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Articles and expert advice to help you guide your child to educational success.
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Parent Engagement in Elementary School

November 22, 2016

By Jessica Vician

Parent Engagement in Elementary School | How to guide your child through school, encouraging good study habits and healthy friendships while providing emotional support. | A father plays cards with his son and daughter.

As your child begins elementary school, your role as your child’s primary teacher transitions to his or her official teacher at school. While the school will now lead your child’s formal education, you still need to guide him or her through school, encouraging good study habits and healthy friendships while providing emotional support.

Here are some ways you can practice parent engagement while your child goes through elementary school.

Encourage Friendships
As your child starts spending most of the day at school, he or she will primarily be socializing with peers. According to Sunny P. Chico, author of YOU: Your Child’s First Teacher, “These early friendships teach your child how to interact with the world.”

Encourage your child to develop friendships with classmates and children from the neighborhood by arranging play dates outside of school, like inviting a classmate over on the weekend. Teach your child what being a good friend means: being kind and considerate of each other’s feelings.

Listen to Your Child
Think back to your childhood. Are there times when you tried to tell your parents something but they didn’t listen or didn’t understand the severity of what you were telling them?

Sometimes when our children reach out to us about problems, we dismiss them as trivial childhood quarrels or tattling. But it’s important for your child to know that he or she can express an issue and you will hear it. Listen to what your child is saying, ask questions about how he or she feels, and think about whether it might be a symptom of a greater problem, like bullying. If so, contact the teacher and work together to resolve the situation.

Eat Healthy
What are the typical breakfasts, snacks, and dinners your family eats during the week? If your refrigerator and pantry have healthy foods and limited junk or processed foods, your family is more likely to eat healthy, have better nutrition, and perform better at school and work.

Make slow transitions to healthier food. For example, the next time you’re at the store, instead of buying potato or tortilla chips, buy crunchy carrots and hummus to dip them in. Small changes can help your child transition to a healthier diet over time.

Address Struggles and Developmental Delays
If your child struggles with learning in any capacity, speak with his or her teacher about being tested for special education services. These services can range from speech therapy to additional help for disorders like autism or dyslexia.

By working with the teacher to determine what struggles your child is having in school, you will find out if there is a greater issue that you and the school can address to help your child learn and succeed. If so, start the process for an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) that defines what services, programs, or accommodations your child will receive from the school.

For a mother’s story about her son’s experience with an IEP, click here for Part I and here for Part II.

As your child grows, you will still nurture his or her social and emotional well-being, physical health, and academic development. Your role will change, but you are still your child’s strongest advocate.


10 Things to Know About Hidden Disabilities

January 5, 2016

By Jessica Vician

10 Things to Know About Hidden Disabilities | Between 13 to 20 percent of children in the U.S. experience a mental disorder each year, according to the CDC. That’s nearly one out of five kids. What can you do if your child shows signs of an issue? How can your treat your child’s friends and classmates who have special needs? | A teacher helps a girl learn.

Between 13 to 20 percent of children in the U.S. experience a mental disorder each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That’s nearly one out of five kids. What can you do if your child shows signs of an issue? How can your treat your child’s friends and classmates who have special needs?

In a guest post on Love That Max, filmmaker Dan Habib discusses 10 things people might not know about hidden disabilities. Usually labeled “emotional and behavioral disorders,” these disabilities include, but aren’t limited to: anxiety and depression, bipolar disorder, ADHD, and more.

Read the article to learn about these 10 things you should know about hidden disabilities. From Individual Education Plans (IEPs) and how the education system works with special needs to how some of these children communicate through their behavior, the post is an important read for parents of children with and without special needs.

After reading the article, check out the rest of the blog, written by a mother of three children. One of those children, Max, has cerebral palsy and inspired the “blog about kids with special needs who kick butt.”


Special Needs: How to Advocate for Your Child’s Education

August 27, 2015

By Lynn Samartino

Special Needs: How to Advocate For Your Child's Education | All parents should know how to advocate for their child's education, but it's especially important for parents of children with special needs. This special education teacher takes you through three key strategies to advocating for your child. | A teen sits with his head in his hand while struggling to take a test.

All parents should know how to advocate for their child’s education, but for parents of children with special needs, it is especially important. As a special education teacher, I want to get to know the parents of my students, build a rapport with them and involve them in their child’s education.

Many parents focus on their child’s social, emotional, and physical well-being at home (which is very important), but leave the entirety of education to teachers. As the YOU Program demonstrates, these pieces go hand-in-hand, so a teacher-parent partnership is critical for a child’s academic success.

To ensure your child receives a highly qualified education in accordance with their special education services, work on these three things: knowledge, involvement, and communication.

To advocate for your child, you must educate yourself on school details and your child’s educational rights.

  1. Understand your child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP).
    All students receiving special education services have an IEP. Each year, you will review that IEP with necessary school staff to ensure your child is making progress through goals and objectives. This is the guide to your child’s education.

    Prepare for the annual meetings by learning what the IEP fully entails, why your child has one, what the components mean, and how it is implemented. The IEP lays out the framework for your child’s education and the school should follow everything outlined in it.

    If you need help understanding the IEP, meet with your child’s teacher or a staff member who can explain each section. Although it is discussed thoroughly during the IEP meeting, if you have additional questions, don’t hesitate to schedule a follow-up meeting.

  2. Speak with other parents at the school.
    Get to know other parents of the school community. You can learn from each other, including how to successfully advocate for your child’s education (and possibly what doesn’t work as well).

When you are involved in your child’s education, you are well informed and have a better understanding about how to advocate for your child. When teachers and staff see and know that you’re involved, we can better collaborate and partner with you.

  1. Volunteer in the classroom.
    By volunteering and occasionally being present in the classroom, you can ensure that your child’s IEP is being implemented appropriately. If you have a paid job in the classroom, you can help support the IEP implementation. Through these opportunities, you can communicate regularly with the teacher to make sure the appropriate services are being provided in the least restrictive environment.
  2. Attend parent-teacher conferences and school-sponsored events.
    Plan ahead and attend parent-teacher conferences, family reading night, or any other events offered throughout the school year. Build rapport with the community, school, staff, and teachers at these events. You can learn more about education and how the school operates.

Whether asking questions, communicating your child’s needs, or just discussing an assignment, communicate regularly with all the teachers and staff that your child works with daily. Technology provides ample opportunities for communication, so use it to your advantage.

  1. Email key staff members.
    You or your child’s teacher can start an email chain with the necessary school staff so that everyone can work together for his or her educational success. Regular emails are convenient and make it easy to check in quickly.
    At the beginning of the school year, share your email address with the teacher so they can keep you regularly informed. Ask the teacher if they have a website for you to view assignments, important dates, and lesson materials.
  2. Say hello during pick-up and drop-off.
    If you pick up or drop off your kids at school, have a brief chat with the teacher every so often. Many things can be communicated in just a few minutes and issues resolved. It is great for me to quickly touch base with my students’ parents before the day begins or at the end of the day to inform them of the accomplishments made during class time.

Think of the process of advocating for your child’s education as a three-legged stool. The stool supports us when we need to sit, but it must have all three legs to balance and stand. Those three legs are parental knowledge, involvement, and communication. By practicing those three “legs,” your child can succeed in school, no matter what his or her needs are.

Lynn Samartino, M.A. is an upper inclusion special education teacher for 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students at Chicago Public Schools. In her 10+ years of experience, she has spearheaded after-school programs, developed the Inclusive Model, and managed the integration of new technology into academics.

She holds certifications in general and special education with endorsements in middle school, language arts, social science, and English as a second language (ESL).


Early Diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder is Key to Managing Symptoms

April 9, 2015

By Noralba Martinez

Early Diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder is Key to Managing Symptoms | The puzzle pieces for Autism Awareness Month

Have you started seeing blue and white puzzle pieces around this month? April is Autism Awareness Month and the puzzle piece is a symbol associated with Autism Awareness. We hear a lot about Autism in the news, but what really is Autism and why is early diagnosis so important?

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a “group of developmental disabilities that can cause significant social, communication, and behavioral challenges,” according to the CDC. Think of it this way: if a child has sensory processing difficulties, he or she might scream nonstop when an airplane flies by or an ambulance’s sirens start up unexpectedly. Bright lights, unfamiliar noises, social settings, wind, or even textured foods can affect a child with ASD by leading that child to communicate his or her feelings by screaming, running away, or throwing a tantrum.

As an early intervention specialist and licensed professional counselor for an Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) program, I have worked with many children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Like many other mental or physical disorders, the earlier doctors and parents know that a child has ASD, the earlier they can start managing and treating those symptoms.

About the Disorder

  • In order to diagnose ASD, doctors must evaluate a child’s behavior and overall development. The severity and symptoms vary between each person with ASD.
  • In the mental health and medical fields, the ASD diagnosis now includes pervasive developmental disorder, autistic disorder, and Asperger syndrome.
  • The exact cause of ASD is unknown and still being researched, but the CDC has published some known risk factors.


  • Symptoms to look for in a young child include: Limited language, speech impairment or delays, social-emotional delays, sensory processing difficulties, repetitive behavior or movements, fixation on items, limited eye contact, poor coping skills, difficulty with changes in routine, and/or lack of play skills. If your child or someone you know is experiencing two or more of these symptoms, please talk to your child’s pediatrician. 
  • Symptoms may be more noticeable in the first years of life. Keeping all well-baby check-ups is important for screenings and referrals.

Early Diagnosis

  • Early diagnosis of ASD is key to begin treatment and therapy to alleviate the severity of some symptoms.
  • Early intervention therapy, coaching, and support are available for children diagnosed with ASD and their families.

Bring awareness to ASD and share this information with your family and other parents. When in doubt about your child’s development, call your pediatrician or local ECI agency for a screener or evaluation. You are your child’s best advocate because you know him or her better than anyone else. If you do discover your child has ASD, work with your doctor and ECI agency to find a treatment plan that best manages your child’s symptoms.

Learn more about important milestones, well-baby checkups, and other best health practices for your child in our YOU: Your Child's First Teacher books. 


Diagnosing + Managing Cerebral Palsy in Young Children

March 24, 2015

By Noralba Martinez

Diagnosing + Managing Cerebral Palsy in Young Children | Ribbon image courtesy of Children's Neurobiological Solutions

Tomorrow is National Cerebral Palsy Awareness Day. As an early intervention specialist and licensed professional counselor for an Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) program in Texas, I have worked with many children with cerebral palsy. It’s very important to know that there is still light and hope that comes with this diagnosis. Part of that hope comes in early intervention, when you learn more about the diagnosis, how to accommodate any necessary changes, and start treatment. 

Adam poses for his school picture.

One story that I find particularly inspiring is about a boy named Adam. Adam was diagnosed with cerebral palsy when he was about two years old. His mother was told he would never walk, but thanks to the awesome team of people who work with and believe in him, he started walking when he was three and a half years old.

In Texas, where I live, a cerebral palsy diagnosis is considered an automatic medical qualifier for ECI services, which means that these children can receive free or reduced price treatments. Luckily, Adam has been able to receive therapy from ECI services thanks to this qualifier. Therapy has given Adam the opportunity to do things some people never thought he would. Check with your local ECI program to see if it’s the same in your area.

About the Disorder

  • Cerebral palsy (CP) is a diagnosis that is given when several permanent movement disorders appear. 
  • Cerebral palsy is caused by damage to or abnormal development of parts of the brain that can affect balance, movement, and posture, among other functions.

Cerebral Palsy Symptoms

  • Symptoms include: gross motor delays as a baby, stiff or floppy muscles, lack of coordination, oral movement difficulty, trouble speaking, sensory problems, difficulty walking, and tremors.
  • Severity and symptoms vary between each person with CP.
  • Symptoms are more noticeable in the first years of life, so be sure to schedule and attend all well-baby check-ups for regular screenings.

Diagnosis and Treatment

  • Early diagnosis of cerebral palsy is key to begin treatment and therapy to alleviate the severity of some symptoms. 
  • Early intervention therapy, coaching, and support are available for CP children and their families.

For Adam, treatment includes his mother and therapy team encouraging him daily to keep pushing himself. They make adaptations so he can do things independently and they look for assistive technology so he can speak and make his own requests. As you can see, Adam has made tremendous strides thanks to ECI services and treatment.

Now that you’ve taken the time to learn more about cerebral palsy, show your support tomorrow by wearing green to bring awareness to this disorder.

If you suspect your child may suffer from cerebral palsy, speak to your pediatrician right away. Early diagnosis is critical in treating this disease.

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