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IEP Legal Rights

This guest blog was written by Sandra Strassman-Alperstein.

As a special education attorney, I am often asked by parents of children with autism about their children’s legal rights at school. Fundamentally, children with autism are entitled to the same Blog-IEP Rights-Main-Landscapeeducational rights as other children with disabilities, namely FAPE (free appropriate public education).  What constitutes “appropriate” education is at the crux of many special education disputes regarding students with autism as well as other students with disabilities.

Let’s take Michael, a boy with autism severe  on the spectrum. Michael is 10 years old. He is not yet toilet trained. Michael demonstrates unsafe behaviors at school, such as self-injury, violence toward peers and staff, and elopement (running). Michael is rapidly becoming a danger to himself and others at school.

At Michael’s IEP meeting, the district recommends Michael’s current self-contained life skills classroom with a student/teacher ratio of 6:1. While many of the goals appear to be appropriate, Michael has made no progress this year. But we know Michael can learn in a 1:1 setting because he has made good progress with a private tutor at home. Also, the proposed IEP contains no goal for toileting skills, which are critical life skills, and no behavior intervention plan (BIP) to keep Michael and others safe when he displays unsafe behaviors.

What types of questions should Michael’s parents be asking at the IEP meeting? I’d suggest questions designed to elicit how the team proposes to educate Michael safely and appropriately, and how the proposed IEP is designed to accomplish this.

Let’s start with Michael’s present levels of performance in the IEP. Are they based on current data, and are they accurate reflections of Michael’s current abilities? How about his goals: do they address all areas of deficit? (For instance, the proposed IEP does not address Michael’s lack of toileting skills and unsafe behaviors – goals will need to be added to cover these areas.) Are the proposed goals reasonable given Michael’s present levels of performance? Are they SMART goals? (SMART goals, according to Pete Wright, are goals which are specific, measurable, use action words, are realistic and relevant, and are time-limited. (See http://www.wrightslaw.com/info/iep.goals.plan.htm#sthash.HUUaBQ3V.dpuf.) What about the proposed services – are they sufficient to allow Michael to achieve his IEP goals?

Now let’s examine Michael’s proposed placement (the 6:1 life skills classroom). Is this classroom appropriate for Michael, or does he need a smaller class setting with more adult supervision and structure? Michael clearly needs a BIP – can an appropriate plan be implemented in the proposed placement, or should the team be recommending a therapeutic day setting or even a residential placement for Michael?

Now take the case of Michelle, a 10 year old girl with what used to be called Asperger’s Syndrome (AS), a form of high-functioning autism (AS was eliminated as a separate diagnosis in the DSM-V that was recently released; however, it remains a useful descriptive term). Michelle can read and write, her grades are good, and she does not display unsafe behaviors in school. However, Michelle demonstrates social skills deficits that impact her in school: she sits alone at lunch, does not seek out friends or engage in reciprocal conversations, and often misreads social cues, causing conflicts with both peers and staff. Other students are starting to tease her and call her “weird.” This causes Michelle to withdraw socially, and sometimes to shut down and refuse to do her work in class. Michelle is beginning to develop a negative self-image, as she has been observed to say “I am dumb” or “I am weird” at least several times a day in school.

Because Michelle – like Michael – has autism, the team proposes the same self-contained life skills 6:1 classroom. However, it should be clear that while both children have autism, their needs are nothing alike.

Both Michael and Michelle have the right to be educated in the LRE (least restrictive environment). However, what that will look like is very different for each of these children. For Michael, it is very possible (even likely) that the self-contained public school classroom will not be restrictive enough; for Michelle, it is likely to be too restrictive. (The LRE is the setting in which the student has maximum access to typical peers, but in which the child can be appropriately educated. Thus, what constitutes the LRE will vary from child to child.)

So in Michelle’s case, the parents should be asking similar questions regarding present levels (are they accurate?), goals (do they cover all areas of deficit – such as social/emotional needs – and are they SMART goals?), services (are they sufficient to enable Michelle to meet her goals?), and placement (is the self-contained classroom the LRE for Michelle when she is able to progress in the general education setting?).

What these examples demonstrate is that different children have different needs, regardless of an autism diagnosis/label. The fact is, as the saying goes, if you’ve met one kid with autism, you’ve met one kid with autism.

For each child, parents should critically examine the key elements of the proposed IEP, namely:

  1. Present levels of performance (are they based on data and do they accurately reflect the child’s current performance?);
  2. Goals (are they SMART goals that address all areas of deficit?);
  3. Services (are they sufficient and tailored to meet the child’s unique needs to enable the child to progress toward the goals?)
  4. Placement (is it the LRE?)

Parents are their children’s best advocates. They are the experts on their child and have much to contribute to the IEP team. Hopefully this information will help parents fulfill their critical roles in their children’s education.

Sandra Strassman-Alperstein holds a B.A. in English from the University of Florida and a J.D. from the University of Chicago Law School (cum laude 1990). More importantly, Sandy is the mom of four wonderful kids, three of whom have received special education services in the public school setting via IEPs and 504s. Sandy has been practicing special education law & advocacy for the past 15 years and is an active volunteer on the national, state, and local levels. Sandy’s website is http://www.spedlaw4kids.com.

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Deerfield, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Mequon! If you have any questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140!

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Fostering Independence in Your Child

Picture this: your 6 year old carries his cereal bowl to the sink, leaving a trail of milk along the way. Your initial impulse might be to tell him to leave the bowl and let you take care of it. Blog-Independence-Main-Landscape

Picture this: your 11 year old daughter has just showered and washed her hair in less than 15 minutes and you highly suspect that either she didn’t use shampoo, or didn’t thoroughly wash herself, or both. You have the impulse to tell her to come over so you can check to see if her hair is thoroughly rinsed.

Finally, picture this: your 12 year old son is putting the finishing touches on his science fair project and you see that his poster is written in black ink with no additional color or pictures. You have the impulse to tell him that what his poster really needs is a pop of bold color to make it stand out.

What do these scenarios have in common? They are opportunities for our children to learn independence!

One of the toughest jobs of a parent is to allow a child to fall down, scrape a knee, lose a championship, receive a low grade, wear mismatched clothing, and tell a botched joke. Taking care of, preventing disappointment/messes/hurt feelings/embarrassment and a long list of other unpleasant experiences is part of the fabric of our parenting instincts, however, by doing these things we deny our children learning opportunities that they need as much as the shelter, food and love that we provide.

How do we foster independence? We accept the fact that childhood gets messy, uncomfortable, embarrassing, unpredictable and sad. We allow ourselves to feel the discomfort that we know our child may feel, and we tell ourselves that the feeling will pass and our child will be stronger and more resilient because of it. As we allow our child to pour his own milk, make her bed, select his outfit, style her hair and create that special Playdough, glitter and Styrofoam center piece, we promote problem solving, self-motivation, creativity and independence.

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Deerfield, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Mequon! If you have any questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140!

Social Work

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How to Bring Yoga Home

This guest blog was written by Erin Haddock.

Yoga was designed to keep the mind focused and relaxed. Of course, relaxing the body is much easier than relaxing the mind directly.  So we work on relaxing the body with yoga poses first, beforeBlog-Yoga-Main-Landscape relaxing through more subtle exercises. When you imagine an advanced yoga practitioner, you might have visions of someone doing a headstand or twisting into a pretzel. In fact, advancement in yoga has nothing to do with the body’s ability to move into poses. Advancement in yoga comes from the ability to maintain the mind’s focus on the present moment, which takes consistency, concentration, and patience. This applies to kids as well. I have seen kids so focused while practicing a simple pose, they are easily more advanced than adults who look around at their neighbors in class.

For this reason, practicing “off the mat” and “on the mat” go hand-in-hand and advance a yogi’s total development. We get precious few hours per week at our favorite yoga classes or in our home practice, but there are many hours each day when we face daily stressors. Creating a consistent “Relax Routine” at home can both deepen your family’s yoga practice on the mat, as well as reinforce yogic principles off the mat. The most useful tip I can give families working to reduce stress, is for the parents to practice too. Kids should get the message that yoga is something even adults enjoy and value as a tool to calm down when stressed.

Here are 3 easy yoga activities parents can incorporate in a family “Relax Routine.” All will promote a sense of well-being while practicing, lead to lowered stress levels after practicing, and will develop self-soothing tools that children can apply on their own.

  1. Mantra Repetition – This mindfulness exercise develops focus and calms the mind.  In our classes we use simple Sanskrit mantras, which mean peace, love and light. You can choose to repeat a Sanskrit mantra, the sound “om”, a relaxing word or phrase (i.e. “love”, “calm”, “home”, “I am peaceful”, etc.), or sing a relaxing song. Repeat the mantra for one or two minutes – or even longer, if you like. Your kids can join in or you can chant to them. Most kids love this practice, since it is similar to singing. This is an important part of yoga, as it is very effective at relaxing the mind. Chanting causes us to take slower, deeper breaths, which triggers the relaxation response. When the breath is relaxed, so is the mind. Kids can be encouraged to mentally repeat their mantra when under stress at home or in school.
  2. Breathing Exercise – Studies have found that regular practice of yogic breathing exercises improves efficiency and balance within the heart and lung system. These exercises teach practitioners what is commonly called “abdominal breathing”. Abdominal breathing has numerous benefits, including inducing the relaxation response, which calms, focuses and quiets the mind. Although we are born breathing like this, sometimes it can feel quite unnatural when first practicing these exercises. Many people are reverse-breathers – meaning their belly moves forward when they exhale, and backward when they inhale – which may cause them to experience more stress. To teach this technique, have your kids lie on their back and place a light weight on their belly (like a book, small bag of rice, etc.). Practice with them, as you breathe in through the nose slowly and deeply, allowing the belly to rise. Then, let the belly gently fall as you slowly breathe out through the nose. Practice for one or two minutes, depending on the age and attention span of your child. After practicing, remove the weight and notice how your breathing has changed. As you start to feel comfortable, you can practice this exercise without a weight. Just bring your attention to the belly as you practice abdominal breathing.
  3. Deep Relaxation – The culminating exercise in a yoga class is deep relaxation, or Yoga Nidra. Yoga Nidra has been found to produce effects similar to REM sleep, which promotes healing and deep rest.  Yogis say a final relaxation is a must, because it assimilates the benefits of the yoga practices within the body. You can find guided relaxations all over YouTube (we even have a few on our blog), but you can lead a guided relaxation yourself. Yoga Nidra can also be practiced separate from yoga, such as before bed or when your child is feeling stressed. Have everyone lie down and close their eyes. You may use blankets to keep warm or something like a scarf to cover your eyes, if desired. Tell everyone to stretch their toes wider and wider. Then tell them to slowly relax their toes. Instruct them to imagine the relaxation making its way up their body, part by part. You can mention a few key body parts they can relax (i.e. relax your legs, your belly, your eyes). A foot massage is a nice treat to add in while practicing this progressive relaxation. Finally, remain as silent and still as possible, relaxing for a few moments or up to five minutes. After this silence, ask your child to take a deep breath and stretch a little. Slowly make your way back to sitting and end with a final short message, like a mantra, poem, prayer, or simply say “thanks for relaxing with me.”

Developing a Relax Routine as a family can be incredibly rewarding for both kids and parents. Children appreciate the ability to see their parents relaxed and having fun, and parents are amazed at their kids’ focus and engagement.  Not to mention, it can be a powerful bonding experience. Aim to practice your “Relax Routine” at least twice a week. If you can practice once a day, even better!  It doesn’t have to take long. In fact, it is much better to be consistent about a short routine, than practice a long routine only once in awhile. Most importantly, make it work for your family. Yoga is supposed to feel good!

Erin Shanthi Haddock2Erin is E-RYT 200, RYT 500, RCYT with Yoga Alliance.  She completed her 200 hour teacher training with the creator of the Yoga for the Special Child® (YSC) method, Sonia Sumar and has taught the YSC method since 2010.  She is a certified Stress Management Specialist, and also holds certifications in Adaptive Yoga, the YSC method, and Yoga for Teens.

Erin is passionate about bringing yoga to people who experience barriers to their practice – including physical, intellectual, emotional, financial or geographical.  She pursues continuing education in Yoga Therapy at the Integral Yoga Institute in Buckingham, VA and is a member of the International Association of Yoga Therapists and Integral Yoga Teachers Association.

At Five Keys Yoga, we provide yoga classes and mindfulness resources just for kids! We are also the Chicago home of the Yoga for the Special Child® method, specializing in teaching yoga to kids with special needs. If you would like to learn more about the YSC method or how your child can deepen their yoga practice, please visit our website.

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Deerfield, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Mequon! If you have any questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140!

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Common Misconceptions About Picture Exchange Communication System

What is a Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)? PECS is a form of Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) which uses a picture/symbol system to teach initiation ofBlog-Picture Exchange Communication System-Main-Landscape
functional communication. PECS was developed by Lori Frost and Andy Bondy in 1985 to be used with preschool children on the autism spectrum who demonstrated little to no socially-related communication. Examples include: children who avoided interactions with others, did not approach others to communicate, and/or only communicated when prompted to do so.

Myth #1: The Picture Exchange Communication System is strictly used for nonverbal children or children on the autism spectrum.

A common misconception about the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) is that it is strictly used with nonverbal children. While PECS and other forms of AAC have proven very useful and successful with nonverbal children, the system services many other populations with the purpose of eliciting and initiating functional communication.

To fully understand the meaning of functional communication, a distinction must be made between actions directed to the environment vs. actions directed toward a person. A child may climb on a step stool to reach a toy car on a shelf. From this action, we could infer that the child wants to play with the car. However, this is not communicative. If this same child looks from the car to his mother, or leads his mother over to the car, this is considered communication. Neither interaction involved speaking, however the distinction is that communication occurs when an action is directed towards someone else to achieve a certain outcome.

Therefore, Picture Exchange Communication System is appropriate, not just with children or adults that are not verbally communicating, but with those who are verbal, yet lack person-directed communication.

Other populations where PECS might be appropriate (to name a few):

-late-talking children (research is showing benefits for the introduction of AAC as early as 12 months)

-adults with aphasia

-Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS)

-children with reduced speech intelligibility

-verbal children with reduced social language and initiating

Myth #2: Using PECS will deter my child from communicating verbally

For some children, verbal communication can be a challenge; speech and language are not developing as quickly as would be anticipated and, accordingly, result in accompanying frustration and associated behaviors. Introduction of an augmentative and alternative communication system like PECS can help bridge the gap for children who are not yet verbally communicating but need an accessible means of communication as speech and language develop. Without an effective means of communication, these children are at risk for social, emotional, and behavior problems, including feelings of frustration and isolation.

Often, parents are concerned that using an augmentative or alternative form of communication will replace or deter verbal communication. In fact, research has shown just the opposite:

“Research over the past 25 years has shown not only that use of augmentative communication systems (aided or unaided) does not inhibit speech development but that use of these systems enhances the likelihood of the development or improvement of speech.” (Bondy & Frost, 2004)

The PECS program mirrors the acquisition of typical language development; children are taught one-word labels for frequently requested items before transitioning to formulation of two-word utterances. Verbally requesting and labeling can be targeted in conjunction with the program. The PECS program also details modality transitioning (i.e., transitioning from PECS to verbal communication), if and when it is appropriate.

If your child is using PECS now, this does not mean that you are “giving up on speech”. It is a system that is being utilized to give your child a means of communicating and interacting with others while speech is developing.

Myth #3: PECS cannot be used with children who have visual impairments, fine motor, or gross motor difficulties.

PECS can be used with a wide range of age-groups and disabilities. Accommodations can be made for children and adults with visual impairments, fine motor, or gross motor difficulties, to name a few.

Pictures can be made in various sizes to accommodate visual impairments. Additionally, you or your child’s speech language pathologist can select and modify pictures to suit your child’s needs; photographs can be used instead of clipart or Boardmaker pictures, and images can be modified to create more contrast.

Pictures can also be put on objects (e.g., bottle tops) to make them easier to grasp and pick up from a table or book for children with fine motor difficulties.

Step 2 of PECS involves ‘distance and persistence’, meaning a child is taught to move across a room, multiple rooms, etc. to select a picture from his book and persist when giving it to his communication partner. Students that are non-ambulatory can use a voice switch or a button to request his communication partner in order to perform the exchange.

If you have questions about PECS and if it would be appropriate for your child, please consult with a licensed speech language pathologist.

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Deerfield, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Mequon! If you have any questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140!

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IEP Meetings From a Mom’s Perspective

I have worked for North Shore Pediatric Therapy for more than two years in the marketing department. I thought I was familiar with the many challenges families go through with their children, Blog-IEP-Meetings-Main-Landscapehowever, the idea of going through “the IEP process” never crossed my mind, until I had to.

When my son started kindergarten, we had some concerns about certain behaviors, but honestly really thought they were only phases. A few weeks into the school year as they began practicing drills, he had a severe panic attack requiring help from the school social worker. At that time, his teacher recommended he begin seeing the social worker more frequently and that led to our process of seeking a full evaluation to really understand him.

He was evaluated by Dr. Greg Stasi at NSPT and given a diagnosis of Anxiety Disorder and Sensory Processing Disorder. It was then that we were faced with the dreadful IEP meetings. I had heard so many stories of hardship parents faced when fighting for their child’s needs. As a result, I went into the process expecting a fight, and boy would they get one if necessary because in my mind, nothing was going to come between my child getting the help he needed.

Because of my job, I am fortunate enough to have access to excellent professionals and resources, who understand the IEP process, and who helped me prepare for the initial IEP meeting. I was ready for that day. And you know what happened? I didn’t have to fight. I was so fortunate to have a wonderful team wanting and willing to give my son everything he needed to succeed. Everything I was prepared to fight for was already part of their plan, too.

I know this isn’t typical, and so many families struggle to get their child’s needs met.

Here are some tips, from a mom’s perspective on how to approach IEP meetings to get what you, and your child, need:

  1. Be prepared. Those same resources I have access to because of my job…guess what? YOU have access to those same things! NSPT has so many blogs and infographics to help you begin your journey. Having a full neuropsych evaluation is a real plus as it lends a direction for goal development and is appreciated by the district staff.
  2. Be understanding. Understand that those on the other side of the table really do want to help. Often they are restricted by legal mandates. So you may find that there are questions you ask where they can’t fully answer.
  3. Ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask any and all questions you have in order to understand each element being addressed. It goes fast. And they use a lot of terms you don’t recognize. Stop them and ask.
  4. Bring help. Don’t be afraid to bring outside support, such as a school advocate, to help speak on your behalf. They know the rules and can help you “fight.”
  5. Don’t sign the plan if you are not happy. You will be asked to sign the plan at the end. If you are not comfortable, don’t do it, unless it’s on the condition that you are requesting another meeting to go over the details again to re-write the goals.
  6. Hold Accountability. As the school year continues, don’t be afraid to check in on the team, the therapists, and the teacher to ensure all accommodations are being met.

Be the voice. Remember, you are your child’s voice. Don’t be afraid to speak up.

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Deerfield, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Mequon! If you have any questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140!

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Moving Away from Positioning Devices in 2017

Obviously, no baby is going to spend 100% of their time playing on the floor or a mat/blanket. At some point you need to cook or shower and you need a place for the baby where they’re safe Blog-Positioning Devices-Main-Landscapefrom the toddler, the dog, or somewhere you know they won’t roll away. This is the time to use the exersaucer, sling seat, or bumbo seat; but try to limit the time spent in these devices to 20-30 minutes per day, collectively.

Here’s why you should consider moving away from positioning devices…

The biggest problem with these devices is children are placed in them well before they have the proper trunk and/or head control to really utilize them properly. With an exersaucer, most babies are also unable to place their feet flat on the bottom but are still pushing up into standing. This can increase extension tone, decrease ankle range of motion/muscle shortening, and can possibly be linked to future toe walking.

With a bumbo or sling seat, the baby is not placed in optimal sitting alignment causing poor sitting posture. While these appear to provide great support and make 4 month old babies look like they can sit independently, the truth is the device isn’t allowing your baby to utilize their core muscles to actively sit.

The bottom line is, if the positioning device is doing all the work, what is your child learning to do?

The best place for your child to play and spend the majority of their time is on the floor or on a blanket/mat. This allows them the opportunity to properly explore their environments and practice typical movement patterns like reaching for their feet, rolling to their side, rolling over, spending time in prone, pivoting, and creeping/crawling.

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Deerfield, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Mequon! If you have any questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140!

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Gravitational Insecurity and Recess

Gravitational insecurity is a term that means an excessive fear of ordinary movement. Blog-Gravitational Insecurity-Main-LandscapeIt can also be characterized by a child being uncomfortable in any position other than upright, or fear of having one’s feet off the ground. Gravitational insecurity is a form of over-responsiveness to vestibular input. This input is detected by the Otolith organs, located in the inner ear. These organs detect movement through space as well as the pull of gravity.

Recess is a common time you may notice children having difficulties with gravitational insecurities.

Here are some common red flags that may indicate your kiddo is having difficulty with gravitational insecurity:

  • Avoidance of playground equipment that kids of similar age enjoy
  • Avoidance of swings
  • Fear of heights or uneven surfaces
  • Overwhelmed by changes in head position
  • Fear of having their feet off the ground
  • Overly hesitant on slides
  • Has difficulty tilting their head back to look up at monkey bars

If you notice your child exhibiting some of the red flags listed above, they would likely benefit from an occupational therapy evaluation and treatment focusing on sensory integration. Throughout therapy your child will receive graded vestibular information through a multisensory approach. Slowly, they will learn to integrate and process sensory information more effectively.

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Deerfield, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Mequon! If you have any questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140!

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5 Best Apps to Work on Speech and Language at Home

  1. My PlayHome by PlayHome Software LtdBlog-Speech-Apps-Main-Landscape
    • A digital doll house that lets your child use everything inside. You can fry an egg, feed the family pizza, pour drinks, feed the pets, and more! This app does not specifically target speech
      and language skills; however, there are many ways it can be used to work on speech/language at home. While playing with the doll house, you can work with your child on pronouns, identifying actions (e.g., cooking, sitting), present progressive –ing (e.g., drinking), plurals (e.g., two apples), vocabulary (around the house), formulating complete sentences, etc. I also like to use this app as a motivating activity for children working on speech sounds. For example, I will say, “Tell me what the doll is doing with your good ‘r’ sounds.” There is also My PlayHome Hospital, My PlayHome School, and My PlayHome Stores.
  2. Articulation Station by Little Bee Speech
    • This app is fantastic for children working on speech production skills. The whole app is pricey, but beneficial for a child working on more than one speech sound. It is also possible to download individual speech sounds to target a specific sound at home. This app is motivating and excellent for home practice!
  3. Following Directions by Speecharoo Apps
    • Excellent app for working on following directions. Choose from simple 1-step directions, 2-step directions, or more advanced 3-step directions. These funny directions will have your child laughing and wanting to practice more.
  4. Peek-A-Boo Barn by Night & Day Studios, Inc.
    • My favorite app for toddlers working on expressive language skills. First, the barn shakes and an animal makes a noise. Have your child say “open” or “open door” before pressing on the door. You can also have your child guess which animal it is or imitate the animal noises. When the animal appears, have your child imitate the name of the animal.
  5. Open-Ended Articulation by Erik X. Raj
    • This app contains over 500 open-ended questions to use with a child having difficulty producing the following speech sounds: s, z, r, l, s/r/l blends, “sh”, “ch”, and “th”. It is great for working on speech sounds in conversation. Have your child read aloud the question and take turns answering. The open-ended questions are about silly scenarios that will facilitate interesting conversations.

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Deerfield, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Mequon! If you have any questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140!

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How to Choose the Best ABA Provider for Your Child

Beginning ABA therapy services can be overwhelming and confusing. Below are a few things to consider when choosing an ABA provider to ensure you are finding the best fit for you and your child! Blog-ABA-Search-Main-Landscape

Scope of Practice

  • This is a term that simply means that healthcare professionals should ethically only treat populations and use procedures/processes in which they have specific education and training.
  • For example, if a BCBA has only worked with the pediatric population, it would be outside their scope of practice to treat adults.
  • Especially for children with intense behaviors, children who are older in age, larger in stature, etc., it is important to ask if the ABA therapy practice has BCBAs who have experience treating in these areas to ensure safety and maximum progress.

Location of Services

  • Some ABA therapy companies only offer in-home or in-clinic services exclusively. Other places, like NSPT, offer ABA services in homes, clinics, schools, etc.
  • It is important to consider where your child might need support and choose an ABA company that is able to offer services where therapy will be most appropriate, beneficial, and consistent.

Insurance Coverage

  • ABA therapy is recommended 10-40 hours per week, based on BCBA recommendations. This range of hours is what has been proven to be most effective for progress.
  • Because of the large number of hours, therapy can be very costly if paid for out of pocket.
  • When calling ABA therapy providers, be sure to let them know which insurance you have (at NSPT we will check benefits and provide a summary explanation as a courtesy to all of our families). Families are then able to determine if it is going to be financially feasible to begin services with the provider.

ABA therapy requires consistent communication and collaboration between provider and family, so above all, it is vital you find a provider who you are comfortable talking, sharing, and brainstorming with!

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Deerfield, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Mequon! If you have any questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140!

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Divorce When There is a Child with Special Needs

This guest post is from Benjamin Rubin.

When parents of a child with special needs get divorced there are many additional complications beyond a traditional divorce involving children. First and foremost, child support must be very Blog-Divorce-Main-Landscapecarefully considered to ensure that there is no loss of benefits. Child support payments that are required to be paid by a parent in accordance with Illinois state law by Court order, may result in a reduction or the complete elimination of a child’s SSI (Supplemental Security Income) benefit as well as the child’s Medicaid, which provides the child’s medical coverage, therapy, employment support, and home or residential support services (such as group homes) needed for the appropriate support for that child with special needs, and the custodial parent. For a child age 18 or older one hundred percent (100%) minus $20.00 of the child support payments ordered by Court, count as a reduction against SSI.

Government benefits can be protected, however, if the court order directs that child support payments are to be made to a “special version” of a Special Needs Trust for the sole benefit of that child, known as a self-settled special needs trust (also known as a 1st party, “pay-back,” OBRA, d4A, or d4C special needs trust). It’s important to note that this is different than the type of special needs trust most commonly established by parents for gifts and inheritances which is often called a 3rd party special needs trust.

Support payments to a 1st party special needs trust do not displace SSI, nor jeopardize Medicaid and Medicaid Waiver programs (such as group homes and day programs), greatly benefitting both parents and the child. It should be noted that for smaller child support payments (if total child support ordered is currently less than $14,000 per year) an ABLE account may be used. For more information about ABLE accounts please see ABLE article.

Again, for a child age 18 or older, one hundred percent (100%) minus $20.00 of the child support payment counts as a reduction against SSI; unless the court order provides that such support be paid irrevocably to an appropriate special needs trust or to an ABLE account in some cases (see above).

There are other considerations that have particular importance in the context of a child with special needs which should be discussed. First, health insurance coverage can be crucial. In Illinois it can be maintained by the parents of a child with special needs, in most cases, until the parents retire. Second, life insurance proceeds may be ordered by the court to be paid to a special needs trust, however, under current POMS (Social Security’s rules) and Medicaid regulations it does not need to go to a 1st party special needs trust as is the case with child support. It is highly recommended that a special needs planning attorney be consulted on all of these matters.

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Deerfield, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Mequon. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates!

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Benjamin (Benji) Rubin’s older brother Mitchell has Autism and lives in a Clearbrook CILA. Benji graduated from the University of Illinois College of Law, Magna Cum Laude, received his undergraduate degree from Northwestern University, and currently is pursuing his Graduate Law Degree, an LLM (Tax), at Northwestern University. Benji, a partner in the law firm, joined the practice in 2010. Benji is a member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners, a member of the Special Needs Alliance, is Vice Chairman of the American Bar Association Special Needs Planning Committee, serves as the President of SIBS (Supporting Illinois Brothers and Sisters), the Illinois chapter of the national Sibling Leadership Network, is a member of the Board of Directors of The Arc of Illinois, is a member of the Clearbrook Associate Board, and serves on the Advisory Council of Encompass(Encompass in partnership with Jewish Child & Family Services, Jewish United Fund, JVS Chicago, JCC Chicago, Keshet, and The Center for Enriched Living and Center for Independent Futures, seeks to provide adults with I/DD a full array of financially sustainable, community-based services and supports), and is a member of the Board of Directors of the SEDOL (Special Education District of Lake County) Foundation. Benji is also a Faculty Member for the Illinois Institute for Continuing Legal Education (IICLE). Having Mitchell as a brother profoundly shaped who Benji is today, and thus the type of law he chose to practice. His personal experiences as a sibling offer a unique perspective into the responsibilities that come with caring for a sibling with special needs. Now, as an adult, those sometimes present and future responsibilities he will have regarding his brother’s care are a concern that he shares with all brothers and sisters of individuals with special needs.