Provider Spotlight: Lauren Palianto

Provider Spotlight: Lauren Palianto

Our provider spotlight today focuses on the amazing work of our friend and colleague, Lauren Palianto of Decoded Learning Center in East Hanover, NJ. Lauren is a certified Orton-Gillingham Dyslexia Therapist with an M.A. in Reading Instruction & Assessment and extensive experience working as a Special Education Teacher. Decoded provides individualized instruction focusing on students of all ages and abilities with learning differences such as: Dyslexia, ADHD/ADD, language processing disorders, working memory deficits and executive functioning challenges. Be sure to check out her website below for more information.

COVID-19: Does My Child Have a Learning Disability?

Written by Dr. Liz Matheis

Featured on PsychologyToday

Signs to look for as your child’s COVID-19 home school teacher.

Now that you’ve been teaching your child at home, you are most likely very familiar with your child’s learning profile as well as strengths and weaknesses. You know which assignments are going to create a meltdown, a tug of war, procrastination, and which assignments your child will be more than willing to complete and may even do so independently.

Several parents have reached out to me as they are now realizing that their child is struggling academically, and they are uncertain if this is due to a learning disability, ADHD, or anxiety. This leads to the next question: Does my child need a support plan, such as a 504 Accommodation Plan or Individualized Education Plan (IEP)?

I Saw the Signs


  • My child is still struggling to identify letters, lower case, and capital
  • My child is still struggling to recognize, consistently, the sounds that letters make
  • My child is struggling to identify numbers
  • Limited ability to identify rhyming words and sounds
  • Very limited sight word vocabulary
  • My child is avoiding writing tasks
  • My child has a short attention span
  • My child is struggling to sit still long enough to finish work
  • My child is impulsive
  • My child is having difficulty following two-step directions

image by pexels

COVID-19 Updates for Families of Students with Disabilities

Late last week, the U.S. Department of Education issued a Questions and Answers document to give guidance on how Districts should be providing services to students with disabilities as the school buildings begin to close.

This past weekend, they issued a Supplemental Fact Sheet wherein they made it clear that Districts may provide special education and related services through distance instruction, whether virtually, online, or telephonically.

The question we have most frequently received since school closure became a possibility is: Does the district still have to follow my child’s IEP? In short, the answer is YES, as long as they are providing educational opportunities to the general student population. Specifically, the DOE stated that “schools must ensure that, to the greatest extent possible, each student with a disability can be provided the special education and related services identified in the student’s IEP developed under IDEA, or a plan developed under Section 504.” However, with the onset of this national emergency, the United States Department of Education has urged that parents and school districts be flexible and collaborative in working within the confines of distance teaching and safety measures to provide disabled students with a free and appropriate public education. Thus, related services that require physical contact may not be feasible at this time, but other services/accommodations such as extensions of time for assignments, videos with accurate captioning or embedded sign language interpreting, accessible reading materials, and many speech or language services through video conferencing, may be able to be provided.

School districts will be required to assess on a case by case basis whether compensatory education services are required when school resumes.

We have had a few IEP meetings via google hangout and conference call within the past week. So far, they have gone more smoothly than anticipated. We are learning ways to make them more efficient (i.e., mute if you are not speaking, in order to eliminate background noise; if it is just an audio call, have speakers identify themselves). Please be patient with Districts as they work out the kinks in this new way of conducting meetings. If you have an IEP meeting coming up, or are due for an annual review meeting, we recommend you reach out to your child’s case manager to inquire how the meeting will be conducted. We have obtained the appropriate technology so that if your IEP team states that they are unable to handle a remote meeting, we can certainly “host” it for them.

Finally, we hope you are all staying safe, and isolated!

If you’d like to schedule a virtual meeting, please contact Melissa (, and she will schedule something for you. You can also call our office (973) (376) (7733).


Manes & Weinberg | Special Needs Lawyers, LLC


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4 Questions to Ask Before Your Child’s IEP Annual Review Meeting

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:

  • “Will they change my child’s program?”
  • “Will they take away services?”
  • “Is my child making any gains?”
  • “Does my child have the best program?”
  • “Does my child need more or different related services?”

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…

Photo from: Pexels

by Dr. Liz Matheis and Shield HealthCare

5 Strategies to Guide You Through Your Next IEP Meeting

The birds are chirping, springtime is here and you know what that means? (No, not allergy season!) It’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP), Annual Review season! For better or for worse, it’s time to review your child’s plan and start thinking about the following school year.

When I worked for the public schools on the Child Study Team as a School Psychologist, this was the busiest time of the year for us. But now, as a mom, I’m sitting on the other side of the table, for my child. As my daughter’s meeting is approaching, I’m feeling emotional about this upcoming meeting. I’m concerned about my daughter’s progress, her program, her related services, her accommodations – all of it.  There is so much that is out of my control. As parents, what takes place in the classroom each day is out of our control. I don’t know about you, but I like to know; I like to know the lesson she is working on in Math, the book she is reading in English, the skill she is working on in writing. When I sit at my daughter’s IEP meeting, I am no longer an objective School Psychologist. I am a worried mom and I know I’m not alone.

For many, like myself, we may think about it, play out the different ways it will carry out, and worry. A lot.  I am a horrible anticipatory worrier, so this year, I am going to plan ahead and do a few things to get ready. I will encourage you to join me in my preparation…

​Photo from: Pexels

by Dr. Liz Matheis and PsychologyToday

I&RS vs. 504 Accommodation Plan vs. IEP

You’ve heard about the I&RS Plan and the 504 Accommodation Plan as well as the IEP, but what are these documents? How are they different? When are they relevant to your child? And most importantly, how do you get one if your child needs one? We’ll take a look at the I&RS vs. 504 Accommodation Plan vs. IEP.

Within the public school environment, when you begin to notice that your child is struggling and needs accommodations, you can request an Intervention and Referral Services Action Plan (I&RS). As you begin to have more data, you can request different plans, but let’s start with the I&RS Plan.

Intervention & Referral Services Action Plan

Based on the NJ Administrative Code (6A; 16-8.1; Establishment of Intervention and Referral Services) all school districts are required to have an I&RS committee available for students who are struggling with a learning, behavioral or health issue. The I&RS team is typically composed of the Principal, Guidance Counselor, teachers and the I&RS Coordinator. Other members, such as the Reading Specialist, Occupational/Physical or Speech therapist, and School Nurse can also be members.

An I&RS plan is developed and implemented within the school in order to provide accommodations and support to the student. This plan is created by the I&RS team in conjunction with the student’s parent(s). Accommodations are based on teacher observations and interventions already used. No testing is required. 

The types of accommodations that can be a part of an I&RS plan range from preferential seating, extended time on assignments or tests, providing a bathroom or snack break, providing verbal and non-verbal cues to help re-focus, and providing study guides. This plan is reviewed every four to six weeks with the intent to remedy the situation and eliminate the plan.

Although this plan provides supports, the ultimate goal is to find solutions to the issue at hand. The belief is that the area of difficulty is short-term and by implementing a few strategies, it will be resolved.

The 504 Accommodation Plan

The 504 Accommodation Plan is guided by the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) to ensure that a student with a disability has access to accommodations to improve academic functioning, as the disability affects the student’s ability to access the general education curriculum, perform academically and make progress.

In order to qualify for a 504 Accommodation Plan, a student must have a diagnosis; however, a diagnosis does not ensure that your child will be granted a 504 Accommodation Plan. The diagnosis can include a physical or emotional disability, recovering from a chemical dependency, or impairment (e.g. Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder), a food allergy, a concussion that restricts one or more major life activity. 

A document is created that specifies the disability as well as the accommodations needed by the student.  Accommodations can consist of: moving a child’s seat, permitting a child to have frequent snacks or drink in the classroom due to a diagnosis (e.g., diabetes, etc), providing extended time on tests or assignments, modifying test questions, and/or providing statewide testing accommodations.  Other accommodations include a personal aide to ensure safety around food allergies, or modifying the duration of a day for a child who has suffered a concussion.

Note that a student is not able to receive specialized instruction (e.g., In Class Resource program or Out of Class Resource Replacement) through a 504 Accommodation Plan.

The Individualized Education Plan (IEP)

An IEP is guided by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and is a plan and program that provides special education and related services to a student who is identified as having a disability that negatively impacts ability to receive academic instruction.  A student who receives special education services is entitled to modification of curriculum, classroom accommodations, specialized instruction, and related services such as occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy and/or counseling.

An IEP is a comprehensive and legal document that incorporates a student’s present levels of academic achievement and functional performance (PLAAFP) in which each teacher/therapist provides feedback about the student’s performance within the subject area and related service.  Information from the PLAAFP guides the goals and objectives, which are specific identification of skills and areas that will be addressed through the IEP program. Goals and objectives are also ways of measuring growth within those areas over the course of the school year.

A child who is referred for special education and related services is tested by the Child Study Team. These evaluations can consist of the following:  Psychological Evaluation, Educational Evaluation, Social Evaluation, Speech Evaluation, Physical Therapy Evaluation, Occupational Therapy Evaluation.  Other evaluations, such as a Central Auditory Processing Evaluation, neurological exam, or psychiatric evaluation are often conducted by professionals outside of the school. Parents can request that the school cover the cost of these evaluations, or pay for them privately. Note that a parent can also gain an independent evaluation (Psychological, Educational) on a private basis, and submit these reports for the Child Study Team to review. 

A student with an IEP is re-evaluated every three years to determine continued eligibility.  However, a parent can request a re-evaluation sooner than three years, but not less than one year. An IEP is also reviewed annually; however, a parent can request a review of the child’s program as well as related services at any time.

I&RS vs. 504 vs. IEP

To clarify things a little better, an I&RS plan is what you can seek when your child needs formal accommodations, but does not have a documented disability (learning, behavioral or emotional). 

You can request a 504 Accommodation Plan when your child has a diagnosed disability and requires classroom and statewide testing accommodations. 

You can request a Child Study Team evaluation for a potential IEP when your child has a disability (learning, emotional, medical or behavioral) that requires the modification of curriculum and other special education programs, related services, and classroom and statewide testing accommodations. 

​I hope this has taken the mystery out of which plan is right for your child! If you still have questions, feel free to email me:

by Dr. Liz Matheis and Shield HealthCare

What School Supports Are Available for my Child With Anxiety?

“Your child has anxiety. Your child may be struggling to get to school each day. Maybe he is downright refusing to go. Maybe she is complaining of stomachaches and headaches before bed or before school. Your child may be struggling to make friends or keep them. Maybe certain subjects are difficult. Maybe he is having a hard time taking in all of the stimulation in the classroom or school, and needs a break.”

If your child is struggling with anxiety during classes, they are likely experiencing difficulty paying attention to the lesson or completing assignments because of this. Today’s blog discusses two different options you have in order to assure your child gets the academic support they need!

by Dr Liz Matheis and The Mighty

School-Based Accommodations for Children with Dyslexia

“The new school year is upon us! With a over a month under our belts, our children with special needs are beginning to accept that summer is over and this new school year is for real! For our children with dyslexia, school work, homework, and any task that includes reading or writing is tough. Children with dyslexia are relieved during the summer when this demand is decreased significantly, and begin to dread the new school year with all of its perceived difficulties.”

Today’s blog discusses the signs of learning disabilities such as Dyslexia, what to do if you suspect your child is struggling, and the classroom accommodations that are available to your child!

by Dr. Liz Matheis and Shield Health Care

You are Your Child’s Best Advocate

Trying to figure out the special education system in your school district can be a full-time job. One thing I learned early on as a parent with a child with special needs is that if you don’t advocate and ask for help, then your child may not receive the accommodations that will make classroom functioning possible. In many cases, by the time that your teacher suspects learning difficulties, critical years of remediation have been lost.

As a Special Education Teacher, Educational Consultant, and Executive Functioning Coach, I’m exposed to the many sides of special education… sometimes all in one day! If I can offer just one piece of advice: DON’T WAIT. If you are noticing that your child is struggling to identify letters and their sounds consistently, is reversing letters and numbers, speak to your child’s teacher. Consult with a Psychologist with specialty in education. Ask questions. Request accommodations based on what you are doing at home that is helpful. Share your child’s struggles at home with homework or meltdowns about going to school if your teacher doesn’t see this.

This will require you to advocate for your child. What does this mean? According to, advocating is defined as, “to speak or write in favor of; support or urge by argument; recommend publicly.”

Let’s discuss a few places to begin in advocating for your child:

Know your child’s strengths, their attention issues and specific learning challenges so that you can communicate their needs effectively to the school and you and his teachers can find the best way to support his needs.

Build a partnership with your child’s Teacher, Principal, School Nurse, and Guidance Counselor. and any other staff members that work with your child. Keep the lines of communication open and e-mail, call or write a note if you a have a question or concern, remember you are part of the team too. Also, take into consideration any positive or negative comments the school has to say about your child and always be curious.

Talk to your child about school. Look over her assignments and quizzes. Ask simple questions like, “What is easy to do each day?” or “Which subject do you wish you had only once a week instead of every day?” Carefully consider their answers. You can also teach your child lingo so that he can self- advocate for himself if he doesn’t understand a particular concept in school.

Teach your child to advocate for his/herself. If your child is in High School or College, she can begin to advocate for herself.  Once your child enters into middle school, you can request for your child to participate in IEP meetings and Parent-Teacher meetings so he can hear what you are hearing. You can play a big role in helping him learn how to do this by helping him come up with a plan, role playing and/or assisting with writing an e-mail to his teacher.

Know Your Rights. If your child has a 504 Accommodation Plan or an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP), you must become familiar with the process in order to effectively advocate for your child. (Click here to access NJ Special Education Code)

An IEP is a personalized education plan that takes into account a child’s specific needs and can offer special education programs (e.g., In Class Resource, Out of Class Resource) and related services (e.g., counseling, occupational therapy, speech therapy, physical therapy).  Your Child Study Team (CST) is composed of a Learning Disabilities Teacher Consultant (LDTC), Social Worker, and School Psychologist.  This is the team that performs your initial evaluations and determines eligibility.

A 504 Accommodation Plan is designed to provide accommodations tostudents with physical or mental impairments in public schools, or publicly funded private schools.  These 504 plans legally ensure that students will be treated fairly at school.Know that you are your child’s best advocate as you know her profile better than anyone, and you know it across all domains (home and school). Schedule follow up meetings and review your child’s progress consistently throughout the school year, perhaps once per month or once every two months.
by Chrissy Perone-Sunberg, M.Ed., AAC

When Is private testing right for a Child struggling academically

What do you do when you recognize that your child is struggling academically? As parents, our first line of defense is to reach out to the teacher and then the Child Study Team. Unfortunately, getting your child the academic program and support services is not always a clear and direct process.  Parents are left to decide how to gain information to determine eligibility for their child, and there are two routes: wait for the Child Study Team or seek a private psycho-educational evaluation. Click below to read this blog prepared by Dr. Liz for Different Dreams.  ​
"The various psycho-educational testing Dr. Liz conducted on our son gave us critical clues about where his learning strengths and weaknesses lie so that his needs could be better addressed at home and school. Moreover, because of their warm, kindhearted personalities, both Dr. Liz and her associate, Stephanie, formed an immediate bond with my son. He eagerly looks forward to his weekly therapy sessions. We are so lucky Dr. Liz came into our family's lives when she did! For stressed-out families trying to help their children as best they can, she is a calming voice of reason!"
- Julie C.
"Dr. Matheis has a remarkable ability to understand the unique needs of her patients and address them constructively. She builds strong, meaningful relationships with patients and their families, encouraging trust and collaboration. When working with my son who struggles with autism-related anxiety, she created an environment in which he was able to calm down and open up to her in ways I had not seen before. She was able to reach him and helped him work through his crisis/problem. Most importantly, she empowered him to move forward."
- N.L.
"Dr. Matheis is amazing. She has tremendous resources and loads of energy. She is not willing to accept anything less than the most effective results for her clients. She made me feel as if my son was her top priority throughout the entire process. I would, without reservation, give her my highest recommendations.  Thank you, Dr. Matheis!"
- Anonymous
"Dr. Matheis has an amazing ability to read kids and connect with them. She has been an invaluable resource for our family over the past several years and has helped us with everything from educational consulting, to uncovering diagnoses as well as family therapy. Working with Dr. Matheis never feels clinical and most importantly, our children love and trust her. We can not thank you enough Dr. Liz!"
- Anonymous
"My teenage son had been seeing Dr. Matheis through his senior year of high school, as he was only diagnosed with ADHD at 16 years old.  Dr. Matheis came highly recommended from our pediatrician and she has done wonders for our son as well as our family, navigating new ways for him to deal with his diagnosis without the use of medication.  She taught him ways to organize himself and even when something did not work for him, she patiently continued teaching him new ways to keep himself on track.  She has also helped us as parents to understand how his mind works so that we did not continue to blame his lack of focus on him, rather on his unique way of thinking.  Thank you Dr. Matheis!!!!"
- LG
"Dr. Liz is the best! Our family was directed to her by our Pediatrician to assist with figuring out severe mood changes, severe anxiety, strange new fears and food aversion that had come onto one of our children literally overnight. After just a couple of visits, she suggested that the issues may actually be rooted in a physical issue and suggested we immediately take our child to be swabbed for strep, because Dr. Liz suspected PANDAS (a pediatric autoimmune disorder brought on by strep). The same Pediatrician that suggested Dr. Liz would not do the swab (they do not believe in PANDAS and we no longer go there) but I took my child to my doctor who did the swab and it was positive for strep. When our child went on antibiotics, within 24 hours all symptoms went away and our child was back :-) Dr. Liz then recommended a PANDAS specialist who helped us and our child is in complete remission and is happy and healthy. We are incredibly grateful to Dr. Liz for her knowledge of all things, even the most remote and unusual and for helping us so much! Thank you!"
- Anonymous
"The various psycho-educational testing Dr. Liz conducted on our son gave us critical clues about where his learning strengths and weaknesses lie so that his needs could be better addressed at home and school. Moreover, because of their warm, kindhearted personalities, both Dr. Liz and her associate, Stephanie, formed an immediate bond with my son. He eagerly looks forward to his weekly therapy sessions. We are so lucky Dr. Liz came into our family's lives when she did! For stressed-out families trying to help their children as best they can, she is a calming voice of reason!"
- Anonymous
"Thank you, Dr. Liz. Although we have told you countless times, it will never feel enough. You have listened when J could barely speak and continued to listen when he was sad, angry and confused. You've challenged him and directed us in our roles as parents. You've helped J face his fears while the list evolved and changed, and yet you've stayed committed to 'the course.' We pray that your children realize that time away from them is spent helping children learn and that vulnerability is a sign of strength and bravery."
- June I
"My son was admitted to an Ivy League school when only 2 years ago, you assessed him and saw his struggles, his Dyslexia. We are grateful that he no longer has to carry that deep feeling of inadequacy or shame that must have kept him so self conscious and from reaching his potential. He has the PERFECT program for him. He has A's in high math and economics. He became a Merit Scholar, a Boys State legislature, the HEAD captain of the football team and help a job ALL while studying and managing his classes and disability. I am PROUD of you, a young doctor, who knows and sees the vulnerability of children and helps them recognize "it's NO big deal" God bless."
- Anonymous

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​Livingston, NJ 07039