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Collaborating with experts to support schools and deliver professional development, ensuring the success of all students.

Lynn Lyons – Accommodation Plans & Anxiety: What Works & What Doesn’t

Almost every accommodation plan I have ever seen for an anxiety disorder actually makes the anxiety stronger

Student abilities and challenges vary widely and we thus have an important federal statute (Section 504 of the Americans with Disabilities Act) that guarantees all children have equal access to educational opportunities. I do many trainings in Canada and they have a similar process for educational plans that are created through IPP planning. If you’ve ever heard me speak or are familiar with my approach to treating anxiety, what I’m about to say will come as no surprise: Regardless of what we call them, almost every accommodation plan I have ever seen for an anxiety disorder actually makes the anxiety stronger. I’m not exaggerating.

Why? Because schools and parents act in a loving, caring, helpful manner…and seek to provide the student with the comfort and certainty that anxiety feeds upon. Of course concerned adults want to keep anxious kids in school, but when the plan focuses on allowing a child to avoid anxiety-provoking situations, the child never learns the skills necessary to step toward challenges rather than away from them.

Think of it this way: anxious children already know how to get out of things. That’s anxiety’s main coping strategy. If the accommodation plan is based on creating escapes, avoiding challenges and keeping the classroom “safe” (which to anxiety means keeping the environment predictable and comfortable) then adults are actually making the anxiety stronger and more permanent. To manage anxiety in a new way, the child must learn how to stay in the situation and thus respond differently to the thoughts, feeling and sensations that worry and anxiety create.

When creating, updating, or reviewing an accommodation plan for anxiety, keep these
guidelines in mind:

1) All plans for anxiety should be based on teaching the skills of managing anxiety when it arrives, rather than eliminating or avoiding triggers.
2) Plans should have a “weaning off” component that moves the child toward more independence and less accommodation. And in my experience, weaning can happen quickly (weeks) once the skills are in place and everyone is working together.
3) If a plan has been in place for several months or even years with no changes in a positive direction, then the approach to the child’s anxiety disorder should be evaluated.*
4) If a plan allows a child to leave the classroom, there must be a plan for HOW the child will deal with the anxiety and return as soon as possible… and all involved adults must be aware of the plan.
5) A child will benefit greatly from an adult to coach and support her as she moves into anxiety provoking situations. That coach must be familiar with the plan that, in a nutshell, expects anxiety to arrive, externalizes it (steps back from it, talks back to it, reacts differently to it) and experiments with the anxiety by taking steps toward the anxiety rather than away from it.

I heard recently of an accommodation for a high school student with social anxiety. He was not to be called on in class and was exempt from doing presentations in front of his peers. This plan had been in place since seventh grade. This bright 17 year old was now looking ahead to college, but his plan had excused him from learning HOW to feel anxious, manage that process, and take a risk. His anxious behavior had been cemented, not challenged. I wonder how he’ll be able to get through a college course on his own.

Am I asking a lot of schools? Absolutely. I do the same of parents. But I’m only so bossy because anxiety is so treatable and I just can’t stand to watch it take charge! Everywhere I look–websites, books, internet articles, even Pinterest–I see accommodation plans that make anxiety applaud and cheer. “Make sure your anxious child has all the information ahead of time.” “Send a note home a day ahead if there’s
going to be a change in the school routine.” “Warn anxious children of fire drills and allow them to skip noisy assemblies.” “Find a safe place for the child can go until she feels comfortable and ready to return to the classroom.”Hurray! says Anxiety. Boo! says Lynn.

Please trust me when I tell you that such well-meaning and short-term solutions are the opposite of what we need to do for anxious children.

* The school, the parents, and the treating therapist must be working together with the child on the same “step into it” plan. Recommendations from a therapist or parents that accommodate the anxiety are virtually impossible for the school to contradict.

The VT-HEC is pleased to present Lynn Lyons at the Stoweflake Resort in Stowe, VT, on October 10 & 11, 2018: Interrupting the Worry Cycle: Advanced Strategies for Managing Anxious Students (& Parents!)

For more information and registration go to:

VT-HEC Fall Preview: Focus on Special Education

Special Education, Early Childhood, Autism, Reading, Trauma, Behavior

We hope we can help you get the year off to a great start with offerings in key areas of need that focus on gaining practical knowledge and skills as well as applying them in real ways to benefit students.

The VT-HEC began in 2000 as an effort of the VT Department of Education, VSC & UVM.  Our first program was the Pathway to Special Education Endorsement course series that continues to this day and has had over 350 completers. In addition, we have offered a selection of workshops and single courses for all those who work with struggling learners and students with disabilities.

Registration will open August 10th for these Fall offerings:

  1. Trauma & Resilience– There are many introductions out there on the impact of trauma and the strategies that can help but the VT-HEC is developing an array of learning opportunities that will go much further & deeper in supporting the application of the most effective strategies and creating in-school expertise. Working with the Northeast Family Institute (NFI) and experts like Joelle Van Lent & Gillian Boudreau, we are planning a coordinated workshops series and course sequence for 2017-2018 & beyond.  


Trauma-Informed Schools – September 26 & October 23, Rutland, VT:  David Melnick of NFI will kick things off with a two-workshop series that has an extended course option.

Spring 2018 Workshops & Courses: We have three additional offerings in this series for the spring– a Part II course presented by David Melnick, a workshop series & course by Joelle van Lent and Gillian Boudreau focusing on resilience, compassion fatigue and mindfulness and Paul Foxman on anxiety.

  1. Tips & Tools for Early Childhood Special Education, September 29 & October 26; Montpelier.  Judith Mason shares practical tools that will benefit both the newest and your most veteran staff member and give them an opportunity to tailor these tools to their own settings.
  1. Special Education Orientation, October 5 & 6; Montpelier. If you, your principal or your staff members are new to your position or to VT, this session is one you want to mark on your calendar now. Andrea Wasson, accomplished special education administrator and presenter/instructor, surveys the special education rules, process and best practices to help you and your staff get off to a confident start in this complicated field. 
  1. Autism Spectrum Disorder in Young Children, October 12; Patty Prelock, one of the most knowledgeable and distinguished experts in the field, will present this “can’t miss” presentation focusing on the latest research on ASD in younger children. 
  1. Teaching Reading Comprehension to Students Who Require More Explicit Instruction, October 16 & November 13; Montpelier- with Tina Newman, Ph.D; Heather Flynn, Ph.D; and Kimberly Marshall, MA, BCBA. A very practical review of the specialized instruction needed to teach reading to many students with challenging disabilities delivered by three experts in the field – a necessity for every reading interventionist and special educator.
  1. Special Education Law Update – November 2, Montpelier – Art Cernosia is a fount of knowledge and perspective on what is important to pay attention to and what is coming down the road concerning special education & related law, court decisions and regulations. 
  1. Power Struggles: What to do When a Student Says, “Make Me!”, November 8, 2017 Killington, VT – Jon Udis. Jon shares both what not to do and the strategies that work to de-escalate the situation and get students back on track. 
  1. Connecting the Dots: Using Best Practices to Support Infants, Toddlers, and Their Families, Montpelier ~ Four workshop dates (11/3, 2/9, 3/23, 5/3) with a 3-credit course option. Covering topics important to everyone working with young children.
  • Check out our other series including: Early Childhood; Trauma, Resilience & Anxiety; General Education – Proficiency & Personalization
  • Go to for more information & registration.  Watch for the full year VT-HEC calendar


New Spring Event: MTSS Systems Planning w/ Jen Patenaude

MTSS: Getting To Effective & Efficient Daily Implementation

The VT-HEC is announcing a new offering focused on the Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS) titled, MTSS “Ground Level” Systems Planning led by Jen Patenaude.  The new offering is planned for May 2nd & 3rd at the Hampton Inn in Colchester, VT.

This event is being designed to support school teams as they develop plans to improve their MTSS and implement those plans in the coming new school year. Special team rates and an option for additional support over the summer will also be offered.

We are very pleased that Jen Patenaude, one of Vermont’s most popular and expert presenters in the area of special education and MTSS, has agreed to develop this offering specifically to help teams assess their systems and lay out plans to improve their: service delivery model, operation of their Education Support Teams, coordination of services, use of assessment data, scheduling, etc.

Details and flyers will be available soon at – attendance will be limited.

Peg Dawson to Present Revolutionary Executive Skills  Approach & Coaching Strategies

Dr. Dawson  translates cutting-edge research into meaningful, practical, well-organized, and easy-to-implement strategies. This brilliant book is by far the best on the topic that I have read to date.”–Russell A. Barkley, PhD, ABPP, author of Taking Charge of ADHD

Executive skills”–the fundamental habits of mind required for getting organized, staying focused, and controlling impulses and emotions.

They can be the difference between success and satisfaction or failure and frustration in school, job or home-life and these skills have never been more important in each of those settings.

How many of us know kids (& adults) who seem to have the brain power to succeed but are held back by their inability to plan, to organize or follow-through; they may be easily distracted by things in the environment or their own feelings. They never seem to be “on the right page”.  It can be so frustrating, not only for the person themselves but for their teachers, parents, family and peers.

Peg Dawson, co-author of Smart but Scattered, Smart but Scattered Teens and now, Smart but Scattered Guide to Success (for adults), has been working to support educators, kids and families dealing with these issues for over 30 years. She and co-author, Richard Guare, have developed a wealth of strategies that work.

In her presentation on March 18, she will share:

1) how to make environmental modifications to support weak executive skills,

2) how to design protocols for teaching executive skills,

3) how to use incentives effectively to encourage students to engage in the practice necessary for improving executive skills, and

4) the critical features of the coaching method geared to improving school performance through supporting executive skill development from their book, Coaching Students with Executive Skills Deficits.

We are very excited to present one of the foremost experts in the field at the Capitol Plaza, Montpelier, VT on March 18. Whether you want to know how best to support a particular student or how best way to teach these critical skills to all your students, this presentation will meet your needs.




VT-HEC Preview – Building Reading Brains

The Science of Reading: Language, Print and the Brain

The VT-HEC is very excited to be bringing Donna Coch Ed.D from Dartmouth College to Montpelier, VT on December 9 to talk about reading and the brain. In this interactive workshop, we will explore the reading brain from the perspectives of education, psychology, and neuroscience. We will examine scientific evidence related to developing a brain that can read, from visual processing of letters to making meaningful connections to what the reader already knows. As Donna describes the day:

My overarching goal is to help the audience think differently about reading, and I borrow from all kinds of research about reading to tell an evidence-based story that I hope will be both familiar and new – familiar enough to build on a common foundation, and new enough to support deeper reflection on practice. I don’t believe that neuroscience studies can tell teachers what to do in their classrooms, but I do believe that neuroscience studies can provoke teachers to think about what they do in their classrooms, and what their students are doing,  in new ways.

Learning to read is an amazingly complex task that requires the development, interconnection, and coordination of multiple skills and neural systems. A theme throughout the day will be the remarkable plasticity of the human brain: educators and students together are literally building brains that can read. We will also consider children who are struggling to develop these skills and systems.

Donna Coch, EdD, is an Associate Professor in the Education Department at Dartmouth College. In her research, she uses a noninvasive brain wave recording technique, in combination with standardized behavioral measures, to explore both what happens in the brain as children learn how to read and how the fluently reading brain works. She teaches classes on the reading brain and atypical developmental pathways. A goal of both her research and her teaching is to make meaningful connections among mind, brain and education.

If you are involved in teaching literacy from pre-k through grade 5, are parents  of young or elementary-aged children or working with students who are struggling to master literacy skills, you won’t want to miss this informative and exciting learning opportunity.

For more information and to register go to:

VT-HEC Preview – Teresa Bolick, to Speak on ASD & Co-existing Disorders

A Remarkable Number of Individuals with ASD are Diagnosed with Other Disorders 

There are two things that just about every educator and parent knows about Autism.  The first is that the numbers are still increasing; over 1000 qualify under Vermont special education rules, up from 250 in 2000.  The second thing is that every person on the autism spectrum is very different. To emphasize that complexity is perhaps the lesser known fact that a remarkable number of individuals with ASD have been diagnosed with other disorders as well. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety, and depression are more commonly diagnosed in individuals with ASD than in the general population. Other individuals with ASD show cognitive or social/emotional differences that do not meet full criteria for separate diagnoses but add significantly to their complexity.

We are fortunate to have Teresa Boick Phd coming to Montpelier, VT on December 4th to shed some light on this challenge. In her workshop Dr. Bolick will describe the co-existence of ASD and other disorders as well as challenges that may not be recognized as separate diagnoses (such as anxiety or inefficient executive functions).  Teresa will focus upon practical assessment and intervention strategies for school, home, and community helping participants to:

  • Identify and describe the co-existing conditions that are most common in children and adolescents with diagnoses of autism spectrum disorders;
  • Describe a systematic approach to understanding the cognitive, emotional, social, and behavioral challenges of individuals with co-existing disorders;
  • Identify evidence-based educational, psychosocial, and behavioral interventions for co-existing challenges.


Dr. Bolick is a licensed psychologist and board certified behavior analyst with a special focus on autism spectrum disorders. She has provided evaluation and treatment to children, adolescents, and their families for many years. An enthusiastic speaker, Dr. Bolick presents workshops for parents, paraprofessionals, and professionals across North America. In addition, she  teaches in the Rivier University graduate program for ASD and in the NH LEND program. Dr. Bolick is the author of Asperger Syndrome and Adolescence: Helping Preteens and Teens Get Ready for the Real World and Asperger Syndrome and Young Children: Building Skills for the Real World as well as numerous articles and book chapters.

For more information on this exciting learning opportunity see:


Using Technology to Support Struggling Learners

VT-HEC Announces New Learning Opportunities

The number of applications and computer programs that address specific learning issues and target particular skills has exploded over the past few years.  These new learning tools have greatly increased the options for helping struggling learners practice and apply the specific skills that they need and to become more independent and effective learners. There are so many choices and the quality of programs ranges so dramatically, however, that it can be very challenging to find the best programs and to know how to use them in an effective manner.

In the coming months the VT Higher Education Collaborative will be offering exciting new opportunities to explore the use of these new learning tools to support students with various learning challenges, from mild organizational issues to significant disabilities such as Autism.  These workshops are part of the VT-HEC’s continuing focus on helping to ensure that students who have barriers to their learning receive the most effective and appropriate learning opportunities and supports.

First, is a 2-part workshop series focused on how technology can be used with students who have a wide variety of challenges to their learning. Chris CichoskiKelly will explore this topic in depth and give participants time to address the needs of their own students. Chris will share a process to help choose which technology learning tool to try and how to collect the right data to evaluate its impact on student learning. Chris will also share his knowledge of effective programs to support students in reading, writing, note taking and others areas. Participants will have the opportunity to try out programs with students between the two workshops and receive direct feedback and support from Chris. This will be a great opportunity to get practical support in using technology to address learning challenges from an accomplished expert in the field.

Next, is a workshop that will focus on using tablets (Ipads, Ipods, etc.) when working with students who have Learning Disabilities (LD), Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) or other moderate to severe developmental disabilities. Kathryn Whitaker will be leading the morning session targeted on helping students with Learning Disabilities to practice and learn new skills and become more independent learners.  In the afternoon, Kathryn will focus on ASD and other developmental disabilities. She will show how tablets can be used in areas such as scheduling and self-management.  Kathryn will also share how tablets can be used for increasing learning for students who are more concrete learners. Kathryn serves as consultant and trainer for children with autism spectrum and other neuro-developmental disorders in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. She is also a trainer for Structured Teaching as well as being an instructor and presenter for the VT-HEC.

To find out more about these exciting learning opportunities see:  and


ASAP: VT-HEC’s Comprehensive Training Program on Autism Spectrum Disorders

ASAP  – Approaching the Solution to the Autism Puzzle

The Vermont Interagency White Paper on Autism Spectrum Disorders of 2006 confirmed what all school districts in Vermont have been experiencing: a dramatic increase in students with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) over an extended period of time.  Among the things the White Paper identified as being critical to address this growth was a significant increase in professional development to expand the capacity of case managers and staff to meet the needs of these students. Unfortunately, research has shown that most inservice training never results in the new skills and knowledge being consistently applied to benefit students.

VT-HEC’s new program, ASAP, aims to change that by developing a sustained, comprehensive and coordinated professional learning program on ASD that includes graduate courses, embedded professional development and workshop series that provide multiple year-round options for effective professional learning on ASD.  ASAP graduate courses can lead to VT-HEC’s Autism Specialist Certificate and include two courses to be offered this spring, ABA I starting in January, and ASD: Issues in Assessment & Intervention taught by the distinguished Dr. Particia Prelock of UVM. (If you have not taken a course from Patty you are missing a great opportunity to learn from an extremely knowledgeable and accomplished educator)

To help ensure professional development actually results in changes for students ASAP is providing a coordinated program of sustained and embedded inter-disciplinary professional development and supports for schools working with children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. The ASAP team of experts takes the best interventions and assessments from multiple perspectives and delivers training and coaching to the school team to help them work together to apply the new skills to the students they are working with. Ultimately, it is the goal that these local school teams will be able to act as supports for other members of their school community in addressing the needs of all their students with ASD. ASAP has been piloting this program in Barre City and is now ready to accept new school districts in the program.

To compliment this work, the ASAP program is also offering a series of three workshops this spring focused on increasing learning opportunities for young children with ASD as well as a special workshop focusing on using iPads with students with ASD.  Chris Knippenberg, OT, will be the lead presenter for the series of workshops that will have participants actively engaged in developing the kind of appropriate tasks and materials for pre-school and early elementary-aged students with ASD that will result in increasing their engagement, independence and learning.

Kathryn Whitaker will be leading the workshop that will show how iPads can be used effectively and creatively for students with SLD in a morning session and ASD in the afternoon.   To find out more about these exciting learning opportunities see:  and

If you are particularly interested in how technology can be used with students who have challenges to their learning, the VT-HEC is offering another interesting option: two workshops with Chris CichoskiKelly that will explore this topic in depth and give you the opportunity to try out programs with students in between the two workshops

For more information on ASAP and VT-HEC’s other related offerings contact Joy Wilcox, ASAP Coordinator  ([email protected])


Early Childhood Education: An Economist’s View

Is High Quality Early Education a Good Investment?

We have often heard educators say that it pays to invest in early childhood development, but what would an economist say about  early childhood education as a public investment? In his article, “The Economics of Inequality”, economist James Heckman explores that question, not just from the moral equal opportunity viewpoint, but also from the perspective of investment return and the factors that will be most effective in increasing the productivity of the American economy. (more…)

Helping Students on the Autism Spectrum Meet Common Core ELA Standards

Struggling Learners: Helping Students on the Autism Spectrum Meet Common Core ELA Standards

This is a summary of an article which explores the challenges that students, who may be quite bright but are on the autism spectrum, may have meeting the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts. The authors believe this process will go more smoothly if educators and parents have a good understanding of three important psychological theories and develop classroom strategies to support students with these deficits.  The theories covered here are: Theory of Mind, Central Coherence and Executive Function. (more…)