Talk Focuses on Art Therapy to Help Autistic Children

An autistic child is afraid of letters, but loves drawing faces.

So Patrick Allred, a registered behavior technician who works with the Utah Autism Academy, used to help him learn. Drawing faces on each letter helped him get over his anxiety about letters, said Allred, “With these letters, he was able to learn the alphabet because they were nice to him, they weren’t scary.”

Art, and how it can help children with autism, was the topic of an art talk Tuesday evening at the Woodbury Art Museum, where three professionals who utilize art therapy talked about how children who have difficulties vocalizing needs can learn to use art to communicate.

Allred has involved students in projects where they will draw what they’re afraid of, or will listen to music and draw how the music made them feel. He shared with a small audience how a child learned to draw faces with different expressions and emotions, and would mimic each face as he drew it.

Jenny Elizabeth, an artist who has used art therapy to help children, spoke on how art can be used to help with trauma. She has witnessed that some art mediums are seen as safer than others, like watercolors, which can evoke more emotion than pencils.

“You can tell a lot about where a person is and what they need to work on if you look at the media they’re using and what they are drawing,” Elizabeth said.

George Cepull, a professional artist who volunteers as an art instructor at local elementary schools, is known to his students as “Mr. Cepull, the man with the robot leg.” When he enters classrooms, he dresses so the students can see his prosthetic leg.

“I am something different to them, and I think that helps them adapt to the real world,” Cepull said.

He teaches the children that everything is made up of shapes, and making a picture is like putting a jigsaw puzzle together. At the end of his lessons, he projects their drawings onto a screen.

“I think this is a way they can feel good about themselves and see what they can do,” Cepull said. “They can see their art on the wall.”

 

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14-Year-Old Autistic Boy Finds Happiness through Art

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John was having a difficult time trying to communicate and demonstrated a tendency to act rather aggressively. However, this all changed once he discovered his passion towards painting. Continue reading

AutBuddy: A New Mobile App Inspired by a Sisterly Bond

autbuddy Edgars blog postEashana Subramanian, a 12-year-old girl, has developed a new mobile application after noticing the challenges her autistic sister faces on a day to day basis at school. Eashana had been observing her sister Meghana’s behavior and noticed how important routines were to her. Every morning, Meghana wakes up and goes to brush her teeth, comb her hair, dress up, and get ready for school. Eashana realized that when something changed in the structure of her sister’s routine, she would have a hard time following the new pattern.

Eashana saw how her parents struggled to assign the appropriate tasks to Meghana since they had a difficult time keeping up with what was going on at school. It didn’t take long for Eashana to connect the dots together and realize that there was a communication gap between the teachers and her parents. She decided to take matter into her own hands and create a handy app called AutBuddy in order to bridge the distance. “I look at all these problems and said this had to be solved somehow or made easier for my parents. So I thought of AutBuddy that could have features to fix the problems — not fix but help,” explains Eashana. 

The purpose of AutBuddy is to help children on the autism spectrum carry out their routines at home and school in a stable and organized manner. Eashana developed it along with the help of some of her middle school friends in Derwood, Maryland. One of the main functions of the app is its ability to allow the parents to communicate with the teachers in real time so that they don’t get left behind when it comes to lessons and assigned homework duties. The app is also customizable and is personalized to each children’s needs according to their level on the autism spectrum. 

AutBuddy’s development originated at the Adventure in Science Club which is a Maryland-based nonprofit group that promotes science, technology, engineering, and math education. The team of developers include nine other students as well as an advisor and a special education teacher. The group received $20,000 thanks to the 2016 Verizon App Challenge. The next step for the team has them working with members of the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where the app will move into production. AutBuddy will be ready to launch on June 1st through Google Play and we couldn’t be more excited for its release!

For additional information, please visit:ABC News

By Edgar Catasus

How Wrestling Empowered a Student with Autism to Interact with the World

Wresting with AutismParents of a child on the autism spectrum understand the importance and difficulty of keeping their child engaged with the world around them. Kurt Janicki, the father of an autistic child, was struggling with his son’s tendency to disconnect and drift away from the present moment. Mr. Janicki was looking for ways to get his son to interact with his surroundings and he couldn’t have imagined an answer to his dreams would come in the sport of wrestling. The unexpected life-changing event took place when his son, Erik Janicki, was watching the Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament. It was right in that moment that he realized he wanted to participate in his high school’s wrestling program. Ever since, Erik has been connected to the world thanks to his passionate interest in the sport. 

“If you let him, his world would close in on him. If you don’t keep him connected to the world around him, he would close in on himself in a heartbeat, and he would continue to do that.”, said Mr. Janicki. The ease in which Erik retreats back into his shell is what has made his discovery of wrestling that much more significant. He’s now known to be “Coach Erik” within his teammates and his involvement in the sport has given him an opportunity to better himself. As one of the coaches, Erik’s responsibilities include helping the head coach run practices and delivering motivational speeches to the team before their scheduled meets. 

Erik’s father participated in the same high school’s wrestling program back in the 1980’s and he was able to reach the Middlesex County Wrestling Tournament. “The thing about wrestling – you know how personal and emotional it can be – and Erik watches the journey that each one of these young men takes. He connects with them, and he’s emotionally invested in it”, explained Kurt Janicki. He was pleased, even shocked, by the offer of South River head coach Bobby Young to integrate Erik into the team by making him a coach. He thought his son was going to be on the sidelines and was gratifyingly surprised to see he truly was going to form an integral part of the experience. 

Erik’s parents look forward to a future where he can continue to thrive and grow as a person. His involvement and excitement as one of the wrestling coaches have installed a positive outlook into his transition to adulthood. They hope to continue to bring down the barrier that sometimes blocks their son from interacting independently with the world but remain optimistic. Mr. Janicki has some inspiring words of advice to other parents with children on the autism spectrum. He says, “They are wonderful gifts in your life. Don’t hide them from the world. Take time to let them teach you about yourself and about them.”

For additional information, please click here

By Edgar Catasus

The Importance of a Father Figure for a Child with Autism

It’s crucial for any child to have a strong mother and father figure in their life. It helps them develop and acquire healthy self-esteem as well as a positive outlook on their identity. However, in many families the father isn’t as present as the mother when it comes to caregiving which in turn disrupts the child’s well-being and sense of stability. According to a recent study, it’s even more imperative for a child with autism to be able to depend on a supportive father figure who is engaged and invested in his role.

Researchers at the University of Illinois have found that when dads participate in activities with kids on autism spectrum, the child sees a noticeable improvement in their overall development and the mother is less apt to suffer from depression. Activities might include the father reading a story, playing with toys, calming the child down when they are upset, or taking them to the doctor when they feel sick. Since mothers demonstrate higher levels of stress when they take care of a child with autism, the father’s involvement becomes of special importance to the well-being of both parents. 

“One of the key criteria of autism is difficulty with communication, which may explain why these children’s mothers are especially susceptible to stress and depression,” explains one of the main conductors of the study Daniel J. Laxman. Since children with autism struggle with communication, it’s essential for the father to spend time every day reading or singing songs to his child in order for the child to improve his or her vocabulary and grasp on verbal communication. 

The study analyzed the development of the child at nine months, two years old, and four years old in order to get a clear picture of the benefits of a firm paternal role. The data has been quite groundbreaking since many previous researchers focused on the importance of the mother role and reduced the significance of the father. This might be due to society’s expectations of dads not playing as much of a central part in the upbringing of a child. The study dismisses such preconceived cultural norms and indicates that both parents are integral to the structure of a family. 

“It’s very important that men fully understand the reasons why their support and active engagement in parenting is so critical for the family’s functioning and for the child,” states Brent A. McBride, director of the Child Development Laboratory at Illinois. However, it’s also necessary for the parents to come to an agreement over the parenting methods they will inflict on the child to not create an even more stressful environment. A mother and a father will have different perspectives and points of view when it comes to discipline but the child needs to feel a sense of harmony within the family. 

For additional information, please visit: PsychCentral.14125302252_77be5c7efe_z

By Edgar Catasus

Creativity and it’s Connection with Autism

Edgar's Blog Image Feb 3A recent research study conducted by psychologists from the University of East Anglia in England have discovered a surprising link between creativity and autism. Their study has uncovered that individuals on the autism spectrum produce original and unusual ideas to a particular problem more frequently. At the same time, they’re also more likely to respond fewer times to the same problem. This unique way of processing information is called divergent thinking.

The study examined individuals who demonstrate certain behavior patterns and thoughts that are related to autism without being diagnosed with the condition. The purpose was to show how some traits associated with autism can be beneficial and not harmful to the development of a person. “People with high autistic traits could be said to have less quantity, but greater quality of creative ideas”, says Dr. Martin Doherty from UEA’s School of Psychology. 

The study consisted of a series of tests in order to determine the participant’s level of creativity when solving a certain task. Out of the study’s 312 participants, 75 of them were on the autism spectrum disorder. They were instructed to come up with alternative uses for a brick or a paper clip. Four or more uses meant that the individual was likely to display more autistic traits. The test also consisted on showing the participants four abstract drawings in which they had to give as many as ideas possible in just under one minute of time. Again, the more number of ideas produced were related to a higher level of autistic traits. 

Even though most persons would go for cognitively simple answers at first, those that exhibit autistic traits go straight for the more complex and demanding strategies. According to Dr. Doherty, this means “people with autistic traits may approach creativity problems in a different way”. Noted celebrities such as Temple Grandin and Stephen Wiltshire are prime examples of individuals diagnosed with autism who are yet immensely creative to their dedicated field of profession. This remarkable link between creativity and autism is helping researchers understand the brain better and they are hoping future findings can aid persons that are on and off the autism spectrum. 

By Edgar Catasus

For additional information, please visit: http://psychcentral.com/news/2015/08/16/the-link-between-autism-and-creativity/90899.html

The Benefits of Aquatic Therapy for Children with Autism

120380-320x212-SwimLearning and acquiring new skills can be a difficult thing to master for any child, but for those diagnosed with autism it can be especially challenging. Simple tasks and daily activities become overwhelming for children with special needs and as a result life can turn into a series of obstacles. Researchers around the globe are aware of the challenges those with autism face and have been working diligently to make significant advances in order to enhance their quality of life.

The latest breakthrough comes in the form of aquatic therapy. What is traditionally used as a method for physical rehabilitation and fitness improvement can now aid a child with autism. Water, the most basic element that sustains life on Earth, can positively impact a child with autism’s cognitive growth. Aquatic therapy is one of the recreational treatments that may develop delayed cognitive functioning.

Even though those with autism suffer from pervasive neurobiological deficiencies, the pressure of water can be incredibly soothing and provide a lasting sense of relief for the autistic child. Another aspect of water that can make a difference lies in its temperature. Warm water creates a relaxed learning environment for the child as they have a tendency to overreact to tactile stimuli. It’s helpful for the autistic child to experience the stimuli in order to make progress.

Aquatic therapy is beneficial for the child because it’s not overwhelming and at the same time it facilitates their need for sensory stimulation to develop their processing tolerance to a higher level. In other words, water provides just the right amount of exterior interaction best apt for learning. However, it’s important to keep in mind that a negative reaction to the water doesn’t necessarily mean aquatic therapy will not be fit for that child. On the contrary, the child needs to experience the sensory input in order to be able to process it. In fact, many clinicians reported the child was able to tolerate touch better after receiving treatment.

Another factor that contributes to aquatic therapy being beneficial for the autistic child is its in reduction of stress. Water makes the body feel 90% lighter and in return it reduces stress on the body during therapeutic exercises. Water reduces tension in the muscles and calms those children that deal with anxiety. Many children enjoy the peaceful aquatic environment and take their time to develop their abilities in the water. As an added bonus, it can also improve the child’s eating and sleeping habits by cutting their excess energy. Aquatic therapy is a welcome addition to the already large repertoire of treatments that can improve a child with autism’s lifestyle. Even though researchers are currently investigating more of its perks, the studies accumulated so far indicate a positive trend.

For additional information: http://www.recreationtherapy.com/articles/autismandquatictherapy.htm

Special thanks to our guest blogger, Edgar Catasus