiple studies including a 2016 study Using Survival Analysis to Understand Graduation of Students With Disabilities find that students who spend most of their school day learning alongside typically developing peers, are more likely to graduate high school than those who spend their entire school days in special education settings.

2. Teacher training
While mainstreaming students with disabilities is beneficial to their self-esteem and often results in better academic performance, there is a down side as well. Most general education teachers lack the training necessary to provide effective instruction to students with disabilities.

As Jackie Mader writes for the Hechinger Report, “Experts say the problem is that it takes much more than just placing students with disabilities next to their general education peers: Teachers must have the time, support, and training to provide a high-quality education based on a student’s needs.”

Some teacher training programs are beginning to rise to the challenge. For example, says Mader, “Every teacher who graduates from Syracuse’s Early Childhood or Elementary Education program is dual-certified in special education and spends time in inclusion classrooms.”

3. High Expectations
Depending on the nature and severity of their disabilities, many students have the aptitude to earn regular high school diplomas. Researchers have found that when capable students with disabilities are held to the same standards as their non-disabled peers, they are more likely to graduate. According to researchers Todd Grindal and Laura Schifter (whose study is referenced above) writing for Huff Post , “graduation rates for students with disabilities are lower when states offer more alternate, special education diplomas.”

4. Mentoring Programs
Students with disabilities who have mentors or participate in mentorship programs are more likely to remain in school, says the PACER Center. “According to research, mentorship and mentoring programs are successful at keeping students with disabilities from dropping out of high school. Statistics show that when students feel they are part of a community and receive guidance and support for their future dreams, they are more likely to stay in school.”

5. Parental involvement
It goes without saying that children with parents who are involved in their educations tend to be more successful. But for children with disabilities, studies show that parental involvement is even more critical, and may be an important factor in determining whether they will graduate from high school. According to Project IDEAL, “When parents are actively involved, their child is more likely to exhibit higher grades and test scores; better attitudes towards school; more positive behavior; consistent school attendance; more completed homework; less chance of the need for special education services; greater chance of high school graduation; and, better likelihood of participating in postsecondary education.

Strategies for Transitioning to Mainstreaming

Image of teacher with disabled student

It sounds too good to be true. After years of slow but steady progress, hours of speech, occupational, physical and psychotherapies, at last you’ve been told that your child with special needs is ready to be mainstreamed. While the news is encouraging and both you and your child are thrilled, this transition can feel a bit overwhelming. After all, you’re in unchartered territory.

What can you do to ease the transition? We’ve combed through a variety of sources to come up with a list of strategies you can utilize to prepare your child, his new teacher and his future classmates for this momentous step forward.

Consult with the special educators at the school your child previously attended.

With the exception of her parents, no one knows your child’s capabilities, strengths, weaknesses and learning style better than her former teacher. Have an exit interview with teachers and therapists at the school and document all of their educational, social and behavioral recommendations.

Share those recommendations with the teacher at your child’s new school.

Preparation is key to giving your child the best chance for success in her new mainstream classroom. Provide the new teacher a leg up by sharing the advice of special educators who know your child well. Does your child learn best when seated in front of the classroom? Does she need to take breaks when frustrated? Will she benefit from visual cues? Knowing these particulars will help your child’s teacher help your child.

Familiarize your student with the new teacher, building and classroom

Everyone feels more comfortable entering a new situation when they know what to expect. For children with special needs, it may be even more important that they be comfortable with their new teacher as well as the new school campus and classroom. So meet with your child’s teacher several times before he begins attending the school, and tour his new classroom and school building as many times as possible, before his official start date.

Set up playdates with students in the new class

Ask your child’s teacher, the school principal or admission director to reach out to a few families from the class to help you coordinate some playdates. That way, your child will already know several students when she joins her new class.

Address your child’s disability with fellow students

Some parents find that talking with their child’s classmates about his disability may help create a more welcoming environment in the classroom. According to the Pacer Center, a Minnesota nonprofit funded by the U.S. Department of education, “… if classmates understand a child’s disability, they may become allies in helping the child. The children may also be less likely to view accommodations or individual support as unfair advantages.”

Talking with your child’s class presents “an opportunity to discuss why a child may look or behave differently from other children in the class, to point out the many ways in which the child is like classmates and to offer classmates tips for interacting with the child.” Being proactive in this way, can prevent the kind of bullying and ostracizing that may occur when your child’s classmates don’t understand his disability.

Stay involved with your child’s teacher and be active in the school community.

The importance of being an active participant in the life of your child’s class and school cannot be underestimated. In fact, says the National Education Association, “Ongoing research shows that family engagement in schools improves student achievement, reduces absenteeism, and restores parents’ confidence in their children’s education. Students with involved parents or other caregivers earn higher grades and test scores, have better social skills, and show improved behavior.”

For children with special needs, parental involvement may be even more critical. Involved parents can serve as advocates, role models and may help their children to feel part of the school community.

So, if your schedule permits, become involved in the PTA, chair committees and help out in your child’s classroom. It will be well worth your time.


Best Back-to-School Reads

Image of book cover for "My Friend Suhana"

Do we ever outgrow that back-to-school feeling? Somehow, regardless of how old we are or how long it’s been since we actually went to school, once Labor Day weekend is over, the time for lounging at the pool, barbeques in the back yard and indulging in guilty pleasures such as ice cream and trashy beach reads are over. But it’s not all bad. Even for those of us who aren’t students any more, fall can be motivating. We’re feeling rested, restored and ready to focus on more serious pursuits—exciting personal projects, renewed interest in our careers, and catching up on challenging and intellectually rewarding reading.  Since back-to-school season tends to be busy, we’ve saved you some time, by compiling a list of some (relatively) new and noteworthy books in the disabilities field. Whether you’re a teacher, therapist, parent or child, this list offers good reads for everyone.

For teachers and therapists

Book cover for "Assistive Technology for Young Children"“Assistive Technology for Young Children” by Kathleen Curry Sadao Ed.D., Nancy B. Robinson Ph.D., CCC-SLP

Today’s teachers and therapists know that assistive technology can do wonders for helping children with disabilities to communicate, learn and play. Many of those assistive technology devices are developed and available through Enabling Devices. But not everyone receives the training necessary to make the best use of the technology that exists. “Assistive Technology for Young Children” will provide professionals with all the information they need to help their students and clients, and to create fully inclusive classrooms.

Book cover for "Communication Interventions for Individuals with Severe Disabilities"“Communication Interventions for Individuals with Severe Disabilities,”edited by Rose A. Sevcik, Ph.D., and MaryAnn Romski Ph.D.

This 2016 text includes the latest research and clinical and educational recommendations for helping students and clients with severe disabilities to communicate more effectively. With the contributions of 30 scholars, the book offers evidence-based interventions for populations including young children with intellectual disabilities, deafblind children, children with Down syndrome and autism spectrum disorders.  Check out Enabling Devices’ communication devices!

For anyone who loves, teaches or treats a person with autism

Book cover for "The Reason I Jump"“The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a 13 Year Old Boy with Autism” by Naoki Higashida gives readers rare insight into the mind of its young author. As bestselling author, David Mitchell writes in his introduction to the English translation of this Japanese autobiographical memoir,

“[Naoki’s] explanations about why children with autism do what they do that were, literally, the answers that we had been waiting for. Composed by a writer still with one foot in childhood, and whose autism was at least as challenging and life altering as our son’s, “The Reason I Jump” was a revelatory godsend. Reading it felt as if, for the first time, our own son was talking to us about what was happening inside his head, through Naoki’s words.”

Book cover for "Life, Animated"“Life Animated: A Story of Sidekicks, Heroes and Autism,” by Ron Suskind

As you may know, “Life Animated,” a documentarythat opened in limited release this summer, was a book before it was a movie. The true story of how a father got through to his autistic son by joining his boy’s obsession with Disney movie characters is a fascinating and inspiring read.


For parents of children with Down Syndrome

Book cover for "The Parent's Guide to Down Syndrome"“The Parent’s Guide to Down Syndrome: Advice, Information, Inspiration, and Support for Raising Your Child from Diagnosis through Adulthood,”
by Jen Jacob, and Mardra Sikora, offers the latest information on virtually anything parents need to know about the special needs of a child with Down syndrome. Co-authors Jacob and Sikora are uniquely qualified to write “The Parents Guide to Down Syndrome.” Jacob is an educator, professional development expert, cofounder and Vice President for the Down Syndrome Diagnosis Network, and parent of Owen, a child with Down syndrome. Sikora is an author, speaker and advocate, and mother of Marcus a 26-year-old man with Down syndrome.

For teens and young adults

Book cover for "A Time to Dance"“A Time to Dance” by Padma Venkatraman tells the story of a young Indian Bharatanatyam dancer who loses her leg after being struck by a car. Reviewer, Jessica Walter, herself an amputee, calls “A Time to Dance … easily the best representation of an amputee’s experience that I’ve ever come across in fiction.” This young adult novel, which takes place in India and is told in verse, is also appealing from a cultural and literary standpoint. In the end, Venkatraman’s teenage protagonist finds a way to dance despite her disability. She learns that dancing is not only a physical pursuit, but also, and even more importantly, a spiritual one.

For elementary school aged children

Image of book cover for "My Friend Suhana"“My Friend Suhana: A Story of Friendship and Cerebral Palsy,” by Shaila Abdullah and Aanyah Abdullah is a 2016 winner of the Dolly Gray Literature Award, whichrecognizes authors, illustrators, and publishers of high quality fictional and biographical children, intermediate, and young adult books that appropriately portray individuals with developmental disabilities.” Written by a mother-daughter team, “My Friend Suhana” tells the true story of a friendship between Suhana, a little girl with severe cerebral palsy, and Aanyah, a typically developing 7-year-old girl who meets Suhana at the community center where she and her mother volunteer. Based on a true story.

Happy Reading and Happy Fall To All!


Five Tips for Teachers and Therapists to Start the Year Off Right

Image of teacher with disabled student

The work of a special educator or therapist is demanding. It’s not particularly glamorous, or especially lucrative. It takes special qualities like compassion, creativity, patience and intelligence. Because they give so much of themselves to others, it’s critical that special educators and therapists have time to recharge. If you’re a therapist or special educator, we hope you’ve had a restful, enjoyable and restorative summer. That way, you can be fully present—mentally and emotionally—to meet the needs of the children and families with whom you’ll be working throughout the school year.

Ideally, you’ve had time, in the weeks prior to the start of the new school term, to prepare yourself for your incoming students. Here are some tips for teachers and therapists to make the early days of the new school year as smooth and stress-free as possible.

1. Know your students

If possible, get to know students and families before the first day of school. A phone-call or even an introductory letter or email to say “hello” several weeks before the first day of school can do wonders for easing back-to-school jitters. Talking with your students’ parents or other faculty members who have worked with your student before, can help you to be prepared with strategies that will work best. If for some reason, it wasn’t possible to make contact or to obtain information prior to the first day of school, do so as soon as possible.

The National Association of Special Education Teachers, (NASET) recommends teachers obtain and review the following information on incoming students:


  • Previous schools students have attended
  • Students’ medical records
  • Students’ permanent records
  • Past teachers’ reports
  • Past report cards
  • Standardized test scores
  • IEPs including all recommendations and accommodations including health alerts, assistive technologies, disability classification

2. Create a data-collection system

How can you tell if teaching and therapeutic methods are working? Recent advancements in technology have made it increasingly simple to keep track of how students are responding to educational and behavioral interventions.

Special Education teacher, Tara Hillegas “collects biweekly or weekly data on academic goals for students with learning disabilities. This data is then graphed on a chart so that parents or students are able to see progress whenever they would like. Kids like to know what their goals are and how they can beat them. Charts and graphs are visual representations that are easy for students and their parents to understand,” she says.

3. Get organized

Special educators and therapists are responsible for a tremendous amount of documentation. If you don’t have a tried and true system of keeping track of students’ grades, progress reports, homework and classwork, come up with a plan that works for you. LD Online recommends that teachers “set up two separate folders or binders for each child on your case load: one for keeping track of student work and assessment data and the other for keeping track of all other special education documentation.”

LD Online also suggests creating a “communications log” in which you can note any phone calls, emails, letters and meeting notes concerning your students.

4. Collaborate with general education teachers

Depending on your school and the nature of your students’ disabilities, they may be mainstreamed for some subjects. It is crucial that you stay in touch with your students’ general education teacher so that you have a complete picture of how the student is functioning and how you can work together for the most successful outcome.

According to Special Education Guide’s Rachel Crawford, “Collaboration between special education and general education must happen beyond the obligatory IEP meeting in order to make an impact on students’ learning. When teachers collaborate, the stigma of special education disappears and the student becomes OUR student. Not mine, not yours. Goals become more meaningful because there is no longer an “IEP” goal on top of general education demands. Education becomes a fluid and more effective process.”

5. Reach out to community providers

Likewise, it may be necessary to collaborate with outside therapists and medical and mental health professionals. Keeping in touch with outside providers will ensure that no one is working at cross-purposes. Make sure you have written permission to speak with these providers as needed.

Have a wonderful school year!


Eight Tips To Ease the Transition Back to School

Back to School photo

It’s that time of year again. Time to think about heading back to school. While some children greet the beginning of a new school year with excitement, others, especially those who face academic, behavioral and social challenges, are typically more anxious about returning to school. While you can’t promise your child or yourself that everything will go perfectly this year, there are strategies you can use to make the transition go more smoothly. We’ve compiled a list of tips to get the new school year off to a positive start.

1. Create a social story

Help your child be better prepared for school and the situations that are likely to arise there by creating a social story.  According to the Head Start Center for Inclusion, “Social Stories are short stories, often with pictures, describing a situation from the child’s point of view… Social Stories are designed to help children to gain a better understanding and have consistent reminders of the expectations in challenging social situations.”

Typically, social stories focus on an activity such as walking down the hall in school, having appropriate manners while eating lunch with peers, sharing or being a good sport. For more information, visit Carol Gray Social Stories. You can find sample social stories on Child-Parent-Autism-Café.com.

2. Take your child for a school visit

If at all possible, arrange to visit your child’s school and teacher at least once before the beginning of the school year. Having a chance to talk with his teacher, see his classroom, and walk the halls will go a long way toward making him feel less anxious about the first day. This is particularly true if your child will be attending a new school in the fall.

3.Talk with the teacher about your child

Make an effort to talk with your child’s teacher before the school year begins.

Carly Anderson, a teacher and blogger for the Friendship Circle, has found that when parents provide information about their children in advance, the students’ transitions are usually smoother.

Anderson recommends parents share information about their child’s interests and motivations, any changes that may have occurred over the summer, what the child’s summer routine was like, their priorities for their child’s school year and whether they have time to be involved in their child’s classroom.

4. Back to school shopping

Do your best to accommodate your child’s wishes when it comes to back-to-school clothes and supplies. Having special needs can make it more difficult for your child to fit in with peers, and her social life may be less treacherous if she adheres to the latest fashion trends. If your child isn’t aware of the trends, pay attention on her behalf. Kids can be cruel, and there’s no point in making her an easy target for teasing.

5. Organizational tools

Nowadays, there are many tools you can use to help your child with his executive functioning difficulties. Having the right school supplies is a good start. Writing for Understood, Amanda Morin, a mother and teacher suggests buying a backpack with enough, but not too many compartments and zipper pockets. Then says Morin, “Help your child sort school supplies into clearly defined categories. For instance, put pens, pencils and highlighters together. Match up notebooks with folders and textbooks.” Try color-coding notebooks and folders to help your child keep supplies in order. Make use of the many apps that help students keep track of assignments, manage their time and stay focused.

6. Communication tools

If your child has communication challenges that interfere with her ability to talk with her peers and teachers, electronic communication devices can make a tremendous difference in the way she learns and the quality of her school experience.  And good news! While supplies last, many of our most popular communicators are on sale. Shop the sale here.

7. iPad Products

iPads have revolutionized education for all students but perhaps even more so for children with disabilities. Regardless of mobility challenges, your child will be able to find a switch that enables him to access any app that has been programmed for switch access. See our list of switch-enabled apps here.

8. Fidgets

Don’t forget the fidgets! These little tools can be lifesavers for children who need help with self-regulation, and staying calm and focused in the classroom. They also help to increase tactile awareness. Why not splurge and get them for the whole class?