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The Cooke Special Education Blog

Cooke faculty share their knowledge to improve the education experience for all children.


Out of His Head... News from Dr. Tabone (May)

Sharing Our Knowledge : Denmark and Cooke

Two department managers from the social institution “Fund KOLONI” located in Ugerloese, Denmark visited Cooke Academy and SKILLs recently to learn first-hand about our program. Jeppe Christensen and Lasse Juhl run an amazing program in Denmark which offers respite services for families and children with special needs aged 8 through 18. The fund has throughout the last 17 years had a focus on offering caretaking for children with special needs, with diagnoses such as ADD, ADHD and autism. The institution has around 100 children in care, and 40 employees.

On their 3 farms, students spend the weekend working on social/emotional development and interpersonal skills. Their work has caught the attention of local municipalities who have charged them with the task of opening a school. Many of the children they serve do not currently attend a program due to behavioral or learning needs.

In seeking out a model school the local municipal officials suggest they visit Cooke to serve as a model for their special education program and to inspire their thinking about what a special education school would look like for their students. The visit was an incredible exchange of ideas and thoughts between the two staffs. In meeting with them it was inspiring to see others take on the task of starting a school and thinking about the basics of education for special needs. Their visit will result in a sharing of ideas and curriculum for many years to come.

The Benefits of Boxing and Martial Arts for Our Students

It’s no secret that a physical fitness program is one of the best extracurricular activities a child can participate in. For children with special needs the benefits of martial arts and boxing are invaluable because of the inherit structure and discipline the arts bring to a child’s daily life. All children need structure, some more than others. Some might need to be reminded more often or a different approach might be necessary, but in the end it's all the same.

Martial arts classes and boxing can give these children confidence, focus and physical strength.. The exercises and stretching done in boxing and martial arts classes will help children that have low or high tone. Low/high tone means that the child’s muscles have not developed the same as other kids. Children with low or high tone may have problems with flexibility, balance, walking, and range of motion. The long fluid movements of boxing and martial arts are perfect for helping children with these conditions. Boxing and martial arts classes for Children that have ADHD or that are on the spectrum for autism can improve their focus, patience, and their social skills which can translate to better performance in school.

The unique component of martial arts for children with special needs is the competition within themselves, not with others. Children with special needs must work on life skills, not competing with others for a trophy. That’s not to say they shouldn’t compete and receive those same rewards, because they should! However, the criteria must be carefully considered and achievable.

Let’s talk about some benefits right now. Consistency and repetition create familiarity and, therefore, children on the autismspectrum do well with classes. Repetition of the same location, same faces, same curriculum, and knowing what to expect are all part of the recipe. With continuous structure, discipline and fun exercises, even the child with multisensory issues almost immediately rises to the occasion.

Most children with special needs receive therapies on a weekly basis. Adding a traditional martial arts program to their existing therapies can only assist them in reaching their goals faster. Think about it; when an instructor focuses on YOUR child’s needs there is no doubt the results are immediate. Focus, concentration, balance, tone, awareness, self regulation, core strength, reduced anxiety, and spatial awareness are just a few of the benefits your child will receive when you find the right do-jhang (studio).

Many programs for typically developing kids are not suited for every child with special needs. Either the game cannot be played slowly enough, enough time cannot be devoted to learning the rules, adaptive equipment is not used, etc. So what should we do? Prepare the child in the most non-restrictive way, which is one of the life skills we must always keep in our minds. Everyone feels good when they know "something," so let’s prepare our children for life before tossing them in an unfamiliar situation.

I am sure you want to know the differences between one martial art and another. There are several styles of Martial Arts and programs available so getting educated is very important. Here are a few things to look for when selecting a location for your child:

1) Reputation and experience in the industry

2) Programs specific to your child's needs and not just "we handle special needs"

3) Adult and experienced instructors on the floor always

4) Ample assistants and coverage on the floor

5) Therapists or teachers on staff, or instructors with backgrounds of such are a plus

6) Small rooms, small groups and less distractions

7) Offer inclusion programs and advancement opportunities

8) Opportunities to attend two or more times per week

9) Private lesson packages (not semi-private) that provide an opportunity for the instructor and child to become familiar with each other prior to decision making

10) Rank advancement

11) Backed and supported by a national organization

12) Flexible tuition schedules due to changes in therapies and unforeseen personal issues

13) Studio events that provide social interaction with other students

St. John’s and Cooke at the Council for Exceptional Children

St. John’s and Cooke at the Council for Exceptional Children

Our St. John’s collaboration was the center of attention at the Council for Exceptional Children conference in Boston this April.
I was fortunate to present with Lina Gilic
who coordinates the program at St. John’s. We presented our collaboration to educators from around the country who are trying
to start their own university collaboration.

If you don’t know about this program, it
is part of our community outreach effort
to provide inclusive opportunities to our students. Each week, a group of students from SKILLs goes to St. John’s campus in Queens, and takes two classes with St. John’s staff. Students interact with the school’s students, sports teams, and faculty and get a feel for what campus like is like.
It has been a very successful collaboration which is expected to expand in the near future.

The most important outcomes are watching our students in new and unfamiliar settings navigate the campus and interactions. It is not always easy and some find it difficult at first. While we want them to experience the campus, we also want to challenge them to interact with something new rather than shy away. Out of one’s comfort zone, a student needs to apply strategies and regulation that will help them interact effectively and get the most out of the experience.

Move Up Day!

Eight grade parents from Cooke Center Grammar School came to Cooke Academy for an intimate look into the program. Parents were given a tour, and view of the Academy’s program. Every year there are many transitions, with 8th graders coming to the high schoolers and 12th graders moving to the SKILLs program. To get everyone ready, students make multiple visits to the new sites. In addition, staff visit the students in their current location to get to know each student and explore their strengths and needs. Parents have the opportunity to explore the new site and access staff and administrators to ask any questions or share information. We look forward to the new groups in new sites. I am one of the few lucky people who follow the students through their transitions and see how wonderful the new experiences are for them.

Congratulations to CCA Tigers on another great season

Drive through almost any neighborhood or even commercial areas with recreation facilities, and you’ll notice a common item: basketball hoops. Many kids grow up casually shooting hoops in the driveway or playing a pickup game with friends. Even kids who don’t know the rules of the game have probably played a variation of Knock-Out or H-O-R-S-E during P.E. or day camps. Students with special needs may feel unwanted and inadequate during these games, whether friendly or competitive in nature. Basketball is a great way to give these kids a chance to try something new in a safe environment as well as receive guidance and instruction, develop social interactions, and gain confidence in their own abilities.

Students with special needs have a wide variety of developmental needs, and basketball programs for these kids are usually designed with certified teachers and coaches who can work closely with each child to teach him or her the fundamental skills of the game. From basics like dribbling to more advanced skills like blocking and free-throws, special needs kids will be met at their level and aided in progressing through skills on the court. In some cases, special needs kids are paired with a peer or staff mentor who can demonstrate by example and provide even more individualized support. Rules of play are modified to fit national guidelines, such as the National Wheelchair Basketball Association’s set of rules, which provides needed accommodations and enables fair play while still teaching the fundamentals of the sport.

Social Development

Many students are unable to take part in most schools’ team sports. An environment where kids can actually join a team and learn how to be a team player provides a positive setting for verbal interactions, friendly play, and general social development. Basketball in particular sets up a fantastic opportunity for verbal and physical teamwork as every member of the team learns together to navigate their way down the court. Players learn how and when to indicate that they are open, to receive the ball, and to communicate with verbal calls or nonverbal signs to whom they intend to pass the ball. Kids will also learn to work together when not on the court, especially in areas such as encouraging their teammates, good sportsmanship, and respect for others: their own teammates, coaches, referees, and other teams’ players. Learning social and teamwork skills will benefit kids in a multiplicity of settings.

Boost Confidence

In any sport, a so-called “good player” will demonstrate knowledge of the game, coordination, depth perception, a sense of timing, and a sense of confidence in himself. That confidence actually results from having a grasp on these other “good player” abilities. Special needs individuals can greatly enhance self-esteem and confidence as they learn the rules of the sport and receive patient instruction that develops their coordination and senses. Basketball provides development in hand-eye coordination as well as both gross and fine motor skills. With basketball hoops so prevalent in our neighborhoods and recreation areas, an understanding of the basic rules of basketball paired with confidence in basketball skills can level the court and open the door for positive interactions with kids of all abilities.

Save The Date!

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Join Cooke Center for Learning and Development at the 3rd Annual New York City Disability Pride Parade.

Parade starts at 11am* in Union Square Park and goes up Broadway to Madison Square Park where there will be a festival and huge celebration until 3pm.

Questions about marching with Cooke? Email Danielle Egic at

Questions about the parade in general? Go

*All friends and family of Cooke welcome to participate*

Posted by rnicholson on Wednesday May, 31


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