At FOCUS Therapy, our practice is mainly centered around early intervention with younger kids. That said, some of our patients continue to work with us through elementary school and beyond. The transition from elementary to middle school can be a big one – and our Fort Myers IEP Assistance & Planning team can help parents advocate for the appropriate school accommodations and modifications.
The term “accommodation” is used to describe an alteration of environment, curriculum format, or equipment that allows someone with a disability to complete assigned tasks or gain access to content. Accommodations allow students to pursue a regular course of study, but they don’t alter what’s being taught. Examples of accommodations our Fort Myers IEP Assistance & Planning team might advocate for are things like extended time for students with learning disabilities or fine motor limitations.
A modification is a change to the curriculum. This is typically extended to students with disabilities who aren’t able to comprehend the content being taught. Examples of accommodations would be things like reducing and substantially modifying the content a child is taught and the tasks they are expected to complete.
Students with a 504 Plan under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 or an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) under IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) are entitled to accommodations and possibly modifications that will allow them to learn to the best of their ability in the least restrictive environment.
The key to academic success for a child with disabilities often comes down to having the right adaptations, accommodations, modifications, and supports in the classroom. These should be individualized for each student, based on their needs, personal learning styles, interests, and abilities. That said, here are some generalized steps our Fort Myers IEP Assistance & Planning team can offer for parents who are getting ready for the upcoming school year:
- Start gathering all relevant information and documentation. Hopefully, your child’s elementary school IEP / 504 Plan team was understanding and did their best to help your child succeed. But middle school is the start of some big changes. That can be intimidating for both parent and child. Doing your best to be prepared can go a long way toward building confidence and allowing you to approach this meeting with a positive attitude and spirit of cooperation with this new team. You should gather your child’s IEP or 504 Plan, their most recent report cards, homework, progress reports, correspondence with teachers or administrators, doctors’ letters, therapy plans-of-care, health care records, standardized tests, evaluations, medication/instruction lists, etc. Include some notes of your own about your child’s performance at school and their behavior.
- Meet with a Fort Myers IEP Assistance & Planning advocate. Once you have all these materials, meet up with an advocate who has experience in planning/creating/modifying IEP and 504 Plans. Many of our FOCUS therapists have background experience in school-based therapy, so we are closely familiar with this process and the school accommodations/modifications that can help the kids we treat. We’ll help you review this information and determine whether we need to continue with the same list of accommodations, or whether the increasing demands of middle school will mean they will need some additional supports. Be prepared to answer questions like: What is your child currently struggling with in school? What goals do you want your child to reach? Is your child going to need more breaks? If so, when/how/with whom will those breaks occur? What accommodations are they going to need in spaces outside the classroom – like the cafeteria, restroom, library, or locker room? How will medications be dispensed if needed? What behavioral or disciplinary practices/methods are used by teachers to deal with students who have special needs? What plans are in place to support my child’s social interaction and growth in recreation/leisure activities? Is there a specific staffer my child can go to if they feel confused/anxious/overwhelmed? Does the school’s emergency evacuation plans take into account the unique needs of my child? What channels of parent communication will be available if issues or concerns arise?
- Approach the meeting with a spirit of cooperation. Our team is here to help and support you however we can. We understand the IEP and 504 Plan processes can be overwhelming and even frustrating for parents. Your first inclination may be to go into it as if you’re facing off with an adversary, guns blazing. However, it’s our experience that approaching the school district team with a positive attitude and a spirit of cooperation is often the most successful. Don’t be afraid to vocalize concerns and push back when you disagree – but if you can do so respectfully and even kindly, chances are better that you’ll have greater success. We can come to the meeting with you to ensure you are heard.
- Prepare your child. Middle school is a big change – and that goes for all kids. Those with disabilities may find the transition even tougher. Take some time to prepare them for the switch. Consider giving them a middle school t-shirt and maybe take them to a school sporting event, play, or concert so they feel more connected to the community. Discuss the upcoming school year with your child, and ask if they have any concerns. Drive by the school a few times so they get used to seeing it. Ask the school if you can take a tour in advance, maybe even meet some of the teachers and staff. If there’s an orientation, take your child. And talk to other parents of middle school kids with IEPs and 504 Plans – they can be great resources!
FOCUS offers pediatric speech, occupational, physical, and ABA therapy in Fort Myers and throughout Southwest Florida. Call (239) 313.5049 or Contact Us online.
More Blog Entries:
Understanding Sensory Processing Disorder Subtypes Sept. 1, 2022, Fort Myers IEP Assistance & Planning Team
For many people, fireworks are the highlight of summer holiday celebrations. But as Fort Myers occupational therapists, we recognize that delight isn’t what these loud, bright, earth-shaking explosions inspire for everyone. For neurodiverse individuals – and kids on the autism spectrum, in particular – fireworks can be scary, stressful, and uncomfortable.
Every child is different, so the approach parents and loved ones take to minimize these negative impacts will vary from person to person. Some parents may opt out of attending these events entirely. This is understandable. A 2018 study published in the peer-reviewed journal IEEE Pulse (Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers) took note of hypersensitivity to noise among many children with autism, underscoring that even everyday noises can sometimes cause pain, anxiety, and meltdowns. Absolutely if this is the case, it’s best to keep your child far from fireworks displays if at all possible.
But for those who think their child might truly get some enjoyment from it – as long as they’re prepared – consider the following tips from our Fort Myers occupational therapists.
Keeping Your Kid Comfortable During the Display
To keep your child calm and comfortable during fireworks, it’s actually a good idea to start planning several days or even weeks in advance.
Water is a way of life in Florida, but drowning is the No. 1 cause of death among children under 5 in the Sunshine State. Children with special needs (particularly those with conditions like autism that make them prone to wandering) are at especially high risk. At FOCUS Therapy, we want to ensure all our patients and families stay safe this summer. It is imperative that parents and caregivers be proactive about water safety.
Learning to swim is one of the best prevention methods. If they are too young yet to learn, ISR swim lessons can be a literal life-saver. ISR stands for Infant Swimming Resource, and it’s a self-rescue program that teaches infants and young children how to survive if they fall into a pool or other body of water.
Taking precautionary measures to prevent wandering is also important. (Think locks, gates, alarms, etc.) Never allow your children to swim unsupervised – even for short stretches, and even if they have floaties. A child under 30 pounds can drown in just 30 seconds. It literally happens that fast, and it’s often very quiet. If you know you’re going to be distracted and around a body of water with your child, recruit others to help you keep an eye on the kid(s) – so that someone is always watching them near water.
If you have questions or need help with teaching your child with special needs about water safety, we can help.
FOCUS Therapy offers ABA therapy, ADOS testing, speech therapy, and occupational therapy to children in Lee County, Florida.
Swim and Water Safety, September 2018, Autism Speaks
More Blog Entries:
Break Those Bad Screen Time Habits With These Tips From FOCUS Therapy, March 17, 2023, Fort Myers Pediatric Therapy Clinic Blog
FOCUS Therapy offers occupational therapy to children in Lee County, Florida. Call (239) 313.5049 or Contact Us online to schedule an assessment or inquire about our pediatric therapy services.
FOCUS Therapy is now offering a new service called behavior consulting to families and kids in Southwest Florida. We recognize that ABA therapy is not available to every family – either because their child doesn’t have a qualifying diagnosis like autism or because the services are too expensive or intensive. But behavior consulting can be offered to kids of all ages – diagnosis or not – to
Behavior consulting isn’t a substitute for ABA therapy. But it can be a lifeline to parents struggling to help their children overcome issues with aggression, defiance, tantrums, routine changes, or social/communication issues. We may be able to offer these services as a stop-gap while you’re waiting on all the professional assessments and referrals required to begin ABA therapy. Or we can serve as helpful guides for you and your child as you navigate through a particularly rough or puzzling patch of behavior problems.
Behavior consulting involves assessment, action planning, and 1:1 parent coaching and follow-up. Our team of BCBAs (board certified behavior analysts) work to understand the why of your child’s behavior. We then formulate an evidence-based plan to help effectively address the underlying issues. It’s tailored and workable for you.
Unlike ABA therapy, which we offer strictly in-clinic, behavior consulting can be done in-clinic, at-home, or virtually (by phone or video conferencing). Services are paid out-of-pocket, but are affordable – and you have the option to tailor it to a schedule that fits your needs, availability, and budget. Our level of involvement can range anywhere from a 30-minute phone call once a month to a more intensive initial assessment followed by bi-weekly, hourlong home visits and coaching.
We understand that not all Southwest Florida kids and families have the same needs. Our outreach and treatment services should reflect that. Behavior consulting does not require a diagnosis or doctor’s referral. That said, because we are specifically trained in the science of behavior and work daily with children who have a broad range of neurological, developmental, and psychological delays and disabilities, pediatric doctors and specialists often find our reports and opinions valuable when considering potential diagnoses.
During our parent coaching sessions, children may or may not be present. The primary goal is to empower YOU!
If you have additional questions about Behavior Consulting services, we’d be happy to hear from you and offer any insight or help we can.
FOCUS Therapy offers ABA therapy and ADOS testing to children in Lee County, Florida.
When to Seek Professional Help for Child Behavior Problems, Dec. 13, 2022, Carly Snyder, MD, VeryWellFamily
More Blog Entries:
How Meds & Pediatric Therapies Together Can Help Kids With Attention/Behavior Issues Reach Maximum Potential, Feb. 7, 2023, Fort Myers ABA Therapy Blog
Big shout out to Christie Lawrence!!
A much-loved RBT (registered behavior technician) in the ABA therapy department at FOCUS since 2019, Christie just earned her bachelor’s degree in Public Health, with a minor in ABA (BCaBA), from the University of West Florida.
BCaBA stands for Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst, which is an undergraduate-level certification in behavior analysis. Public Health is a comprehensive, rigorous major, and graduates of these programs work across numerous disciplines to improve health outcomes for the populations they serve.
“Christie is incredibly compassionate, sharp, and creative – a truly wonderful therapist,” said FOCUS Owner Jennifer Voltz-Ronco. “We feel especially fortunate to have her as part of our FOCUS family, and we’re so proud of her and all the hard work she put in to reach this milestone achievement!”
Check out her bio here: https://focusflorida.com/our-team/christie-lawrence-rbt/
It’s well-established that the sooner a child is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, the earlier they can begin interventions like ABA therapy – and thus the more positive their long-term prognosis. It’s the reason the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends all kids 18 to 30 months be screened for autism. A diagnosis before the age of 2.5 is linked to considerable improvement in social symptoms – most likely because the younger the child, the greater the brain’s plasticity and behavioral flexibility.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention reports the rate of autism prevalence has more than tripled in recent years – from 1 in 150 in 2000 to 1 in 54 in 2021. Much of this likely has to do with better diagnostic tools. We’re getting better at catching it – and there is less stigma with a diagnosis, so parents are more open to beginning early interventions, such as ABA therapy.
FOCUS Therapy provides Fort Myers ADOS testing for autism. This is a well-established, effective assessment for determining autism risk. (It’s not a matter of “pass” or “fail,” but rather a tool pediatric neurologists, developmental specialists, and psychiatrists rely on when deciding whether an autism diagnosis is appropriate.) We can conduct ADOS testing on kids as young as 12 months, though most are issued somewhere between 18 months and 4 years.
“By the time we get to age 4, so much brain development has already happened,” explained FOCUS Therapy Owner/Founder Jen Voltz-Ronco, also a speech therapist. “Our goal is always to catch it as early as humanly possible.”
Now, there is new – potentially ground-breaking – research indicating other screening tools might have the ability to flag autism risk factors even sooner.
One of those is in the early stages of development – a first-of-its-kind analysis that purports to identify autism risk markers from a single strand of hair – just one centimeter in length. This is exciting because if it proves effective, it could help identify autism in children while they’re still just a few months old – before they even miss any developmental milestones.
Created by a company called LinusBio, it doesn’t yet have federal approval. And like the ADOS test, it wouldn’t be the final word on a diagnosis. Rather, it could be used to aid physicians in diagnostics It would flag exposure to certain metals and other substances (usually during the third trimester of pregnancy) that have been associated with higher autism risk.
Research recently published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Clinical Medicine showed that it accurately predicted autism in 81 percent of the babies it tested. Researchers say they’re hoping this technology could be fine-tuned to allow for even greater accuracy so that kids can begin early intervention treatments like ABA therapy, speech therapy, and occupational therapy even sooner.
A second promising study by researchers at Duke University revealed an algorithm created from children’s health records could flag autism risk as early as a baby’s first month of life. Study authors say infants who are diagnosed with autism often have very different early health care patterns than neurotypical children. The condition is characterized by difficulties with communication and behaviors, but babies who are later diagnosed with autism often have much higher rates of issues with gastrointestinal systems, gross motor development, sleep, and vision. These patterns – which were analyzed in the medical records of some 45,000 children over the course of five years – were assessed by this new algorithm to identify autism risk very early with astonishing accuracy. That doesn’t necessarily mean a 1-month-old will be diagnosed, but it will give parents and physicians an idea of that child’s relative risk – so that the ball can get rolling on the earliest interventions possible.
If you think your child may have autism, it is best not to wait-and-see. Early intervention is essential – and we can help! FOCUS provides ADOS testing for autism, as well as ABA therapy, speech therapy, and occupational therapy.
FOCUS Therapy offers ABA therapy and ADOS testing to children in Lee County, Florida.
A new test for autism hopes to help doctors diagnose before symptoms show, Jan. 5, 2023, By Evan Bush, NBC News
More Blog Entries:
How ABA Therapy Can Help Kids, Feb. 6, 2023, Fort Myers ABA therapy Blog
Child speech delays are very common. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, an estimated 1 in 10 children has delayed speech or language development. As any Fort Myers speech therapist will tell you, the earlier such delays are diagnosed, the faster they can be treated – and the better the long-term prognosis. This is why increasingly, practitioners do NOT recommend a “wait-and-see” approach if a child speech delay is suspected.
Beyond that, research shows that certain children may be at higher risk than others.
One recently-published, peer-reviewed cross-sectional study on child speech delay risk factors, researchers identified the following markers:
- Long-term sucking habits
- Pre-term birth
- Low birth weight
- Problems during pregnancy or complications during birth (including hypertension, preeclampsia, etc.)
- Hearing problems
- Frequent middle ear infections
- Oropharyngeal deformity (occurring in the middle of the throat)
- Family history of speech and language delay (65 percent of those in the study had a first-degree relative with a similar condition)
- Being first-born
- Earlier introduction to screen time
- Maternal illiteracy
Fort Myers Speech Therapist Can Treat Speech Delays Regardless of Cause
Of course, there’s no single risk factor that guarantees a child will have speech delays. Obviously, not all first-born children are going to be late in talking. But these findings do underscore something any Fort Myers speech therapist is likely to tell you as well: There’s an element of both nature and nurture at play. Some of it involves genetics, but the risk can be further elevated by environmental factors (like earlier screen time, less face-to-face interactions, less time spent reading to a child, etc.).
Of course, this is just one study, and it’s limited by the fact that the pool of those studied are only those who received care at a single hospital over a period of time. But there is a great deal of additional research that backs these findings – and identifies other risk factors as well.
Child speech delays can have MANY underlying causes, often overlapping. Some of these include:
- Cognitive disabilities
- Receptive aphasia
- Psychosocial deprivation
- Expressive language disorder
- Premature birth
- Cerebral Palsy
- Down Syndrome
Sometimes, there’s no obvious cause – and that’s Ok! A Fort Myers speech therapist can treat the symptoms and focus on helping the child catch up to where they need to be for their developmental age – regardless of whether we ever zero in on the “why.”
Although it’s true that children develop at varying rates and a singular red flag isn’t cause for alarm, missed milestones shouldn’t be ignored. A physician’s referral is typically required for a child to undergo a speech-language evaluation by a Fort Myers speech therapist. If you aren’t sure whether to raise your concerns to your child’s pediatrician, FOCUS offers free initial screenings. This will provide you with something beyond your own concern to bring to the doctor when requesting a more in-depth assessment.
FOCUS offers pediatric speech therapy in Fort Myers and throughout Southwest Florida. Call (239) 313.5049 or Contact Us online.
Speech and language delay in children: Prevalence and risk factors, May 2019, Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care
More Blog Entries:
Break Those Bad Screen Time Habits With These Tips From FOCUS Therapy, March 17, 2023, Fort Myers Speech Therapist Blog
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