Written by: Jennifer Mandato
Passion is a word used so freely. “I have a passion for running.” “ I am passionate about hockey.” It is something, for the most part, we do not give a second thought to. Many of us go to work every day to do something we love.
Finding a passion for a teenager with special needs isn’t always as simple. How can we help our kids find their passion? Throughout our lives, we have many opportunities to discover and experience new things. For a teenager with special needs these experiences can be limited. Families may be fearful of how others may react to their child, keeping them from learning new hobbies. Families can start with events and outings that will be sensitive and welcoming to the special needs community. This will allow the teen to familiarize themselves with the community and the events that interest them.
Continue to enrich their lives with experiences. Explore their interests and see where that can take them in life. Talk to their teachers, counselors, or transition coordinators. Learn about the opportunities that are available in your community for your child to discover. If they like board games or helping others, can they volunteer in a retirement community? Is your child a great organizer, can they work doing inventory for a store? If they really like cooking they can look into classes at a local community college.
Ask your child what they like doing. They may tell you something so simple but it will be worth exploring. In working with teenagers, I have had many conversations about what they see for themselves after they finish school. Some will have a clear picture of their next steps, others a little more unsure. Some teens may find their passion by participating in a school event or internship. Let’s not limit our teens to what we think they should be doing but allow them to try a variety of options to see where they want their life path to take them.
As adults, it is our job to empower our teenagers to try their best and pursue their passions. Always allow them to dream knowing they have your safety net to catch them. The pride of success when they achieve something they have set their mind to is priceless.
Helping our children with special needs find their passion is essential. It helps their teacher to guide lessons with that in mind, and offer incentives based on the topic that makes our children want to jump out of their seats!
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Rachael earned her master’s degree from Montclair State University. She is a Licensed Associate Counselor and has worked as a school counselor for the past 8 years. She has worked in the field of special education for over 12 years. Rachael completed post-graduate training in play therapy, AutPlay therapy, DIR/Floortime, Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, family trauma models, children’s yoga, social thinking , nurtured heart and mindful parenting, and executive functioning coaching.
Rachael currently works at a school for children with special needs where she provides individual and group counseling as well as parent support. She also works with parents to provide behavioral strategies and interventions in the home.
Rachael is the proud of mother of 2 children (ages 4 and 2). In her spare time, she enjoys playing with her boys.
Contact Rachael: RBerringer@psychedconsult.com
Written by: Dr. Liz Matheis and Featured by: Shield HealthCare
Annual review season is here, and your child’s meeting is probably already on your schedule. As a former School Psychologist on the Child Study Team (CST), I know that annual review meetings are coming, which means you need to get ready to make the most of this important Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meeting.
For some, this provokes a great deal of anxiety. The worry of:
Before I dive in to the topic, let me review the different types of IEP meetings that you can have:
An IEP annual review is your yearly meeting when you sit down with your case manager, general education teacher, special education teacher, and related service providers in an effort to review your child’s program as it has been set for the last year, and to decide what your child’s program will look like for the upcoming year.
A re-evaluation eligibility meeting is one you will with your Case Manager, general education teacher, special education teacher and related service providers every 3 years in order for your child’s continued eligibility for special education and related services to be reviewed. That is, your child will be re-evaluated (psychological, educational assessments, as well as necessary related service therapies) so that you may review your child’s progress. During this time, you can bring forth any diagnoses that your child has that were made by private professionals (e.g., ADHD, Sensory Processing Disorder, Dyspraxia, Central Auditory Processing Evaluation, etc).
Sometimes, your case manager may decide that there is enough data from your child’s teachers that shows that your child continues to be eligible and requires the program that has been established. As a result, your case manager may ask you to waive testing and re-convene in 3 years.
An initial eligibility meeting takes place after you or your child has requested a CST meeting in order to review your child’s learning needs in an effort to gain testing. The eligibility meeting occurs when all testing has been completed and eligibility is being determined...
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Written by: Gail O'Connor and the Editors of Parents Parents
Not so long ago, a friend asked me whether I plan to send my youngest child, my third, to kindergarten on time, or if I would be choosing to hold her back. The question didn't surprise me. "Redshirting," or delaying entrance to kindergarten by a year, is not uncommon where I live, and my daughter would be making the cutoff in our district by a scant five days. That made it likely she'd be the very youngest in her grade, something I've come to see could actually be a positive thing academically.
But the timing of my friend's inquiry did throw me a bit: My daughter was just 2 ½ years old. Surely that should have bought us some time to decide whether she'll be ready at almost-5 for kindergarten.
Still, you can't blame parents of children on the younger side for their grade for worrying early and often, particularly when we have to suffer through anxiety-inducing commercials for websites and other wares peddled to get our kids prepared for kindergarten, which sounds increasingly like an intimidating, unforgiving place rather than the warm welcome to education that it used to be.
Here are a few things I’ve learned from interviewing moms who've already made the decision of when to start their child in kindergarten:
Know your state's kindergarten age rules.
According to Superpages, an online source of local information from across the country, a total of 32 states in the United States require that a child be 5 years old on or before September 1 in the year he or she starts kindergarten, with 11 states having a cutoff date between September 1 and October 15. There are also 7 states that offer local schools the option set their own required dates for when children should start school.
You can start by finding your state's rules here, but it's still worth a call to your school district's office as these rules can change. You can also find out if special exceptions can be granted by the school principal, as was the case for one of the moms Parents interviewed...
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Written by: Dr. Liz Matheis and Featured by: Shield HealthCare
Change, change, it’s the season for change! Well, change is inevitable at any time of the year and in any phase of our life. If you have children, double the amount of change!
Our year is filled with them – September, the holidays, winter break, the return to school in January, spring break, returning after spring break, the end of the school year, and the beginning of summer.
For some children, even daily transitions are difficult to process and are faced with much resistance. So, how do you as a parent help your child with an upcoming change in routine, travel or even the start of a new activity? Anticipate and plan ahead, which will lessen the severity of the change and make it easier to accept.
Keep it the Same… As It’s Becoming Different
When you anticipate an upcoming change, the goal is to either create a routine or maintain it, with little or no deviation. The thought behind this is as a change is coming, the other parts of life stay the same. When you know your child doesn’t readily accept change, you may be very tempted to extend bedtime or to give them an extra dessert because you feel badly about the upcoming change or because a change has happened. But, don’t. This actually creates more anxiety instead of normalizing the change.
With that said, when you are expecting an impending change in your schedule, stick to your routine so that your child can rely on the familiar amidst the unfamiliar. Making a change to your routine takes another element of your child’s life and makes it even rockier. Don’t feel badly and don’t offer too many exceptions to the rules or special treats to make up for a guilty conscience...
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Written by: Hannah T
Once again, our local Girl Scout, Hannah T from Parsippany, has prepared another blog for us about cyberbullying as she continues to work towards the completion of her Girl Scout Gold Award. The goal of her project is to bring awareness to the issue of social media, internet safety and cyberbullying by creating and presenting on the topic, creating posters, and writing blogs and articles. Her hope is to educate adolescents and their parents about the subtle hazards of social media by also providing strategies when social media gets ugly.
What Is Cyber Bullying?
Bullying is a term that’s been around for a long time. Parents understand bullying to be physical harm caused by one child to another, for some or no reason at all. The intent is to cause harm, fear, or intimidation. Well, let’s fast forward to our present day with Snap Chat, Instagram, Facebook, and whatever else that’s here or about to be here. Cyber-bullying is here. What is that exactly? It’s when a child/adolescent is being targeted and harmed by interactions over social media/the internet. However, past this definition, it can make teens feel isolated, hopeless, and cause them to lose interest in things they normally love to do. With that said, if your child shares with you that she is the recipient of a rude or hurtful message on social media, you need to know how to mediate these situations.
In the past, before the internet and social media, when someone was bullied in school, when they went home, they were able to gain a break from the bullying. Presently, that barrier doesn’t exist anymore. The bullying persists because of one tap on their phone screen and it’s right there. There is no break of respite from this type of bullying, and it is vital for parents to step in.
What Should Your Child Do?
If your child comes to you with an instance of cyberbullying, whether it be a conflict they had with a friend through text messages, a post directed at him on Instagram, or someone posting pictures of him on Snapchat without permission, the very first thing to do is make sure your child takes a screenshot (picture) of the text, photo, and comments. If the other child chooses to delete her texts or conversations, you still have a copy of the content.
Even more importantly, make sure that your child does not reply to the messages in any way since this will just give the bully the reaction he or she would like. If your child has already replied, still screenshot the conversation, but your child will also then be partaking in cyberbullying, even if they did not act first.
Next, you’ll want to have your child block the person the cyberbullying is coming from, so this doesn’t continue to happen. Also, don’t just have your child block them on the site where the bullying is taking place, have your child block them on all social media platforms where they can possibly be contacted. This will truly ensure the bully won’t be able to contact your child any longer.
What Should I Do?
You should probably keep a close eye on your child’s phone and social media accounts, just in case the bully finds another way to contact your child. If you feel as though the situation is not handled, bring the screenshots/pictures of the cyberbullying to your child’s school principal, and they have to act on the messages they see. Finally, make sure to be comforting and uplifting to your child.
Being cyberbullied makes kids feel helpless, inferior, alone, dissatisfied with themselves, and many other awful feelings. Instead of making your child feel punished by taking her phone, just establish that if anything else happens, she needs to come to you first. Depending on the severity of the cyberbullying, your child may also need to be comforted as well. If your child is highly distressed, you may want to seek counseling.
Remind your child that people only bully others when they aren’t happy with themselves and that the bully’s messages are meant to create fear, panic, and hurt self-esteem. Additionally, try to spend more time with your child, or set limits on phone use. When teens are off their phones and having fun with their friends and family, problems over social media seem less impactful to them, which is what your goal to be as a parent in this situation; help your child realize that the bully is insignificant and shouldn’t be allowed to take over their mood and happiness.
Overall, teens who are being cyberbullied need guidance and support during this time. Bond with your child, listen, offer advice, and sympathize. Seek private counseling if the impact of the cyberbullying is pervasive and begins to negatively impact the ability to attend school, maintain friendships, engage with family members, complete homework, and study for tests. The ultimate goal is to not become punitive but rather to sympathize and problem solve together while maintaining general life activities and family time.
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We are conducting a survey about the experiences of siblings of individuals with disabilities. By taking this survey, you can help us learn more about needed supports for siblings of individuals with disabilities. This online survey will take no more than 20-30 minutes to complete.
You are eligible to take this survey if: you are over the age of 18 and you are the sibling of a person with a disability.
If you have any questions about the survey, please contact Meghan Burke at
firstname.lastname@example.org or 217-300-1226
Written by: Nicole Filiberti, MSW, LCSW
Among the many other things parents can help instill in their children, a healthy diet could easily rank as one of the most important habits. Healthy diets have many positive effects on both physical and mental health. Starting some habits for children to learn when they are young can set the tone for their entire lives. Here are some tips to utilize:
1. Variety is the spice of life! Don't be afraid to try new fruits and vegetables. You can even have your children each pick out one item from the produce department and then find out how to prepare it. Let them be part of the process and show them that trying new things can be fun and rewarding!
2. Keep the house stocked with healthy items. You don't have to totally avoid buying processed foods, but try to keep a lot of whole unprocessed foods, such as nuts, fresh fruit and carrot sticks with yummy dips easily accessible in the house. For children, seeing these items regularly and having access to them helps foster healthier choices.
3. Be a role model. Remember that our kids are like sponges, absorbing our habits and routines whether you realize it or not. Show them that it is good to be open minded about food and to try new things. Eat a variety of healthy food and set the expectation that they will do the same. Keep a positive attitude about food and diet. Remind your children about the connection between what we put in our mouths and the state of our health.
Use these tips to foster some life long healthy eating habits in your children. Food is something that affects our every day lives, so sticking to certain habits in this area is significant. With some effort on your end, having children who pick nutritious choices is certainly possible.
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Written by: Dr. Liz Matheis and Featured by: The Mighty
When you are a primary caretaker of a child with a disability, often your needs become secondary, or even tertiary, to those of your child, teen or young adult. In the process, you may find that your ability to handle the day to day gets harder and harder. You may be experiencing trauma yourself, but continue to chug along so that you can keep the train moving.
So the glaring question becomes this: when do you know that you need to do something for yourself?
When you are not able to maintain your roles in your life, and when it becomes more difficult to function on a day to day basis, it’s time.
Let’s break it down…
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Written by: Rebekah Immitt
Wouldn't it be great to be able prevent temper tantrums and power struggles!?
Did you know that power struggles are part of normal development for children? It’s how our children learn to be in control of their actions and emotions. For many parents, this can feel like an overwhelming time where there is a rise in new behaviors that you haven’t seen before, such as falling to the floor, screaming, shouting ‘no’, and making unreasonable demands. Yup, you have arrived!
It’s a Matter of Control
First let’s talk about CONTROL. Think about control as a beach bucket. Each time you ask your child to do something or follow a direction, (e.g., “It’s time to go,” “Grab your shoes,” or “Come to the table to eat dinner,” etc.) you are adding one scoop of sand into the bucket. Before you know it, that bucket will overflow, and your child will feel a loss of control and a rush of emotions. Think about how many directions you give your child in one hour. That will fill up the bucket quickly, which can s be overwhelming for your child. Result: temper tantrum.
To prevent the overflow, you must take scoops out of the bucket throughout the day, or in other words, give your child a sense of control. Here’s an easy way to give your child a sense of CONTROL (works for any age).
Offer your child simple choices continuously throughout the day.
By offering your child choices, it counterbalances the directions and demands. With that said, this gives your child that sense of control so her “bucket” doesn’t overflow, which means fewer temper tantrums.
Let’s take this strategy one step further and use it as a form of correction. Imagine your child is about to throw the TV remote out of frustration. As a parent, the temptation is to shout "NOOOOOO!" or "Put that down!”
Instead, give her a choice. "Do you want to put that in my hand or on the couch? If your child does not independently make your choice, you can help him pick one by guiding his hand. Double win for you, the parent! You have deflected a power struggle AND taken a scoop out of the bucket at the same time!
Next let's talk about EMOTIONS.
A child learns appropriate emotional behavior and communication from our interactions while speaking and reacting to them. We help our children learn how to manage anger, disappointment and express their wants and needs. When a child speaks or expresses himself rudely or inappropriately, be proactive before reacting. Model how you want the child to speak or act.
Here are a few examples:
6-year-old: “I’m the worst at writing”
Dad: “I feel frustrated when I write so much and have to erase it too.” It’s not easy for me either.
Dad is recognizing the emotion behind the behavior and validating the child’s emotion. By modeling an appropriate statement this will teach the child how to express feelings instead of acting out the emotional frustration.
3-year-old: “I don’t want those!” as he throws crackers on floor.
Mom: "No thanks, Mom” and she demonstrates placing the crackers gently on the table, instead of giving an angry reaction.
2-year-old: Grabs toy from brother’s hand and says “Mine!” using a loud and mean voice.
Dad: “Brother, I do or my turn?” (as Dad gently places toy back in the brother’s hand).
Again, instead of Dad grabbing the toy back from the 2-year-old and shouting “Don’t grab!” he modeled the appropriate way to react when he wants to use the toy.
Most of the time, your child will mimic your language and emotion. You are modeling an appropriate emotional response and preventing a power struggle. If parents answer children when they use a rude tone or are upset, children will learn that their communication was effective.
* Putting more work in upfront will prevent temper tantrums and teach appropriate communication.
*Don’t react! Instead, model what you would like to hear instead of stating what the child is doing wrong.
Rebekah Immitt is a Developmental and Behavioral Specialist who specializes in assisting parents, teachers, and professionals to understand behavior as a form of communication. She also helps children learn how to regulate their emotions and communicate more effectively with adults and their peers. To learn more, visit: www.babiestobackpacks.com
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Written by: Dr. Rick Manista, Psy.D
We are always asked, “what makes children more successful in school?” “How do I raise a healthy child?” “How do we help children emotionally and socially?” The answer research shows us might be a surprise. Children need limits.
Part of the process of growing up is understanding boundaries between yourself and others around you. Children struggle to understand boundaries because their brains are not fully developed. If there is not clear structure and limits, children can become anxious and have a hard time regulating themselves. This can later turn into mental health problems. Setting limits is a common struggle among parents. Here are some tips for setting limits:
The Crisis Prevention Institute (2019) emphasizes that limits need to be enforceable. When we are setting limits or giving a consequence, we are often angry and can make empty threats like “You will never have tv ever again”. Since this is unrealistic and not unforeseeable, children know it will never happen! We want to make sure that any consequences we set, we can carry out.
One of the reasons for limit setting is to teach that our actions will have a cause and effect. Children then learn that if they control themselves, they can influence the world around them. One simple way to do this is with natural consequences. These are negative consequences that the action would create. For example, if a child made a huge mess, the natural consequence would be for them to clean the mess. If the child refuses to wear a jacket, the natural consequence may be that they become cold. These are teachable moments that help children understand how they impact the world around them.
Less is more
A common mistake with limit setting is that adults do too much talking! We often lecture children on what they should be doing. Children cannot focus for a long period of time. After about ten words, they stop listening. Being as concise as possible helps this. One recommendation is using statements like “When/then” and “If/Then”. “When you do your homework, then you get video game time”. “If you eat your vegetables, then you get ice cream”. This helps us be concise when delivering limits.
When you are giving a limit, you are going to be angry! This can make children more stressed and reactive. Kathy Gordon from “Hand in Hand Parenting” recommends being as silly and playful with limits as you can be. A “Mary Poppins” tone often works well with children. One strategy is the “new rule”. When children start misbehaving and not see a limit we missed, act like you are playing a game and announce “new rule”. Children who are interested in sports respond particularly well to this.
Another mistake adults tend to make is to lecture and yell at children when they are in the middle of a tantrum. Siegel and Bryson (2012) studied brain scans and found that when children are having a tantrum, their fight or flight mode is activated. When parents set limits during this time, children did not remember them. But when parents debriefed with them after they calmed down, children remembered the limit! The brain scans showed that debriefing after a meltdown helps build neural synapses in the brain, which means they will have long term learning. Always debrief and set limits when children are available to learn and listen.
Cause and effect
Children with an Autism Spectrum Diagnosis often have a harder time with limits because the concept of cause and effect is too abstract for them. Winner (2007) created a strategy called Social Behavior Mapping. This explains to children that if they do “expected behaviors”, others around them will feel comfortable and give them positive reinforcement. Such as, if we do our expected behaviors in school, the teacher will give us good grades. When we do “unexpected behaviors”, others feel uncomfortable and may not give us what we want. For example, if we are unexpected in class, the teacher may not give us a good grade. Winner has visuals and “think sheets” for students to fill out to reinforce this idea. The more structure and limits we can give our children, the better they can understand boundaries.
2019 CPI Instructors' Conference in Scottsdale, AZ July 14 - 19, 2019. (n.d.). Retrieved from.
Gordon, K. (n.d.). 4 types of limits that children need. Retrieved March 26, 2019, from https://
Siegel, D. J., & Bryson, T. P. (2012). The whole-brain child. London: Constable & Robinson.
Winner, M. G. (2007). Social behavior mapping: Connecting behavior, emotions and
consequences across the day. San Jose, CA: Think Social Pub.
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Dr. Liz Matheis
Dr Liz Matheis and her team specialize in assisting children and their families with Anxiety, Autism, AD/HD, Learning Disabilities and Behavioral Struggles