New Legislation Promotes Better Future for Autistics

The Massachusetts House of Representatives took a landmark step in unanimously passing a bill that would offer solutions for addressing the needs of a growing number of children being diagnosed with autism. Firstly, the legislation would encourage educators to develop teaching plans that would allow for autistic children to remain in a regular classroom setting by implementing enhanced teacher training. It allows for families to create special accounts, called ‘Achieving Better Life Experience’ or ABLE program, to pay for schooling, housing, transportation, employment, health financial management, etc. that would be tax exempt.

It also focuses on addressing employment and housing needs for individuals with disabilities, for example, allowing individuals with IQ levels higher than 70 to receive services. Before this legislation, individuals needed to have IQs no higher than 70 in order to be eligible for disability services. So there is finally some political recognition that someone with autism can have a higher IQ but still have significant limitations.

And finally, the bill calls for the creation of an Autism Commission within the Executive Office of Health and Human Services. The goal of the Autism Commission would be to act as a voice for those with autism and make recommendations on their behalf. They would also be responsible for monitoring the progress of any policies that are made on their behalf and investigating the range of services and support systems necessary for people on the autism spectrum to achieve their full potential.  The commission would be composed of 34 people, including representatives from the House and Senate and representatives of various autism related organizations. Representative Geoff Diehl called for an amendment made to the commission that would create seats for a parent of an autistic child as well as someone who works with an autistic child.

State Rep. Danielle Gregoire, D-Marlborough says, “With April being Autism Awareness Month, I am thrilled to see the House of Representatives making significant strides towards bettering the lives of individuals with autism as well as their familiesThe Special Commission Relative to Autism established in 2010 made several recommendations, and I am pleased that my colleagues have chosen to implement them to provide a better quality of life for members of our community.”

Shema Kolainu and ICare4Autism’s goal is to create opportunities for autistic individuals to achieve their full potential and are glad to see Congress making strides to support that mission. Our upcoming ICare4Autism Conference will also include initiatives and research that will be helping autistic children in securing a better future for themselves. Get more information and tickets here!

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Autism App Adopted by Clinical Institutions

SpeakAllis an iPad therapy app that is specifically designed for children and adults who have little to no functional speech skills, especially in the area of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC). The app allows them to acquire initial symbol vocabulary and learn the process of constructing simple sentences. It can be customized to each child or individual learner’s specific needs by allowing the instructor or caretaker to use recorded audio of their own voice as well as custom images from your iPad library. The app uses these photos and graphic symbols to represent what the child wants to say and helps them construct sentences accordingly.

Developed at Purdue University, this app is now being adopted for use at speech and language clinics at San Jose State University in California and the University of Central Florida in Orlando. “The SpeakAllapp is a major technological advancement in the available AAC tool kit for use with children with autism,” says Chad Nye, executive director of the University of Central Florida Center for Autism and Related Disabilities, “the system is easy to understand, learn, adapt, and deliver and should be in the professional tool kit of anyone working in the field of autism or other language interventions. The transparency of the actions make the stimulus and response items a practical application that can be individualized for each child.”

Clinicians are impressed by the apps clean layout of the app, especially since they have been looking for ways to figure out the issue of sensory overload with dynamic displays that are hard to work with. To much sensory information can create stress and anxiety for an autistic person struggling with speech development and further hinder their learning process. Communication is one of the biggest issues that children and families with autism face because they don’t have enough verbal speech to meet their day-to-day communicating needs.

A free version of the SpeakAllapp provides usage of up to 20 graphic symbols, two activity sheets, and one learner’s profile. The premium versions of the app include access to four different synthetic voices, data tracking and managements, unlimited symbols, unlimited activity sheets, and unlimited learner profiles.

Shema Kolainu takes full advantage of apps that can be used for speech therapy, especially ones that use clean visuals and auditory cues to help facilitate language production. In fact, one of our very own non-verbal students said his first words and first simple sentence, “want iPad,” just this past month. Integrating these newfound technologies into our therapy practices are an important part of creating a strong foundation for the children and students we work with. Innovations and advancements in technology will be covered in depth on Day 3 of our 2014 ICare4Autism International Conference.

Get more conference info & tickets here

Get more info on SpeakAllhere


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Early Intervention Makes a Big Difference

Autism researchers and experts agree that treating children for autism is especially important when they are aged 3 years and younger. However, diagnosis for these younger ages tend to be tough. In fact, according to new government data, children are well past their fourth birthday by the time they receive their diagnosis. It tends to take months or even years for doctors to confirm a formal diagnosis or any suspicions parents and teachers may have. The U.S Center for Disease Control and Prevention announced last month that the rate of autism for 8 year olds more than doubled between 2000 and 2010, and most of the children were not diagnosed until after the age of 4.

Right now the average age of diagnosis is around 4 ½ years old, but researchers say that diagnoses can reliably be made around the age of 2. So they are currently working on new methods for diagnosing autism spectrum disorder in the earliest possible time frame. Dr. Fred R. Volkmar, chairman of the Child Study Center at Yale University and chief of child psychiatry at Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital, also supports the idea that the early intervention can have a profound impact on the rest of a child’s life, he explains that it’s just a matter of how early one can really determine a child is autistic and what the real symptoms are in determining an early diagnosis.

Autism diagnosis is especially tricky since it includes a collection of symptoms that affect your child’s behavior such as their social skills and ability to communicate rather than something to be measured on a scale. “I have seen a handful of kids who before age 3 looked like they had autism; after 5 they looked normal,” Dr. Volkmar says. Some researchers at Harvard University used a 55-gene sample to try to predict autism, but they were correct less than 70 percent of the time and even less so for diagnosis among girls. With autism being linked to over 500 genes so far, simple genetic tests have proven to be not very reliable or accurate.

There are countless studies coming out this year alone that have found links to brain development in the prenatal environment that can be related to autism, eye gazing behaviors in babies between 2-6 months, infants having good or bad head control, and even so much as linking the sound of a baby’s cry to an autism diagnosis, according to research from clinical psychologist Stephen Sheinkopf.

Some parents are worried about making such early diagnoses especially in infancy. Shannon Knall was one such parent, but after having one child on the autism spectrum diagnosed a little before the age of three admits that she feels they “lost some time and opportunities for early intervention when we were waiting around to get into a diagnostician.” And this is a sentiment that seems to be widely shared by parents and caregivers alike who have children with asd.

Shema Kolainu-Hear Our Voices offers Early Intervention from birth to age 3, Special Education Itinerant Teachers for ages 3 to 5, and center-based school programs for ages 3 to 11. We also offer evaluations, related support services and Medicaid waiver coordination. We realize the importance of early intervention in helping these children to lead more successful lives and reach out to families across all five boroughs. If you have any questions or concerns about your child potentially being on the asd spectrum please do not hesitate to reach out!

For more information, visit our website here

For information about current research methods and treatments, look into our upcoming Autism Conference here

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Parental Obesity and Autism Risk

There has been a vast number of new studies coming out that are exploring the link between maternal and paternal obesity. Researchers are now noticing that perhaps paternal obesity could be a greater risk factor than maternal obesity, according to the Norwegian Institute of Public Health.

In a study conducted using data from the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study (MoBa) of about 93,000 Norwegian children ages three, five, and seven. Mothers had answered detailed questionnaires about their own mental and physical health as well as their children. Fathers answered the same questions about their mental and physical health while their partner was pregnant.

From the surveyed population, 419 children were diagnosed with ASD. About 22% of the mothers and 43% of the fathers were found to be overweight with a body mass index (BMI) between 25 and 30 and 10% of parents were obese with a BMI of 30 or more.

They found that babies born to obese fathers were linked to having double the risk of having autism, however these statistics were still quite small where just under 0.3% were diagnosed with autism compared to 0.14% of kids with normal weight fathers. Dr. Pal Suren says, “We were very surprised by these findings because we expected that maternal obesity would be the main risk factor for the development of ASD. It means we have had too much focus on the mother and too little on the father.”

He concluded that certain gene variations could be linked to increased risks of both obesity and autism, or obese men could be more likely to have certain environmental exposures that contribute to autism risk. Dr. Suren explains that conducting similar studies in different countries could help researchers in understanding if their findings can be applied to other populations.

For now this study still works on a theory of this existing link. And though the link is still quite small Dr Andrew Adesman, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Steven and Alexandra Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York says that it an important risk factor to explore since obesity is becoming so common across the globe.

The upcoming ICare4Autism International Autism Conference will be discussing current research and research finding about risk factors, treatments, and future prospects for autism, click here for tickets and info about the event!

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Dance/Movement Therapy for Autistic Children


We are constantly seeking innovative ways to help autistic children who struggle with communicating and connecting to others in social environments. Dance/movement therapy is quickly becoming recognized as beneficial in helping kids with ASD express themselves.

Therapists are using dance as a way to assess and intervene in your child’s life in a positive way. Unlike a regular dance class this one is not about teaching specific steps or a routine. It is also not specifically an exercise class, however, can achieve similar goals. Depending on the child each dance session can look different. Focusing on the needs of the particular individual or a small group they can work solo or alongside parents and families to help improve the quality of the parent teacher relationship. The goal is to channel communication patterns into dancing.

By asking ourselves how do we speak their language we can create a starting point in which to communicate with an autistic child who processes connections very differently than we do. One therapist, Christina Devereaux, speaks to her experience with dance/movement therapy while working with a little girl who had very limited verbal communication, was very interested in objects opposed to people, and was easily agitated and anxious. It was a small group session where the children were twisting side to side together. Then they began twisting towards each other and then away. The dance became a metaphor for her relationship with the children as they moved closer one moment and further the next. Rejection, Devereux says, is still a form of social communication. Deciding to hold her hand out during the dancing, the girl took it and twisted their way towards each other culminating in a high five where the little girl said, “hi”.

These small moments of connection and verbal communication are important milestones for autistic children as it helps them deal with repetitive and restrictive behaviors. Helping parents experience how to tune into their child in nonverbal ways can establish very warm and satisfying relations for both parent and child. Devereaux adds that feeling understood is a biological imperative and the greatest benefit of dance/movement therapy lies in its ability to provide social relatedness and form relationships.

For the original article, click here

Also check out the Turtle Dance Music Group which offers programs and shows for autistic children

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Obsessive Behaviors Can Be a Resource

As more research comes out on Autism and as we better observe children who have it, therapists, parents, and educators alike are coming to realize that certain behaviors that we may as abnormal may actually be behaviors that are beneficial for the progress of a child. One example is repetitive or obsessive behaviors.

Autistic individuals tend to have many different obsessions, but some common ones include, computers, trains, dates, science, or certain TV shows or movies. They will want to learn a lot about something they feel interested in and strongly about. These obsessions tend to give them a sense of structure and predictability, help them relax, and bring happiness in engaging in something that interests them.

One four year old boy, Owen Suskind, diagnosed with autism at 18 months, was obsessed with watching Disney movies. He would constantly rewind and rewatch and it seems that he was very focused and happy when doing this. When his family sat down to watch one of his favorites with him, The Little Mermaid, they noticed that he kept rewinding to a particular part of a song where Ursula is singing, “Just your voice.” Owen had been saying ‘juicervose’ for the past few weeks with no one able to understand what he was actually trying to say. The moment of clarity was a great moment of connection and celebration not only for Owen’s family but Owen as well. Owen’s speech and interests grown with his “obsession” for Disney movies throughout his childhood, and the more his parents were able to acknowledge and respect his interest the more the were able to connect with him and help him communicate. So these obsessions were actually helpful to his success and everyday functioning.

So perhaps we need to change the way we look as certain behavior patterns in autistic children. Obsessions can be used to increase your child’s skills and areas of interest, promote-self esteem, and encourage social behaviors. Parents and educators can think of ways to make theses behaviors a functional part of their children’s lives and ultimately help them to become successful and happy individuals.

To Read Owen’s Story, click here

For more information on Obsessive/Repetitive Behaviors and how to help your child, click here


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Stephen Shore’s Journey with Autism

Stephen Shore is an assistant professor in the Department of Education at Adelphi University and also a member of the ICare4Autism Advisory council. At just 18 months old he was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and tomorrow be will be speaking at Clarkson University’s David Walsh ’67 Arts & Sciences Seminar Series in Potsdam, New York. His presentation will be an autobiographical journey, titled “Life on and Slightly to the Right of the Autism Spectrum: An Inside View to Success,” which will cover the challenges he faced with verbal communication as a young child to becoming a professor.

When he was diagnosed, professionals said he had atypical development and was too sick for outpatient treatment, in fact, he was recommended for institutionalization. However, he had great support from his parents and others and began speaking verbally at the age of 4. Now as a professor, his research focuses mainly on figuring out best practices to address the needs of autistic individuals.

His presentation will focus on teaching of musical instruments, classroom accommodations, and issues faces by young adults, such as relationships, higher education, employment, and self-advocacy. He will start the lecture with an activity to demonstrate to his audience how it feels to have autism and the struggles to communicate and socialize.

Apart from his work with children and spreading his story, Shore does presentations and consultations on an international level. He has written a variety of books including Beyond the Wall: Personal Experiences with Autism and Asperger SyndromeAsk and Tell: Self Advocacy and Disclosure, and his critically acclaimed Understanding Autism for Dummies. He is the president emeritus of the Asperger’s Association of New England, and other autism related organizations apart from ICare4Autism.

Stephen Shore will be speaking at our upcoming 2014 International ICare4Autism Conference where he will present on developing employment opportunities for young autistic adults as well as autism as it relates to the Arts and our sensory systems.

For more information on the conference and registration, please click here

For a video on Stephen Shore’s life with autism click here

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Progress for Autism Insurance Bills


The push to insure coverage for autistic children continues. Just yesterday the Kansas Senate approved the bill that would mandate coverage by a 38-2 vote and sent it to Republican Gov. Sam Brownback for his signature.

The passing of this bill comes after a six-year struggle by advocates for children with autism. If the Governor does in fact sign the bill, it will become the 34th state to require autism coverage. The terms of the bill has undergone some changes from when it was introduced last month. Whereas before it would have covered anyone under 18, it now only applies to children under 12. It requires coverage of up to 1300 hours a year for applied behavioral analysis for children up to 6 years old, eventually dropping to 520 hours a year from 6-12 years old. However, there are no age or hour limitations for other autism services.

The mandated coverage would initially apply to insurance plans before the Affordable Care Act and businesses with over 50 employees. Small employers and individuals would be covered starting in 2016. So it is still a work in progress. Democratic Senator Laura Kelley of Topeka says, “It’s a better-than-nothing-bill.” Well, having this bill on the agenda and in the public eye is definitely a good start.

Also passed yesterday was Utah’s SB57 that requires health insurance plans to provide coverage for treatment for autistic children ages 2-9. The disorder affects about 1 of every 54 kids in Utah, and parents are celebrating the progress made with the passage of this bill.

One mother of four, Erin Hansen said she had to take on an extra job just to pay for her 3 year old son’s therapy. She is excited that there will be less stress on her to provide his therapy, which has been helping him with verbal communication and helping himself with morning tasks. As every parent with an autistic child knows, these “small milestones” are huge accomplishments and great sources of joy for these families.

We hope that more bills that provide coverage will continue to go through the senate for states that don’t provide coverage. Shema Kolainu is one of the few schools in New York City that provide free services for autistic kids all over the metro area. We understand the importance of these therapies not only in the child’s life, but the parents as well. As autism month continues, we hope these issues continue to be highlighted in the local and federal political sphere.

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World Autism Awareness Day

Today April 2nd, 2014 is World Autism Awareness Day. The United Nations General Assembly highlighted this day in 2008 to celebrate the creative minds of children and adults with autism spectrum disorder. It serves to remind us that we need to create more opportunities for education, employment, and integration into society for autistics. Dr. Joshua Weinstein, CEO & Founder of ICare4Autism explains, “We have entered a new age of autism, characterized on the one hand by unprecedented incidence, and on the other by advanced research, earlier diagnosis, and progressively more effective intervention. The evidence is clear—autism and hope are no longer mutually exclusive, but the need for action has never been more urgent.”

UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon also commented on the meaning of today saying, “World Autism Awareness Day is about more than generating understanding; it is a call to action. I urge all concerned to take part in fostering progress by supporting education programs, employment opportunities, and other measures that help realize our shared vision of a more inclusive world.”

And we at Shema Kolainu and ICare4Autism couldn’t agree more. Recently undergoing a project with our newfound partnership with the World Health Organization we are currently working on a global autism e-resource center that will create and improve access to autism information, research, and education across all companies and disciplines. This initiative is part of the UN’s resolution to make a comprehensive effort in managing autism spectrum disorder.

The UN recognizes that autistic people still suffer from discrimination and are denied fundamental human rights on a global and national level. Ban Ki-Moon further promotes that, “Schools connect children to their communities. Jobs connect adults to their societies. Persons with autism deserve to walk the same path. By including children with different learning abilities in mainstream and specialized schools, we can change attitudes and promote respectWhen we empower them, we benefit current and future generations.”

Schools and centers like Shema Kolainu aim to do just that, which is why we do not take our jobs lightly. Children are an important piece of the puzzle in creating a more inclusive society.

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Potential Causes for Increase in Autism Diagnoses

Credit: Simons Foundation

Many reports and studies are coming out with startling statistics of autism on the rise. The CDC reports that 1 in 68 children are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and according to USA Today, autism rates have jumped 30% between 2008 and 2010.  These numbers can be alarming especially when just one generation back, autism was something we rarely heard of.

A new study conducted in Denmark has looked at the incidence of autism reported on a yearly basis. Researchers included only people up to 65 years of age using records from the Danish Psychiatric Central Research Registry. Between 1995 and 2010 nearly 15,000 people received a diagnosis along the autism spectrum. This was found to be an overall increase from 9 diagnoses per 100,000 people to approximately 39 diagnoses per 100,000 people.

Although researchers were not surprised by the increase, they were surprised that the number of males with a new diagnosis quadrupled from 13.2 to 58 per 100,000 people between 1995 and 2010. Whereas female diagnoses increased sevenfold from 2.6 to 18.6 per 100,000 people.

Professor of population health sciences and pediatrics, Maureen Durkin, says that better diagnostic practices could explain the increasing incidences of autism that we see worldwide. As more attention is given to symptoms as doctors are now screening much more than before, they are more likely to see it.

After analyzing their results based on age demographics, researchers found that children between 4 and 13 make up about 63 percent of the new autism cases. The fastest increases in new cases diagnosed are between 14 and 20 years old, and individuals between 21 and 65 years account for about 9 percent of new cases. However, the increase in diagnosis in adults has to do with the recognition of cases that were previously missed—an individual cannot develop autism as an adult.

Here at Shema Kolainu and ICare4Autism we understand the importance of increasing awareness and education surrounding the causes, consequences, and effects of autism. So although we are not alarmed by the increasing cases of autism we still remain concerned about misconceptions about autism and making treatments and therapies available to younger generations.

For a link to the original article, click here

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