DIY Sticker Shadow Activity

As I may or may not have previously confessed, I am a sticker hoarder. Partially because I like stickers but don’t like the way they are often used – carelessly placed on paper, furniture or the floor. One way I’ve added a little more purpose to the use of stickers is by creating a background scene with shadows for the kids to apply stickers to. It’s pretty simple to do. First you start with a background scene. For example, when we were doing a ‘Rainforest’ theme, I found a suitable background.

rainforest pic first

Next, I added some rainforest stickers to the scene.

rainforest pic 1

I made a copy of this and used a black sharpie to color in the places where the stickers were, creating a shadow outline.

rainforest pic 3

I made copies of these and gave the kids some green crayons to color the background and the stickers to apply to the shadows, adding the skill of visual discrimination.

rainforrest pic 4

There you have it – a more purposeful way of using stickers!


for the love of chalk paint….

My friend has been repurposing furniture and selling some of her pieces. One time she posted a finished product and said she had painted it with chalk paint. I assumed she meant chalkboard paint. No no no no….

Well I guess they are similar. The thing that drew me in was the ‘no prep’ part. That’s my kind of paint! So I bought some, and then some more, and then….you get the idea. Everything around me started to appear as it could look – if only covered in chalk paint! On Pinterest, I saw that The Happy Housie had painted an old metal file cabinet and stenciled it. Adorable! So that’s what my talented assistant Ashley did and this is how it turned out –

file cabinet edit

And since I’m now an official chalk paint repurposing junkie, here are a few pictures of my other projects completed over the past month –

dresser before and after collage

and this little desk – before

desk before

and after – with fabric decoupage and a few coats of extra thick glossy coat (Martha Stewart)

after desk

and this piece, which I don’t have a before picture of. Basically it was a plain unfinished wood shelf which I painted with a mixture of blue and yellow chalk paint and finished with clear wax and a touch of metallic copper paint. The top and back of shelves are decoupaged with damask paper…


What Happened to PDD-NOS



The DSM-5 brought changes that – take note – not everyone on your child’s IEP team may be aware of. If there’s a psychologist present at a meeting, there shouldn’t be any confusion.  But there isn’t a licensed psychologist at every IEP meeting and since only a licensed psychologist (vs. school psychologist) can make a medical diagnosis of an Autism Spectrum Disorder, other service providers might not know about the changes in the DSM-5.  I’ll put all pride aside and tell you that I’m just recently, after 20 years of working with kids with special needs, learning the difference between the current educational and medical diagnosis of Autism and who makes which (that’s my goal for a future post). Embarrassing, yes. But I’m modelling old dogs learning new tricks.

But first things first – PDD-NOS – then and now…(I’ll assume that if you have any interest in this post, you already know that PDD-NOS stands for  pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified).

The APA (American Psychiatric Association) has an information page that will be helpful in understanding the change in the diagnosis of Autism. If your child was previously diagnosed with PDD-NOS, you might want to print a copy of the APA information sheet. Go to and click on Autism Spectrum Disorder under ‘What’s New.’ It’s pretty simple to understand and might be a good thing to have in your  child’s ‘Big Book of Everything’ – you know, the reports, evaluations, IEPs, etc. Here are a few tidbits of information from the page:

Using DSM-IV, patients could be diagnosed with four separate disorders: autistic disorder, Asperger’s disorder, childhood disintegrative disorder, or the catch-all diagnosis of pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified. Researchers found that these separate diagnoses were not consistently applied across different clinics and treatment centers. Anyone diagnosed with one of the four pervasive developmental disorders (PDD) from DSM-IV should still meet the criteria for ASD in DSM-5 or another, more accurate DSM-5 diagnosis. While DSM does not outline recommended treatment and services for mental disorders, determining an accurate diagnosis is a first step for a clinician in defining a treatment plan for a patient..


More recently, the largest and most up-to-date study, published by Huerta, et al, in the October 2012 issue of American Journal of Psychiatry, provided the most comprehensive assessment of the DSM-5 criteria for ASD based on symptom extraction from previously collected data. The study found that DSM-5 criteria identified 91 percent of children with clinical DSM-IV PDD diagnoses, suggesting that most children with DSM-IV PDD diagnoses will retain their diagnosis of ASD using the new criteria.

But what does it all mean and why should you care?

If your child has a previous diagnosis of PDD-NOS, there is a 91% chance that he/she will retain their diagnosis of an Autism Spectrum Disorder. Now maybe you don’t want that. I’m not writing this to change anyone’s mind. However, if you believe that an educational classification of Autism is most appropriate for your child, you may need to advocate for that. The school district may look at that PDD-NOS diagnosis and tell you that it is NOT a diagnosis of Autism. Personally, that would make me nervous. If the service providers don’t know that PDD-NOS is an autism spectrum disorder, how will they provide appropriate and excellent services?


How common is it for CSE’s to decide that a child with a medical diagnosis of Autism should be classified as Speech/Language Impaired? Sometimes everyone at an IEP meeting will agree that this is appropriate. Sometimes, however, there might be disagreement. An advocacy group responded with this….

All decisions made at an IEP meeting should be done by the team as a whole based on the most recent evaluations and reports from the parent, child’s teachers, and other service providers.  If the child has a diagnosis of an Autism Spectrum Disorder, and the parent wants a classification that reflects the diagnosis, as the parent is an integral part of the IEP team, she should be heard.   Each case is particular, and i have seen cases where a student has been appropriately classified as S/L Impaired over Autism (when diagnosed), however that is not the norm.  If a parent wants the classification to be changed, she has options.  She could request another IEP meeting,  file for  mediation, or an impartial hearing.

The final question here is – why would a CSE want to push for a  Speech/Language Impaired classification? You tell me. But if your transitioning preschooler has a diagnosis of PDD-NOS, make sure your IEP committee knows that it’s an Autism Spectrum Disorder – then and now.

Has anyone else had this or a related experience? I’d LOVE to hear more about it – please share!

How a Simple Shake Could Be the Answer for a Picky Eater…..

How a Shake Could Be the Answer for Your Picky Eater…

This idea was born after I was fortunate enough to attend a training with a food expert specializing in Autism and Nutrition. After the training, I asked for her help to come up with a drink that could provide the necessary nutrients for a child I knew who was a ‘world class picky eater’.

As educators and parents, we’ve all encountered kids who are picky eaters. Some of these kids get a little less picky over time. Others just grow up to be adults who are picky eaters. A ‘world class picky eater’ in my book is a child who will voluntarily eat or drink less than a dozen foods. Also, most of the foods they eat are what the rest of us would classify as junk food – French fries, chips, marshmallows, etc.

So, I asked Elisa Bernardo, RDN* to help me come up with a drink that contained enough nutrients to actually sustain a child with an at-risk immune system and here were her suggestions…

Since my world class picky eater mainly subsists on strawberry milk, Elisa suggested creating a shake using canned fruit (in fruit juice) as the source of sweetness. Among others, you can find pineapple, pears, and peaches packed in fruit juices without added sugar.  The base of the shake could be milk (I’d use whole) or as Elisa suggested, almond or coconut milk. For extra protein, add some cannellini beans – how brilliant is that? I knew cannellini beans were a healthier way to thicken soup but as a way to add protein to a shake? Genius!  Veggies you could sneak in could be small amounts of carrots, spinach, or cauliflower. She suggested a probiotic supplement which you could add to boost the immune system, such as Primal Defense for Kids by Garden of Life. If your child could benefit from a whole food vitamin supplement, Garden of Life also has one of these for kids. If like most world class picky eaters, yours won’t eat a vitamin, grind it up and put it in the shake! Some of these picky eaters want their drinks to be a specific color – mine prefers pink. Frozen cherries to the rescue!

Maybe parents and caregivers out there know many of these tricks already. But I was so grateful to be opened up to the idea that – a shake really COULD be the answer to a picky eater. I haven’t yet turned my kitchen into a taste laboratory but I’d love to hear the results of the following challenge – how close to the taste of a McDonald’s shake could you come with only healthy ingredients?

*Elisa Bernardo is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who works as a Nutrition Educator for the Food Bank of the Southern Tier. She has a passion for research on Autism and Nutrition and has earned a Master’s Degree in Nutrition Science from Syracuse University. She also has a dual BA in Biology and Psychology from Binghamton University. She can be contacted at:

Light It Up Blue

autism awareness day collage


Why Me & the Crew

Are Blue

on April 2

(it’s a color, not a feeling)


Autism is not an illness. Although there are areas of impairment associated with Autism, it is not contagious, progressive, or degenerative. I have a confession; Autism is not something I hope is gone in 20 years. Does that seem selfish? Maybe it is. I just want to say that every child with Autism I’ve worked with had something precious, amazing, and unique about them. I’ve said it a million times but maybe today, World Autism Awareness Day, is the perfect day to say it again; there are few things more thrilling than watching a child with Autism break through their shell to take a peek around the world, to let you see who they really are, to share in what makes them happy, to see how excited they are when they learn how to communicate. So today and throughout the month of April, we celebrate these very special people.

5 Things NOT To Do When You Drop Your Child Off Tomorrow….

five things not to do jpg

After teaching for many years, I’ve noted a few things that make the moment of detachment more difficult for kids who struggle separating.

Here are 5 things NOT to do –

1. Tell your child who is crying or clinging that they’re acting like a baby

At that moment, your child wants nothing more than to BE a baby. Plus, think about it – calling someone crazy doesn’t make them act sane; calling your child a baby doesn’t make them act like a big kid.

2. Promise your child to bring him/her a treat if they don’t cry at drop-off

Crying is just a way of expressing feelings so offering your child a reward later may only make them ashamed if they aren’t able to suppress their feelings.

3. Ask your child a lot of questions in an effort to distract him/her from their anxiety

Sometimes more talking makes people feel more nervous.

4. Insist that your child say goodbye to you

The goal is to make the act of separation as quick and painless as possible. If your child is already looking for something to do, give a quick kiss, “I love you, see you soon,” and exit stage left! If your child is crying and clinging, why make another demand?

5. Hang out in the classroom while your child is sobbing – prolonging the dreaded moment of detachment.

Look folks, permit me to compare kids to horses – they can sense your uneasiness. Also, I’ve been there. I’ve been one of those parents with a child screaming and crying holding onto me with a death grip while the teacher peeled her off of me. I’ve walked away with tears in my eyes. A few years down the road, they won’t want to be seen in public with you. I’ve also been a teacher so I see kids recover quickly after a parent/caregiver leaves. The bottom line is – make it short and sweet. Done~

graphic credit to  Rebekah Brock – see her adorable graphics on TPT –

Rebekah Brock

arctic discovery

arctic discovery for blog

Safari Ltd Arctic Toobs – Many of you probably have a collection of these like I do because they’re great for nature themes. For our Arctic theme, I use these to teach and play.

Product Details

I usually buy my toobs at Michaels or ACMoore with a 40% off coupon. For the past few years, I have not been able to find the previous year’s toob so I end up buying a new one. This year, I found the old sets after I had purchased a new set! It was OK though because it meant less fighting over preferred animals. Plus, little things often go missing in the classroom, if you know what I mean 🙂

I purchased ‘Arctic Animals Pack’ from Kidsparkz on TeachersPayTeachers. It comes with posters, photos, games, and activities. You could certainly make these yourself if you have time (and energy). I laminated the picture of each animal in the Arctic Toob on one side of a card and the facts about it on the other side. I put the cards together on a ring so they could easily be flipped through. At circle time, I passed out an animal to each child and placed the cards on the floor. As I named the animal, I had the kids come up and put their animal on the corresponding picture. Matching objects to their pictures is a great basic skill.

arctic discovery 2 for blog

During choice time, I made an arctic sensory play box with some artificial snow. I left that on a table with the cards and arctic animals as an invitation to play. The kids really enjoy this. The set also comes with a guy on a dogsled and an igloo, which makes a nice addition to the sensory box.

It is no coincidence that I’m writing this post on a day when school has been cancelled because of the wind chill factor. I’m looking out the window at MOUNDS of snow from the past week. True story.