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.

Dyslexia and Specific Learning Difficulties in Adults

Dyslexia and Specific Learning Difficulties in Adults

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Dyslexia is a hidden disability thought to affect around 10% of the population, 4% severely. It is the most common of the Specific Learning Difficulties, a family of related conditions with considerable overlap or co-occurrence. Together these are believed to affect around 15% of people to a lesser or greater extent.

Specific Learning Difficulties (SpLDs) affect the way information is learned and processed. They are neurological (rather than psychological), usually hereditary and occur independently of intelligence. They include:

  • Dyslexia
  • Dyspraxia or Development Co-ordination Disorder
  • Dyscalculia
  • Attention Deficit Disorder

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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3 Ways to Teach Social Skills at Home

Your child may also become easily frustrated because other children are not as interested in certain topics, games, or other children don’t want to talk about that topic for very long. Possibly, your child may not notice the body language and facial expressions of a peer who has lost interest, and ultimately walks away. When your child feels rejected, but doesn’t know why – they may become very angry, yell or become aggressive towards the children whose behavior or actions aren’t understood. The other children don’t understand your child’s internal experience and begin to label him as angry or weird. To a parent, that’s heartbreaking.

Unfortunately, you can’t go to school with your child and mediate these peer interactions (even though you’ve thought about it!), but you can use a few strategies to help build your child’s social awareness in an effort to make social relationships a little bit easier.

Role Play
To help your child understand what a disinterested peer looks like, act it out, or be exaggerative in your response to him when he tells you a story at home that is now going on for a long period of time with no end in sight. Your tolerance is higher and your patience may be greater because, after all, this is your baby. However, friends are not that patient.

See if your child asks you what’s wrong or why you’re making that face or slouching in your seat. Use this as a time to tell your child that his story is too long. You may feel like a ‘bad’ parent for saying something like this, but if you don’t, his peers will – and they likely won’t be as nice about it!

You can also role play other signs of disinterest, such as looking around the room, starting a conversation with another person, or walking away. Let your child know that it’s time to end a story or conversation and do something else. For example, she can ask her peer a question to keep the conversation going, “What did you do this weekend? What’s your favorite cartoon?” or “Do you want to play tag with me?”

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by Dr. Liz Matheis

You Are Not Alone: Support for Parents of Children with ADHD

In the mad morning rush before school, you’re applying Post-Its to his folders and lunchbox so he won’t forget to turn in those overdue library books or hand in his completed homework. At baseball practice, you’re dashing into the dugout with a forgotten glove or quick snack. During homework time, you’re the bad cop — fueling him with food, setting the timer, and keeping him on task when he’d rather be doing just about anything.

At the end of a typical day with your child, you feel overwhelmed and exhausted. And yet you still haven’t handled all of your to-do-list items for the rest of the family, your house, or your job. And you certainly haven’t taken even a moment to focus on yourself. That is not good.

If you are an adult with ADHD, you work hard to get through your day while being distracted by children, co-workers, your spouse, and your own thoughts. On top of trying to manage yourself, you are also trying to create a structured home environment to help your child function at his best. You understand better than most people what a day in your child’s world feels like, but you may be having a hard time getting through the same kinds of tasks and responsibilities yourself.

If you don’t have ADHD, your child’s world may feel foreign, frustrating, and constantly moving. You may be having a hard time understanding why your child cannot walk in a straight line, put on his shoes without picking up a random toy on the way, or brush his teeth without 12 reminders. His actions feel random, and they drain your time and energy.

Here are a few strategies to help you, as the parent of a child with ADHD, prevent burn out while caring for, coaching, and managing your child:

1. It’s okay to ask for help.
This help can be a hired tutor or nanny, a family member, or a switch off between parents. If you are going to hire someone to help you, make sure that person is older than your child, and train him or her. Provide clear-cut information about your expectations regarding activities and accomplishments – i.e., finish math homework, take a bike ride, give a bath. Share the strategies that you’ve found help your child to complete tasks (e.g., take a five-minute break after working on homework for 10 minutes, break down homework or tasks into individual steps, etc.).

If another family member is willing to help, offer similar training so that person is using the same terminology, following the same routine, follows whatever structure you have created. Continuity and consistency across caregivers is critical.

If you can, break up ‘shifts’ with your spouse. For example, you might take the morning routine if your husband takes the bedtime routine. This offers each of you a break during one of the high-stress times of the day. You may also want to rotate so there is no burnout within that shift.

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by Dr. Liz Matheis

Choosing a Child Psychological Evaluation: School Based vs. Independent

The beginning-of-the-school-year-honeymoon-period is now over, and your child is settling into the school year. Perhaps you’re noticing that your child is struggling with word problems, identifying letters, remembering the sounds letters make, or writing. Perhaps your child’s teacher is pointing out to you that he is struggling to sit in his seat, finish work in class, interact with his peers. So now what? What do you do with this information?

If you’re making these realizations now, you may want more information about your child’s strengths and weaknesses, and possibly gain a support plan in school. In essence, you may be ready to seek an evaluation. The next question is what kind? Who can provide an evaluation for my child? What information do I want to gain from this evaluation? So, where do you begin?

Seeking a Psychological Evaluation for Your Child:

Step One: Speak to your child’s teacher and gain feedback regarding your child’s performance academically, socially, emotionally and behaviorally? What are academic strengths and weaknesses?

Step Two:
 Decide if you would like for your school’s Child Study Team to perform the psychological evaluation vs. seeking an independent evaluation.

Before you make that decision, you need to answer the question: what’s the difference between the evaluation and report you would gain from your Child Study Team vs. one gained from an outside professional? Well, there are several and here is a summary to help you when you make this decision.

The Psychological Evaluation through your Child Study TeamThe Psychological evaluation completed by your school should consist of a standardized test, such as the Wechsler Intelligence Scales, an observation, and a student interview.

In the end, you will gain a report that provides an IQ of your child’s cognitive/intellectual performance, a summary of a classroom observation, and information about your child’s interests, preferences, and reported academic strengths and weaknesses. Please note that the School Psychologist is not permitted to provide any diagnoses, if relevant, within this report.

This information will be used to compare to the results of the Educational Evaluation that is completed by the Child Study Team Learning Specialist in order to determine if there is a learning disability that is negatively impacting your child’s ability to perform academically.

The School Based via the Private/Independent Psychological Evaluation:

If you are seeking an independent psychological evaluation, that means that you are working with a Clinical Psychologist, privately, to provide you with an evaluation and report. The Clinical Psychologist has the ability to administer additional tests in order to answer questions you may have as a parent, or to gain more specific information about your child’s intellectual and academic skills.

Being a School and Clinical Psychologist, when I perform a private psychological evaluation, I also administer an achievement test and executive functioning testing, as well as look at anxiety, attention, learning, and memory. All of this information creates a learning profile that indicates your child’s learning style, strengths and weaknesses.

This report is comprehensive and offers information about learning style that the School Psychologist’s report does not contain. That is, is your child a visual spatial learner; an auditory learner? A hands on learner? With this information in mind, the recommendations in the report can then be geared towards the best way to teach new information to the student that is in line with the way he naturally takes it in.

Pros & Cons
So, what are some of the major pros and cons of a Child Study Team (CST) generated psychological evaluation vs. a private/independent one?


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by Dr. Liz Matheis

Parenting Is Not Just About Your Child

It’s not. It’s about you, the parent, and the ‘stuff’ that you carried into this gig. You and I both know that parenting did not come with a manual with a colorful cover, an appendix with chapters that range from infancy to adulthood, and we certainly didn’t have to take an exam or gain a license to become a parent.  If you ask me, before we decide to start a family, we should be required to take a course and gain a certificate that says, “You’ve Been Warned. You’re about to get on the bumpiest roller coaster ride of your life. You will learn and teach, you will watch and be watched, you will guide and be guided.”

When I became a parent, I had a vision of who my child was going to be. I often was lost in my daydreams of a blue-eyed little boy who would eat, sleep and follow my every instruction, who was athletic, confident and social. Well, I did have a beautiful blue-eyed boy but the rest didn’t work out like just like that.

Part of becoming a parent means that we need to understand and recover from the parenthood that we received. It means that we need to understand and become aware of the messages that were given to us, the wounds we continue to carry, the messages we continue to give ourselves that started off as our parent’s judgments, criticisms, and conditions and then became our own words that we speak to ourselves, with or without awareness.

Our Children are Not Here to Satisfy our Needs
Our children are not our narcissistic extensions. They are not here to fit into our visions and expectations of who they will and should become. Our children are born with clean slates and they have the potential to do everything, anything. But it is through our criticisms, expectations and our conditional love that creates judgments and deflates motivation and potential. We have been given by our parents, and their parents and their parents, a checklist of who we “should” become as parents and who our children “should” become. But that checklist may not be in sync with who your child is, who they want to be, and therein lies the problem. Instead, we live a life where we are “should-ing” all over ourselves.

Do the Dance
When two people dance, one person moves forward and the other responds by stepping back; one moves to the side, and the other follows. The dancers listen to the body language, feel the direction in which the pair is being pulled. Dancing is an art because there are no clear-cut rules about the exact steps. Yes, we can take dance lessons and have an idea of the type of movement, the beat, the general idea.
Parenting is a dance. A dance with no instruction on how your child will respond, what to say, how often to say it. It requires timing and awareness of what is needed, how much and when to stop. When to say something and when not to; when to guide and when to step away; when to intervene and when to let your child work it out, or not.

I know, it’s exhausting, but being in tune with your child will make your parenting more productive in that you are moving in the same direction. When you move out of sync, you, the parent, and your child become frustrated and the interaction is no longer enjoyable.

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by Dr. Liz Matheis

The Benefits of Inclusion

As humans, we are born with the drive to relate and connect to others. Fostering emotional connectedness from a young age is a critical foundation for healthy development. Oftentimes, when our children receive a diagnosis, there is a race against time to start services and work on skills that may be lagging. However, what often seems to be missed is the importance of emotional development and building relationships. All children, regardless of a diagnosis, desire and deserve to have meaningful relationships. When my son started in a preschool inclusion program, I had a lot of unanswered questions. Is he mature enough to be a peer model? How will he handle observing children experiencing sensory overloads and needing support to work through these experiences? After all, he is only 3 and needs support regulating his emotions as well. What I began to realize was that it wasn’t only the “peer models,” that were modeling and helping. They were all learning from one another. They are all tiny humans that desire to be loved and have friendships with one another. The Inclusion program instills values in my child through natural experiences that can’t be taught through a textbook or expensive curriculums.  Inclusion programs challenges teachers to see the whole child and nurture each and every child’s emotional self.

Promote Empathy
A strong, developmentally- appropriate social/emotional emphasis is crucial in creating a successful inclusion program. Through structured social/emotional lessons, modeling emotional coaching in the moment, as well as play experiences, children learn that we all have feelings and different coping strategies. Mirror neurons fire in our brains through observation of other human beings. By exposing our children to teachers and caregivers co-regulating with other students and working them through strong emotions, we are laying the groundwork for building empathy. Students also learn how to enter into another child’s world and see the world through another person’s eyes. For example, another child may share a similar passion for Mickey Mouse, however, their play may look a little different e.g. stacking or lining a figure up. With assistance and modeling from adults in the room on how to engage with students, we are teaching them how to consider others’ interests and needs. In the future, this may help our children to include other children in their play and social interactions that may not initiate on their own. I know that my hope for my own child is to be an individual who respects and includes all people.

Enhances Communication and Interpersonal Skills
As adults, an important skill to be successful in life is learning how another individual communicates and tailor our interactions accordingly. Exposing our children to inclusion settings from an early age helps them to gain an understanding that we all communicate differently. In addition, exposing young children to a variety of communication modalities help to strengthen and develop language.

Multi Sensory supports and engaging lessons help each student access the full curriculum and accommodate all learning styles. 

In an age of high-stakes testing, the importance of supporting and enhancing childhood development in an educational setting is often lost. Children need to move and experience to learn. An inclusive setting supports the critical, developmental building blocks for learning that are sometimes not emphasized in all educational settings. The importance of experience and process is lost through pressure of the “product.” Multi sensory learning experiences are critical for all children to access the curriculum through their individual learning styles. Inclusive settings create a supportive learning environment, engage a variety of learners and creates a more responsive learning environment.

When I walk into my son’s classroom, it’s difficult to distinguish between the students who have individualized education plans and those who do not. This is exactly as it should be. Through my son’s eyes, each and every one of his classmates are his buddies. Some communicate with technology and sign language. Some need cool little gadgets to make their bodies feel safe and ready to learn. Some of them like Paw Patrol just like him. Most of them like to move while learning just like him. Most importantly, they are his friends. By exposing our children to these types of educational environments from an early age, we are raising children who will grow into empathic adults and creating a more inclusive world.

Image by: Pixabay

by Rachael Berringer, LAC, MA

Stress, PTSD and Parents of Kids With Disabilities

As a Psychologist, I am in the business of receiving phone calls from parents worried about their kids with disabilities. During that initial phone call, parents give me a quick run-down of their child’s symptoms, the struggles the family at large is facing, and the specific goals they would like to work towards.

During that initial phone call, I’m often left thinking, “How are you, as the parent, doing?” Parents are often surprised when I ask that question during the intake. Several parents have responded with silence, a confused, “Fine,” or “No one has ever asked me how I’m doing.” As a parent of a child with disabilities, the process of gaining a diagnosis and then figuring out life and supports and medical conditions can be overwhelming and often traumatizing. In my experience, many parents of children with disabilities and other medical needs are experiencing symptoms of  post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

How Does a Parent Develop PTSD?
For the parent, the initial trauma can come from realizing that “something isn’t right” with their child, researching, and ultimately gaining the diagnosis. This trauma is perpetuated when a parent begins to mourn and grieve the loss of the child they thought they would have. The next phase is accessing medical supports or services and not being entirely sure how it will work and what the outcome will be. Then, adolescence hits and some children with disabilities develop anxiety or depression.
For example, for some parents of children with autism spectrum disorder, their children may become aggressive. Some kids have been aggressive all along. As a result, parents are often concerned about safety, often hiding bruises or staying at home to protect their child so that others don’t witness the physical aggression. This becomes even more complicated when there are other children in the home and parents struggle to give them attention, nurturance and time, something they often can’t do successfully because taking care of their sibling can sometimes be a 24-hour, 7 days per week job.

Raising a child with disabilities can also take a toll on a marriage. Parents care for their kids leaving little time for themselves as a couple. Finding someone else to care for the child can be difficult. That caretaker or babysitter needs to be trained and OK with possible meltdowns, behaviors or medical needs. And the icing on the cake is that some families become one income households so that one parent can take care of the multiple needs and therapies for the child, meaning that money can be tight, which is another source of distress for parents. Sometimes the marriage doesn’t survive due to the stress and lack of supports.
Parents are also left anticipating what might trigger their child and are constantly accommodating and modifying the environment to help their child stay calm or regulated. For some children, as they become older and their needs become more complex, some parents have to make a tough decisions about whether or not to find a residential program. Throughout this process that takes place over years and years, parents can become burned out, distressed, anxious, depressed and sometimes even feel hopeless and helpless.

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by Dr. Liz Matheis, Ph.D

Navigating the Social World with ADHD

For a child with ADHD, navigating the school environment can be a scary place.  Everyday tasks such as organization, time management, peer interactions, and remembering to visit the school nurse can be a struggle.  Often they are faced with many new battles throughout the day.

Unfortunately, mental health diagnoses, including ADHD still have a negative stigma attached to them.  In reality all it really means is their brain works differently and they will need extra support. Along with school accommodations, medications are also sometimes used. This is not without its own negativity; it can subject not only the parent but child to bullying.  Parents can be seen as not knowing how to handle or discipline their child.  In turn, many parents do not confide in family or peers for support.  For the child, it can result in being teased for the struggles they have and “fake” friends using them for access to medications.

Social Isolation
For a child with ADHD, sustaining attention is a constant challenge.  Their impulsivity may cause them to be disruptive to others.  This can make navigating peer relationships difficult.  They may not understand the social boundaries which can push peers away. They may talk over or interrupt their peers and their peers may find this annoying and begin to separate from them.  Peers may tease them for their loud tone or their inability to engage in a conversation with them.

How can we help?
Keep the dialogue open with your child.  Talk to them about school, their teacher and their friends.  Be mindful of any changes in their demeanor or avoidance of the topic when you bring them up. If they go from being enthusiastic about school to changing the topic when it is brought up, inquire deeper.  If they express to you something is happening at school or you suspect something, reach out to their counselor or teachers.
Involve them in social skills groups.  Working with peers their own age with similar challenges will help normalize their experience as well as know they are not alone in this world.  These groups will help guide them through social boundaries and interacting with peers.

           Work with an executive function coach to help them with their school work.  A coach can assess their executive functioning profile and see the challenge areas to work on.  This can include giving them an organizational system for school, time management or study skills.
by Jennifer Mandato, LAC
"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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513 W Mt Pleasant Ave, Ste 212,
​Livingston, NJ 07039