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Free Resources! The ABCs of IEPs: Creating and Advocating for an IEP

An Individualized Education Program (IEP) can be a powerful tool for empowering parents who want to help their school-aged children diagnosed with autism, ADHD, or Down Syndrome excel in the classroom. But how do you create the best one for your child? What’s the best way to approach the issue with your child’s teachers? What are your rights once an IEP is in place?

On August 24th, eSpecial Needs host John and Kelly Ourth share their strategies for writing and advocating for IEPs with parents and educators. John Ourth is a Special Education Instructor for Great Circle Behavioral Health Services in Webster Groves, MO. Kelly Ourth is a case manager at the Missouri Department of Mental Health. Together, they will guide attendees through the IEP process, from creation and implementation to continued maintenance and advocacy.

The resources and materials provided by eSN have been posted below and are compatible for downloadability. The handouts and the PowerPoint presentation used has been formatted as a PDF and will open when the hyperlinked text is selected.

The Talk:


The ABCs of IEPs

Important Definitions for the IEP Process

PowerPoint Presentation


Teaching Social Skills to ASD Adolescents

Remember your pre-teen and teenage years? They’re filled with a lot of social transitions, that’s for sure. For kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder, navigating those social transitions can be particularly challenging. It can be tough for anyone on the spectrum to understand the unwritten rules of communication.

Studies show that it is important for pre-teenagers and teenagers to have healthy relationships with peers their age. Understanding some of the normalcies and quiet social cues involved in starting and maintaining those relationships can help ASD adolescents acclimate to their environment just a little bit easier. Here are a few tips and resources you can share with your pre-teen with ASD to help them feel better about integrating themselves into the social scene of middle school or high school.

Please keep in mind that everyone is different, and although these tips may work for some, they might not work for all.

Assessing circumstances

Social cues can be difficult to read, employ, and navigate for kids with ASD. But they can be bettered when ASD adolescents learn about norms of space, asking questions and engaging continuing conversation, understanding emotions, and loosely reading body language. It’s a lot to do, we know. But we have a few tricks and tips that can help with those kinds of things.

Personal space is a big aspect of communication. It might be easiest for an ASD teen to imagine that, when talking to people, the person they’re talking to has a really big hula hoop surrounding their body, and they don’t want someone else inside that hula hoop. Everybody has their own idea of personal space but imagining personal space as a hula hoop is a great way to visualize a peer’s comfort zone.

Starting—and continuing—a conversation

To start a conversation, advise your teen to just to ask someone how an event in their life was. Ask about their weekend, their summer, their travels, or how a favorite class went. People really do love to talk about themselves. Try asking “How was _____” questions, or “What did you think of _____” questions. These questions allow participants in a conversation to not only talk about an event that happened to them, but also give their opinion on it. They’re both pretty good starting points.

Sophisticated questions are a great way to help ASD pre-teens and teens engage in better conversation. Sophisticated questions are a technique that encompasses the following: While having a conversation, paraphrase what the person just said and then ask a question from it. It shows people that you’re listening and interested in what they have to say and want to know more about it. It’s an easy way to keep a conversation rolling.

Teaching the principle of reciprocity is another good thing to keep in mind when helping ASD adolescents understand social skills. All conversations are give and take. When one person discloses something, you disclose something, too. Giving people minor and appropriate details about your life, after you ask for theirs or providing details about your own life when prompted is a relatively easy way to carry out a conversation.

Understanding emotions

Reading people’s emotions can be a roadblock for some ASD pre-teens and teens, too. One of the easiest ways to overcome this is to practice emotional identification using visual aids and flash cards. Photographic examples can be especially helpful in teaching facial cues and body language. We’ve got a couple of fine examples here and here.

When reviewing the cards, ask your teen what they think the person in the photo is feeling, then follow-up by asking how they might start a conversation with them. Or, if perhaps the person in the photo doesn’t want to be talked to, give them examples on how to navigate that situation.

Making it a habit

To help these tips become a routine or habit, it’s a good idea to role play it all out first with your kid. That gives them the opportunity to begin to understand the situations that they could face.  Kids must learn though example and practice, so try to expose them to as many scenarios as possible, even the less than friendly potentials. Yes, we know it’s scary, but preparing your child for the social obstacles they may face can help build confidence.

In preparation of a negative social situation, equip your child with a routine or response that helps them remain calm and neutral. If a situation starts to make them they feel too uncomfortable, let them know it’s okay to get an adult involved. Unhealthy friendships and negative social interactions at school are often best handled with an adult as a mediator.

Watch movies, watch YouTube, and try to immerse them in any visuals that could help them comprehend how to navigate different situations and use their social skills. Learning from example and incorporating into routine is a great way to familiarize your child with socializing.

Be cognizant of situations and limitations

Even the best communicators in the world have rough days. Limits exist. Difficult situations will happen. While you can’t be there for every social interaction they’ll have in their day, you can equip your teen with a “tool box” of positive examples and habits from which to pull. With a little practice and parental encouragement, their social interactions may start to be a whole lot smoother.

How The Instagram Slime Craze Can Actually Help Kids

Don’t lie to yourself. The kids probably watch them but, secretly inside, you’re loving all those slime video flooding the Internet as much as they are. They’re just so satisfying!

The slime craze has taken the internet by storm, and it’s a wonderful in the way it encourages to people to use sensory play to decompress and focus. But, as fun as slime play is, it can also be somewhat limiting due to the mess or its consistency. That’s where hand putty comes in.

Hand putty, the long-lost great-grandfather of slime, is used by therapists and teachers alike in activities that would make slime ooze with jealousy.  Here are just a few reason why putty can sometimes be a better alternative to slime.

Putty vs Slime in the Classroom

While making slime in the classroom is a great activity that combines science and sensory play, there are oftentimes a lot of downfalls. It’s messy, involves a lot of glue, is difficult to keep fresh and/or clean, and isn’t realistically an everyday play tool.

On the other hand (pun intended), hand putty is ready to play with right out of the tin, easily portable, and will probably last as school year if not longer. Putty is also thicker and more difficult to manipulate, which means less oozing and more engagement as kids stretch, twist, and squish. This makes putty one of the best classroom tools for kids who need daily sensory breaks. Speaking of sensory uses…

Putty vs Slime as a Sensory Tool

Hand putty is a great way to get tactile defensive and/or sensitive kids, or kids with sensory processing difficulties, desensitized. It’s thickness forces hand joints and muscle to get working, too, which can help calm little sensory seekers.

And while slime has a specific, well, “slimy” feel, that cold, residue-y feeling isn’t for everyone. Hand putty is typically kept at room temperature to the touch and doesn’t leave any residue on hands, which is a great feature for anyone with sensory processing difficulties that needs sensory play but dislikes sticky sensations.

Putty vs Slime as a Fine Motor Tool

With versatile uses, putty can not only help kids who need a sensory fix, it can help kids with hand strengthening and fine motor skills. Putty play and exercises can build intrinsic palm strength, and individual finger strength.

A simple activity can be done with a few playing marbles or coins. Teachers or therapists can toss a few marbles into the putty so that kids can sharpen their fine motor skills and strength by trying to dig them out.

Putty: A Great Slime Alternative

eSpecial Needs offers a variety different types of putty to engage many of the senses and suit a variety of needs. We have scented ones, colorful putties, glittery putties, color changing putties, UV activated putties… You name it, we probably have it.

And hand putty isn’t just for kids! It’s been used a lot to rehabilitate adults who have had surgery in their hands or arms or need to re-learn dexterity or hand functions. For a list of activities that you can do to strengthen your hands or your kiddo’s hands, check out this handy article from Very Well Health.

So while those satisfying slime videos are amazing, don’t forget about hand putty when planning your sensory play. Both putties and slime give kids (and big kids) sensory break options that improve their hand health and fine motor skills. When you put it all together in the classroom, it’s a great, trendy toy and activity that almost anyone can benefit from using.