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!

Posted in Uncategorized

Congratulations Class of 2017!

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

Posted in Uncategorized

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.

Posted in Uncategorized

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 »

Posted in Uncategorized

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

Morning Routine

The morning can be the hardest part of the day. Not only do you (the often exhausted parent) have to get yourself up and ready, you have to get your child up, dressed, fed, prepared for the day and out the door when the bus arrives. Establishing a morning routine is essential to achieve success. Routines provide predictability and help to relieve anxiety and uncertainty. In addition, routines allow an individual to have greater control over their environment. Sticking to a similar morning routine could mean all the difference between having a good day and having a bad one. Below are some tips for creating a morning routine.

Use Visual Supports

Sequencing can be difficult for individuals with special needs. Using pictures or symbols to identify what is expected each morning will help your child work towards independence. A schedule that sequences morning activities takes the guesswork out of what needs to be done. When a child is faced with too many choices, an unwanted meltdown can occur. By using visual supports, you can make the morning routine as general or specific as you would like. Some children may be able to use a general schedule that identifies each morning activity while others may require each activity be broken down into smaller steps. If your child is overwhelmed by picture symbols, try a short video that models the steps incorporated in the task.


Set the Alarm a Few Minutes Early

Getting up with extra time gives you and your child time to work through the morning routine with less stress and pressure. To offset the early rising, have your child go to bed a bit earlier each night. In the beginning, try to maintain the same wake-up and bedtime each day, even on the weekend. For an individual to develop a strong routine, it must be consistent.


Breakfast is Important

Mornings can be long and when you’re hungry they can feel even longer. Being hungry can also be the source of many noncompliant behaviors. Provide extra time in the morning to ensure your child has time to eat a good breakfast. Fill the kitchen with foods your child enjoys. By doing this you can help prevent a meltdown, which will “eat” into your valuable morning time. If the only thing your child wants to eat is peanut butter sandwiches that is ok. Eating something for breakfast is better than eating nothing. The bus ride to school can be long and will certainly be unpleasant if your child is hungry. If for some reason you run out of time and are unable to give your child breakfast, send it to school or write a note. Your child’s teacher can give him/her their breakfast. It is very important for the classroom teacher to know if your child did not eat breakfast.


Pick Clothes Out at Night

Encourage your child to choose and lay out their clothing before bed.  By doing this you can eliminate one step in the morning and avoid a potential power struggle.  Additionally, providing your child with an opportunity to select what they want to wear encourages choice making, empowers them, provides insight into their preferences (texture, color, etc.), and may lead to more positive behaviors related to dressing. Keep in mind sensory issues and other preferences that may create problems in the morning. If your child is attached to a purple t-shirt, purchase several so they will always have a clean purple shirt to wear.


No Electronics Until Everyone is Ready

Save watching TV, playing on the computer, and/or using the iPad for after everyone is ready. Electronics can be distracting and can slow down your morning routine. Furthermore, electronics can be the source of a power struggle between you and your child and cause a meltdown. If your child has a hard time with not watching television or using the iPad, try playing music as a substitute. Music can be calming and help your child to focus better. Try playing a different song for each morning task or completing the task to the beat of the music. Get creative and you’ll see how much fun the morning routine can be!



Posted in Parent Stress Savers

Fun Family Outings

Leisure activities like going to the movies or a baseball game are supposed to be fun for the whole family.  However, for an individual with special needs, these activities can be overwhelming at times. In addition, they can be unnerving for parents due to the many “what if’s.”  While some venues may be inappropriate, there are many places your family can go to have a good time.  The key to success is picking the right activity.  With a little advanced planning and the right attitude the whole family can have fun!


Determine Everyone’s Interests and Needs

When choosing an activity, it is important to consider everyone’s age, interests and personality.  Look for an activity that coincides with your child’s abilities while at the same time is stimulating the other individuals involved.  Furthermore, think about the goals that your child has been working toward during the school year and how they can be incorporated into the activity!


Don’t Be Afraid to Take Risks

Children’s interests and abilities are frequently changing.  They may no longer be interested in or fear something they did in the past.  If you don’t try new things, you’ll never know how wonderful they can be! However, when taking a risk, be sure to have a back up plan just in case things don’t work out as planned.


Start with Free Events

High prices create high expectations.  The goal is to have fun and not worry about getting your money’s worth.  If the activity is free, you won’t feel bad walking away if it doesn’t work out.  Check out NJ Kids Online for a calendar of free events!


Take Advantage of Minor Leagues and Local Colleges

Inexpensive tickets, shorter lines at the concessions and bathrooms, seats closer to the action and better parking options are all benefits of going to a minor league or college game.  In addition, they usually have fun activities for kids throughout the game.


Prepare Your Child at Home

It is important to talk to your child about the activity in advance.  Use visual supports, social stories, pretend play and even ‘apps’ on the iPad, iTouch or iPhone to help your child learn what to expect.  Describe what your child will see and the sensations they may hear and feel.  By preparing your child at home, you can desensitize them to the items/events in the community.


Bring a Sensory Tool Bag

Take along a bag/backpack that includes sunglasses/cap, a package of wipes (for sticky hands), hand fidget, headphones with music for a break, crunchy/chewy snack/gum (if appropriate), drink.


Be a Soothing Example

This may be most important.  Children can sense their parent’s mood and they often respond accordingly.  Success will come in small steps, so go slowly, and be sure to closely monitor your child’s feelings. You may need to attend the event a few times before your child can fully participate.


Be Patient and Focus on the Positive

Please do not become discouraged.  Focus on your child’s success. Make sure to praise your child for waiting nicely, keeping a calm body and using self-regulation strategies. Try to take lots of pictures! These are great memories and they can also be used as visual supports when you’re preparing your child for future family outings.




Fun For All

Sensory Friendly Entertainment

Budget Friendly





Posted in Parent Stress Savers