Getting Your Child Ready for Back to School

Its back to schoo time! By making several smaller, incremental adjustments to the family schedule, you’ll make the transition easier and smoother for everyone involved. Heading back to the classroom doesn’t have to be a stressful, rip-the-band-aid-off situation for either parents or their children. By adding structure into everyone’s routine and making changes slowly and gradually, you can decrease stress and prepare everyone for a successful school year.  Here are some simple solutions that can help you move into the new school year smoothly.

Tackle Hair Cuts and Other Grooming Tasks Well in Advance

It is recommended that you plan ahead, especially if it takes more than one day to get the job done. You may want to do a local Google search for hair salons that cater to children with special needs. Some salons have stylists trained to accommodate the needs of children with sensory challenges. For example, haircuts can be done while sitting in a parent’s lap, or watching a movie on a tablet. Some salons also offer “quiet” appointments before or after normal business hours. Here is an example of one such salon, which has a location in Montclair, NJ.

Nail care is another challenging task for many families.  Using a nail file or nail scissor will take longer, but may be better tolerated.  As described in a blog written by an adult with autism, the pressure on the nail when a nail clipper was used, and the anticipation of the aversive sound that the clipper made, always made it an unbearable event for her.  Once her parent began using nail scissors, she was much happier.

Limit Changes to Your Child’s Wardrobe

Back to school shopping is an ordeal for any family, and this can be doubly true for many kids with special needs.  You may find it easier to write down their sizes and shop without them.  While shopping, keep in mind fabric textures, colors, sleeve and pant lengths, tag removal, and other details that can trigger sensory issues with your children. It may be helpful to shop online and show pictures of the clothing to your child. And don’t worry about forcing the issue if old clothing is in good repair and still fits—a happier child in older clothing is a better choice. Another helpful tip is to launder any new clothing at least once before being worn to remove the unfamiliar smell and soften it.

Posted in Parent Stress Savers

How to Set a Successful New School Routine

Utilize a Calendar

It can be helpful to give your child a visual aid to help them adjust to a school routine again. Start by highlighting a calendar to show your child when school starts. You can revisit the calendar daily to cross off the last day and show how many days are left until the beginning of the new term.

It’s also a good idea to gradually adjust bedtime and wake-up times to mimic the school schedule.  Even if your child wakes up, gets dressed and falls asleep again, the rehearsal of the morning routine is a step in the right direction.

You can also try to plan lunch at the same time your child will be eating at school. This will prevent them from feeling hungry if lunch occurs later, or from struggling to eat when they’re not hungry during the school day. As your child’s body physically adjusts, his or her emotional adjustment should be easier.  He or she will need at least a week to readjust, so plan accordingly.

Communicate Changes to Phoenix Center Staff

It’s important that we know what your child needs to have a successful day at school once they start. For example, if your child was unable to eat a full breakfast at home, you can send in breakfast and it can be eaten in school.  It is always helpful to let The Phoenix Center Communicator know when your child has not eaten, slept poorly, or had a particularly rough morning. Our Home-School Communicator is the perfect place to share this information with your child’s teacher. This helps our teachers be better equipped to anticipate and understand your child’s needs that day, and it can prevent unnecessary stress or difficulty.

Establish a Routine and Stick to It!

Establish a daily routine for the morning and the afternoon and create a visual schedule for each routine.  Feel free to ask your child’s teacher for help putting a visual schedule together for home use. For example, a good routine might be to:

  1. Use the toilet
  2. Wash hands and face
  3. Brush teeth
  4. Get dressed
  5. Put on shoes
  6. Brush or comb hair
  7. Eat breakfast
  8. Pack lunch
  9. Put on backpack and jacket
  10. Kisses and hugs goodbye

Use a checklist that you and your child can check off as you go through the morning routine.  Similarly, an after school schedule is recommended to allow for smoother transitions at home.  For example,

  1. Hang up jacket
  2. Empty backpack
  3. Eat snack
  4. Playtime
  5. Run errands with mom/dad
  6. Chores
  7. Take a bath or shower
  8. Put on pajamas
  9. Brush teeth
  10. Read a bedtime story

Furthermore, choosing an outfit the night before is an excellent routine to adopt.  It may help avoid potential problems in the morning, but it’s still always a good idea to build in extra time in the morning to allow for the unexpected.


Posted in Parent Stress Savers

Thank You Nutley Auto Kia for Sponsoring Our Jersey Jackals Baseball Event

A big thank you goes to Board member Jim Russomano and his wife, Anne from Nutley Auto Kia for treating 100 students and their families to an evening baseball game at The Jersey Jackals baseball stadium, Friday June 23rd. Families were assisted by our staff volunteers and were treated to a home game and a barbeque. Our kids enjoyed throwing the first pitch of the game, “tackling” the Jackal and singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame!”…  It was a great evening!

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Congratulations Class of 2017!

Here are some great pictures from our 2017 Graduation for your viewing pleasure!

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The Sound of Music

Our students performed the play and sang the songs of The Sound of Music on Friday, May 26th. It was attended by over 160 parents and community members and was a really wonderful event. This classic story instills so many important life lessons. To believe in yourself, follow your heart, always reach for your dreams, and the great importance of family are a few of the values that are woven throughout this story. These ideals embody the core values of The Phoenix Center as we always encourage our students and their families to follow their hearts as we will help them realize their dreams. In addition, our student art show was exhibited. This body of art work and the morning’s performance are wonderful examples of the joy and sense of pride the Visual and Performing Arts provide for our students.

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Casino Night

Save the Date for Our Annual Casino Night

Our Annual Casino Night event, scheduled for Friday, April 28, 2017 brings together our parents, donors, community leaders, sponsors, district professionals, and advocates. Learn more »

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Using the iPad

The iPad is extremely popular with children. It is fun and engaging with the added bonus of being portable and easily accessible. For children with special needs, it can open up many opportunities. It can be a great educational and therapeutic tool, leisure device or means of communication. Below are some tips to enhance your child’s interaction with the iPad.



How does your child use the iPad? Academics? Leisure? Communication? If your child uses the iPad for academics or leisure, be sure to monitor his/her screen time and set reasonable limits.  If your child uses the iPad as a communication device, it is important that the device is used solely for communication. If the iPad is used for leisure as well, it may be confusing for your child. When using the iPad as a communication device, utilize the Guided Access feature to keep the communication application open and to prevent your child from accessing other apps at an inappropriate time. To set Guided Access, go to Settings, select General, select Accessibility and then select Guided Access. To start Guided Access, open the app you want to use, Triple-click the Home button and then tap Start.



For some children, electronic devices can be over stimulating.  Observe your child’s behavior as he/she plays on the iPad and determine how long he/she can appropriately interact with the device. The time will vary for each child. Use a visual support, such as a timer to help your child manage his/her time. If your child becomes over-stimulated prior to the timer going off, remove the device and allow him/her time to regulate. Some children will be able to return to playing with the iPad while others will require a change in activity.  If your child uses the iPad as a communication device, it is his/her voice and usage should NOT be limited.



Like any other toy, the iPad should be used under the supervision of an adult.  By interacting with your child as he/she plays, you will be able to determine how your child uses the iPad and the length of time it is used appropriately. Furthermore, by supervising your child’s interaction, you can decrease the odds something happening accidently.



By turning on this feature, it will prevent your child from purchasing unwanted apps or features within apps and deleting apps by mistake. If your child uses the iPad as a communication device, it is extremely important to turn this feature on. To set installing/deleting apps, go to Settings, select General, select Restrictions, select Installing/Deleting Apps and then slide the tab to the off setting.  To set in-app purchases, go to Settings, select General, select Restrictions, select In-App Purchases and then slide the tab to the off setting.



Use the iPad as a tool to facilitate interaction and communication. Take turns while playing with different apps and games. Use the camera to imitate silly faces or to play a game of I Spy where instead of verbalizing your guess, you take pictures!  If your child has difficulty taking turns, play with an unfamiliar app where he/she will have to look to you for guidance and assistance. Furthermore, if your child begins to exhibit self-stimulatory behaviors, immediately interrupt and take your turn.



The iPad is extremely fragile and to protect it from unexpected bumps and/or drops, invest in a durable case. There are a variety of durable cases on the market.  Some have handles, others have straps, but they all provide an added layer of protection.  Check out the link for the Friendship Circle’s website below to determine which case is right for your child.




Gillman, D. (2015, December). 20 Genius iPad Tips & Hacks for a Child with Special Needs. Retrieved April 19, 2016, from Birdhouse Blog website:

Morin, A. (2016, May).  How Much Should You Limit Your Kids’ Electronics? Retrieved July 28, 2016, from Very Well website:

Vail, T. (2011, November). Is Your Child Getting Stuck On Electronics? Retrieved July 1, 2015, from Let’s Talk website:


Find the Perfect App – App Review for Special Needs Children


13 Protective Cases



Posted in Parent Stress Savers

Summer Fun


The relaxed pace of summertime and the warm weather provide wonderful opportunities for children to get increased sensory input through activities they enjoy.  However, many children with special needs thrive on consistency, routines and structure, making summer a challenging time.  The key to avoiding stressful situations in the summer is planning and preparation.  Below are some tips to help you and your family can enjoy all the summer has to offer!


Keeping regular meal times and bed times is extremely important.  With the increase in daylight it is very easy to lose track of time; however, our bodies respond best when properly fueled and rested. A picture schedule with the day’s activities is a great way to let your child know what to expect as well as keep yourself on track!


At home, sensory fun may include playing with shaving cream, fingerpaint, or sidewalk chalk, and then “erasing” the artwork with a spray bottle.  Instead of paintbrushes and paper, try painting with sticks on rocks or wood.  In addition, try adding sand to paint for a new tactile experience.


Many individuals with special needs must avoid the sun due to sensitive skin or prescription medications. Try visiting an air-conditioned place, such as a mall, library or movie theatre to get out of the house and break up the day.  Do outdoor activities early in the morning to avoid the worst heat of the day.  Look for parks and playgrounds that have an abundance of shade or water play area.


Whether it is taking a hike outdoors or walking in the mall, kids need to move during the summer. It may mean walking to McDonalds for lunch or an afternoon treat or going to the mall to buy a new toy.  Try walking from a shorter distance at first and then gradually expanding it by parking far away or walking the length of the mall. Use a “First …., Then…” board to help your child understand what to expect.


Swimming is a fantastic way to provide strong sensory input and for working on muscle strength and endurance.  The resistance water provides as a child moves through it, is a true heavy workout and can have a calming effect.  Remember that water temperature and chlorine levels differ; therefore, although a child may dislike one pool, another pool may be okay.  Indoor pools can amplify sound and trigger auditory sensitivities that outdoor pools do not.  Going to a public pool in the morning or just before closing time when it is less busy, may become an important strategy for success.  Even if your child sits on the edge of the pool, providing cups/containers for them to fill and pour is fun for them while working on eye-hand coordination and muscle strength.

At the beach, encourage your child to build with sand, walk or run along the shore, and play in the water.  For individuals with tactile defensiveness, bring digging tools, water/beach shoes, socks, extra clothes, and large blankets to control the amount of contact with the sand.


Sensory items such as putty, theraband strips, squeeze toys, a battery operated massager, a body sock, chewing gum and sour foods may be helpful.  In addition, comfort items such as a pillow, blanket, or favorite toy can ease a transition to an unfamiliar place.


If traveling by car, make frequent stops for movement breaks. Use rest stops for more than just bathroom breaks; play ball, take a few laps around the building/area and push against your parked car for input. All of these things can help regulate your child as you move on to the next leg of your journey.

If your child suffers from motion sickness, try giving them ginger in the form of candy or cookies to avoid and/or alleviate symptoms. In addition, wristbands to prevent motion sickness can be purchased at most drug stores.  Furthermore, chewing gum, pulling on a piece of theraband or listening to music or stories through headphones can also decrease motion sickness and overall restlessness.



“Tips for a Sensory Successful Summer” by Anne Trecker, M.S., OTR/L “New Developments” 12:3   (

Focus on Fun! Now is the time to make plans for the activities you and your family can do to enjoy the warmer weather and outdoor.  Have a fun and safe summer!


Posted in Parent Stress Savers

Communication Strategies

Communication allows us to make contact with other people, establish relationships, express our personality, demonstrate and share our knowledge, ensure that our needs are met and our wishes are considered.  Individuals with special needs often experience difficulties with communication and rely on assistance from others as well as visual supports, and augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) to express their wants and needs.  Below are some strategies to help maximize your child’s communication skills and decrease frustration.


Encourage Total Communication

An individual will naturally use the quickest and easiest way to communicate.  93% of communication is non-verbal.  Total communication is comprised of facial expressions, gestures, signs, real pictures, symbols, words, communication devices and objects.  Your child may not use your preferred mode of communication, but that does not mean that he/she is not communicating.  Accept all forms of communication utilized by your child.  The ultimate goal for communication is to increase spontaneity and to build independence.


Pay Attention to Body Language and Model Language

When your child is looking toward or reaching for something, he/she is communicating.  Make a comment about what he/she is reaching for, “Oh, you want the iPad and then model the language you would like them to use, “I want the iPad.”  If your child uses AAC, get to know their device so you can model how to use it in the moment.  If you have to play around with the device to create the model, you will most likely lose your child’s attention and the teachable moment.  Furthermore, don’t pressure your child to speak.  It is important to keep the experience positive.


Find Teachable Moments

Follow your child’s lead as much as possible.  Let him/her be the initiator of an activity or topic of conversation while you are the participant.  Use motivating activities to increase engagement and to model appropriate language.  Language is all around us, even if you child doesn’t understand everything you are saying, he/she needs to be exposed to new vocabulary and concepts.  Label everything you see, and encourage your child to point to objects as you talk about them.  Leave words out and see if your child will fill in the blanks.  Most importantly, be playful!


Use the 4 L’s – Less Language and Longer Latency

It’s natural to feel the urge to prompt or respond for a child when they don’t immediately provide a response. If this occurs, fight the urge to talk for your child.  It is extremely important to give your child ample time to process language and to formulate a response.   When you ask a question or see that your child wants something, pause for several seconds while looking at him/her expectantly. Watch for any sound or body movement and respond promptly. The promptness of your response helps to empower your child.


Simplify Your Language

It is important for your child to understand what you are saying; therefore, using simple language is essential.  Furthermore, when using simple language it is easier for your child to imitate and follow your model.  Use phrases with one more word than your child is using.  For example, if your child says ball, respond with roll ball or throw ball.  Pair verbs with nouns/objects to increase understanding.  Nouns often have multiple meanings; therefore, it is important to model language by combining nouns and verbs to increase functionality and comprehension.


Utilize First à Then

Use first/then language to shape behavior and remember to be consistent, “First you need to eat, then you can watch television.” Use this language at all times, especially when moving from a preferred activity to a non-preferred activity.

Posted in Parent Stress Savers

A Sensory Friendly Halloween

Although Halloween can be an exciting time for many, it can be a frightening time for kids with sensory processing issues, especially those with special needs.  The novelty of the holiday and unexpected factors can lead to anxiety.  Keeping routines as normal as possible is helpful.

Costumes can be irritating and wearing masks or make-up may be very troubling for children with tactile sensitivities or heightened sense of smell.  Costume choices can be simplified to include more everyday type clothing.  Dressed in a red and white striped shirt and blue shorts, with an apron and paintbrush, voila, your child is a French painter. Perhaps add a beret, if the painter is okay with that.   A Lifeguard is another easy one, with shorts and “Lifeguard” shirt.  Wearing a sport team jersey can be a good option.  Wearing clothing or pajamas under a costume may provide comfort from seams if you do opt for a costume.  Be sure to practice wearing the costume in advance of the big day. This may require several days of practicing adding an element each day if there are many parts.   A Halloween tee-shirt or socks may do the trick!  Pajamas/sweat pants/leggings/ thermal underwear can be turned into a costume by painting with glow-in-the-dark paints, or regular fabric paints.  Wearing pajamas and carrying a stuffed animal may be a great costume onto itself!

Setting a limited time for trick-or-treating is much better than waiting until a melt-down occurs.  Letting your child know when there is “15 minutes, and then we go home.”  Giving a ten minute and five minute notice that trick or treating is wrapping up is helpful.  Similarly, mapping out a route ahead of time is best.  Remember to include breaks and a healthy snack and drink for your child.  Bringing along a wagon with a blanket and pillow may provide a nice sensory break as well as a good ride home.  Having a flashlight can be a fun diversion.

Other activities, like reading your child Halloween themed books, may be a nice way to spend time.   Little Jack and Boo: What Could We Do This Halloween? by D.L. Sherwood is a great  book to get in to the spirt.. Your child may prefer staying home to hand out candy and seeing the costumed visitors.  If that becomes too overwhelming, turn off the porch light and trick or treaters should get the idea. Having a small party at home with family or friends may be more enjoyable option as well.   Shopping malls and downtown shops often welcome trick-or-treaters and may provide more structure and predictability for your child.  Walking, or riding in a town parade may be a good option for some.

Remember that limiting candy is an essential way to making the day a success.  High amounts of sugar, food coloring and additives may quickly lead to a hyperactive and/or irritable trick-or-treater, whether you’re a child or adult.  There are many ways to get rid of unwanted candy, to prevent behavioral episodes and maximize nutrition.



Posted in Parent Stress Savers