Aww the first few days of summer vacation are great! Then you start hearing the repetitive complaints of being bored. Here are some summer suggestions….

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Local Zoos and Aquariums

Many local zoos and aquariums have long and short term summer programs/camps.

Zoo New England offers a camp about of their locations (Franklin Park in Boston and Stone Zoo in Stoneham). At both camps. Zoo educators will lead campers through an adventurous week of animal explorations, hands-on activities, animal-related games, and crafts. 

New England Aquarium offers camps for older students. For example, their Harbor Discoveries is an interactive marine and environmental science program that incorporates traditional camp activities. Through exploration of local marine habitats and the Aquarium, and an excitement for ocean conservation, Harbor Discoveries enhances the passion and potential impact that young people can have in and for the ocean.

Local Libraries

Many folks overlook the hidden gems that are their local libraries. Many libraries offer teen hours, story time, STEM activities, activities geared to siblings and/or parent bonding. Some libraries also offer opportunities for older students to work with either younger students or students with special needs.

Check out your local library’s website and/or stop in and ask some questions. IF you don’t see something that is appropriate for your child, ask if they know of an appropriate offering or would they be willing to coordinate something. You will be surprised by how much knowledge these librarians have and are willing to share with those that ask.

Local Recreation Departments

Almost every town/city has a recreation department that offers a wide variety of short-long term offerings. Many towns/cities are also willing to help financially, just ask what your town’s policy is about scholarships. Again if you do not see something that is a ‘right’ fit for your individual child, call and ask if they can accommodate. If they cannot accommodate, don’t be upset. Instead ask them if they know any more appropriate options. Again these folks have a plethora of information and are always willing to share it with interested parties.


As the school year wraps up, there are still things you can do to help your student end on a positive note. Here are some suggestions:

Say "Thank You" to those who helped.

Many people contributed to your student’s progress. Some of their contributions were obvious such as the bus driver, the aide, and the classroom teacher. But do not forget about the many others that were there as a support such as the school nurse, the lunchroom staff, and the recess staff. You should ask your student who they think helped and supported them – you might hear a name you were not aware of.

Review your child’s IEP and progress.

Did your child make progress this school year? Did the school properly implement the IEP? Does the IEP adequately address your child’s needs? Do your child’s Goals prepare your child for further education, employment, and independent living?

Visit the new school or classroom.

Will your student be changing schools? Going from elementary to middle or middle to high school? Schedule a visit to the school before the first day of school. If necessary get your student’s schedule and practice how they will get from class to class; to the lunchroom and the bus/drop-off area.

Are you leaving the district?

Whether you move to another town in the same state or a whole new state, your child's new school has a responsibility to obtain your child's school records promptly. Some school districts allow you to pick up your child's records and bring them to the new school yourself - this is not allowed in every district. When you request that the documents be sent to the new school, ask how long this process usually takes and then schedule a call to the new school to confirm their receipt. 

 The new school should review the child's current Individualized Education Plan (i.e. the IEP) to understand the child's diagnosis, special education services, related services etc. that your child currently has in place to provide him or her with a free, appropriate public education (FAPE). The new school needs to provide your child with services, placement, aides, etc. that are similar or comparable to what is stated in the child's existing IEP.  The new school cannot tell you that they "do not do that in their district." 

Summer plans.

Is your student going to see and/or communicate with their friends during the break? If not try and set up some play dates before school ends so that your student has some reassurance of continued contact.

Have questions or concerns about your student? Contact us to discuss further:

E.M. Curran & Associates LLC

10 Tower Office Park
Suite 406
Woburn, MA 01801
Phone: 781-933-1542
Fax: 781-933-1549


Extended School Year (ESY) programs are described under state and federal special education requirements and have been further interpreted through case law. Many find this topic confusing and challenging. Here are the most frequently asked questions (FAQ) we hear on this topic…

 What is ESY?

ESY is not the same thing as summer school. It is specialized instruction or related services that are a part of your child’s IEP. It is offered most typically during the summer school vacation period.

The services are individualized to help each child maintain his skills and not lose the progress he’s made toward his goals. For some kids, this may mean one-on-one tutoring. For others it may be a few sessions of occupational therapy or speech therapy each week. What ESY looks like for your child is a decision made by his IEP team.

Who is ESY meant for?

Not every child with an IEP requires an extended school year.

 All children "regress"--lose progress, forget, revert to previous behavior--to some extent between school years. It must be determined whether a child's regression would likely be substantial, and whether the child would require a greater than usual time to "recoup"--to get back to the level the child had achieved before a break in service.

 Decisions about ESY programs must be made on an individual basis, taking into consideration the unique needs of the child.

 What is the cost to me if my student needs ESY?

If ESY is included in your student’s IEP as a required service, it is at no cost to the parents/guardians.

When does the school need to decide if the student needs ESY?

At least once annually the child's Team must consider the need for an extended school year program and record its determination in the child’s IEP. A Team's determination regarding the need for an ESY program must be made on an individual basis.

 How do I figure out what my school district looks for in deciding if a student needs ESY?

Every school district must have a written policy and procedures regarding the provision of extended school year programs. The policy and procedures must detail the criteria used by a Team for individually determining the need for ESY programming. In order to ensure consistent staff implementation of its ESY policy, each school district must train all staff involved in Team evaluations to implement the ESY policy and procedures.

Have questions or concerns about your student? Contact us to discuss further:

E.M. Curran & Associates LLC

10 Tower Office Park
Suite 406
Woburn, MA 01801
Phone: 781-933-1542
Fax: 781-933-1549


Parents are often surprised to learn that a medical diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) does not automatically entitle a student to special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA).  It is important for parents to understand the differences between a medical diagnosis and an educational determination of eligibility for special education services so that they can appropriately advocate for their children.

Autism ASD

Medical diagnosis of ASD:

People with ASD tend to have communication deficits, such as responding inappropriately in conversations, misreading nonverbal interactions, or having difficulty building friendships appropriate to their age. In addition, people with ASD may be overly dependent on routines, highly sensitive to changes in their environment, or intensely focused on inappropriate items. Again, the symptoms of people with ASD will fall on a continuum, with some individuals showing mild symptoms and others having much more severe symptoms. This spectrum will allow clinicians to account for the variations in symptoms and behaviors from person to person.

A medical diagnosis of ASD is made by a doctor or other specially trained clinician by using symptom criteria set in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). DSM-5 eliminated the subcategories established in the DSM-IV and grouped all the conditions under the name of Autism Spectrum Disorder. 

Under the DSM-5 criteria, individuals with ASD must show symptoms from early childhood, even if those symptoms are not recognized until later. This criteria change encourages earlier diagnosis of ASD but also allows people whose symptoms may not be fully recognized until social demands exceed their capacity to receive the diagnosis. It is an important change from DSM-IV criteria, which was geared toward identifying school-aged children with autism-related disorders, but not as useful in diagnosing younger children. Under DSM-5 the doctor/clinician is looking for symptoms that limit and impair everyday functioning, but this should be interpreted broadly.

Educational determination of eligibility:

By contrast, educational eligibility is decided by a team comprised of the student’s parents and various school professionals. The team must find that he student qualifies for services under IDEA. The purpose of IDEA is to ensure that all children with disabilities have available to them a free and appropriate public education that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment, and independent living.” See 20 USC section 1400(d)(1)(A)

Eligibility for special education services is based, rather, on an educational determination of a disability. The Team will consider the following questions to determine if a student is eligible :

  1. Is there a disability?  IDEA requires that the student have at least one of the fourteen specified disabilities and need special services.

  2. Is the student not making effective progress due to the disability? It is possible for a student to have a medical ASD diagnosis but not qualify for special education services. If this is true of your child, consider a 504 Plan where they could qualify for other services, such as accommodations.

  3. Does the student need specialized instruction to make effective progress?

  4. What related services does the student need to access the general curriculum?

Have questions or concerns about your student? Contact us to discuss further:

E.M. Curran & Associates LLC

10 Tower Office Park
Suite 406
Woburn, MA 01801
Phone: 781-933-1542
Fax: 781-933-1549


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A good advocate takes time to know your child …

It is important for your education advocate/attorney to meet the student. Most of the time this can be done at home or at the advocate/attorney’s office. In order to advocate zealously for the student, we need want to have a sense of who the student is as an individual so that we can better understand their educational strengths and difficulties. This will help us understand whether or not their current IEP goals and benchmarks are both unique and complimentary to the student.

Another reason it is important for your advocate/attorney to get to know the student is so that the student’s voice is heard. Maybe they don’t like math and their struggles are not the result of an unidentified learning disability but instead their disinterest. Maybe they are experiencing bullying and are too embarrassed to tell their parents/guardians. The student’s relationship with the advocate is just as important as the advocate’s relationship with their parents/guardians. Sometimes what is in the best interest of the student is not what the parents/guardians want so it will be vital to have some insight to what the student wants to help resolve any real or perceived conflicts.

We empower parents/guardians by...

Education Advocates/Attorneys are great to help the student and their parents/guardians through a tough situation. We can help you carefully read your student’s school records, testing, and IEP. We can help you draft letters to the appropriate school personnel. We can help you prepare for an IEP meeting ~ in some instances we may even attend the meeting with you. We can often see solutions not immediately obvious to other people. We can be neutral parties to help break the tension and distrust that may exist between the interested parties. We can provide information about special education options, requirements and programs.

However, our goal is to educate the parent/guardian so that they understand the special education process. This way the parent/guardian can become a better advocate for their own student.

Have questions or concerns about your student? Contact us to discuss further:

E.M. Curran & Associates LLC

10 Tower Office Park
Suite 406
Woburn, MA 01801
Phone: 781-933-1542
Fax: 781-933-1549

Transition Planning... dos and don'ts


What does “Transition” mean?

Transition plans for a student’s post high school life. Transition planning should focuses on the student’s academic and non- academic courses and learning experiences, employment and related training opportunities, as well as their community living, and leisure activities.

In Massachusetts Transition Planning starts at age 14 and should include:

  • Includes experiences both in school and in the community

  • Helps define direction/vision

  • Seeks opportunities for skill development

  • Focuses on the youth’s strengths, preferences, and interests

Experts and advocates say that high schools can do more to help improve the situation, though. Good transition planning and services can help special education students flourish after high school. The best transition planning requires several things, according to experts:

  1. An accurate and thoughtful assessment of a student’s abilities and interests.

  2. Clear, measurable goals related to his or her post-secondary aspirations.

  3. Appropriate support and services to help them achieve their goals.

Putting the plan into action 

Federal law says schools are supposed to make sure students follow the steps in their plans, but there is no one watching to make sure they do. “One of the most frustrating things is there’s not services to back up the goals, even if the goals aren’t bad,” Blaeuer said. “It’s very perfunctory.”

Parents often have to take on the burden of making sure their children are getting the support they need to meet their transition goals because schools simply don’t devote enough resources to this part of special education. Some schools have a full-time coordinator focused on transition services. More commonly, special education teachers — who already have a full teaching load — are in charge of overseeing transition plans.

Some good resources related to transition planning:

Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education on Special Education: Transition from School to Adult Life.

Federation for Children with Special Needs - the Link Center

Have questions or concerns about your student? Contact us to discuss further:

E.M. Curran & Associates LLC

10 Tower Office Park
Suite 406
Woburn, MA 01801
Phone: 781-933-1542
Fax: 781-933-1549


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Whether we like it or not, MCAS is here to stay; at least for the foreseeable future. Beginning in Spring 2019 the new version of MCAS called “Next-Generation MCAS” will be given to all grades and it will be administered exclusively on computer (with paper versions as accommodations).  Next-Gen MCAS is the first major revision of the MCAS test since it was first administered. The next-generation MCAS is designed to assess whether a student is prepared for academic work at the next level and is therefore forward-looking. The current MCAS remains a requirement through the class of 2019.

Why is there a new version of MCAS?

The new version combines the ‘best’ features from PARCC and the almost twenty-year-old MCAS assessment. The new version is meant to align with the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks, introduces new types of questions/items to more “deeply assess the standards”; focuses on students’ critical thinking abilities, application of knowledge and ability to make connections between reading and writing. Next-Gen MCAS still focuses on English Language Arts (ELA), Mathematics and Science and Technology/Engineering. The tests results are meant to provide reliable feedback on whether students are on track for success after high school.

Who takes MCAS?

Every student receiving a publicly funded education in Massachusetts, regardless of the setting, must participate in MCAS testing. For students with an IEP or 504 Plan, the Team decides how the student will participate: without accommodations, with accommodations or MCAS-Alt. 

New Accessibility features and accommodations:

Universal Accessibility Features (UF):  These modifications to the test environment are available to ALL students and include the use of highlighters, scratch paper, untimed test and repeating or clarifying instructions.

Designated Accessibility Features (DF): These modifications include things such as small group testing, different testing room/setting; 1:1 testing; and allowing student to have frequent breaks. These flexible test administration procedures may be used with ANY student, at the discretion of the principal.  You may specifically ask for DF items on your child’s IEP – put it on the ‘additional page’ of the IEP.

Accommodations (A): Accommodations have not been changed. Students with disabilities are still able to incorporate accommodations that they need and use routinely in the classroom. The Team should list these accommodations on the child’s IEP/504 Plan.

For more information about accessibility features and accommodations click here

Next Gen MCAS "Achievement Levels"

The new standards for Meeting Expectations are more demanding than the standards for the old-MCAS. What does that mean? DESE predicts that more students will struggle to pass Next-Generation MCAS. Their reasoning for keeping it this way is “The next-generation MCAS is designed to assess whether a student is prepared for academic work at the next level and is therefore forward-looking. This is a different expectation for students, because the older MCAS looked at a student's level of preparation for the grade level in which they were tested.”

Please visit the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's website to learn more about the Next-Generation MCAS' scoring by clicking here.

What can you do to help your child?

Reach out to your child’s teacher and find out where your child needs to focus/practice; ask about MCAS prep classes and/or other opportunities being offered by the school/district to help support students who are not succeeding according to the test’s results.

Review your student’s IEP/504 Plan to make sure that it identifies individualized, specialized instruction or support that allows them to both access and learn the general curriculum as well as any skills required to make progress with the general curriculum.

Sometimes we try to shield our children from ‘undue stress.’ We highly recommend that you do not pull your student from lower grade MCAS testing. Allow them to participate and see what it is like to sit for the test. By the time they get to high school, where the test results have the most impact and consequences, you do not want them trying it for the first time. Remember students with disabilities must pass MCAS and fulfill all other graduation requirements in order to receive a diploma.

Have questions or concerns about your child's education? Contact us to discuss further:

E.M. Curran & Associates LLC

10 Tower Office Park
Suite 406
Woburn, MA 01801
Phone: 781-933-1542
Fax: 781-933-1549

School Resource Officers ("SROs") in Massachusetts Schools

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A recent decision by the U.S. Department of Education (Department), Office for Civil Rights (OCR) , warns schools of the risks of using School Resource Officers (SROs) in educational situations. In this case Lynn used an SRO as a “support person” in dealing with a student whose behavior had quickly declined. 

Brief summary of the facts in the complaint:

During the 2014-2015 school year, the Student who was at the center of the complaint was on an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for an emotional disability.  The Student was known to perseverate on problems and had focus issues. The IEP indicated she needed guidance to learn how to successfully regulate her emotions and would need to meet with the school adjustment counselor.

The first half of the school year, until about January, passed without incident or concerns.  Beginning in January 2015 and more noticeably in February, the Student began to decompensate. She struggled with her academics; she had an increase in absences, tardies and dismissals; and  was suspended at least 12 times during March and April for violations such as refusal to go to class, disruptive and disrespectful behavior, swearing, and wandering the halls. By comparison, the Student had no suspensions at the start of the school year.

At a Team meeting held at the start of May, it was determined that the behaviors resulting in the Student’s suspensions were related to her disability. It was also decided that the District should conduct a FBA and a 45-day assessment, but the team could not agree on a place for the assessment. The District wanted to place the Student at their in-district school for “educationally at risk Students who have not been successful in a traditional high school setting.” The Student and her representatives requested an out-of-district assessment and placement.  Since an agreement could not be reached, the team agreed to reconvene a week later to determine an appropriate placement.

Prior to the second meeting, the Student once again had difficulty attending class.  The Student went to the vice principal’s office and the SRO was called to assist. The social worker and vice principal explained to OCR that the SRO was often called as an additional support member for the Student to talk to. The SRO’s report from the incident stated that the Student’s refusal to attend class had been an ongoing issue in the school year, indicating he had some awareness of the Student’s challenges. The SRO brought the Student down to his office, where the school social worker stopped by. According to records and interviews, the Student became loud and squirted hand sanitizer on the social worker. The social worker left to go get the principal. The principal asked the Student to clean up the hand sanitizer and when he handed her paper towels, the Student smacked his hand away. The SRO then arrested the Student and removed her from the building. Following this incident, the Student did not return to the school.

So what is the role of the SRO in the District?

To better understand the role of SROs in the District, OCR requested any policies and documentation related to SRO involvement in the school. In response, the District provided OCR with a copy of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the District, the Lynn Police Department, and the Essex County District Attorney’s Office to “coordinate their response to violent, delinquent or criminal acts by Students, including weapons reporting and alcohol and other drug use, that occur on school premises, school buses, or at school-related events.” The MOU does not address the presence of SROs in the District. The MOU did not address nor did the District have any other internal policies related to District staff engaging an SRO with routine discipline matters. The District also stated that it did not maintain any records related to SRO involvement with Students in the school.

The Student’s informal supports included check-ins with the SRO, whom District witnesses explained was “often” called upon as a “support member” for the Student. The District continued to involve the SRO to provide support services to the Student after concluding that the behavioral issues (including combative behavior) were a manifestation of the Student’s disability – and prior to conducting further evaluation or changing the Student’s services to address her needs. While the SRO was a support person for the Student, the District should realize that involving an SRO in non-criminal matters comes with an added risk to the Student because the SRO’s primary responsibility is law enforcement and not ensuring a Student with a disability is provided with a FAPE. Here, the SRO arrested the Student for behavior that was similar to the behavior that only days before was found to be a manifestation of the Student’s disability – but which remained unaddressed by the District at this time. While a Student with a disability can be referred to the police for criminal behavior, it appears everyone noted that the Student was struggling and nothing had been done yet to assess how to address her needs when she was arrested. The District also lacked any policies on the involvement of SROs with Students with disabilities, and in this case, it does not appear that the SRO was made aware of the team’s manifestation determination.


“Without clear policies, procedures, and record keeping with regard to SRO involvement with Students, the District cannot ensure that its use of SROs does not discriminate against Students with disabilities by, e.g., resulting in further exclusion for disability-related behavior.”   Although this does not create clear guidelines that should be implemented in Districts across the Commonwealth, it does clearly put districts on notice of the risk of involving SROs in school matters that do not include criminal behavior.

To helpful further clarify the role of SROs, the 2018 Criminal Justice Reform Act amends Chapter 69 of the Massachusetts General Laws, and has implications in our schools. The Act requires that schools enter into written agreements with local police departments regarding the role of the School Resource Officer, and that the agreement “shall state that SROs shall not serve as school disciplinarians, as enforcers of school regulations or in place of licensed school psychologists, psychiatrists or counselors and that SROs shall not use police powers to address traditional school discipline issues, including non-violent disruptive behavior.”

This is an area that will need to be monitored across the Commonwealth.

Have questions or concerns about your child's education? Contact us to discuss further:

E.M. Curran & Associates LLC

10 Tower Office Park
Suite 406
Woburn, MA 01801
Phone: 781-933-1542
Fax: 781-933-1549


Pick up almost any parenting magazine and you'll read that when parents are involved in their child's education; their child does better in school.  So what are some tips and tricks to make sure you are appropriately involved and effectively communication with your child's classroom teacher and/or supports? 

Start each new school with a positive presumption that the school, the teachers, and any/all of the supports that interact with  your child has the best intentions towards your child. Remember no one goes into education with the intention of harming or otherwise interfering with a child's potential. 

By being an active and better listener. Try and improve the communication you are having with people. Always be mindful of the forum that that conversation is happening (i.e. Email, text, phone, face-to-face). Sometimes we misconstrue meaning and tone when its written so don't jump to conclusions - ask for clarification.  (i.e. I just don't understand what you are saying. Can you explain it in a different way or provide an example?)

Be open with you child's teacher - tell them about your child's strengths/weaknesses as a student; what do they like/dislike about school, what motivates your child when they are having difficulty. Don't paint an unrealistic or slanted  description of your child. Tell them what your hopes are for your child as well as your fears. Early in the school year, establish regular avenues of communication - maybe its a weekly email, notes back and forth in your child's daily planner or whatever else is most convenient for you and the teacher.  Be realistic with your expectations! Your child's teacher means well and will try their best but they have a lot of things to accomplish in a day. 

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If there is a disagreement - stay focused on the child, focus on positives/strengths, be clear about goals, listen, ask questions and clarify. Try to break the tension by asking How and What questions... how can we provide more supports so that she is not out of her Reading class daily?  What are some of Jane's skills in reading that we we can build upon to strengthen her skills in....? 

Acknowledge the effort of others. Negotiate. Be honest. Don't interrupt or talk over people. Talk with the people involved, not at them. Summarize your meeting (at the end of the meeting and follow up with an email that summarizes what you think was agreed to etc.) 

Have questions or concerns about your student? Contact us to discuss further:

E.M. Curran & Associates LLC

10 Tower Office Park
Suite 406
Woburn, MA 01801
Phone: 781-933-1542
Fax: 781-933-1549


Many children have difficulty with reading, writing, or other learning-related tasks at some point, but this does not automatically mean they have learning disabilities. A child with a learning disability often has several related signs, and these persist over time. The signs of learning disabilities vary from person to person.

Here is an incomplete list of some of the COMMON signs that a child MAY have learning disabilities:

  • Problems staying organized.

  • Poor coordination.

  • Problems with math skills.

  • Difficulty with reading and/or writing.

  • Problems paying attention (staying focused).

  • Difficulty remembering information and time-related skills/tasks.

  • Trouble following directions.

If your child is having difficulty with reading and has some of the common signs identified above, speak to their teacher about having them evaluated. 

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Reading is considered by many to be the most important literacy skill. When your student is in the elementary grades, most of their school day focuses on skill acquisition in reading. When your student moves on to junior and high school, it is presumed that they have reading skills. Your student receives the majority of their content subject information via reading. 

Reading is often an area of difficulty for students with disabilities. Young students may not learn the basic skills of reading at the expected rate; they may fall behind their classmates in their ability to decode and understand the written word. Older students who struggle may lack the skills needed to use reading as a tool for learning other skills and subjects.

Reading should be an area of major concern in special education assessment.  The Team should be asking “What is the student’s current level of reading achievement?” and “What are the student’s strengths and weaknesses in the various skill areas of reading?” The student’s reading skills should not be assessed solely to determine eligibility for special educations services but also for planning instruction… what does the student need to be successful?


Informal assessments of a student’s ability to read happens daily and across the subject matters in both general and special education classes. For questions about the mastery of specific academic skills, such as reading; the most valuable information sources may be criterion-referenced tests, informal inventories, classroom quizzes and teacher checklists. Please note that informal assessments may not be used to determine if a child is eligible for special education.

There are several informal assessments that can be used to evaluate a student’s reading ability. Speak to your student’s teacher(s) and/or the Team about a more inclusive assessment of the student’s strengths and weaknesses.  For example, the classroom teacher can do an informal reading inventory (IRI).IRIs assess both decoding and comprehension skills. They are made up of graded word lists and reading selections that he student reads orally. The tester notes any decoding errors and records the student’s answers to the comprehension questions accompanying each reading section. The results can be used to identify the student’s current reading skills in comparison to their current grade level.

Another tool that many classroom teachers use are checklists. The checklist can have any mixture of reading skills listed such as decoding, comprehension, silent reading, or oral reading. The results can help the teacher identify the student’s weaknesses and areas of need. The checklists can also be used later to help monitor progress in the development or improvement of these ‘areas of need.’   

Finally, another tool that can be quickly used by a classroom teacher to assess a student’s oral reading fluency, or the rate at which students are able to accurately decode words in oral reading tasks is by the use of CBMs or Curriculum-Based measurements. The classroom teacher can use any material, including the textbook, and ask the student to read a section aloud. While the student reads aloud the teacher will time and note any errors. If CBMs are done regularly the data can be tracked to show any progress being made by the student.


There is a wide array of formal assessments that can be used to assess a student’s reading ability. This article is going to highlight just two of them as it would be impossible to identify and discuss all of them adequately. With any type of measure, the assessment tasks must be compatible with the skills of the student. No student should be asked to attempt tasks clearly above their current functioning level. The tools used should reward the student’s strengths rather than punish their weaknesses.

The Woodcock Reading Mastery Tests, Third Edition (WRMT-III). This test is made up several sub-tests that evaluate skills such as letter identification, word identification, phonological awareness and word comprehension. It helps to identify a student’s strengths and weaknesses in reading.

The Gray Oral Reading Tests, 5th Edition (GORT-5). This test has to versions, Form A and Form B. Each form contains 16 developmentally sequenced reading passages with five comprehension questions each. It helps assess a student’s ability to read passages aloud quickly and accurately with adequate comprehension.


Make reading fun again for your student. Read with them daily. If they are older, have a time during the day where everyone stops and reads and then after a set time, everyone discusses what they read with the others.  There are many studies that show when children read to animals, they are less self-conscious. So if you have an animal, encourage your student to read to them. Look into programs at your local library that encourage reading and teach children that reading is a fun activity. 

Have questions or concerns about your student? Contact us to discuss further:

E.M. Curran & Associates LLC

10 Tower Office Park
Suite 406
Woburn, MA 01801
Phone: 781-933-1542
Fax: 781-933-1549



It can be overwhelming to know what kind of evaluation/assessment your child needs, especially when there seems to be a test for everything. There are tests for behavior, intellect, math, speech and language, reading, spelling, writing, ELL, Transition and a handful of other areas. The goal of these evaluations and assessments is to help the student, teacher and parent figure out why the student is struggling in school - whether it be behaviorally, socially and/or academically. In future posts we'll look closer at all of these areas that can be evaluate and/or assessed.  

Today, it is important for you to know  you should speak up and ask questions of your child's teacher/therapist/etc when your child is not making effective progress or is just struggling -behaviorally, socially and/or academically.  After speaking with the appropriate person, send a written request (emails are fine) asking that the school evaluate your child in the areas that are most appropriate based on your concerns.  Most schools will ask that you sign their 'consent form.' You should know that nothing will happen until this 'consent form' is signed and returned to the school.  You should put a note on the 'consent form' that you are requesting that any and all written reports and/or results be sent to you at least two days prior to any meeting to discuss the evaluation.

Be sure you read these reports carefully. It is sometimes helpful to make a copy of any report given to you so that you retain a clean copy. You should then highlight sections that do not make sense to you, make notes in the margins and if there are any mistakes be sure you point this out to the team  so that it can be corrected. While you are at the meeting, refer to your notes and ask as many questions as you need to. Special Education has its own 'terminology' so if something doesn't make sense ask for clarification. 

We will be sharing some blogs over the next few months that focus on different academic skills and/or areas. 

Have questions or concerns about your child's education? Contact us to discuss further:

E.M. Curran & Associates LLC
10 Tower Office Park
Suite 406
Woburn, MA 01801
Phone: 781-933-1542
Fax: 781-933-1549






What rules do the school's need to follow? 

The Massachusetts Statute that applies depends on what the student did:

  1. If the student brought drugs or weapons to school and/or assaults a member of the school staff Rule 37H applies.

  2. If the student is charged with a Felony and “principal or headmaster determines that the student's continued presence in school would have a substantial detrimental effect on the general welfare of the school" then Rule 37H 1/2 applies.

  3. If the student's behavior does not fall into either of the above categories then their behavior will more likely than not be classified as a "violation of the student handbook" which would mean that Rule 37H 3/4 would apply.

School Discipline

Suspensions and Expulsions

There is a lot of if X then Y should happen in this area. You should seek individualized advice based on your specific student's behavior as soon as possible. Here are some general points to be aware of...

  • All students excluded for any length of time must be given the opportunity to make up all missed work. This includes projects, quizzes, tests, assignments etc.

  • Your student is entitled to hearing before they are suspended.

  • If your student is to be excluded for more than 10 school days, they are entitled to some form of educational service. This could be an alternative placement (see below), tutoring and in some districts online learning.

  • A recent decision from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, Problem Resolution System (PRS) has reiterated the requirement that a suspended or expelled student must be provided with a minimum of two options for receipt of educational services (In re: Intake 1561).

  • If the school calls you and ask you to pick up your child due to the child's behavior, ask if the child is being suspended out. If they say NO but you need to pick the child up - then they are technically suspending the child as he's not being allowed to remain in school. Whether or not you go and pick up your child is a judgment call only you can make. But this call should be documented and if it happens enough you should ask for some changes (BIP, FBA, IEP Meeting are a few suggestions).

Interim Alternative Educational Setting

A student may be unilaterally placed in an 'alternative' educational setting for up to 45 school days for the following behaviors:  bringing weapons to school, bringing drugs to school and/or causing bodily harm or injury to a person while at school or a school sponsored event. These placements can be made without the consent of the parent but at the end of the 45 school days a Team meeting will be held to discuss what options are available to the student. 

This link will bring you to a chart that highlights the Massachusetts Student Discipline Statutes and Regulations on the state's Education Department website. 

If your student is a student with a disability, they receive more protections in discipline matters.

According to the IDEA, a student with a disability is a child who receives special education services as part of an IEP. A student also may be considered to have a disability even if the school has not tested or identified the child as such. If the school "knew or should have known" of the child's disability, the student may still be protected by special education law. (We will be sharing post that focuses on the rights of student's with disabilities and discipline in a few weeks.) 

Have questions or concerns about your child's education? Contact us to discuss further:

E.M. Curran & Associates LLC

10 Tower Office Park
Suite 406
Woburn, MA 01801
Phone: 781-933-1542
Fax: 781-933-1549



Four Special Education Terms Every Parent Should Understand.jpg

There is a lot to know as a parent  of a child receiving Special Education Services but there are four key terms that are apply in almost every instance so you should be familiar with them. They are:

1. Special Education

The term “special education” is defined as "specially designed instruction, at no cost to parents, to meet the unique needs of a child with a disability, including— (A) instruction conducted in the classroom, in the home, in hospitals and institutions, and in other settings; and (B) instruction in physical education." 20 U.S.C. s. 1401 (29)  Special Education Law is a needs based law. Everything in Special Education is based on data and assessment. 

2. Related Services

The term “related services” means transportation, and such developmental, corrective, and other supportive services. This includes, but is not limited to , speech-language pathology and audiology services, interpreting services, physical and occupational therapy, social work services, counseling services as may be required to assist a child with a disability to benefit from special education, and includes the early identification and assessment of disabling conditions in children. 20 U.S.C. s. 1401 (26) 

3. Free Appropriate Public Education ("FAPE")

The Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) provides that each eligible child is entitled to a "free appropriate public education" (FAPE). This terms is defined as: 

special education and related services that— (A) have been provided at public expense, under public supervision and direction, and without charge; (B) meet the standards of the State educational agency; (C) include an appropriate preschool, elementary school, or secondary school education in the State involved; and (D )are provided in conformity with the individualized education program...

4. Least Restrictive Environment ("LRE")

"Least Restrictive Environment" means that a child must be educated to the extent possible and appropriate in the least-restrictive setting possible when determining where and how services are to be delivered. 

The list below shows you in order the least restrictive to the most restrictive types of placements used in Massachusetts:  

  1. Regular Education Classroom (least restrictive)
  2. Resource Classroom
  3. Part self-contained 
  4. Self-contained classroom
  5. Day School
  6. Residential School
  7. Home-bound placement (most restrictive)

When we put all of these terms together the bottom line is …

School districts must provide a free appropriate public education for students enrolled in their districts. An appropriate education is an education and related services designed to meet the individualized educational needs of a child with a disability as adequately as the needs of non disabled children are met. 

Have questions or concerns about your student? Contact us to discuss further:

E.M. Curran & Associates LLC

10 Tower Office Park
Suite 406
Woburn, MA 01801
Phone: 781-933-1542
Fax: 781-933-1549


edcuation advocate edcuation attorney.jpg

A good advocate is well-trained and knows the law …

As Founder and Owner of E.M. Curran & Associates, LLC, Ellen uses her knowledge and experience in both the legal and education settings to guide students and their parents through the entire, complex special education process. Ellen holds a Juris Doctor from Suffolk University Law School (2000) and a Masters in Moderate Special Needs from Boston College’s Lynch School of Education (2010).  Ellen has been trained by the Federation for Children with Special Needs (FCSN) and continues her professional development by attending events hosted by Wrights Law, SPaN, Massachusetts Bar Association (MBA) and Massachusetts Continuing Legal Education (MCLE).

A good advocate understands schools …

After practicing law for many years, Ellen decided to take a break and pursue other career options. Shortly thereafter, Ellen began teaching at an Alternative High School serving High-at-Risk teenagers in a very economically challenged urban setting in Massachusetts.  She taught in this environment for seven academic school years. All of her students had either an IEP or a 504 plan. Many were dealing personal issues on top of their educational difficulties. During this time, Ellen was responsible for drafting and implementing behavioral and emotional goals, IEP goals, behavior plans, transitions plans, and progress reports. She attended IEP meetings, transition meetings, and DCF meetings as well as parent and/or attorney requested meetings related to school, behavior, and learning concerns. Additionally, Ellen has taught pre-law undergraduate classes at a well-known local university for well over a decade.

So what we can do to help you and your student?

  • We can provide information about special education options and requirements, and can help you to seek a specific service or program for your child.

  • We can help you carefully read your child’s school records, testing information, and IEP.

  • Our work is driven by data and not our emotions. Of course we have your child's best interest at heart but as a third party, we are able to take that step back to analyze your child's evaluations and create a complete profile that is not swayed by our emotions or dealings with either side.

  • If you wish, and if it is appropriate, we may attend Team meetings with you.

  • A skillful advocate can often see solutions not immediately obvious to other people.

  • We can help you to become a better advocate for your own child

Have questions or concerns about your student? Contact us to discuss further:

E.M. Curran & Associates LLC

10 Tower Office Park
Suite 406
Woburn, MA 01801
Phone: 781-933-1542
Fax: 781-933-1549



How to Organize an IEP Binder.jpg

Over the years, I have tried several different ways to organize a student’s IEP data and other academic related information. The one tool that always works regardless of the amount of paper I’ve accumulated is a 3-ring binder. It may sound like a lot of work but once you have it set up, you can re-use the binder and its set-up year after  year.

What do you to get started: 

  1. 3-ring binder. I usually get a 2 or 3 inch binder but the size depends on how much paperwork you think your student will generate in the year.
  2. Some tabbed section dividers. I buy a set of 6 dividers, as well as two sets of the 8 dividers.
  3. A three hole punch, if you don’t have one.
  4. Some lined post-it notes. I like the medium sized ones but you should use whatever fits your needs best. 

First step:

Put the 6 sections dividers into the binder and label them. These are the labels I use:

  1. Current IEP
  2. Evaluations
  3. Communication
  4. Report cards/Progress Reports  
  5. Behavior/Discipline  
  6. Sample work
  • I divide Communication, Report cards/Progress reports, Behavior/Discipline and Sample work into the four school quarters using the section dividers from the two sets of 8 dividers I have already bought. 

Second step:

I gather all my paperwork together and sort into each of the sections. I file all documents in reverse chronological order - the most recent document on top. I also hand write in light pencil, bottom right of each document, the date I received/sent the document. 

Current IEP

In this section, I file the most current IEP, any meeting notices and my goal tracker sheet. I update the goal tracker sheet each quarter after I've received the progress report. 


If you are new to the process the first two documents will be your request for evaluation followed by your consent to evaluate. Again I keep this section in chronological order with the most recent report on top.  I sometimes forget what reports say in meetings so I usually create a table of contents for this section and will include a blurb or two of the key points in each report. I do NOT write on these reports. If a blurb is not enough I will put post-it notes with my notes in/on the section that is important.


In the first week or so of the new school year, I’ll reach out to my student’s classroom teacher and discuss what would be the most efficient way to have consistent communication regarding my student’s successes and difficulties. I have already divided this section into the four academic quarters, so whatever is agreed to, I print out copies of all communications and keep them in this section with the most current one on top.

If I find myself calling the school/teacher/etc. frequently; I will create a phone log and keep track of who I spoke with, the date/time and a summary of the discussion. I would file this phone log in this section too. I would also break the log up into the four academic quarters. 

Report cards/Progress Reports  

I have already divided this section into the four academic quarters. I file each report card and progress report accordingly in this file. I sometimes will put  my goal tracker in this section too just because it related to the progress reports. Either section is appropriate and you need to put it in a section that makes the most sense for you. 

I frequently review this section asking myself:  What is the data telling me? What data is missing?  What doesn't make sense that I need to follow up on. 


My student's disabilities often come hand-in-hand with behavior/discipline issues. I keep a log for each academic period. The log tells me how often the student is escorted and/or restrained. How often the student is out of class, for what reason and what the resolution was of the issue. I also use these logs to help me understand if the student is making effective progress and whether or not the placement is appropriate. 

Sample work

I like to either ask the teacher for sample work or I collect papers that are sent home each quarter. I tried to have a couple of pieces of work from each class. I do not collect all bad or all good work. I try to collect work that reflects my student's strengths/weaknesses. This way I can have my own insight into their successes and/or difficulties that I can discuss with their teacher. 

Third Step - Optional Step:

Your binder should be individualized to your student and their needs. Here are some other sections and/or pages you could include in your binder....

Medical Section

If your child has a medical issue you should create another section and label it medical. In this section you could  include names/address/contact info for each doctor, a list of medications (as well as dosage and what it is for), doctors notes if  your child was sick etc

Summary Sheet

This sheet includes the student’s name, dob , grade, teacher’s name and contact info, Aides/Supports/etc. will also be listed here, the Team Chair’s name/contact info

Table of Contents

This sheet is exactly what it sounds like. I create a table of contents that breaks down each section and what documents are in each section. 

Have questions or concerns about your child's education? Contact us to discuss further:

E.M. Curran & Associates LLC

10 Tower Office Park
Suite 406
Woburn, MA 01801
Phone: 781-933-1542
Fax: 781-933-1549 


it's a new school Year!.jpg

What can you do to support your student?

Develop a “partnership” with your student’s teacher.

As a former classroom teacher, I can assure you that the teachers your student interacts with on a day-to-day basis went into education to make a difference in the lives of their students. When a conflict arises remember that everyone has your child’s best interests at heart and will want to do what is best for them. Try to remind yourself of this while working through conflicts.  

Stay involved with your student’s classroom schedule, activities and special events. Offer support to the teacher and follow through.  Ask your student questions about their school days so that you are not surprised when someone tells you there is a ‘big issue.’  

Encourage your older student to self-advocate.

For older students, encourage them speak up and self-advocate appropriately.  Sit down with your student and read over their together so that they know what it says and what it means.  Have them identify their strengths and weaknesses as well as strategies they think work for them. Make a copy of their accommodations from their IEP, laminate it or put it in a clear sheet protector and then put it in their binder/planner. Then talk to your student about when/how they should use this ‘cheat sheet’ to appropriately self-advocate. For example, maybe they have a substitute teacher who is not aware that you student gets time and a half to complete a test.

Acknowledge your student’s achievements and performance.

Have high but realistic expectations of your student’s school performance. Remind your student of your belief in their abilities and encourage them to develop healthy beliefs and attitudes about themselves. Celebrate their strengths and wins and support them when they have “misses” and/or weaknesses.

 Share your concerns about your student’s performance NOT with the student but instead with their teacher.

What can you do you stay organized and on top of your student's academic needs?

A. Get a large three ring binder and some separators 

B. Set up your binder so that it has a few relevant sections. These are the sections I use:

  1. Current IEP
  2. Correspondence. I break this down further into a section for emails, snail mail and phone logs. 
  3. Report Cards - Progress Reports. Again I break this down further into the four quarters
  4. Behavior
  5. Tests, Assessments and Evaluations. I never throw any of these materials out. 
  6. IEP Goal Tracking. I break this section into as many goals as the IEP states and then I track each goal by the quarter. 

C. Do not write on the originals. If you want to make notes, write them on post-its and put the post-its on the document.

D. Keep all documents in strict chronological order. 

I only keep the most current school year and one past year's worth of material in the binder at a time. I also create a table of contents so I can quickly find documents/information.  I bring this binder with me to all Team meetings. 

Have questions or concerns about your student? Contact us to discuss further:

E.M. Curran & Associates LLC

10 Tower Office Park
Suite 406
Woburn, MA 01801
Phone: 781-933-1542
Fax: 781-933-1549



Divorces end marriages but do not end the child-parent relationship - this is a relationship that should last a lifetime.  Massachusetts requires divorcing spouses who have children under the age of 18 to participate in an approved Parent Education Program. Learn more about these mandatory programs by visiting this link:

It is important to recognize that the children in a divorcing family may be deeply affected by their parent’s divorce. If a child’s grades and/or behavior change before, during and after the parent’s divorce inquires need to be made to see if the child would benefit from counseling. The parents should be mindful not to blame the other parent for any of the child’s struggles. Both parents need to stay focused on what is in the best interest of the child.

Who makes the education decisions for the children after the divorce? That depends on what kind of ' legal custody' you have in accordance with MGL. Ch. 208 S. 31. This is what the statute states in relevant part: 

''Sole legal custody'', one parent shall have the right and responsibility to make major decisions regarding the child's welfare including matters of education, medical care and emotional, moral and religious development.

''Shared legal custody'', continued mutual responsibility and involvement by both parents in major decisions regarding the child's welfare including matters of education, medical care and emotional, moral and religious development.

Tips for divorcing and/or divorced parents:

1. Let the school know in writing who may pick up the child at any time.

2. Let the school know in writing to send report cards, progress reports, and other educational notices to both parents. Be sure you provide current contact information to the school.  

3. Understand that your child's teacher is NOT going to pick a side so don't put them in that position. Your teacher's purpose is to educate your child and to ensure that the best interests of the child are fulfilled. 

4. Try and keep any and all marital issues out of the school. Don't bad mouth each other to your child, school personell, other parents etc. 

Have questions or concerns about your child's education? Contact us to discuss further:

E.M. Curran & Associates LLC

10 Tower Office Park
Suite 406
Woburn, MA 01801
Phone: 781-933-1542
Fax: 781-933-1549


On Thursday June 21st, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos released the following statement:

“President Trump campaigned and won with his promise to reduce the federal footprint in education and to make the federal government more efficient and effective. Today’s bold reform proposal takes a big step toward fulfilling that promise. Artificial barriers between education and workforce programs have existed for far too long. We must reform our 20th century federal agencies to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

“This proposal will make the federal government more responsive to the full range of needs faced by American students, workers, and schools.  I urge Congress to work with the Administration to make this proposal a reality.”

The full government reform plan can be found here.

What does this mean? 

The reorganization plan, entitled Delivering Government Solutions in the 21st Century states that the current administration intends to merge the U.S. Department of Education into the U.S. Department of Labor.  “The Administration proposes to merge ED and DOL into a single Cabinet agency, the Department of Education and the Workforce (DEW). As part of the merger, the Administration also proposes significant Government-wide workforce development program consolidation, streamlining separate programs in order to increase efficiencies and better serve American workers.” The merger would be detrimental to all students, particularly students with disabilities and learning differences.  
The reorganization plan offers no specifics about the proposed merger of the Department of Education into the Department of Labor.  You need to almost twenty-four pages of the plan before you find one short paragraph that addresses K-12 education. Which states in relevant part:

The proposal would merge all of the existing DOL and ED programs into a single department, DEW, with four main sub-agencies focused on: K-12, Higher Education/Workforce Development, Enforcement, and Research/Evaluation/Administration. This would help create alignment throughout the education-to-career pipeline, while also creating coherence within the workforce development and higher education worlds.

The K-12 agency would support State and local educational agencies to improve the achievement of preschool, elementary, and secondary school students, including students with disabilities, Native American students, and English language learners. The agency would comprise improved ED K-12 offices that would better integrate across K-12 programs and more effectively coordinate with higher education and workforce programs. The K-12 agency would administer activities currently implemented by ED’s Offices of Elementary and Secondary Education, Innovation and Improvement, English Language Acquisition, and Special Education Programs. As described below, the Rehabilitation Services Administration would be moved to the Higher Education/Workforce Development agency

If you read the plan further, you will see a chart on page 26 that shows K-12 education and K-12 programs broken into two new separate administrative departments. If you look closer at the chart you will see that both of these new departments are no longer affiliated with the Office of Civil Rights, Research, Evaluation and Administration, and Higher Education Programs.   See chart below:

Since this administration has come to power, they have time and time again taken steps to undermine public education program. This latest plan is concerning since it is so vague that the reader is unable to ascertain what will happen to our children’s educational administration. There seems to be no consideration for the fate of students receiving special education services nor the impact this merger would have on the legal rights of students moving forward.

It has been established time and time again that the right of a student with a disability to a quality education is a fundamental civil right.  How each state interprets this right is often the cause of much controversy. The U.S. Department of Education has a long history of protecting the civil rights of students on a national/federal level. Merging the U.S. Department of Education as proposed would mark yet another significant departure in the protection of the civil rights of students with disabilities.



With the end of the school year rapidly approaching, it is time for some parents to think ahead to where their child will be living and educated in the fall.


I frequently get asked what to do if you are moving your child to a new school district, so I think its a topic that needs a quick answer:

Whether you move to another town in the same state or a whole new state, your child's new school has a responsibility to obtain  your child's school records promptly. Some school districts allow you to pick up your child's records and bring them to the new school yourself - this is not allowed in every district. When you request that the documents be sent to the new school, ask how long this process usually takes and then schedule a call to the new school to confirm their receipt. 

The new school should review the child's current Individualized Education Plan (i.e. the IEP) to understand the child's diagnosis, special education services, related services etc that your child currently has in place to provide him or her with a free, appropriate public education (FAPE). The new school needs to provide your child with services, placement, aids etc that are similar or comparable to what is stated in the child's existing IEP.  The new school cannot tell you that they "do not do that in their district." 


  1. If you are moving to a new state, visit the state's Department of Education website and review that state's special education policies and laws. 
  2.  Your child's new school MUST  continue to provide your child's services with no delay, gap or other interruption.
  3. If your child's current IEP is going to expire at or near the time you plan to move, ask for the team to meet earlier to write the new IEP. (The new school would then have to adopt this IEP).
  4. Yes, your child's new school may do their own evaluation but they cannot unilaterally change the contents of the current IEP. 
  5. It might be helpful for your child's new teachers and aides to have an overview of  your child's strengths and weaknesses. Ask your child's current teachers and/or aides to if they would be willing to write a letter that you can share with the new staff. *Remember you should allow your child's new teachers/aides to get to know the child on their own. If you do get a letter do not use it as a 'weapon' when you disagree with the new staff.
  6. Schedule a visit to the school over the summer so that your child has time to get to used to the new building, layout and people. 
  7. Look into the district's parent supports: SEPACs, support groups, PTA, etc. Get involved so that you can build a network of people that you can look to for advice and feedback. 

Have questions or concerns about your child's education? Contact us to discuss further:

E.M. Curran & Associates LLC

10 Tower Office Park
Suite 406
Woburn, MA 01801
Phone: 781-933-1542
Fax: 781-933-1549



The school year will be ending soon. What will your child be doing with all their free time? It may not be too late to find some great resources.

Start by asking your child’s teacher, other parents and your district’s Special Education Parent Advisory Council (SEPAC) for their recommendations for summer programs and/or camps.  Also consider reaching out to your local recreation department, community groups, zoos, religious organizations, the YMCA, Girl/Boy scout organizations, local museums and libraries. Many of these organizations have programs designed for and/or suitable for children with special needs.


Here are links to some great programs and resources:

Summer Fun Camp Directory – Complied by the Federation for Children Special Needs. This directory provides links to over 200 camp websites serving children with disabilities.   

All out Adventures – This program offers outdoor recreation for people of all abilities. They have programs including biking, kayaking and camping.  

VSA Arts of Massachusetts - is a statewide organization that aims to make arts accessible to a broader audience.

Access Recreation Boston – Access Recreation Boston is a coalition of organizations and individuals dedicated to increasing and enhancing recreation opportunities for people with disabilities in the greater Boston area. 

Super Soccer Stars Shine - Super Soccer Stars Shine Program uses soccer as a vehicle to teach life skills to individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities including but not limited to, Autism Spectrum Disorders, Down Syndrome, ADHD and PDD-NOS.

Disclaimer: None of our comments in this blog should be construed as a testimony or guarantee of any of the programs identified. Individuals retain the services of these programs at their own risk.