Category Archives: Autism Spectrum Disorder

The Autism Show: The Pocket Occupational Therapist

autism show

Cara Kosinski, author featured on The Autism Show

The Autism Show is an online radio podcast that reaches thousands of people in about 32 countries around the world. It is hosted by Catherine Pascuas, an autism specialist and founder of the Edx Autism Consulting company.

Pascuas has 7 years of experience working one-on-one with children and families using Applied Behavior Analysis, play therapy, SCERTS (Social Communication, Emotional Regulation and Transactional Support), and play therapy. Every Tuesday she interviews new experts and educators to share inspirational stories or innovative therapies regarding autism. They’ve had over 30 episodes featuring advocates, organizations, therapists, etc. Some topics that have been covered are motherhood on the autism spectrum, Minecraft, (a popular children’s computer game), and sleeping problems.

On episode 30, Pascuas welcomed Cara Kosinski,  a pediatric occupational therapist in the Pittsburgh, PA area. She is the mother of two boys, ages 15 and 12. In Kosinski’s junior year she knew she wanted to become an OT and started working in adult rehabilitation. When both of her sons were later diagnosed with autism and sensory processing disorder, she quit her job to become a full time caregiver for her children. She became determined to learn everything there is to know about autism.

She took classes designed for OT’s then turned around to use that information at home as a parent. During those years she complied volumes of notes with quality methods and techniques. This shaped her professional career, as she wanted to share this information with other parents. Kosinski eventually decided to open up a private practice.

She is now the owner of Route2Greatness which provides Occupational Therapy consultations, trainings, and seminars all over the county. Kosinski is the author of award-winning books The Pocket Occupational Therapist for Families with Special Needs and The Special Needs School Survival Guide. Both books are widely successful with therapists, teachers, social workers, and most especially, parents.

Her goal is to provide an easy-to-use resource that anyone from any discipline can understand. Readers can look up a certain topic such as hair washing to find out why the child is having difficulty with it. It includes tips and activities that can be done right away. These guides are unique in that Kosinski combines the role of an OT with that of a parent. This type of language and reliability is what makes it so popular within the autism community.

Kosinski believes that the future of autism lies within educating the caregiver. They are given the power to take what they learn in clinic so they may bring it home for optimum results. She is currently holding autism specific classes for OT’s and parents around the country. Her and her son are working on a book that focuses on autistic teens and young adults developing behavior and social skills.

To listen to this episode you can download it on iTunes, Stitcher Radio, or view the original article at:

Written by Raiza Belarmino

Shema Kolainu Workshop Addresses Technology Applications for Autism

video modeling

The Proloquo2go Speech App, from Youtube user Ellen Seidman

It’s no secret that kids these days love screens. For a child with autism, the right technology can give them a huge leg up in their education even though they might think it is all fun and games.

BCBA Certified IEP Coordinator Chani Katz addressed a well-attended audience of parents and special ed professionals at today’s workshop entitled, “The Use of Technology by Individuals with Autism.”

Software applications have become an instrumental part of educating children on the autism spectrum for a myriad of reasons. First, using apps with a learning objective is an engaging way to grasp concepts, particularly for children with autism as they are often drawn to technology. Secondly, nonverbal children who struggle to communicate can unlock a new world when they become able to relate to others through computerized devices. Technology like games and videos are also a simple and consistent way for teachers to provide lessons to their students.

Children with autism gravitate toward tablet devices, and many education professionals use this advantage to maximize their impact on a student’s development. Nonverbal children are now frequently supplied with touch-to-speak devices that give them a voice to speak with loved ones. Even though the computer speaks for them, Katz revealed that studies actually support improved spoken communication when children use these programs.

Katz also showed examples of iPad apps that are used to refine a child’s motor skills. One such app requires students to hold their thumb down on an “anchor” button, while reaching with their other fingers to press dots that appear around the screen. The dots get smaller progressively as the student continues to play, and their fine motor skills are strengthened in the process.

The presentation also touched on the use of video modeling for children with autism. Video is a preferred means of communication for many people in general, and for children who struggle with basic tasks, a straightforward demonstration on video can be extremely helpful. Chores like tying a shoe, folding a towel, or paying a cashier for their order can be broken down step-by-step with visual and auditory reinforcement.

As demonstrated by Katz, assistive technology can make life easier for everyone involved in the child’s life. Speaking with an iPad, for instance, is much more acceptable than a frustrated meltdown that ensues when a child can’t say he is hungry, or cold or tired.

This is not to say that precautions should not be taken when relying on technology for these purposes. Power failures or broken devices can instantly take away their means for communication. Technology can also be isolating for the child and should not be used in place of social interaction. The student’s use of technology must also be monitored to make sure it is used effectively for their development.

This means that all the child’s instructors and therapists (OT, PT, SLP, ABA and so forth) should be kept in the loop about which technologies yield the best results. Technology should assist the autistic child in achieving their learning goals, whether that be practicing life skills, improving speech, or building on scholastic subjects like typing or math.

Single Father and His Nonverbal Son Profiled in Documentary

big daddy autism documentary

Ken Siri and his son, Alex, are the subject of an upcoming documentary called “Big Daddy Autism” which focuses on their relationship and day-to-day challenges.

Alex is now a 16 year old teenager who was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder when he was 3. His parents witnessed his speech decline dramatically from that point. He went from articulating simple sentences to being able to speak just one or two words, and now his verbal communication is somewhat nonexistent.

In the past, Ken had worked on Wall Street for 15 years as a healthcare analyst helping unknown companies become recognized in the investment community. However, soon after Alex’s diagnoses he realized that his job’s demands did not allow him the time and flexibility he needed to give his son. Like many single parents, Ken is under constant pressure to provide for his son both emotionally and financially. A 2009 study claimed that stress of a mother with an ASD child is comparable to a combat solider. Although the comparison is a bit of a stretch, Ken hopes to portray his stress levels honestly through the film.

Although the movie is still in its production process, it will shed light on a part of the autism community that hasn’t received that much attention. The general public understands autism as simply peculiar or nerdy but about 25% of autistic individuals are nonverbal. The father son duo shows how they are able to overcome these obstacles. For example, Alex now uses an iPad app called Proloquo2Go that has images and phrases to express things like “I want an apple.”

Mr. Siri is now a well known author, advocate, and entrepreneur residing in New York City. In 2010 he wrote, along with Tony Lyons, Cutting-Edge Therapies for Autism, which focuses on current and future treatments, and therapies for autism. As a working, single father himself, Siri’s goal was to accumulate research and information for other parents to use as a resource.

Ken is aware of how much hard work parents go through especially when they are single and working. Through this documentary he hopes to bring together other parents within the autism community.

Written by Raiza Belarmino

An 8-Year-Old Boy’s Ride to Happiness

autism therapy bike contest winner

ABC’s Action News in Brandon, Florida helped a mother of two win a bike that is also a remarkable therapeutic device for one of her sons.

For many families, learning to ride a bike is a childhood tradition. As adults, some of us can reminisce about the times we rode around on our bikes with the other neighborhood kids and going on adventures before we had to rush home for dinner.

But for 8-year-old Cameron, this pastime posed a bigger obstacle. He has severe autism and Potocki-Lupski syndrome (a rare genetic disorder). According to his mother Mary, they are in a constant struggle with the disorder every single day.

The boy’s functionality is comparable to a 2-year-old and considered to be nonverbal as he can only say about 15 words. His parents do provide an iPad which helps him to communicate with others but there is still much more Cameron wants to be a part of. Mary devotes all of her spare time and resources to helping her son by seeing specialists and therapists but there is still something that none of them can give Cameron. He wanted badly to join his little brother playing outside with other kids.

In February 2015, Mary contacted her local news station, The Now Tampa Bay, asking for help to win a contest. She had discovered the non-profit organization, Friendship Circle, who were hosting their 4th annual Great Bike Giveaway. The prize was a therapeutic tricycle specially designed for people with disabilities which typically costs about $1,200. Like many families, this expense was not within their budget. Cameron needs lots of physical therapy due to his low muscle tone and challenges with balance and coordination. This bike would help tremendously with all of that by building his muscle strength and development.

Cameron did end up winning the bike after receiving a whopping 3,000 votes from around the world. The family is overjoyed and wants to thank everyone who participated in making their son’s dream come true. Cameron’s parents believe the bike will give their son the freedom, confidence, and independence to play outside with his little brother and other children.

To view the original article by ABC Action news, click here.

Written by Raiza Belarmino

Learning Center For Independent Living in Adulthood

autism living skills


Parents of special needs children are often gripped with fear when they confront the thought, “What will my child do without me?”

A mother in LaCosta, CA found a living community in Sonoma that provides a housing solution for adults with autism. But other places throughout the country have made similar efforts.

The state of Connecticut has recently funded the High Road Academy in Wallingford. It is a school of special education designed for students with low cognitive functioning. They have opened up the 40 day program for grades K-12 and ages 5- 21. The curriculum is focused on teaching independent living skills as well as communication, behavior, and social skills.

The programs helps build daily living skills that include sorting and folding laundry and making the bed. The classroom is set up like a typical one bedroom apartment and supplied with bedding, clothing, and a washer and dryer.

Cole Horne is 17 years old and currently enrolled at High Road Academy. His parents have noticed a great improvement in his social skills. He is more willing to ask questions from instructors and interact with other students than before his involvement in the academy. They believe it’s because he is more comfortable in an environment where people understand him better.

At home Cole is now asked to clean and set the table which is something his parents would have never thought of asking in the past. Children like Cole are very good with following directions. However, the school motivates students to complete more tasks on their own such as problem solving and planning. The ultimate goal is independent living so that when students complete the program, they have a wider network of options.

At Shema Kolainu – Hear Our Voices, we offer a similar program called the Daily Living Skills Center. Our set up is somewhat different than High Road Academy while keeping similar learning objectives. We have a mini-supermarket, laundry center, kitchen, bedroom, and a gym. Our goal is the same – independent living. We hope that through centers and programs like these we help autistic individuals gain more confidence within their communities.

Written by Raiza Belarmino

Cafe in Asia is Dedicated to Raising Autism Awareness

autism bakery

In a small cafe in the Philippines, change is brewing. Jose Canoy, a 20-year old, joins several other employees – all with autism – in their training to be part of the most autistically-aware coffee shop yet.

Canoy’s older brother, Jose Antonio, co-owns the shop. His family made the executive decision to open the Puzzle Cafe to promote and incorporate their son’s disorder into the workplace. The Puzzle Cafe, of course, is a reference to the international symbol for autism – a puzzle piece.

By laying out the next steps for Canoy in picturesque index cards, he is able to follow and identify what moves he should make next. Alongside six other new trainees, two of which have Down Syndrome, these new employees are guided by these cue cards as well as a therapist. The cafe takes every precaution to ensure their new employees are both comfortable and productive behind the counter; The coffee shop also promotes autism awareness in the community by selling decorations made by local people with autism.

This is a huge step in bringing social experience to those with the disorder. Incorporating these young adults is a milestone – providing them with endless possibilities for their working future.

The cafe has brought comfort to the community, particularly those with a family member who is affected by the disorder. Rina dela Paz, a woman who frequents the cafe with her husband and young son with autism, told reporters that she “feels that I belong.”

In the Philippines alone, there is an estimated one million citizens with autism. Yet due to a serious lack of doctors, therapists, and trained professionals, only 100,000 of this estimated number has been officially diagnosed.

This shop, so seemingly small and insignificant, has set the template for many other businesses to follow – hopefully making a step in promoting that “different is not bad.”

By Kathleen O’Toole, University of Maine

Assembly Member Helene Weinstein Visits Shema Kolainu

helene weinstein visits shema kolainu

Shema Kolainu breakfast with New York State Assembly Member Helene Weinstein. (Left-Right: Ezra Friedlander- CEO of The Friedlander Group, Assemblywoman Helene Weinstein, Shema Kolainu CEO Dr. Joshua Weinstein, IEP Coordinator Chani Katz, Program Director Suri Gruen)

As a member of The New York State Assembly, Helene Weinstein has long acted as an advocate for family and child services.

Assemblywoman Helene Weinstein paid a visit to Shema Kolainu School and Center for Children With Autism for a formal tour of the school while she learned about the standout programs offered. The day began with an intimate breakfast and discussion with Shema Kolainu administrators including CEO Dr. Joshua Weinstein.

Ms. Weinstein has attended events with Shema Kolainu before, having spoken at last year’s Legislative Breakfast. As someone who has fought hard to pass legislation protecting both children and the disabled, she was interested to learn more about the services offered to children with autism in our community and how the children are able to obtain them. She presides over District 141, which includes many of the children who attend school here.

Over bread rolls and orange juice, administrators explained the history of Shema Kolainu. The politician was intrigued to learn what services are offered through Shema Kolainu that are not offered in the public school system, particularly a preschool program exclusively for children with autism.

Following the discussion, Ms. Weinstein was given a tour of the school where she met many of the children. After observing the classroom activities through one-way windows where children cannot see their observers, she was brought into several different classrooms of preschool and school-aged kids. The children were eager to shake hands and pose for photos with their guest.

Assemblywoman Weinstein was also shown the hallmark facilities of Shema Kolainu- The Multisensory Room, where the children are soothed by devices that stimulate all five senses, and The Adaptive Daily Living Skills Center, where kids learn hands-on life skills like grocery shopping and chores.

To complete the tour, Ms. Weinstein was shown the rooftop, which will hopefully be the future site of two more floors of classrooms that will service older children who age out of the current K-5 offerings. She brought up her own concerns that older children with autism may not have access to the services they need.

With the help of social services advocates and legislators like Helene Weinstein, Shema Kolainu- Hear Our Voices is driven to collaborate for increased awareness that will lead to more and better services for young people on the autism spectrum.


Autism Resource Shop Opens in the Bay Area

twilight turtle for autism kids

Natural Autism Resources offer therapeutic devices like Twilight Turtle, pictured above

National Autism Resources has been an online retailer since 2008. They are known for providing specialized tools and technologies that cater to the autism community.

In September 2014, the company opened their first physical walk-in store in Benicia, California, a city in the Bay Area region. It is the first store of its kind on the west coast and third in the whole country. The creators are skilled in selecting the right products that are proven to be successful.

Local resident, Kat Negrete, is overjoyed with the news of this new business. She is the mother of 3-year-old Johnny who tends to have trouble with loud noises and transitioning from one thing to the next.

She often uses toys and games to help keep her son calm. But locating these particular toys may be somewhat difficult. Negrete recalls a time where she was so distraught when she visited a well-known teaching supply store that has no resources for special needs children.

National Autism Resources has over 120 vendors that they pull their products from. There is a lot of research and work going into making sure the items they sell will be helpful. This may be the reason why there aren’t more stores like this, but with an estimated 1 in 68 children now being diagnosed with ASD, there still stands a strong need for local, available resources.

Store owner Bonnie Arnwine also has a son with autism and understands the demand for a shop like hers. Here, a shopper can find over 1,600 products that may look like simple toys but are actually effective therapeutic tools.

One example is the GoTalk 9+, their most popular speech device. It helps people who are just starting augmentative communication. There is also an item called Twilight Turtle that is used to help calm children or put them to sleep. The soft lights illuminate the room with constellations, which helps ease the child.  Arnwine believes this is more than just a store or job, but rather her purpose. She quotes her business’s motto, “Love, Hope, and Support Autism.”

Read the original article from CBS San Francisco.

A Passport to Understanding the Nonverbal

nonverbal communication autism

Non-verbality is problematic not only for the obvious impediment to social interaction, but also because it impedes necessary communication. Statistics state that persons on the autism spectrum and other learning disabilities can die up to 20 years prematurely due to a lack of care.

It’s important to note that such a lack of care is not malicious; practitioners and family members simply do not always know when their loved one is in distress. What might appear to be routine stimming (i.e. flapping of the hands) may actually be an attempt to signal an ailment or discomfort for which they cannot find the words to express.

The problem is multi-fold. First, persons with ASD sometimes lack the self-awareness to identify that they are ill or in pain. Second, they may not have the appropriate means to alert others to their distress. Third, certain individuals who are hyposensitive simply may not feel what would be extremely painful for typically developing people. Of course, there are many other reasons behind this debacle, and these are just a few.

To combat such issues, medical health care professionals have developed systems such as visual pain scales, EasyHealth demonstrations, and Books Beyond Words. The latter are particularly useful because they give visual representations of how a person might feel, describe, and treat their ailments.

For those who are nonverbal, the struggle is all the more difficult because they have few means, if any, to properly alert caregivers to their ailments. To combat this, the National Autistic Society has created “passports” for such autistics that they carry on them, detailing their medical history and needs. By compiling this information in a mobile manner, professionals understand why the individual may be acting unusual and possibly identify what the source of their problem is based on past occurrences.

Just because a person can’t say what they’re feeling doesn’t mean that they don’t feel it. Not only does this apply to the autistic community, but to the global community at large. In order to benefit the masses, it’s vital to remember that we don’t all say what’s wrong. Sometimes listening with our eyes, ears, and hearts is the best bridge toward understanding.

By Sara Power, Fordham University

Spectrum Singles: A New Dating Experience

spectrum singles for autism

One of the most daunting tasks for individuals living on the autism spectrum is developing relationships.

Inhibited by their understanding of social cues and emotions, the world is too often an unfriendly place when others misread their intentions. It’s already difficult enough for anyone to find the perfect match without the added obstacle of sensory issues, physical limitations, or other symptoms typical of ASD.

To alleviate this problem, specifically with romance in mind, 18-year-old Olivia Cantu and her mother Kristen Fitzpatrick have developed a new dating website called Spectrum Singles. Olivia, who offers a first-hand perspective on the difficulties of dating when you have ASD, describes it on their homepage,, as: “A unique dating and social media website created BY people on the spectrum FOR people on the spectrum.”

Though support group and interaction-oriented websites for people with autism already exist, Olivia points out that they are often developed by neurotypicals. As a result, the people using these programs don’t get the full benefit they need because people on the other side of the spectrum simply don’t understand.

Through her program, Olivia has developed a 184-question test called the Spectrum Compatibility Test. The questionnaire works with users on the autism spectrum by “narrowing the field from thousands of prospects to match your spectrum attributes with a select group of spectrum compatible matches with whom you can build a quality relationship.” Questions cover topics as universal as sexual preferences to ASD-focused options regarding social comfort and attention-related tendencies.

The mother-daughter generated dating sight went up early January. The women have also started a YouTube channel covering dating tips for autistic partners.

By Sara Power, Fordham University