Monthly Archives: June 2012

Finding your child’s gifts

My mother used to say that “Everyone has something that they are better at than anyone else in the whole wide world.”  I don’t remember now exactly what situations would prompt her to burst forth with such words of encouragement.  I’m sure that sometimes she was speaking  to me when I was feeling sorry for myself because I felt that I wasn’t good enough at something that I had tried to do, or maybe was afraid to attempt.  At other times, I’m sure that she was talking about my brother, Richard, who was thought to be “slow.”  Richard, however, had an uncanny gift for electronics and figuring out how things worked.  He would take things apart and put them together in creative ways.  Once he rigged the lamp switch next to my bed to automatically turn on a CB radio when the light was turned on.  That was interesting!

While my mother may have overstated the case, there was something to the point that she was trying to make.  Each of us have been given a unique set of gifts and challenges.  An important key to being successful in life, however we define “success”, is to figure out how to work around our challenges, and to also find our gifts.

For many children who have disabilities, the challenges become the constant focus of parents, other family members, teachers, clinicians, etc.  Some kids are in school all day and then go to therapy and tutoring in the evening.  Parents may coach, practice, review, and pre-teach on weekends and during the summer months.  While it is important to help your child improve their functioning in areas of need, it is even more important that their disability does not define who they are.  That child who struggles with reading could be a great dancer, athlete, artist, designer, cook, builder, actor, scientist, gardener, musician, equestrian, singer, craft-person, animal whisperer…..  You get the idea.

Allow your child to have as wide a variety of experiences as possible,whether it’s as a spectator or participant.  Follow up when your child shows signs of interest.  Look for opportunities for them to learn more about an area of interest, take lessons to develop their skills, or participate in some way.  Let your child dabble in several different areas.  Their first interest may not become their true passion.  You don’t want to miss the activity that reveals your child’s gift or lifts their spirit because you got stuck on the first thing that they expressed some interest in.  Classes offered through your local Park and Recreation Department or the Y can be a relatively inexpensive way to sample a variety of offerings without investing a lot of money or making a long-term commitment.  Other places offer introductory sessions and classes from time to time.  Ask around and keep your eyes open for those and other opportunities.

Giving your child the chance to participate in an activity that he/she loves, or is good at, will enhance their self-esteem, sense of competence, and provide an important contrast to the challenges associated with the disability.  The gift is there; your job is to help your child find it!

Accessible travel and recreation in NC

Cover of ACCESS NC GuidebookThe latest edition of ACCESS North Carolina: A Vacation and Travel Guide for People with Disabilities is available just in time for summer fun and travel.

This comprehensive guide provides a wealth of information about the accessibility of a wide variety of travel destinations, parks, museums and other attractions throughout the state of North Carolina.  It is funded by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services  and actually produced by inmates in NC Department of Correction facilities.  Chalk up one for rehabilitation!

ACCESS North Carolina is divided into five regions of the state and there is also a special section with additional related resources.  Using a mix of text and icons, each listing includes general information about each tourist site and specific information about:

  • Parking
  • Types of paths
  • Entrances
  • Restrooms
  • Water fountains and elevators (if available)

Each listing rates (and describes) how accessible the tourist site is for people with physical/mobility challenges.  Where applicable the listing also includes rates how accessible the site is for visitors who are Deaf or hard of hearing, visitors with vision loss, visitors with intellectual disabilities and visitors with other types of disabilities.  Other information that may be important to planning a visit (e.g. dates of operation, cost, etc.) is also included.

Access North Carolina is available at all North Carolina Welcome Centers and on line at:

A text-only version is also available at

Free copies can also be obtained from the NC Division of Tourism, Film and Sports Development at 1-800-VISIT NC or by calling the NC Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services at 1-800-689-9090 or 919-733-5924 (TDD: Telecommunicative Device for the Deaf).

North Carolina is a beautiful state and there is so much to do and experience from mountain to coast! Take advantage of the summer break from school.  Get a copy of the guide and go out there and access more of North Carolina.  The next time that your child complains,  “I’m bored!” your response can be, “Let’s go!”

Summer camp search

It happens every year.  Just before and just after the school year ends parents start calling ECAC as part of their search for summer camps or summer programs for their children.  After silently saying to ourselves, “Why did they wait so long?!”, we Parent Educators dutifully attempt to provide what limited assistance we can.

We refer parents to the Summer Camp Directory that is assembled by the Family Support Program which operates out of the School of Social Work at UNC-Chapel Hill.  This listing includes day and overnight camps for children with a variety of special needs and can be accessed at   Most of these camps fill up months in advance, but parents can still learn about the programs, and find out how and when to apply for next year.

Many local Departments of Parks and Recreation offer  summer day camps, and some have therapeutic recreational programs designed specifically for children and youth with disabilities.  As recipients of public funding, however, the regular camp programs have an obligation to make reasonable accommodations that would make it possible for children with disabilities to participate in their program.  Some of the Y’s are also making a deliberate effort to be more accommodating of children with special needs.

Call around, talk to friends and acquaintances, check out local “Parent” magazines, public libraries, museums, movie theaters, bowling alleys, skate rinks, churches, public and private schools, tourist attractions, scouts, 4-H clubs, etc. for summer offerings that might be of interest to your child.  Parents often have to create a patchwork quilt of activities in order to keep the children constructively occupied throughout the summer.  At home, consider accessing educational websites, software and activity/workbooks to keep the young minds active and skills from being lost.  There are more summer tips on many of the disability-related related websites.

The key message is to start planning early… really early! That’s when you’ll have the most options and a chance at getting financial assistance, if needed.  With planning, your child can go from having a ho-hum summer to a truly great one!

Thinking about Extended School Year?

Extended School Year or ESY refers to special education and related services that are provided to eligible students beyond the normal school year, based on the student’s IEP (Individualized Education Program).  Services  are based on each child’s unique needs, so they range widely in terms of the type of service and how it is delivered.  During the development of each new IEP the IEP team must decide if the student is, or is not eligible for ESY services.  In some cases, the team will note that ESY is “under consideration” and a future date will be set for the team to come back together and make a final decision.  This gives the team time to collect data or information about the student’s performance to help them determine eligibility for ESY.

Some of the key things for the IEP team to consider are:

  • Whether the student regresses, or slides backward, during long breaks from instruction, and takes an unusually long time to relearn lost skills, or
  • Whether there is a risk that a long break will erase most of the gain that the student made during the regular school,or
  • Whether the student is showing that they are beginning to learn a critical skill, and the “window of opportunity” might be lost if there are long breaks from instruction.

The great majority of students do not qualify for ESY services.  In many cases, however, the team ends up checking “No” on the IEP because they simply do not have enough information to establish that the student needs ESY services.

It’s probably too late to address ESY for the summer of 2012, but it’s not too late to start gathering information and data that the IEP team can consider at the next annual review.  Save a few samples of your child’s school work to show what they were able to do at the end of the 2011-2012 school year.  Keep progress reports, report cards, behavior reports, communication log, correspondence, assessment results, videos….basically anything that will provide documentation of your child’s functioning in the areas of concern.

When your child returns to school, find out what kind of assessments will be done.  If additional skills need to be measured, ask to have some assessments conducted in those areas.  If there are significant concerns about behavior, try to get next year’s teacher to make  written reports to you about how your child’s behavior has been each day.  Whether the teacher makes a note in the child’s assignment book, or completes a printed check sheet of some sort, this will provide information about your child’s performance over time, so that any patterns can be identified (ex. he/she has more behavioral difficulties after long weekends, winter and spring breaks).

It’s okay to tell the teacher(s) that you want to make sure that enough data is collected during the year to give the IEP team what it needs to make the right decision about Extended School Year services.  Make notes about things that you observe and comments that are made to you.  Hold onto (or copy) some of the school work and tests that come home.  Hopefully what you will see is your child making steady progress.  But you will be better prepared, just in case…