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  • Writer's pictureAdam Dayan, Esq.

Considering a Therapeutic Residential Setting

Curious Incident Podcast Episode 16 Considering a Therapeutic Residential Setting

About This Episode

Lauren Koffler, Head of Admissions, Client Relations and Communications for Shrub Oak Academy
Lauren Koffler, Head of Admissions, Client Relations, and Communications for Shrub Oak Academy

NYC Special Education Attorney Adam Dayan and Lauren Koffler, Head of Admissions, Client Relations and Communications for Shrub Oak Academy, have a conversation for special needs parents who are considering therapeutic residential schools for their child. Shrub Oak Academy is a private, coeducational, therapeutic day and boarding school. The school specializes in serving students diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, nonverbal learning disability, reactive attachment disorder, social-pragmatic communication disorder, ADHD and visual and hearing impairments.

  • Adam and Lauren discuss how therapeutic day and boarding schools cater to students with high personal attention needs.

  • The focus is on highly individualized programming and exceptional education in a warm, supportive, family-centric environment.

  • The concept of individualized strength-based learning is explored.

  • The importance of equipping students with skills for developing friendships, navigating communities, and achieving success is highlighted.

(LISTEN) The Curious Incident Podcast EP. 16 - Considering a Therapeutic/Residential Setting

Considering a Therapeutic / Residential Setting on the Curious Incident podcast for special needs families

Transcript Below

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Do you have questions about your child's education? Call Special Education Attorney Adam Dayan at the Law Offices of Adam Dayan: (646) 866-7157 and request a consultation with our New York attorneys today.


Speaker 1: This is Curious Incident, a podcast for special needs families and your window into the world of special education. Special needs parenting can be challenging and we want to make it easier by providing you with the resources you need to help your child. Let's delve deep into the world of learning differently with your host, special education attorney Adam Dayan.

Adam Dayan: I am excited to present my next guest on this podcast, Lauren Koffler. Lauren is the head of admissions, client relations, and communications at Shrub Oak International School in New York. Lauren brings more than a decade of experience in education to her role. As part of the school's leadership team, Lauren's mission is providing students on the autism spectrum with an outstanding education in a warm, supportive, family-centric environment. Lauren began her career as a preschool teacher, but quickly discovered that her true passion was helping families navigate the challenges associated with special education. Lauren, it's great to have you on the show.

Lauren Koffler: Thank you.

Adam Dayan: I'm looking forward to our conversation.

Lauren Koffler: Me, too.

Adam Dayan: All right. So, tell me a little bit more about you. What makes your approach or outlook unique given your particular background, skills, and experiences?

Lauren Koffler: I have spent my entire career in education beginning as a preschool teacher. I quickly learned however that my true passion is working with students and their families, specifically helping families navigate the challenges associated with special education. So, recognizing I could make a greater impact outside of the classroom, I transitioned to a position in the administrative department, where I learned the fundamentals of the admissions process and most importantly, the value of listening to families' needs. Since then, I've worked in a number of special needs schools, but have found my true home at Shrub Oak International School. Whereas you mentioned I'm the head of admissions, communications, and client relations.

Adam Dayan: Okay. What kind of program is Shrub Oak?

Lauren Koffler: Shrub Oak is a therapeutic day and boarding school for students on the autism spectrum.

Adam Dayan: Those are some terms that get thrown around a lot, therapeutic day and boarding school. Can you clarify what those terms mean?

Lauren Koffler: The difference between a therapeutic day school and the therapeutic boarding school is technically twofold. Sometimes and usually, they are separate. So, you have schools that are therapeutic day schools where students go to school each day and return home to their families. Then you have therapeutic boarding schools where these students will reside on campus. Shrub Oak offers both. So, students are able to come pretty locally and receive an education from us and then go home to their families each evening and stay on the weekend and then there is an option for students to remain with us on campus 365 days a year.

Adam Dayan: Now let's talk about who does Shrub Oak serve and who does Shrub Oak not serve?

Lauren Koffler: We serve complex students on the autism spectrum with high personal attention needs who are in need of highly individualized programming. So, our common diagnoses in addition to autism include but are not limited to nonverbal learning disability, reactive attachment disorder, social pragmatic communication disorder, ADHD, as well as visual and hearing impairments. We're also equipped to handle medically fragile students as we have a health and wellness team on campus 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Exclusions for our program include individuals who are active recovery for substance use disorders or eating disorders, predatory sexualized behaviors, animal harm, and if students are in acute crisis all day long. We also have exclusions for fire starters and pregnancy. Additionally, we have no IQ cutoff.

Adam Dayan: Okay. I just want to clarify, I mean your school deals with individuals on the autism spectrum, but residential programs are not limited to individuals with autism. Correct? You can have residential programs for individuals who have all kinds of different special needs. Is that right?

Lauren Koffler: That's correct. Our program requires an autism diagnosis. There are few instances where we will accept students with rare genetic conditions that can fit into our milieu as well as traumatic brain injury. But yes, while our program is autism first, there are countless residential programs nationally and globally that service multiple conditions.

Adam Dayan: Okay. Now, a moment ago, you explained the difference between therapeutic day and boarding school. Help our listeners understand a little bit better what distinguishes a residential program from a day program.

Lauren Koffler: Absolutely. So, a residential program allows us to work on students' goals 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Learning is not limited to the classroom in a residential program. It's integrated into the student's entire day. So, essentially, we're continually working on social skills and activities of daily living after the classroom hours and throughout the weekend.

Adam Dayan: At what point does residential typically become necessary for an individual?

Lauren Koffler: I think that residential becoming necessary is a very individualized process for each student. I have seen elementary students that really require that wraparound service because their needs are so complex that they're not being met in the home, whether it's them living with parents who work evenings or elderly grandparents or just guardians who don't have these skills because they didn't go to school. At the end of the day, they're still mom, dad, or guardian, and kids act differently with their guardians or parents. So, I think that when the student requires residential, it's really a matter of what's impacting them at home, whether or not their family or their teachers are seeing progress made and whether they feel that really their needs are being met.

Think again, the wraparound services matter. If progress is slow and steady, that's okay, especially for some of these kids. Because small gains are big gains, but when behaviors are spiraling at home or in the school environment or there are multiple 911 calls or hospitalizations a year or the student is regressing, it's definitely something that parents and guardians should look at, because as hard as it is, they're going to be providing their child with the care that they need in the hands of highly skilled individuals that work at a facility 20 hours a day.

Adam Dayan: I want to focus on one of the terms that you mentioned. You mentioned wraparound services, and I think that gets thrown around a lot as well. Some of our listeners are new to this process, are new to this special education world, and may not yet know what that means. Can you explain it for our listeners?

Lauren Koffler: Sure. Wraparound services are really services that occur 24 hours a day, seven days a week. So, as I mentioned before, when the education day ends, students are going home to their families and that's a wonderful and beautiful thing. However, life might get in the way, right? So a parent might receive a phone call or have to go to the grocery store, and a lot of the students that we see at our program thrive on structure. So, when I refer to wraparounds, I mean at the end of the education day, those consistent structured services, whether it's the social skills or the daily living skills that they're working on, occur after those hours and on the weekend end.

Speaker 1: You are listening to Curious Incident, a podcast for special needs parents with your host special education lawyer, Adam Dayan. If you like what you are hearing, please like and subscribe.

Adam Dayan: Do you have any anecdotes that come to mind that you can share with our listeners, an example of a student who was at home and getting a lot of wraparound services, but it was breaking down for one reason or another and the family decided this is not working? We need to make a switch to a residential program.

Lauren Koffler: Sure. I actually am in the process of, and this has happened before, a very similar student of interviewing a student now who has been afforded the opportunity to have wraparound services. They attend a very excellent therapeutic day school and they have services after school and on the weekend, but what's happening is they aren't seeing the social skills gains that they had hoped because they aren't socializing with friends outside of school. They aren't socializing really with their siblings or into the community. So, the benefit for these particular students that I've seen and I'm interviewing currently would be helping them with their social skills.

Adam Dayan: That's a great example. I just want to emphasize, I think you'll agree that when we talk about educational needs, we're talking about academic, social, emotional, and behavioral. So, you mentioned that the social interactions or social opportunities were being limited because of the wraparound services that were happening, if I understood you correctly, and parents need to know that the social, emotional, behavioral, those are all important components of a student's education as well. Do you agree?

Lauren Koffler: I totally agree. I think that all too often, I see parents or guardians feeling bad about not being able to provide those services, but they're living their lives too. They have jobs. They have other children. They have self-care that they need to attend too as well. Again, as mentioned before, because these students or a lot of the students that we see at our program thrive on that consistent structure, it really is hard to maintain in a home environment. I can think of instances myself and my life with my kids, I'm sure you can think with your kids, the listeners who are listening can think of many instances probably within the past couple of days where things have just popped up that they had to attend to. That might create a crisis or a frustration with a student with special needs.

Adam Dayan: This is a great segue actually. Talk a little bit about how a residential program focuses on the academic versus the social versus the emotional and behavioral skills of an individual.

Lauren Koffler: Absolutely. I believe that the beauty of a residential program, and I'm going to go back to the word wraparound, is that they are able to focus and hone in on the academic, social, and emotional skills, because not only are they seeing that child every single day, at least in our program, our plan residentially continues. It's transdisciplinary. So, the education team is working with the clinical team, who's working with the campus life team, who's working with our overnight team. That funnels into admissions, security, facilities, dining. Everyone on our campus knows about the children and their profile and what they're working on. So, every interaction that we have with the student across the entire campus is meaningful and in a therapeutic way.

Adam Dayan: Wonderful. Thanks. What types of programs are these people who are coming from all over the world coming out of? When they transition to your program, your residential program, what sort of classroom or school settings are they coming from?

Lauren Koffler: That's a really interesting question for our program, because Shrub Oak is unique in the sense that we take the entire spectrum, which most programs do not. So, we have students transitioning from hospitalizations. We have students who are transitioning from their local public schools. We have students who transition from therapeutic day schools like we spoke about earlier, when their parents realize that they do require or could benefit from that higher level of care. We have students, especially since the pandemic who have remained at home. Due to school refusal and online learning, they have not accessed education since the pandemic began.

Adam Dayan: So you have students who are coming from all these different kinds of programs, all these different types of settings from all over the world. What is your process for determining whether a student is a good fit?

Lauren Koffler: I like to say that we have a very thorough process in admissions because we feel very strongly about trying really hard not to discharge even when a student's profile changes, which happens, especially if students come to us in their elementary or middle school years. So, what we do is we typically have a phone call with the family or the school district or the educational consultant or the attorney or clinician who is referring them or found Shrub Oak to understand a little bit more about their student's or child's profile. We do ask for some basic documentation just to gauge again whether or not we feel they would be an appropriate fit. At that point, if the family is interested in applying, we'll send them the application link.

From there, we collect many documents and review them and schedule the admissions interview. This is done for us because again, we call nationally and internationally via Zoom. So, we require that our parents meet with us separately from either their past program or current program or the hospital they're currently at. If they have private providers, we'll meet with them separately. Then wherever the child is, we'll meet them briefly as well. It's really important for us that we have this two-hour or so interview and that every party is present separately because we want to get the most accurate information.

We really do believe that sometimes the student's paperwork is not an accurate reflection of their presentation currently, because they might have had their last neuropsych three years ago. That's a really big deal. If you're going from 10 to 13 and you're entering puberty, your presentation can look completely different. So, after the interview is complete, both myself and my director, if we have any outstanding information that we need, like behavioral data, we will wait for that and review it. Then we will have an internal discussion to decide whether or not we can service the student I say across all three disciplines. So, for us, that's academically, clinically, socially and life skills.

We always assess in the interview process first and foremost, whether or not we can keep the students safe on our campus, because if we can't keep safe, they're not going to be able to access any of those three disciplines as I like to call them.

Adam Dayan: Agreed. I think you make a really good point, an important point about the need for the interview or observation, because as you said very articulately, students can present differently in person than they do on paper. Even in non-residential settings or situations, that becomes hugely important too. So, I just wanted to emphasize that. Having noted that, you mentioned that there are certain documents you consider as part of the admissions process. Can you clarify which documents you normally request?

Lauren Koffler: So we ask for the most recent IEP. We also understand that some students who have been in private school since they began their schooling may not have those. If they do have an IEP, we require that. We require the most recent neuropsych. Ideally, it's within the past three years. We ask for any behavioral data, behavioral intervention plan, ISPs, SBAs. If the student has been hospitalized, we ask for discharge paperwork as well. Then we ask for report cards, et cetera, if the student is on a diploma path.

Adam Dayan: Okay. That's very helpful. Thank you. For any of our listeners who want to know more about the neuropsychological evaluation process, you can check out episode one of this podcast. How are decisions about student groupings made in your programs?

Lauren Koffler: Another good question. We, as I mentioned before, take the entire spectrum. So, student groupings are typically within two to three years of each other in the classroom setting. They are based on cognitive functioning as well as behavior. So, we have three different paths at Shrub Oak. We have our diploma bound path where students will be receiving a high school diploma. We have our skills and achievement path where students will be receiving a commencement credential. Then we have our founder's program and those students will be moving on to adult care.

So, students, again, in the classroom setting are placed within two to three years of each other and cognitive functioning. We do consider behaviors in grouping all of our kids together. In the residential setting, we dorm based on age, gender, and cognitive functioning.

Adam Dayan: Focusing specifically on the residential program, how does a residential program individualize the curriculum based on the particular students' needs?

Lauren Koffler: Shrub Oak is extremely individualized for each child. I actually think I use that word very, very often. So, what we do is we work off of student's current IEP when they enroll. Again, if they don't have an IEP, we are going to be doing the observation that we do, even if student has an IEP. So, over the course of the first six weeks, we are observing the student heavily. Not that we don't observe them every single day, but we are really recreating the plan for them. What we do is we either write or rewrite the IEP into what we call an ITEP and that T is for transdisciplinary. That document will incorporate the student's academic, social, and clinical goals that will then be carried out throughout all of our teams. So, education, campus life, and clinical services.

So that, like I mentioned earlier on, everyone is aware of each student's goals and needs so that we all work together on them. I have seen this really help students progress quick when everyone is in communication and in sync together. The teachers are not only supporting the students' academic goals, they're supporting the social goals. Campus life isn't only supporting the students' social goals and activities of daily living, they're also supporting their academic goals.

At Shrub Oak, we do primarily milieu therapy, which means the clinicians will push into the classroom or attend off campus internships with our students so that those sessions are in real time. Important to note that mental health sessions are pulled out for various reasons, but we'll have mental health clinicians support students who are in crisis as well or starting to dysregulate. So, I believe that it really makes a difference when the communication is done in a transdisciplinary way.

Adam Dayan: Definitely. I'm going to follow up with you about that in a moment. To the extent that you haven't discussed this already, what services or therapies are available?

Lauren Koffler: So we offer occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy. We have mental health clinicians and social workers. We also have BCBAs and school psychologist. Our director of clinical services is a clinical psychologist. We have art therapists and music therapists. I also always like to note that we have full-time nursing staff. We have students who are blind and deaf, so we have teachers who are proficient in American Sign Language. We also will, on a consulting basis if the student requires it, bring in PVIs and mobility specialists as well. We have made an effort and require that all of our clinicians are on staff full-time, so that the students are really building trust with them. I should also add that we have a psychiatric nurse practitioner that is full-time and the only part-time clinician is our psychiatrist.

Adam Dayan: Okay. You mentioned TBI before. You meant traumatic brain injury, correct?

Lauren Koffler: No, sorry, TVI, teacher of the visually impaired.

Adam Dayan: Okay. Did you mention earlier in our discussion that you do accept students who have traumatic brain injury as well?

Lauren Koffler: Yes, we do, if we feel like they would fit in our milieu and that we would be able to have them progress with their goals.

Adam Dayan: Okay. So, let's get back to the transdisciplinary concept that I think you explained really well. Talk to our listeners a little bit about what should they be expecting if they're enrolled in a residential program. I'm talking about the communication that needs to be happening across disciplines between instructors and therapists and other providers. What should they be looking for in terms of that collaboration, consultation, communication so that they know things are happening the way they should be happening?

Lauren Koffler: So every program is different. So, I'll speak to obviously Shrub Oak. We have a communication system that is multifaceted. So, everyone on campus has email that will push out what we call TD notes, so transdisciplinary notifications. Those will have information for a student. Let's say a student didn't sleep at night and that will likely impact their academic day. A note will go out, that staff will check and have access to. So, we know to be aware of that upon entering the classroom. We also use Microsoft Teams to communicate. So, if there is a crisis on top of walkies, we are pushing that out to teams, so that our staff are able to see it in real time. Then we have TD meetings every day.

So, every day at the end of the school day, staff are staying and campus life staff are attending those meetings. We're either discussing a student who is perhaps making excellent progress and what we can do to continue that path or perhaps we have a student who's struggling and we feel like we may need to shift gears. So, we're going to have a meeting on that. We also sometimes focus the meetings on other broader topics, but the communication is really important.

It's hard for our staff and we really appreciate them doing it. I think they do it and they want to do it because they see the students progressing, but there are meetings every single day after school. Emails are pushed out. We also have incident report emails, so those are sent to all staff. So, we're able to see when something occurred on campus as well.

Adam Dayan: Before I ask my next question, let me just clarify. Are residential program and boarding school synonymous?

Lauren Koffler: Yes. So, our day school kids are in classes with our residential students as well.

Adam Dayan: What is campus life like at a boarding school?

Lauren Koffler: Our campus life is highly structured. We offer a lot of different on and off-campus activities. So, every month, we have an activity calendar that families will receive and the students are able choose from activities. If a student refuses to choose from an activity, we're going to choose for them. As we are a strengths-based program, we're always looking to have students participate in things that they comfortable with, but also encourage them to go out of the box a little bit. So, on campus, we'll have campus clubs like photography or gaming. We will work on campus on our farm. We will go to our life skills house and we might go to the grocery store to buy the groceries, then go to our life skills house, eat, do the dishes and put them away. We'll have yoga and meditation on campus.

There's a lot of outdoor activities, biking, scooting, snowshoeing in the winter. Then off campus, we go swimming. We do therapeutic horsemanship, bowling, the movies, even things like going to the spa to have a spa day. There's a reason behind every activity that we choose. So, one might say, "Well, going to karaoke isn't really therapeutic, but it is because it's requiring the students to use the song to sing out loud in front of their peers and to take turns with the microphone," which can be difficult for some of these students. We also spend a lot of time working on our activities of daily living because that is really important.

Especially with our founder's kids who are going to transition to adult living, we want them to be as independently as possible. So, keeping their rooms clean, doing their laundry, practicing maybe showering independently, shaving, preparing simple meals. Then we of course incorporate downtime, because every human needs that and time for them to make calls to their family's home.

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Adam Dayan: What involvement do parents have in their child's program?

Lauren Koffler: We pride ourselves on having parents be as involved as possible. That being said, there are a lot of different family dynamics out there. So, at times, we have had to work on family reunification, and at other times, we have had to rarely but ask families to take just a step back so that we could work with their child therapeutically on building a healthier relationship. When it comes to the ITEP, they're always involved in that meeting. We want to be on the same page as the family with the students' goals, and they are welcome to have a say in what we are presenting to them.

We love having families involved, because the goal is that if they may not go home let's say ever again because they may transition to adult care or they might graduate and go to college and then live independently, they're still going to be involved with their families, we hope. So, we want to and hope basically work together essentially as an extension of their family. So, that when they do go home for visits and things like that, we're all working on those same goals together. With regards to family visits, they are welcome to come as often as they want. We do have specific time limits on our campus and rules surrounding room visits and things like that.

But if they want to come each weekend and take their child home for an overnight or out to a restaurant for lunch or to a movie, they're more than welcome to. We really only intervene if we believe it is hindering progress therapeutically for their child. Those are hard conversations to have and we don't like to have them, but the families are sending their children to us for a reason and we feel very strongly about not losing the time that they have.

Adam Dayan: Family dynamics can be complicated and I think you emphasize that it needs to be individualized based on the particular family circumstances you're dealing with. Lauren, how do you define success for your population?

Lauren Koffler: I think that success looks different for every student at Shrub Oak. Honestly, I have two kids and they're in their local public school. Success for my daughter looks very, very differently in my opinion, success for my son even. So, again, we take the entire spectrum. So, one student, it could be a diploma bound student who is having school refusal who comes to us and then eventually is attending every class, gets their high school diploma, and goes on to college. For another, it might be working on their commencement credential and starting off, let's say, with an internship that really requires a staff member to be very close to them and then that staff member gets further and further away because they're making that progress and can do it more independently.

Then for our founder's students who again are transitioning to adult care, I say slow and steady wins the race for everyone on campus, but especially that particular population. So, for them, it might be saying their first word out loud or using their communication device proficiently or learning how to toilet. So, I can actually think of two situations that were amazing or actually three. So, we had a student in our diploma path who came. When we met with this student's family, they said that the student was so academically behind because the prior program was working on their social skills. The mother looked at us and said, "But he's still where he is socially, and now he's just behind academically." So in that first year, he was a residential student.

I believe he went up at least two, if not three grade levels. That was our diploma student example. Then we have a student who is in our skills and achievement path. I heard recently this past summer that she's now able to go to the local bodega down the block independently by herself, whatever she wants, and she's able to get correct change. Whereas before, none of that could happen. Then in our founder's program, we had three students who started with us and they were not able to be in the classroom with anyone else. Two summers ago, they were at a picnic table all together communicating with each other through their communication devices, which were their iPads and having conversations. So, all of those stories basically reflect that I think success looks very different.

I also think it really depends on the family's goals and expectations for their children as well. But again, I say individualized a lot. I also say slow and steady. I always ask parents to come in. If they have a laundry list of what needs to "change" or progress immediately, we really need to break it down, because what we want to do is not work on 10 things and have them be sort of mastered. We want to work on maybe two or three things and have them really master those skills.

Adam Dayan: Those are great examples and I think they definitely illustrate that success can mean something different for each student, but let me ask you this, do you think there are any common ingredients for achieving success?

Lauren Koffler: Yeah, so we talked about that a little bit before. Again, I think that transdisciplinary is really important. I see it all the time. I have friends whose children are in early intervention. The speech therapist isn't talking to the occupational therapist or the occupational therapist isn't talking to the physical therapist. I don't even think, I really believe and I think it's been proven that when everyone is working together, the success is just going to be quicker. Then if that's happening, there might be more success. I believe strongly in milieu therapy. I think that especially with occupational therapy, physical therapy and speech therapy, providing that in real time.

So, if you are at a lunch table with four friends and you don't normally hold these conversations, if your speech therapy is there facilitating those conversations, you are not just in a room talking with your speech therapist. It's in real time. The student is able to carry that into other situations, whether it's at a restaurant with their parents or at a movie theater ordering a popcorn. We review progress very regularly by our transdisciplinary team. Again, that team is comprised of members from our clinical team, our educational team, and our campus life team. So, if something is maybe not working in campus life, the clinician can weigh in or the education team can say, "Oh, that's also happening in education and we can talk about it as a group."

So I think that really a transdisciplinary approach and having everyone on the same page along with milieu therapy is a very big key to achieving success. I also think that the ability to pivot, so we've made a very conscious effort to not be a solely ABA school or a DIR floor time school. We have clinicians that are trained in all of it, not only because we take the entire spectrum, but because sometimes a child might tap out of ABA at a certain age. This way, we can pivot and we can say, "All right, this isn't working," but this student doesn't have to leave Shrub Oak and have it be another transition to another program. We can say, "Okay, let's address this and let's maybe instead of ABA, go to a mental health clinician."

So our motto at Shrub Oak is really that we never expect a student to adapt to our approach, but we adapt our approaches to meet the student's needs. We are also a strength-based program. We aren't a deficit model. So, we aren't looking at the student when they come in with their deficits and what can't they do. We are looking at what they can do and we are working on that and pushing them forward, because nobody is going to be "great" or good at everything. I know I'm not. So, we really want to break it down and focus on those students' strengths. Again, through the transdisciplinary approach in the milieu therapy and the ability to pivot within those therapies, we believe those are really keys to achieving success.

Adam Dayan: Let's talk about leaving Shrub Oak. Now I'm specifically asking about the residential program. Where do your students transition to when they've outgrown your residential program?

Lauren Koffler: Sure. So, like I said, we take the entire spectrum. So, some of our students will transition to adult care and we will assist them with those group homes and OPWDD applications and the like. Again, OPWDD might be called something different in different states for those that are listening, but it really is that transition to those adult services. Others will go to programs that will provide them with monitored or assisted living and maybe assisted employment or independent employment. Other students may go to young adult programs to help them with that next transition and some students will go to college.

Adam Dayan: What suggestions do you have for parents who are wondering whether residential is appropriate for their child?

Lauren Koffler: Sure. So, I would say two things. I would say, I think for the most part, a parent's gut and instinct is always right. If they feel like it's the next best thing, even if they're struggling with it internally because it is a really hard decision to make, then there's something that's motivating they got in their instinct. I would suggest that they consult with their current and trusted providers, whether it's their teacher or clinician, attorney, educational consultant, even a friend that might be a social worker who knows their child well.

It's not an easy decision ever, but if the people in their lives that they trust and their gut is telling them to consider this, it will likely allow them to become more independent and gain those skills, which is the ultimate goal for any parent or guardian to help their child either become as independent as they can be or live the most meaningful life and/or actually live the most meaningful life as they can.

Adam Dayan: Lauren, as some of our listeners may know, there's a special education legal process through which they can pursue funding for a residential program or a therapeutic day program, and sometimes this legal process results in impartial hearings where litigation might be involved. What challenges do you typically encounter at impartial hearings?

Lauren Koffler: I think the biggest challenge for our program at impartial hearings is our tuition. We provide a very high number of clinical services, and our clinical services are not capped, which means we are able to increase services as needed and tuition is not going to raise. We are an all-inclusive rate. Additionally, a lot of our students who come in require one-to-one support. So, our tuition tends to be on the higher bill, and that is something that is questioned at impartial hearing.

Adam Dayan: Do most of your students get room and board covered as part of the tuition funding process through the impartial hearing system?

Lauren Koffler: Yes. We currently have 84 students and we're on our fifth academic year. The five years that we've been open, I've been here since the very beginning. We have maybe had three total students have partial, so either winning 80% and the family is covering the other 20%, or the school district is only paying for the day program and the parents feel very strongly about residential and will either cover the rest or are unable to do so and have to look for an alternate placement.

Adam Dayan: Is there anything else that you would like parents who are new to this process to know about residential placements?

Lauren Koffler: I think that parents should know that if their child is doing well in a day program, a therapeutic day program, and they're progressing and they're okay in the home environment, then they should keep them there as long as possible because they're meeting their goals. So, I think that if children are doing well and parents are happy with their therapeutic day program, they should stay there as long as they can, especially if they're meeting their goals and they are doing really well in the home environment. I think that when it comes time for some families to make a decision about whether residential placement is going to benefit their child, they should know that it is different than a day program because there are those wraparound services.

While therapeutic day programs cover more than just academics, because many of them do have clinical services, they're still going home and they're still having maybe no services after school and on the weekends and they're having those unstructured times. So, really the cohesive nature of a residential program, as I have said earlier today, is instrumental in success. I really see that the students do progress quicker and they feel empowered, the students really. Parents worry about they've never been away from home. How are they going to do? What happens is the students come at any age and they feel like a part of a community that is 24 hours a day, because maybe at their day program, they weren't having play dates or going to birthday parties on the weekend. But here, they're celebrating their friends' birthdays and they're forming really lifelong friendships. I mean, I have students who left after the first year and are still in contact with our education director. We had a student who graduated three years ago and a student who graduated this year and the student who graduated three years ago came to that current student that graduated this year graduation. Because three years later, they're still friends. I hear parents say all the time to me, "I feel like I failed as a parent" or "I can't give my child what they need." It really isn't the case. The hardest thing for parents to do is send their kids to a residential placement, but they're doing the best thing for their child, especially if their gut and their trusted providers are saying that now is the time.

The last thing I'll say about that is I see this daily. Every student is able to really just be themselves here and at other programs and be accepted for who they are. So, they're not feeling like an outsider. I think that really the value of that is immeasurable. When parents do speak to their kids and they're talking about their friends and they see how happy they are and they're smiling in photos that they're getting sent, that's amazing.

Speaker 1: You are listening to Curious Incident, a podcast for special needs parents with your host special education lawyer, Adam Dayan. If you like what you are hearing, please like and subscribe.

Adam Dayan: Before we conclude, I have to ask, what fuels your passion? Why do you do what you do? What drives you to get out of bed and go to work every day?

Lauren Koffler: So I truly love what I do. I've been in education since I graduated from college, like I mentioned earlier. I love being able to really make a difference in the lives of the students who come to Shrub Oak. So, while I might not be student facing and involved in their everyday care across campus, I feel really good about being able to provide them with a program that can service their needs and help them progress in a meaningful way that they may not have been afforded otherwise. That feels really good. Seeing the kids' breakthroughs every day and the progress and the happiness of the parents is amazing. It's just a job that although can be difficult sometimes, like any other job, the rewards are just amazing.

Adam Dayan: Lauren, where can our listeners get more information about you and your school?

Lauren Koffler: Sure, so our website is If anyone is interested in speaking with me, I can be reached directly at 914-885-1995. My email is lkoffler, L-K-O-F-F, like Frank, L-E-R, We also have an Instagram account and it is @ShrubOakINT. That's our handle.

Adam Dayan: Lauren, we've known each other for a number of years now, have enjoyed getting to know you and your school during that time. I'm really glad that we had the opportunity to talk together in this setting. I wish you much continued success and look forward to hearing more success stories in the future.

Lauren Koffler: I look forward to it too. Thank you so much for having me. It was a pleasure. I feel honored.

Adam Dayan: Thanks so much for being here. Have a great day.

Speaker 1: Thanks for listening to Curious Incident, a podcast for special needs families. Don't forget to subscribe for a new episode every month. For more resources and helpful information, check out our website and blog at This podcast provides general information which is not intended to and does not constitute legal advice. You should not rely on this information for any purpose. For legal counsel, you should consult with an attorney to discuss your specific circumstances. Your listening to this podcast does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and the Law Offices of Adam Dayan, PLLC.

No attorney-client relationship is established unless a retainer agreement has been executed between the client and the Law Offices of Adam Dayan. This podcast may constitute attorney advertising for our results do not guarantee a similar outcome. Any guests featured or resources mentioned on this podcast are for information purposes and are not endorsed by the Law Offices of Adam Dayan, PLLC.


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