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.

Special Education & Home Schooling: Your Questions Answered

Homeschooling is hard enough for all of us trying to teach our own kids while working at home and keeping the house running. But if your child has an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) and is resisting your efforts as a fill-in teacher, it’s even more challenging. This is a confusing time for us and for our children. We’re trying to assume the role of instructor and help our children move forward. Thinking about special education and homeschooling is overwhelming and exhausting and it’s hard to imagine taking on this role indefinitely.

So how do we make the most of distance learning for children with an IEP?  I picked the brain of a stellar special education teacher who has chosen to keep her identity anonymous, so we’ll call her Mrs. IDEA.

How many hours a week should we really expect our children to spend on schoolwork?

“I think it is a very individualized thing. There’s such a wide spectrum of disabilities. Some kids have mild learning disabilities and some are non-verbal.” Mrs. IDEA explained that the amount of time for students that have IEPs should be decided by their educators and parents based on their endurance to receive instruction on a daily basis. Calculate the number of hours your child is actually in her major subject classes (with the help of your teacher) and then decrease it by 1-2 hours.

Keep in mind that some children struggle to work indepen while others can keep up with their mainstream peers. With that said, another factor is the availability of an adult who can provide the right amount of support given your child’s abilities in each subject. For some subjects, your child may be able to handle the assignments and for others, he or she may need you to sit beside him and work on one problem or task at a time.

by Dr. Liz Matheis, published with NJ Family Magazine

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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Homeschooling Strategies for Your Child with Special Needs

Homeschooling Strategies for Your Child With Special Needs

Helping you and your child succeed with homeschooling during COVID-19.

Written by Dr. Liz Matheis

This period of time feels a little surreal to me, as I’m sure it does for you, too. As parents, this is a time where we are balancing our work and home demands. While we are trying to maintain our employee status, we are also being given the responsibility of teaching our children through their subjects.

I know when I saw the pile of work that was sent home for my children, as well as the emails and Google Classroom notifications, I was most definitely overwhelmed. I had to find some way to organize the assignments and create some sort of order for each day. For my child with special needs, understanding her academic strengths and weaknesses, as well as emotional needs, hasn’t been easy for me, and my appreciation for her teachers is that much higher and deeper.

Our teachers are not expecting our children to work for the duration of the entire school day. However, it may be taking you and your child longer than the school day to complete a few assignments. My efforts have been met with tears, falling to the ground and a fair share of yelling … on both of our ends. Now that it’s been a week, I have a few strategies to share with you that may save your sanity and help you to create realistic expectations for what a school day will look like for the next few weeks.

Take a Quick Read Through Your Child’s IEP

Although you are not a special education teacher (or maybe you are!), take a look at your child’s accommodations and get a sense of how to work within the classroom is broken down for your child. This may give you a few ideas of how information is presented.  If you’re still not clear, email your child’s teacher and ask her or him how you could teach your child a concept or how to work through the assignment. You are likely going to gain a few great ideas!

Break It Down

For some of our children, having your parent become your teacher is a mixing of roles and relationships. Understandably so! Your child may push back when you present work more so than she would with her teacher.

So, let’s get you through this. Break down subjects with specific times and specific time limits each day. For example, your child’s four major subjects, regardless of age or grade, are science, social studies, math, and language arts. Based on your child’s tolerance and endurance, you may wish to:

  • Each class will last 30, 45, or 60 minutes
  • Decide on the time before you begin
  • Set a timer
  • Teach three subjects per day
  • Rotate the subjects so that one subject is being “dropped” daily
  • Break down tasks into parts. For example, if your child is assigned to write a paper, break it down into its parts: an introduction, paragraph one, paragraph two, paragraph three and conclusion. You may wish to work on one to two parts each day
  • Work on five or 10 math problems at a time
  • Take breaks in between subjects; decide the maximum amount of time that will feel relaxing but not too relaxing where re-engaging becomes too difficult. Set the timer again


Click Here to Continue Reading the Full Article on Psychology Today

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Jeff Lake: New for Summer 2020 Speech and OT with CommuniKids

Jeff Lake Day Camp and CommuniKids are excited to announce a new special needs element to Jeff Lake’s renowned approach to summer time fun.

In addition to the full assortment of traditional camp activities (swimming, arts, sports, lake, etc.), a small co-ed bunk of pre-K and Kindergarten aged campers, who have identified speech/language and/or motor/sensory challenges, will also take part in weekly occupational therapy and speech/language therapy group activities led by members of the CommuniKids clinical team.  With an appropriate and unique camper to counselor ratio, the bunk’s counselors are being hand picked to ensure that campers are guided by adults with special needs backgrounds and training.

CommuniKids’ speech and occupational therapists will be on campus 4 days a week so that, in addition to the therapeutic group activities, campers across all bunks will have the opportunity to schedule individual therapy sessions at camp during the day, rather than needing to go to an office in the afternoon or evening following a full day playing in the sun.  These will be arranged in collaboration with each bunk’s counselors so that campers maximize their favorite activities yet still get the intervention they need.

It is our hope that this program will offer children who may not be quite ready for an unsupported full day of camp, the opportunity to experience the joy of summer camp at its fullest and get to know why so many New Jersey campers think of Jeff Lake as their happy place!

If you are interested in learning more about the program, please contact Sue Rynar at Jeff Lake, 973-376-1962 or Russell Kaplan at CommuniKids, 908-273-5537. We look forward to seeing you this summer!

A Gift for Making Kids Shine – SOMA Teacher Michael Wojcio is a superhero to his special needs students

A group of eight young children listens to their teacher in quiet anticipation as he reads aloud Froggy’s Worst Play Date. No one budges from their spot on the semicircle; the students remain silently captivated by the story, amused by the distinct voices the teacher invents for each character. The ability to sit still and focus on story time, a seemingly routine classroom occurrence, is an astonishing feat for this particular group of kids, a testimony to their teacher’s expertise.

​In his 13 years teaching kids with special needs, Michael Wojcio has aquired a reputation as a miracle worker among SOMA parents and administrators alike. Wojcio teaches a multi-age class (kindergarten through second grade) at Marshall Elementary School in South Orange exclusively for children with behavioral disorders, or BD’s, which often manifests as hyperactivity, or trouble with focus and concentration.

His experience as a special education teacher fostered Wojcio’s insight that the ideal environment for kids with BD’s differs vastly from what works best for children with other learning difficulties. Wojcio convinced his school district to let him implement and instruct a strictly BD class; the 2018-2019 school year served as the program’s test run.

“As a first year goes,” Wojcio says, “this one was extremely fleshed-out, which made things go smoothly from the beginning. I had great coworkers and staff in the room. We were able to work specifically on behaviors such as anxious outbursts and heightened emotions, to the extent that many of these behaviors not only lessened but became extinct.”

The goal of Wojcio’s BD program is to make it possible for kids to transition into an inclusive classroom setting, one in which students with learning disabilities work alongside general education students…

Click Here to Read the Full Article

by Heidi Borst, Matters Magazine

Navigating Special Education Presentation


​Thankful for the opportunity to present with Dr Harold Tariff on the topic of Navigating Special Education! We discussed what to expect when you make a referral to the Child Study Team, the different programs available, accommodations and how to prepare for the different types of meetings with your CST.

Preparing for a Study Abroad Program if You Have a Physical Disability

Study abroad programs have a lot to offer. You’ll have the opportunity to meet new friends, make new connections and broaden your horizons by immersing yourself in a completely different culture.

If you have a physical disability, you shouldn’t let that stand in the way of all the great things a study abroad program has to offer. With the right precautions and preparation, you’ll be able to make the most of your experience.

Here is our guide on how you can set yourself up for success if you have a physical disability and are considering a study abroad program:

Choose Your Destination Wisely

Different countries vary in the resources and accommodations available to those traveling with a disability. While the US has regulations like the Americans with Disabilities Act that require businesses to provide certain accommodations such as wheelchair ramps and elevators, other countries may not have as robust of a system in place.

To minimize the chances of complications, choose a study abroad program in a country that’s particularly known for accessibility, like these 9 very wheelchair accessible locations overseas:

  • Sydney, Australia
  • London, England
  • Vienna, Austria
  • Barcelona, Spain
  • Hong Kong
  • Paris, France
  • Ireland
  • Amsterdam, Netherlands
  • Melbourne, Australia

You can also consult with your university’s study abroad program office to get an idea of how wheelchair-friendly a country will be. They can fill you in on what to expect and what you’ll need to keep in mind to be fully prepared.

A few additional considerations they may speak with you about:

  • Service animals: If you’ll be traveling with a service animal, you may need to find out if they’re allowed in public areas such as businesses and restaurants.
  • Wheelchair ramps and elevators: If you’ll be using a wheelchair, you may want to do some research on the terrain. How difficult will it be for you to get around? Are there any laws requiring businesses to have wheelchair ramps, and can you reliably count on elevators being available?
  • Medications: If you will be needing any types of medications, you’ll want to make sure your prescriptions are allowed by local law. If they are, will you have any trouble getting them refilled?

Image by: smolaw/Shutterstock

by Andrew Wan

Preventing Burn Out While Parenting a Child with Special Needs

As a parent of a child with special needs, you are on duty 24/7 with no sick or vacation days. Days become weeks and weeks become years and burn out becomes inevitable if you don’t take care of yourself.

I know what you’re thinking.

Easier said than done.

But preventing burn out while parenting a child with special needs is just as important as caring for your child. If you are sleep-deprived, fatigued, or feeling anxious or depressed, your ability to tend to your child is compromised. So, if you need momentum and motivation to come from your child, here it is!

Take care of yourself so you can take care of your child.

These 2 strategies can help.

#1: Ask For Help
If you have social or family support that is available to you, I encourage you to take advantage of it. If you have a friend or family member who is offering to help in the care of your child, take it. Set up a schedule where a family member cares for your child while you care for your other children. Or take time to run errands by yourself or read a book at your local coffee shop.

I’ve heard parents say, “I don’t like to ask for help. I think I can do it all by myself,” too often. You need to leave this mindset behind and ask for help. If you do not have help from a person who lives outside your home, set up a system with your partner. Tag team who is on duty and who needs to take a break for the sake of each other’s sanity! For example, divide a task that is labor intensive, like bed time, so you are rotating each night or every two nights.

#2: Take a Daily Break
Quiet time is important for you and for your family members because it gives the physical signal that the day is coming to an end, but it also gives you time to disconnect from the day and all of the stimulation that came with it. This may be your time to process the day so that you are not waking up in the middle of the night thinking of solutions or worrying about a situation or potential situation. To make quiet time happen, decide on a time to shut down the house and set aside time to decompress every evening.

You may choose to do this as a family or as the adult(s) in the house. For example, you may decide that by 7 in the evening, you will stop making lunches and washing dishes, dim the lights, and engage in an electronic-free activity.

Your self care is just as important as the care of your child. Preventing burn out while parenting a child with special needs requires investing in yourself as much as you invest in your child. Asking for help and taking a daily break are ways of making small investments that pay big dividends for you and your child.

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by Dr. Liz Matheis
"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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