Business Profile

When I was working in schools, both as an administrator and a teacher, I always felt the burn of keeping up with the daily task list, as well as provide support to the families of my students. I knew that I held a vast bank of information that would help them navigate the world of Speical Education, yet struggled to share that information with them. It would bother me to do a parent meeting reviewing testing or recommending new programming if I wasn’t positive the parents knew exactly what we were doing and why, but there was rarely time to delve into everything as thoroughly as I would have liked or they needed.

Once I became unemployed, I started looking for jobs. Becoming my children’s primary caregiver proved to be both extremely rewarding and exciting, but also a huge adjustment. I have kept a job since I was 15 years old and it was strange for me not to go out in the world and engage intellectually with other adults and feel like a real generator of change in others’ lives. Nothing that I found truly inspired me or fit my qualifications and I started to fantasize about becoming self-employed but I had trouble brainstorming what I could offer others. One day, I sat down with a colleague and friend for a much-needed catch up at a local coffee shop and we discussed at length all kinds of business ideas I had. Most required a considerable financial investment or wealthy benefactors, and I had neither. Regardless, I left that meeting feeling fully refreshed and rejuvenated. Even my family picked up on my new and improved attitude and I realized how the loss of my job had really affected me and those I loved. I needed to figure out a way to fulfill this part of myself on a regular basis. About two days later, I got up on a soapbox on my Instagram story about foundational literacy and healthy reading habits for our children, with a really positive response, and my wheels started to spin. What if I created a platform for myself to share my ideas and help parents prep their students for success? What if through that platform, I also provided a service to financially support myself? but how? I decided that if I could use an Instagram and blog to establish my voice and credibility, I could also use it to promote a Special Education tutoring and family counseling business. Thus, Exceptional Services was born.

My goal for this company is to offer three levels of support: individual, family, and school/community partnerships. To start and establish myself, I am going to focus on the individual and family. Below is a sampling of services to get started.

Each rate is negotiable and based on need and complexity. Virtual sessions available (case-by-case) if not in the area.

1:1 Tutoring, Content-Specific K-12 (i.e. Math, Reading, History, Life Skills, Social Skills etc): 50$/Hour. Is your child struggling in school? or literacy, numeracy, linguistic skills? Select this session for tailored, individualized tutoring sessions.

1:1 Tutoring, Content-Specific, Adult/College Level (i.e. Math, Reading, History, Life Skills, Social Skills etc): 65$Hour. Have a class you’re hoping to improve your grade on? A book that you’re struggling with? This is the session type for you.

1:1 Tutoring, Test Prep: 50$/Hour.

1:1 Disability Training: 60$/Hour. Do you or your child have a disability that you don’t fully understand? I will prep a series of informational sessions specifically tailored to one’s individual circumstance/diagnosis, taking into consideration age, level of cognitive awareness, and emotional stability.

Family Disability Training: 65$/Hour. Similar to 1:1, however, this would be designed for a full family meeting style where all members would learn together and interact with materials. The person with the disability would not be required to be in attendance. Good for a new diagnosis or a younger child with disabilities.

IEP Review: 60$/Hour. If you are struggling to understand your child’s IEP or feel like it is not written well or provides appropriate services, we can sit down and review it together.

Evaluation Review: 60$/Hour. If you are struggling to understand your child’s academic, social/emotional, or behavioral evaluations, we can review all documents together and plan for an upcoming meeting.

IEP Meeting Prep: 60$/Hour. If your child has a contested IEP or the school is making decisions that make you uncomfortable or denying your requests, we can prep for his/her next meeting together.

IEP Review, Evaluation Review, and IEP Meeting Prep sessions can be done in a series and purchased as a “package”.

Advocacy Services: 70$/Hour. If you feel as though you need an advocate present at your child’s next IEP meeting to help you and the school come to an agreement, book this session. Bundle with IEP Review, Evaluation Review, and IEP Meeting Prep sessions for full, wrap-around support.

Introduction to Literacy &/or Numeracy, Parent/Family Courses: 65$/Hour. Parent/Family training in how to help your child learn foundational skills for literacy and numeracy. Interactive. Gather a group of parent friends together to get a group rate.

Consultation, Child: 70$/Hour. Is your child struggling in school or at home, academically, emotionally, or socially? Book a consultation to get a preliminary, informal evaluation to bring to his/her school to ask for formal testing.

Consultation, Adult: 75$/Hour. Are you an adult who has always struggled to read or comprehend math or understand the complexities of social situations? Book a consultation to learn more about what you might be struggling with and why as well as coping skills to help.

If you have questions about my services listed here, want to book a session, or if there are other services you may need, please do not hesitate to reach out. Go to the Contact page to submit an email.


Building Reading Routines

As humans, we tend to be creatures of habit. How many of us wake up in the morning and reach for our phones and scroll through our social media? Who can’t function without a morning cup of coffee or tea? We know it’s important to make exercise and healthy eating habitual, though it’s easier for some than others! In the age of technology, it is estimated that people spend a minimum of four hours a day on their phones, scanning social media, reading comments, getting work done, chatting with friends, watching videos, making phone calls, etc. Like I said, our technology usage is typically very habitual, if not constant. Often our excuse as to why we cannot begin a new habit (such as cooking dinner each night or making it to the gym), and yet somehow, amongst all the business of our lives, we are setting aside 4 hours of our day each day to engage with technology. I know not all of our tech time is unproductive, and owning a smartphone, tablet, and/or laptop has become a necessity for a lot of us. That being said, one habit we cannot let slip through our fingers is setting aside time to read books. Read to ourselves, each other, our children, our pets, whoever it takes! Why, though? Why is building a reading routine such a necessity for us and for our children?

First, keeping healthy routines breeds discipline, and this discipline can be used in other facets of our lives. One of my favorite speeches is by Admiral William McRaven. He was a commencement speaker at the University of Texas in 2014. He speaks about the importance of making your bed every day, and asserts that making your bed every day can “change the world”. Watch the video here. He believes that completing that simple task means that you start your day already a success, and you set yourself up for a day of productivity. Building habits can take hard work. I know for myself, I wish my routines felt more natural and not so forced. I tend to start weeks or days really strong and then things come up and my routines fall apart. Some research suggests it takes a minimum of 21 days to build simple habits, such as drinking enough water each day or waking up earlier, and longer for more complex and variable habits, like going to the gym, or organizing consistent family dinner. If we can directly model for our children discipline and self-control, and transfer that responsibility to them when they are old enough, we are setting them up to be able to apply that discipline to other areas of their life.

Further, our brain is a muscle. If we don’t push our brain, the connections and neural pathways will remain constant or static, and then when it comes time to learn new things, we will be likely to feel more overwhelmed, and at times it can even be harder to learn. There is consistently a market for “brain games” that promote this idea. Things like crosswords, word search, and puzzle apps remain wildly popular as a way to keep our brains active. One of the best ways to promote brain growth and development is to read. Reading diverse texts at varying levels of difficulty engages our brain and keeps it active and strong. Reading before bed induces better sleep habits. If you don’t feel like the best reader, the one surefire way to improve is to read more. Find a text that seems simple, but engages you in some way, and start there, slowing increasing the difficulty. People that read tend to have more emotional intelligence as well. Reading about different people and regions of the world, in different styles of writing (poetry, fiction, non-fiction) opens our minds to others and helps us to be more empathetic. This can lead us to be more successful in business and relationships. I read a statistic once that the average millionaire reads 12 books a year, and successful CEOs read more.

So what if we could not only create better reading habits for ourselves but also create a structured environment for our children to do that as well. Talk about setting them up for success!  In grad school, we learned about the importance of building Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) into our classrooms, and one thing they taught us is to read while the kids are reading. that can be scary for a new teacher. It is terrifying to look away from your students, even for a second, so the idea of fully engaging in a text during a silent expectation is daunting. However, the payout is greater than any minor misbehavior.

When raising or educating children, the saying “it’s not what you say, its what you do that’s important” could not be more relevant. It has been proven that children will mimic behavior that they see faster and more accurately than they will follow directions. If we want them to have strong reading habits, we have to have them too. I know I have a lot of work to do in this area for sure. As I write this and reflect, I want to leave this cafe and go straight to the library and check out a bunch of books; immediately.  It is super important to provide a structured space for our children to engage with books and to offer it at a consistent time. When isn’t important. Whatever works for you and your family. Try first thing, before naptime, before/after dinner, or right before bed, and choose the time that makes the more sense for the rest of your schedule, and don’t give up! Remember, building this habit is complex and thus will take at least a month of really hard work and consistency to establish.

When our kids are little, reading to them is going to be the best way to build this routine. You can’t really expect an 18-month-old to sit and look at their book for 30 min to an hour while you read yours, at least not at first. What I do is have two sets of children’s books. I have board books and paper books and they serve two distinct purposes. My girls are 1 and 2.5 and are not to be trusted with books by themselves, so board books are used for independent reading, and paper books for story time. I let my toddler look at board books on her own for a while and then I will sit down and read one with her or take out a paper book to read together. The little one will “read” independently as well, it is just not as long before I need to engage with her to sustain her attention. Your catalog of children’s books does not actually have to be exhaustive as rereading the same text over is actually very beneficial for kids. Make sure you go to a comfortable, consistent space (a beanbag chair in a bedroom, the couch, a cozy window seat), at a regular, expected time. Meaning, you don’t have to drop everything and read exactly at 9:05 every day, but if you read every day after lunch, this will help both you and your child to anticipate and predict the reading time. Finally, try to make time to talk about your books. Ask your children about theirs, and even tell them about yours. This will normalize a “reading culture” that also sets the standard for discussion about what you read. This will set them up beautifully for school, where this will be the expectation.

Good luck! Drop your reading tips and book recommendations in the comments!


Exceptionality: What? Why?

In my short lifetime, the world of special education has been scrambling to evolve and become more inclusive and supportive of all. When my sister was supposed to transition to the high school, the principal walked my mother down a long hall, away from the bustle of students, around a corner, opened the door to a literal storage closet, and told her that this would be where my sister would be spending 80% of her day. Away from peers, in a closet. The closet was, of course, going to be converted, shouldn’t that make my mom feel better? That was in the 90s. Up until a few years ago, small, solitary spaces were still being used as “cool-down” spots for children with emotional struggles. Alternative placement is still used in states like Massachusetts where statewide standardized tests serve as graduation criteria (and, more importantly to some, funding criteria) as a means to remove students from the general population and educate them in different programs, sometimes on completely different campuses. The descriptors we use to describe people with disabilities have changed as well. Mental Retardation (MR) was what my sister was diagnosed with, and it wasn’t changed until she was almost an adult. Based solely on the definition, mental retardation is totally appropriate, but it soon became clear that the societal connotation was so negative and damaging, that something needed to be changed. Next came Intellectual Disability. While this was a step forward, Intellectual Disability only accounts for a small percentage of people with disabilities. By definition, a person diagnosed with Autism or a Specific Learning Disability, may not also have an Intellectual Disability, and calling someone disabled also carries negative implications.

In education, we are trying to inspire a mindset shift to look at students with differences (whether social, medical, linguistic, emotional or otherwise), not through the lens of what they lack, or how they are disadvantaged, but instead, what do they bring to the table that others don’t? What makes them unique? How can that benefit us as a class? a school? Instead of looking at a student with Autism and thinking about how they might have outbursts or “stim” in your class and be distracting, think instead about how their logical/practical/organized mind might teach his/her classmates a different way to approach a problem, and how to utilize this as a strength. Instead of viewing our child with ADHD as a burden or nuisance because they cannot sit still for an entire lesson, think about how beneficial it is to all students that we now include movement breaks or multi-sensory activities. This mindset shift doesn’t have room for the term “disabled” which literally means “not-able-to”.

Exceptional is a positively connotated word that means “unusual; not typical; unusually good/outstanding; (of a child) mentally or physically different so as to require special schooling”. Doesn’t that sound much more positive? Being called “exceptional” is so empowering and contains so much joy and positivity. Yes, it implies a difference to others, but it also recognizes the power and unique skills that each student brings. I entitled my company Exceptional Services because I wanted people to know that I believe in them. I believe in the capability of their family unit and their children and know that through proper education and specially tailored sessions, I know that they will be successful. As an educator, when I think back on the history of Special Education, I am proud of how far we as an industry have come, and I am excited for us to continue growing and influencing others and inspiring inclusivity across all facets of society. I think about how empowered our children and students are and will continue to be, and think about the ripple effect that this will have as they enter the world, empowered and filled with pride.

Autonomy: What? Why? How?

When I wrote the tagline for my website, I knew I wanted it to contain the word “autonomy” before I could even formulate the rest of the words. Autonomy is a word that has always been important to me professionally and has become increasingly popular in the world of education. So, what does this word mean, and why did it migrate from exclusively describing countries and regions to people as individuals?

Autonomy is defined as “…a self-governing country or region; freedom from external control or influence; independence” (Google Definitions). Autonomy might not be in our every day vernacular, especially if we don’t sit around discussing both historic and present foreign politics (if you do, more power to you!). This is one of my favorite words because it is not as simple as describing someone as “independent”. It contains more weight and layered context. Saying that someone lives with autonomy implies that they completely govern themselves; that they know all of their strengths and weaknesses, and they know how to navigate their world, interacting positively with others and relying on their own resources and history. I have found that the best way to grant someone their autonomy is to fully educate them about themselves. Regardless of a person’s disability, and, I believe, especially because of disability, it is important to teach people openly what they are up against.

When I was teaching in Hartford, I piloted a Life Skills program. In the first unit, the students were learning about their own disability, researching trends, common aptitudes and areas of potential weakness. The project culminated with them reviewing, for the first time, their own Individual Education plans and learning what their Goals and Objectives were and how those were decided upon. I think some were afraid that this would dishearten the students, or bring about some negative, dependent habits. Instead, I found that they were more empowered. They were able to raise their chins and confidently ask teachers for their accommodations, stay after and review their scores on assessments and understand why they struggled on certain sections, or more efficiently select texts to read that were more appropriate/accessible. At that time, I had real data to back up what I believed to be true: the more information we can give our children, the more empowered they will become, as long as this is done in a calculated, measured approach, and in a safe place.

In my next placement, I met a student who was 17 years old and struggled socially. She could not relate to her peers, could not appropriately read social situations, didn’t know how to effectively engage with others, and, worst of all, she didn’t know why. She had Autism. Her social symptoms were textbook and she had no idea. She didn’t understand why no one “liked” her, or why she couldn’t maintain friendships. She was frustrated and struggled in her sessions with the staff because she didn’t believe that what she was learning (things like social cues, societal norms, conversational rules) was important, and ironically, she felt very superior to people who struggled academically and/or behaviorally. We begged her parents to let us talk to her about her disability, but they were resistant. They were afraid that knowing her diagnosis would stigmatize her, or somehow limit her. As her 18th birthday neared, she was applying to colleges and jobs and slowly becoming a citizen of the world and not just her parents’ home. The school and her pediatrician pleaded again, and, finally, they relented and let her doctor talk to her about her disability. It was as if a lightbulb went off for her. Her struggles weren’t over, she still had to overcome social and emotional hurdles and evaluate the prejudice she had against people with disabilities, now that she found herself on that list, but at least she knew. At least now when she found herself on sensory overload, or socially overstimulated, we could tell her why and she could read it in a book and know that she wasn’t “crazy” or “weird”. Autism and social/emotional disorders are normal for a LOT of people and it was unfair that she had felt like an outcast in her own mind for so long.

I respect a family’s right to structure themselves how they see fit, and I understand the fear that governed their decision to keep her diagnosis from her but giving her the information she so desperately needed granted her the autonomy necessary for her to have a lifetime of success. Not every family is qualified or feels comfortable doing this training or having these conversations, and that is okay! That is why disability training for individuals and families is a service I offer. I want to help people have these conversations so that it doesn’t feel like a weight or a scary, foreboding obstacle.

Inflection: What? Why? How?

Recently I posted on my Instagram about the importance of reading to our children with “inflection”, and I wanted to take a little more time to delve into that topic.

Inflection is a noun that means “a change in the form of a word…to express a grammatical function or attribute such as tense, mood, person, number, case, and gender” (Google Dictionary). Simply, inflection refers to the change in pitch or modulation of voice as we read “dramatically”. Inflection seems like a simple thing, but it’s a big indicator of reading success. Not just the physical ability, but, more importantly, comprehension. When I am working with a struggling reader, the first thing I do is ask them to read for me, and in doing this, I am listening for a lot of things. One of the more important things I am listening for is inflection. A person who does not read with inflection, nine times out of ten, will not be able to tell me about what they read. Being able to look at a sentence as a whole and see the punctuation + vocabulary, infer meaning and the author’s intention, and apply varied pitch, timing, and modulation to one’s voice is actually a very advanced skill. If we are participants in story time with children, it is something we should practice and model. We want all readers to be able to read with inflection so that they may strengthen their comprehension of what they’re reading. A young child reading on their own may mimic adults inflection, and therefore practice the skill without even realizing it.

If you naturally have a “flat” voice, and you’re unsure of where to begin, I would select books that have a lot of character dialogue and a clear rise and fall in the plot. One of our favorites is The Pout-Pout Fish Link This book is perfect because it not only contains a lot of characters and varying dialogue to practice different characters and voices out plus adorable and detailed pictures that make the book enjoyable for even the youngest of readers, but it also has a great message of knowing your own emotions and how best to help an emotional friend. On each page, there is a new sea creature that visits the Pout-Pout fish and has their own unique dialogue and textual portrayal. The pictures are rich and full of lots of different things to talk about, ranging from simple emerging literacy/numeracy skills to higher level vocabulary and emotional literacy questions. For example, you can ask your child “how many worms do you see?” or “can you find the octopus?” on the simpler end. For older, more advanced children, you can introduce things like idioms (“what do you think a “pearl of advice” is?”), or higher level vocabulary (“what do you think “squelchy” means?”), or even emotional literacy questions (“why do you think the silver fish’s kindness worked better to change the Pout-Pout Fish’s mood, rather than all the advice he got from the other sea creatures?” “Do you think that advice is always what people need to hear when they are upset?”). Through all of this, the varying sea creatures and descriptors give you plenty of opportunities to practice changing your inflection to represent changes in character or emotion and will help to deepen your child’s understanding of the text and its high level of vocabulary.

Another book we love is Courderoy (Link). This simple story of a bear looking for a forever home contains an inner dialogue that you can dramatize as well as a few secondary characters and dramatic moments. Consider altering your reading rate as well to add variables to your inflection and strengthen your listeners’ comprehension. Decreasing your rate when the security officer is looking for the hiding bear will create suspense and add to the drama, and increasing your rate as Lisa runs up the four flights of stairs to her apartment adds to the excitement of bear and girl at the edge of their forever friendship.

I could write on and on about our favorite books, but I’ll save them for other posts! Let me know if you try these tips and comment any other books that lend themselves well to inflection practice!

Happy Reading (with Inflection)!