Well Balanced? Really?!?

 

Well this has been a week or two of not feeling balanced at all. In work, home and health. What does being well balanced mean anyway? To clear up the title “Well Balanced Life” I wanted to make sure you knew that in no way does it mean life is all rainbows and sunshine. It’s not a Leave It to Beaver or Truman Show household over here! I have 3 teenagers and balancing their needs with my own feels impossible sometimes. Between working full time, living with an autoimmune disorder, raising 3 teenagers (all with their own set of needs), finding time for housework, trying to figure out what helps me stay healthy and not relapse…the list goes on…it’s hard to stay balanced! We all have busy lives! But I came across a quote from Rachel Brathen – Yoga Girl that I just love. It was the inspiration for the name of my blog “Well Balanced Life”.  I hope it can resonate with you as well.

So don’t be too hard on yourself. Find your balance. Find what works for you and take the time to do it. I’m going to take some time to just breathe, do yoga and think about what I am thankful for this Thanksgiving weekend. That’s what helps me regain my balance in life. I’m also going to buy a Mint Chocolate Dark Chocolate bar as a treat! My heart wants it.

Happy Thanksgiving xo

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IEP – Individual Education Plan

An IEP – Individual Education Plan is a LEGAL document that states what your child’s needs are and how the school will address these needs. This document has to be completed within 30 school days and developed with the input of parents and students if they are 16 years or older. Here is a link to our government website that explains the legalities of it.

I very rarely am invited to help develop the IEP. Some teachers have sent it home with the request of a signature only. When that happens, I read the entire document and pencil in where I would like changes or additions made. I DO NOT sign it! I leave a note saying I will sign it once the changes have been made. Sometimes, I get it sent home to me asking to review it, make changes and sign it. I still DO NOT sign it until I have the original hard copy.

This year, G is in high school and this process is new to me. I have had to send a few (several) emails to the SERT and/or teachers regarding different things and I hope that once the IEP is done, my emails will decrease. All staff have been so great with me and have been encouraging me to email or call anytime with any questions or concerns! I am so grateful for this!!

Gracie had a quiz or test in religion before any IEP was mentioned. Now I certainly don’t expect the teacher to hold off on doing any tests until our IEP is complete, but I had to share with her how she learns, how she may need someone to scribe the test for her (if she isn’t being tested on her printing skills) and how the language of what was being represented had to be simpler in order for her to understand. This test was on the 10 Commandments and the original language that this is written in doesn’t make any sense to my daughter! I’ve had to rewrite the notes she has taken in class into a way that she will understand it. I shared this with the teacher and she was very understanding! She sent me a sample test with the original word box (it was fill in the blank) so Gracie could study at home. Working together is what makes our children successful.

So my advice to you is, communicate with the school in the nicest way possible! Be honest. Be kind. Let them know you would like to work together. Ask to have a meeting to help develop the IEP. And go to that meeting with a list of strategies that you know work for you child and explain how it will help them at school as well to avoid any meltdowns and anxiety. Know your legal rights by reading the information on our government website. Until then, if your child is starting a new school, and/or starting high school where she will have more than one teacher or EA, send her to school with a little cue card for each teacher and EA that has some quick information on it about her that she can give them.

Here is a sample of Gracie’s card:

Feel free to put your child’s name and/or picture on it! You can also put your contact info. on it so they can text, call or email you with any questions they might have.

I hope some of this information helps you. If you need more guidance, please feel free to email me!

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Classroom Management

There are so many different fun and creative ideas out there. A quick google search and they are all at your fingertips! Here are some of my favourites!

For a younger chatty class or anytime you want to get their attention try some of these.

Here is the link to the blog post I got this picture from. We’ve used some of these phrases in our class and the kids love them!

Another teacher I’ve worked with allows the kids to grab a healthy snack first thing in the morning and they take a few minutes to rate their morning on a number scale. Each child says how they are feeling by picking a number between 1 & 5. This gives the teacher an idea of what they may be going through, good or bad. It probably only takes 10 mins. tops.

Chris, a teacher and creator of Special Books by Special Kids, who now travels around far and wide interviewing families, had videotaped his morning greetings to his students. It went viral and for a good reason. Starting the day like this allowed them to feel good about themselves. Who wouldn’t have a good day starting like that! Check out his viral video here and it’s worth the time to watch as many of his interviews as possible!

The classroom environment is important in classroom management. Read this blog post I wrote for more information.

Another teacher I’ve worked with uses a marble jar filled with marbles. She has two jars. One is empty, the other is full. Any time the kids are on task, she moves (or allows a student to move) anywhere from 1-5 marbles into the empty jar. I like the marble jar more than other reinforcements because she doesn’t have to say anything. There is no raising her voice to talk over the kids so they can hear her.  The kids hear the marbles dropping into the jar. If they are not on task and she has had to ask one too many times for them to follow direction, she just stands there and removes the marbles from the jar she is trying to fill and drops them back into the original jar. The kids hear this and stop fairly quick. When they are on task, they get extremely excited when they see the marbles have almost reached the top. Once the jar is full, they vote on different activities such as extra gym time, outside play, pajama day etc. This gets turned into a math activity with graphing.

These strategies work well with most of the students I’ve worked with one on one. Yet all of these strategies can be incorporated into the class so our children don’t stand out. Even incorporating their physio and occupational therapy programs within the class DPA (Daily Physical Activity) or phys. ed. is also great for the entire class to get moving around! Sometimes our kiddos act out because they feel so different from the rest of the group. This helps with that.

Lastly, check out Goldie Hawn’s MindUp website. There is science to back this up and there is great information on how meditation affects students learning.

Good luck to all the teachers and support staff starting school Tuesday!! You’ve got this!!

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First Day of School

The first day of school is just around the corner! Most of our kids are probably ready to get back to a routine. Unless you’re one of those parents who are able to have a very scheduled day. I’ve always wanted to be like that, but our planned day changes minute to minute!

 

There are a few things you can do to prepare your child/teen for their new school year.

  1. Most schools are open a week or two before school starts. Call your school at the beginning of the week to ask for a meeting with the principal and to bring your child for a tour. This way, you should be able to find out who their teacher is (most schools don’t share this information before the first day of school, but if it will help your child with the transition, most are pretty good about sharing that info.) If the teacher is at the school, the child can meet them and at the very least, go see their new classroom.
  2. Take pictures of the class, gym, library, halls, sensory room, washrooms, etc. if this is a new school for your child. You can create a social story or comic strips. If you are new to social stories, you can learn about them by clicking on this link. They were developed by Carol Gray and you can visit her website if you want more in-depth information. There are some social stories already created online and a google search should direct you to some.
  3. Read the social stories at home each day or before bed. The more you talk about it, the more comfortable your child should become.
  4. If your child is starting high school, check out this book Middle School: The Stuff Nobody Tells You About – A Teenage Girl with High Functioning Autism Shares Her Experiences by Haley Moss. I originally purchased it from Amazon but it was taking months (which is very unusual). I cancelled that order and went to Chapters online and it came within a few days. It is written for middle school if your child goes to a new school in grade 7, but works just as well for high school. We’ve been reading it every day and it has a ton of great tips for her!
  5. If your child is starting kindergarten and you aren’t already connected with the preschool services in your area, make sure you call them. We are so fortunate to have One Roof in Midland. The direct number to the Community Living Huronia preschool services is 705-527-7022, Ext 327. But One Roof has many many services all under “One Roof”.  If you don’t live in Simcoe County just Google Preschool Services for children with special needs. If you are having a hard time finding services in your area, ask your family doctor. Check out the information on the Ministry of Child and Family Services Special Needs Support. If you still need assistance, shoot me an email and I’ll see what I can find.
  6. Be positive!! Don’t let your fears of past experiences, or the thought of leaving your child with someone new scare you. Your child will sense it! The staff at the school should be well trained and want what is best for their students! They will do everything they can to keep them happy and safe.

Good luck!! This is just another one of the many progresses to come! I’ll post more throughout the year on specific issues that may arise at school and will update this post. If you or your child is struggling with something school related and need some help, send me an email and we can chat!

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Behaviour or Symptoms?

The definition of behaviour in the dictionary is “the way in which one acts or conducts oneself, especially toward others” and “the way in which an animal or person acts in response to a particular situation or stimulus.”

The key phrase that makes “behaviour” so challenging is the part that says ‘especially toward others.’ It makes things so hard for parents, siblings, caregivers, teachers, EAs, peers etc. because we feel that it is directed at us. But imagine being the child or adult who is losing control! No one wants to feel that way.  Nobody wants to feel out of control!

I love the way Jeff Noble from FASD Forever puts it…FASD (or insert diagnosis here) is forever. Frustration is not. He also opens our eyes to the fact that behaviour is a SYMPTOM. Just changing the word BEHAVIOUR TO SYMPTOM will help you be a little more understanding and less frustrated. Because ultimately, that’s what it is! A symptom of being over stimulated, tired, challenged, unable to communicate desires, etc.

There are many reasons why a person acts out either verbally or physically. And it’s not easy. But if you are able to figure out what is causing it, you may be able to prevent it. And remember, as your child grows, they may grow out of it. With your help of course. For others, it may be a lifelong challenge, but hopefully with growth and learning different strategies over the years, it will get somewhat easier.

Here is information on what an ABC chart is.  There are links to an example of one and a blank one for you to document the Antecedent (what happened right before the “behaviour”) Behaviour (what was the behaviour) and Consequence (what happened right after). Documenting allows you to see whether the cause is ESCAPE/AVOIDANCE/ATTENTION SEEKING OR SENSORY.

There are different strategies for different symptoms. It is important to be proactive as much as possible instead of being reactive.

  1. The number one place to start is the ENVIRONMENT. What can you do right now in your home or class to avoid any outbursts. How can you make your place a safe and calming area. Can you get rid of clutter in the room and on the walls, paint your rooms a calming colour, put sharp objects out of sight, make a “calming area” with lights, bean bags, weighted blankets, noise reduction headphones, soft music/sounds, books, fidget toys, etc. For small children a box, tent, or sitting under a table with curtains to close off the world might help. A small room for older kids and adults or even a corner of a room with a divider can be a great place of comfort.
  2. The second thing I like to do with my daughter and my students (no matter how young or old) is INTERVIEW THEM. If they are able to communicate, ask them…What makes you angry?  What makes you happy? What is hard for you? What is easy for you? What do you like? What do you dislike? How can I help you be successful? What kind of activities or treats do you like? What helps to calm you down? I can’t believe how much information I receive! They know what helps them or hurts them! So why try and guess when the best information you can get is right at your fingertips? Knowing that my student just needs 5 minutes to sit quietly or needs to go for a walk to get a drink or even just go to the washroom and put cold water on his face to calm himself down makes the day so much easier than him yelling and hitting and running out of the room. You can gain so many strategies with this information! And you’re teaching your child/student to advocate for themselves. It gets them thinking about what they need. And it shows them that they matter to you. Their thoughts and feelings are important.
  3. Using the answers from your interview or observations, you can develop visuals, choice boards, reward charts, schedules, etc. to use at home and school. Communication (or lack of communication) is one of the main reasons for challenging behaviour. So visuals around the home and school are very important! There are software programs such as Boardmaker that you can purchase (ask your speech pathologist about it) or even just using Google Images. You can get photos of just about anything! Place pictures around your home. Put pictures of food on your fridge so your child can point to what he/she wants. Make a board that says MORE and ALL DONE on it so your child can point to one or the other instead of throwing their finished plate across the room. Use a visual timer to show them how much time they have left for an activity. A time timer is great because it visually shows them with colour, but you can also buy the timers at the dollar store or use an app on your phone. There are so many strategies for every challenge. It’s just a matter of figuring out what works and what doesn’t through trial and error.

If you have specific questions or are in need of help, send me an email! I’ll do my best to guide you in the right direction 🙂

And remember, the calmer you are, the easier to it is to diffuse a situation. Take deep breaths, tell yourself this isn’t personal. This behaviour/symptom is based out of fear, frustration, anxiety, needing attention, etc.

Together we will get through it! xo

 

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Augmentative & Alternate Communication

 

 

First off, I’d like to share a fantastic website! Check this blog out! There is a TON of information on it to browse through!! I’ve gotten many ideas from this resource!

I also like these websites:

Here is a good page to learn what AAC is and what types of systems you can use.

Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital in Toronto is an amazing place! They have speech and language pathologist, Communicative Disorders Assistants and Occupational Therapists that can support your child/student at home and at school.

Currently, my student is using a Tobii EyeGaze and SurfacePro eye gaze system for communication and academics. It has been a slow process but she is making gains all of the time!

There are many devices out there for your child to trial but make sure you document EVERYTHING!! Every comment or word they say so that you can show the AAC team what has happened while they are away. You need this documentation to prove that the device is the right one for your child.

I have researched a ton of information on AAC and it would be way too much to take in all at once so I’m just going to add some resources here for you to check out on your own time. If you have any other questions, don’t hesitate to email me.

Aside from the resources above there is a lot out there on the web.

One particular woman, Dr. Musselwhite has several videos out on YouTube. Check her out here. One important thing I learned from her was to allow my student’s peers to use her device too! Most professionals over the years have taught me that the AAC device belongs to that student only. It is their voice and no one else should use it. But Dr. Musselwhite shares that your child may be more interested and will learn more quickly if their friends are using it too! There is a whole process on peers teaching their friend how to use the device as well. I LOVE this idea!

PrAACticalAAC is another great resource. If you click here it will bring you to not only their blog but a link on that page will also bring you to Dr. Musselwhite’s blog which has AAC girls and more information on Communication Circles.

I’ll be sure to post more information another day, but this is a good start!

Enjoy!

 

 

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Advocating

Advocating can be a challenge! It is a fine line between advocating for your child and being the crazed mom who everyone tries to avoid. I’ve been on both sides of the table as a mom and as an EA. I also understand how frustrating it can be as a mom when you feel like your child’s needs aren’t being met or as an EA when you feel like you are doing everything in your power to help your student succeed and yet it just isn’t good enough. I never ever like to assume things or judge a parent for how they are parenting their children. But I do need to mention that if you are going through the grieving process or if several different teachers and professionals have told you that they feel your child should see a paediatrician, please, please,  please trust that they know what they are talking about and only want what is best for your child. As an educator, we don’t speak to parents about an issue unless we feel very sure and strongly that it will help the student.

That being said, as a parent, we need to make sure that our child’s needs are being met. When we aren’t in the school day in and day out, we have no idea what is going on and we need to trust that the professionals know what they are doing. Communication is key! Here are some suggestions to help you be in the know:

1. Communicate!! Ask questions! Don’t be afraid to discuss any concerns with the EA, teacher, principal, group home worker etc. Having consistency between home and school will benefit your child greatly.

2. Have a communication book or agenda that goes back and forth. But make sure to read and write in it! If your             child is non-verbal, provide the school with a visual schedule that the EA can go over with your child at the end of the day. They can circle or stamp the activities they have done that day.

Better yet, ask the EA if they already have a visual schedule/daily agenda made that they could send home. Many schools have the Boardmaker software that they use in the school already. This also will allow for consistency with the photos between home and school. Click here for more information on Boardmaker.

3. Request a meeting. Before school starts, a month or two after school starts, and again in the spring. And any other time you feel you need to meet in person to discuss issues/concerns that can’t be written in the daily agenda.

Having a meeting before school starts each year allows you to go over any changes the summer may have brought. Strategies that work and strategies that don’t. A lot of growth can happen in just a couple of months. Meeting a month or two into the school year will give you a good idea of how things are going and where they are headed. It is so much easier to deal with situations that arise right from the get go instead of waiting months where the symptoms or behaviour become a habit. Being proactive is much better than being reactive. Make a plan together and follow through with it!

4. Check out this website that has specific issues needing intervention. Lindsay Moir was an incredible advocate who sadly passed away and is greatly missed by his family, friends and special needs community. Scroll down to the bottom and click  ‘View ask Lindsay Archive’

5. Bring in an 8×10 photo of your child to your meeting. Tape it to the chair beside you. Any time they start talking numbers (because let’s face it, it usually comes down to money) just point to the picture.  Remind them that your child isn’t just a number. It may have been Lindsay who suggested this at one of his workshops I attended. It was pretty powerful. (I would only use this strategy if the school board and I had been trying to see eye to eye for some time).

6. BE KIND. Always be kind and thankful. No one purposefully tries to sabotage your child’s learning. No one purposefully tries to be difficult to work with. We are all doing our best. Working as a team is how your child will succeed.

There is so much more information, but this is a start. It is hard to suggest something to you when each one of you will have a different concern. If you have a specific issue that you need help with, send me an email and I’ll see what I can do.

In the meantime, here are some links to help you know some of your rights!

Learning Disabilities Association of Ontario has a Parent’s Guide to the IPRC & IEP process

IEP (Indivual Education Plan) Resource Guide by the Ontario Government

ABC Ontario has an IEP guide for gifted students

Disability and Human Rights Brochure is located here

 

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Anxiety

I’ve had my fair share of helping my kids deal with anxiety. And this isn’t a small fear of the first day of school or performance at a music festival. This is constant worries and fears that get in the way of daily living. It’s real. And affects every single moment of the day sometimes.

Here are my “Top 3” resources that greatly helped our family:

AnxietyBC – This is a website is a small non-profit organization based out of Vancouver, BC that provides self-help resources on anxiety.  It has so so many tips, tricks and strategies that your child, teenager and even adults can benefit from! I cannot say enough good things about this website. It is FULL of fantastic information! The link will direct you to their youth section but if you hover your mouse over the “Self Help” section, you can then go to the parent, child, youth, adult and treatment page. Check every section out because it is amazing!!

Horses Are Magic – This is a farm out in Orr Lake, Ontario where you can go to work with Alla and her horses to help you with grief, anxiety, confidence, etc. Alla was wonderful with my children! She provides a very calm, safe and supportive environment. My children would journal, paint, talk and work with the horses. It is one thing to go to counselling and talk about your feelings and fears, yet your body can still stress physically. Even when your mind seems clear. Working with the horses while receiving counselling works both mind and body together. Check out her website for more information, but if your child is an animal lover (even if they aren’t), this is a great place to be!

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy – A guide for parents and their children written by Dawn Huebner. These books are AMAZING!! There are a few different topics but wow they are all fantastic!! A great visual for facing fears, dealing with OCD, worries, dealing with a bad temper, bad habits, afraid of going to bed, etc. Click on the link above and it will bring you to amazon.ca where you can read the description and reviews. These helped our family TREMENDOUSLY!

I hope these help you like they’ve helped us!! If you need anything else, send me an email at wellbalancedlife@rogers.com and I’ll see what I can do!

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Never Ever Give Up!

Monday night I went to a Celebration of Life for a very good friend of mine. She was 53. Cancer. I know that when people move on, we always hear the great qualities and inspiring stories about them.  But Christine was a true soul in all of her living days! She was honest. Kind. Hilarious. Talented. Positive. Loving. Inspiring. And so much more.

Her celebration of life was actually a concert. This was something I have never experienced before and probably won’t again. Her comedian brother opened up with thick glasses and teeth hanging out of his mouth. His joyful giggle bringing the whole room to light up and laugh along with him. He asked if we could start out the night on the energy that Christine wanted. He asked us to think of a time we spent with Christine with a smile. Most people look up or down when asked to take a moment to remember, he said. But he wanted us to look straight. Look at people’s eyes and hearts because that is where she will always be.

There were 18 musicians on stage playing brass instruments, strings, drums and piano. We heard ballads, upbeat songs and even a funny tongue twister! It was a celebration like no other. Her husband, son and daughter all took the stage.  What was evident to all is that as talented as she was with a voice that could stop a room, she was always an amazing mom, wife, daughter, sister, aunt and friend.

Her daughter also had so many wonderful stories and funny memories to share. And at the end of it all, she said she wished she could have one more day with her. One last hug. One last dance, one last song, one last meal together. We cannot take life for granted. When you think you have it bad, someone else is dealing with something so much harder. Christine was a fighter. And through that, she was still helping others with her foundation Be Brave and Believe. Her motto was “Never Ever Ever Give Up!”

So hug your children tight tonight. Enjoy every moment of every day. Even the hard ones. You will get through it!

xo

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Autism

Websites:

http://www.speakingofspeech.com – This website has many many free visuals! Click on Materials Exchange to access them. There are social stories, cooking recipes, life skills, data sheets, etc. etc.

http://www.autismprthelp.com/books-and-manuals.php – This link will bring you to the Koegel Institute Manuals. They are fantastic!! Pivotal Response Training is probably my favourite way to teach GG. It is all done in her natural environment. Check out the website to learn more. This is what we used to teach her language and I was amazed at how quickly it worked (especially after trying so many other techniques).

http://asperkids.com/– an Ah-mazing woman named Jennifer O’Toole (who was diagnosed with Aspergers, along with her hubby when all 3 of her children got their diagnosis) has put together a webpage, books, and fantastic information all on Asperger Awesomeness!! If you have a daughter with Autism/Aspergers you will love this site too!  It has great information on our girls’ unique characteristics!

http://www.autismontario.com/– This website is for residents of Ontario and from here, you can go directly to your county’s chapter. Here they have information on funding, camps, activities in your area, a list of professionals and ABA providers, etc. We have signed up for their newsletter and have become a member of AO. We receive emails with activities in our area that are either free or at a great price for GG and the family. She attends a Girls On The Spectrum Group (G.O.T.S group) once a month where she hangs out with other girls on the spectrum doing anything from crafts, movies, sewing, bead making, pizza/pj party, wildlife fitness, etc.  We have also attended a weekend camp with other families and it is definitely something to experience. Every single person there is understanding and supportive!

http://www.kerrysplace.org/Public/Supports-and-Services Kerry’s Place was our Saving Grace when GG first got diagnosed. We were new to autism and the symptoms she was showing through us for a loop. A consultant from Kerry’s Place would come to our hometown once a month. We would me with her, discuss our challenges and she would give immediate feedback and suggestions. I don’t know what we would have done without that support!

http://www.abaresources.com – Another free resource site! They have visuals already made for a token board, schedule and choice board, edible reinforcers, chore chart, first/then, visuals for restaurants, places to visit in Toronto, children’s books and much more!

https://www.stanleygreenspan.com/ – Check out the free video for parents. There is a lot of great info. in the free manual and parent course. Dr. Stanley Greenspan created the FLOORTIME METHOD in the 1980’s. I used this with GG and students I work with and it’s worked every time. You basically follow your child’s lead. If your child is spinning or flapping their hands, join in! If she is rocking while watching tv, sit close to her, rock and watch her show. With love and interest. This is how she will let you in.

http://www.zonesofregulation.com/index.html – This is an excellent resource for managing feelings! They have a book that comes with a disc to print out booklets that you and your child can fill out together. We use this at home and the schools use it often as well. Having home and school using the same language makes it much easier for our kids.

http://www.templegrandin.com/templehome.html – If you ever get a chance to hear Temple speak, I suggest you do! She is an inspiration. She has written many books and invented the squeeze machine. There is also a movie about her staring Claire Danes.

http://carlysvoice.com/home/faq/ – Carly Fleischmann is another inspiration! She is non-verbal and uses her computer to communicate. I find the best people to learn from are those who actually live with it!

Books:

Building Bridges Through Sensory Integration by Ellen Yack, Shirley Sutton and Paula Aquilla – This book is full of strategies for sensory issues! It has creative suggestions for muscle tone, hyper/hyposensitivity, eating issues, managing behaviours and so much more.

Relationship Development Intervention  by Steven Gutstein and Rachelle K Sheely – Relationship Development Intervention (RDI) is a technique used to teach relationships. Most interventions including this one suggest using their strategy only but we felt we would read books and go to workshops and take what we learned and what felt right and go with it. So we used Pivotal Response Training (PRT) for speech and toileting and more, RDI for building relationships and the Floortime method for teaching her play skills. The RDI is an intervention where you hire trained therapists and parents get trained as well. We bought the book and took ideas from it. Did it help her the way a full intervention would have? Probably not. But it did help. 

http://www.tasksgalore.com/  –  These books have GREAT ideas for all sorts of skills. Check out their website and go to ‘Products’ then hover over one of the titles and click on ‘Preview’.  You can purchase these books from Parent Books as well.
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