Category Archives: Parent Resources

Summertime (or Anytime) Best Learning Apps for Learning Disabilities

Kids want to play games. Parents want kids to learn. For the adolescent crew, here is a start-up list of some of the best learning apps I’ve encountered for learning disability that will surely bring about a great meeting of the minds. We’re talking up to middle school age, so it’s not too babyish. Apps listed include itunes preview links, but if you’re not using Apple products, you should be able to find them in your operating system’s app store as well. If you want your kid to have fun while practicing basic skills, try these low-cost, teacher-tested, fun apps. They will provide immediate feedback in a way that just makes technology superior for sneaky self-practice. In other words, worksheet…move aside! You’ve been replaced by…

Mathmateer (Formerly Rocket Math) $0.99: This app is justification for buying a tablet if you have a kid who struggles with automaticity of math facts. It just doesn’t get any better than this gem. Basically, the player has to solve basic fact problems correctly in order to earn money to buy cool things for the rocket, which make it more fun to send the rocket into space…and solve more problems! It’s not rocket science, this is the smartest thing to happen to kids with math challenges (or not) since the calculator. It’s meant for basic math facts, but I occasionally pick it up and enjoy it, you will too.

Long Division $3.99: Don’t let the awful title and more awful price turn you away from this stroke of genius. Long division is a contrived concept that just doesn’t exist in the real space and time continuance. That’s how your kid feels if they have a learning disability and think in a very, very concrete way. All that talk about “carry the number” and borrow it ” leaves a a concrete thinker wondering what you’re carrying where and why…because it is, in fact, not real. However, after years of listening to this abstract construct, hoping it will just end because it just doesn’t make sense…watch your child stare in wide-eyed amazement as they perform multiplication and watch the product float to the spot in the long division problem where it belongs! Imagine the look on your kid’s face if you told them they could have the keys to the car five years before acquiring their permit and you wanted them to take some money out of your wallet too, just because. That’s the look they’ll have as they see, with immediate feedback NO lesson could ever provide, what long division is all about. The same developer has multiplication, etc. Check them out.

Scribblenauts Remix $0.99: This has in-app purchases but I’ll let it slide to gain a noteworthy spot on my list because they aren’t endless, and this app gets kids spelling. The in-app purchases provide sheets of characters such as Goodies and Baddies or Historical Figures to inspire fun scene combos.  If your kid can spell it, it lands in the scene they’ve created. Picture Santa and Abraham Lincoln flying in to a beach scene on a pirate ship, eating cotton candy. It’s kind of like magic. There are no spelling assists, so I recommend using Siri or your phone’s autocorrect to find the correct spelling, then enter into Scribblenauts Remix. Sounds cumbersome, but looking up a spelling of a word in this joyful atmosphere will teach a little technology-savvy word research with low frustration and lots of reward.

Boggle $0.99: The classic pop-up letter word-search game costs about $17.99 for the box game. While I highly recommend real-live, 4-Dimensional games for good ol’ interactive family fun, kids with learning disabilities need more practice, and more fun, than you can provide on game night alone. Give it to ’em. Through the years, I have observed through lots of scholarly research that kids need more Boggle. Not buying it? Ok, here’s the truth. I’ve noticed, kids who have serious spelling challenges are often whizstorms at Boggle and it’s humbling facing them in this spelling classic. Anytime you can highlight something they’re good at and make them feel like the hero for a change, that’s a good thing. If this describes your kid, you need this. At the end of the round, Boggle provides a boggling list of correct words for them to check theirs against…instant, awesome, spelling feedback. They won’t even know it’s like school. Warning: gloating may follow enjoyment of this game.

Talking Tom Cat for ipad FREE: Talking Tom, and his league of similarly talking apps, are all just silly nonsense getting a cat to repeat your words, and sometimes even be a little rude. Kids with learning challenges are self-conscious. They’re afraid to look silly or wrong (really) and this loosens them up a little. They forget themselves and get lost in their own giggles. If they want the cat to talk back, they have to speak up and speak clearly. It works to banish the mumbles and the stage-fright too many years of being wrong can induce. Beware of in-app purchases and wanting to buy more talking apps, although Talking Tom and Ben News is a good time for gigglers who need to express themselves and have a good giggle.

Alarmed ~Reminders +Timers FREE: Habits are everything, and anything that helps teach structure to a kid who struggles enough is better than any Martha Stewart good idea. Tired of telling your kid it’s time to go to bed? Have them set a lights-out timer on this app. Want to limit summer-time gaming? Teach them how to structure their time by setting the timer when they sit down to play. When the alarm goes off, it’s time to do some chores (or vice-versa). These non-verbal reminders will free their thinking up to plan your favorite breakfast-in-bed menu item next Saturday morning. Yes, there’s an app for that, it’s a timer whose name is not mom or dad. It’s Alarmed~Reminders+Timers.

Pocket Pond HD Free: You will want the creature pack and/or pond packs for $1.99 each, but that’s ok. This amazingly soothing, incredibly real pond game is a little bit of kid Zen. Relaxation is important, and how often do we teach that? Who needs it more than a kid who experiences frustration? Don’t let Attack of the Warring Zombies on the game system be your kids’ only choice for relaxation.  Let them relax, I assure you they’ve earned it. Going through the day with a learning challenge takes a lot of energy. Restore it with a Japanese pond landscape.

This is not the best or longest list of apps to teach basic facts and skills. It just comes with a guarantee, from experience, that kids will love each app on it.


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To Medicate or Not to Medicate

Any decision to medicate your child should be made in consultation with your doctor. This is the statement educators are allowed to say, in meetings, with parents. Beyond that, suggesting the child needs medication, or which one he or she should be taking, is not the educator’s domain.

Teachers may share their observations of the student and strategies they have employed.

When a student experiences ongoing academic struggles, parents or teachers can recommend the student be referred for evaluation for special education services. Before that occurs, the team of teachers needs to meet as an Educational Support Team to consider and review the student’s strengths and challenges, and what strategies they have tried, which have been successful or not successful in helping the student. When this logical first step has occurred and the student is still experiencing adverse effect in school (poor grades, testing scores, etc), teachers or parents may recommend the student be evaluated for special education services.

An evaluation begins with an Evaluation Plan Meeting. Team members convene and discuss what they are seeing and which areas they would like the evaluator (school psychologist) to review. Two months later, after the school psychologist completes a lengthy process of testing the student, surveying parents and teachers and compiling the results based on their professional expertise, the team will reconvene to review the results at the Eligibility Meeting. Perhaps the parent had provided documentation of an existing diagnosis, and the evaluator and team’s purpose is to review the affect on the student’s progress in school. If the student is found to have a disability which has an adverse effect on their educational progress, an Individualized Education Plan will be created. The team will detail the strengths and challenges of the student, abilities and disability, learning goals, accommodations and special education services.

The parent may address medical needs in consultation with their physician, and this may occur before or after a comprehensive school evaluation is conducted. Depending on the age at the time of the diagnosis and progress in school, the  parent may already have a medical treatment plan. In the rare instance the school suggests the need for medication, they will be expected to provide and pay for it as a treatment.

You may encounter the teacher who says, “In my many years of experience working with children, I can see clearly this child needs medication and would benefit from it.” Or, “This is the most ADHD kid we’ve ever had here. His life would be so much better on medication.” Perhaps you agree, but a medication treatment plan is handled medically, as are its side-effects. If you’re having a conversation with a teacher about medication, it’s an opinion, and they’re really not supposed to share it as their expertise is around instruction, not medicine. Seek your doctor’s advice and become educated around ADHD medical treatments, as it’s a field with continuous research and developments.* The Children and Adults with Attention -Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder(CHADD) advocacy groups suggests pharmacology treatment may be successfully followed up with behavior therapy, offering a longitudinal look at medically treating ADHD through a person’s life.

If you’ve tried medication for ADHD, and the side-effects were so awful you’ve abandoned medicine completely, yet the teachers are clamoring for a solution and asking you to consult your child’s physician, you have two options. One, consider that advances have been made in treatment for disabilities and perhaps a medicine could be found to benefit your child with as minimal side effects as possible. Two, maintain your ground against medicinal treatments and prepare yourself by knowing what alternative strategies can help your child and use them. Ask the teachers what they have tried that has helped your child be successful. The American Academy of Pediatrics research findings indicate psychotherapy is a necessary first-line treatment for depression in children. The research details the potential benefits and drawbacks of FDA-approved prescription treatments.

This is a brief overview of the basics when determining whether or not to prescribe, especially when a diagnosis of a disability becomes a school discussion. There are many more specifics to consider based on the child, circumstances, diagnosis and so on. It is never an open-and-closed conversation, and you are a key player on the team in determining how to treat. Keep your mind open and learn of reputable organizations dedicated to education and research. We have a great deal to learn about medical treatment of autism and bipolar disorder.
(*Please note, the link to the CHADD article on ADHD medical treatments references Strattera, a non-stimulant medication for ADHD which has mixed reviews. As mentioned, please keep current on the research into benefits and side-effects of medication you consider including in your medical treatment plan, in consultation with the prescribing doctor.)


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First Things First: Coming To Grips with a Disability Diagnosis


You suspect your child has a disability, or perhaps you’ve just received the diagnosis. Maybe he or she is a little more active than other kids, isn’t hitting the benchmarks the same time as the other kids, or you have discovered in utero you are facing a major difference with your unborn child. You are stressed and worried he or she will be different, will be picked on, will need you until the day you die. The first thing I would say to any parent is…take a breath. It’s going to be fine.

The so-called “normal” child will have strengths and challenges, will put parents through their paces just as much as any child with a “difference.” All children have value, all have a special contribution to make. So many times I have thought, “If only this parent would accept their child has…autism…adhd…..behavior disorder…then we could really get to work.” In those moments, I attempt to share the idea that if we push them through everything they will be up until midnight doing their homework and missing opportunities for socialization. If we tell them they need to keep working on their long-division even when other kids are using calculators, we are setting them up for misery and failure.

You accept it, but you want the school to make sure they’re succeeding, right? You want your child to look normal, just like every other kid. You want them on the honor roll. You want all their homework done. Here’s the thing: all kids miss their homework sometimes. All kids give their parents attitude sometimes. All kids want to learn, they can’t help it. Let it happen. Every kid an area in which they are incredibly talented. Let them be “normal,” be a kid, be a star.

I’ve known students with learning impairment who were so proficient in one area, it would knock your socks off. Listen when your child is evaluated. Read the report. Your child has strengths, let them pursue those interests and strengths, fight for that. The honor roll will come, if that’s what matters to you. In my career, I regret each missed opportunity to work on a student-centered skill for the drive to achieve “normalcy.” I have had countless conversations with parents about what works for their child, and their special talents. Most listen, and it’s an enjoyable part of the work, to know you’ve provided an opportunity for a child to grow and flourish, to relieve the pressure and learn at their pace. For the parents who want their child to be “normal,” to achieve the honor roll, to look just like everyone else, this message is for you. Your child is not like everyone else. Your child is different, and that’s ok.

You have every right to demand the best, to expect all the support and help and educational opportunity entitled to each child. Special educators and service providers will go the extra mile to support your hopes and wishes for your child. We will teach them their basic skills and help them keep up with their same-age peers. We will make sure they have their lunch money and know the new schedule. We will get their special reading book and talk to them about their fears. Not of that is required, and we do it happily. However, this is where I would like to draw the line. The purpose of special education is not to ensure your child makes the honor roll. It is to provide for your child’s unique needs. Children and special educators are successful when parents do one thing: accept the disability, really accept it and your child for who he or she is. That does not mean have a lower standard. Really, the same message could be sent to every parent. Accept your child, support their dreams and fulfill their needs, not yours.

There’s nothing wrong with having ADHD. It’s inconvenient in a school system which demands quiet rigor applied to sitting, completing worksheets and listening to a one-way dialogue. Lots of amazing, famous people have ADHD. Look it up. Autism is challenging, but it’s becoming more prevalent, with more knowledge and services available. You will get help, you will love your child for his or her personality.

We who have known scores of students with differences can tell you we love and value them all. The disability does not matter. Perhaps we came to this conclusion long before we chose to work with special needs, perhaps we’ve learned it over time. Hurrah to the parent who learns it and chooses to accept it. There are plenty more examples of a changing world which requires a changing attitude. Dyslexia, for example, was a serious problem in a world which judged you based your worth on your ability to write polished products unassisted. That world is gone. Education is not keeping up, and you’ll know that when you see kids doing anything you remember doing in school. You were preparing for a world in which each person did not have their phone, contacts, camera, music, books and GPS in their pockets. You could not reach in your pocket and read a review of a car you wanted to buy. A person with dyslexia will be the modern genius in the new visual world, with their visual-spatial abilities and conceptual strengths. Assistive technology, which was cumbersome and inaccessible to the mainstream, is now commonplace thanks to advances in technology. If you are reading this on a computer or smartphone, you have the ability to video conference and use voice recognition software. It’s a new world, allow your child to find his or her unique place in it.

The future is here. It won’t matter if your child is able to sit quietly in his bedroom and answer 7 questions on lined-paper using complete sentences. It will matter if he is able to work in a group, picture a solution and use technology. If your child enjoys drawing and isn’t a great speller, that’s ok. The world is looking for artists, it has a spell-checker and it’s not afraid to use it.

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Welcome to Education Matters for All

Welcome families and educators to Education Matters for All. In this series of publications, I hope to share my experience in education so you may feel you are informed and getting the most out of your educational opportunities. In the field of special education there is one constant, and that is everything changes. It’s a challenge for most service providers to remain current and true to their practice, and certainly families need a simple, effective source for information.

In this source you will find articles that support and inform families and educators around disability categories, special education procedures, strategies and expectations. I am a licensed special educator with a Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Instruction and Special Education. I have 15+years classroom experience involving intensive needs, alternative classroom instruction, adaptive skills, mental illness, autism and co-teaching in the general education setting. I understand the needs of today’s family and the school demands.

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