Category Archives: Autism Spectrum Disorder

Research Hopes to Find Better Understanding of Autism Spectrum Disorder and Schizophrenia

autism and schizophrenia

Recent findings published in Journal of Neuroscience tracked brain waves that are sent to higher brain areas. By understanding their activity when a predictive error occurs, the researchers hope to find a better understanding of Autism Spectrum Disorder and Schizophrenia.

Every millisecond, our brains recognize many objects, even if there is only minimal visual information. Researchers at Goethe University believe that our brains are able to recognize these objects quickly because our brains are constantly making predictions and comparing them to incoming information. When mismatches occur, our brain is forced to use higher areas of the brain to activate the corrections.

In the research presented, photographs called “Mooney faces” were used. Mooney faces, named after the inventor Craig Mooney, are pictures, which have faces in black and white only. Usually, humans are able to recognize the faces easily as well as recognize the age, gender, and facial expression.

In the study, the Mooney faces intentionally violated two expectations that humans usually have. First, the faces were oriented upright. Secondly, the light was directed from above. Because of the two violations, participants had impaired abilities to recognize faces in the picture.

In this type of situation, the brain is forced to” fix” the orientation. The researchers explain this with a theory called “Predictive Coding” which suggests that signals only have to be sent to higher brain areas for processing if predictions aren’t immediately met. However, other researchers predict the opposite. 

The “Predictive Coding” theory can now be tested.  At the Strungmann Insititute, Frankfurt scientists are able to measure brain waves and, therefore, are able to see when brain waves change. Researchers say that everyday brain wave activity is at about 90 Hertz, but when the brain sees something that is visually contradicting, brain waves increase because of the use of higher areas of the brain.

The results are important because the brain waves used in perception are impaired in people with schizophrenia or Autism Spectrum Disorder. Researchers hope to gain a better understanding of both disorders through further predictive brain wave studies, helping patients find a way to correct their predictive errors.

Original coverage from News-Medical.net

By Sejal Sheth



Solutions to Sensory Integration Dysfunction

sensory processing disorder

We live in a physical world. No matter how still or silent our surroundings may be, our bodies are always detecting the sights, sounds, smells, and tactile sensations around us.

Your average neurotypical person might feel most at ease in a ratty sweatshirt and a pair of blue jeans. A child with sensory processing disorder, on the other hand, cannot stand the polyester these materials contain and feels on edge whenever she wears them. She has a very different perception of the same material. This doesn’t mean that her senses are “inferior,” they are simply different.

One of the hallmark symptoms of autism spectrum disorder is SPD. This is characterized by having a disorganized manner of feeling and processing certain tactile sensations. What may feel slightly rough to one person may feel like sandpaper to an individual with ASD. However, the same can happen with stereotypically “soft” items like cotton or silk.

Rather than providing comfort, as they would for most, they agitate the individual and cause them to go into a sensory overload often culminating in a meltdown. If you were constantly in pain, wouldn’t you be screaming out too?

Due to the fact that everyone’s preferences are so individual, it’s difficult to determine what the best course of action is for maintaining a comfortable environment.  The best way to do this is through a simple test of trial-and-error. Of course, the stakes are different for children who become distressed at the touch of certain materials. It is best not to bombard them with potential disturbances.

A better solution would be to gradually and non-forcefully present them with items that could cause a reaction.  Sensory processing is not a simple problem to solve; however, starting off with something as simple as a test of yes-or-no presentations may be a step in the right direction to making the world a little less stressful for them.

By Sara Power



Theme Park Survival Guide: The Autism Edition

theme parks for autistic children

Before the final school bell rings, before the summer solstice passes, families worldwide have at least one common thing to look forward to: family vacation.

Although traveling with a loved one who has autism may require extra planning and accommodations, you don’t need to sacrifice having a good time. Here are some tips and tricks to surviving the crazy summer months in some of the craziest places on earth: theme parks.

Know What To Expect

When deciding which attractions to explore on your trip to the parks, never assume that you can guess which attractions will please your loved ones. Often, you can find previews of shows, parades, and rides on YouTube. With one simple search, you can judge whether your family member with special needs will enjoy the ride or not.

Don’t Sacrifice Your Own Enjoyment

When parents and guardians are happy, those hour lines seem more bearable, the sun shines brighter, and the overall trip is more enjoyable for everyone involved.

Your special needs child may have an aversion to theme park rides, as autistic children often do- the sensory stimulation is likely multiplied for them.

If your child needs to be chaperoned while others ride, you don’t always have to sit out on the enjoyment yourself. Many theme parks offer an option called “child swap”. Notify a staff/cast member at any point before your turn to ride to take advantage of this accommodation.

The “child swap” feature on some rides will allow two parents to ride, without the second parent having to wait in line again. You may receive a card that you present during your turn to the ride attendant. The first adult rides the ride, while the second adult waits with the child. Afterwards, the second adult can ride immediately, and the first adult waits with the child.

Parks Provide Different Accommodations

Sometimes, theme parks do not make their disability services polices public, and sometimes, they make changes to existing policies without much notification.

But with just a little digging, you may find there are more services for disabled patrons than you think.

Some theme parks publish tips to make traveling easier for someone with disabilities. For instance, Walt Disney World published a guide for families with special needs which details how to plan the trip accordingly. Access the full guide here.

In addition, there are at least 39 various parks that offer special perks to make your experience much easier, from reduced admission fees to line-skipping privileges.

Also give this list a look– You just might find your new go-to family vacation spot:

Millions of people visit amusement parks throughout the year, and inevitably, summer is their busiest season. But as you can see, many resources are available, right at your fingertips. For example, http://www.autismattheparks.com/

Your “theme park survival” depends largely on just one rule of thumb: Keep your loved one’s needs in mind, and you’ll have a great time!

By Samantha Mallari



Coffee Brings Together Families of Autistic Kids

coffee with autism

One of the disadvantages of having an autistic child is that it’s often hard for other families to understand and relate. In an effort to connect with other moms like her, Jessica Kitney created Coffee With a Side of Autism.

Coffee With a Side of Autism is a family support group for parents and children who have family members on the autism spectrum. At each meeting, families in the Belleville, Canada community are able to meet others who can understand and relate to daily life struggles.

Kitney founded this support group as a result of her son, Andy, being diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Andy, who is on the severe end of the autism spectrum, is also nonverbal. The daily struggle was difficult for Kitney, so in late March she started the organization.

Kitney says that Andy has helped her grow so much. She credits him as her inspiration for getting the support group off the ground. During Kitney and Andy’s journey, Kitney felt that finding support was hard and that many friends distanced themselves after learning about Andy’s diagnosis.

Coffee With a Side of Autism provides families with support and play group. Parents, caregivers, and kids are all welcome. The group meets for two hours every fourth Monday of the month. Parents and children are not required to register, and the flexible meetings allow them to show up whenever is convenient for them. Kitney says she understands that sometimes problems arise and members aren’t able to make it. By knowing this, she wanted to create a support group that was easy-going and comfortable for all who come out.

By offering playgroup, Coffee With a Side of Autism is also an opportunity for children with ASD to make friends. Social interactions and communication skills are a known difficulty for autistic kids, so by having a playgroup, the like-minded kids are able to relate to each other.

By Sejal Sheth



The Case for Avonte’s Law

#avonteslaw

The murmur of Avonte Oquendo’s name still burns nearly two years after the Autistic teenager’s body was found in the East River.

Since then, have we done enough to avoid such grave reoccurrences? Lawmakers haven’t moved much on the subject. Maybe it’s because such incidents are rare? The numbers show that just the opposite is true.

Numerous Autistic children have wandered off and were never seen alive again. Research indicates that almost one out of two Autistic children has the tendency to wander off. However, over ninety percent of parents fear that their Autistic child is at risk of doing so.

Luckily, these numbers can be immensely reduced. Let our mourning for Oquendo and others like him motivate proper action. Let us translate our sorrow into demands for safety. Let us take action now— before another child goes missing.

Advocates are calling for new safety protocols for those with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Thankfully, one has been drawn up in loving memory of the New York City student. “Avonte’s Law” (S. 163) was introduced by the U.S. Senator Charles Schumer in 2014, a day after Avonte’s funeral.

“Avonte’s Law” aims to reduce the risk of harm or death of individuals who tend to wander off, including individuals with ASD and those suffering of Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, the law will “safeguard the well-being of individuals with disabilities during interactions with law enforcement” as well as “increase their personal safety and survival skills,” as notes the Autism Safety Coalition’s website. Furthermore, the website states that Avonte’s Law will implement procedures to educate others on minimizing the risk of wandering. This not only means training law enforcement agencies and first responders, but also schools and the general public.

According to Senator Schumer, the Department of Justice would finance optional electronic tracking devices for individuals at risk of getting lost. These devices, worn as a watch or even sewn into clothing, emit signals to first responders in order to find the wanderer as quickly as possible, before harm hits. Senator Schumer calls them “a high-tech solution to an age-old problem.” Furthermore, as a preventative measure, twenty-one thousand audible door alarms are being installed in New York schools before the end of the year, says deputy schools chancellor Elizabeth Rose.

“It’s a commonsense bill,” said Wendy Fournier of the National Autism Association. The Bill is highly supported by the Autism Safety Coalition, a group of national organizations united to promote national safety policies specifically aimed at individuals with ASD or other developmental disabilities.

Unfortunately, Avonte’s Law has not been passed, yet. It is up to us to inform our senators that the Law is a smart solution to a pressing problem. We must persuade them to co-sponsor S.163. To learn more about Avonte’s Law, browse Autism Safety Coalition’s website at www.autismsafetycoalition.org .

Written by Maude Plucker

Photo source:

https://twitter.com/hashtag/yestoavonteslaw



Artist Treats Autism as a Gift

autistic painter

Upon receiving their diagnosis, many people with autism might not know what to think about it.

But a man from Kent, Washington treats his condition not as a setback, but as a gift.

Michael Tolleson did not know he could paint until three years ago, when he picked up a brush on a whim. This came at the same time he was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism spectrum disorder.

Painting, he says, is a way to isolate himself from the chaos of the outside world. For him, it’s a “vacation…from [him]self.”

Over the past three years, he has produced more than 600 paintings, all of which are completed in less than an hour. He sells his paintings for thousands of dollars apiece across the globe.

He credits his talent to having ASD, calling himself a “Savant Artist.” After discovering his talent, he wanted to take the opportunity not just to share it, but to “give hope” and inspire other people.

And that’s exactly what Tolleson is doing. His gallery in Kent doubles as a workshop for young people along the autism spectrum. For instance, 21 year old Michael Sorenson had trouble communicating his basic needs to family, like telling them that he is hungry or has to use the bathroom.

But after immersing himself in art, his communication skills have improved dramatically. According to his mother, Linda, he is much more communicative and cheerful.

This joy is what Tolleson hopes to inspire in others. Since he started painting, Tolleson has become an international advocate for autism awareness.

“Most people are thinking about retirement at my age,” he says. “I can’t retire. I have to share this.” 

His primary mission is to show families that autism does not necessarily mean a life of limitations. He wants to show the world that their children are much more capable than they realize.

You can find Tolleson’s work here.

Written by Nina Bergold



Safety In the Summer: Autism Cards

autism summer safety

Ahhh! Summer is officially here! The sun is out, the days are longer, and school is over!

The summer months are a great time for the entire family to relax, go to the beach, or watch a ballgame. Going on vacation is another great activity where families can explore a new place and create long lasting memories.

But big events and family outings like these can cause some concerns for parents. These days, many parents are utilizing “Autism Identification” in order to help keep their children safe when out of the house. Making it clear that a child has autism can ease concerns if they are discovered by a stranger. In this scary event, it becomes easier for the child to get the help they need.

Here are three forms of Autism Identification that can help ease parents’ stress:

1. Autism ID Card: One of the most agreed upon issues is better training for first responders like police officers, firemen, medical personnel, and others. This card explains autism as a medical condition that hinders the person’s ability to communicate with others. So not answering questions or follow directions should not be perceived as refusal to cooperate. On the back, the card lists an emergency contact number.

2. Medical ID Bracelets: This includes important medical information that can be helpful during an emergency situation or if a child were to become lost. They help locate the parent, caregiver, or physician if necessary. At times accidents may leave a person unable to talk. Having this bracelet would help give medical staff the information that they need.

3. “Hand in Autism” Autism Info Card: Many parents may have experienced embarrassment when their child displays negative behavior in public. They take this opportunity to educate others about autism by passing around the info card. The card includes some information about how many people are affected and some common difficulties individuals with autism may have.

Although we focused on summer vacation safety, these forms of ID are useful all year round. Information is the key and can really make a difference during a time of urgency. It helps the assisting personnel or authority figures properly asses situations. All the cards described above can be purchased online at a low cost. The Hand in Autism Info cared is actually a free download!

Written by Raiza Belarmino



Mom Seeks Shelter For Son With Behavioral Issues

shelter for behavioral problems

Hitting, head banging, physical aggression, and self-injury are all means of communication for 17 year old Austin to send the message that “he is not OK.”

When this behavior starts, his mother Heather Ratcliffe responds quickly either by turning down the television or changing the channel. If things don’t go his way, the situation can get bad. There have been times where Heather was head butted, thrown to the ground, or had her hair pulled by her son- all in an attempt to get his point across.

At 23 months Austin was diagnosed with severe developmental delay on the autism spectrum. Over the years, like many children, he grew – taller, wider, and stronger. With the combination of frustration and strength he began to exhibit dangerous behavior to himself and his family members whenever he became upset.

This was the family’s warning sign. Austin’s behavior had changed and it became less manageable. Heather then knew she needed more help and decided to put Austin on a list for residential housing for individuals with special needs. It was a very hard day but she realized her son needed more specialized and professional care than she was able to provide for him.

As years passed the family became less and less hopeful that help would arrive. Unfortunately, Heather is not alone in this dilemma. Pat Muir, chairman of Family Advocates United, says “Those families often spend years – not days or weeks – on that list. And that is too long.”

It wasn’t until Austin’s younger brother, Brendan, wrote a letter to New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo. In his correspondence, he shared his personal experiences at home, expressing that something needed to be done about Austin.

On April 22, after 5 years of waiting, Austin was given a spot at the Lifetime Assistance home on Chili Avenue. Although it has only been a few months, he has really improved his behavior and has been able to experience new things. The home has passes to local museums, something Heather has difficulty offering herself.

In an earlier post we discussed 5 tips for teenagers transitioning to adulthood. We suggested to apply for residential housing early, far before the deadline approaches. There are resources available but processing can take quite some time. In the case of Austin and Heather, the family was placed on the wait list for 5 years before landing a spot. Those years are crucial and it is usually to the child’s detriment to wait years for available housing.

To read the original article please visit The Democrat & Chronicle

Written by Raiza Belarmino



Swimming Lessons for Autistic Children: Pros and Cons

autism swimming lessons

There are hundreds of articles and videos on the Internet dedicated to teaching kids with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) how to swim. The exercise has a great number of benefits in itself, but it can be particularly beneficial for individuals on the autism spectrum.

There are numerous physical benefits. Research indicates that children with ASD who follow hydrotherapy treatment may see an increase in overall fitness, specifically measured by improved balance, speed, flexibility, and endurance. These are areas in which autistic children are often limited. 

Swimming is a great way to get fit while avoiding the high impact that other exercises like running can have on joints. The largest muscles in the body are used for swimming, which in turn promotes the development of gross motor skills. Roughly nineteen percent of children with ASD are overweight, and just under 40% are at risk of becoming so. It is crucial for these children to stay active, for excess weight may cause an increased risk for other health issues such as bone and joint problems, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

Furthermore, depression is a possible consequence of being overweight. Swimming can be fun and increase strength, which is why so many people encourage that all children, not just those with ASD, learn to swim and practice often.

In addition, there are social benefits to learning to swim. It may offer children with ASD the opportunity to practice communicating and following directions. The impaired ability to communicate is common for individuals on the spectrum, so this may be one of the greatest challenges in teaching them to swim. However, when done effectively, it has been said that these children made progress in their ability to concentration on a task and also respond to others.

It is both fortunate and unfortunate that children with ASD are often attracted to bodies of water. This is fortunate because they may be enthusiastic to learn to swim, an exercise that may pertain many benefits. However, this attraction is also unfortunate because water can be dangerous, especially for autistic individuals who have a tendency to elope or wander away from safe, supervised areas. According to the National Autism Association, drowning is one of the leading causes of death for individuals with ASD. The question becomes: will teaching my child to swim encourage him/her to approach water, possibly putting him/her at greater risk of drowning? Or should I avoid teaching my child to swim in the hopes that he/she will feel too insecure to approach water?

In response to an article entitled “How to Keep Children with Autism Safe Around Water,” “Eileen,” the mother of a twenty-two year old son with severe autism, says she completely disagrees that autistic children should learn to swim. Eileen points out that autistic children are often drawn to water because it feels good and calms them. However, the danger, she says, is that these children may not distinguish a supervised body of water from an unsupervised one and, with a “false sense of security,” may jump in and drown.

In contrast, Dana Walker, the mother of a nine year old autistic boy, is glad she choose to enroll her son in swimming lessons. “I know that with additional practice, Brady will beat the odds that are so against our children that have autism and water concerns,” she says. By doing some research, Walker found a qualified and enthusiastic institution that was dedicated to teaching Brady to swim safely. Walker adds, “I will be comforted knowing that he is learning the skills that will keep him safe near and in the water.”

Each parent must think long and hard about their decision to enroll their autistic child in swimming lessons. While drowning is the leading cause of death for individuals with ASD, many of these children learn to swim, adore it, and are equipped with swimming techniques to handle these situations. It is up to you to evaluate the pros and the cons and make a decision that feels right for your family!

Written by Maude Plucker



Maine Family Moved Across State Lines For Better Autism Services

Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 4.36.54 PM

A family from Carmel, Maine was forced to move after not being able to find services for their adult autistic child. The Levasseur’s are planning on moving to Virgina, where they hope to find help.

Michael Levasseur, who is 19 years old and has a high school diploma, has been able to hold a few jobs. He also tries to live as independently as he can but he requires supervision. Along with that, Maine’s assistance programs are having funding problems. This has led to individuals being put on waitlists for services they are eligible for but not able to receive.

The Levasseur family had to leave New Hampshire when Michael was 2 years old because there weren’t services for autistic children. Now, they are having the same problem. Michael had the option of staying in school for 2 more years but he opted out of it. He said that he wouldn’t have been able to participate in swim team and he didn’t feel like it was worthwhile.

Michael has always required supervision. His mother, Cynthia, has had to switch or quit jobs to help him. This has led to financial difficulty in the family. However, most recently, Cynthia has been working at G.E.A.R Parent Network, which is a network that offers advice and guidance for parents who have children with behavioral health needs. She says that it is a great job because it helps parents understand and figure out the government bureaucracy, something that she has experience in.

Michael is a high functioning autistic person. Because of this, he is able to cook for himself, use public transportation, and manage some of his money. However, this means that he is also unable to qualify for programs that support housing services. Michael was able to qualify for a state run program that provides job coaches, day activities, and support. But when the 19 year old brought home a pre-made frame, decorated with stickers, his family realized they wanted more for him.

In 2014, the Levasseurs were able to catch the attention of Governor Paul LePage. LePage presented their story in the State of the State address.  LePage suggested increasing spending in order to provide services for elderly and disabled residents of Maine. Gov. LePage and the Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew have been working hard to convince legislators to consider increasing funding yet their priorities do not match.

Luckily for our students here at Shema Kolainu, all of their therapy services are provided in a close-knit environment. The kids have experienced enormous growth as they are prepared for adulthood. Getting capable students with autism ready for adulthood is such an important priority as more of them reach maturity every year, ready to contribute to the work force.

Cynthia Levasseur says that she worries about other families. She doesn’t want them to be forced to sell their homes or put a loved one into a nursing home. In Virginia, the Levasseur family hopes to find work for their son so he can continue to live his life.

Original coverage for this article sourced from Bandor Daily News.

Written by Sejal Sheth