Preparing Your Child for Back to School

Fall is approaching quickly, which means one thing – BACK TO SCHOOL! Even if your child with special needs attended ESY, the full days and routine of regular school is a whole other entity. New teachers, peers, social situations, and many new academics to learn are just a few of the challenges children face each year when school begins. Here is a list of tips to help prepare your child for their upcoming school year.

Familiarize the Route to School

Whether you plan to drive your child, or take the bus, you may consider a dry run of the route to school. If your child will ride the bus, you can contact your town’s Department of Transportation and find out the route your child will take to school. You can then take test trips for a few days prior to the first day to familiarize him/her with the route.

Meet and Greet with the Teacher

Ask your child’s special education teacher if they can arrange a meeting with your child’s regular education teacher a week before school begins. This can be also an opportunity to tour the classroom, locate your child’s seat, and take pictures of items around the room that will be helpful during the transition process, such as the library nook, lockers, and where to place homework folders.

Request Academic Materials

Having a well-formed relationship with your child’s special education teacher is important for many reasons, but for this situation, it would be helpful to request academic material that your child would begin the year reviewing. By pre-exposing him/her to these supports and re-visiting skills from the previous year, your child will have an easier time easing into academics at the beginning of the year.

Play Dates with New Peers

Organize a play date between your child and peers that will be in his/her new class. A familiar playground (the school playground perhaps) or having peers to your house will keep the environment neutral and support your child navigating the area independently.

Re-establish School Routines

Set the clock to school mornings and enforce a school night bedtime. Even if you let your child sleep in or stay up a little later, at least it won’t be as shocking when back to school begins. Getting back to a school eating schedule in terms of time and food selection will also help prepare your child for back to school. If you have questions regarding when snack and lunch will be, reach out to your child’s teacher, and for information regarding lunch choices from the cafeteria, contact your school secretary or check the school website.

Count Down

Put up a calendar with the back to school date circled. For a couple of weeks prior to the first day, talk to your child each day about going back to school and what to expect. For some children, a social story would be helpful for them to review independently or with their parents. Incorporate pictures of their classroom, teachers, and peers as often as possible.


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How to Support Your Child on the Fourth of July

Fourth of July Celebration

July 4th is the day Americans celebrate and express their patriotism with barbecues, fireworks, and family gatherings. While some children are happy to partake in the festivities, it can be a day of unpredictability, sensory overload, and anxiety for children with special needs.

As a parent, you can support your child on the Fourth of July by being proactive, anticipating these uneasy feelings and preparing materials to be used before and during your celebration. We’ve created a comprehensive visual scene that you can easily import into your child’s AutisMate365 profile to explain what they can expect throughout the day. The Fourth of July scene includes several visual tools to positively support your child, including choice boards to express their wants and needs, calming tools to ease anxiety, visual schedules for play activities, and a grid display for communication.

This Fourth of July scene is available in the AutisMate365 Community Library for you to download for free! You can easily personalize the scene for your child based on your family’s event and plans for the holiday.

We hope you enjoy your July 4th holiday!

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5 Summer Activities to Engage Your Child with Special Needs

5 Summer Activities for Children With Special Needs

Summer break has long been enjoyed by children of all ages! It’s a time to relax and recharge before the new school year approaches. This break is a great time to reinforce skills your child learned throughout the year and generalize them to various environments and activities. Engage your child with special needs with the activities listed below, while continuing to support their learning outside of the classroom!

  1. Create exploration bins (Tupperware containers) filled with rice, pasta and water and fill with different fidgets and toys. Play a game of describing the toys and have your child look for them in the bin. Target verbs by having you child act out ‘pour, scoop, splash, play, swim’ with a toy in the bin. This is also a great way to introduce and discuss different textures and sensory items.
  1. Put together a driveway carnival with chalk, hula-hoops, basketball, bubbles, jump rope, bowling, bean bag toss and water toys. Invite some of your child’s classmates or neighborhood kids over to enjoy the fun! This is a perfect time to practice social skills, requesting and appropriate play in an interactive environment.
  1. A scavenger hunt is an easy activity to set up using toys and material from around your house. Adding riddles and inferences to the list of items will help support higher level thinking and problem solving skills.
  1. Making food together is a fantastic activity to do throughout the summer. Whether it’s individual pizzas or fruit kabobs, use this opportunity to target receptive and expressive ID, requesting and following directions.
  1. Take pictures throughout your summer break and help your child make a scrap book to show their classmates when they return to school in the fall. Have your child recall what is happening in each picture and add three specific pieces of information.

Do you have any suggestions for fun summer activities?  Leave a comment and we may include it in our next blog post!

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Video Model Schedules Support Skill Acquisition and Generalization

visual schedules assist with generalization and skill acquisition

Today I want to share with you one of my favorite features of AutisMate365– video model schedules! Video model schedules are visual schedules that allow you break down a sequenced task into its isolated parts and embed a video within each step.

If it sounds impressive, it is! If it sounds difficult, it IS NOT!

In AutisMate365, video pop-ups can be embedded within specific steps of a visual schedule. The video trimming tool within AutisMate365 makes it easy to trim videos so that more complex tasks can be broken down into their individual components. Utilizing the video model schedule provides a multifaceted approach to learning by combining text, real images, and videos to support skill acquisition and generalization.

Some benefits of using video model schedules:

  • Support chaining and shaping
  • Quicker skill acquisition
  • Promote generalization
  • Maintain skills at a mastery level

 How to create a video model schedule using AutisMate365:

  1. Using the video feature of the iPad, film the skill you are working on, in its entirety.
  2. In AutisMate365, go into edit mode by clicking the small pencil on the upper right hand corner of the screen. Then click the large pencil icon at the bottom left and choose “add a hotspot”.
  3. Select “schedule hotspot” and choose your representation of choice for the hotspot.
  4. “Choose” create a user schedule.
  5. Add an image into the schedule, and then click the image to add a video from user library.
  6. Choose your video, then trim the video to the specific step you want to insert by using the yellow rectangle arrows.
  7. Repeat steps 5 and 6 until the entire task has been broken down into smaller, more manageable steps within your schedule.

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PuddingStone is top of the line for language development in young children with special needs

Top Pick: PuddingStone is top of the line for language development in young children

This review was originally posted on Smart Apps for Kids. To view the original review, click here. To learn more about PuddingStone, click here.

Top Pick: PuddingStone is top of the line for language development in young childrenTop Pick: PuddingStone is top of the line for language development in young children

Bottom Line: This brand new app is high quality with a great interface (including 3D graphics), designed to target early language development. The content is excellent for speech-language pathologists and teachers, as well as for parents to support language development at home. (iPad/iPhone/Android, $19.99)

Top Pick: PuddingStone is top of the line for language development in young childrenTop Pick: PuddingStone is top of the line for language development in young children

It’s hard to describe PuddingStone with a quick summary. This app is really unlike any I’ve ever seen, and that is part of what makes it fantastic. It is based on interactive computer software designed at the Children’s Hospital in Boston, and it was put into app form by SpecialNeedsWare in a pretty amazing way.

Top Pick: PuddingStone is top of the line for language development in young childrenIn many ways, it reminds me of one of my favorite apps, Leo’s Pad, in the way it integrates a story along with interactive learning games. In PuddingStone, the interaction is focused on language development, and was developed specifically for children with autism. As a speech-language pathologist, though, I assure you that it is helpful for any young child who needs support for language development.

There are three areas to this app, after the video explanation and introduction. Each area opens with a very clear step-by-step tutorial, including video and audio instructions. The tutorial moves somewhat slowly, at least for adults! However, it’s designed for kids with language delays, and the slow pace and multiple presentations of instructions are designed perfectly. They can be easily skipped, though, after the child knows what to do.

Top Pick: PuddingStone is top of the line for language development in young childrenThe first area, the Action Factory, has three modes of play, all teaching who, what and where with actions. In free play, the user taps “who” to choose one of eight characters, “what” to select one of eight actions, and “where” to pick one of nine locations. As each is selected, it appears on the screen. Select the man with the mustache to have him pop up on the screen, then tap the crawling icon to see him start crawling around the white room. Finally, select the playground to have the blank room transform to a playground.

An eraser quickly clears the whole scene, if desired. Or change one part at a time to see the man crawl around the grocery store then run in the bathroom. There is no verbal interaction in this section. For the most language benefit, it is designed for use with a therapist, teacher or parent. Even so, it’s a fun interaction for kids to see the changes.

In Action Builder, the app guides the user through the selection process with more direction, first asking to “pick a what,” then a where and a who. It cycles through pretty quickly, though — I would like to see the app repeat the whole sentence (like “Dad is sitting in the living room,”) but it can be added by the adult. However, it moves so quickly to the blank screen again that it’s hard to have time to discuss it.

The third option in Action Builder is to tap the screen on the requested spot on an action that the app chooses. As a man jumps in the white room, the narrator asks the user to “find the who,” and so on. It’s a little tricky to tap on the who in some cases (like when the character is running or jumping and continually moving), but it’s still a great way to review who, what and where.

Top Pick: PuddingStone is top of the line for language development in young childrenThe second area, See & Do Theatre, has two modes. The user can interact with video modeling scenes for six different settings (each with three to seven sub-areas, such as shopping, checkout and pay cashier in the grocery store) in story mode. The narrator describes step-by-step what the character is doing. There is additional visual support located just below the video, with pop-up bubbles for each step of the scene and a scrolling scene selector below.

The story mode can be paused, which provides a great option for students to discuss the steps with the therapist. In the step-by-step mode, the story is automatically paused on each step until the user presses play. Again, this is a great option to use in an interactive setting with an adult, providing time to really review each step.

In the final area, the Storytorium, there is only one mode to read one of four stories. However, before reading, ASL captions can be selected, to see the story with text, rebus-style pictures above the words, a small illustration, and a video of American Sign Language is shown while the story is narrated. Without the ASL captions, the user can watch video modeling to learn specific steps related to the story. These videos are the same as those found in the See & Do Theatre.

Top Pick: PuddingStone is top of the line for language development in young childrenAs the story is narrated, the words are underlined with a green line. I really like the underlining compared to highlighting. I don’t know if this is evidence-based, but it seems to draw more attention to the word than typical highlighting, which is great for literacy development. The story can be paused as it’s read, as well as easily restarted to hear each page again. The story is not designed as an early reader, but the text is still simple and the concepts great for language discussion.

Overall, this is an incredible app for speech-language pathologists who work with young children with language delays and impairments. There is exceptional visual support for learning language that is often difficult for children with autism.

For more information about SpecialNeedsWare, visit our website by clicking here.

Top Pick: PuddingStone is top of the line for language development in young childrenTop Pick: PuddingStone is top of the line for language development in young children

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Welcome to the New SpecialNeedsWare Blog

Hi everyone! Our team at SpecialNeedsWare is very excited to announce the kickoff of our blog!

We’ve created this blog to provide tips and tools to help you get the most out of our platforms; to share company updates and events; to get invaluable insight and feedback from you – our partners; and to bring together passionate educators, professionals, and family members from the special needs community. We view this blog as an open forum and encourage you to feel free to leave comments, make suggestions, and request topics for future posts.

We look forward to further connecting the members of our dedicated community and hearing from each of you. As always, thank you for everything you do.

The SpecialNeedsWare Team

P.S. Stay Tuned! Our next first two posts will share some insight and enthusiasm on our newly released virtual language game – PuddingStone – that was developed in collaboration with Boston Children’s Hospital!

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