504 or IEP? What’s the deal???

Every parent with a special needs child will run across this topic once their child enters public school. While their goals are similar, they are two very different “plans.” They also come from two federal civil rights laws:

1) IDEA– If a child is determined in need of special education after assessment, the school must do everything it can to meet that child’s needs (IEP).

2) The Rehabilitation Act of 1973– no child would be denied access to an education as the result of a disability.

But what makes them different?

Individual Education Plan (IEP)– this is a plan or program that is established for a child who is struggling to learn in school. After a collaborative process between the school and parents of the child, a plan with services (occupational therapist, school psychologist, speech therapist) is drawn up to help the child improve where it’s needed.

Section 504– A section 504 designation guarantees accomodations for a child in the classroom to ensure they can access their education effectively. (for example, a teacher cannot tell a deaf student they cannot use a hearing aid because it will limit that child’s ability to hear what they’re saying.) It ensures that a child cannot be discriminated against just because they have a disability.

What do you do when your kiddo could definitely benefit from services or accomodations, but they’re so smart that they learn in spite of their disability?

Luke tests off the charts in every intelligence assessment he’s taken. Classwork and homework are usually a breeze for him. However, there’s other things a child learns from going to school. They learn social skills, independence and autonomy from their parents, and a whole battery of other things that don’t involve academics.

How do you get the school to meet you on this? My approach was to bring in as much outside advice in on the special education process as is possible. It’s also valuable to know that schools will only evaluate your child’s ability based on minimum standards.

What does this mean????

Getting services to your child means that the county has to spend the money to provide them. Depending on where you live and how much funding goes into your public school system, it could either be extraordinarily difficult or not so difficult to get an IEP or section 504 designation for your child. I had the ability and resources to consult with great specialists in my area, so I was able to come to these meetings as prepared as possible and was able to put in place helpful accomodations for Luke. Some of them included:

1) Use of sensory tools such as headphones to make noisy environments more manageable.
2) Use of a visual schedule to ensure Luke is aware of what he’ll be doing during the day making transitions smoother.

We’ve also added “Zones of Regulation” cirriculum in the mix. If you haven’t heard of this already, here’s a link to their website where you can look at their cirriculum and buy the book if you need:


Some families go through this work and still don’t get the results their children need. This is when you can hire an advocate to come to meetings with you. They are knowledgable about the laws and are an extra voice speaking on your behalf in IEP and section 504 meetings.

Are you in the middle of an IEP process right now? Do you have a section 504 for your child but think they could use an IEP? Let me know in the comments below!


Sensory Enemy #1: Sound!

DISCLAIMER: this post is an offering of my opinions and what worked for our family. I’m not a childcare or medical professional.

I’ve decided to start off with auditory sensitivity as my first post in this series because this was the most obvious area of dysfunction for my child.


Very simply, your child’s nervous system cannot integrate sound information into the brain appropriately, and therefore your child reacts inappropriately as a result. Sound sensitivity manifested itself in two ways with Luke.

1) Sudden, loud noise

This one affects kids even if they don’t struggle with sensory processing. A loud ambulance will go by, or you’ll turn on a coffee grinder and that will scare your child. Often times this can be chalked up to kids being so young, and they will often outgrow it. Luke’s reaction always went above and beyond normal startling or just a five minute cry over the sudden noise. When he was a toddler, I had to be super careful making coffee in the morning. My husband and I are fans of fresh ground coffee beans, so using the coffee grinder is a regular thing for us. There would be times where he wouldn’t calm down for a half an hour. We eventually got the hang of it, and I learned to tell him to cover his ears before turning on the coffee grinder.

2) Multi-input noises

This one came as a surprise to me. I thought we were coping with Luke’s sound sensitivity pretty well. However, if he was in a consistently loud environment where many noises would be happening (people talking, music coming over the loudspeakers, etc), he would eventually explode and have to be removed from the noisy situation. I thought I was disciplining him, but I soon realized that removing him from the situation was a relief to him.

His Kindergarten classroom was a loud and overstimulating one. He was sent to the counselor’s office his very first day of school for being an absolute disaster in class. He was super excited to tell me he got to play Angry Birds with her, but I knew we were in for a tough year. On the surface, it would seem that he was just a “bad kid who needed to be spanked,” as I hear so many people say when they see a child having a meltdown. The problem is so much more complicated than that. Luke was constantly on edge, trying to keep it all together, tuning out as much as he could. Eventually, he couldn’t take it anymore and he would explode. These issues would continue to plague him throughout his time at elementary school.

So what can you do??

As I’ve said in previous posts, your first stop will be your pediatrician, who will refer you to a pediatric occupational therapist for evaluation.

For his sound sensitivity, she recommended he use noise cancelling headphones for when the classroom environment got too loud or if we would be attending sporting events with loud noise. I can’t say enough how helpful these were.

In the classroom, we were lucky to have some very open-minded teachers who were willing to help, but eventually we were able to get him accommodations via a Section 504. In that documentation, Luke’s teachers are required to let him use headphones for schoolwork, testing, and if he was feeling the classroom get too loud.


I can’t stress enough how much easier it is to help your child if you intervene early. You absolutely should not wait if you suspect your child is struggling with sensory issues. Mal adaptive behavior and self-esteem issues will arise as a result of a child not responding appropriately to the world around them.

Does your child struggle with loud noises and noisy environments? Drop a comment below and let’s chat about it!

Also, if you’re parenting a child with sensory problems, you’re likely experiencing out of this world meltdowns. If you’d like some useful tips and some suggestions for parenting explosive children, check out my previous blog post here!



Sensory Processing Disorder: A Hidden Challenge for your child….

I have to start this post with the following disclaimers: I am not a trained pediatrician, occupational therapist, or physical therapist. My thoughts shared here are my personal experience with my wonderful son Luke and may not work for everyone. My purpose in sharing is to bring awareness to an issue that child professionals are still working to understand.

Sensory Processing Disorder, in laymen’s terms, is the inability of a child’s nervous system to receive and process information from the senses in an appropriate way. This may mean your child has a meltdown when a very loud firetruck goes by or you turn on the coffee grinder in your kitchen. Children can either be hyper or hypo sensitive to input from the world around them, which leads to behavior that either avoids or seeks certain stimulus. In cases of hypersensitivity to input, a child can often overreact inappropriately to what may seem harmless to us as adults. It’s important to note that as of this post, the DSM-5 doesn’t designate sensory processing disorder as a standalone diagnosis. It usually indicates that your child has ADHD or autism spectrum disorder (otherwise known as “being on the spectrum”).

When we think of “senses,” the usual suspects come to mind: auditory, tactile, and visual. These are self explanatory. However, two others exist that are less obvious: proprioception and vestibular. The former, proprioception, is your awareness of your body in space. The latter, vestibular, is your sense of balance. Obviously, these deserve thorough explanations that I will write about in later posts.

Usually, if you suspect your child may have challenges with any of these senses, your first place to start is your pediatrician. The most obvious challenge for Luke was his hypersensitivity to sound. After discussing this with his pediatrician, we were referred to an occupational therapist who will then evaluate your child. Included in this evaluation is a parent survey with questions about your child’s behavior. Some OT’s will even ask your child’s teacher to fill out a survey too, which I find to be helpful because we all know our children act differently at home and at school.

We saw two OT’s, one of whom we stayed with because she established such a great rapport with him. The other had a bigger office complete with a “sensory gym,” but we weren’t guaranteed to see the same therapist every time. Seeing Luke in that sensory gym was a very enlightening experience….

Included in the sensory gym was a swing that rotated 350 degrees and a ball pit that was almost straight out of McDonald’s in the 90s. When the OT brought me back to observe Luke in the gym, he was running back and forth between crashing in the ball pit and then running over to the swing to spin himself around and around and around. We found out that this sensory seeking behavior was the result of his hyposensitivity to proprioceptive and vestibular input.

A few books I’d recommend reading if you think you’re child may have difficulty with sensory integration:

The Out-of-Sync Child: Recognizing and Coping with Sensory Processing Disorder (The Out-of-Sync Child Series)

Raising a Sensory Smart Child– Teaching your child self-advocacy in a world that doesn’t understand is key. This book has some great strategies to help you in your parenting journey.

The Sensory Child Gets Organized– This is helpful for kids in elementary school who have trouble getting organized for one reason or another. That is one of our constant struggles in our house so this book was a God send!

There’s so much to say, but we have to start with a basic overview of a very complex problem. More information is coming down the line in the following weeks. Drop a comment below if you have any questions or have any stories to share!

~ Ashley C


Public Enemy #1: Tantrums….

Meltdowns….. tantrums….. outbursts….. They go by many names….. par for the course for the terrible twos and “threenagers”….

Whatever you choose to call them, they drive parents absolutely bonkers, whether at home or out in public at the grocery store.

For Luke, these meltdowns were much more intense than the average child. They often lasted 40 minutes to an hour, for any garden variety of reasons. Transitioning was THE biggest trigger. Bath time in particular was a challenge for this reason. He’d resist going in and would cry and fight me until I eventually got him in the tub. Then, strangely enough, when it came time for him to get out, he’d cry and scream even more that he wanted to stay in. It was emotionally draining, and I didn’t know what in the world I was doing wrong.

Obviously there were some things that I did do wrong. I myself can carry my emotions on my sleeve (just ask my husband.) That said, my own reactions to the impending “meltdown” did nothing to help the situation. I met Luke with anxiety anytime I asked him to transition to something else. Kids with ADHD tend to be emotional barometers even when they seem tuned out. He fed off my energy immediately, making his tantrum far worse. After the 40 minute mark of a meltdown, I’d completely lose my cool and begin screaming myself. It wasn’t a pretty sight.

It wasn’t until recently when I read more about executive functioning that I began to understand a huge part of what was causing his huge meltdowns. Children with a deficit in executive functioning tend to have problems with transitions and impulsive behavior. It’s nearly impossible for them to place themselves 20 minutes into the future and realize that everything will be ok if they stop what they’re doing and move on. They also have trouble regulating their emotions. Thanks to help from his social skills group, school counselors, teachers, and an adjusted parenting plan with positive reinforcement, Luke has come miles becoming the “boss of his feelings.”

What do I recommend? 

  1. It’s important to remember that a meltdown is not a sign of your child being spoiled, bad, or in “need of a spanking.” They need our help and guidance as parents to learn the appropriate reactions. As soon as we look at our children in this way, the more calm and equipped we are in dealing with the meltdown.
  2. At home, if you ever find yourself in a position where you lose your cool, lock yourself in a room or bathroom, separate from your child, and give yourself 5-10 minutes to cool down. Nine times out of 10, my kiddo calmed down faster if I just removed myself from the situation.
  3. If your kiddo is triggered by transitions like mine was, 5 minute warnings before a change in activities is a huge help. Luke is now 8, and we still give him a warning before moving on to the next event in the day. We also take the time in the morning to tell him what big events are happening in the day.
  4. Number 2 can carry over to school if a teacher asks for your input. We ended up with a fantastic teacher who would give prompts, had a visual schedule, and would also make sure Luke was alerted to changes in the school day as soon as he got to school.
  5. I can’t speak highly enough about the books The Explosive Child and The Zones of Regulation curriculum. These have been invaluable resources for me.
  6. DO NOT WAIT TO GET HELP FROM CHILDHOOD BEHAVIORAL PROFESSIONALS. This is so incredibly important. The younger a child is, the easier it is to help them. We’d been told by so many people and family members that he’d “just grow out of it.” This is nonsense. Yes, children mature, but you have to make sure they don’t develop maladaptive behavior in the process. We started Luke in a “boy’s group” with two trained psychologists in kindergarten and added occupational therapy in 1st grade. I think our lives would’ve been much easier had we gotten help sooner.

Do you have an “explosive” child? Drop a comment below to share your strategies and stories of your child’s toddler years!

Disclaimer: I’m not a trained psychologist. I’m merely passing along strategies and resources that helped our family. 


A twice exceptional life….

When you become a parent, a new adventure begins. We were so excited to welcome Luke into the world. He was the first grandson on both my husband’s and my side of the family. My father was especially excited for Luke as he (joyfully) already had four daughters and my lovely niece Sofia.

Luke arrived on Friday the 13th in 2009. Most people who know me laughed when they heard this and said “only you would have a baby on Friday the 13th.” As unlucky a day as that historically has known to be, it was lucky that my husband had just arrived at his desk at the hospital when my water had broke. “Honey, we gotta go, it’s real this time….”

Luke was a rather average and unremarkable baby. Early signs of trouble filtered in every now and then when a loud emergency vehicle went by, or when we’d visit my mother in law, and her sweet but very protective dog would bark when we entered the door. He’d cry and cry and cry with loud sudden noises, more than your average baby. We thought nothing of it at the time, because he was just a baby after all.

However, all Hell broke loose when he turned 18 months. He was having very serious meltdowns, some lasting 45 minutes to an hour, for what most parents know can be the most arbitrary reasons. Almost all toddlers are famously terrible in their 2’s and 3’s…. ours was the stuff of legends in comparison.

But there’s a silver lining to every cloud. Luke was a very competent reader by the age of three. In fact, his teachers in his preschool class set up a “station” for him to explain letters of the alphabet to other kids in his class. Luke was identified as gifted later on in kindergarten. I thank God every day that his teacher saw how bright he was past his very disruptive behavior.

It wasn’t until last Fall, after waiting 10 months for an appointment, that we discovered Luke had combined type ADHD. After a battery of intelligence testing, we also discovered that he was reading at the 11th grade level, and his math skills were that of a 9th grader. The developmental pediatrician confirmed what we knew all along: ADHD and hyper-intelligence often occur hand in hand. I felt like a 100 pound weight had been lifted off my shoulders.

Unfortunately, we were not able to get an IEP for Luke because he learns despite his disruptive behavior. However, we were able to declare a Section 504 disability for him with the developmental pediatrician’s diagnosis. Our lives, along with Luke’s, have been radically different.

The goal of this blog is not to assist in diagnosing their child (I’m not qualified to do that.) Rather, I want to share this life changing adventure with everyone who may be having the same struggle as me. I’ll share more about our journey as a family, and also the steps we’ve taken to get Luke to where he is now.