What if Students could choose their learning material rather than be ‘told’ how and what to learn? Educator & Mom Katie Novak Shares

By Leslie Lindsay 


back bus education school
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

School would be so much better if students could select their learning material from a buffet, rather than a casserole. Educator and mom, Katie Novak, describes this and more in LET THEM THRIVE. 

When I was a kid, I hated math. I never understood the ‘why,’ to many of the the concepts. It wasn’t put into real-world perspective (at least for me when I was a kid). And then I read Katie Novak’s description of the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) in her book, LET THEM THRIVE: A Playbook for Helping Your Child Succeed in School and Life and it made perfect sense. Let Them Thrive_cover (1).jpg

Learners (even adult learners) need to understand the ‘why’ of learning for it to be meaningful. That’s what the UDL calls the ‘affective’ piece of learning. Recruit their interest. The second piece is ‘the recognition network,’ that is, the ‘what’ of learning; what they need to know and the third component is the ‘strategic network,’ activating and action plan to express the new information in a meaningful manner.

THRIVE is teaching kids to be effective life-long learners; it’s about the *process* of learning rather than the outcomes (memorization that may not have any lasting meaning or significance to the student).

Novak’s writing style is conversational, approachable, and accessible for just about anyone, but I felt THRIVE might be best geared toward teachers or parents who *are* teachers. Home schooling parents could benefit, too. Novak presents some really great charts and tips for breaking down the UDL into understandable terms and presenting them into real-world examples.

THRIVE is a great parent-teacher primer for the back-to-school season and will give you a framework for teaching at home and supplementing lessons your children in school.

Please join  me in welcoming Katie Novak, Ed.D. to the author interview series. 

Leslie Lindsay: 

What inspired you to write Let Them Thrive: A Playbook for Helping Your Child Succeed in School and in Life?

Katie Novak: 

As an educator, I see the value (and the academic results!) of embracing all our kids exactly the way they are. When I walk into classrooms in districts who embrace personalized learning through UDL, I see kids who are motivated, resourceful and self-directed. They are thriving. This is because in schools where students are thriving, the systems have embraced a framework called Universal Design for Learning (UDL). The basic mantra of UDL is, “Our kids aren’t disabled or broken. Our schools are.” Because UDL is endorsed nationally, it drives me up the wall that some teachers and kids aren’t experiencing the power of that framework. There are too many kids who don’t like school or who struggle academically, socially, or emotionally and schools aren’t meeting their needs. It doesn’t have to be this way. For years, my lens has been trying to transform schools to help them best support their teachers and students, but the transformation isn’t happening fast enough. It’s time to turn out Team Momma, as together, we can make sure all our kids get what they deserve. I wrote Let Them Thrive to let parents know that every child has a right to a personalized education and we have a right to demand it. So, game on!

adorable blur bookcase books
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

What was the defining moment that inspired you to adopt the Universal Design for Learning framework?

Katie Novak:

I became a teacher because I believe in the power of learning. I believe that any child, and any teacher can be wildly successful if we create conditions for nurture and we provide them with relevant, authentic, meaningful opportunities to learn. I believed this even when I was assigning the same book to the entire class and requiring them to write essays. I believed this when I gave long multiple choice tests that required students to memorize information that was at their fingertips on their phone. I simply didn’t know any other way to teach because I was taught that my job was to follow a script and teach a curriculum. When I first learned about UDL, I suddenly felt free to be creative, to provide options and choices for students to make their own meaning, and right away, their achievement soared.

“While Universal Design for Learning has changed how many educators think about teaching students with disabilities, Let Them Thrive brings UDL’s inclusive message to a broader, general-education audience. This is a very useful tool for helping parents understand UDL and explain it to educators, administrators and policymakers.”

– Ricki Sabia, parent advocate and Founder, National UDL Task Force

Leslie Lindsay: 

What are some practical ways parents can apply the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework at home?

Katie Novak: 

For life lessons: We have two rules in our house: Be nice to everyone you meet and work hard. That’s it. We tell our four little loves, “We don’t care if you get good grades, are funny, or are athletic.” When there are infractions, which there will be, it’s tempting to lay down a consequence, like taking away an iPhone or sitting down for a “family talk.” But remember your goal. For us, our goal is that our kids need to be good people. If your kids are mean to each other, have them troubleshoot. You could start with, “I know that you frustrate each other. It’s okay to be frustrated with people. Let’s talk about some options for how you can cope when you’re frustrated so you don’t take it out on each other.” Share the options that work for you and then provide opportunities to practice. For example, “Maybe deep breathing would help. Even professional athletes use it. Maybe we could grab a book about meditation or you could watch a video or we could sign up for a class together? Which one would work best for you?” You can see how together you can own a goal and consistently choose-do-and review until you figure out the strategies that work best.


For academic lessons. If your kids attend a school where homework is assigned, it may be the bane of your existence. Kids come home exhausted and they want to lay on the couch, play with toys, run around outside, or just stare at the fridge and say, “Mooooom, there’s nothing to eat!” Now, we can require homework in a one-size-fits-all, traditional approach by saying, “You will sit at the table and won’t do anything else until you finish.” But UDL acknowledges that students need options and choices to meet goals. So, start off by asking, “What do you think would be the best way for you to complete your homework? Do you think it would be helpful to do it all at one time? Or should we break it up into tasks? Do you want to work on it alone or collaborate together? Would you be more comfortable sitting on the couch or doing it outside by the pool?” The possibilities are endless. Allow your kids to make a choice, follow through, and then check-in and reflect. “How did your choices allow you to meet your goal?” If they made a good choice – stock with the fridge with something special. If they were off task, that’s no big deal. You can respond with, “No big deal. Now you know that’s not the best choice. Let’s try something else!” It’s all about teaching kids how to become learners!

Leslie Lindsay: 

You list several ways parents can encourage schools to apply the UDL framework. What are some ways parents can manage resistance from school administrators, etc?

Katie Novak: 

As an educator, I believe that every educator is trying to do the best with what they have. If administrators are resistant, it’s because they haven’t yet learned why it’s important, what it is, and how to implement it. UDL requires a transformation of the system. It’s moving schools from being deficit-based (what’s wrong with our kids) to asset-based (what are the amazing strengths of our babies and how we can optimize their learning). Share articles with them or share books and if you still get push-back, call me. I can definitely hook you up with a UDL advocate, article, or data from my own district that will empower administrators to take the first step. I can promise you this – all administrators want students to be successful. When you can shape that path to UDL, they will be.

Leslie Lindsay:

How can parents partner with teachers in creating an effective learning environment where all 3 networks of the brain (affective, recognition, strategic) are activated?

Katie Novak: 

Teachers love parent support! Share what makes your child amazing and what they are interested in when you send a welcome email. Try something like, “My daughter Aylin is an amazing human. She loves art, play guitar and is obsessed with the Sharer Family on YouTube. She lights up when you give her compliments and don’t be surprised if she brings you little presents like flowers and barrettes, because gifts are her love language. She loves when she is given options and choices to draw, create, and act out things and she’ll do almost anything for a sticker. I’m so excited that she gets to share the year with you. I’d love to know a little more about you. What makes you tick, and what’s your favorite morning drink… I may have to just stop by some time with a treat.” This not only help the teacher to know what makes your child amazing, but you’re also activating their affective network and helping to motivate them. Also, if you want teachers to learn about UDL, you need to provide them with options and choices to learn more about it. For example, you could ask them if they prefer to learn through books, articles, or videos and then share a sample of resources so they can learn about UDL in their own way. Lastly, we want to ensure that UDL translates into action and that our kids have options and choices to learn. To do this, advocate for teachers to receive professional development in UDL because the best way you can support our amazing teachers is to advocate for universally designed learning for them as well. The power of learning, and UDL, will transform our homes and our schools and together, I have no doubt that [parent]-power can make this a reality!

girls on desk looking at notebook
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to purchase a copy of LET THEM THRIVE: please visit: 

Order Links:

Katie_Novak_headshotABOUT THE AUTHOR: Katie Novak is the Assistant Superintendent of the Groton-Dunstable Regional School
District in Massachusetts and a leading expert on Universal Design for Learning
implementation. With 13 years of experience in teaching and administration and an earned
doctorate in curriculum and teaching, Novak designs and presents workshops both nationally and internationally focusing on implementation of UDL.
She is the author of three other books: UDL Now!, Universally Designed Leadership (with
Kristan Rodriguez), and UDL in the Cloud (with Tom Thibodeau).
You can find her online at katienovakudl.com and on Twitter as @KatieNovakUDL.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these websites: 


#backtoschool #parenting #education 

Let Them Thrive_cover (1)

[Cover and author image courtesy of PRbytheBook and used with permission].

The Teacher is Talking: Special Back-to-School Series–The ABC’s of SUCCESS!

By Leslie LindsayToday’s the last in our back-to-school series!  Wow–that seemed to fly by. Here’s an alphabetical listing of things you and your student(s) can do to ensure a successful year:

A: pple.  Does your child eat enough fruit? Apples are high in flavonoids, which help keep you healthy and fights off infections.  In medieval times, apples were consumed at the end of the meal to keep teeth clean, in lieu of a toothbrush!

B: ackpack.  A child’s backpack weight should be no more than 10-20% of the child’s actual weight.  A 50 lb 2nd grader’s pack should be 5-10lbs only. 

C: omputer.  Does your child have Computer access at home?  More and more schools are teaching computer skills at earlier ages…and some prefer computers to Cursive handwriting instruction. 

D: illy-dally.  Learn to avoid it with a structured morning and after-school routine.  I find we can avoid it if I open the garage door and sit in the car–that really gets the kids moving.  Also try setting timers.  Use the one built-in with your microwave or oven…”you have twelve minutes to eat breakfast, four to pack your backpack…”  Or make, “get ready stations.” 

E: verything.  Do you have everything ready to go?  Make a check list and place it near the door your child uses for leaving the house each morning.  Pictures or icons work great for the preschool/pre-literate set.

F: un.  It’s important to have fun with school and after-school activites, but too many of them will leave little time for friends, family, or just goofing off–all things kids need to be well-rounded.  We limit our “fun” activities to two per child.  Adjust accordingly. 

G: rumbling.  Have a grumble-alert.  When the gang gets a little too cranky, have a sign, motion, or look you use to alert your child(ren) that you’ve had enough.  Develop a no-grumble policy at your house, kind of like, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”

H: ate.  My 3rd grader has started using this word more than I care to hear.  Do you really “hate” everything?  No…you probably just dislike it.  A lot.   Put the kabash on the nasty-sounding word by helping your child reframe, “I know homework is a bummer, but it’s part of school.  How can we make it so you can get through it?” HOME. 

I: ce-cream.  School and ice cream?!  Sounds like a lovely combination.  A tradition in my family of origin on the night before school was to head to the yummiest frozen custard stand and get a concrete.  You may want to start a similar tradition. 

J: ump for joy!  School is cool.  Let’s count ways…and stay active while doing it.

K: eep hands, feet, objects, and hurtful words to yourself.

L: unch.  Do you have a pantry stocked with yummy, easy-to-pack options for school lunches?  Grab some fixin’s now so you have ’em on hand when the big day rolls around.  We have a lunch packing station at our house where we keep hand wipes, straws, napkins, food items, baggies, and containers…clear out a cabinet and make your own!

M:  anners.  Do your kids know the proper way to greet adults at school?  Teach manners, like saying please and thank you for those who assist at parent drop-off, crossing guards, and the like.

N:  otes.  Do you have  stack of Post-Its or other style notepad you can keep in an accessible location?  I have some in the center console of my van, in the mud room, and in my purse for jotting out a quick note to the teacher at the last minute.

O: pen house.  Are you going?  If your school offers one, make sure you take the time to get to it.  Valuable information on PTO, scouts, fundraisers, sports, and more are often relayed at these events, as well as classroom management, skills taught, and getting to know the teacher.

P: lan for success.  Make a list of all of the things you hope your ___grader learns this year.  Post it in an easy-to-see location at home.  Solicit your child’s input.

Q:  uiet.  Ahhhh….peace and quiet.  How will you spend your time now that your child is back in school?  If you work full time, carve out quiet time just for you in the evenings.  At our house, on the weekends, we still employ “quiet time” even though our kids are in 1st and 3rd grade.  Make it an afternoon siesta.

R: eading.  Always read.  Make it fun.  Let your kids see you reading as well.  It’s a lifelong pursuit, not one just for school years.  We read aloud to our kids nightly from a chapter book.  Try it!  It’s great family activity.

S:  study.  No doubt, school requires study time.  Do you have a time and place for your child to study every day?  Make it consistent. 

T:  elevsion.  Limit how much your child(ren) watch.  Experts agree no more than 2 hours of screen time per day per child.  The includes computers, iPads, etc.  Even background television noise is highly distractable to kiddos. 

U: nderware.  Does your child have new undies?!  Okay, is that meant to be a joke?  Kind of.  Sort through old clothes to make sure things fit, they aren’t too stained/worn, or too inappropriate for school.  Throw out things like hole-y socks and undies.  Who needs that creating clutter in the drawers?! 

V:  Victory!  Celebrate small successses!  An “A” on a spelling test?  Hooray!  Pop it on the fridge. 

W: rite on.  Practice penmanship.  Teachers love a child whose work she can actually read.  Handwriting is a lifelong skills, so might as well make it neat and easy-to-read. 

X:  E(x)it.  Does your child have a special way to show &/or say  good-bye before hopping on the school bus, the family truckster, or the car pool?  Maybe it’s time to come up with a fun exit routine.  A high-five, hug, fist-bump…

Y: arn.  Does your kid know how to spin a tale?  If lying is a problem, nip it in the bud now by saying, “I need to hear a ‘real’ story.” 

Z: ip to school with vigor in your step!  

Good luck with all things school-related–till then…see you in September!

The Teacher is Talking: Special Back-to-School Series–Organizational & Memory Strategies

By Leslie Lindsay

As a kid–and even as an adult–I love to be organized!  Give me a three-ring binder and some tab dividers and you might as well put me in nerd-heaven. 

Wait?!  What’s that you say?  Your child is anything BUT organized?  They have a junky room?  Backpack is over-flowing with notes, papers, Kleenex?  Ah…I see.  I have one of those, too.  I call her my oldest daughter. 

How is it that the Queen of Organization gave life to the Princess of Junk?  It baffles me, too.  But there is a little hope in the Kingdom of Clean. 

Princess Junk is entering 3rd grade.  And from what I can tell about 3rd grade, it’s the year of learning to be organized, resourceful, and independent.  That said, this post will cover all grades–early education through elementary school.


  • Teach what goes in and what stays out of the backpack each day.  Take actual photos or make your own visual reminders by either drawing or priniting out Clip Art from your Word program.
  • Have your child help load and unload the backpack

ORGANIZE IT!  ELEMENTARY SCHOOL:  Organizational skills have a fancy name–executive functioning.  That is, how one plans and carries out the things they need to do in order to function.  In the school setting, this all involves being organized and tending to the things in the classroom.  That said, there are things you can do to help your child grasp these skills:

  • Plan a visit to the school.  Point out places in your child’s classroom where things will likely be located.  The teacher will probably do this, as well.  For example, my daughter came home yesterday from her first day and told us that all of her “extra” school supplies where bagged up and placed in a special cabinet for when she runs out of them in her desk. 
  • Map out the pack.  Draw a little diagram of your child’s backpack, place labels on the interior pouches, or color-code them.  Practice slipping in notes for the teacher, placing pens/pencis.  Have a place for everything, including water bottles, lunch box, house key, identification, etc. 
  • Give a Reminder in the morning.  This can be a simple checklist or sign you make and place in a common area of the home for your child to double-check.  Lunch?  Check.  Folder?  Check. 
  • Make a list of steps for getting ready in the morning.  Use short, simple text and add photos.  You can even take photos of your child doing each step successfully.  (Also good for pre-literate kids)
  • Design a Home Work Center.  This can be a special room, or the dining room table.  This will where your child will complete homework each day.  Stock it with pens, pencils, erasers, and anything else your child may need.  Plan a homework period each day and stick to the routine.  You can be a good example and do something studious then, too like read a book or make your grocery list (or, if you’re me…work on your novel!)
  • Check your child’s planner daily.  It really should be your child’s responsibility, but you need to know, too. 
  • Have your child pack his or her own bag at night.  Avoid the morning mayhem.  Get it done early.  Make a deal with your  child: no playtime/videogames/TV till the backpack is packed for the next day.
  • Have a single binder.  A tip from a 3rd grade teacher, “Get a binder and put all of her folders in it.  It makes it so much easier to have everthing together.” 
  • Have a routine place for a) notes/permission slips parents need to read and b) papers being returned to home.  It’s a parent to-do pile for things that require signatures &/or money.  We have a nightly “table talk and toss” for all of the daily papers that come in the door.  The girls share what the worksheet is about, we listen/ask questions…and then toss into the recycling bin (or save, if necessary).

With a little prep work, you and your child can have a successful–and organized school year.  Class dismissed!!

The Teacher is Talking: Special Back-to-School Series

By Leslie Lindsay

Has your summer flown by…or are you counting down the days till your wee ones head back? Perhaps you’re worried about a few things–maybe your child is starting a new school…or, she’s not very good at making first impressions, staying organized, or playing fair.  Now’s the perfect time to begin working with your child on some of those skills as you polish up the back-to-school shoes and shop for glue sticks. 

Follow along as we discuss a different topic related to school readiness each week now through the August.  Topics include:

  • Back to School Stress & Anxiety
  • Easy Transitioning to a New Grade or School
  • Social Skills & 1st  Impressions
  • Organizational & Memory Strategies
  • Self-Esteem & Positive Behavior
  • Playing Fair & Respecting Others

[if you have a child with apraxia, or another special need, please remember to follow along on www.speakingofapraxia on Mondays for apraxia-specific back-to-school tips beginning 8/5/13.  With a combination of these and the apraxia tips, your family will be ready for success!]

Without further adieu…here’s a little refresher on back-to-school stress & anxiety:

Simply put, anxiety is fueled by anything unknown or new.  Think of the times you feel anxious–navigating in a new city, being late for an appointment, not having enouugh time or money to do a job effectively.  The feelings can be similar for your children.  For young kiddos, everything about school is anxiety -producing: who will be in my class?  Is the teacher nice?  What is my teacher’s name?  The building, the routine, where the bathrooms are–it’s all new and unknown, even for older kids.  Here’s what you can do to asauge the anxiety:

  • Talk with your child.  Ask very simply and neutrally, “What do you think school will be like?”  Your child may shrug and say, “I don’t know.”  Try not to fuel more anxiety by ‘offering’ what your child may be anxious about, instead share very matter-of-factly what is involved.  “You will go to ____ school.  We will find out your teacher’s name and get the class list on ____.”   That my appease her for now. 
  • If you know ahead of time who will be in the classroom with your child, invite them over for a playdate before the first day.  When your children see one another tucked behind desks, they will immediatly have a connection.
  • Drive by the school on your way home from errands or a family outing.  Pack a picnic, stop and have lunch there and then play on the playground equipment.  My family has taken a bike ride to our school to do just that. 
  • Be sure to attend the fall preview days/evenings at your school.  Most schools offer these important dates to get to know the school building, meet familiar faces, possibly even meet the teacher and see other classmates.  Go.
  • Do a practice round of the morning routine.  Summer’s great for lounging around and free-sleeping, but there comes a day when everyone must be on a routine again.  Practice it once a week before school starts so everyone can start to get in the habit. 
  • Try reversing roles.  Have your child be the parent and you be the 1st grader (or whatever grade your little one is entering)…ask child-like questions to your little parent.  “What if I need to use the potty when I am at school?”  Your kiddo will likely give you a good answer.  Plus, kids get a kick out of being the parent for a change. 
  • If role-play isn’t your thing, suggest a real-life version of playing school.  Have your  child invite some friends over and let them have at it.  This works well with stuffed animals or dolls, too.  You can help with set-up by suggesting some therapeutic play ideas…remember, your students may need bathroom and drink breaks.  They may like a story.  Pack a lunch and suggest “students” eat in the “cafeteria.” 
  • Practice the Good-bye and welcome home.  Plan ahead how you will get your child to school each day.  If a bus, maybe plan to say your good-byes at home so as not to embarrass your child at the bus stop.  Will you have a specific ritual or saying each time?  “See ya later, alligator!” or “Have fun, be good!”  If you drop your child off via family vehicle, you may want to do a practice round…how much time does it take to get to school?  Daycare or latch-key kids have a different routine, too.  Discuss these plans ahead of time with your little ones.  Make sure they are comfortable with the house keys or garage code and what to do to remain safe if at home alone, or biking/walking alone. 

When anxiety becomes troublesome–you’ll know.  If your child withdrawls completely, gets sick, complains of frequent headaches, tummy aches, sleeps more or less, over-or under-eats, gets overly angry you may be dealing with a more extreme case of anxiety.  Be sure to talk with your pediatrician or another trusted source.  ***Remember, some anxiety is normal and healthy!  Most kids get over their school anxiety in about a month of school starting. 

That’s it!  Class dismissed : )

Apraxia Monday: Welcome to IEP-land

By Leslie Lindsay

You may have just gotten your kids settled in school, and already you are beginning to think about the dreaded IEP.  Is it up to date?  Is is “good-enough?”  Is it helping your child tackle the things she or he really needs to tackle?  Are the teachers reading it?  Hummm…I feel your pain.  Here are some ideas to get you back into IEPland….

Remember, an IEP is a legally binding contract between the school and your family. It lays out:

  1. What your child’s qualifying disability is (in this case, a speech-language disorder called Childhood Apraxia of Speech, though there may be other diagnoses you child is also struggling with). 
  2. Your child’s present level of functioning (this is where assessment results are reported—are her receptive language skills at the level of a six-year- old, while her expressive language skills are at the level of a four-year- old?)
  3. What goals the IEP team thinks she should work on, over and above what is covered in the regular school curriculum (does she need specific goals related to expanding the length of her sentences? related to being able to respond to another child’s greetings? Does she need goals related to bringing her reading skills up to grade level?)
  4. What special services (“related services”) your child needs to help her reach those goals and make progress in the general education curriculum (speech therapy, occupational therapy, social skills group, special education instruction).
  5. What accommodations and modifications your child needs to access the general education curriculum.
  6. Where your child should receive the instruction and therapy she needs (should she receive all his instruction and therapy in the classroom? leave the classroom for 30 minutes a week for speech therapy?)
  7. How the school will monitor your child’s progress and report that progress to you. 
  8.  Who will provide your child’s speech therapy. You may assume it’s the school speech-language pathologist (SLP), but that may not always be the case. Look at your IEP very closely. If it reads that speech services should be provided by the SLP, then that is a “good thing” (legally correct and legitimate).  But, if your child’s IEP says speech language services will be provided by “SLP/Staff,” “SPED staff,” “special education staff,” or a “speech language assistant,” then your child may receive speech therapy from an untrained, unlicensed individual, including substitutes, aides and paraprofessional, or any staff member willing to do speech therapy. They are not licensed by your state Department of Education, nor are they accredited by the American Speech & Language Hearing Association (ASHA). Make sure your child’s IEP reads that speech therapy will be provided by an SLP

Note that the school is not required to develop an IEP that will “cure” your child’s apraxia as quickly as possible, or provide everything you think would help her reach her potential. The school is only required to provide services to allow your child to “access the curriculum” and not to perfect his or her speech.

Whoa . . . what does this mean, exactly? It means that schools want our kids with CAS to be able to participate in classroom activities and to be intelligible. And if your child has another disability in addition to apraxia, the IEP will address how your child can “access the curriculum” and participate in classroom activities despite that disability—but not necessarily to “fix” every single difficulty your child has.IEP Cartoon

(Image source: zazzle.com)

You will be able to propose the goals that will help your child “access the curriculum” and participate in classroom activities. A possible preschool setting goal may be:

  • Connor will use a variety of means to request items and actions within the classroom (e.g., signs, single words, two-word phrases, pictures, and gestures) 80% of the time, which will be evidenced in quarterly data charting by teacher observation.

Another might be:

  • Angela will verbally approximate the words for common objects within the classroom setting in the following categories: food, classroom items, toys, and actions without a model with 80% accuracy. This will be measured by teacher observation and charted quarterly.

(image source http://health.pppst.com/IEP.html 9.10.12) 

You will also get to discuss and agree upon the “least restrictive environment (LRE) for your child. This means the classroom setting where she will have the maximum contact with typically developing children while still being able to meet her individual goals. For most children with CAS in kindergarten and above, the LRE will be the regular education classroom in the neighborhood school. For children with additional disabilities such as learning disabilities, Down syndrome, or autism, the LRE may be a combination of the regular classroom plus time spent in a resource room to receive extra help in some academic areas.

Every year, you will be expected to attend a new IEP meeting to discuss your child’s progress and re-discuss all the issues above, setting new goals, rehashing the LRE, determining what related services and accommodations and modifications are needed. You can also request an IEP meeting at any time you think one is needed.

[above is an excerpt from SPEAKING OF APRAXIA, Woodbine House, 2012. Copyright, Leslie Lindsay.  If you like what you see here, why not order the book?!]

For more information on IEP’s, please see: 

Apraxia Monday (on Thursday): Teaching the Teacher about Apraxia

By Leslie Lindsay

If you are like me, then you have just spent a good chunk of your evening wondering about your child’s new school year.  Who is her teacher?  What time is the bus coming?   Do I have all of the necessary school supplies?  What about shoes?  That first-day-of-school outfit?  (It’s a big day for all that in my neck of the woods here in Chicagoland). 

But have you thought about how you might broach the subject of childhood apraxia of speech (CAS) with your classroom teacher? 

Like many, your child’s teacher may not know what CAS is–or how to help.  It’s up to you to inform them.  Short of giving them a copy of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA (Woodbine House, 2012)–okay, shameless plus–you can do a few other things to prepare yourself and your child for a successful year in the classroom. 

Teaching Your Child’s Teachers about Apraxia [excerpted from Speaking of Apraxia, Woodbine House 2012.  Available where books are sold) 

Do you wonder what you should tell your child’s teacher about apraxia?  Not all teachers will have specific knowledge on all special needs. Kate’s preschool teacher (you can adapt your needs to any grade) admitted that she didn’t know much about apraxia, but she was very willing to learn. She knew it had something to do with verbal skills, but that was about it.

It helped a little to give Kate’s teacher the scientific explanation: “It’s a motor-neurological communication disorder in which she knows what she wants to say, but just can’t quite get it out.” What really helped was when I said, “It’s like being totally exhausted and not able to carry on a conversation.” She got it then. I further explained that Kate had to work really hard to have even a simple conversation.    

Other explanations from parents you may consider adapting:

  • “You know that feeling of being tongue-tied, or having a thought on the tip of your tongue? Well, that’s how Adam feels most of the time.”  
  • “Ask someone how their day was, and then tell them they can’t use their words to tell you.

What’s a Parent to Do? Meet with the teacher as early in the year as possible and share with her specific information about CAS and how it affects your child. There is a fabulous “Dear Teacher” letter on the Apraxia-Kids website written by Sharon Gretz, MEd, the founder of CASANA (Childhood Apraxia of Speech Association North America). I urge parents to print it and give it to your child’s teacher. You can find the letter at www.apraxia-KIDS.org. Once on the page, head to the search field, type “teacher letter.” You’ll get several hits, but the one you want is a letter that is downloadable in PDF format. The neat thing about this letter is it gives suggestions on how teachers can help your child at school.

While you’re on the Apraxia-Kids site, look at the brochures about apraxia written with a lay-person in mind. Like the “teacher letters,” these brochures are downloadable and printable. Consider including one with the letter you give your child’s teacher. Make it into a little “welcome to my child packet.” Including a brief write-up on things about your child is very helpful, too. It doesn’t have to be long or fancy, just a few bullet points like this:

  • Fun, outgoing child
  • Likes art and being creative
  • Excels at gross motor activities
  • Slow to warm up, may need to be drawn into social situations with specific questions or play
  • Loves books

Of course, your descriptions may be different than mine! Now if every parent would do something like this for their child’s teachers (whether or not they have CAS), it would take a lot of guesswork out of teacher’s lives.

Here are some more tips on putting together an information packet for the teacher:

  • Give her a book (like this one) or DVD on Childhood Apraxia of Speech (“Hope Speaks” is available on the Apraxia-Kids website: www.apraxia-kids.org).
  • Provide a list of easy ideas that may help with speech in the classroom (refer to Chapter 9).
  • Remind the teacher that while your child sometimes has a hard time communicating, or takes longer than usual to respond to a question, apraxia does not affect her intelligence.  She does not have to simplify things for your child if she only has CAS. (Of course, if she has Down syndrome, fragile X syndrome, or another disability in addition to CAS, you will want to advise her about any learning difficulties related to the other condition.)
  • Offer to create a communication notebook or worksheet that can be shared between parent and teacher. We made worksheets on the computer. I printed out five of them Sunday night and placed them in Kate’s backpack for Monday morning. Each day her teacher filled them out and sent them home with Kate. This daily report gave me some talking points for Kate about her day.
  • Be open and available. In The Complete Guide to Special Education, authors Dr. Linda Wilmshurst and Dr. Alan Brue recommend that you keep your ears and mind open to new ideas from your child’s teacher or other school professional. They typically have lots of experience and ideas in working with kids that just might help yours. If you disagree with a suggestion, ask more about it. It’s part of their job to explain it.
  • Consider communicating some tidbits from the home front. For example, things like “Papa and Nana visited this past weekend,” or “Kate really enjoys the unit on frogs—ask her what we saw last night when we visited the neighborhood pond.”  This gives your child’s teacher something to ask her about and encourages verbalization on things that are meaningful to your child’s home life.


In My Brain Today: Back-to-School Shopping

By Leslie Lindsay

The back-to-school season is upon us.  I’m a bit excited about this–not just because my kids are going back to school, thus freeing up some of my time–but because I just adore school clothes and school supplies. 

Yesterday, the Pottery Barn Kids package arrived.  I knew what was inside:  a brown owl print backpack and matching lunch box for my soon-to-be full-day Kindgergartner.  She picked it out after weeks of surveying the catalogs that filled our mailbox…Lands End Kids, L.L. Bean, Hannah Andersson, and of course PBK.  We would rip out the pages of the packs she liked best and toss the rest of the catalog.  But when PBK came in, she fell in love with the brown owls.  I ordered…and the delivery man cometh. 


(Please don’t make us out to be snobs. I know how this sounds.  But, here’s the deal:  I would rather spend a bit more $$ on a pack that will last several years and is sort of classic in style than one that has bling and the character of the year on it for less $$.  That’s why I am so loyal to fancy brands like PBK). 

But instead of ripping open the box the second it arrived with my little 5yo, I waited.  Impatiently.  And then I slipped a pair of scissors under the packing tape and–viola–withdrew the cutest little backpack since I don’t know when.  I inspected it, zipping and unzipping, looking at the craftsmanship (pretty darn good, but maybe not as as good as it was two years ago when ordered the same pack for my oldest daughter), and smelling it.  Yes–I smelled the darn backpack!  It’s crisp new scent filled my nose and my heart with pride. 

My hubby and I left the backpack and lunch box in my daughter’s room last night as we took one last peek and plopped one last kiss on our “baby” before tip-toeing into our room for the evening slumber.  Shhh….the backpack fairy came.   

This morning, I awakened to squeals of delight as she found her new school supplies…or the beginnings of.  (Actual supplies are being delivered to our door–forget Target’s chaos and my headache this year–via the school’s website/shop). 

Today, I headed to Gymboree to redeem my Gymbucks.  Gotta love this store.  Not only do they really care for their customers and call them by name, but they stand by their products.  More than once, I have returned items for random reasons like “the shoes rubbed her feet and she refused to wear them ever again,” to sheer ugliness.  (It looked cute in the store, but on my kid it looked like a sack of dog poo).  They smiled and cheerfully returned my money.  And their new line isn’t all that bad, either.  We’re talking sweater vests and plaid shirts–cherries and sunflowers.  Now if that doesn’t sound like late summer, then I don’t know what does. 



Here’s to back-to-school…my kids don’t know how fun this is!!

And that is what is in  my brain today, Thursday July 19th 2012.