Executive Function Skills: A Foundation for Success at School & Beyond


By Brittany Peterson and Jackie Stachel, Executive Function coaches at Beyond BookSmart

Editor’s Note: We would like to thank Beyond BookSmart for contributing this guest content to our blog!  If you would like to submit a guest blog post related to students with disabilities, please let us know.

Imagine a builder getting started on a new home.  Maybe he’s behind schedule.  There’s pressure from the owners.  He knows that the foundation has to go in before he can build but maybe he can find a way to get back on schedule by modifying his approachHe digs a shallow hole and saves a whole two days there.  He calls up another contractor and gets a rush pour on the foundation.  He saves a day by getting started while the cement is still curing—it seemed mostly dry, so that’s fine, right?  He starts putting up that house, but guess what?  At every turn, he sees the problems he has caused by neglecting a proper foundation.  Walls aren’t straight, doors slip out of alignment, and the cracks in the inadequately dried cement invite a torrent of water into the basement every time it rains.  All because he didn’t take the time and effort to build a solid foundation.

What does this scenario have to do with your child’s school performance? (Stick with us here…)

 Photo by  Santi Vedrí  on Unsplash

Photo by Santi Vedrí on Unsplash

Before a student can ace that algebra test, master that 3rd declension in Latin, or complete a semester-long history project, they need to have a solid foundation of skills that help them to be productive.  They need to learn how to manage themselves: be organized, initiate tasks, complete tasks, plan out their work, manage their time, and try to keep cool when the going gets tough (and it always gets tough!).  These are executive function skills—the ones that help a student function like an executive and be the boss of their own life.  And school is a student’s job, right? Students need excellent executive function skills to do well at their jobs.  And just like the unfortunate builder in our opening scene, nothing seems to work right when the foundation is weak.

Symptoms of Weak Executive Function Skills

Without good executive function skills, we can think of these examples as symptoms of a shaky foundation:

1) A student who can talk up a storm about Renaissance armor but can’t get a word on the page for a 10-page research paper.

    Foundational skills needed: Task initiation, planning, organization

2) A student who’s in such a last-minute panic over a project that the whole house turns into full-on crisis mode.  (There may be tears...there may be raised voices.  We're not naming names here.)

    Foundational skills needed: Time management, planning and prioritizing, emotion regulation

3) A student who’s got pencils in his sock drawer, socks in his locker, and overdue homework scrunched in the recesses of his backpack.

    Foundational skill needed: Organization

Students who have a wobbly foundation in executive function skills may have trouble reaching their true academic potential; in essence, they are always making quick temporary repairs to their shaky foundation by asking for extensions on assignments or begging for bailouts from parents

Parents often find themselves faced with a dilemma of either constantly helping their children make these "quick fixes" or watching them flounder and struggle.  The real solution is for students to learn the skills that help them be productive and organized.

That foundation helps students build a successful outcome at school and beyond.

Disclaimer: Guest blog posts do not necessarily represent the views of The Law Office of Steven Alizio, PLLC.

Chancellor’s Capital Budget Proposal Takes Important Step for Accessibility


NYC Department of Education (DOE) Chancellor Richard Carranza took an important step last week to make public schools more inclusive for students with disabilities by proposing an additional $750 million over the next five years to make at least a third of schools in each public school district fully accessible.  The announcement is a vital step in creating inclusive public schools for students with disabilities so that they can fully enjoy all the resources the school system has to offer. 

The proposal echoes the funding amount that Advocates for Children suggested in a report last month, “Access Denied,” and responds to persistent advocacy from groups like the ARISE coalition (of which The Law Office of Steven Alizio, PLLC is a proud member) that urged the DOE to include funding in this plan to meet accessibility goals.  The Access Denied report documented how only about 20 percent of schools across the NYC system are fully accessible to students with disabilities.  Other schools that are partially accessible may have certain areas that are off-limits to students with disabilities; for instance, a school may have an accessible first floor but no accessible way to get upstairs.  

Carranza’s proposal is the first step in the capital plan process, which happens every five years.  The current proposal lays out all of the new construction and building improvements the DOE wants to fund for fiscal years 2020 to 2024, and proposes spending $17 billion in total.

Across the city, more than 200 NYC school buildings are more than 100 years old, which means the city would have to demolish and rebuild many of them to make them fully accessible, the DOE told Chalkbeat recently.  For that reason, the capital plan focuses its spending on bringing partially accessible schools up to fully accessible standards rather than prioritizing schools that are not accessible at all.  According to Chalkbeat, the DOE said that these improvements will range from “‘really easy fixes,’ such as adding ramps for wheelchairs, to ‘very big overhaul projects,’ such as building access to a second-floor gym.”

In addition to improvements in building accessibility, the total capital budget proposal of $17 billion includes plans for more permanent classroom space—although this will not necessarily mean smaller class sizes—air conditioning, and technological improvements, all of which could benefit students with disabilities by increasing comfort and access to learning materials in diverse formats, depending on how the school system implements those improvements.


As Advocates for Children said in response to the capital plan announcement, the increased accessibility will “literally open the doors” for students with disabilities.  But we hope that the DOE does not stop there.  Having only a third of schools in each district accessible can still impose hard limits on where students with disabilities can learn, what school events parents with disabilities can attend, or where teachers with disabilities can teach.  There is no guarantee that a student’s zoned school, or the one with academic programs in which they are interested, will be accessible or close enough to be feasible, particularly given the busing issues that plagued the school system earlier this year.

According to “Access Denied,” even District 75 programs, which are meant to specifically serve students with disabilities who require more intensive services than other schools can provide, are sometimes housed in less than fully accessible buildings. 

All this does not even mention, of course, the education that students get once they are physically able to access the school building.  Based on the newest data from the DOE, nearly 40,000 students with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) did not get some or all of the services they were mandated to receive in the 2017-2018 school year.  A number of news outlets also reported earlier this year on systemic issues with IEP services and concerns about getting students the therapy services to which they are entitled.

Nonetheless, Carranza’s announcement should provide much hope.  The additional money earmarked for increasing school accessibility will improve the quality of education for countless students across the NYC system and, importantly, shows that advocacy from parents, teachers, and students does make a difference. 

The DOE will gather input from Community Education Councils and other community representatives on the proposed plan through February, and in March will submit a revised plan to the Mayor and City Council for approval, according to the timeline in the plan.  We encourage all those involved with the NYC public school system to make your voice heard throughout this budget process and continue to push for what you think will make the school system the best it can be for all students.

Systemic Problems for Special Education Students

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The New York Times reported last week on T.J., a 12-year-old student with an intellectual disability who the school system has left behind.  T.J. still reads at a first-grade level.  He was not properly diagnosed until recently, and was not getting appropriate services for what he needed, according to his mother. 

Unfortunately, T.J.’s story is not unusual.  Of the some 200,000 students with identified disabilities in the NYC system, the department itself admits that about a quarter of those students did not receive the specialized instruction they need just in 2016-2017 school year—and that was a significant improvement from the year before.  The real number of students not receiving necessary services is likely even higher, as the department’s estimate assumes that all students’ IEPs currently mandate the appropriate services—a big assumption—and leaves out students who may need IEPs but have not gotten them.  On top of that, Spectrum News NY1 recently revealed that the Department of Education is months behind on payments to therapists, and as a result, students are not getting the therapy to which they are entitled.

But we want you to know that you are not alone trying to get your child the services they deserve.  If you feel your child is not getting what he or she needs to succeed, equip yourself to speak up.  Take a look at our resources page to get started. 

Bussing Issues


The 2018-2019 school year had a rough start with respect to student transportation.  The city's yellow bus company complaint line received nearly 100,000 calls within the first two weeks of school!  The chancellor of NYC schools, Richard Carranza, did not take the complaints lightly.  Carranza fired public schools support services CEO, Eric Goldstein, this past Friday, and has reassigned Goldstein's former supervisor, Elizabeth Rose, to the position of senior school transportation advisor.

If you ever experience school bussing issues, please check out INCLUDEnyc's Tip Sheet.

July is Disability Pride Month


July is Disability Pride Month in New York City!  Join us as we celebrate individuals with disabilities throughout this month.

On July 15th, you can celebrate Disability Pride by participating in this year’s Disability Pride Parade!  The parade starts in Madison Square Park at 11AM, marches down Broadway and ends in Union Square Park.  There will be a festival in Union Square Park from noon until 3PM.  The theme of this year’s parade is Express Yourself!  Make sure to register today.

Three years ago Mayor Bill de Blasio declared July as “Disability Pride Month,” in honor of the 25th anniversary of the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA), which, since its inception, has helped pave the way for those with disabilities to more fully participate in their communities, schools, and the workforce.  De Blasio explained that “By designating July as Disability Pride Month, we are celebrating and commending the fierce advocacy of those who have fought for equal rights for decades and reaffirming our strong commitment to making New York City the most accessible city in the world.”  The passing of the ADA was a monumental step forward to ensuring equal treatment and access for individuals with disabilities, though there is still much work to be done.

With support from the NYC Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities (MOPD), the disability community in New York held the first Disability Pride Parade on July 12, 2015.  Since then, it has become a signature annual event to celebrate disability pride.  Victor Calise, Commissioner of MOPD, explains the mission of NYC’s disability rights movement: “to change the city’s human environment so that everyone has access, and to open people’s minds so that everyone has an opportunity to seek achievement, prosperity and fulfillment.”

Enjoy this month of celebrations! Happy Fourth of July, and Happy Disability Pride!

The Summer Transition: Six Things Parents of students with disabilities Should Consider Doing


Every child is unique, and no two families function the same way.  Parents should consider which of the ideas below (if any) will help them and their children during the transition from one school year to the next.

1. Talk About the Transition

Transition into summer vacation can be exciting, and anxiety-producing, for many students.  Simply talking with your child about their excitement, the end of the school year, and their plans with friends or wants for the summer months can help to greatly reduce any anxiety associated with the change.

Planning a daily schedule and maintaining a routine is key, especially if your child does not attend a structured summer camp or academy.  If possible, make plans with your child's friends or other familiar faces to encourage the building and maintaining of social relationships, and use it as an opportunity to experience new things - maybe go to the Bronx Zoo, the Central Park Zoo, the New York Botanical GardenBrooklyn Botanical Garden, or the Children's Museum of Manhattan.  If your child slumps into playing video games or watching television or movies for extended periods of time, the transition back to school can be doubly difficult.

2. Understand Your Child's IEP Goals

Before teachers and specialists are out of the building, make sure you have an understanding of your child's IEP goals and how the summer months may impact them.  If you do not, you should consider contacting you child's school - a counselor should be available to walk you through any special considerations, modifications or accommodations that may be pertinent to this time of transition.  It is always helpful to have at least one hard copy of your child's information for reference, if needed, during the summer months.

3. Reach Out to Last Year's and Next Year's Teacher(s)

Communication with your child's teacher(s) can help with transitioning from one school year to the next.  Reach out to your child's current teacher to discuss what has worked well and how to set your child up for success in the coming academic year.  Even a short email can help you to evaluate what techniques and strategies should be maintained in the coming school year to best support your child's academic, social and emotional growth.

It could also be helpful to share your thoughts and concerns with your child's future teacher(s), if you know who they are.  If possible, ask if you and your child could meet their new teacher and visit their classroom.  This may help your child to feel more comfortable with the transition between grade levels, teachers, and/or schools.

4. Prevent the "Summer Slide"

Studies have shown that children, on average, can lose between between 25%-30% of their school-year learning over the summer months.  This is no different for students with special needs.  Summer learning loss can be a serious setback for students who may already be struggling.

If participating in an Extended School Year (ESY) program is an option, take advantage of it!  If your child has the opportunity to attend a summer camp which addresses his or her special needs, consider signing up.  Popular options within New York City are: PreSchool Sensory Summer Camp Program, Tech Kids Unlimited, Camp Green Tree, Theraplay NYC, Big Apple Day Program, Speech Zone, and The Quad Manhattan.

5. Say Thank You

If there was someone who advocated for and helped to support your child in his or her academic, social and emotional growth this year, simply say, “Thank you!”  A “thank you” can go a long way, and modeling how to show thanks is a wonderful lesson for your child to learn before school lets out for summer!

6. Take Time for Yourself

Parenting isn’t easy—especially for parents of children with disabilities.  It’s important for you to relax and recharge.  Find some time this summer to do something for yourself.  Meditate, enjoy the outdoors, or try a new hobby.  Take care of yourself so that you can best take care of your child!

Special Education Leader Spotlight: Margaret Bancroft


Special education has a long way to go before all of our students receive the education they deserve, but it’s come a long way from where it started!  One person we can thank for some of the advancements in special education is Margaret Bancroft, a pioneer in special education.

Bancroft was born in Philadelphia, PA in 1854.  She attended the Philadelphia Normal School and became a teacher.  When she was 25 years old, she left Philadelphia schools to open her own school in Haddonfield, NJ.  The school started with just one student!  Originally called The Haddonfield School for the Mentally Deficient and Peculiarly Backward, it was renamed in 1904 as the Bancroft Training School.

Her school was one of the first schools for children with developmental disabilities.  When she founded her school, children with disabilities were often sent to state institutions, where they were not educated at all—they were only isolated from other children and their families.  Click here to learn about the reform and closure of many institutions for people with disabilities.

Bancroft once said, “Special children must have special schools with well-trained teachers who used materials adapted to those children’s capabilities.  They should not be abandoned to state institutions where conditions were appallingly inhumane.”

At Bancroft’s school, nutrition, hygiene, exercise, prayer, and sensory and artistic development were emphasized.  Unlike the state institutions of the time, the well-being and growth of students was considered important.  Bancroft’s students also took field trips to places like circuses and museums.

Bancroft’s school rapidly expanded during her lifetime, and her legacy lives on.  The women’s club she founded, the Haddon Fortnightly, is still active.  The Bancroft organization now services children and adults with autism and intellectual and developmental disabilities.  It provides services like early intervention and at-home services, has a number of adult community living programs, provides transition services, has several rehabilitation service programs, and has a school, an early education program, and a residential program.  Bancroft works also inspired many in the medical profession to help children with disabilities, and helped changed societal views of people with disabilities.  Some of her writings are available here.

We are grateful for and inspired by the work of Margaret Bancroft, and hope that there are other world-changers out there to improve education for all children!

What Goes Into an IEP?

In special education, it’s all about the IEP.  An IEP, or Individualized Education Program, is the legally enforceable document meant to ensure that a child is receiving an appropriate education.  It is to be carefully crafted, often evaluated, and closely followed.  When something goes wrong in creating the IEP, or when the IEP is not implemented, parents have the right to take action against the school district for failing to provide their child with a free and appropriate education.

But what does an IEP really say?  It turns out there are quite a few requirements for what goes into an IEP under federal law.  The Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) defines an IEP as “a written statement for each child with a disability that is developed, reviewed, and revised in accordance with this section.”

In Section 1414(d)(1)(A), the statute also describes 8 main things that have to be included in an IEP:

  1. The child’s present levels of performance
  2. Measurable annual goals
  3. Descriptions of the child’s progress towards those goals
  4. The special education, related services, and supplementary aides the child needs
  5. The extent to which the child will not participate in general education activities
  6. Assessment accommodations or alternatives
  7. The date for beginning services along with the duration, frequency, and location
  8. Once the child is 16, post-secondary goals and transition services

Each state, and each school district, has some control over how their IEPs look.  Here is a blank copy of a New York City IEP.  Other states and districts might have very different looking IEPs, like this blank IEP from Florida, but the content is similar.

The IEP is filled out based on a meeting of the child’s IEP team.  The IDEA also covers who must be at an IEP meeting.  Under 1414(d)(3), the IEP team is required to consider a number of things when crafting the IEP, including recent evaluations, but also any parent concerns.

A statement of parent concerns is then included under the section with a child’s present level of performance, or PLOP.  This section is a powerful tool for parents who are advocating for their children!  Check out these great tips about writing a parent concern letter or parent IEP attachment.  When parents write a letter or insist that information be included in the IEP, they have a record of what they think their child needs, and evidence that they have been fighting for their child for a while.  Don’t be afraid to speak up!  It’s your right.

The Supreme Court has said that, the IEP is "the centerpiece of the [IDEA]'s education delivery system for disabled children."  When a piece of paper is so important, it’s good to know what’s in it!

Understanding IEP Classifications

Every child is unique and has unique learning needs.  Individual Education Programs (IEPs) are created to make sure that there is a plan for meeting the unique needs of each child.  But of course, using categories can help educators figure out how to approach each child’s learning needs.


Under the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a “child with a disability” is defined as a child who falls into one of thirteen categories, and who, because they fall into that category, needs special education or related services.  Those categories include children with intellectual disabilities, hearing impairments, deafness, visual impairments (including blindness), deaf-blindness, speech or language impairments, emotional disturbance, orthopedic impairments, autism, traumatic brain injury, other health impairments, specific learning disabilities, or multiple disabilities. 

A child ages 3 through 9 could also qualify as “a child with a disability” if they experience developmental delays, including physical development, cognitive development, communication development, social or emotional development, or adaptive development.

According to the New York City Department of Education’s 2016-2017 Annual Report on Special Education, 39.8% of students with IEPs were classified with a specific learning disability, 30.9% with a speech or language impairment, 8.7% with autism, 8.4% with other health impairment, 5.6% with emotional disturbance, 3.5% with intellectual disability, 1.6% with multiple disabilities, 0.8% with hearing impairment,  0.3% with orthopedic impairment, 0.2% with visual impairment, and 0.1% with traumatic brain injury.  A very small number of students had a deaf-blindness or deafness classification.

That means that in New York City, specific learning disability and speech or language impairments are the most common disabilities, followed by autism and other health impairments.  But these are some confusing categories!  What do they mean?

Formally, a specific learning disability means “a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, that may manifest itself in the imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or to do mathematical calculations.”  Often, students with this classification have dyslexia (which affects reading skills), dysgraphia (which affects writing skills), dyscalculia (which affects math skills), or other troubles with listening, speaking, or reasoning skills.  

The second most common category, speech or language impairment classification, officially means “a communication disorder, such as stuttering, impaired articulation, a language impairment, or a voice impairment, that adversely affects a child’s educational performance.”  Speech and language impairments are very common among 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds with disabilities.  Some common kinds of speech impairments affect articulation (like a lisp or distortion of a particular sound), fluency (like a stutter), or voice (this could be sounding nasal or raspy, causing pain or endurance issues).  Language expression issues might include trouble with expressing ideas, following directions, or using grammatical patterns or vocabulary.  Students with speech or language impairments may see a speech pathologist to practice speaking, or to learn how to use assistive technology to communicate.

Other health impairment” can be a confusing classification, since it covers so many different types of disabilities, from ADD to life-threatening diseases.  Officially, it includes students who have “limited strength, vitality, or alertness, including a heightened alertness to environmental stimuli, that results in limited alertness with respect to the educational environment, that— Is due to chronic or acute health problems such as asthma, attention deficit disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, diabetes, epilepsy, a heart condition, hemophilia, lead poisoning, leukemia, nephritis, rheumatic fever, sickle cell anemia, and Tourette syndrome.”  Students with this classification might have complex medical issues.  Teachers might need to educate themselves about a child’s condition, and work with others to modify the learning environment to make it both safe and non-restrictive.


The IDEA stipulates that a child is to be designated under only one category.  This can be difficult, as a child might sometimes fall into multiple categories.  Educators will often classify the child according to the disability that affects their learning the most.  There is also a classification for “multiple disabilities” to be used when the combination of different impairments means that the student’s needs cannot be served in programs for only one impairment.  For example, if a child has an intellectual disability and is blind, then a program with students that only have one of those disabilities would not do a good job of accommodating that student’s needs. 

You might be asking now, “how much does all this matter?”  Students are given a classification based on their evaluations.  As a student grows up and their disability changes, it is possible to be reclassified after an evaluation.  But some parents wonder how important that is.  Of course, if a child’s IEP is be tailored to their unique needs, like it’s supposed to be, then the child is getting the education they’re guaranteed!  But a child’s classification can open the door to different services or schools.  We don’t want a student with autism to miss out on services for students with autism because they were mislabeled with an emotional disturbance classification or a speech and language classification.

As parents, educators, and advocates, it’s important to educate ourselves about the IDEA disability classifications.  The more we know, the more we can make sure our students are getting the education they deserve!

Victory At Last For Endrew F.


Last March, the U.S. Supreme Court’s 8-0 decision in the case Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District heightened the standard of education that children with disabilities are entitled to receive.  We know that a student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) must be tailored to a child’s unique needs, but that doesn’t tell us how much progress a child should be making in order to call an IEP adequate—an issue the Supreme Court addressed in Endrew F.

The previous standard was that a child needed to receive “some educational benefit.” Prior to Endrew F., this ambiguous language was interpreted differently by different circuit courts for decades.  When the 10th Circuit reviewed Endrew F., it continued its practice of interpreting “some educational benefit” as “merely more than de minimus.”  This meant that a child with disabilities was receiving an adequate education under the Individuals With Disabilities Act (IDEA) if they made even the smallest amount of progress during a school year.  The Supreme Court determined in Endrew F., however, that an “educational program must be appropriately ambitious in light of [a child’s] circumstances,” calling it “markedly more demanding than the ‘merely more than de minimis’” test.  That was great news!

After the Supreme Court’s decision, the case was sent back down to the trial level—to the District Court in Denver, Colorado.  The District Court was charged with deciding whether Endrew, who has autism, was entitled to reimbursement for his private school tuition.  His parents said he had made very little progress at his public school in Douglas County, but made much more progress at a private school his parents placed him in, with the help of their attorney.  His new school used a Behavioral Interventional Plan that was tailored to Endrew’s needs.


Last week, after more than a decade of struggling, Judge Lewis Babcock ruled that the Douglas County School District is responsible for the private school costs for Endrew.  We’re so happy that Endrew and his parents had this victory, and we hope that the Douglas County School District, and school districts across the nation, learn to prioritize the unique needs of our students, so that all students can have access to a challenging, rewarding education that helps them learn and grow.

Read more about the case here, and click here to learn about the long journey Endrew’s parents went through.