Dr. Raymond Heipp

Specialist Manager

Is ESSER III Right for Me?


As we enter the 2023-24 Academic Year, we also enter the final months for the availability of ESSER III funding. This funding technically ends on September 30, 2024. However, the products that you are using the funds for must be purchased and delivered by that date. I have also heard of some districts that are seeking to have the funds encumbered by the end of this academic year to allow time for the shipping and receiving of products. I have been asked a lot of questions about these funds, so let’s address some of the ones that are asked the most.

How much money does my school have? Monies were distributed to districts, so how those funds might be allocated can vary. One thing to do first is to check your district website. Most districts have a page on their site that outlines how much funding they received and how those funds are being allocated. If you cannot find the web page with the correct answer, the next question may give you that information.

Whom should I contact about these funds? This is the most common question I was asked by both teachers and administrators. The reality is that ESSER funding is from the Federal Government. You want to reach out to the Director of Federal Funding in your district with questions. Many moderate and smaller sized districts may not have a specific individual with this title, so you may have to contact the Treasurer or CFO of the district. I have seen many districts where the funding was then allocated to schools and programs where there was a secondary lead figure. This is an important person to know as the remaining funds have more flexibility in what can be purchased.

Can I buy whatever I want? The simple answer is no. You want to work with your district leads to make sure that what you are hoping to order fits under both the federal and district guidelines. Unfortunately, some districts ran afoul of the government with ESSER I funds as those had very specific purposes. Anything outside of those purposes was misuse of the funding.

So, what can you use the funds for? You can use the funds for anything that supports students through overcoming any potential loss from learning that may have occurred on account of the pandemic and is still hindering the student’s ability to learn. This is where I have seen devices like the Reader Pen2, ScanMarker, Livescribe Pen, and switches or tools for access have been able to be purchased. Assistive Technology is one of the areas where fund usage is permissible.

What is covered under the idea of supporting mental health? This question has arisen from many districts. The implementation of sensory/calming rooms has demonstrated positive support for all students, especially those prone to escalation. Sensory room products can be purchased. The caveat is groups that want to include other classroom furniture. I have worked with some districts who thought that any chair or desk could be included. That is not always the case. Always work with your district to make sure that what you are getting again lies within the guidelines. In this case, a beanbag chair is acceptable while a standard desk chair may not be. Don’t think that you can only buy sensory room packages. Work with the groups that you trust to help in the design of a room that best meets your needs and the needs of your students. Both Jodi Szuter and I are available to support you with questions and recommendations.

I have time so do I have to worry about this now? Please start thinking about your plans now. Your district may have an end date for the encumberment of these funds. I know of several districts where that date is around the end of this academic year as I mentioned in the first paragraph. When you are dealing with federal funds, the end date means that you have already ordered AND received the products. If an audit were to be conducted on the following day, you could show the auditor the products or, at least, the boxes they are still in on district property. That is an important distinction as with other types of funding, the items simply need to be ordered and invoiced. There is a difference here and those in your district overseeing the funds will be focused on that. Another reason I bring this up is because there is still a global chip shortage. For example, there are still schools waiting for chip-driven devices like some types of screening devices and AEDs because of the lengthy delays in getting chips. We are seeing production of these chips going up, but still not catching up to the demands over the last few years. Be sure to work with your sales representative to determine if the products are available and will be able to be delivered on time. Another point to be aware of is the fact that some products are not even being manufactured anymore. That discussion with your sales representative will help to guide you the correct way.

There are a lot of groups speaking about “ESSER-approved” products. Is there a list somewhere? Please reach out to your lead in the district about this. There are some districts which are being more restrictive about the funding to protect everyone legally. There is no list of “ESSER-approved” devices, generally. Some groups may simply be referring to what other districts have purchased. It is better to ask the folks in your district first before simply placing the request with them. When I work with groups, we look at products that support potential learning loss, assistive technology, items that maintain a healthy physical environment (including air purifiers), and products which support mental health and well-being, like sensory products. Your district will have any specific information you might need.

Should I just stock up on cleaning supplies? The short answer is no. Utilize these funds to get those devices and products which best support the students and think about purchasing multiple items of products that can work for many students. I have seen large deployments of Reader Pen2s and ScanMarker Readers because of the overall impact devices like these have on learning. By utilizing these funds and thinking ahead, you can support the next several classes of students. I have seen some districts utilize their funds by purchasing AAC or access devices to have back-ups in case a student breaks or loses one. Think about what was difficult to purchase in the past and buy now. Cleaning supplies and simple items can be purchased annually when this funding ends.

If you do have any other questions, feel free to reach out to me at rheipp@schoolhealth.com and I will support you as best I can!

Simplifying the Start of the School Year


I ran into a former colleague of mine at a local community festival last week. After some quick catching up, I asked how the preparations for the new school year were coming along. He responded with, “It is not like it used to be. Remember how the first day of teacher in-service was the plenary meeting followed by the trend of the year training, lunch, and then department or grade level meetings? Day two was simply setting up your classroom, textbooks, and lists. Ah, the good ol’ days!”

So, I asked him what his upcoming teacher in-service days were going to look like. He shared that day one was going to be a series of technology trainings focused on logging in to the new school system daily, proper email access, the new student management system and how to handle grades with attendance, updating and maintaining a webpage, and the proper methods for digital documentation for any classroom or parental issues. Day two was going to have the morning filled with state and federal updates (I did clarify that the blood-borne pathogens video would be part of these sessions!) while the afternoon session was a brief one led by the counselors on how to support the students.

To say I was shocked was a mild understatement! Where are the meetings with the departments or grade levels? Where is the focus on the student and the teacher – not on the administrative tasks? Now let me also state that there are many districts with whom I have spoken where more student-centric sessions are being conducted. I also know of districts where the conversations are focused on access and holistic support. Unfortunately, those do not appear to be the norm.  Even my son, who has entered the ranks of substitute teachers this year as he pursues his acting career, shared with me that he had a two-hour session completely focused on the “acceptable” ways to interact with students. The videos all focused on what not to do, without giving solid strategies for positive interactions. At the end of my meeting with my former colleague, he asked, “How would you recommend the school year start? Let me know as I will look to start next year differently.”

All of the described topics are very important for teachers, administrators, substitutes, and other staff to understand. Focusing on those at the beginning of the year does not always set a good tone for what we are attempting to do in school though – educating our students. These topics can be interspersed with other important student and teacher-centric topics as well as be presented in a virtual format with accountability measures built in to know that the material was reviewed. How can we align topics like the ones above with solid professional development at the beginning of the year? Simplify!

What I mean by simplifying is not to water down information or minimize it in any manner. Instead, review what needs to be shared and the way that information can be shared. After my conversation, I connected with colleagues throughout the country to see how they were handling the start of the year.  Major topics varied from district to district and state to state.  here were several that stood out, though, and those will serve as the basis for our simplified start to the school year.

1. Focus on the teachers - I had a couple of interesting ideas from administrators regarding this.  The one that stood out to me was an administrator who sent out a message in July asking each teacher to list out their three most important ideas for the upcoming school year. All the ideas were placed on a list and the suggestion mentioned the most was given a 90-minute block for discussion and idea sharing. In this school, there were eight suggestions that received four or more people bringing it up. Obviously, the first suggestion had its own session for everyone. The other seven sessions were each given a classroom and two 60-minute sessions.  her day was divided like this:

  • 8:30-9:00 introduction to the day
  • 9:00-10:30 most mentioned topic
  • 10:45-11:45 Session 1
  • 11:45 – 12:30 Lunch
  • 12:45-1:45 Session 2  
  • 2:00-3:00 Session 3

Each of the sessions contained seven rooms with each room dedicated to one of the other ideas. By the end of the day, teachers had attended four sessions, three of which they selected on their own. That was purposely done on day one so that the teachers knew they were being heard. Day two began with a 60-minute session by the administrator on the most important updates she had to share along with a link to videos she and others created to go more in-depth on those topics. There was also a two-hour session which focused on mental health support for the students and faculty. After lunch, there were brief grade level meetings and then time for classroom set-up.  

2. Create Sessions that can be used with all students - Years ago, some of us would see sessions that focused on specific groups of students or sessions that had great ideas but limited examples of how to utilize them throughout the year. Think about any experiences you might have had with interesting and potentially great sessions which died on the vine because the ideas were presented in a vacuum with no follow-up by anyone. Don’t minimize the time allotted to these sessions either. If the session and idea behind it is important for the students, then it is important enough to have significant amounts of time given to it initially and on a regular basis

3. Give Teachers the time for their own preparation - I remember back in the mid-80s, the first day of school was relegated to handing out textbooks and writing down the correct textbook number by each student’s name as well as developing a seating chart. Imagine that the first day of class was filled with administrative tasks for the students! We have come a long way.  However, teachers and administrators alike need time for the final touches on classroom and student preparation. Build that into the in-service days as well. That takes pressure off teachers by not having all classroom prep be done on their own time at the end of the summer.

4. Make the Classroom as User-friendly as possible - Set up the classroom with an organizational mindset to help facilitate the classroom behaviors you wish to see from them. Use color-coded areas for things like homework or daily activities. Have visual cues throughout the classroom to assist in understanding what goes on in certain areas. Have some simple AAC devices like Talking Brix2 or Big Macks in places where auditory reinforcement would be helpful. Finally, as you are creating presentations and videos for the students, make sure they are accessible with captioning and alt text to enable a larger number of students and their parents the ability to access them through different media. By creating accessible materials initially, you set the tone of inclusivity along with having materials that can be used and easily updated for years to come.

5. If it can be done and accessed by video, MAKE A VIDEO! - Administrators, review some of the administrative topics you must make sure the faculty and staff understand. Can you turn what you were going to say into a video? If so, do it and put it into a library where only individuals with permissions can access them. Speak to your IT people as well and learn if you can also receive reports on when people accessed these videos. That way, you have a record of their viewing. A question I get asked often is, “What if they simply turn on the video and walk away? Then they did not learn what they needed to learn.” My response to that is you have no way of making sure that they would be paying attention in person either. So, use your time with them for information to which they will pay attention.  

Teachers, make accessible videos for your students with instructions and guides that they can refer to at any time. These videos are helpful for those with processing issues as they can go back, watch, and listen to your information multiple times.

There are five ideas to help simplify the start of the academic year by focusing on what we can do to best support our students. Again, the other administrative information is important, but can also be shared in ways that support the members of the school community. The old days weren’t always better, and we did not have all the advantages that faculties have today because of technology. In the same way, the advantage we did have is that there was more simplicity in approach, and we did not have the same levels of information or anxiety as individuals have today. Simplify and your year will begin well!

Hot Fun (and Preparation) in the Summertime!

Hot Fun (and Preparation) in the Summertime!

By: Dr. Raymond Heipp


Thank you to Sly and the Family Stone for the title and movement into this month’s blog!

July is an interesting month in the lives of educators. They may be on summer break, others may be moving back into the building, and some may be taking courses or attending summer conferences in preparation for the upcoming year. No matter what you are doing right now, there will still be more preparation that you do for the fall. Over the last few weeks, I have had the opportunity to connect with educators and therapists at both conferences and in their district sessions. As I spoke with them, I asked what the top five pieces of advice they would suggest for July preparation to other educators. Their answers were very cool and showed the differences that each group had when thinking about the fall.


Top Suggestions:


Special Education Teacher

I’ll begin with the top five suggestions from a veteran Special Education teacher. I was at her district discussing approaches for specific students using assistive technology, along with looking at what they might need for their new students. The first suggestion she gave for her top five in July was to read any book that covers working with our neuro-diverse individuals. She suggested that reading a book like this in July put her into a generalized positive mindset before moving back into the daily grind. One book example she gave was Thinking In Pictures by Temple Grandin. Her second July suggestion was to acquire a class list for her upcoming classroom. She uses that class list to contact her students at the end of the summer with a letter or email to see how they are doing and let them know how excited she is to be working with them. She shared that this technique helps to ease the anxiety around the first day back and, in some cases, gets the students excited about coming to school. Her third July suggestion is to take a trip to the beach (her favorite place to be) or your favorite venue where you spend one day doing nothing but relaxing. For her, she stated this is “the final charge of her battery” before beginning her own routine for the school year. This activity leads into suggestion number four, which is to start mirroring times that you would normally go to bed, eat, and go to sleep during the school year. She uses “school time” for housework or other work to get her mind and body prepared for “work time.” Her final suggestion is to start getting your family into a set schedule, similar to the routine they will be using in the fall. This includes dinner at an appropriate time around practice and meetings. Her children would go screenless and read after dinner to mirror homework time. Her children are now out of college and do not live at home, making evening schedules less tedious as they once were!


Occupational Therapist

During a conference, I had the opportunity to spend time with an Occupational Therapist that I have known for many years. She also works with both teachers and students in after school yoga programs that she runs. Her first July suggestion is similar to our previous teacher because it centers around reading a book. The difference is that she prefers to read something fictional and as far from education as possible. She is a fan of mysteries and always has time for authors like Agatha Christie, Ruth Rendell, and Margaret Maron. Also similar, her second suggestion is to check-in with upcoming students. She has already designed some summer plans for her returning case load and shared it before summer break began. She uses July as a touchpoint for how the plans are followed and gets a sense of where the students may be when she or he returns for the fall. Her third suggestion is to look at the supplies you needed for the fall, especially supplies that many of us purchase on our own. She likes to have what she needs by the end of July, so that she doesn’t have to worry about shortages closer to the start of the year. Her fourth suggestion is to review one’s diet and exercise routine. The period of time from June into the beginning of July sees her stray from consistent healthy eating and exercise habits. She uses mid-July to transition back into healthier activities. Her final suggestion is to attend a summer conference or institute on a topic in your area. She recently attended a conference on movement in learning and was spending some time thinking about how she could adjust her own activities. She was also putting together some classroom suggestions for her teachers.


Administrator – SPED Director

During another district session, I spent time with an administrator. She was the SPED Director for a smaller district and her suggestions reminded me of my time in administration. Her first piece of advice was for other administrators to make sure that all student information is updated and included in packets for the teachers. She shared that her days had more flexibility in July than any other month, so she spends an hour or two a day ensuring that she has this information to distribute. Her second suggestion was also for administrators to network. She says that she puts in calls to neighboring districts, as well as other SPED Directors she has a good relationship with, to share ideas about what is working and what adjustments can be made. She prioritizes these calls above anything else she is doing in the summer as it gives her valuable insights that she may not have had prior. Her third suggestion is to host sessions for teachers and to bring in experts from different areas. She chuckled as she looked at me and said, “Now you know why you are here!” I will admit that the session I did on assistive technology was great because the teachers were excited to be there and were extremely relaxed as they did not have other pressing classroom matters to distract their attention. I had to laugh when she read me one of the end evaluations which stated, “Dr. Ray was great, and lunch was superb!” Glad I wasn’t rated too far behind lunch! Her fourth suggestion was directed at teachers and therapists. She recommends spending a week away from any thoughts on school and, if possible, to do as little work of any kind. She highlighted activities like family vacations or utilizing the time that a teacher’s children might be at a camp for relaxation. Her final suggestion was for everyone within the buildings to begin looking at the school year as a fresh start. “Bring your happy face and a lot of hope.” She has noticed teachers and therapists return feeling worn down by the world around them, especially over the last few years. She opined, “School can be a sanctuary from the world when we all work together in a positive manner.”


So, there are fifteen ideas around July preparation for the upcoming academic year. If I may be so bold, let me add two more from my own experience. First and foremost, if you are not already doing it, find five minutes every day for “you time.” It might be before everyone wakes up or after everyone goes to bed. Read, meditate, have a cup of tea, do some yoga, or go for a brief run. Whatever activity relaxes and recenters you should be a priority. People I am familiar with know that I have walks every day to revitalize myself. Second, affirm yourself and the commitment you have made to your students! You are making a difference in this world, especially in the world of your students! Know that your efforts are appreciated for without you, the future for our students would not be as bright!

Summer Transitioning: A Mother/Son Journey

Summer Transitioning: A Mother/Son Journey

Summer transitioning can be a painful experience for some individuals. Routines established during the academic year come to an “abrupt” end. This change can create stress and anxiety which can lead to regressions in daily activities and create ripple effects going into the following academic year. I recently had the opportunity to explore one Mother’s journey with her son through this transition and learn more about what she provided to work through this time of transition and create a foundation from which her son could find success. She was a certified teacher who had also created a Special Needs program for one of the schools in which she worked. Her son was diagnosed with autism at an early age with various expectations from the professionals who were part of the diagnosis. She maintained her own expectations and was determined to create the most positive environment for her son. Her efforts, although painful and tear-filled at times, culminated last month when her son graduated with highest honors from college.


Q: What inspired you to create your summer transition program for your son?


A: I observed at an early age that the more I was able to create routines for him, the greater the chance that he could focus on the tasks at hand. It could also lead to lesser levels of escalations, especially when tasks were difficult to complete. As he entered Kindergarten, he was placed in an inclusive setting. Knowing that he would have to be ready for those settings, I made sure that he was prepared for things like waking up at a certain time, brushing teeth, getting dressed, having breakfast, and getting to the bus stop on time. We began this process in early August so that when the school year started, the only difference in the morning activity was the fact that he would get on the bus and go to school. What this also did was teach life skills that would stick with him throughout his life. I had to monitor each part of what he was doing, even going as far as laying out his clothes the night before so he could see everything in the morning and nothing was a surprise. Skills like brushing teeth and washing one’s face were important to establish as well since he also had some sensory issues. Hygiene was a focus of our morning routine. It also led to many arguments and some escalations early on. However, the skills he worked on daily became behaviors which was the intent.


Q: How and why did you expand that into other parts of the summer?


A: As we came to the end of a school year, I knew that his routine was about to take a drastic shift which could create escalations. Along with that, I also knew that the skills he had been working on in school- things like printing and reading, could regress if we did not maintain consistency in practice. I also realized if I started creating a home-school environment, he would miss out on the idea of summer fun and the idea in the workplace of a vacation. So, I spent significant time researching what he would be covering the following year, along with other opportunities he could be involved in during the summer months. I want everyone reading this to understand that preparing him for the summer was not something we did on the first day of break either. I began preparing him in early May for this transition.  As he grew, he also participated in the design and expectations of what we were going to be doing to add to a dimension of independence and accountability on his part. We would set a schedule which had to include some academic skills that needed to be supported, along with time for fun and exploration. I involved him in local camps for play and made sure that he was able to participate in tee-ball to add that athletic dimension. Exercise is important for all our children. Though with some, we have to “disguise” exercise in fun activities. By the end of May, we would have our daily schedule set with a checklist of items to accomplish each day. Because of the timing of the various camps, practices, and other fun activities, I looked at setting schedules which varied a little each day. Even though the timing of his activities might differ, he still had a checklist of items to accomplish each day. In his younger years, the writing aspect of our work was the most difficult and created the most stress for both of us. He handled the math, reading, and keyboarding skills adequately. He, like many other children, would have preferred to simply play and avoid “academic” activities, but became more accustomed to it.  


Q: You mentioned trying out various camps and activities. Tell us a little more about that process and what it led to for him.


A: I wanted to make sure that he had experience in many different areas. The playground camps were good because it helped him to work on his social interactions. The tee-ball experience was good for exercise. He did transition away from tee-ball after coach pitch as it was not interesting for him. His Middle School Principal suggested that he get involved in Cross Country. He did as he entered Junior High school and that maintained enough exercise for him that kept him in shape and healthy. I also experimented with other camps just to have him try out new things. Some worked and some did not.  In many cases, I had to do my homework on the camps and explain some of his needs as we went into them. As he grew older, his experiences allowed him to make new friends and learn more about himself.  It was during the summer he was preparing for Junior High that he tried an acting camp. He fell in love with the idea of acting and really found a niche that fed his self-esteem and independence. I would never have thought that would be an area of interest, but I am so glad that these camps were available so that we could try out different things. Acting became a passion for him throughout High School as well as being his major in college. All the pain we went through in printing and writing also paid off as he moved into AP English courses and found interest in writing his own plays and screenplays as well. The routines we established in those early days led him to understand and partake in summer work experiences throughout his older years.


Q: We could go on speaking about the generalities as well as specifics of the journey the two of you took during the summers. What is some advice that you can give to parents and teachers working with these parents as they look to do similar programs with their children?


A: First, this story is one of success and perseverance. Parents and teachers must understand that this is a journey that has many rough patches and detours. There will be escalations, tears, anger, and high levels of stress. The critical piece is not to give up or abandon this idea. Our children look to us for guidance and how they see us react will also be part of the behaviors that they learn throughout this process. When the escalations happen, be sure to give time for your child as well as yourself. You need to be aware that giving up an important activity because of an escalation does create a pathway that can lead to trained behavior which promotes more escalations. Stay with the process and adjust over time as opposed to eliminating activities altogether.

Second, look at the activities and see how they prepare your child for the rest of her or his life. Things like brushing teeth and washing one’s face are only a part of life skills. Understanding how to set a schedule and how to create to-do lists are another important part of life. Using the idea of camps to get both an idea of what interests them and what they might have some abilities in is good. The camps can also signify that work experiences are part of life and how one can be prepared to have the skills associated with summer or part-time jobs. Printing and writing are forms of communication. I understand that some individuals may not be able to physically print or write, but they could use products like speech-to-text software and eye-gaze or head movement devices to put words together and create stories. Never look at these activities as something just for school. Everything has a purpose and be sure to share that purpose with the child. Even doing math can lead to counting change, balancing a checkbook, or becoming an accountant.

Finally, guide them into making some decisions early on, and more decisions as they get older. This is an important skill for everyone! When you guide them, give them some flexibility while maintaining their accountability, and celebrate their successes, they become confident and independent adults.  Sharing this experience with them does have its highs and lows. However, when you see them doing something that others have told you would not happen, know that you have helped them succeed in life! Celebrate all victories with them and love them for who they are. They may even surprise you with what they can and will accomplish!

May is A Time of Preparation and Transition

May is A Time of Preparation and Transition: Keeping a Balance in All Aspects of Life

Preparation and transition are words that have such great depth and significance when we work with our neuro-diverse populations.  As we enter May, we can quickly be overwhelmed by all the activities upon which we need to be working. The most important idea to keep in mind is maintaining a balance in our own lives. During this month, we are in a unique time of wrapping up this academic year, while transitioning into the next. Without keeping ourselves balanced, we can lose sight of what we hope to accomplish!

We begin by looking at the teachers and their roles throughout May. We come to the end of IEP time, which sees our teachers pulled out of classes for these meetings throughout the months of April and May. In the cases where this happens during the academic day, those teachers must make sure that their classrooms are properly supported, and that learning can continue. I tried to have the inclusion teachers present their information first in these meetings so that questions could be addressed, recommendations made, and then they could return to their classrooms. I always suggested that they have independent work sessions happening while they were out of the classroom (like silent or supported reading, working on papers or presentations, or other individual activities) so that full class instruction was not missed or presented by a substitute teacher. This takes some of the pressure off the teacher in lesson preparation when they are out of the classroom. Lesson preparation is not the only thing they are doing during this time as preparation for the IEP or 504 meeting also takes place. Another suggestion for the teachers is to keep good notes throughout the year and take a block of time, about a week out from the meeting, to put thoughts together. Why a week before? We do have unforeseen circumstances that arise in schools, and we do not want to put off putting our thoughts together until the last minute. Walking into that meeting with prepared notes from which to work and a simple plan for the classroom means that a teacher can be prepared and ready to move between meetings and classes.

As the meetings wrap up, there is always the need for reviewing the technological needs for the individuals in the next academic year. We recognize that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to technology, so we want to be aware of what we have and what we may need to get. Each district handles this in their own way. Some of the best practices I have encountered worked around the earlier preparation. The first step is to have an inventory of the technology within each classroom and building as well as what may be in a warehouse at the district level. This sounds like a major task, and it is when done the first time. However, it saves time, energy, and money in the long run when trying to make sure the individuals have what they need. Even on my current travels, I always ask to see what technology is in a building. It gives me an opportunity to share alternative uses of devices educators might not even know they have!  So, the preparation piece here is to have a definitive list of working assistive technology by classroom and building first. Then look at what needs to be ordered. Be sure to work with groups you can trust as there are still some items which may be unavailable due to manufacturing issues. The last thing you want to do is order something that may be having issues and then not have it in time for the next academic year.  

The other idea that some districts have implemented is to have someone come into the district on an end-of-the-year PD day and present both new and current assistive technologies. I have done some of these sessions and it is such a positive way for people to see what is out there as well as hear from their peers in attendance about how they might be using some of these devices with certain students. I was also recently asked to be part of an AT Playground where teachers, therapists, and AT Specialists from a state were invited to come in and speak on various topics in a round-table format created to engage others on how they might be using the technologies in the topic.  I led the Low-Tech AT session where we spoke about manipulatives and sensory items, as well as switches and single message communicators. The information shared by the group was fantastic! Of course, everyone wanted some time in the Blackout Sensory Tent. Thinking of switches and single message communicators as low-tech was also mind opening for some. I was then asked to add depth to the discussions during the eye gaze/headtracking/alternative access session which also gave people an understanding of what is available. There were some who had never heard of devices like a Glassouse and saw how that could be a great choice for some students. This type of preparation offers an opportunity to think ahead and be ready to better support individuals.

Administrators, May always brings flowers along with thunderstorms!  Some of those storms are those events or issues that seemingly arise out of nowhere. How can you maintain that professional balance? One best practice that I see in our districts with the master administrators is that of proper delegation. I wish I had known about that twenty years ago! We want to make sure everything goes well in support of our faculties and students. Therefore, we try to oversee everything and take some of the pressure off others. Think about what you can delegate. Your support can come through written or video guidance of the process and a quick 15-minute personal meeting from time to time to get a sense of how things are progressing. Work with your teams to find those who excel and are excited about taking on an additional activity. Empower them to make decisions on some of the smaller issues so you can focus on larger issues. Have a weekly planning meeting on Monday morning so that everyone knows what is happening on each other’s days that week. Ask who needs support and who might have time to be a support when other matters arise.  Communicate and delegate. These are great opportunities to bring you a better sense of balance in this hectic time.

The most important idea regarding preparation and transition is to take care of oneself. Those of you who have heard me speak know that my focus is always on making sure that each of our lives is as balanced as possible. When we are living a balanced life – or as balanced as it can be at this time of the year– some of the toxic stress drains away and we are better able to support our individuals. The excuse which is too common and has been used for generations is, “You don’t understand how busy I am!” That never changes! We are all busy. We are wrapping up one academic year, getting ready for another, helping individuals transition into the next phase of their lives, plus attending or being the chauffeur for extracurricular activities which can include athletic contests and practices for our own children, going to or planning graduation parties, and being part of family events. Think of all those things and realize that they are all happening along with your regular duties this week alone! Take time for yourself each day!  Remember the five-minute rule. Take five minutes and just be you. Sit or walk and don’t think of anything but how important you are to this world. Have some water, coffee, or tea with you and just relax. That five-minute recharge and centering can be done at any time of the day. I am seeing more teachers, therapists, and administrators taking that time during lunch and just going outside for a walk.  You can also choose to find the time in the morning or the late evening when it is just you. By taking this time, it helps you to regain that sense of you which so many people are counting on. Just remember what my Big Mack tells you every time you press it: “You are Awesome!”

Autism Acceptance is Key in Inclusionary Practices


During each spring, tens of thousands of students check their email or standard mail waiting for an acceptance letter from colleges. For thousands of middle school students, spring brings acceptance letters from private high schools. Parents in certain locations throughout the country seek acceptance into special pre-school programs for their young children. Individuals of all ages hope for acceptance into groups or other activities. The idea of acceptance is nothing new. We have seen it throughout the history of humanity. The idea of not being accepted brings concern and sadness and may even cause feelings of failure. Acceptance is an important part of any community and can help to establish higher levels of diversity and success within that group.

A few years ago, we moved from April being the month of “Autism Awareness” to “Autism Acceptance.” This came about because one can be aware of another person, but not accept them for any number of reasons. With the large number of individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder, acceptance of who they are is important to maintain a socially healthy community. Those who push back and fight accepting these individuals often do not understand that many individuals who may have had undiagnosed ASD have provided amazing insights into the world because of their “uniqueness” or “idiosyncratic” approach to life. Some people fear a label and do not give that person a chance to demonstrate what they can add to life.

Several years back, I was contacted by some consultant colleagues for insights on a project they were working on with a district. The district was moving toward having a strong inclusive approach to their student population and was developing a plan and budget to properly support faculty and students.  The seven-person Board had final approval and it looked like it would be a close vote as two members were opposed simply because of costs for the professional development. Two members were former educators and were very positive about the movement. So, both sides had the opportunity to present the pros and cons of an inclusionary program. The only argument against the plan was fiscal in nature. I was asked for insights on proper training and documentation because of work I had done internally with schools in the 1990s and early 2000s.

On the night of the public Board vote, both sides had one final time to share their side. Each side did and the crowd was asked to remain silent while the vote began. One of the three Board members who was undecided offered to vote first with his rationale. He shared his status as a parent of two students as well as a citizen concerned about doing what was right. He then went on to share that although the inclusion of students was important, he was going to vote against it because he did not want his children to “catch Autism.” Chaos arose in the meeting, but his vote was cast, and the other two undecided folks voted along with him in fear of something that wasn’t real. That district voted down inclusive classrooms because of being labeled without knowing anything about it. Fortunately, two years later a new superintendent entered the district and was able to put through a resolution with proper funding and training for “modern classroom teacher support and training.” Inclusion was able to be introduced in that way.

Events like that demonstrate why awareness is not enough. Too often, individuals making decisions are not aware of what actually happens in the classrooms. This is especially evident in our politically charged environment today where people assume they “know education” and “what really goes on” because they went to school. We have to put ourselves in a situation where these generalities and labels are pushed to the background while the individuals and the great things they bring to the community are in the forefront. One way of doing this is to highlight the accomplishments of all students side-by-side. Create videos and materials that surround the amazing work done by students, making sure that neurodiverse students are featured with their neurotypical peers.  

When we look for examples, think about some of the students on the autism spectrum who may be excellent actors or actresses. Be sure to use them in some of the advertising for shows or for recruiting others into the fine arts. Look at some of those individuals who may have other conditions and still make a positive difference in activities throughout the school. Be sure to have these students along with other students as examples to the community of the positive things being done by the students.  

Create community events like “Talent Evenings” with performances from the bands and choirs surrounded by art and pottery from student portfolios. Have the actors and actresses perform a short piece while speech and debate can mirror some of their competitions. I mention all these areas as various districts have shared with me how their neurodiverse students are thriving in these settings – something that the larger community may not be aware of at all!

We have heard of using the Universal Design for Learning principles for arranging classrooms and other educational settings. Keep the idea of "universal" in mind when highlighting the efforts of our students. We have experienced some of our students who may be on the autism spectrum becoming great athletes in sports like basketball, cross country, soccer, and volleyball. We don’t have to promote their condition, but we do have to promote their accomplishment. This way, we are designing a platform where individuals are assessed on what they have accomplished.

The question might arise surrounding those students who may be in programs to give them life skills with the goal of transitioning into the workforce. Celebrate them as well. Offer evenings and weekends when the community can interact with them as well as with those in standard vocational programs.  Look at what dishes can be cooked and serve those without distinguishing one group from another. Have some students work together to build something that can be presented to the community. Inclusion comes from the acceptance we have of one another. The way to break down some of those barriers is to highlight what can be done as opposed to how individuals are seen. By starting within our schools and programs, we can develop acceptance which can then be modeled for the world outside of our school walls!

What We Don’t Know Could Help Us

What We Don’t Know Could Help Us

By: Dr. Raymond Heipp

March is Developmental Disabilities Month. I like to remind people that we need to keep our focus on the Abilities in disAbilities. The abilities that so many of our individuals have are fantastic and add so much to our world. Yet, we do not always know how to best support them and allow them to demonstrate what they know. Several discussions at the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) Conference reiterated that to me, as well as expanded on how the movement to virtual learning and therapies during the pandemic limited continued development for many individuals.

Access to technology and information is a key discussion point for many. We have had so much to do to get our individuals back since the pandemic, we have not always had the time to review what assistive technologies are available. We have had time where we could attend sessions, invite experts into our buildings, or research what others are doing taken from us and replaced with a concentrated effort around making up for any discrepancies in learning and therapy caused by 12-18 months away from in-person activities.

Something as commonplace as switch access has been a difficult topic for some to fully research. With the range of switches and alternative ways of using them, we can support many of our individuals better than ever. However, what is the “right” switch and how do we learn about it are questions that I am constantly asked. First, the “right” switch is the switch that works for the individual. We need time and trusted support in determining what that switch might be based on the abilities of the individual. When I speak of “trusted support,” I am referring to people who have the best interests of the individual and you in mind. I have had several groups come up to me concerned with the fact that their 3rd party AT Evaluators only have certain products or manufacturers that they recommend, creating instances where assistive technologies are recommended which can be cumbersome to operate. The first thing I always suggest to those in this situation is to see who else might be able to support the recommendation and findings of the AT evaluation.

An example of this is the fact that many of the AT Specialists and teachers with whom I have spoken know and understand what a proximity switch is, but cannot distinguish the differences between items like the Candy Corn Proximity Switch, the Honeybee, and the Movement Sensor Switch. All three of these can work with the idea of proximity. The question to be asked is what will be best for the individual? I had one discussion where the specialist knew that the individual needed proximity as a manner of input, but was concerned because anything place upon the table or tray in front of the individual was immediately knocked away. That is a situation where the Movement Sensor Switch might be the best solution, as it can be mounted out of sight and simply have an area where the fiber optic input is located allowing the individual to wave and activate whatever the switch connects. I am also still a big proponent of using a small Candy Corn Proximity Switch with the lights and sound on as a mounted cheek switch or even part of a head-array as it allows an individual with sensory issues to access devices without needing to touch the device.

Discussions on access sometimes lead into questions on AAC. The supply chain and technology creation delays have limited our ability to get some devices. Lengthy back-order situations have created the need to adjust or continue to use older equipment. What many folks do not know is that there are devices which operate like some of those devices which are not able to be received. I look at what Ablenet has done over the last few years and am amazed at how they have really thought about the future. They are creating products that adhere to environmental codes that are still being finalized, making their carbon footprint even smaller. They have also worked to maintain high levels of availability for their products while creating better systems for the access and delivery of those products. In the case of AAC, their QuickTalker series provides an excellent alternative to devices which have not been available. If you have heard me speak, you also know how much I love to use the Big Mack and Talking Brix2 in multiple areas of a building to create transparency of AT. Again, the critical piece is to be able to have trusted support which can discuss a variety of choices with you.

From AAC, the discussions naturally move into Literacy support. People are concerned about making texts, both digital and physical, accessible. There is no “one-size-fits-all” no matter what tablet manufacturers are telling you. Tablets, iPads, and laptops are coming with better text-to-speech products. However, some individuals may need a little more support with the way the words are being presented to them creating the need for products like ClaroRead. When approaching physical texts, there are a variety of pens available. It pains me to hear about schools who bought the least expensive pen without having any discussions on the realities of those pens. Questions surrounding internet accessibility, personal abilities to use multiple devices, the need for language translation, and the ability to receive visual cueing in differentiated ways need to be addressed. When supported well, the school receives devices which can support multiple students and has made a solid investment. What if the literacy needs of the student focus around visual impairments and those physical documents need something portable with built in OCR, like an AbleBaby? These are all questions that positive support can address with you.

We cannot forget about the sensory side of the discussion as well! Over the last two months, the demand for the Blackout Sensory Tent has been amazing. Being able to have a portable tent which fits into classrooms, gymnasiums, and other rooms means that schools can create “calming” areas which can double as rooms for students with visual impairments for a price of $220 creates a way to help many individuals without having to break the bank for a full sensory room; especially when the real estate within a school may not already exist. There are so many other ways that schools can look to create socially and school-appropriate support. The critical piece again is to have that trusted support which listens to the needs of your individuals first and is not limited by a set list of products or devices.

Find that trusted support and work on the things with your individuals that matter the most. Know that there are a lot of alternatives available to you and you do not have to pay a premium for the best care of those with whom you work. Thank you for all that you continue to do for our individuals in the classrooms, therapy rooms, and the workplace!

Healthy Conversations at ATIA 2023

Healthy Conversations at ATIA 2023

By: Dr. Raymond Heipp

I have been attending the ATIA conference for over a decade now. Throughout the years from 2010 until 2020, we saw great interaction between some of the most important thinkers and doers in the Special Education realm, the teachers and the influencers who were leading the charge into inclusion. The pandemic put a halt to so many things within our Special Education classrooms, therapy rooms, and overall support that we were able to provide. Our focus was on creating new routines for those who thrived in routine and had it pulled away from them at a moment’s notice. We had to learn new skills and consider so many different perspectives that we were seriously taxed in our own abilities. Even in the face of the stress and anxiety of the global community, we continued moving forward understanding that our roles were critical to so many. A virtual ATIA in 2021 still had great sessions, but there was something missing. When we returned to a hybrid ATIA in 2022, the sessions were again great, but there was still something off about the feeling around the conference.

The 2023 ATIA conference brought back a sense of what was lost – connection. Bruce Springsteen put it best when he sang of the “Human Touch.” That face-to-face connection, without masks for many, and the ability to shake hands, pat someone’s back, or even share hugs returned this conference into the vision of what it should be – a place to connect, share, and augment what we are doing through the ideas of so many others.

I knew it would be different right out of the gate when walking around in the Exhibit Hall during the time for booth set-up. I was approached by a group who asked if I would mind being in a video. They shared with me that they were in a pre-conference workshop and were tasked with creating a video to help first year attendees understand what to expect and what to look for in that hall. Whereas the folks around me and the team doing the videos expected some elevator pitch about why our booth was the best (which it was without needing a pitch!), I put on the old administrator’s hat and shared with them that they should have a student in mind and be asking questions and new ideas about how to support those students. Ironically, that workshop was being led by one of the great influencers and professional development experts today, Kelly Fonner, who tracked me down later. She shared her dual purpose. She was trying to get teachers and administrators comfortable with making videos to support individuals while also hoping to get attendees excited for all aspects of the conference. She was thrilled that this group was able to get a stronger sense of who we are as a community of support while learning those video skills. So why aren’t you creating videos? Even if you don’t want to create them, don’t be afraid to ask others, including myself, for videos to support you. If you haven’t checked out any of the Talkin’ Tech videos or other series I created on YouTube, take some time to check them out to help support your team.

I had the opportunity to interact with Ewa Bukowska and Laura Murden from Cosmo. These two women are brilliant and really helped so many understand how this device could be used for our individuals. Ewa came from the classroom and added so many anecdotes that made sense. If you haven’t seen Cosmo yet, reach out to Jodi Szuter at jszuter@schoolhealth.com for a demo. The device which is sold in packs of one, three, or six can act simply as a Bluetooth switch which has color. However, once connected to the app and using more than one device, it can take individuals on amazing journeys. I watched as people from the DOE of NYC, the GA DOE, and so many others interacted, played games against themselves as well as against their peers. Yet, even with all the fun, there are so many other ways to use these devices including as musical instruments, single message communicators, and answer buttons. On the back end, teachers and therapists can adjust the sensitivity of the devices to either increase or decrease the pressure needed to activate. There are also tools to see how the students were interacting with it as well. This is definitely one of the devices I was most impressed with and happy to have with me while presenting my seminars throughout the country.

Also attending the conference were people representing other major conferences throughout the country. I engaged with people from the IHD Conference in Arizona, the Assistive Technology Conference of New England in Rhode Island, and Closing the Gap in Minnesota. I had some great discussions with these folks around potential presentations and all of them asked for the integration of sensory supports throughout the standard day. I am looking forward to putting those presentations together to better support all individuals. One thing that I do want to share product-wise with you is the Sensory Blackout Tent. This tent comes in a duffel bag and sets up within 15-20 minutes. It is six feet high and is 4’x4’ on the sides. The inside is colored black to give the individuals inside a place to get out of the light and sights of an area. I really like the fact that we could also use this for our students with CVI and bring in a light box or other activities. The best part is that this tent, which can become that portable sensory space, is affordable and can fit into your budget. Aside from the attendees at the show, I also shared the tent with the attendees at my seminar for the Virginia Tech TTAC. Matt and Holly had attended ATIA, so they had an early look at it. I then shared it with the states and other countries who gathered for the Special Olympics of North America workshop days. I continued to stress making sensory supports a part of every student’s day.

No ATIA would be complete without an Edcamp occurring one of the evenings. Mike Marotta, Kelly Suding, Chris Bugaj, and so many others created a session that really allowed for the most important aspect of any Special Education or Assistive Technology conference and that is the networking. Moving from a fun game of “Cards Against Exclusivity” into breakouts focused on topics, this group of individuals are setting a foundation from which we can build a stronger and more unified community. If you are not following them on Twitter, please do so, as well as getting involved in the #atchat sessions they have weekly.

What did I take away from this conference, more information and a whole bunch of positive energy. It was great to be back among this group of professionals. It is always energizing to engage with so many others with the same purpose. Unfortunately, not everyone could attend. However, for those of you who would like to get a flavor of ways to better use the devices you already have and learn about some of the newer devices and sensory supports, please reach out. Whether it be a virtual session or an in-person seminar (with lots of fun stuff), Jodi and I are happy to support you. We are taking the notion of networking and sharing information and bringing it to you.

Thank you for what you do and know that we are returning to the energy and support we once had. Let us know how we can help!

Getting the Assistive Technology and Sensory Supports You Need, with the Funding You Don’t Know You Have!

Getting the Assistive Technology and Sensory Supports You Need, with the Funding You Don’t Know You Have!

By Dr. Raymond Heipp

As we move into 2023, we recognize that our students need so much support as the aftershock of the pandemic continues to reverberate in our schools. We have been faced with a funding struggle for decades as we have tried to support our individuals with differing abilities. Now, it is exacerbated by the needs of the neuro-typical students, as they too, struggle with mental health concerns stemming from the pandemic. We have heard of ESSER funding, but still find that many districts have not fully tapped into how those funds can be used to a wider extent while staying within the legal guidelines of the requirements for the funding.

A recent report showed that around 50% of the roughly $122.8 billion in ESSER III funds provided had yet to be used by our schools. There are many reasons for this. The primary causes stem from the fact that the original set of funds were focused on the return of the students into classrooms and had strict guidelines for usage. This has caused districts to evaluate their needs and strictly review the requests for technology and other supports within the school settings. There has also been some confusion as the rollout of these funding programs have caused much questioning about the dates for when the funds need to be spent. To be clear, the first wave of these funds which was about $13 billion has already been spent and the final date for accessing them has passed. That is why some administrators may be telling you that they already spent their funds. ESSER II funding which included about $54 billion in funding has a deadline of September 30th of 2023. Finally, the ESSER III funds have a deadline of September 30th, 2024. That is another reason that much of that funding has not been touched.

As we take a look at the ESSER III funding, we learn that there is significant emphasis on technology, recovery from learning loss, and support for mental health. There have been cases where those making the decisions on this funding are focusing on the upper layers of needs for all of the students, and not drilling down to other supports for both our neuro-typical and neuro-diverse learners. Your insights and support on this can assist them as well as your students in making purchases which address the concerns for the students and operate within the proper guidelines of usage for these funds. In the next few paragraphs, I will take a look at how some districts are using these funds and the rationale that they are using for proper funding usage.

When we look at technology purchases, we have seen so many districts focus on 1:1 initiatives with Chromebooks or iPads. These purchases cover the surface level of providing technology to the students, as these are devices that can be easily adapted to both in-person and virtual environments. The issue is that it does NOT address the needs of our neuro-diverse learners who cannot access these devices without assistance. The argument for fair and equitable access applies to these individuals as well. Thus, we are able to include those assistive technology devices which allow for access to Chromebooks, iPads, and any other technologies used within the classroom. When we look at devices that would be supported through this argument by ESSER III funding, we see items like the Glassouse, Blue2 Switch, alternative keyboards (including those that are designed for those with Dyslexia), other switches based on the abilities of the individuals, like the Movement Sensor Switch or the Finger Switch. In all of these cases, the devices create fair and equitable access to the technologies being purchased for the classrooms.

Using the same argument of fair and equitable access, we see that AAC devices can also be included in this technology-focused funding. We recognize that some students have higher dependence upon AAC and so their insurance may cover items from groups like Tobii-Dynavox and PRC-Saltillo. However, there are those students who do not qualify under insurance, yet still need support in communicating their immediate thoughts and needs within a classroom setting. This example leads to the acceptance of the purchase of devices like the 7 Level Communication Builder, the GoTalk 9+, and the Big Mack. Each of these devices provides a student the ability to communicate and participate in the classroom and a fair and equitable manner.

When we look at the idea of technology and learning loss, one may want to focus on the area of Literacy. We have found that a number of students in the stages of early literacy have struggled as the directed guidance of in-person learning was not available during the pandemic. We also witnessed some regression on the part of those with Dyslexia as our therapists did their best in virtual formats but still faced limitations. As a support to those with Dyslexia or other reading processing issues, the Reader Pen2 offers an effective approach to reading support for any print documents. The outside world often forgets that many texts are still in print and therefore screen readers are not going to work. Being able to have the words read to you through earbuds and have access to a dictionary is huge in combating these types of issues. As we look toward notetaking, both the Livescribe Echo II and the ScanMarker platform can assist in the ability to learn and have things in both visual and auditory formats.

On the side of mental health, our students need to feel less anxious and be able to handle situations that can occur both inside of the school and in their community. When dealing with social situations, a software solution like The Social Express gives students real scenarios and suggestions for how to deal with those situations. School and classrooms can also create sensory areas, including calming areas for when students are escalating or over-stimulated. These areas can be simply made by creating an area in the back of the classroom with smaller products like a Cuddle Ball, Beanbag Chair, or Vibrating Pillow. Larger scale sensory rooms also support mental health and can be purchased. Ready-made kits like the Serene Scene Sensory Bundle can support larger numbers of students and become a place of respite from the heightened anxiety the students are facing today.

The critical piece for you is to know what products will best support your students, approach those who handle the ESSER funds and supply them with the correct rationale for their purchase with those funds, and be sure to use them with as many students as possible. If you have questions or would like to discuss your needs, feel free to reach out to either of our Specialists for Special Education, Jodi Szuter, at jszuter@schoolhealth.com or me at rheipp@schoolhealth.com and we will be happy to assist you.

May 2023 be a year of helping our students and ourselves continue on the road of recovery from the pandemic and assisting in the educational development of all!

Creating a Happy Holiday Season for All!

Creating a Happy Holiday Season for All!

By: Dr. Raymond Heipp


“It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” We hear that phrase echoing from the radio throughout the month. It's interesting to now see some radio and streaming stations moving toward “holiday favorites” from November 1st on until the end of the year. A recent poll showed that many working adults believed that they needed another two weeks to be sufficiently ready for the holidays. “Black Friday” now starts earlier online (like, by weeks, on some sites) and we have “Cyber Monday” carrying on for a full week. Take all these things and add to them the excitement that can be in many environments, and one has the recipe for either an amazing season or a state of dread and overwhelm, effecting both neuro-diverse and neuro-typical individuals. How can we find ways to make this that amazing season?

First, start with you! Take time every day for yourself. Those who have heard me speak or read my blogs know that I am a big proponent of the “five-minute me time” on a daily basis. Taking just five minutes at the very beginning or end of your day can help calm your nerves and reenergize your body for all that life throws at you. Unfortunately, there is not an easy way to get the marketing of this season completely off our screens or out of our ears. Keeping a strong sense of self, staying with any exercise or stretching routines, practicing breathing, and having a nice cup of tea or coffee can assist in the body and mind being focused and dealing with life one moment at a time.

Next, bring the individuals with whom you work or live into focus. Start with the holidays that you and they celebrate. How can the ideas and essence of each of those holidays be emphasized?  If they are not celebrating a holiday which some of their peers are celebrating, how can that be explained in a manner that is accepted by them? What about those who will only celebrate the New Year at some point and do not identify with other holidays? We have to remember that it might be difficult to understand why a friend celebrates with a cornucopia or Christmas tree, when they celebrate with a Hanukkah Menorah.  Sharing the reasons behind these celebrations helps to create an understanding around the beautiful differences each one of us has. The communication of these differences through these celebrations and the highlighting of their own celebration helps to bring a better understanding of how we are all one family. This is a good place to start in preparation of this season.

We hear a lot about the creation of switch-accessible or adapted toys at this time of the year. It is great that we can create toys for so many to access by simply using a soldering iron or a battery-interrupter.  My first question is why do some only focus upon it at this time of the year? My second question is where in your community can you go to bring toys and have the support you need in making these toys accessible? Look around your community and see if any groups are sponsoring days to create these toys.  I always like to shout-out my colleagues Matt and Holly at the Virginia Tech TTAC who host events like this and supply the training and soldering irons to make this happen. There are also sites like the School Health website where adapted toys are available for ordering.  Just make sure that the individuals have a switch that they can use.

In this month’s Talkin’ Tech with Dr. Ray, I also describe how to take stuffed animals or items like vibrating pillows and add a little weight to them to add another sensory dimension to favorite toys that can also serve to assist in calming individuals. Other options include weighted animals and weighted lap pads which have already been made at a certain weight. Please work with your OTs for precise ideas on the weighting for your individuals always keeping in mind the idea that anything weighted should be only 10% or less of their body weight unless reviewed and approved by an OT. The sensory side should always be considered for our individuals and sensory “toys” may be very appropriate!

As for the “sights and sounds” of the season, we need to have our individuals ready as well!  As a child, I remember my parents driving my sister and me around the city to see all the lights. That can be a wonderful experience. We also must be aware that the visual stimulation of too many lights or the flash patterns of some lights may also be overwhelming. Start slow and small. Be aware when an individual may become over-stimulated. Have space to go where there are less lights or even have them put on sunglasses to tone down the brightness.

On the auditory side, be certain to have tools that can allow an individual some quiet time. Bringing noise cancelling headphones may be a good idea for some. Other products that are not as easily seen and may give noise reduction rather than cancellation, like Vibes, might be a good call for other individuals. Again, it is important to know the limits of your individuals. 

Finally, be sure to dress appropriately for the weather. If you live in an area where it is cold outside and you will be outdoors for some time, bring hand warmers or additional layers of clothing. No matter what the weather, bring socially and event-appropriate fidgets like a School Health Sensory Tangle Toy or a Cuddle Ball to provide some soothing for those who may become overwhelmed by the emotions of those around them or the temperature of the environment they are visiting.

We need to be centered ourselves in order to think of those events which may be triggers for some of our individuals. We do not need to initiate a level of trauma by what we think is something simple. One example is trying to make sure our individuals who celebrate Christmas do not “catch” Santa or someone placing gifts beneath the tree. I can assure you that the escalation which comes with not “catching” the gift placer is not one you want to experience! 

With each one of us remembering to center ourselves and then support our individuals, we create a season of joy and celebration! We are also creating routines and actions which can be replicated throughout the year and for many years to come.

I wish you and yours a wonderful holiday season filled with much joy and minimal escalations!