University Helps 9-year-old With Autism Keep His Therapy Cat

therapy cat

When a serious illness threatened the life of Peyton Weidrick’s cat, the University of Saskatchewan’s College of Veterinary Medicine stepped in to help.

At 6-years-old Peyton was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and sensory processing disorder. It’s often difficult for him to transition between tasks or activities. Some days he would have meltdowns when coming home from school. But once he was graced with two kittens, things got much better. The cats allow him to manage many of his frustrations. Now, after school he picks them up and rubs his face in their fur.

Peyton has two cats – Clijsters and Stousur, both named after well known female tennis players. If he ever gets upset he’ll take one of the cats to his room to cuddle. It’s his way to calm down and self-regulate in order to better communicate what he’s feeling.

It came as devastating news when his mother, Karlinda, found out Clijsters needed a $2,000 dental procedure. It had come up unexpectedly and the surgery was definitely not within their family’s budget. They began to worry at thought of having to give up the adored cat. In an effort to keep Clijsters, Karlinda reached out to the Good Samaritan Fund at the local university.

The fund is intended to help animals who are ownerless or whose owners are aren’t able to afford treatments by giving free or discounted services. The program was established in 2011 but it is solely supported by outside donations. So it was suggested that Karlinda start a GoFundme account. At first she was hesitant because she didn’t believe any one would give money to a cat. However, support came flooded from everywhere. Soon she was able to raise $950 which helped cover all the aftercare and medicine for the cherished cat.

The surgery was successful! Clijsters is healthy and full of energy, but most importantly Peyton is happy to have his friend back again.

Written by Raiza Belarmino



New Lego Therapy to Help Build Communication

lego therapy for autism

Playing with Legos is an all-time favorite activity for kids. The colorful building blocks are now being used to help with social and communicative development for children who are on the autism spectrum.

It’s called Lego Therapy, and has become a very popular new type of Play Therapy. The idea is that using Legos will encourage children to have more meaningful interaction and communication with their peers.

Children with autism are often attracted to this kind of toy because it’s systematic, and building with them uses elements of predictability in a highly structured way. Researchers and practitioners throughout the US and UK have found that autistic children are focused, more motivated, and happy to participate in these types of therapy sessions.

This is what makes Lego Therapy hugely successful. Since the child is engaged they are more likely to benefit from it. It’s also said that skills learned in this therapy are easily transferred to other settings.

Some skills that are strengthened through this therapy are:

•   Verbal and Nonverbal Communication

•   Sharing and Taking Turns

•   Listening and Following Directions 

•   Goal Planning

•   Teamwork and Problem Solving

Lego therapy can be used in one-on-one sessions between a child and an adult facilitator. Using it in a group setting allows the children help one another achieve their goals.

The therapy has also been shown to improve communication and social skills as kids work together (or with an adult) to build the intended object.

Mother of 6-year-old Dylan Ryan has noticed a tremendous change in her son. Before, he had minimal language and often replied ‘no’ frequently. However, after years of therapy he’s taken a big step forward by asking to play with other kids.

Therapies for autism are just as individualized as the child. The new Lego Therapy gives parents more options to choose from.

Written by Raiza Belarmino



Inspiring Essay by Nonverbal Student Disproves Stereotypes

nonverbal autism essay

Just because 12-year-old Phillip can’t get the words out doesn’t mean that he has nothing to say.

The preteen keeps a blog to record his thoughts for an audience willing to listen. His corner of the internet on Blogspot is called “Faith, Hope, and Love… With Autism.” The tagline at the top reads, “This is the story of a boy who could not talk, but learned to make his thoughts known by spelling on a letterboard and typing. This is his path from silence to communication.”

In his post for World Autism Awareness Day, Philip offered a glimpse into his mind by explaining what daily life was like for him. He explained how he exhibits stimming behaviors such as arm flapping or tapping so that he can “feel his body better and peacefully work.” Though others may see these habits as pointless, Phillip says, the sights and sounds of the world around him become overbearing once he stops stimming.

He also points out how much he enjoys academics- math, science, social studies, and language arts- because he loves learning about the world. He cannot speak verbally and relies on a communication board, so at a casual glance, many people do not realize that his mind is active and full of knowledge.

Phillip explained in his essay how he once felt like a monster after constantly hearing others around him speak negatively about autism. He learned to hate himself at the time and felt like a burden on everyone around him.

Phillip is at peace with his autism now, accepting it as part of his identity. He is able to make friends and feels validated at his school. The boy also expresses gratitude toward his parents for all the encouragement they have given him over the years.

In this blog, Phillip wants to emphasize the importance of teaching children with autism to communicate, however that may be. After many unsuccessful years with ABA therapy, he felt he was just meeting pointless goals like pointing to flashcards.

“If pointless goals are your passion, then I pity your kids,” writes the 12-year old. “People need to be able to set their own goals. No person should be without a voice.”



Autistic Teen Defies Odds at Graduation

autistic teen at graduation

As graduation season approaches, we will honor and celebrate all the hard work students across the country have accomplished. One college student in North Charleston, South Carolina has improved far beyond anyone’s imagination.

Rhyan Coleman is a recent graduate of Trident Technical College and one of the honorary student speakers for their 2015 commencement ceremony. Any mother would be proud but for Angela Simmons, this was an especially miraculous moment.

When he was three years old, Simmons noticed there was something different about her son. He kept repeating what she said and wasn’t able to keep up in a conversation. Rhyan was diagnosed with autism and his repetitive speech is a symptom called echolalia. This is a common behavior for children with autism. Once he heard a word or a phrase spoken, he often just repeated it right back at the person.

After years and years of work through speech therapy, this symptom was treated successfully. His mother credits this achievement to the many supporters throughout his life, stating that Rhyan always had a village around him. The friends, family, teachers and therapists that did whatever they could do to help him laid his path to success.

Once high school was over, Rhyan was a bit unsure of his future. He decided to continue his education at Trident Technical College, where he eventually received an Associate’s Degree in Radio and Television Broadcasting.

On May 1, he addressed thousands of people in a crowd filled with students, faculty, family and friends. In the speech he shared his journey growing up with ASD and thanked all of those who have supported him in his academic career. He is most proud to walk across the stage along with his fellow 800+ students.

When asked about his next plans, he replies, “There is a next chapter to be written.”

Written by Raiza Belarmino



One Thousand Paper Chains

paper chains

Well maybe not quite a thousand, but no one has really counted.

Max is a teenager and most days after school he spends the afternoons at his grandmother’s house. He finds comfort in computer games and arts and crafts. There’s always paper around for him to cut out stars or numbers. His most recent project is paper chains, or as he calls it “making circles.”

His grandmother, Judy Warrens, started to collect the chains and hang them up on the ceiling of her basement. The area is now almost completely filled with them and she is trying to look for a new project. But for the time being Judy was excited to share a glimpse into Max’s mind.

At a young age he was diagnosed with autism and, at first, Judy wasn’t sure what to make of it. A close friend shared a beautifully written poem called Welcome To Holland by Emily Perl Kingsley. In it, she expresses what it’s like to raise a child with autism. She compares it to planning a trip to Italy. Before arriving, you might would research the Coliseum and Michelangelo’s David.

You may also try to learn some of the language and plan your sightseeing schedule. But imagine that once the plane lands, the flight attendant announces, “Welcome to Holland!” You would be confused because you were expecting Italy but now you are in an unfamiliar place where you must learn a new language and a new way of life. It’s not that this unfamiliar place is bad, but it’s definitely different than Italy.

These are the sentiments Judy can relate to. Holland is still a beautiful place in its own right. And here she has learned things she never would have if she was in Italy.

Written by Raiza Belarmino



Stand Strong Against Public Discrimination

autism discrimination on travel

Parents should feel comfortable and safe when traveling anywhere in the world and have fun especially while on vacation. Dr. Donna Beegle of Tigard, Oregon who is a strong advocate for anti-poverty programs, took her fifteen year old autistic daughter Juliette on a family trip to Walt Disney.

On their way back on the flight during a layover she got hungry, like any child might, and became a little agitated. The mother was initially denied when she offered to pay for a hot meal, when the stewardess informed her that they were only available to first class passengers. After informing the flight attendant that her daughter may lash out if she is not fed, an exception was made and the child was provided with food.

The girl then ate and calmed down while watching a movie. Out of nowhere the crew announced that they were preparing for an emergency landing in Salt Lake City. The entire family was taken off the plane while a passenger was recording this entire incident with shock and disappointed of treatment.

No parent should ever feel this type of embarrassment or ridicule. Dr. Beegle is a world traveler flying to five countries and twenty four states and has never had an unsettling experience before. This is twisted case wherein special needs discrimination has been brought to light. We all understand that when there is a serious flight risk that is potentially dangerous to others, that the flight crew should always take precautions. But in this case, the mother and daughter should have not been treated with such disrespect.

As a mother, Dr. Beegle wants to make sure that no child with autism should ever experience something like this again. She will be suing the airline “not for money, but rather to ask that airline staff receive training.” In this case she’s doing what’s best for her and her family. 

Here is some helpful advice for parents to help them advocate publicly:

Parents traveling with autistic children should never feel prejudice, ignorance and mistreatment when their child is upset. An unfortunate incident like this may be avoided with positive training for future and current flight members. Parents with autistic children are like any other parent, in that they want to their children to have everything.

Positive re-enforcement, encouragement and having patience are keys elements to traveling in a smooth way. One of the most important things that every parent should remember is to bring a child’s favorite toys, movies, books or any type of creative toy that brings the child comfort from home. Parents should remember that children aren’t perfect but in the end, their experience when traveling away from home should be a positive one. May no child or parent have to experience this again by learning from this incident. 



Workshop Covers Emergency Preparedness for Autistics

emergency preparedness for autism

For the final Shema Kolainu workshop of the spring season, Dr. Stephen Shore of Adelphi University helped the audience with tips on disaster readiness involving people with autism.

When someone on the autism spectrum suffers from sensory overload or social difficulties, this adds an entirely new layer of difficulty to an already stressful situation. First responders, whether police officers, firemen, or 911 operators, are trained to respond quickly and often harshly. Even with just a small amount of awareness and training, authorities acting during emergencies can utilize effective and gentler techniques to accommodate a person with autism.

When a child or adult with autism encounters a police officer, there are some “unwritten rules” that may be understood by most, but are frequently missed. For example, a teenager with autism may come off as overly blunt or disrespectful when answering an officer, since they speak quite literally or may not understand the question being asked. One in a series of videos that Dr. Shore screened for the audience showed adults with autism being read their Miranda rights. Because of their difficulty communicating, many of these individuals did not understand their rights to remain silent, and whether they should be waived.

Dr. Shore emphasized in his presentation that a first responder should remain very calm and use extra patience when dealing with an autistic person. Flashing lights or a burning building are very intense for a child on the autism spectrum; it should be expected that their reaction will be intense as well, and a screaming meltdown may well ensue. It is important to comfort the child instead of demanding answers from them. In many cases, it may be required to restrain the person, so that they don’t run back into the fire or another situation that is dangerous for themselves and others.

Disaster preparedness is not only a topic of interest for authorities; perhaps the very first responder in an emergency is a parent. Therefore, parents must take extra steps to ensure their autistic child’s safety. Dr. Shore suggested that parents notify local authorities of their child’s condition and address, preparing police officers and other government officials for a situation where they may encounter their child in a state of high stress. They can then be educated on exactly how to handle the situation.

Parents may also alert others by providing their child with a medical ID bracelet, clearly giving out their name while making others aware of their condition, which is particularly helpful if the child is non-verbal. Another idea is to affix a sticker decal onto a car, or even on a child’s backpack, that lets others know how an emergency should be handled.

Sometimes, locking the doors is not always enough to ensure a child’s safety. It is advised that parents of an autistic child keep a close eye on them at all times, and that there is always a plan in place for when something goes wrong.



Shema Kolainu 2015 Reunion

shema kolainu reunion

A joyous celebration of past achievements for Shema Kolainu – Hear Our Voices: School and Center for Children with Autism took place on Thursday, May 7 at our 2015 Reunion Banquet.

Our students were treated to dancing, toy giveaways, and a spectacular magic show at the Renaissance Ballroom in Borough Park, Brooklyn on May 7, 2015. Following the initial festivities, a very special award was presented to Volvi Brown in honor of his distinguished achievements for the school.

Brown was able to take home stunning original artwork created by several Shema Kolainu art students, which symbolizes the creativity and collaboration between so many outstanding people that have made Shema Kolainu a wonderful place for growth and fond memories.

This delightful reunion brought together our current school aged students with Shema Kolainu alumni, and of course, their parents, who are the driving force behind the children’s progress. Shema Kolainu leadership present at the event included CEO Dr. Joshua Weinstein, Program Director Suri Gruen, Educational Director Gili Rechany and IEP Coordinator Chani Katz.

Thank you to all who made this event a great success and put a smile on our kids’ faces! Special thanks extended to The Friedlander Group for putting together the event, and to all Shema Kolainu staff in attendance.



7 Things to Consider When Getting a Service Dog

autism service dog

We’ve heard the research, and we’ve heard the personal testimonials. Service dogs offer countless benefits to those with disabilities including autism. But the entire process can be very difficult and sometimes comes with a hefty price tag.

You may have seen offers that promise completed training in less than a year or training for an existing pet. Although it sounds very tempting, you probably want to steer clear of these offers. The amount of time and work required to instill obedience simply cannot be done in this time frame. Also, use caution with resources like Facebook, Twitter, Craigslist, etc. Reputable businesses/organizations are often in high demand and have no need to advertise.

Instead, here are some tips to help guide you when getting a service dog:

1. Check out Assistance Dog International. This organization requires all of its members to adhere to certain standards of training, placement, and utilization of assistance dogs. Some requirements include initial 6 month follow ups, annual followups thereafter, humane methods of animal treatment, ethical practices, working well with clients and meeting their needs, and complying to legal regulations. Businesses who aren’t members of this organization should be looked at more closely.

2. Review application processes thoroughly. Due to high demand, service dogs are very limited. Those companies who offer less than a year should be treated with skepticism. Questionnaires typically ask for the age of the child, who will be trained, whether there are other pets in the home, what support the child may need, and current therapies in place. Questions about payment should not be included, though general costs and fundraising are often brought up.

3. Obtain referrals. Talk to people in your area. You can often ask the business for families you can contact for references and feedback. This is your chance to ask questions about the application process, training, follow ups, and their overall experience.

4. Contact IRS and BBB. Many organizations claim to operate as nonprofits and this can be verified by contacting the IRS. This may seem odd to do, but if they are lying about that, they are likely being dishonest about other things as well. You can look into reviews on BBB and also Yelp.

5. Research names and credentials of trainers and volunteers. Check to see employees are certified trainers to confirm you will be receiving quality training.

6. Become knowledgable about the breed. Service dogs for autistic individuals are often calm-mannered, family-friendly breeds; typically Golden Retrievers, Labradors, or a mix of the two. Do some research on your own to be more familiar with the type of dog. You should also ask where they get the dogs from and why they chose the specific breed.

7. Make a contract. This is a service that will take some time, so it’s best to have a contract that outlines exactly what services you will be receiving from the business or organization. You should not send money until the contract has been signed unless there is a small registration fee.

Service dogs can provide so many advantages but must be done in the right away to get all the benefits. It can be quite an overwhelming process but with these 7 steps you can find a great organization that will help match you with just the right dog.

Written by Raiza Belarmino



11 Strategies for Camping With Your Autistic Child

camping trips for autism

Thinking about going camping this summer? It’s the best time of year; school is ending and the weather is too good to pass up. Being around nature is a great way to relax and can create long lasting memories.

But we understand that any type of outing can cause some concerns when traveling with an autistic child. One mother, Tara, can definitely relate to these worries. Her 8 year old daughter Maggie likes routines and familiarity, so going somewhere new can be a big obstacle. However, through experience Tara has strategized in a way for camping to be enjoyable for the entire family. Here are her 11 tips:

  1. Use the Buddy System. Travel with families whose children are around the same age. This way you can pair the kids up and have an extra set of hands helping you out.
  2. Bring Friends. More people means more fun, and also more help available. It will come in handy if your child doesn’t want to participate in all activities. For instance, the adults can be split up while some take a group to the water and others stay back.
  3. Consider an Electrical Site. Although this kind of defeats the whole “getting back to nature” idea, it can be life saver. Having a fully charged iPad or mobile phone can come in handy in situations if your child starts to become dysregulated. It can provide the break that they need so they can come back to join the fun.
  4. Lock the Tent. You can use a combination lock or zip ties to keep the front closed. This ensures that your child won’t sneak out in the middle of the night without your knowledge (but remember to plan bathroom trips well). You can hide a pair of scissors inside the tent in case of an emergency.
  5. Plan the Location for Your Site. Take a look at the camping site beforehand and find a good place to set up. You want to consider being close to places you’ll use often, such as the bathroom or swimming area.
  6. Look for Playgrounds. They are full of great activities for kids to let out all of their energy.
  7. Always Have Snacks on Hand. This is a great way to get your child to do certain things. For example, if they want some pretzels let them know they can have a bag but first they must help clean up or play catch.
  8. Fire Safety. This is important for all kids but especially those with autism. The sensory stimulation with the lights, heat, and sound can draw their attention. When burning a fire it’s best to have an adult by their side at all times.
  9. Water Safety. You can take water out altogether by choosing a site without a lake or a pond.
  10. Find Shade. Heat can sometimes be overwhelming so having a good shaded area can provide relief.
  11. Have a Lost Plan. If your child tends to wander it’s a good idea to be prepared. Keep a current photo nearby and in your phone. Taking daily pictures is a great way to remember what your child was wearing that day. Also, program the campsite’s numbers into your phone so it’s easy to access if needed.

Originally sourced from The Huffington Post

Written by Raiza Belarmino