Educational programs for the special needs community in and around Los Angeles.

Four Reasons Educating Students With Learning Differences Matters

Have you heard the buzz about the on-the-job construction worker from Toronto secretly recorded while dancing to a hit song by Ariana Grande? The video went viral, boasting tens of millions of viewers, after his wife posted it on social media. Although this was a humorous and entertaining break from the onslaught of political banter we have been overwhelmed with, I long for a world where life-impacting concerns, significant to...

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A Personal Account of an IEP Journey

Lia Martin’s 9-year-old son, Taylor, is a gifted artist – but he also has ADHD. That means, as the former sitcom writer and TV executive puts it, he didn’t enter the classroom seamlessly. Her son’s learning difference eventually led Martin to seek out an IEP (individual education plan), and that journey also was not seamless. It started with her feeling of failure the first time she heard Taylor, then a...

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Students Record a Song To Urge a Closer Look

Children from the L.A. Speech and Language Therapy Center are inspiring the community with their original song, “Beyond the Label.” The students, who all have developmental disabilities, participated in writing a song to encourage people to see beyond their diagnoses. The group has performed the song at the White House, and recorded the original piece with singer-songwriter Johnny Gill of the R&B/pop group New Edition and a team of professional...

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los angeles schools

Inclusive Programs That Teach All Learners

With the right support, students with disabilities can reach their potential  There was a time when not all children were considered capable of learning, when many students with disabilities were kept out of school completely. “They used to use the term ‘educatable.’ I hated that,” says Lila Schob, who has been an educator for 20 years. “Everyone can be educated. Everyone deserves an education.” Today, from large public districts to...

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special needs

Wiley Academy Opens Preschool for Kids on the Spectrum

L.A. Speech and Language Therapy Center has expanded. In September, the Wiley Academy for Specialized Learning opened with a learning environment tailored to children with autism spectrum disorders. The preschool program is for ages 3 to 5 and follows a language-based multidisciplinary curriculum. The emphasis is on whole-child development with daily exposure to activities that promote speech, fine motor, sensory and cognitive development. Alyssa Porter’s son, Jagger, 3, attends the preschool. “I toured other...

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Young Adults With Autism Need Workplace Social Skills

"As I wandered the resource fair with both my kids in tow, it became strikingly clear how limited the options would be for Nicholas post-high school." "There is a lot of money invested in these kids when they are young, but there is significantly less as they get older. You feel as if you're on your own." These are real thoughts plaguing parents of high school-age children with autism spectrum...

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special needs

Entering The World Of Oz With Justin

Autism is something I never imagined that my world would revolve around. It all began with a phone call from the school about my son, Justin, who was 5 at the time, not participating in class – odd behavior, not being sociable with staff or peers. Next, I received a letter from the school, asking us to have him tested. Following that assessment, a meeting was scheduled. The psychologist finished...

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Why Kids With Disabilities Need Time For Play

As summer winds down and the new school year gets rolling, you’re likely looking closely at your child’s schedule. If your child has a developmental or other disability, one especially important thing to schedule in is play. Joclynn Benjamin, owner of Leaps n Boundz – which offers swimming, gymnastics and social programs for individuals of all abilities at several L.A.-area sites – says families often have few slots open for...

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Introducing Your Child With Disabilities To a New Teacher

A new school year is starting, which means a new teacher for your child. Take a few minutes to write a letter that will help equip your child’s teacher for the excitement and challenges ahead. “As much as our kids need support at times, teachers need just as much,” says Kathleen Secchi, Santa Clarita coordinator for Family Focus Resource Center, a nonprofit that provides support services to families raising children...

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An Animated Look at the World of Autism

Lots of kids love Disney animated films, watching them again and again until their parents are driven to distraction – and have memorized most of the dialog. Owen Suskind’s parents, though, don’t complain about his Disney obsession. They credit it with helping bring him back to them. The documentary “Life, Animated,” in local theaters beginning July 1, lets us share that journey. Near the beginning of the film we see...

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special needs

Is Your Child With Autism Really Intellectually Disabled?

I am sitting in my office across from a special needs young man who is about to graduate from high school. He has a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder and is very verbal. But though he shows average intellectual ability on some tests of intelligence, he has virtually no academic skills. I can’t help but feel that this individual has been poorly served by society, and wonder why he is...

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Songs About Social Skills – And Us

Social skills are important in helping smooth our way through life – but they’re not something we talk about a lot. An album out this spring from SoCal singer/songwriter Kerry Fenster makes the conversation musical. “Songs About Us,” from the independent Muzic School label, is a collection of five tunes aimed at teaching social skills to children and young adults with developmental delays. The album was inspired by Fenster’s work...

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Why the World Needs Kids of All Abilities

Vincent Van Dyk was born with a rare condition called Wolf-Hirschhorn syndrome, a genetic disorder that causes developmental delays, delayed growth and other issues. “When we first got his diagnosis, it was really scary,” says his mom, Felicia. “I thought back to my own childhood, how kids used to make fun.” Still, Van Dyk decided to make sure Vincent, who is now 12, was fully included when he started attending...

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Eight Ways to Calm Autism-related Anxiety

Professionals say a little anxiety now and then is natural, and even good for us. But anxiety that interferes with daily life – as it does for some children who have special needs or are on the autism spectrum – is not. Here are a few tried-and-true techniques for calming feelings of anxiety in children with autism. Be prepared. A big part of stress reduction is planning for stressful situations,...

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Putting People With Autism To Work, Now

Each Thursday evening six young adults gather around a large table in an office off Ventura and Reseda boulevards and work to hone their employment skills. Because these individuals have autism, their chances of finding meaningful employment aren’t great. While 50,000 18-22-year-olds with autism graduate from public schools in the U.S. each year, the employment rate among people with disabilities is only 10 percent. This is why Joanne Lara and...

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Get Into the Act at Abilities Expo

Abilities Expo, coming to the L.A. Convention Center Feb. 5-7, showcases technology, products, services and information for people of all abilities. But this is not an event designed just for looking. The “Events Arena” at the back of the hall, for instance, will feature wheelchair dance, service dogs, adaptive shot put, all-abilities yoga, adaptive skateboarding, power soccer, wheelchair tennis and adaptive basketball. “This is where we do hourly demonstrations of...

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A Conference To Talk About Typing

Larry Bissonnette and Tracy Thresher both have limited speech due to autism, and when they were growing up, this meant they were labeled “retarded” and excluded from regular education. But their lives were turned around when, as adults, each learned to communicate by typing. Bissonnette, 52, and Thresher, 42, eventually embarked on a world tour to shine a light on autism that became the 2010 documentary film Wretches & Jabberers....

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National TACA Autism Conference Offers Hope and Help to Affected Families

Autism is the fastest growing serious developmental disability in the United States, with 1 in 68 children currently affected with the disorder. For these families, identifying and paying for the help they need to get their child on the road to recovery is extremely daunting. That’s where Talk About Curing Autism (TACA), a national nonprofit organization dedicated to educating, empowering and supporting families affected by autism, comes in. TACA not...

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School Involvement for Special Needs Parents

If you are the parent of a student with special needs, you likely spend a lot of time at your child’s school discussing IEPs, accommodations and other issues affecting his or her education. Some encounters go smoothly. Others don’t, and this might have you avoiding the school except at drop-off and pick-up time. But there’s a school of thought (no pun intended) that contends that getting involved in your child’s...

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Help Group Summit Focuses on Autism, Learning Disabilities and ADHD

A two-day conference featuring leading experts in research and best practices in the assessment and treatment of autism, learning disabilities and ADHD is set for Oct. 23 and 24 at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles. The Help Group’s Summit 2015 is designed for educators, clinicians/therapists and parents. Speakers include experts from UCLA, UC Berkeley, UC Santa Barbara, University of Washington, UC Davis, UC Riverside and USC. The conference...

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Helping Special-Needs Teens Transition Socially

A group of teens is talking. Your child wants to join the conversation, but isn’t sure how to go about it. What would you advise? If you’d tell your child to just walk up and introduce himself, you aren’t doing him any favors. “It would look odd to just walk up to a random group and say hi,” says Elizabeth Laugeson, Psy.D., founder and director of the UCLA PEERS Clinic,...

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Don’t Neglect Essential Social-Skills Development

“Don’t miss the forest for the trees,” so the saying goes. When it comes to parenting, the “trees” are the many academic milestones and measuring sticks society tends to focus on, and the “forest” is the bigger picture of overall development and social skills in our children. Society tends to be achievement oriented and, once children reach ages 3 to 5, their ability to verbalize, add, subtract and write takes...

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How Nontraditional Schools Inspire Students

If you walk into any classroom, you’re likely to find quiet students who turn in their work on time, but don’t necessarily challenge themselves beyond their comfort zone. You’ll also find bright students who become easily bored and distracted by repetitive worksheets and tests. Then there are those whose sketches in the margins of their notebooks reveal amazing artistic talent, but who might be perceived as lazy or unmotivated students....

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New High School Offers STEM Curriculum for Students with Social and Learning Differences

STEM3 Academy is a new, innovative high school opening this fall, designed for students with social and learning differences and a passion for science and technology. The school, operated by The Help Group in the Valley Glen neighborhood in the San Fernando Valley, offers a rigorous curriculum in science, technology, engineering and math to students in grades 9 through 12. “There is a growing realization that we are short of...

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A Film That’s Twice Exceptional

Just off Laurel Canyon Boulevard in Studio City stands an unassuming building, home to Bridges Academy, a school for students in grades 5-12 who are “twice exceptional,” meaning they have developmental disabilities, but are also intellectually gifted. The school is the subject of 2e: Twice Exceptional, first released last fall and now out on DVD. The film will introduce you to some of the most fascinating students you’re likely to...

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Henry Winkler’s Dyslexia Mission

Henry Winkler knows what it’s like to feel different. He knows the good, and the not so good. The actor, director and producer, whose career has spanned more than 40 years and who is best known for his role as Arthur “The Fonz” Fonzarelli in the 1970s sitcom “Happy Days,” struggled in school because of dyslexia. Dyslexia is a developmental reading disorder that occurs when the brain does not properly...

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Navigating Your Child’s IEP

An advocate and a lawyer, both moms, offer tips for getting through this gateway to special-education services. The process of agreeing on an Individual Education Plan (IEP) – a document detailing special-education services your public school district will provide for your child – can be an emotional and overwhelming time for families, especially when their idea of what’s best for their child is in conflict with their school district’s evaluations...

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Visually Impaired Preschoolers Learn From All Senses at TLC Preschool

It has taken 10 years of planning and fundraising, but the Therapeutic Living Centers for the Blind (TLC) Inclusive Children’s Center and Preschool is now open with a brand-new building offering innovative programs to children ages 3-6 with visual impairment and special needs – as well as their typically developing peers. The preschool, opened in October, is designed for experiential learning and sensory integration. It incorporates the “High Scope Preschool...

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Walking in Their Shoes – A Special Needs Sensory Simulation Event

I recently attended a parent workshop at the Frostig School in Pasadena, designed to give parents hands-on insight into what it’s like for students with special needs who struggle to read and write. Educational therapist Barbara Langeloh, M.A.,facilitated Experience Dyslexia – A Learning Disabilities Simulation. The goal was for participants to feel the frustrations our children experience daily, helping us deal more compassionately with them. The six simulation activities, created...

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Building a Communication Foundation

Building your child’s communication skills is the single most effective way to improve behavior, play and socialization. Children who can communicate their needs, wants, likes and dislikes are much less likely to cry, scream or protest. While most parents recognize the value of good communication skills, many are unaware that there are lots of ways to shape these skills long before children begin to use verbal speech. Communication is so...

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How To Access Regional Center Services For Your Child

If you have a child with special needs, you likely have been directed (or soon will be) to your local Regional Center. Don’t ignore this recommendation. The Regional Center System exists to help California families impacted by developmental disabilities find support and resources, and access lifetime services if needed. California is one of the only states to offer this type of assistance, beginning in the 1960s at the urging of...

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Back-To-School Tips For Kids With Autism

For children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and their families, returning to school after a string of relaxed summer days can be stressful, intensifying repetitious verbal and motor behavior on the part of the child. This stress can be reduced or even prevented – for child and parents alike – with the following 10 transitional tips. Prepare the Teacher 1. Awe the teacher with innovative communication. Teachers are busy, especially during...

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Back-to-School Help For Kids Who Stutter

Actress Nicole Kidman, NBA superstar Shaquille O’Neal and Vice President Joe Biden all overcame stuttering and had successful – and high profile – careers. As the new school year commences, are you wondering how your child will manage? “One in every 100 people stutters,” says Jane Fraser, president of The Stuttering Foundation. “But as many as two or three younger children in each classroom may struggle with this complex disorder.”...

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Strategies For Struggling Readers

Strategies For Struggling Readers

Whether they have a learning disability or other special needs, your child can build a relationship with books. by Christina Elston Paul Curtis’s favorite childhood book was The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien. He read it in fifth grade, and there is a particular reason that it stayed with him. “It was the first book that I think I really pictured in my mind, and I can still see those images...

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