Special Education and the IEP Process

We are starting a new virtual learning series at Building BLOCS–Lunch and Learn. Join us on Thursdays as we explore topics that our families consistently ask about–potty training, sleep routines, challenging behaviors, and more. This week we’re starting with an introduction to Special Education and the IEP process.

In this presentation, we will break down IEPs, assessments, and ARDs and take you through the basics of what you need to know.  We will discuss:

  • how to request an assessment, 
  • your rights and roles as parents,  
  • general timelines,
  • what to expect,
  • and the meaning behind all the acronyms you will hear, e.g., IEP, BIP, FBA, FERPA, ARD, LRE….

We will provide handouts/slides to participants. Lunch and Learn


Autism Friendly Activities in Austin

Building BLOCS knows how important it is to keep our kids active in the community, but finding sensory friendly activities that work for your child is rare. Here is our list of local or virtual sensory friendly events for your family to explore in the Austin area.

✘ Alamo Drafthouse for All:

Austin’s favorite movie theater turns up their lights and turns down their sound for movie nights for all. Talking and noise is allowed as well as adaptive technology during these special movie showings. Movies starting before 2 pm on Tuesdays follow Alamo for All rules, with more shows on the weekends. https://drafthouse.com/program/alamo-for-all

✘ Blue Starlite Drive-In Theater: 

Drive-in theaters are another activity that is sensory friendly for your family. You can control the movie’s volume in your car and prevent any extra sensory stimulation that is normally in a theater. Blue Starlite has multiple locations around town with family friendly movies!


✘ Ladybird Johnson Wildlife Center: 

Bring your kids to this gorgeous 284 acre cultivated garden to teach sustainability of native plants and conservation of resources. The wildlife center has nature-inspired family and youth programs. https://www.wildflower.org

✘ Thinkery: 

This Austin children’s museum provides interactive play exhibits that encourage your kids to learn while having fun. They provide sensory friendly hours where ticket sales are decreased for crowd reduction. “No Tour Tuesdays” also are less crowded due to no school tours.


✘ Austin Nature and Science Center: 

This hidden gem houses native wildlife in indoor and outdoor exhibits. There is a giant Dino Pit with close to life size bones that kids can get dirty and explore. The center has a forest trail and pond, bird blind, polinator garden, honey bee observation hive, a human sundial, nano exploration, pond exploration, educational classes and workshops as well. http://www.austintexas.gov/department/austin-nature-science-center

✘ iFly All ability program: 

iFly offers accommodations for childrens of all abilities with specialty assistance to put on proper safety equipment. Also they host All Ability Nights. Check out their website to recognize their to see the dates and times this is offered. https://www.iflyworld.com/programs/all-abilities/

✘ Chuck E. Cheese Sensory Sensitive Sundays:

Chuck E. Cheese opens 2 hours early (9-11am) on the first Sunday of the month for Sensory Sensitive Sundays. This includes trained staff, less crowds and a toned-down atmosphere for our kiddos to play.    https://www.chuckecheese.com/events/sensory-sensitive-sundays/

✘ Urban Air Indoor Trampoline Park:

This trampoline park is where your kids can get all their wiggles out. They have a foam pit, ropes course, tubes playground, laser race, warrior course, adventure hub, rock wall, sky rider, an arcade and of course tons of trampolines! They offer “Jumperoo” a regular time slot just for children 5 and under on Fridays from 10am-12pm. https://www.urbanairtrampolinepark.com/activities/jumperoocom

✘ Book People: 

Book People offers virtual story time for all ages. This is a safe and easy activity for families to explore new books and meet the authors. Check their website for times and titles.


✘ Austin Central Library Virtual Storytime: 

Local libraries are hosting virtual story times as well. Austin libraries is a great resource to look into for our kids while they are at home. Check their website to see what events are coming up.


✘ Austin Zoo

The Austin Zoo is home to rescued animals that are retired or injured or re-homed from inhabitable exhibits. This is a non-profit that provide programs for all ages, such as Saturday camps and Homeschool series.


Take a Short Drive Out of Austin

✘ Play for All Park:

This park is a little drive to Round Rock. It is well worth the short trip! Kids with all abilities can explore worry free here! It includes a small kid-sized town, wheelchair accessible swings, a rock band area, and a sensory pod to provide your child with plenty of creative opportunities! https://www.roundrocktexas.gov/city-departments/parks-and-recreation/play-for-all-park/

✘ Dinosaur Park

This educational dinosaur museum is in Cedar Creek features life-size dinosaurs with its largest, a 123-foot Diplodocus! The park also has a nature trail, fossil-dig, playground, and picnic areas. So pack a lunch for after all your exploring! https://www.thedinopark.com

✘ Capital of Texas Zoo: 

This is a Zoo located on the outskirts of Austin, in Bastrop, Tx. It compares to large scale zoos such as Dallas and San Antonio. It offers a “happy and healthy” home to many animals including fourteen endangered species. https://capitaloftexaszoo.org

Now Enrolling ABA Therapy for Fall

Building BLOCS is enrolling for the Fall 2021 semester. We have openings for Early Intervention groups as well as Individual ABA Therapy.

Call us for more information and to schedule your assessment.

Online Classes for Parents and Kids

Kid activities: 

Classes for Parents:

Christmas Song Choices

At Building BLOCS we use a lot of Super Simple Songs with our kids. They have created a library of fun, easy songs for children to sing and dance to. Here is a link to all of their Christmas songs.

During the holiday break, keep your kid engaged and happy by singing these songs. We use visuals like the one below to help them make song choices. 

Meet Our Team: Valeria Hinojosa ABA therapist

Give a little background information about yourself:   I was born in Rio Grande City, Texas, and moved to Mission, Texas, where I attended school at the University of Texas – Pan American. I received my Bachelor’s Degree in Rehabilitation Services and started volunteering for CASA of Hidalgo County as a Court Appointed Special Advocate. I also volunteered with special needs kids in college by assisting them with attending class and tutoring after class time. I plan on going back to school for my Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Special Education and becoming a BCBA.

What brought you to this field? When my brother was in kinder I remember seeing a boy in his class who stood out to me, at the time I was only eight, so I didn’t understand why he did things differently than others. However, this little boy has always stayed on my mind. Then when I started third grade a saw another little girl who reminded me of him they both didn’t socialize with the rest of the class, at times they would get really frustrated, and I remember going home and wondering how someone, or I, could help these kids out. It wasn’t until high school where I saw that some kids still struggling with situations in the same way that I had seen when I was younger, that I decided to ask and research what this all meant. Also, being raised in the valley I now realize that a lot of people either didn’t know how to explain this to me or weren’t properly educated on the subject. Finally, entering college I started my core classes not really knowing what I wanted to do for my bachelor’s until I took an elective on Childhood Development and got to talking to the professor about children who are diagnosed with autism. It felt like everything I had seen when I was growing up came together like a puzzle piece and I just had too know more. So, the next day I talked to my guidance counselor about moving over to the Rehab Department and I loved every minute of it. I realized that by educating myself on this diagnosis I could help my community by educating families, so they are able to provide better opportunities for their children. Now realizing there is still so much more to learn, has been my motivation to go back to school to further my education.

What are some of your favorite parts about this job? One of my favorite parts of this job has been interacting with the kids and having the chance to be silly with them! In the time that I’ve been here I’ve also seen a lot of children grow and its very exciting to be a part of that. I can’t put into words the rush of emotions you get, as a therapist, when the kids say their first words or make progress in any way possible. It’s a great feeling and it helps you realize that, at the end of the day, you are making a difference somewhere.

What are a couple interesting facts about yourself? I enjoy refurbishing furniture and going to the flea market and seeing what others have refurbished. I also love to watch Fixer Upper to get ideas on how to decorate a home, I’ve gone to the Magnolia Farm a couple times now just to steal Joanna’s designs! I’ve done some traveling where I went to visit Paris, Amsterdam, and London. I am planning to do more of that as well since it’s a fun way to experience different cultures. Lastly, I love spending time with my family so I try to make as many trips over to them as possible and sometimes I ask them not make me do the drive so I beg that they come see me!

Meet Our Team: Cara Franke, M.Ed., BCBA

Give a little background information about yourself: I grew up on the east coast and got my undergraduate degrees in Psychology and Sociology from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.  I began working as an ABA therapist in college and spent a couple years gaining experience in the field after I graduated.  I moved to Austin in 2013 to attend grad school and became a BCBA after finishing my M.Ed. in Special Education (with a concentration in Autism and Developmental Disabilities).  I had initially planned to move back to Maryland after completing grad school, but fell in love with Austin and have been here ever since!

What brought you in to this field?  I actually found myself in this field very unexpectedly!  As an undergraduate student, I needed an internship and the career counselor for my department put my resume into a system.  One of the first places to contact me was a clinic that provided ABA therapy.  Though I admittedly had no experience with ABA or individuals with ASD, they provided an extensive training program.  I began working with my first client and was amazed at the differences I saw in her from ABA therapy!  I felt that I was making an important difference and knew that this was the field I wanted to be in.

What are some favorite parts about your job?  I love seeing a client make breakthroughs in communication.  It is so rewarding to see clients learn to communicate what they want and need, feel that they have been heard, and overcome the frustration of not being understood.  I love that Building BLOCS also places an emphasis on parent training and that families are so actively involved in the child’s therapy.  I want parents to feel empowered and confident in their ability to bond with and teach their child.  And I love that this job is fun!

What are a couple interesting facts about yourself?  My husband and I had our first child, a baby girl, 4 months ago and we are loving life as new parents!  We also have 2 dogs, our first “babies”.  I don’t have much spare time these days, but when I do I love exploring Austin, yoga, and reading.

Meet Our Team: Laura Rodriguez, MA, CCC/SLP

Give a little background information about yourself:
I grew up in El Paso, TX and got my undergrad degree at the University of Texas at El Paso in secondary education. I moved to Austin for grad school in 2012 and got my graduate degree in Speech Language Pathology at UT Austin. I completely fell in love with Austin so after I graduated I decided to stay a while. After grad school, I provided speech therapy services for children with a variety of speech and language disorders in the school districts. A year ago I came here to Building BLOCS and it has been such an amazing experience. I currently live in Austin with my fiancé and our two dogs.

What brought you in to this field?
I’ve always loved working with children and being able to help them overcome obstacles and make progress has been amazing. It is so rewarding to see how much my clients grow from year to year and helping them connect and communicate with those around them has been one of the greatest experiences of my life.

What are some favorite parts about your job?
I love the collaboration we have here between all the therapists. It allows us to constantly come up with new approaches and it has really helped me grow as a therapist. Since we all do the same theme for a month it really allows us to fully explore all the concepts and vocabulary that relate to a theme. We just wrapped up a community helpers theme and we spent the month talking about all the things community helpers use for their jobs, we made fire truck cookies, and played out going to the doctor. We even put out fake fires in the gym. This job is the best!

What are a couple interesting facts about yourself?
I love to make things, whether its crafts, sewing Halloween costumes, painting, or cooking. Being able to put hard work into something and then seeing the results of that labor is super satisfying. I can play the piano and the clarinet and I love playing retro video games with my fiancé. I love sloths and Harry Potter and I’ve reread the books a dozen times.

Meet Our Team: Katia Gonzalez Quiroga


Give a little background information about yourself: I was born and raised in Monterrey, Mexico, and came to the U.S. for school. I got my Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology at the University of San Diego, as well as my California Multiple-Subject Teaching Credential (elementary school). Obviously, I love kids! I am currently working on getting my Master’s Degree at the University of Texas at Austin in Early Childhood Special Education and will be graduating this coming August. My hope is to become a BCBA within a year, and to open my own clinic in Mexico in the future.

What brought you in to this field? It all started out when I was in different elementary school placements as a requirement to obtain my teaching credential. There was a child with autism in my class and I fell in love! Scribbles instead of numbers on math worksheets, behavior tantrums, looking out the window during lessons, and constant motor stereotypy were a reality for this young boy. As I got to know him, I discovered an amazing and intelligent individual who led me to want to learn more about children who, for reasons yet unknown, live with this diagnosis. I was fascinated by the strength shown not only by the child, but by his parents. Having this little boy in class made me want to understand him, learn about his thought process and the way he was able to learn, while at the same time trying to control himself and be able to interact with other children in a school environment. I watched his growths, his setbacks, and became so enthused with his development that I decided to look for a job in behavior analysis.

What are some of your favorite parts about this job? My favorite part about my job is getting to see how beneficial ABA is to children with autism. Hearing a child’s first word, seeing them point in order to request, or waiting rather than having a tantrum, are all reasons for me to get up every morning. I also love our team. Never have I felt more at home and supported as an employee.

What are a couple interesting facts about yourself? I LOVE to travel! I have had the opportunity to visit over 30 countries. If I could do something every day, it would be just that. I love learning about different cultures and experiencing new things. I also love reading, knitting, baking, and skiing. Interestingly enough, my best friend taught me an original song on the piano which I can play really well. People would assume I’ve taken piano lessons for years, but, unfortunately, I cannot play anything else. Maybe one day I will.