Category Archives: Autism Spectrum Disorder

Special Behavioral Autism Therapy May Alter Brain Activity



Preliminary results from a four-month study show that pivotal response training (PRT) can alter brain function in children with autism.

Areas of the brain that process social information showed changes after the therapy was used on children. Several mental areas showed improvement after the experiment which was measured by response to visual stimuli.

Pivotal Response Training was used with half of the participants in this study with autism spectrum disorder. This therapy uses some of the child’s favorite playtime activities. The therapist then develops certain ways to communicate by engaging the child in their own interests.

Researchers showed photographs of houses as well as pictures of human faces to children in two groups. The first group contained 40 children with autism spectrum disorder and the second was a control group of 20 children who did not have autism. All children were shown the photos before the treatment and then after receiving it for 4 months. Functional magnetic response imaging (fMRI) was used to monitor activity in the brain.

At the beginning of the study, the children with autism showed more brain activity when shown photos of houses than when they looked at the face pictures, which was the opposite of what the control group demonstrated. This indicates that they respond more to physical objects than to social stimuli.

Early results from the therapy showed that following the treatment, children in the autistic group showed increased activity in the medial prefrontal cortex. This area is associated with social cognition. The children within this same group who did not receive treatment showed a small decline in mental activity in the same area.

However, in one way the results were contradictory. Some of the children were monitored to determine which regions of the face they focused on. The children with autism actually focused more on the subject’s mouths than they did on their eyes during the second observation after receiving the therapy. This indicates that the children read mouths for social cues more than eyes, like most other children would, though researchers expected to see the opposite after the therapy was complete. This data was only recorded in nine children, so the results should be noted with a larger sample size.

While the research is still in its early phases, the findings show that PRT may be effective in normalizing social cognition in children with autism. Students and associates at Yale University conducting the study hope to have more in-depth results published early next year.

Intellectual Diversity in the Workplace

SuccessThis past week, Shema Kolainu- Hear our Voices curated a presentation by Dr. Stephen Shore, member of ICare4Autsim’s advisory council and an Adelphi University professor who lives with Asperger’s Syndrome, on the topic of career success with autism spectrum disorder. As Dr. Shore pointed out, the success of a candidate depends on how well their strengths are matched to their occupation.

Intellectual differences are becoming a more familiar subject across the world, and now employers are beginning to recognize the importance of understanding all kinds of minds. Advocacy is increasing for those with developmental disorders as it becomes apparent how many people have struggled with coping alone.

Currently, a number of companies actively recruit workers who are on the autistic spectrum for tasks suited to their mental abilities. These include Freddie Mac, ULTRA Testing, and software company SAP AG. These strengths include attention to detail, vast knowledge of specific subjects, and tendencies to not over-socialize during work hours.

In some ways similar to affirmative action for minorities, workers with intellectual disabilities including autism spectrum disorder and ADHD are striving to be recognized and given a fair chance to succeed like everyone else. With estimates ranging from 1 in 68 to as many as 1 in 50, the issue is generating more buzz as autism diagnoses continue to become more prevalent.

Freddie Mac has created an internship program for those with autism spectrum disorder that places interns into paid positions within the fields of information technology, enterprise risk management, and the mortgage loan business. The company has placed several interns into permanent full time positions over the past four years, and praise these students for they analytical skills. Some of Freddie Mac’s managers have even realized after working with the interns that they themselves may have autism spectrum disorder.

An intellectual disability is usually not as obvious as a difference in race, gender, or physical handicap, so it has been an arduous process to achieve special recognition for those with brain differences. Many colleges and workplaces have actively worked for many years to include women and minorities in order to promote diversity, for example, but the application process is far more vague when it comes to mental diversity. Fortune refers to this struggle as “the next civil rights movement.”

Regular employment has been shown to improve the lives of adults with autism. According to a study at Vanderbilt University, adults on the autistic spectrum who were engaged in work demonstrated improvements in their behavior and daily living skills.

Integration into the workplace presents special challenges for those on the autistic spectrum, so they themselves must be up to the task. They must be aware of their own mental differences and work to interact with their colleagues and supervisors in the best possible way while managing their tasks efficiently. This includes choosing when and how to disclose their disorders to managers and co-workers.

Employers also face the challenge of how to recruit candidates with the right skills, without excluding individuals with neurological disorders who may function quite well when given the right framework. An autistic person who averts their eyes during an interview, for example, could be overlooked for an IT position that they could excel at despite being shy.

Just like physical diversity, a rainbow of different mental abilities are found in all people. If these are embraced and actively included in our society, it will not only improve the lives of those with developmental disabilities, organizations will often benefit from the contributions of those who see the world from a different perspective.

New Treatment Reduces Autism-Like Symptoms in Adolescent Mice


According to a new unpublished study, a compound used to treat genetic deficits may be effective against symptoms linked to autism.

Scientists announced at the 2014 Society for Neuroscience Annual Meeting that experimental treatments using an immunosuppressant called rapamycin have been met with success when used on adolescent mice. At 6 weeks old, the rodents are at a similar development phase to that of a human teenager.

This treatment has previously been used to treat a genetic mutation associated with the TSC1 gene. Abnormalities in this gene can cause a condition called tuberous sclerosis, which is characterized by the growth of benign tumors. About half of the population that suffers from tuberous sclerosis also has austim spectrum disorder.

It was observed that mice who lacked TSC1 in their Purkinje cells, neurons located in the cerebellum, exhibited autism-like symptoms, such as social difficulties, narrow interests, and repetitive behaviors, when they reach 2 months of age. It was noticed that when these cells died, symptoms associated with autism became apparent.

A previously released study demonstrated that rapamycin could prevent the symptoms when used on mice that were 7 days old. It was however not determined how effective the treatment was in older mice. In the most recent study, researchers found treated at 6 weeks of age did not develop these behaviors.

The results suggest that this therapy may be used to reduce- or even reverse- behaviors associated with autsim in children of a wide age range. Though the therapy is still in the developmental stages, these findings could be indicate promising discoveries in the field of behavioral treatment for children with autism, even at the later stages.

The average age of an autism diagnosis in children is 4 years. Older children who were diagnosed years ago are often still searching for treatment options into their teenage years, since they may not have had access to intervention in the formative years. Since them symptoms are not always understood at the onset, others are not diagnosed until adolescence, and some not until adulthood. Along with traditional speech therapy, occupational therapy, and psychiatric treatment, biological methods of treatment could signal a huge leap in our understanding of autism spectrum disorder.

Regular Exercise Releases Stress and Builds Confidence for Youth on the Autism Spectrum


Exercise can have stress-relieving benefits that release calming endorphins throughout the body.

For a person with autism spectrum disorder, exercise can be beneficial in other ways. In addition to easing tension, regular exercise can help a child build confidence and improve general morale.

Confidence does not always come easy for Anthony Angelico, a 17 year old high school student from Chicago who lives with asd. With the help of his coach, Dave Geslak, Anthony has made large strides in both his stamina and strength. Both his coach and his mother have noticed an improvement.

Geslak points out that since individuals with autism are sensitive to bright lights, loud noises, and other intense stimuli, being able to release anxiety can lift a burden. After an hour’s workout, Anthony is able to channel his energy positive way, making him able to balance his homework and his job at a grocery store.

Physical activity can also minimize compulsive or negative behaviors in autistic children. A regular exercise regimen has the added benefit of providing structure, which can be applied to other areas of life. Learning this type of discipline can help a young person improve their work ethic, whether in school, work, or hobbies.

Coach Geslak, who specializes in creating regimens for youth with autism spectrum disorder, builds custom workouts to ensure the success and happiness of Anthony and others whom he instructs. Shema-Kolainu provides an Adaptive Physical Education program to its students. In a therapeutic environment, children are instructed through techniques tailored to their own needs and abilities.

Anthony’s workout includes weight lifting, hurdle jumping, and hand-eye coordination. A variety of different methods can be employed, so your child is not limited to gym equipment only. Perhaps incorporating dance, a game of tag, or organized sports are more stimulating to your child. Aquatic therapy, where children complete exercises in water, has been used with positive results and does not put stress on joints.

Elephant Therapy Improves Skills for Autistic Children

Child riding elephant

Sometimes, a little understanding from an animal can be very comforting- even if the therapy animal is 9 feet tall and weighs around 4 tons.

Examples of service animals for individuals with special needs abound, from the more well-known service dog to slightly more obscure horse therapy or even dolphin therapy. In Thailand, researchers have seen noticeable improvements when using elephants to help children with autism spectrum disorder.

Several children who have struggled with developing life skills were brought to the Thai Elephant Conservation Center in the city of Lampang to participate in a pioneer elephant therapy program. The children are taught to bathe the elephants, play ball games with them, and even ride them bareback. They also sing nursery rhymes and dance with with the elephants, and complete chores at the conservation center.

Nuntanee Satiansukpong, the head of the Occupational Therapy department at Chaing Mao University, says that the pachyderms’ size works to the advantage of children who have a difficult time paying attention, since their presence is so stimulating. The children bond with these large, gentle mammals who are so captivating to spend time around.

Not only is there an emotional benefit from working with the therapy animals, the children also learn to complete tasks on the grounds that translate to real life skill development. The children learn to follow directions by visiting a store to purchase supplies for the elephants, like sugar cane and corn. If the elephant rejects the food, participants must return to the store to exchange it until they find something the animal accepts, which teaches them how to cope when problems arise. Playing games and dancing improves social skills among the children. Bathing the elephants helps the kids get over the strange rough and sticky texture of the elephant skin they have an aversion to.

An initial study was conducted to determine the effectiveness of elephant therapy on children with autism, which was followed up by two more studies. In the first round, 4 male volunteers ages 11-19 were instructed to complete their chores and also learn to ride the elephants. At the conclusion of the study, the children’s motor and communication skills were tested, and researchers determined that they had all improved in the areas of “sensory processing, social skills, postural control and balance, performance of daily living activities, and adaptive behaviors.

The second study built on the methods of the first, using the same group of participants. This time, researchers also noted that children were able to transfer their learned skills and behaviors to benefit them at school. The third study used a larger group, and divided participants into two groups, measuring social behaviors (16 individuals) and motor planning (20) individuals. Improvements were also noted in both categories.

Both statistical analysis and observation were used to measure results. The relatively small sample size presents some limitations, so larger participant groups are needed to collect more accurate data.

The success of elephant therapy begs us to question what types of alternative therapies may still remain untested within the animal kingdom, some of which could continue to bring groundbreaking results for treatment of development disabilities.

Shema Kolainu Presents Guest Speaker Advocating for “Success with Autism” at United Nations

Dr. Shore Presents

Dr. Shore speaks to audience at United Nations about success as an autistic individual

Due to demand, the Shema Kolainu Autism workshops, which have continued to draw larger crowds of people, have relocated presentations to the Hotel Pennsylvania in New York City.                                         

On Thursday, December 11, Shema Kolainu presented speaker Dr. Stephen Shore, a professor at Adelphi University. Dr. Shore’s lecture entitled “Success with Autism: Using our Strengths for Achieving a Fulfilling and Productive Life (Just Like Everyone Else)” presented some of his findings from his academic research, which focuses on matching people on the spectrum with the ideal occupation.

Dr. Shore spoke in a room at the United Nations following a highly attended presentation at Hotel Pennsylvania. Speaking about his own experience with autism, having been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome as a child, he views having the disorder simply as a different frame of mind rather than seeing it as a handicap. There are different “kinds of minds”- with particular characteristics, interests, and abilities that are actually valuable in the workforce if applied to the right field.

Giving the hypothetical example of a man with asd named Robert, Dr. Shore described how this man’s autistic personality traits were suited to his job at an information desk at Penn Station. His communication skills were factual, detailed, honest, data-driven, and repetitive. Social interaction for Robert is limited and predictable. Because of his restricted interests, he is able to memorize information that his co-workers cannot remember without references. Because of his autism, he is actually more productive than most of the other employees.

After devoting so much of his life to researching asd in addition to his personal knowledge, he can often recognize the signs. Revealing a photo of himself as a baby, he described the “autism stare” which he and others with the disorder seem to exhibit.

“They study everything, like a scientist,” said Dr. Shore.

Something Dr. Shore felt was important to emphasize was that it is important to make autistic children feel like their interests have validity and to nurture that. For instance, if an autistic person enjoys stocking shelves because they love to put items in order, this should be looked at as a meaningful use of their time. When a person with asd is good at something, Shore says, they tend to really excel at it.

So instead of feeling despair when a child is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, Dr. Shore hopes that parents and teachers will recognize their strengths and teach them to translate these qualities into meaningful, productive work. The ultimate goal is to mentor youth affected by the disorder to become independent, educated, self-aware individuals who are determined to succeed.

A list of upcoming workshops like this one can be found here. Reserve your spot today and receive a certificate of participation.

Simulated Flight Prepares Autistic Children for Plane Travel

Autistic children at airport

Anyone taking a flight for the first time is likely in for a few surprises. For an autistic child, the experience can be a sensory overload.

The process of boarding entering the crowded terminal, going through security, checking luggage, and boarding a plane are not everyday occurrences. A child with autism may by quite sensitive to all the crowds and unfamiliar situations that move along so quickly. Feeling overly stimulated causes them to feel bombarded.

Schools lead children on fire drills and even storm preparedness simulations, so why not take them on a run-through of what to expect when they fly for the first time? That is exactly what 50 families participated in through the Arc of Baltimore’s Wings for Autism at Thurgood Marshall Airport, joining a trend of similar projects set forth by other similar organizations.

This organization leads families through a test run to familiarize the children with what is expected when taking a place. Children were instructed to wait in line for entrance to a designated security gate, then handed boarding passes for a short flight that never actually left the ground.

Once seated on the plane, the children listened to the security procedures over the speaker, before the staff distributed pretzels and drinks to everyone. Since children with autism are often prone to become absorbed in electronic devices, they must also learn to put these devices away when the airline staff requires it.

The simulation is seen as a test for special needs children to determine whether they are ready and able to take an actual flight. Possible scenarios could be reminiscent of a scene from the film Rain Man, in which Dustin Hoffman’s autistic character Ray has a screaming meltdown at the possibility of an unsafe flight.

Jennifer Bishop, a Baltimore mother of a 14 year old autistic boy named Nathaniel, took a plane trip with her son 10 years ago that she describes as “disastrous.” Jennifer had such a difficult time that she vowed she would never fly with him again. Now, with her aging mother turning 92, she wants to revisit flying with Nathaniel.

The teen is wheelchair-bound at times and does not always want to walk. New places intimidate him. When boarding the plane with his mother behind pushing his wheelchair, Nathaniel at first refused to get up and board without his mother beside him. With just a bit of maneuvering, Jennifer was able to stand in front of her son and coax him into the first row of seats with her. Once he sat down, Nathaniel smiled with satisfaction.

Implementing a “drill” procedure for boarding a plane and completing the flight successfully can make the experience less traumatic for both special needs children and their families, once an actual flight is necessary. The patience and understanding of volunteers who assisted the children was quite instructive when it came to preparing them for airline travel.

How Autistic Children Can Benefit from Horticultural Therapy

autistic children gardening

The healing properties of gardening have long been discussed for improving mental well-being. Connecting with nature in this way can help reduce stress and improve your mood.

Tending to plant life can also be helpful to those with autism spectrum disorder. Horticultural therapist and author Natasha Everington assists parents, teachers, and school counselors in applying these techniques to improve child development.

Etherington’s book entitled Gardening for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders and Special Educational Needs – Engaging with Nature to Combat Anxiety, Promote Sensory Integration, and Build Social Skills, was released in 2013 and received much acclaim. According to the Canadian Horticulture Therapy Association, “Horticultural Therapy (HT) and Therapeutic Horticulture (TH) use plants, gardens, and the natural landscape to improve cognitive, physical, social, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing.”

The author claims that working outdoors in the dirt can offer psychological benefits that cannot be found in a traditional classroom environment. Children build social and cooperation skills while working with others to complete these activities. You may also see improvement in their speech development as they communicate with others working on the task.

Benefits of horticultural therapy are also physical. Digging builds flexibility, endurance and motor skill development. It can also result in lower blood pressure and reduce muscular tension.

It can also be a bonding activity for parents and children. Parents sometimes see a different side of their child when working on a garden together, and this can lead to more positive behavior. These therapies can also be useful to patients affected by Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Gardening requires focusing energy on a larger goal and following instructions.

Ideally, there would be an available patch of land to work with. This is not always possible, so there are other options for those who do not have yard access. These include using a wooden box, constructing a box out of brick or cement block, or using window boxes and planters. If possible, place potted plants on a balcony or rooftop, or build a greenhouse out of plastic materials.

Programs teaching gardening skills can be hard to come by. Etherington suggests that if you are interested in exploring the benefits of horticulture therapy and do not have access to an existing program, you can always create one. The book contains plenty of information on how to start your own horticulture therapy program.

You can read the original article here.

Nonprofit Helps Families Affected by Autism Cope with Daily Challenges

mature child

The things many of us took for granted as a child- a trip to the beach, a shopping errand, swimming lessons, a walk around the neighborhood- are a daily struggle for an autistic child and their family. For a young person with behavioral and communication issues, these simple activities can become complicated and overwhelming.

It becomes difficult for families to relate to others when they experience these struggles. Friends may have children who do not experience the same hurdles on a day to day basis. This leads families affected by autism to feel a sense of isolation.

In order to help these families cope, pediatrician Wendy Ross has created a non-profit organization Autism Inclusion Resources. In honor of her work, Ross is featured as one of “CNN Heros” of 2014. The weekly program which pays tribute to “everyday people changing the world.” The show airs every Sunday at 8 pm.

The goal of Autism Inclusion Resources is to make sure that no family feels left behind, and that each unique child is given support to build the skills they need to function in their society. She emphazises that each child functions in their own special way, so each case receives special consideration to suit the child’s learning needs.

In the basic sense, Ross wants the children to enjoy daily tasks and build fun memories. The ultimate goal is to equip the children with the tools to become independent adults. This could include anything from taking a smooth plane trip to conducting onesself professionally in the workplace. The world can seem large and intimidating for a child who feels different, so Ross hopes that through her work she can make the surrounding environment less scary. Each little challenge can seem overwhelming, so the children and their families are provided with coping skills to tackle everyday challenges while building up to larger life events.

Ross also works to build awareness of autism in the public sphere. She educates airline employees, museum personnel and other workers likely to come into contact with an autistic person, and how to react most appropriately. Mrs. Ross believes that by starting at the root of how autism is perceived will help make daily life easier for everyone involved.

Numerous familes have been helped by Autism Inclusion Resources, including The Stockmals. Mary Stockmal’s 12 year old son was prone to severe episodes in public, and she felt she faced judgement from others for not disciplining him appropriately. After staff at the Phillies stadium were trained by Dr. Ross, the Stockmals were moved to a private section with no one else around. Even feeling normal for five minutes is a blessing, Mary stated, mirroring the sentiment of many children and families who just want to fit in.

Read the original article here

Interior Design Concepts for Best Response in Autistic Children


At Shema Kolainu – Hear Our Voices, we have a specially designed multisensory room for the children to explore.

Also called the Snoezelen room, students enter the controlled multisensory environment (MSE) to experience various scents, colors, sounds and music, and tactile stimulation that is designed with their needs in mind. Each exhibit aims to stimulate their curiosity, while providing comfort at the same time.

This is because children on the autistic spectrum tend to respond differently based on their surroundings. This can also apply in the home environment, which is why a Minneapolis-based mother and interior designer has arranged her own home to suit the needs of her child.

When A.J. Paron-Wildes’ 3 year old son Devin, now 19, was diagnosed with autism, she described the experience as “traumatic.” When she poured over what research she could find, she discovered much of it was outdated and institution-based, dating back to the 1970’s. But Paron-Wildes wanted to keep her son at home, so she had to learn to adapt her own design concepts so that Devin was not overwhelmed.

The young interior designer felt that the typical loud, colorful rooms most people deemed appropriate for children were far too overpowering for a sensitive autistic child. By observing cues from Devin, Paron-Wildes worked backward by eliminating patterns, colors, and lighting that he did not respond well to.

Autistic children also respond to cues from their own observances. They tend to perform better in rooms that use clean, neutral colors with no brash patterns, and they often have an aversion to harsh artificial lighting. Children on the spectrum are drawn to order and structure, and are often confused when they do not receive it.

Here are some tips for creating an autism-friendly environment:

1. Keep it simple and calm.

Avoid crazy patterns on the walls and furniture, like zigzags. Also keep the color palette basic. Tones like beige, variations of earth colors, and pastels are soothing and promote emotional stability. Paron-Wildes has actually painted many boys’ rooms pink, which tends to have a calming effect.

2. Pay special attention to the most important areas.

Is it necessary to update the entire home for an autistic child? Probably not; parents should especially focus on the areas where the child learns, and where they rest. This applies to any area where a child studies or does homework, such as the living room, as well as the bedroom.

3. Use bright colors to signal cues.

Particularly effective for young children, using bright hues in the right way can actually be instructive. Use color-coding to organize areas like closet storage or bookcases. Using patterns, however, can be distracting in unintended ways. Children tend to analyze and follow patterns, particularly on the floor.

4. Avoid an institutional atmosphere.

Create a balance between calming and fun. Just because children need organization does not mean they want to spend time in lifeless, boring rooms. Many treatment centers make the mistake of using bland white walls in the waiting room, for example. Paron-Wildes has found that a lofted bedroom with large windows provides natural light and inspiring landscape views for her son, who is an artist. He also enjoys displaying his art in certain areas of the home.

You can read the original article here.