Elementary School Ages (5-12)




The elementary schools years involve huge changes in all areas of development, particularly physical, cognitive, social-emotional, and language. Demands with school, friends, and at home can be challenging, but this can also be an exciting time. Here are some “snapshots” of each age range to help you focus on the significant changes during each period.

5 year olds:
  • Hand preference established
  • Able to grasp a pencil like an adult and able to color between the lines
  • Speaks fluently. Able to use plurals, pronouns and tenses
  • Able to distinguish right from wrong, honest from dishonest
  • Enjoys playing with others. Will play make believe and dress up
6-7 year olds:
  • Starting to understand how to approach a problem and consider options-beginnings of basic independent problem solving
  • HUGE cognitive change, but still continue to prefer structured activities and require consistent direction from adults
8-9 year olds:
  • Writing in full sentences and starting to write paragraphs
  • Increasing attention (hour) with preferred activities
  • Peer influence is starting to have a big role in relationships and children develop long-lasting friendships
9-10 year olds:
  • Feelings of uncertainty may result due to big changes in the child’s body
  • Different points of view begin to develop
  • Spending time with friends becomes a priority

Physical Development:

Children enjoy many activities at this age and like to keep busy with activities such as jumping rope, riding a bike and practicing their skills to become better at them. They use physical activities to develop gross and fine motor skills. Their motor skills become more integrated and coordinated during this period. School aged children grow at a slow and steady pace, typically 3-4 inches each year.

Some physical milestones include:

5 year olds:
  • Walk upstairs holding an object
  • Walk backward heel to toe
  • Skip
  • Jump forward many times in a row
  • Throws while stepping forward with same leg as throwing arm
  • Catches small ball using hands only
  • Cuts on line continuously
  • Copies triangle and can draw basic pictures
  • Colors in the lines
  • Pastes items
6-7 year olds:
  • May lose first tooth
  • Run on toes
  • Walk on a balance beam
  • Jump rope
  • Throw and catch a small ball
  • Forms most letters and numbers correctly
  • Writes consistently on the line
  • Ties shoelaces
  • Builds with Lego, K’nex, and other interlocking blocks
8-9 year olds:
  • Jump, skip, chase
  • Dress and groom self completely
  • Graceful with movements
  • Can use simple tools (screwdriver)
  • Can maintain legibility of handwriting for entire story
10-12 year olds:
  • Remainder of adult teeth develop
  • Increased appetite and need for sleep
  • Might complain of growing pains or muscle cramps
  • Might enjoy sewing, painting or other more complex activities due to increased coordination and strength
  • Are developing body proportions similar to those of an adult
  • May begin puberty–evident sexual development, voice changes, oily skin, weight gain, and increased body odor are common

Cognitive Development:

5- 6 year olds:
  • Vocabulary increases to about 2,000 words
  • Beginning to reason and argue. Knows and uses words “why” and “because”
  • Understands concept of past, present and future
  • Able to copy shapes
  • Able to compose sentences with 5 or more words
  • Beginning to read short stories
  • Able to sit and follow the teacher’s instructions to complete simple tasks
7- 8 year olds:
  • Increased attention span
  • Enjoys reading independently
  • Math skills include telling time, understands money, fractions and concept of space
  • Willing to take on more responsibility such as chores
  • 8-9 year olds:
  • Seeking reasons behind situations and asking questions about it
  • Start planning ahead
  • May create a drawing of something to build or create
  • Can sit and pay attention to something of interest for 45-60 minutes
  • Start collecting things
10-12 year olds:
  • Increased ability to learn and apply skills
  • Evidence of the beginning abstract thinking, but will revert to concrete thinking under stress
  • Abstract thinking developing, but inferring, or assuming, a motive or reasoning hypothetically can still be difficult
  • Extend way of thinking beyond personal experiences and knowledge and move beyond absolute black-white/right-wrong perspectives; can argue more than just one side of an issue
  • Develop a better sense of responsibility; look out for younger siblings and help out around the house
  • Begin to use social media, friends, and news to gain information and form opinions
  • Start predicting consequences of an action, sequence of actions
  • Answer “who”, “what”, “where”, and “when” questions, but may still have difficulty with “why?”

Social Emotional Development
(Social Emotional Learning/ SEL)

5 year olds:
  • Focus on pleasing friends
  • Wants to be like their friends
  • Enjoys dancing, singing, acting activities
  • Can distinguish fantasy from reality
  • Can switch between demanding and cooperative behaviors
  • Sexual awareness starts to emerge
6-7 year olds:
  • May form and break friendships easily and be critical of other children
  • Feelings become hurt easily
  • Start to gain good sportsmanship behaviors and can win and lose graciously
  • Eager to please, want to win, want to be first
  • Start to be aware of other people’s feelings
    Can identify right from wrong and can try to find loopholes in the rules to get what they want
8-9 year olds:
  • Change between being helpful and upbeat to being selfish and rude
  • Enjoy being part of a team, group, club
  • Spend more time with peers
  • Emotions can be dramatic with feelings that everyone is against them (but then return back to normal self)
  • Start seeing things from others’ point of view
  • Moments of intense insecurity and need strong encouragement from parents and caregivers
10-12 year olds:
  • Increased ability and desire to interact with peers
  • Increased ability to engage in competition
  • Uncertain about puberty and changes to body
  • Has strong group identity and increasingly defines self through peers
  • Developing and testing values and beliefs that will guide current and future behaviors
  • May demonstrate insecurity, mood swings, and struggle with self-esteem (typically more pronounced with girls)
  • Acquiring a sense of accomplishment based upon the achievement of greater physical abilities/strength and self-control
  • Defines self-concept in part by success in school
  • Form stronger and more complex friendships
  • May face strong peer pressure and find it hard to resist if they struggle with self-esteem
  • May have a first crush or pretend to have crushes to fit in with peers
    Self-regulation is the ability to manage one’s emotions and impulses in regards to achieving a goal. These abilities take time to develop. Children will model self-regulation behaviors that they observe, so being a strong role model will help support their development. Strategies include:
  • Establish family rules that are clear and simple in providing clear expectations (ex: sitting at the table, no hitting sibling, using inside voice) using visual aids if necessary
  • Respect and listen to your child. Encouraging your child to express their feelings (“Are you feeling sad?”) and validating your child’s concerns and emotions. (“Wow, I see your feelings are really hurt when you couldn’t play with your friend.”)
  • Reward flexibility and self-control.
  • Use positive and proactive language to encourage good behavior rather than pointing out bad behaviors. Tell them what you want them do. (“Mom and Dad are having guests over tonight. When the adults are talking remember to sit quietly”, instead of “Don’t interrupt us.”)
  • Praise your child when he or she is consistently do something correct (“It is so helpful when you put your toys away after you are done playing”)
  • Complimenting your child when he or she has a personal achievement (“I’m so proud of you for finishing your homework!”)
  • Allow for times and places for your child to choose and do activities independently.

Speech and Language Development:

Speech and language development involves consistent exposure to speech and language of others along with rich opportunities for engagement in a variety of sounds and sights. Although development of speech and language skills in children varies, language skills continue to progress throughout childhood. Speech disorders can range from a child having difficulty producing speech sounds correctly, hesitating or stuttering when talking, to difficulty putting sounds and syllables together in the correct order to form words. Language disorders include delays in beginning to talk until ages three or four, or difficulties understanding what others say (receptive language), or expressing their thoughts (expressive language). If you suspect your child has a speech or language disability talk to your child’s teacher to have an evaluation completed at school. Below are some speech and language milestones.

Age 5- 6:
  • Basic knowledge of alphabet, counting, colors, and shapes
  • Awareness of letters and their corresponding sounds, recognizes rhyming words
  • Asks factual questions
  • Uses preposition “above”
  • Can follow 3 step directions
  • Listens and understands grade level stories that are read aloud
  • Understands and follows simple conversations
Age 6 -7:
  • Beginning to master exceptions to grammatical rules
  • Begins to use and understand passive sentences
  • Asks/answers factual and inferential questions
  • Gives directions
  • Listening skills include recalling information and responding to instruction
  • Able to create rhyming words
  • Reads about 100 sight words
Ages 8 -9:
  • Grammar knowledge is complete
  • Skills should be good enough to read and write to learn new information
  • Uses clear and specific vocabulary in conversations and discussions
  • Explains what has been learned
  • Able to categorize and give synonyms in word definitions
  • Increase use of figurative speech (“Don’t let the cat out of the bag.” Are you pulling my leg?”)
  • Able to listen attentively in groups
  • Follows 4 step directions
  • Understands directional words
  • Uses word analysis when reading
  • Able to compare and contrast in reading
  • Able to read 300 sight words
Ages 9 -10:
  • Summarizes and restates ideas
  • Organizes information for clarity
  • Gives effective oral presentations
  • Can explain relationships between meanings of multiple meaning words
  • Uses more abstract and specific vocabulary and grammar
  • Able to write complex sentences
  • Understands jokes and riddles based on sound similarities (Why did Johnny throw the clock out the window? He wanted to see time fly.)
  • Able to read grade level books fluently
  • Able to take notes
  •  Uses previously learned information to understand new information
  • Reads 12- to 150 words per minute
Age 10 -11:
  • Able to listen and draw conclusions in subject area
  • Listens for specific purposes
  • Forms opinions based on evidence
  • Able to understand jokes and riddles based on word ambiguity. (For example, “”Why didn’t the girl trust the ocean? There was something fishy about it.
  • Able to understand common idioms… (Don’t be a couch potato!” “Chill out.” “Cost an arm and a leg”
  • Able to summarize main points
  • Can explain relationships between meanings of multiple meaning words
  •  Organizes information for clarity
  •  Can give accurate directions to others
  • Uses more abstract and specific vocabulary and grammar


Community Inclusion:

There’s more to inclusion than at school! Community inclusion can be at:

  • Religious organizations
  • Recreational activities
  • Arts and cultural venues
  • Political meetings and events
  • Community education programs
  • Community clubs such as scouts, theatre or performance groups, boys and girls clubs

Some points to consider when focusing on inclusion for your child:

  • Is my child interested in the program or event being offered?
  • Can my child participate in the activity at a level that is meaningful?
  • Can my child follow rules, verbal instructions required for the activity with or without support from you?
  • Can my child engage in the activity without behaviors interrupting the activity for others?
  • Can my child tolerate the intensity, length of time, or environmental elements of the activity? (ex: heat, focus, stamina, sensory)

Remember though the laws for community inclusion are through the American Disability Act, accommodations are more about accessibility. Businesses and community centers are not required to provide individualized accommodations as required by law in public schools. To learn more about ADA Click Here

Preparing for Independent Living:

A good method for teaching children any skills is the “I do, We do, You do” strategy. This method helps children to learn the skill and supports children before expecting them to do a task independently.

  • I Do – Show the child how to do the task. Talk about what you are doing as you are doing it and what you are thinking as you go through. The thinking part may include what is on the checklist to do the task completely. (For instance for putting up clothes… I want to hang the shirt on the hanger so it doesn’t wrinkle or fall off the hanger. I have to button a few of the buttons, make sure the neck of the shirt is centered and the shoulder seams are straight.)
  • We Do – Have the child do the task with you. Talk about the steps as the two of you are doing the task. Gradually reduce how much you are telling the child to do until it is done independently. At the end, review or talk about the criteria again. (OK, let’s see, did we hang the shirt neatly? Is the neck centered? Are the shoulder seams straight on the hanger? Did we button a few of the buttons so it doesn’t fall off the hanger? Did I hang the shirt in the closet so that it looks neat?
  • You Do – Have the child complete the task by themselves. Then check it immediately afterwards by reviewing the criteria. If necessary go back to We Do if a step was missed or not done to the set criteria.

After the child is successful a few times, they are ready to do the task on their own. But, they may still need reminders as to when the task needs to be done (“When the dryer buzzer chimes please help with hanging the clothes on hangers.”) and have the criteria checked for accuracy.

Building job skills – (pre-vocational skills)
During the elementary school years, the basic skills needed to maintain employment are being developed. These skills include staying on task, using time wisely, organizational skills, communication skills, and personal values and ethics.

Focus on the task at hand, follow directions to begin and complete tasks:
Young children may not necessarily know how to do what we as adults consider simple steps. Often we tell young children, go clean your room; but we don’t set the expectations of what is a clean room nor do we show them how to clean a room. Demonstrating while verbally walking through all of the steps of doing a specific task will help a child learn how to do specific tasks. Think about the lesson of writing down the directions for making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. If we neglect a step such as taking out two slices of bread from the bread wrapper, we may end up with peanut butter and jelly spread on the bread package rather than on the bread.

Use time wisely:
Using calendars and picture schedules help teach children when activities will be happening. Have a set time for specific activities like homework or story time/reading-time. Other ways of teaching how to use time effectively is to play games or set time-limits on completing specific tasks. For example, “let’s spend 15 minutes together reading a book” or “let’s see if you can put the toys in the toy-box neatly within 10 minutes.”

Screen time includes television, gaming consoles, computer use, internet use, and telephone use. When used thoughtfully these media technologies can enhance our lives, but when overused or used inappropriately it can be detrimental to learning skills needed to interact face to face with others. Excessive media use can decrease participation in fitness activities and can interrupt sleep. The American Academy of Pediatricians’ recommends families to develop healthy media use. One suggestion is develop a “media use plan” either in the form of a contract or by calculating media time use based on other responsibilities.

Click Here to create your own online media plan in English or Click Here for Spanish. This media-use plan can help children of all ages see how their time is actually being used. As the child moves into the upper grades, begin using the calendar and day-timers to help organize and plan projects that have to be done over a longer period of time, such as a science fair project. Guide your child into thinking of the steps needed to complete the project and then setting aside a time each day to do each step along with his/her other activities. Make note of the schedule in the day timer. This way the child can learn to schedule priorities and see how much time every activity they want to do actually takes.

Organizational Skills:

Organization is key to using time wisely. Much time can be wasted when trying to locate what is needed to do the task.

  • Have a specific location for toys, backpacks, shoes so that the child knows where to put things when finished using them.
  • Designate a specific area in the home for homework. Keep pencils, crayons, rulers and other tools for homework in one place.
  • Review assignments first then get necessary tools to do the assignment.
  • Have a folder system for keeping homework and other paperwork that needs to be returned to school the next day.

Communication skills are always ranked high as employment skills. During the elementary school years children can begin

  • interact with peers effectively –
    • taking turns
    • expressing feelings appropriately
    • understanding others feelings
    • helping others
    • being kind to others
    • listening
    • conversation skills
  • interact with adults appropriately
    • listening
    • knowing when not to interrupt
    • showing respect

Strategies to promote effective pre-vocational skills:

  • Learning about Jobs and Working
    • Set an example of high work values such as getting to work on time, following the schedule, showing respect and speaking kindly, completing job assignments.
    • Share home responsibilities by having children do chores. Keeping a chore chart or weekly calendar in a visible location helps to remind everyone of their responsibilities and when they need to be done
    • Provide opportunities for children to do extra work at home beyond their chores to earn money.
    • If possible take your child to work with you or show them where you work and what you do.
    • Take your child with you when you volunteer. Encourage your child to volunteer.
    • Read books, articles, and watch movies or TV shows about people who learned and demonstrate high work values. After reading or watching the show discuss with your child the highlights, what impressed you, ask your child what they saw the person doing and how it affected the person’s life.
    • During the upper elementary grades begin to discuss real life dilemmas that the child can relate to. Begin teaching problem solving skills by identifying what exactly is the issue, what can personally be done to improve the situation, what steps are needed, and when will to do them.
    • Have the child look at things from different perspectives. Have children discuss their viewpoint and listen to the viewpoint of others. Children will learn to understand other people’s feelings and not to make assumptions or be judgmental.
    • Wherever you go with your child, explore what jobs are there, not only the visible jobs but the behind the scene jobs. Think about all the jobs at a grocery store. It’s not only the cashiers, stockers and baggers. There’s the baker, butcher, florist, the different buyers for each department, comptroller, mechanics, custodial, managers for each department, truck drivers, personal shoppers, to name a few.
    • Praise and boost confidence, but also teach that failure helps to encourage improvement, evaluate what was done right, what can be done differently, and how to reach for goals.

Questions to ask myself about Community Inclusion:

  • Is there a place in the home set aside for the child to do homework and other learning activities? Does this place take into consideration the child’s sensory needs?
  • Does the child have a daily, or weekly schedule? Is time set aside for chores, homework, and playtime?
  • Am I modelling for my child how to be organized, schedule tasks and set priorities?
  • Is the child starting to learn to do things to help with the upkeep of the home?
  • Are adaptations needed in the home to allow the child to do things as independently as possible?
  • Is the child learning ways to communicate their thoughts, ideas, and needs to others?
  • Does the child know when it’s okay or appropriate to talk or what to say?
  • Is the child learning about different jobs from family, teachers and others?
  • Is the child participating in community activities that the child prefers and enjoys?
  • Is there a neighborhood carpool to join to allow for new connections?

Social and Family Life:


Safety is one of the biggest worries a parent has for their child. Safety is not only about protecting your personal well-being but also about protecting your personal information.

Be aware of what your child watches and reads. Because of exploitation of people with disabilities, it is important to teach personal safety, personal boundaries, when to say no, and knowing consequences of actions in all situations, including when on the internet.

Safe Online Surfing Website The FBI-SOS program is a nationwide initiative designed to educate children in 3rd to 8th grades about the dangers they face on the internet and to help prevent crimes against children. It promotes cyber citizenship among students by engaging them in a fun, age-appropriate, competitive online program where they learn how to safely and responsibly use the Internet. The program emphasizes the importance of cyber safety topics such as password security, smart surfing habits, and the safeguarding of personal information. FBI-SOS includes a national competition for schools (registration required), but the website can also be used by parents and their children. For more information, visit the Safe Online Surfing (SOS) website.


Bullying is a behavior done on purpose, in a repeated manner, by someone seeking to harm, intimidate, or coerce someone into doing something. There are three types of bullying, verbally bullying, social bullying, and physical bullying. Verbal bullying is saying or writing mean things such as name calling, teasing, or threatening personal harm. Social bullying is intentionally hurting someone’s reputation or relationships. It includes leaving someone out intentionally, spreading rumors, pressuring other children not to be friends with someone. Physical bullying includes hurting a person or destruction of their possessions. Bullying can happen anywhere, during and after school, on the playground, in the neighborhood, at community activities, and on the internet.

Some of the signs a child may be being bullied:

  • Unexplained injuries,
  • Lost or destroyed personal belongings
  • Feeling sick or faking illnesses frequently

Children with special needs, especially those with visible disabilities such as Tourette’s Syndrome, epilepsy, or cerebral palsy, are at risk for bullying as they might be perceived as vulnerable or have different characteristics than others. Stopbullying.gov provides strategies to help your child.

Personal Safety:

Pedestrian safety:

Each year, an alarming number of pedestrians under the age of 14 are severely injured or killed in pedestrian hit by car incidents. A study at the University of Miami found that over 70% of pedestrian incidents with children between the ages of 5 and 13 years of age happened near elementary schools. University of Miami has created a program to help children learn pedestrian safety called WalkSafe. The program provides resources for parents. Click Here

Because elementary age children are very active and often impulsive, they still need guidance and supervision when playing and walking near traffic. Walking to school is great exercise, but children under 10 years old should be accompanied by an adult or with someone who will make sure they walk safely. If you’re walking:

  • Use the sidewalk whenever possible, and if there isn’t a sidewalk, walk on the edge of the street facing traffic.
  • Whenever available, use marked crosswalks to cross the street, and look left-right-left for vehicles or bikes before crossing.
  • Never play, push or shove others when you walk around traffic.
  • Watch the road, not your phone.

Walking Safety Tips from US Dept of Transportation

Bicycle Safety:

Children (5-14 years) and adolescents (15-19 years) have the highest rates of nonfatal bicycle-related injuries, accounting for more than one-third of all bicycle-related injuries seen in U.S. emergency departments. Click Here for a flier on bike safety.

Be sure to do these simple things to keep your bike ride safe:

  • In Florida, all bicycle riders and passengers under age 16 are required to wear a helmet. Always wear a correctly fitted helmet, and securely fasten the chin strap. Do you know how to make sure a bike helmet fits?

Be sure to do these simple things to keep your bike ride safe:

  • Ride in the same direction as traffic and follow traffic signs and signals.
  • Stay in the bike lane whenever possible.
  • Never use electronics while riding – they are distracting.

Sexual abuse:

The rate of sexual abuse is extremely high for people with developmental disabilities. In 2006 the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect reported that children with disabilities were sexually abused 2.2 times higher than children without disabilities. The rates are even higher for adults with developmental disabilities, up to 83% of females and 32% of males are sexually abused. Sadly only 3% of their attackers are convicted.
So, what can parents do? Educate your child about sex and teach them the correct language for their body parts. “The subject of sexuality can be daunting. Add to the mix a physical or cognitive disability and you may find yourself feeling totally unprepared to deal with the subject matter.” (DiAnn L Baxley and Anna L Zendell, Sexuality Across the Lifespan, Revised 2011). Regardless of the level of cognitive functioning, all children need to learn about sex and sexuality. It can save a child from embarrassment and exploitation.

Be sure your child understands personal boundaries and knows when to say no. The Florida Developmental Disabilities Council’s (FDDC) book “Sexuality across the Lifespan for Children and Adolescents with Developmental Disabilities” provides specific topics to address at different ages. It also provides a resources for parents/caregivers and for educators. Click Here to order this free document: Sexuality across the Lifespan for Children and Adolescents with Developmental Disabilities – An instructional guide for Parents/Caregivers of individuals with developmental disabilities. To download the 2011 English version Click Here. To download the Spanish version Click Here. To order the English version online Click Here.

Be aware of sexual predators and offenders in your neighborhood by using the Florida Dept. of Law Enforcement website. Click Here for the website

Legal and Financial:

Life Planning

What will happen when a parent is unable to care for their child?
Do you have a plan for when life emergencies happen?

Things to consider:

  • Identify a surrogate or guardian that will take care of your child. This will need to be a legal document that both you and the selected party sign with notary or attorney.
  • Health care and mental health advance directives for you and your child will allow for you to designate a person to make medical decisions and mental health care if you are unable to make them yourself. Click Here for forms.
  • Write down the important characteristics of your child such as typical daily schedule, medical care, favorite and disliked foods, physical ability, friends, school info, favorite places to go
  • Write down the core values you wish your child to grow up learning. You may even wish to include a description of yourself and what you would want to say to your child as they grow up should you pass away before your child is able to know you as a person.
  • Prepare with your attorney the Last Will and Testament for each living parent.
  • Determine costs for care and set up a Special Needs Trust

Florida Developmental Council Planning Ahead is a handbook for parents, family members and guardians of adults with developmental disabilities to help families identify factors and plan for the future of a surviving family member with a disability.

Also available for download are writable PDF for editing without guiding questions, or select a link below to download individual fillable sections with guiding questions.

Government Benefits:

Your child may be eligible for Social Security Benefits or services through Agency for Persons with Disabilities (APD). Click Here for more information on Government Benefits. The funds through these government agencies are provided to help with the costs of medical bills, therapies, and living expenses for the person with the disability so that they may remain in the community and avoid placement in an institution. There are even ways to save some of the Social Security benefits allocated to your child for future expenses.

Saving for College:

Saving for college should start early when the child is young so that the savings can grow by what you allocate and the interest earned. Your retirement savings is not a college fund for your child! There are many ways to save money for college. There are 529 savings accounts, Florida prepaid, and Uniform Gift to Minors Act (UGMA) or Uniform Transfer to Minors Act (UTMA). Talking to the professionals at your bank or financial advisors can help you in making the right choice. If your child has a developmental disability, don’t think that they cannot go to college. Many colleges are starting inclusive programs for people with intellectual disabilities to provide lifelong learning. (Link to Post-secondary Education).
The Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act of 2014 established what is now known as ABLE Accounts. Click Here for more information on ABLE Accounts. These tax-advantaged savings accounts are for individuals with disabilities and their families only.

ABLE Accounts have the potential to significantly increase the independence and quality of life of individuals with disabilities without jeopardizing much-needed benefits such as Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). “ABLE accounts are a down payment on freedom for millions of individuals with disabilities and their families” – Chris Rodriguez, Director of the ABLE National Resource Center.

What are ABLE Accounts?

Questions to Ask Myself About Social and Family Life

  • Am I helping my child learn about stranger danger?
  • Do we have a “password” to protect against stranger danger?
  • Does my child understand traffic safety when walking or riding a bicycle?
  • Does my child know how to swim?
  • Have I taken extra precautions when my child is around swimming areas – pools, lakes, beaches or when boating?
  • Are potentially harmful household products, tools, equipment, and firearms out of your child’s reach?
  • Are we registered with emergency responders as having a person with a disability in the home?
  • If the child has a developmental disability, has the application for MedWaiver Services been submitted?
  • Have I investigated the option of applying for SSI/SSDI for my child?
  • Do I have savings accounts set up for my child’s future? College savings? ABLE Trust? Other Trust accounts?
  • Have I selected a person to become guardian of my child should I become incapacitated or die?
  • Have I taken all of the necessary steps to make sure my child is taken care of if something should happen to me that I am unable to care for my child?

Healthy Living:


Outdoor play is essential for all children. School aged children need physical activity to build their motor skills. Children benefit from 60 minutes (1 hour) or more of physical activity each day. Click Here for the CDC guidelines on physical activity for children.

Benefits of outdoor play include:

  • Physical fitness-child will be more fit and lean
  • Stronger immune systems
  • Lower stress levels
  • Creative play for development
  • Increases imagination and creativity
  • Improves balance and motor skills
  • Improves visual skills
  • Provides vitamin D

Do You Know The Benefits Of These Sport Activities?

  • Martial Arts: coordination, balance, confidence/self-esteem, self-discipline, attention, following directions, executive functions
  • Swimming: strength, cardio-vascular, endurance, relaxation for tight muscles, relief from gravity, reduced sensory environment, respiratory and circulation benefits, attention, self-regulation, can be adapted for various disabilities
  • Boccia: Can be done from a wheelchair, attention, hand eye-coordination, range of motion, strategy
  • Handcycling: endurance, cardio-vascular, strength, attention, strategy, spatial awareness
  • Golf: hand-eye coordination, balance, attention, range of motion, self-control, can be adapted for various disabilities
  • Dance: improved confidence/self-esteem, ability to express emotions, stress relief, physical fitness/exercise, motor skill development/timing, encourages creativity, benefits of music, range of motion and mobility, can be done from a wheelchair, body awareness, balance
  • Gymnastics: builds strength, attention and focus, social opportunities, body awareness, perseverance/determination, balance

Sports provide wonderful opportunities and benefits for children and their families, particularly related to physical, social-emotional, and cognitive development. Sports provide opportunities for socialization, competition, and positive brain-body experiences that facilitate development through rich and meaningful experiences. They often also involve the outdoors, which adds additional benefits.

Palm Beach County Parks & Recreation: Physical Disabilities Community Programs: Click Here for their website.

Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation offer a variety of swimming programs to residents with disabilities, such as adaptive swim lessons or parent and child aquatics.  Information can be found on their website Click Here. Other tips for drowning prevention can be found on the Florida Health website Click Here.

Therapeutic Recreation Palm Beach County: Click Here for their website

Accessible playgrounds in Florida: Click Here for their website


The Health Services section covers topics from choosing a physician to understanding specific therapies. This section provides specific and detailed information about the Healthcare process.

Mental Health:

Mental health in childhood means reaching developmental and emotional milestones, learning healthy social skills, and how to cope when there are problems. Mentally healthy children have a positive quality of life and can function well at home, in school, and in their communities. Mental disorders among children are described as serious changes in the way children typically learn, behave, or handle their emotions, causing distress and problems getting through the day. Among the more common mental disorders that can be diagnosed in childhood are attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, and behavior disorders. Other childhood disorders may affect how children behave or handle their emotions. These can include learning or developmental disabilities, Tourette’s syndrome, autism, or substance use.

It is estimated that 1 in 5 children experience a mental disorder in a given year.

Symptoms may include how a child plays, learns, speaks, and how the child handles their emotions.

As a parent you know your child best. Talk to your child’s healthcare provider if you have concerns about the way your child behaves at home, school or with friends. Pediatricians may be able to screen, provide treatment, or give referrals to specialists. Early diagnosis and appropriate services can make a difference. Childhood mental disorders can be treated and managed. Check first with your insurance provider to find out what mental health services are available with your plan coverage.

When looking for a therapist, it is wise to check for credentials. It is expected that competent therapist hold advanced academic degrees and are members of professional organizations such as American Psychological Association, or Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies. Competent specialists can be found with affiliation to local universities or mental health facilities on their websites. Other ways to find resources include 211, or the psychologist locator – Click Here; cognitive behavior therapist finder – Click Here; Child and adolescent psychiatrist finder – Click Here

Questions to ask myself about Healthy Living:

  • Does my child exercise or have physical activity for at least an hour each day?
  • Do I model and provide my child with healthy eating habits? Do I limit the amount of processed foods, and drinks and foods with high sugar, fats and salt content?
  • Does my child get enough sleep each night?
  • Do I limit screen time and provide alternative activities for my child to do?
  • Do I spend time talking to my child about their feelings and emotions?
  • Do I know my child’s friends and what interests they have in common?

Education/Preparing for Lifelong Learning:

School is the second biggest influence on child’s life. For the next twelve plus years, a child will spend over 1000 hours each year in school. There are many ways you can help your child be successful in school.

  • Let your child’s teacher know you are there to support them. Work with your child’s teachers. Participate in parent nights and parent – teacher conferences. Show respect for school staff. Have discussions with your child’s teacher to learn about your child’s school successes and difficulties. Ask how you can help your child succeed.
  • Show your child that you value education. Post schoolwork on the refrigerator, let them hear you to talk to your family and friends about their successes. Attend award ceremonies at school.
  • Continue to read to and with your child daily. Take your child to the library. Let them see you reading for learning and for enjoyment.
  • Provide your child with a quiet space and a routine time to do homework. Make rules about homework needing to be done before playing video games.
  • Have a consistent bedtime and make sure your child has a nutritious breakfast, or eats breakfast at school, before starting the school day.
  • Take an interest in your child’s work and talk about what is being learned. Praise your child’s attempts at school, even when getting a lower grade than expected. Provide encouragement and problem solve how to make improvements.

Palm Beach County is fortunate to have many resources available to families to help them learn about grade level expectations. Here are a few of the resources:

  • Parent Toolkit for elementary age children – Click Here
  • The School District of Palm Beach County’s Parent University page provides useful short videos about helping your child learn at home. Click Here for their website.
  • Children’s Services Council website provides valuable up-to-date information about child development through the teen years. Click Here for their website.

Communicating with the School:

  • Talk to your child’s teacher on a regular basis.
  • If possible, volunteer or help with school functions.
  • If you suspect your child has a disability, understand the laws that schools must follow in order to determine eligibility.
  • Keep a notebook of your school/home communications, samples of work, evaluations and IEPs. Be sure each entry is dated.
  • Do your homework – read articles on learning and disabilities.
Getting Help for My Child and Exceptional Student Education

Much of the information you will need to guide you through the Exceptional Student Education process can be found in the Learn More School Age Diagnosis and Education sections. These sections provide specific and detailed information about the Education process.

Questions to Ask Myself about Education and Preparing for Lifelong Learning

  • Do I read to my child every day?
  • Do I show my child how I am continue to learn?
  • Is there technology that can support my child with their schoolwork?


As a parent of a child with a disability, we often forget to take care of ourselves. We will advocate for our children to make sure they are getting the help they need. We will fill our schedule with activities to help our child make progress, but we tend to forget about ourselves. This can lead to exhaustion, depression, and isolation. It’s important to take care of your health as well as your child’s. If we neglect our own well-being we may risk our own health and the ability to be there for our children. There are three key points all parents should follow:

  1. Live a healthy lifestyle – eat nutritional meals, spend at least 30 to 45 minutes exercising each day, get adequate sleep. Develop good communication skills, consider using “When ___ happens, I feel ____” statements.
  2. Know your limitations. No one can do this alone! Be aware of what you can and cannot do. Ask friends, family, advocates, and agencies for help. Remember it takes a village to raise a child. Check the Parent Support section Click Here or call 211 Click Here to find resources to help you with your child.
  3. Find ways to relax. It’s important to take time to be yourself. This may be through meditation, participating in religious beliefs, taking a long bath, or reading a novel. Find time to interact with other adults with common interests. It may be doing the things you love such as hobby, going to the gym, or going out with your spouse or close friends.
    Keeping these three key points in mind will help in managing the stress of parenting.

Respite Services:

Respite services are short-term care that provides a break for a family of a child or adult with disabilities to reduce stress on the caregiver. This not only helps to support the caregiver’s well-being, but also supports the child or adult with disabilities.

Respite services in Palm Beach County:

  • The ARC of Palm Beach County: 561-842-3213 Click Here for their website
  • United Community Options of Broward, Palm-Beach & Mid-Coast Counties 305-325-1080 Click Here for their website

Websites of interest and Helpful Resources:

medlineplus.gov: MedlinePlus – Click Here for their website.

cdc.gov: The CDC guide to child development Click Here for their website.

childdevelopment.com.au: Gross Motor Development Checklist: Click Here for their website.

childdevelopment.com.au: Fine Motor Development Checklist: Click Here for their website.

Understood.org: Developmental milestones and learning issues: Click Here for their website.

nidcd.nih.gov: National Institute on Health (NIH) online checklist: Click Here for their website.

cdc.gov: How much physical activity do you need? Click Here for their website.

Parenting Children with Disabilities:

helpguide.org: Parenting children with disabilities: Click Here for their website.

Helping parents deal with a diagnosis:

Ldonline.org: All about Learning disabilities and ADHD: Click Here for their website.

Understood.org: Shaping a world where millions of people who learn and think differently can thrive at home, at school, and at work. Click Here for their website.

Disabilityscoop.com: The nation’s largest news organization devoted to covering developmental disabilities. Click Here for their website.

Social Emotional Resources:

StopBullying.gov: Information from various government agencies on bullying. Click Here for their website.

Aboutkidshealth.ca: Bullying information. Click Here for their website.

Casel.org: CASEL: Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (one-stop shop for everything Social Emotional Learning) Click Here for their website.

NamiPBC.org: NAMI (National Association on Mental Illness) Click Here for their website.


ADA National Network. What is the Americans with disabilities act (ADA)?

CASEL: Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning. Core SEL competencies. 2019

Disability Rights Florida. Health care advance directives.

Estroff, S (2019). The age-by-age guide to teaching kids time management. Scholastic Inc.

Headstartbodystart.org. Outdoor play benefits.

Home Speech Home (2019). Language development.

Kids Health (2015). Disciplining your child with special needs.

Kid Sense Child Development Corp. Child development charts.

Medline Plus (2019). School-age children development.

Morin, A. Typical development milestones for grade-schoolers. Understood.org.

Morris, S. Planning for the financial future of a child with multiple disabilities: Steps 1 through 12.

Nawaz, S. (2018, April). 4 ways to teach your kids about work (without adding more to your plate). Harvard business review. April 2018.

National Institute on Health on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (2017, September). Speech and language developmental milestones. NIH publication no. 13-4781.

Reading Rockets. Ed extras. The parent-teacher conference. readingrockets.org.

Rudy, LJ (2019, July). Help special needs kids prepare for community inclusion. Verywellfamily.com.

StopBullying.gov (2018, July). Bullying and youth with disabilities and special health needs.

SickKids Staff (2010, July). Bullying.

The Center for Work Ethic Development 2017, May). Ten ways to teach your kids work ethic.

Written By: Nicole Quint, Dr.OT, OTR/L and Iris Neil, M.Ed.