Navigating the Bureaucracy of the Special Education System – Practical Strategies and a Primer on Legal Rights

Navigating the Bureaucracy of the Special Education System
Practical Strategies and a Primer on Legal Rights
Presented by Thomas J. O’Leary
May 7th, 7:30-9:30pm
Pediatric Therapeutics

Call 973-635-0202 or email to sign up!

Special Education Law is complicated!  Practical, working understanding of what it all means and what we can do is invaluable.  Back by popular demand, attorney and father Tom O’Leary, who spoke with us in October, is returning to Pediatric Therapeutics TONIGHT to once again offer his talk on the laws of the special education and strategies for successfully navigating the system to ensure that your child is receiving the education to which he/she is entitled.

Whether you’re planning to attend for the first time or you’ve been looking forward to building upon what you learned from Tom this past fall, be sure to sign up now by clicking the button below!


What do a soda can and your trunk have in common?

Quarterly Question
Usually questions of the month come from questions parents ask us.  This question is a bit different – it comes from a question physical therapist Miriam Cohen posed when discussing breathing and function with the mother of a client.  (Hint, this is a question to be taken seriously… it’s not a silly riddle!) 

Q: What do a soda can and your trunk have in common?

A:  A soda can can be used as a model for the trunk to help us understand the importance of the trunk as a pressure regulator that needs to work efficiently both for postural support and, of course, for breathing.  (Massery, 2011)

The vocal folds are the top of the can. The diaphragm rests horizontally across the middle of the can and the pelvic floor muscles represent the base of the can. The rib cage and intercostal muscles (and lungs housed inside!) are at the top part of the can’s cylinder. Abdominal muscles, including the abdominal obliques, rectus abdominus and transversus abdominus, represent the bottom half of the cylinder.

Imagine the sturdy nature of a full, unopened can of soda. You couldn’t crush a full soda can due to its high internal pressure but could easily crush a punctured soda can with one hand. Just as the integrity of a soda can is based on balanced pressures within the can (think about what a full unopened can of soda feels like versus one of those cans that, for some reason, wasn’t filled up or has been punctured) the integrity of the trunk is influenced by its internal pressure and the integrity of the surrounding tissues.

If there is Weakening/damage of a part of the can (aka trunk), the can itself would be structurally weakened, the internal pressure would be affected, and the can could potentially collapse. Similarly when there’s a physical breach within the trunk, such as paralyzed vocal folds, a trachea with an incision or hole in it, a gap between the two sides of the rectus abdominus muscle, or weak abdominal oblique muscles , the integrity of the trunk system itself weakens, and becomes less efficient and functionally effective. The diaphragm, traditionally known as a breathing muscle, is also a critical muscle related to postural control and pressure regulation in the trunk. Therefore, it is necessary to incorporate specific movements with inhalation and other specific movements with exhalation to tap into efficient use of both the diaphragm and other skeletal muscles.

Breathing patterns influence our musculoskeletal structures.  And, musculoskeletal structures can influence our breathing patterns. A trunk with a breach in its pressure system is especially susceptible to the powerful downward pull of gravity, which always “wins”, and the skeletal system begins its collapse.  Our muscles, bones and internal organs are all interconnected (and connected with our breathing!) and must not be overlooked!!  

Miriam is a seasoned teacher assistant for Mary Massery, PT, DPT DSc.  She assists with Dr. Massery’s “If You Can’t Breathe, You Can’t Function”,“Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation” and “I Survived, Now What?: Treating the Musculoskeletal Consequences of Maturing with a Chronic Health Condition” courses. These courses are highly relevant to Miriam’s assessment and treatment. What she helps teach in courses she brings into easily understandable terms as she teaches both parents and co-workers at Pediatric Therapeutics.

–Miriam Cohen, PT. DPT, PCS

Massery M. The effect of airway control on postural stability (doctoral dissertation). Provo, UT: Rocky Mountain University of Health Professions; 2011.

2019 Health & Happiness

Health and happiness come up together a lot, particularly in wishes, and especially at the beginning of a new year.    Here’s why –

We’re healthiest when we’re happy, and we’re happiest when we’re healthy & engaging in our lives!

Happiness is good for our health;  for starters, it tends to lower heart rate and blood pressure, bolster the immune system, and reduce stress.  Health is important for happiness.  When we have a health issue that disrupts our daily function happiness diminishes.  In other words what helps us to be healthy also helps us to be happy, and what contributes to our happiness contributes to our good health.  With health and happiness we’re better able to do what we do.



A wish for a healthy 2019 is basically short for “Here’s wishing you plenty of restful sleep, daily physical activity, nourishing food, and pure, clean water throughout the year.” Click the links below for tips and info to make this wish come true for yourself and others.

SLEEP “New review highlights importance of good sleep routines for children”
MOVE “Top 10 Reasons Children Should Exercise”
EAT “Healthy Food for Kids: Easy Tips to Help Your Children and Teens Eat Healthier”
DRINK “Why Is Water Important? 16 Reasons to Drink Up”



Loving connections with those who are significant in our lives, listening to and making music, noticing nature, and having fun, are top (and even scientifically proven!) ways to bring about happiness in our lives. “Happy new year!” is a wish for the experiences that bring you joy and help you shine! Click the links below to learn more about the positive emotions related to these essential life experiences.

BOND “What is Secure Attachment and Bonding? Understanding the Different Ways of Bonding and Communicating with Your Infant or Child”
MUSIC “Music evokes powerful positive emotions through personal memories”
NATURE “To be happier, take a moment to notice the nature around you”
FUN “Three research-based ways to maximize the fun of leisure activities: You can’t schedule enjoyable events like you do work”


–Sheila Allen, MA, OT

10 Simple and Fun Ways to Stay Physically Strong During the Holiday Season

How can I incorporate strength training into my everyday life?

Let’s face it. Finding time to get to an exercise class or the gym during the holidays can be even more challenging than it is every other day of the week. Here are some terrific ways to keep up our fitness goals or initiate new ones all while playing with our children or doing tasks around the house. Give them a try and give us your feedback!


10 Simple and fun ways to stay physically strong during the holiday season:

1. Instead of walking down the hall or across a room, get into a crab walk position. To do this, sit on the ground with your hands just under your shoulders and your knees bent. Then, lift up your bottom off of the ground and walk across the room on hands and feet with your nose and belly button pointing up toward the ceiling.

2. While carrying an empty laundry basket, try carrying it a few inches away from your body. This will force you to use your core. Increase the challenge by doing this with a partially filled basket.

3. Try reading to your child on the floor, instead of in a chair or bed. While on the floor, try to read for one minute in a plank position.

4. Do 10 squats while you are waiting for your shower water to heat up. Slowly bend your knees keeping your bottom behind you and most of the weight in your heels. While squatting, count out loud, and when you resume standing, inhale, filling your lungs with air.

5. When walking down the stairs, stop before the bottom step. Then, do a single limb mini-squat, but slowly bending the knee on the step you are standing on, while reaching the opposite foot/heel to the floor below. Just when your heel hits the ground, straighten back up. Then, switch legs. Do this 10 times on each leg before leaving the steps.

6. While you watch your children set the table, strengthen your calves by rising up and down on and off of tip toes until fatigued. Once you master this, try balancing on one foot (with a finger on a nearby counter or wall for support), and do toe rises on one limb.

7. Do 10 counter or wall push ups while you are waiting for a pot of water to boil (you may have time for 3 sets of 10). While lowering yourself and bending your elbows, count out loud. When pushing back up to your starting position, inhale.

8. Before opening a can of beans or sauce, hold one can in each hand and do 10 biceps curls.

9. If you have an electric toothbrush with a two minute timer, see if you can stand on one foot for the first minute and the other foot for the second minute. Keep one finger/hand on, or near, a counter for safety.

10. When standing in a line at a store, stand with one foot directly in front of the other so that the toes of the back foot touch the heel of the front foot. Stay like this for up to one minute and then switch legs and repeat with the opposite leg in front.

–Miriam Cohen, PT, DPT, PCS


Educating Hearts and Minds – Giving Thanks for Both


While our thoughts are on thankfulness, we celebrate and appreciate our ability to learn, and those who teach us. As we grow, we discover that teachers, lessons, and skills to be developed and occasions in which to apply them, present themselves in countless ways. We may learn from ourselves, parents, family members, friends, credentialed educators, complete strangers, acquaintances, pets, nature…just about anyone or anything that is alive! Yet, with all the teachers we have in our lives, we hold our school teachers in a special place, individually and collectively. Our therapists/staff were asked to identify one educator for whom they each are especially thankful.

Caring and creativity count!
With twelve of us at Pediatric Therapeutics as a small sample, more of us are especially thankful for an elementary school teacher, than for educators of any other grades, kindergarten through grad school! Karen Betheil brings up, “…elementary school teachers are truly some special people. The amount of work they do, the patience they have and the complexity of their job, make them very special indeed. I am thankful for all these teachers for what they do, day in and day out.”  Regardless of grade, our Pediatric Therapeutics’ responses included common themes of teacher’s support (with life lessons as well as scholastic ones), meaningful stimulation, and belief in them and their abilities.

What happens in elementary school may extend well beyond
Seven of the twelve of us responded with a specific teacher they had in primary school. Anne Toolajian is thankful for Miss Helper (truly this teacher’s name!!!), her bubbly, warm and nurturing first grade teacher who ultimately shaped her fear and trepidation as a student in a new school into confidence. Anne recalls her comfort when Miss Helper paired her students up with buddies on day 1 and her love of her first grade year and the teacher that made her feel a special way. Carrie Beiter also gives thanks for her first grade teacher, Mrs. Lyons, who was instrumental in helping her learn how to read.

As Maureen Harper tells it, she is most thankful for her second grade teacher Mrs. Blanc, who “changed the landscape of her life”. She shares this story.

I showed up in Mrs. Blanc’s class as a student who had repeated first grade because the first time through I had missed more than 2/3 of the school year due to a very serious illness.  As second grade unfolded she would quietly come to my desk and give me different work to do than the other kids in the class.  I had a terrible fear of not doing well enough after being held back in first grade. Next she started sending me to Ms. Robert’s third grade class for certain subjects.  Mid January she told me she knew I could do third grade.  I was immediately relieved but then totally surprised when she followed with ‘right now.’  Together we packed up my desk and walked over to Ms. Robert’s classroom. It was hard work skipping a grade midyear. I have never forgotten her confidence in my abilities and potential.  She believed I could do things I never allowed myself to consider.  She taught me to see vistas beyond my immediate grasp and work hard to get them.

 Anne Bentley Fell pays special tribute to Mr. Green, her third grade teacher, who, with his out-of-the box teaching style, always made learning fun. Terri Jones is also thankful for her third grade teacher, Mrs Speers – her favorite teacher of all time! Terri mentions that Mrs. Speers was very supportive at a difficult time when her mother was frequently in the hospital. She made Terri feel like a “big helper” by having her help out after school rather than going home to an empty house. Mrs. Roberts was Scott Bagish’s first and fourth grade teacher, and a teacher for whom he continues to be especially thankful. She always encouraged creative expression in her classrooms and allowed him to play guitar while she and the class sung the Beatles ‘Yesterday’ in her fourth grade class!

Miriam Cohen thinks of her fifth grade teacher Mrs. Hunt a lot, and is most grateful for her. Miriam shares that Mrs Hunt was her “rock”, helping her to stay strong when, at 10 years old, Miriam experienced her father being left paralyzed due to a horrible car accident. Mrs. Hunt is also credited for “forcing” left-handed Miriam to write with her hand positioned below what she was writing rather than hooking from above.

Doing what it takes to engage a group of middle schoolers is long remembered
Julie Hersch’s thanks are given to her innovative 7th grade history teacher, Mr. Young, who had a flair for bringing history to life. She gives an example of him introducing her class to the Viking era by jumping up onto his desk, disrobing to red long johns, dashing to the classroom closet, and emerging full dressed as a Viking to teach the class in character.

High school teachers are given thanks for their roles in the evolution of specific capabilities
With the holidays here, Liz Duffy is thankful for Mr. Murray, her high school music teacher. Thanks to him and her participation in a traveling choir group, she knows all the lyrics to almost every holiday song! I, Sheila Allen, am most thankful for the English teacher I had as a Junior in high school, Mrs. Turner, for the influence she has had on my writing nearly every single day since I first took my seat in her class. She strongly believed in the power of the written word. Her passionate insistence upon the importance of being able to express and represent yourself clearly in a way that will also be appreciated by your reader is always with me, regardless of what I am writing.

Yes, a British accent can help with college math!
Laurie Klauber, who gives thanks to her Finite Mathematics assistant instructor, is the only one to mention a teacher in college or grad school. As a college Sophomore with a history of insecurity with math, she credits her final B+ grade to him; while she cannot remember his name, she vividly recalls his calming British accent!

To quote Aristotle, “educating the mind without educating the heart is not education at all.” Thank you to those who’ve taught us in years gone by and those who do so now!

–Assembled and edited by Sheila Allen, MA, OT

Juliet Conquers The Bar Method in Madison!

As therapists, our long term goals generally incorporate safe, enjoyable and successful participation in a variety of community-based offerings. We’re delighted when activities in the community either reinforce or replace clinical intervention and when your children themselves are among their own best therapists, creating their own “just right” challenges and/or participating in ongoing practices with the support of instructors. Imagine how Juliet’s therapists at Pediatric Therapeutics felt when her mom shared this recent The Bar Method Madison email introducing their clientele to Juliet – 8th grader, spirited teenage girl, determined and positive student & exerciser!


Thanksgiving Activities For ALL to Enjoy!

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Question: I know of some local turkey trots, watching the parade, and the football- on-Thanksgiving tradition, but do you have some indoor activity ideas that’ll appeal to our easily overwhelmed seven year old, our iPad- addicted ten year old, and the young and not-so-young guests who’ll be joining us for a Thanksgiving feast?

Answer: Yes! It sounds like you’re looking for activities that will have some, but not too much, structure naturally built in, can vary in length, and can be done individually or in pairs within a bigger group. Your children and other younger guests might enjoy pairing up with somebody older for either of these activities:

 • Plate Making (the only potential glitch here is that, once decorated, the plates need to be baked, and you may not have the oven space)- If there’s time, make the plates before dinner and use them when it’s time for the meal. If there’s not enough time, or oven space, decorate them on Thanksgiving and give them as holiday gifts, maybe even to be used at Hanukkah or Christmas. Click here for further details!
 • BINGO – Make the cards before dinner and play afterward. Depending upon your card makers, you may want to plot out the organization of the cards beforehand and focus on the numbers, letters, etc that will fill the spaces. Remember you’ll have to set-up for the “caller” as well as the players. No bingo chips? – That’s OK…what about pennies or other coins?
 • Scavenger Hunt (indoor or outdoor) – Do it the traditional way, or, when pairing or teaming up,make sure a selfie-taker is in each group, and rather than collecting items, take selfies at locations specified on the scavenger list.
 • Gratitude Pick-up Sticks – a version of Pick-up Sticks, with a twist. Each stick color represents a different category. With this game, each time you pick up a stick without moving one next to it you have to name something you are grateful for within the color’s category. And then you get to hold on to the stick, eventually tallying the amount of sticks held by each player. It’s a great way to get family and friends of all ages really thinking and talking (or writing) about what they grateful for! No pick-up sticks? Make your own out of chopsticks!


You’ll find loads of fabulous ideas online, many of them with printables to help you with materials. A few resources we like for game and activity ideas include:

–Sheila Allen, MA, OT

Pediatric Therapeutics Halloween Matching Game (Download & Play!)

CLICK HERE to download a fun PDF matching game!
Have your children draw a line matching the therapist to their favorite Halloween memory!


What is Dyslexia and who can evaluate my child for it?


Question of the month: What is Dyslexia and who can evaluate my child for it?

Answer: October is also Dyslexia Awareness Month. Did you know Dyslexia affects 1 in 10 people? Discovered more than 100 years ago by Dr. Berlin, those with Dyslexia often process written and spoken information differently. Dyslexia is a specific Learning Disability that affects reading and related language-based processing skills. The severity of this very specific disability varies by individual but can affect several areas including reading fluency, decoding, reading comprehension, recall, spelling, writing, and sometimes even with speech.

Typically, psycho-educational batteries are used to determine patterns of strength and patterns of weakness. Who can administer these assessments? Professional clinicians who assess Specific Learning Disabilities (SLD) and Dyslexia may have M.A., M.S., M.Ed., Ed.D., or Ph.D. degrees in Education, Reading, Speech Language Pathology, School Psychology, Psychology, or Neuropsychology. According to the International Dyslexia Association, the areas recommended through individual testing should include the following:

• Phonological Awareness – an individual’s awareness of and access to the sound structure of his/her oral language
• Phonological or Language-Based Memory – ability to recall sounds, syllables, words
• Rapid Automatic Naming – speed of naming objects, colors, digits, or letters
• Receptive Vocabulary – understanding of words heard
• Phonics Skills – understanding of the symbol (letter) to the sound(s) relationship, either individually or in combination with other letters
• Decoding –ability to use symbol-sound associations to identify (read and pronounce) words
• Oral Reading Fluency – ability to read accurately, at a story-telling pace to facilitate and support comprehension on the single word, sentence and paragraph level
• Spelling
• Writing

Some of the signs and symptoms might include:

• Losing your place while reading
• Misreading as well as extremely slow reading
• Mishearing one word for another (ie specific for pacific)
• Left and right confusion
• Limited comprehension
• Difficulty when writing with finding the right words, organizing ideas and forgetting punctuation
• Difficulty remembering sequences like phone numbers, the alphabet, or the days of the week and months of the year
• Difficulty recalling names, finishing on time and staying focussed
• Challenges with learning a foreign language
• Inaccurate copying and/or mixing up letters
• Difficulty spelling
• Number and letter reversals
• A gap between listening comprehension and reading comprehension often exists
• Decreased working memory (difficulty storing and remembering more than 3 pieces of information)
• Decreased processing speed, whether in reading, writing or completing homework tasks

Many people who have been diagnosed with Dyslexia often have average to superior intelligence and are frequently found to have amazingly creative skill sets. Many successful entrepreneurs and self-made millionaires have been diagnosed with Dyslexia including Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, Leonardo daVinci, Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison and Winston Churchill just to name a few. Wondering what a few of the positives are???

• Leadership skills—seeing the bigger picture
• Thinking outside the box with unusual ideas and angles
• Excellent spatial awareness and understanding making for skilled architects and builders
• Increased creativity necessary for poets, musicians, writers and actors
• Strong visual thinking skills making for excellent problem solving abilities

There are a myriad strategies to assist specifically in the classroom and beyond such as providing a quiet area for reading and answering comprehension questions, use of books on tape or books with large print, multisensory teaching methods, chunking information into small, manageable units, use of “picture thinking”, mnemonic memory strategies and use of rhyming words to help with spelling, and allowance of alternative forms for book reports or the ability to use a computer for in-class essays and lecture notes.

Focusing on ABILITY rather than DISability may very well be the most important intention we can have and share. For more information and further guidance, reach out to our experienced clinicians and consider these valuable resources:

1. Learning Disabilities Association of America
2. International Dyslexia Association
3. Lindamood-Bell Learning Outcomes
4. National Institute for Learning Development

— Anne Toolajian, MA, CCC-SLP

Go Play!

Question: I keep reading about how play is important, but why? It seems to me like my kids and I have so many better things to do, and I run out of ideas for playtime.

Your question comes at a perfect time, with the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently releasing a clinical report that concludes with a recommendation that pediatricians prescribe play for/with children in their first two years of life. Doctors prescribing play! Imagine that! It certainly validates play’s importance and will help children and their parents to develop playfulness! If it’s being prescribed for infants and young toddlers, what about the rest of us? We all need play in our lives. When we come to recognize its value to our minds, bodies, emotions and interactions, perhaps we’ll all do a better of finding playtime for our children and ourselves. Though we may need to think of the doctor telling us to do it to rationalize spending time playing, play, pure and simple, is ideally based on intrinsic motivation. We play because, from the inside, it feels good to be engaged in activity for the enjoyment, challenge, and/or involvement in “doing”, or in the process itself.

What is play and why is it important?
Play is one of those things that is hard to define, yet it’s said to be a primary occupation of childhood (lets keep remembering that adults need it too!), whether playing with parents or others, or independently. Play is intrinsically motivating activity in which an individual engages for the sake of engaging, rather than for a specific practical purpose or a specific outcome (for example, the fun and problem solving involved with building a castle, as opposed to building a castle because somebody assigned the task). It’s a way of amusing oneself, or participating in interesting and enjoyable action with others, all while naturally stimulating the brain & body and developmental skills (sensory-motor, language, cognitive, emotional, social, self-help) and affecting our biology through the lifespan. The AAP clinical report is interesting, informative, and comprehensive. Click here for the full report.

Dr. Stuart Brown, a play researcher and founder of the National Institute for Play, helps us understand the neuroscience of play and its solid evolutionary importance, while explaining its critical importance in our lives in his 2010 talk as the Aspen Ideas Festival, and in this YouTube video, Play is More than Fun, It’s Vital. He has also written an enlightening book, Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination and Invigorates the Soul, which will also help you understand play’s importance.

Play personalities
What kind of player is your child? How about you, yourself? According to Dr. Brown, we each have our own “play personality” that is likely to be one, or perhaps a combination, of these seven types:
artist/creator, who plays as he/she creates
collector, who enjoys acquiring and having the most interesting collection of things or experiences that fascinate him/her
competitor, who plays by way of creating games, by him/herself or with others, and plays to win
director, who plays through organizing activities and experiences, for him/herself and others
explorer, whose play involves discovery, be it physical, emotional or mental
joker, who loves silliness and to engage in nonsense through play
kinesthete, who loves to move, and thinks and feels best when moving
storyteller, whose play focuses on imagination such as telling stories, acting, writing, cartooning & drawing, engaging with others’ products of their imagination.

Observing your child in play (and thinking about yourself and how you play), will give you an awareness of what he/she finds amusing. We as parents, teacher, therapists, and players can honor one’s primary play personality and indulge in activities associated with it, be aware of play compatibilities, and help shape “well-rounded play personalities.”

Play isn’t always easy
Many of us have experienced challenges in play; they’re often part of the play process. Yet for many of the children we work with, the challenges surpass what are considered typical, and are related to underlying limitations or liabilities in areas including sensory processing, motor control, coordination and/or planning, language, cognitive ability, emotion, and sociability, and/or are perhaps related to bio/medical factors, or a tendency for repetitive, inflexible behaviors. Many of the children we work with either do not or cannot play independently; for many of them engaging in play with an adult is difficult. These children are “play deprived” and play deprivation in not good for them or their brains. If your child happens to fall into that category, it’s no wonder you find coming up with play ideas difficult! It, in fact, is! That’s where your therapist comes in. Believe it or not, we’ve all taken courses in play, and creating and engaging in playful experiences is part of our training and the effectiveness of what we do. If your child is currently in therapy, talk with your therapist about how his/her problems are affecting his/her ability to play, both independently and with others. Find out about play development and the different types of play, and get ideas to get started with bringing play and playfulness into home and school for your child (and you!). The following resources are among favorites for sparking ideas for play:

Playful Parenting by Lawrence J. Cohen
A Moving Child is a Learning Child by Gill Cornell and Sheryl McCarthy
The Art of Roughhousing by Anthony T. DeBenedet and Lawrence J. Cohen

Be it games, physical activities, creating, fantasy, outdoor (or indoor) exploration, ideally there’ll come a time when the play ideas won’t have to come from you, they’ll come from your child. You’ll find him/her playing in both familiar and new ways, or you’ll be able to say “Go play” and he/she will do just that!

–Sheila Allen
September 2018