Mom Shark blog

Special Education Does Not Mean Less Education

Topic Tuesday Back to School — August 20, 2019

Topic Tuesday Back to School

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.” – Dr. Seuss

There is no denying it we are in full swing of the Back to School season! If your like me back to school is always met with mixed feelings of excitement and nerves and this year even more so. You see this year Clinton will be starting at a new school, White Oak – here in Westfield,MA. White Oak School offers a variety of educational services for students with various disabilities. The school serves children in grades 2 through 12. It enrolls students suffering from dyslexia and other language-based learning problems.  The journey to get Clinton transferred to White Oak will be of topic next week. Now just because Clinton will be in a more appropriate educational setting does not mean I am without nerves, anxiety or worry. You see parents like myself who suffer from what I call “Educatioal PTSD” after being put through wars for their childrens education find it very difficult to trust the process and educators.

I would like to talk a little bit about ways to help your child and you adjust to back to school no matter your childs ability. Every child matters and every parent matters. It is easy to get caught up in back to school shopping for clothes, shoes and supplies, and yes those things matter but what if we focused a little bit on mental and emotional back to school prep? What do I mean by that? I mean talk to your children ask them what are they excited for this year, what do they look forward to learning, how are they feeling, what after school activities do they want to do, what are they struggling with. If expressing themselves verbally is hard ask them to draw it, sing it, dance it the delievery does not matter, just the message. I like to do this because I want to make sure my son and I are on the same page, I want him to enjoy not just school, but learning in general. I have always considered being a parent more like that of a tour guide then a boss – I always want him to feel heard like what he wants and needs matters, because it does.

I like lists it helps keep me somewhat organized and somewhat on track so I put a list together I hope can be of some benefit to you and your family.

  1. Establish a set “family time,” whether it’s during dinner or before bed
  2. Visit the school with your kids so they can get familiar with their new environments.
  3. Arrange playdates with two or three of your kids’ friends to rebuild existing social ties.
  4. Have your kids set realistic goals for the new year, such as reading 30 books.
  5. Create an after-school schedule that allows time for snack, relaxation, play and study.
  6. Model good behavior by doing your own work/projects while your kids do homework.
  7. Inventory your kids’ wardrobes and toss/donate things they’ve outgrown.
  8. Schedule at least one 30-minute block in your calendar each day for self-care.
  9. Create a rewards system for when kids meet goals, like helping around the house.
  10.  Do something fun to diffuse this stressful time of year for all of you!
  11. Talk openly with your kids about their feelings about returning to school.
  12. Visit cultural attractions like museums to shift their brains into “scholar” mode.
  13.  Refresh your rules about screen time for the school year. What’s allowed and when?
  14. Give kids a specific day to when they can choose all the activities you do together.
  15. Help your kids develop a filing system for organizing their documents for each class.
  16. Touch base with teachers early on to troubleshoot any issues your kids may be having.
  17. Have your kids pack their school bags before they go to sleep that night.
  18. Discuss the different pros and cons of bringing versus buying school lunches.
  19. Use sticky notes to flag important items that kids should pay attention to.
  20. Use positive phrasing, such as, “You can go outside after your homework is done,” rather than, “You’re not going outside until this is finished.”
  21. Use an egg timer to get your kids used to focusing for specific periods of time.
  22. Establish a specific space like the family office as an official “homework station.”
  23. Create a list of fun after-school activities and games to keep your kids entertained.
  24. Map out a bathroom schedule to avoid family fights for bathroom time.
  25. Take a breath! – You got this! every school year will have its challenges, its ups and downs, goods and bads so enjoy the ups and be kind to yourself on the downs. Sending you good vibes for a good year 🙂

Topic Tuesday — August 13, 2019

Topic Tuesday

“Blowing out someone else’s candle doesn’t make yours shine any brighter”

I remember as child being bullied, laughed at, picked on and sitting alone at lunch because I was chubby, shy and because my mom made my clothes. I remember sitting alone on the bus holding in tears because I so badly wanted someone to sit with me and talk.  Most would think that because I went to Catholic school for elementary  there would not be bullying, but I can assure you there was plenty – playground, lunch room, classroom, bathroom, it happened. I share this experience with you because at one time or another most have been bullied or picked on in some way and the sadness, loneliness, depression confusion is something we can all relate to.

Fast forward many years when my five month old son needed a helmet because the back of his head was flat from a tough delivery in which he almost died. I remember walking through the grocery store people pointing, laughing and even shouting cruel remarks about my son wearing a helmet. I remember tearing up not out of embarrassment but out of sadness that people, grown adults could be so insensitive and mean to a child. I cannot explain it but inside I had a very unsettling feeling that this would not be the only time my son would be bullied or that it would bring me to tears.

Having a child with special needs especially in this day and age paints a very big bulls-eye on your back and makes both you and your child a target for bullying. I have had parents make fun of my son flapping his arms, I have had teachers tell me my son is a lazy, class clown who can not focus and most surely will never read, Clinton has come home from school in tears because he was wasn’t included at recess because he didn’t understand the rules, I have been told I need to “toughen” my son up – give him more sports less arts, I have been made fun of by parents/teachers alike because of my car, clothes, financial status, hair cut and even being “that parent” in a meeting. Over the years I have learned how to handle such comments but as a parent seeing your child cry because they were bullied, well that takes a little more patience and practice.

Below are some very supportive resources I would like to share with you.  

1.)  provides information from various government agencies on what bullying is, what cyberbullying is, who is at risk, and how you can prevent and respond to bullying.

2.) The Bully Project is the social action campaign inspired by the award winning film BULLY. They have sparked a national movement to stop bullying that is transforming kids lives and changing a culture of bullying into one of action and empathy. 

3.) The leading anti bullying nonprofit, STOMP Out Bullying is dedicated to changing student culture, reducing & preventing bullying, cyberbullying & other digital abuse.

4.) Bullying. No Way! provides information and ideas for students, parents and teachers. If you want to talk to someone in person or online click here to get contact details for helplines.

5.) Each Kindness  by Jacqueline Woodson – In this award-winning picture book, Chloe and her friends refuse to play with the new girl, Maya. It’s not until Maya stops showing up for school that Chloe realizes the impact of her behavior and the missed opportunity for friendship. It delivers a powerful message about kindness and the ripple effect of our actions. Ages 7+

6.)  Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper – Melody is brilliant, but nobody knows it. All they see is a girl stuck in a wheelchair who can’t speak, write, or move due to her cerebral palsy. When Melody gets integrated into a traditional classroom, people finally see how smart she is, but she also becomes the target of teasing and bullying from several kids and the teacher, too.  Ages 10+

7.) Something Else by Kathryn Cave – This book is perfect for reassuring any child that being different can be a positive thing. Something Else is a lonely creature, excluded from everything because he is different. Until one day he meets someone even stranger than him. He rejects this new creature for being so peculiar, but then realizes that this is exactly what he has experienced. 

8.) The Juice Box Bully Empowering Kids to Stand Up for Others by Bob Sorson & Maria Dismondy. When it comes to anti-bullying books, The Juice Box Bully is a must read for children, as it is simple to read with a powerful message. Being a witness to bullying and doing nothing is just as bad as bullying someone yourself. In this clever story the kids at Pete’s new school take action when they see Pete behaving badly. Pete’s classmates tell him about ‘The Promise’ to stop bullying. But will Pete make ‘The Promise’ or keep on being a bully?

9.) We can all help prevent suicide. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals.

10.) Keep the lines of communication open. Everyday our lives are getting busier and busier and at times I feel the root of Bullying is that we have stopped connecting as people.  Talk to your children and make sure you have someone to talk to you.


Topic Tuesday — August 7, 2019

Topic Tuesday

Every Tuesday is going to be Topic Tuesday and today’s topic, Dyslexia is a topic very close to my heart. While I do not have Dyslexia, my son, Clinton and his Father, Charlie both have Dyslexia. I have seen the challenges,the frustrations, the sadness, the disorganization, the confusion and at times tears that comes with having Dyslexia, but I have also seen the creativity, the artistic talents, the curiosity, the genius, the problem solving and the smiles.  When Clinton first received his diagnosis of Dyslexia at the age of 5 I was overwhelmed and felt enormous pressure to get the proper resources and supports in place for him both at home and in school. I am by no means an expert on Dyslexia, but I have been fortunate enough to come in contact with some wonderful people who have led me to some helpful and insightful resources which I will share with you.

1.) Overcoming Dyslexia by Sally Shaywitz came out in 2005 and turned the world of understanding Dyslexia upside down. This book is written for the lay person and is a treasure of information well-grounded in science.

2.) Dyslexia 101: Truth, Myth and What Really Works by Mariane Sunderland. It is the parents quick-start guide to understanding the world of Dyslexia. Get up to speed quickly with Brief, to-the-point Chapters on everything ranging from reading instruction that works to how to navigate the public school system.

3.) Wrightslaw is an organization that exists to educate parents and teachers about special education law and advocacy. They have thousands of articles, case resources and offer training  programs on advocacy, special education law and understanding test scores.

4.) A web site built for parents of kids with Dyslexia and attention issues.  With state of the art technology, personalized resources, access to experts, a secure online community, practical tips and more.

5.) A parent-led grassroots movement for promoting the rights of people with Dyslexia.

6.) The Dyslexic Advantage by Brock Eide and Fernette Eide. With inspiring testimonials, this paradigm-shifting book proves that dyslexia does not have to be a detriment, but can often become an asset for success. Includes extensive coverage of accommodations (like speech-to-text software and digital books) 

7.) The Dyslexia Empowerment Plan by Ben Foss. After years of battling with a school that did not understand his dyslexia and the shame that accompanied it, renowned activist and entrepreneur Ben Foss is not only open about his Dyslexia, he is proud of it. Packed with practical ideas and strategies dyslexic children need in school and life.

8.) Host of Podcast Dyslexia is a Superpower  Gibby encourages a powerful dialogue about the learning difference that is Dyslexia. As a coach and advocate, Gibby talks about real life experiences as well as the triumphs and challenges that go along with it. Gibby believes dyslexics can connect  the dots and solve problems differently. However, society has put a standard on activities like writing, reading and solving Math which makes it hard for Dyslexics to cope. Gibby believes in empowerment for the dyslexic and the parent. Check her out!

9.) is a great web site with a lot of great resources started up by a practicing speech-language pathologist and most importantly a mom. She started this website because she believes no one can make a bigger difference than the parents. There are great tips, techniques, apps, speech therapy activities and articles all written for the lay person.

10.)  Learn about the common signs of dyslexia, how parents can support their child and celebrate their strengths, the role of assistive technology, how the latest brain research can help kids with dyslexia and more.

11.) Your local library is a not only great resource for  books, movies and games but a lot of library’s fund guest speakers and workshops for children and adults. It is also a great safe place for kids and adults to interact. 

This is by no means  all the resources that are available but are some of my favorites that have been very helpful to me. I encourage you to check them out little by little and take what you feel you need and leave the rest.  I say that because there is a lot of information out there and do not feel you have to absorb it all at once. I encourage you to find support in your community, reach out to other parents within your community, talk to your child’s pediatrician, search Facebook for online support groups and my favorite…ask questions…lots and lots of questions. 

“If you have kids who are struggling with dyslexia, the greatest gift you can give them is the sense that nothing is unattainable.” – Orlando Bloom


Self-Care Sunday — August 5, 2019

Self-Care Sunday

“Talk to yourself like you would to someone you love”

I am a firm believer in Self Care, but sadly in this day and age it seems like Self Care is often overlooked or looked at as unnecessary. Self Care doesn’t have to mean an extravagant day at the Spa or an expensive vacation, it can mean taking yourself out for coffee, watching a favorite movie, eating healthy,drinking enough water, dancing in your kitchen instead of cleaning or even something as simple as speaking kinder to yourself. 

For a very long time I didn’t practice self-care I practiced care taking and it lead to exhaustion, resentment, tears, anger, frustration and anxiety which didn’t make me very much fun to be around and that is when I realized something needed to change…I needed to change. I took a step back and decided I needed to learn how to practice not only self-care but self-love because to me those two very important things go hand in hand. One of the biggest things I did was stop beating myself up for not getting every little thing on my silly to do list done. I stopped the record in my head that just kept playing my faults or mistakes. I stopped comparing myself to everyone. I started just focusing on making Cathie healthy inside and out and I left the word “perfection” out of it. I wish I could tell you I get it right everyday but I don’t and in fact there are some days I am just a hot mess and coffee is my spirit animal – the only difference now is I can laugh at myself and still love myself thru those days.  

Self-care applies to everyone, not just parents. It is vital we all take care of ourselves because in taking of ourselves we take care of each other and the world around us. I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but like a good mom I have list👍. Below is a list of some  self-care ideas and like I tell Clinton, get creative find something that works for you. 

  1.  Positive affirmations
  2. Breathe deeply
  3. Read
  4. Watch positive Ted Talks YouTube
  5. Walk in nature
  6. Exercise
  7. Buy yourself flowers
  8. Hug someone
  9. Sing
  10. Watch the sunrise
  11. Stretch your body (my favorite)
  12. Stop comparing yourself to others
  13. Take a warm bath
  14. Start a gratitude journal
  15. Unplug by a certain hour everyday 

And in case no one told you today: You are strong, smart and capable of anything. 😉

Everybody is a Genius — August 2, 2019

Everybody is a Genius

Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.

Albert Einstein (Dyslexic)

My name is Cathie York and I am the mom of ten year beautiful boy who has Dyslexia, ADHD and is considered Atypical Autistic. To say the last ten years has been tiring is a gross understatement. Between all the testing, scores, evaluations, IEP Meetings, meetings about meetings, specialists, sleepless nights, paperwork, emails, phone calls, insurance, co-pays, teachers, Doctors, diagnosis, medication, no medication, speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, divorce, foreclosure and plenty of tears one only thing other than coffee kept me going when I wanted to just drop. The belief down to my very core that my son was more than just a diagnosis or IEP, he is Clinton, my son and he has so much to offer this world and I will always fight for his right to learn the unique way he learns.

There is no doubt that if you’ve read this far you have been where I am or know someone who has. My hope for my child, your child and all children is that they never feel something is “wrong” with them or that they are less than. That being said the world we will live in today is very uncertain and being different or learning different is harder and scarier than it should be. Navigating all that comes with having a child of different abilities is also harder and scarier than it should be. 

It is not my goal to fix a broken education system, but it is my hope that I can help provide resources, support, knowledge and comfort for those who are struggling and feel alone or overwhelmed.  

I look forward to this journey and I hope you will join us! 

Cathie & Clinton York