Wednesday, August 13, 2014

It's Almost that Time Again...

As summer starts to draw to a close (sniff, sniff), many families are thinking about how they can help make the transition back (or to a new school) easier for their children. has come up with some tips to help facilitate the process for students transitioning to a different or new school:

Adjusting to a New School

For children with learning challenges or other special needs, transitioning can cause more anxiety for the child as well as the family.  Here are some tips to help facilitate that process:

Back to School Tips for Students with Special Needs

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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

What do We do Next? Learning to Continue to Live

(photo used with permission of Maggie's family)

This month, I participated in a 5k in memory of a very special child who recently succumbed to her battle with cancer.  Maggie Philbrook, gained notoriety in the now-famous "Roar" video (watch the CHAD "Roar" video here.), made by the staff, patients, and families at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center and by her appearance on Piers Morgan's show.  That's when the world noticed Maggie.  Here in Manchester, NH, she was already famous. Maggie was a daughter, granddaughter, sister, friend, community member, and so much more!

While Maggie's family, friends, and community try to get back to their new "normal," they have found ways to honor her memory every single day.  Maggie's father has spearheaded a "Mag-a-Palooza" event coming up in a couple of weeks (event information here), featuring the Adam Ezra Group. Maggie's mother has created a blog, "I Made my Kid Walk to School with Cancer" (see Moira's blog here). Teams have been formed in Maggie's name for multiple races.  A non-profit organization has been created (visit the Facebook page for "Maggie's Beat" here) in her memory .  Percussion cabinets were donated to the music department at Maggie's school (check them out here) People who don't even know Maggie are reaching out and recognizing her spirit for life on a regular basis.  In her short time here, she made quite an impact! Maggie's memory lives on through those who were touched by story. 

Having never lost a child, but still feeling the effects from the loss of other loved ones years after they have passed, I could see how one could want to shut out the world and stop living.  I am amazed daily by the families I see around me, not only surviving these losses but using that grief to bring joy and share their loved one's gifts with those around them.

Take time today (and every day) to appreciate those around you.  Remember that life can change in any direction at any given moment. I encourage you to read all of the posts in Moira's blogs.  They are touching, emotional, and truthful. I know those posts are helping so many people who are dealing with not only the loss of Maggie, but the loss of others in their lives.  Keep writing please, Moira!

Thank you to the Philbrook family for allowing me to share their story with you!

Diane Harrises, M.Ed.
Academic & Behavioral Consulting of N.H.
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Monday, April 28, 2014

Why isn't Everyone Included?

Mainstreaming?  Inclusion?  Resource Room?  What are these things and why are they discussed when it comes to placement options for a student with special needs?
A student with an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) has a plan designed for his/her specific needs.  How and where that plan is delivered varies from student to student. 
Mainstreaming involves students who may benefit, socially and/or academically, from participating in a typical," general education classroom.  These students may need some adjustments to parts of being in that class (how the student is assessed, for example), but overall learns alongside the other students, using the same curriculum, same processes, etc.  The adjustments are minor and the student needs to be able to show progress and growth from being part of that class.
Inclusion refers to students who have a been identified with a disability also being included within a typical classroom. One of the biggest considerations of inclusion is to not segregate the students who have disabilities from their peers who are typically developing.  Students may have a modified curriculum from their peers in this class and may not make the same kinds of gains as a child who may be mainstreamed.  With inclusion, students should still be making growth on their academic goals (based upon their individual levels), but emphasis on social skills is highly valued.
A resource room is a location where students receive more specific instruction.  The program provided there is a specialized, tailored program, based upon that student's individual needs.  A student who is part of an inclusion model may need to spend part of his/her day in a resource room.  How long that student is in that room would be based upon what can be modified and accomplished within the typical classroom and what cannot.  It also may be, that for specific students, a smaller, more quite environment may be a better location to deliver specific pieces of instruction.
For students who have more involved challenges, the use of a resource room for the majority (or sometimes even all) of the day may be necessary. For a smaller population of students, none of these options are appropriate.  In those cases, alternative placements may would likely be discussed.

Something to keep in mind: For the purpose of the previous explanations, the word "typical" was used to describe what is considered" a general education classroom."  It is important to keep in mind that, in a typical classroom, with or without mainstream and inclusion, the  students considered "typically developing" still each have their own abilities, needs, learning styles, etc.

Earlier this month, an article was posted on that further discusses inclusion in the classroom. Dan Habib, Filmmaker in Residence at the University of New Hampshire's Institute on Disability, advocates for inclusion and has documented in his films experiences with students living with various challenges. With personal experience, as the parent of a student who has special needs, Dan is able to explain how inclusion worked for his family.  It is a great, quick read.

Learning with Disabilities: One Effort to Shake Up the Classroom

Side note: If you have not yet heard of Dan or are unfamiliar with his work, please take a few minutes to learn about him and his films here: About Dan Habib

Thanks for reading!

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Diane Harrises, M.Ed.



Tuesday, March 25, 2014

My Child is Supposed to do What? When?

Copyright Cesar Robles - Dreamstime Photos

After just finishing up a telephone call with a parent, I am again reminded of how overwhelming things can be for families raising children with challenges.  Let's face's challenging whether or not your child has any special needs, but think about how overwhelming it would be if it happens to be your first child.

If you have a good team around you (family, friends, a pediatrician, as examples), someone is going to help you get to the "experts," who will help you navigate this new journey.  I quote the word "experts" because many of us have tons of professional knowledge and expertise in specific areas, but you are the child's parent and your voice is equally, if not more important, in many ways.  You know your child, know what is important to your family, and know how you hope your child will function in that family dynamic.  That is all vital information to the professionals involved.

As professionals, we try to remember that you are likely in uncharted territories of your child's life and try to guide you through those choppy waters. Part of our job is to ask you what you'd like to see your child learn, how you'd like him/her to communicate, behave, etc.  We want to know what is important to you as a family and how we can best help, how we can help your child be successful in schools, in social relationships, and in the community. We do sometimes forget, especially when it is your first child, you may not really know what is typical development.

I've included a link to a great outline, offered up by, to help you see what typical development looks like in children through age five. Note: this does not cover academics, but social skills, communication, and more.  It is a nice resource for parents who aren't sure "what comes next."  As professionals, we are seeing where your child's current levels are and start building from there.  Even though your child may be age four, s/he may only be demonstrating skills a year or more behind that.  We would not skip right to the skills for age four, but would increase our expectations from that starting point (the baseline). 

The ABC's of the Whole Child

When in doubt, reach out for help.  Talk to your child's pediatrician.  Contact a local support agency.  Speak to other families. Contact your local school district.  We are here to help you!

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Until next time...



Sunday, March 16, 2014

This Was NOT What We Had Planned!

Photo courtesy of the Mead Family
"We always wondered how Carter would wear a wedding ring without a left hand. Today we discovered he likes to wear a wedding ring on his twins. I think he looks adorable wearing Daddy's wedding ring!"
Just think...

All your life, you've planned to become a parent.  You've looked forward to the day when you would be raising children, coaching Little League, watching gymnastics routines, the first day of school, prom, graduation, weddings, watching your child become the next MLB star, or President of the United States.  And then...something happens to change your world.  Your child is born, but not as you had planned. 

Over the past two decades, I have had the pleasure of working with many families who have experienced this revelation.  Some families were aware that there may be a physical or neurological issue prior to the birth, some found out immediately in the first few moments of birth, and others experienced it within the child's first few years.  The timing has never been important with these families.  They all experienced fear, anxiety, and nervousness that they would have no idea how to help their children to grow and succeed.  Yet somehow, even in spite of some professionals telling them that their children would not succeed or even survive, they have faced the odds and are raising some of the most amazing and accomplished children I have ever met!

This poem, by Emily Perl Kingsley, has been used often to try to better explain what life is like when your child is born with challenges.  Although at times it is certainly hard to find a silver lining or keep up a positive attitude when faced with what seem to be insurmountable struggles, just think about what you might be missing...


by Emily Perl Kingsley
c1987 by Emily Perl Kingsley. All rights reserved

I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability - to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It's like this......

When you're going to have a baby, it's like planning a fabulous vacation trip - to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It's all very exciting.

After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, "Welcome to Holland."

"Holland?!?" you say. "What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I'm supposed to be in Italy. All my life I've dreamed of going to Italy."

But there's been a change in the flight plan. They've landed in Holland and there you must stay.
The important thing is that they haven't taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease. It's just a different place.

So you must go out and buy new guide books. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.

It's just a different place. It's slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you've been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around.... and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills....and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.

But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy... and they're all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say "Yes, that's where I was supposed to go. That's what I had planned."

And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away... because the loss of that dream is a very very significant loss.

But... if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn't get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things ... about Holland.

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Monday, February 17, 2014

Warning Signs of Dyscalculia

Image courtesy of Michelle Meiklejohn /

If someone said, "My child is dyslexic," many people would automatically know s/he had difficulties with reading.  However, when it come to dyscalculia, many people have never heard the word.  You may be thinking, "What is dyscalculia and how do I know if it is an issue for my child?"

Dyscalculia is a dysfunction with calculations.  It affects approximately 1 in 20 people. Often these people have strong writing skills, are very creative, and demnostrate difficulty with calculating numbers. Trouble counting or challenges with simple addition and subtraction may be be signs of a question of dyscalculia in children. Balancing a checkbook or reading an analog clock could be examples of challenges and adult with Dyscalculia may demonstrate.

Evaluation and treatment in early childhood may remediate many of the challenges shown, however often the symptoms go unnoticed during that time.  The links below this message will help you get a better understanding of dyscalculia and offer some signals to help you identify whether someone you know may be affected by Dyscalculia.

What is Dyscalculia?

Warning Signs in Children

Warning Signs in College Students and Adults

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Monday, January 27, 2014

AAAAH!!! Who's Child isThis???

It happens to the best of us.  You ask a child to do something, to not do something, to not touch things in the grocery store and then boom...a full blown tantrum!  Is it exhaustion?  Does the child want something?  Does the child not want to do something?  What is happening????????????

When dealing with challenging behaviors, it is easy to respond with yelling ourselves.  What we need to remember is that those behaviors are serving a function.  They are demonstrated to try to tell us something the child is unable to express.  Our job is to try to find out what that is.

When your child's behavior is dangerous, to your child or to others, please immediately seek assistance from a professional with experience dealing with those behaviors. This information is NOT a replacement for those professional services.  It is intended to help you better understand why challenging behaviors are occurring and suggestions of what can be done to change those behaviors.  Happy reading!

5 Facts Every Family Should Know

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