A Time for Giving

Speech Therapist working with a student with special needs

On #GivingTuesday we can’t think of a better time to pay tribute to some of the most generous people we know — the therapists, teachers, medical providers and caregivers — who use our products and provide us with the feedback we need to make them better. These exceptional individuals give of themselves — not just on Giving Tuesday — but on every day to help the children and adults who need them.

It should go without saying that working in what’s sometimes called “the helping professions” is not appropriate for all of us. These professions require very particular skill sets and specialized training. Depending upon their roles, many helping professionals have studied for years to obtain the level of expertise they require to teach, treat and assist their students, clients and patients. Some have master’s degrees, doctorates and other postgraduate certifications. Yet, many of the traits that make these professionals successful cannot be taught. Rather they are innate.

For example, according to Special Education Degrees.com, special education teachers need qualities such as “organizational skills; creativity and enthusiasm; confidence and calm; a good sense of humor and easygoing personality; dedication and optimism.”

Chron. com says occupational therapists need “good communication and listening skills; organizational and problem-solving skills.” And physical therapists must have “science skills; interpersonal skills; motor skills; and organizational skills.”

Besides the qualities referenced above, effective helping professionals require loads of patience and tons of compassion. Those who choose to put their skills and talents to work with clients who are severely impaired may require even greater amounts of patience and compassion.

The vast majority of professionals who work with people with disabilities are employed at settings such as schools, hospitals, rehabilitation centers and other nonprofit organizations. Many of these rely, at least in part, on donations from private individuals. This Giving Tuesday, why not consider making a contribution to a nonprofit institution that provides essential services for people with disabilities?  After all, ’tis the season of giving!


Buddy-Building Programs for Special Education

Boy in Wheelchair talks to friend in a school hallway

Despite being mainstreamed, many students with disabilities feel excluded from their school communities. In response, some schools have developed peer-buddy programs that aim to create more inclusive environments.

Peer-to-peer buddy programs match special education students with serious disabilities with general education students for in-school and after-school activities. In an interview with Brookes Publishing, Carolyn Hughes, co-author with Erik W. Carter of  “Peer Buddy Programs for Successful Secondary School Inclusion” said, “We think of peer-buddy programs as a win-win situation for all students involved—those with and without disabilities.” Would you like to see a peer-buddy program in your school? Here are some steps to get the ball rolling:

 Do your research
Gather information about peer-buddy programs that have data to support their success. This will help you to determine what you would like your program to look like and will also help you when you approach your school’s administrative staff with the idea. For example, on its website, The Peer Buddy Program cites 10 studies that have “documented the important contributions that peer support interventions, such as peer buddy programs, can make to improving students’ interactions and friendships with their classmates.”

 Get buy-in from administration, faculty and staff
In order to build a successful program, it’s essential that all members of your school administration, faculty and staff understand what’s being proposed and are willing to participate in whatever way necessary. Come prepared with research data and an outline of what the program might look like. Hughes and Carter’s book which provides a 7-step process for designing a peer-buddy program may help you to create a strong case for starting a program at your own school.

Design your program
Determine whether your program will provide general education students who participate with credits or other incentives; Consider creating a course within your general education program where peer buddies can receive orientation and ongoing training in how best to approach their relationships with special education peers; Decide how much time can be allotted to program activities and 1:1 meetings; Come up with a list of suggested activities and a curriculum that peer buddies should follow; Create an orientation curriculum with ice breakers and tips on building a trusting relationship between peer buddies.

 Develop a recruitment strategy
Determine who will qualify for the program: Is there a minimum grade-point average to qualify? Are their particular qualities that a peer buddy must possess? Are a personal interview and references necessary? Publicize your program in school newsletters, assemblies and class presentations.

Evaluate on a regular basis
Make sure to gather feedback from all students and faculty involved in the buddy program regularly. This can take the form of one-on-one meetings between peer-buddies and faculty leaders; questionnaires that are completed at agreed upon intervals; and peer buddy group where general education buddies can share experiences and receive support from their fellows.

8 Ways to Ease School Anxiety

Girl in Wheelchair in front of blackboard that says "Back to School"

Temperatures are soaring, yet the fall semester has already begun for some students in the United States. Other students will return to classes in the next few weeks. Though some youngsters look forward to the start of a new school year, for others, it triggers significant anxiety. In fact, “More than a quarter of teens report experiencing extreme stress during the school year,” according to the American School Counselor Association.

For children with special needs, anxiety can be significantly higher. For example, a 2015 study in the Journal of Autism & Developmental Disorders, found that “between 11 percent and 84 percent of people with autism also have an anxiety disorder.” Likewise, students with physical disabilities, who are unfortunately more likely to be bullied and stigmatized by their peers, may experience anxiety about the social pressures of school. What can parents do to relieve their anxiety? Here are some suggestions:

Check in with your child
This may seem like a no-brainer, but sometimes, in an effort to be up-beat, parents may gloss over their child’s concerns about the new school year. Before and after the school year begins, take time to explore your student’s feelings about school-related issues. If students exhibit more anxiety than seems appropriate, it’s time to work on a plan to address the anxiety.

 Be aware of signs of anxiety
Not all youngsters are comfortable discussing their anxiety and some may not even recognize feelings of anxiety. Various behaviors and complaints may be signs that students are anxious. For example, notes the American School Counselor Association: “School nurses are often the first person in a school to recognize that a student making frequent visits to the clinic doesn’t have a physical aliment but rather anxiety.” Other signs of anxiety include “problems concentrating, missed deadlines, decline in participation, absenteeism and tardy arrivals,” says the ASCA.

 Visit the school
Many students feel anxious when they don’t know what to expect. Visiting your child’s school and classroom and teacher go a long way toward reducing anxiety.

Encourage healthy habits
Anxiety can increase when students miss sleep or meals. Help children to transition to a school-appropriate schedule of sleeping and eating in the week before school starts.

Teach self-regulation
Though not all students are capable of practicing relaxation and/or mindfulness techniques, those with the capacity to do so, can benefit greatly from positive self-talk, deep breathing exercises and even daily meditation practice. In fact, a 2016 study found that people with intellectual disabilities benefit from a structured MBCT (mindfulness-based cognitive therapy) group intervention and the improvements were maintained at six-week follow-up.”

Keep teachers apprised
If your child has special needs, advocating for him and his education is probably nothing new. Make sure your child’s teachers and therapists are aware of your child’s behavioral, intellectual and physical challenges and work with them to devise a viable plan to deal with them. If possible, meet with your child’s teachers and therapists before the start of the school year, so plans are in place before he begins school.

Address your child’s class
If your child is mainstreamed, and only if she agrees to it, consider making a presentation to her classmates about her disability. If she is able, your child may want to make the presentation herself, or may join you in making it. The Pacer Center finds “one of the best ways to teach children about a disability is to talk to them at school.” In fact says Pacer, “for many families, presenting at school is an annual event.” Presentations can include discussion of why your child may look different from her classmates; the ways in which your child is similar to her classmates; and tips on how classmates can interact with your child, says Pacer. Stigma and bullying are frequently the result of ignorance and fear. Once other students understand your child’s disability, they may be more inclined to befriend her, and less inclined to bully or exclude him.

Find help
If despite your best efforts your child’s anxiety continues to be a problem, don’t hesitate to seek help. Counseling and in some cases, medication, can make all the difference when it comes to controlling your child’s anxiety and easing the transition into the new school year.




Special Education Classroom Necessities Part 4 – Visual Attention and Tracking

Disabled Boy Playing with Adapted Penguin Roller Coaster

Welcome to Part 4 in our series on equipping your special needs classroom. This week’s installment will focus on toys that help students with visual attention and tracking. According to YourTherapySource.com, “Visual tracking is the ability to control the eye movements using the oculomotor system (vision and eye muscles working together). There are two types of visual tracking: maintaining your focus on a moving object and switching your focus between two objects.”

These skills are needed for following both moving and stationary objects and are necessary for proficient reading, body awareness, posture and coordination. Though visual tracking is more challenging for students with visual impairments, the right toys and activities can help them to improve their visual tracking and attention. Enabling Devices offers a range of toys and educational tools designed to develop these skills. Here are some of our favorites:

Penguin Roller Coaster (#300)Children will develop their visual attention and tracking skills by watching this toy’s adorable little penguins climb to the top of their iceberg and “swoosh” down the slide to the bottom. Works with a capability switch (not included).

Remote Control Thomas the Tank Engine (#2115)Students won’t be able to take their eyes off Thomas the Tank Engine as he moves backward and forward with the flick of their capability switch. As they play, they’ll be practicing their visual attention and tracking skills.

Wheee-mote Control Car (#1439)This spunky little car beeps, spins and flashes its lights, helping children improve their visual attention and tracking skills while they watch.

Bubble Mania (#2286)Every child loves bubble play! This visually entrancing toy provides hours of enjoyment as it promotes visual attention and tracking skills as well as eye-hand coordination. Great for use in a group setting or for solitary play.

Tube Tracker (#5061)One of our newest toys, the tube tracker provides tons of fun while it encourages visual attention, visual tracking and helps develop students’ switch activation skills. Simply hold down the tube tracker’s switch and watch its brightly colored balls move upward on a cushion of air. Includes six colorful ping pong balls.

Visual Light Experience Kit (#4075)Go for the whole shebang! This huge assortment of toys includes everything you need to help students develop their visual perceptual skills including visual tracking, scanning and attention. Kit contains:
Adapted Musical Crystal Ball #1690
Magical Light Show* #1672
Fiber Flash Lamp #319
Spinning Light Show* #145
LED Genesis Egg #9224
Twinkles To Go Octo #9213
Nature’s Fire #3283
Go Anywhere Light Show #3331
3-Color Changing Balls #9222
Double Disco Ball * #1685
Laser Jet Kaleidoscope #2269
Bright Red Switch #262
Infinity Mirror #1683

*Not to be used with seizure prone individuals

Click here to find more toys for students with visual impairments.


Special Education Classroom Necessities Part 3 – Fine Motor Development

Little Girl Painting with Watercolor

Welcome to Part 3 of our series on equipping your special needs classroom. This week’s installment will focus on toys that improve students’ fine motor skills. Fine motor skills are small muscle movements in the fingers, thumb and hands that work in coordination with the eyes to perform important tasks such as writing, dressing, eating and toileting. According to Kid Sense, they’re “essential for performing everyday skills… as well as academic skills. Without the ability to complete these everyday tasks, a child’s self-esteem can suffer, their academic performance is compromised and their play options are very limited. They are also unable to develop appropriate independence in ‘life’ skills (such as getting dressed and feeding themselves) which in turn has social implications not only within the family but also within peer relationships.”

Many children with special needs require extra practice to develop their fine motor skills. Enabling Devices designs and adapts many toys and training products that offer fun ways to improve their fine motor skills. Here are some of our favorites:


NEW! Fine Motor Kits (#4395 and #4396) each contain nine fun and engaging products to strengthen muscles, improve dexterity and grasping, and develop eye-hand coordination. Two age appropriate kits (child and teen) are great for Occupational Therapists and Special Ed teachers to use in a school setting.

Tactile Manipulatives  (#1365) This set of nine fun and therapeutic manipulatives helps students strengthen and gain tactile awareness of their hands and fingers, improve fine motor skills while it also relieves tension and improves focus and attention.


The Pull Ball (#416) encourages children to practice reaching, grasping and pulling. Designed like a whiffle ball, the multicolored pull ball is perforated with holes that allow a child’s fingers to easily slip in, grasp and pull. Even the gentlest tug activates the toy’s music and lights. Children will be motivated to reach out, grasp and pull again and again.

Chunky Tic Tac Toe (#3602) Perfect for children who have difficulty with fine motor, dexterity or grasping, this special take on a classic game has large easy-to-hold shapes and giant knobs.

The Therapeutic Manipulator (#2304) encourages fine motor development while also teaching other important skills. This colorful and versatile activity center helps students develop finger isolation, reaching and grasping skills while it also offers tactile, visual and auditory stimulation and teaches cause and effect. Children will love pulling the manipulator’s “wiggle people” to hear their wacky sounds and rotating the blue and green worm to see a lightshow with music and vibration. Turning the manipulator’s knob and pushing its green button provides even more sensory surprises.

Drop-in-a-Bucket (#349) This uniquely designed shape-sorter has a low profile that’s ideal for players with limited reach. The toy helps children learn their shapes while they improve their fine motor skills. When players fit the right shapes into the right openings, they’re rewarded by music and lights.

Training Products

ADL Boards (#7006) give students valuable practice with the fine motor skills they will need to dress themselves – lacing, buttoning, zipping and snapping.

Finger Isolation Button (#716) The recessed button on this uniquely designed, colorful switch encourages practice of fine motor and finger isolation skills needed for mastery of computers and touch screen devices.

 Weighted Hand Writing Glove (#3974W) This versatile weighted glove provides proprioceptive input and compression that helps students perform a variety of fine motor and self-help activities. A must for any classroom.


For more toys and training products that improve fine motor skills, click here.

Special Education Classroom Necessities Part 2 – Circle Time

Student with Special Ed Teacher using Big Talk Triple Play during Circle Time

The second installment of our series on outfitting your special education classroom will focus on toys that enhance young students’ experiences with “circle time.”

The importance of circle time cannot be underestimated. According to Judith Colbert, Ph.D., reporting for Earlychildhood News.com, “circle time fosters a sense of community.” What’s more, circle time has great value to participants regardless of their developmental level, verbal or physical capabilities.

“…Each child, regardless of ability, can experience a feeling of belonging to the group during circle time,” writes Colbert in Earlychildhood News.com’s Ask the Experts: “Circle Time: A Tool for Supporting Children’s Development.”

During circle times, children also practice listening, communication and socialization skills. Enabling Devices develops communication devices and adapts many toys that are ideal for facilitating these skills during circle times. Here is a sampling of some of our favorites:

Big Talk Triple Play (#4202W)
Our sequential communicator allows a child to be the day’s leader during circle time. Multiple recordable messages allow the student to introduce the day and date, review the weather, and say good morning to everyone in the circle. Great for encouraging children with speech impairments to participate in classroom activities.

 Lighted Vibrating Mirror (#358-M)
Children love to take turns looking at themselves and then passing this multisensory mirror around the circle. Designed with two handles so it’s easy to grasp, the mirror offers visual and tactile stimulation while it encourages grasping and increases hand and finger strength.

Music Machine (#703)
Another great option for circle time, our music machine includes a variety of instruments including cluster bells, castanets, jingle bells and drum sticks. Just attach whatever instrument the class chooses, add a single switch and give each child an opportunity to make beautiful music. Great for developing auditory skills, teaching cause and effect, as well as music appreciation, this toy is ideal for children who cannot grasp instruments on their own for long periods of time.

Ring Around Bells (#23)
Let each child in the circle take a turn making this switch-activated toy’s colorful, precision-tuned bells twirl and play the musical scale while its multicolored LEDs blink. This toy encourages listening and grasping and increases eye hand coordination, all while teaching children to appreciate music.

 Bongo Drums (#756)
Equipped with two capability switches, our bongo drums can be played by two children in the circle at once. Pass it around so that every child has the chance to practice sharing, cooperation and listening skills while learning cause and effect and music appreciation.

Vibrating Animal (#9300W)
Is one child in the circle having a hard day? Our vibrating animal will help him to relax so he can attend to whatever’s being taught during circle time. Alternatively, pass the vibrating plush bunny rabbit or seal around the circle so that everyone can enjoy the tactile stimulation and calming effect of holding this soft, cuddly friend!

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…

Back to School

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

Playground Slide

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.