Category Archives: Early Intervention

Autistic Teen Defies Odds at Graduation

autistic teen at graduation

As graduation season approaches, we will honor and celebrate all the hard work students across the country have accomplished. One college student in North Charleston, South Carolina has improved far beyond anyone’s imagination.

Rhyan Coleman is a recent graduate of Trident Technical College and one of the honorary student speakers for their 2015 commencement ceremony. Any mother would be proud but for Angela Simmons, this was an especially miraculous moment.

When he was three years old, Simmons noticed there was something different about her son. He kept repeating what she said and wasn’t able to keep up in a conversation. Rhyan was diagnosed with autism and his repetitive speech is a symptom called echolalia. This is a common behavior for children with autism. Once he heard a word or a phrase spoken, he often just repeated it right back at the person.

After years and years of work through speech therapy, this symptom was treated successfully. His mother credits this achievement to the many supporters throughout his life, stating that Rhyan always had a village around him. The friends, family, teachers and therapists that did whatever they could do to help him laid his path to success.

Once high school was over, Rhyan was a bit unsure of his future. He decided to continue his education at Trident Technical College, where he eventually received an Associate’s Degree in Radio and Television Broadcasting.

On May 1, he addressed thousands of people in a crowd filled with students, faculty, family and friends. In the speech he shared his journey growing up with ASD and thanked all of those who have supported him in his academic career. He is most proud to walk across the stage along with his fellow 800+ students.

When asked about his next plans, he replies, “There is a next chapter to be written.”

Written by Raiza Belarmino



Parent Training to Improve Autistic Child’s Behavior

parent training for autism

It’s common for children with autism to exhibit problematic behavior. But, as Kara Reagon, PhD has said, “All behavior serves a person” – meaning that there is a reason for it.

Kids often become frustrated or angry when they are struggling to communicate. However, researchers at Emory University have found that with training, parents are able to obtain the proper skills needed to manage their child’s behavior.

An article recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that children behave better when their parents possess these particular skills.

The experiment involved 180 children between the ages of 3 and 7 years old, and their parents. They were broken up into 2 groups.

One group of parents was given a 24-week training program teaching strategies for managing common behavioral problems. It was comprised of 11 core treatment sessions, two optional sessions, two telephone boosters and two home visits. They were trained on effective ways to respond to their child if they begin throwing a tantrum, showing aggression, performing self-injury or non-compliance. More specifically, parents were told to reward expected behavior with positive reinforcement and withhold reinforcement for unexpected behavior is displayed.

The other group of parents were given 12 core sessions providing strictly educational information about autism and just one home visit.

During the study, the parents of the first group stated their children had a 48% improvement in behavior while the second group had a 32% decline. At the end of each program, clinicians conducted their own assessments on the children. It was discovered that the children with the highly trained parents had a 70% positive feedback rate whereas the less educated parent group had only 40% positive feedback.

A running theme that many researchers and studies continue to support is the importance of early intervention. A previous article in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders showed that early intervention on children between the ages of 7 and 15 months (who show signs of autism) can considerably reduce or completely eliminate any developmental delays. These studies have emphasized the importance of both early intervention and proper training for families with autistic children.

To view the original article please visit http://www.cbsnews.com/news/parent-training-improves-behavior-in-autistic-kids/

Written by Raiza Belarmino



Autism Spectrum Disorder Has Later Onset for Females

autism onset in girls

A recent study handled by the Kennedy Krieger Institute located in Baltimore discovered that not only are females much less likely to be diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), but they are also diagnosed much later on in life in comparison to males.

The Interactive Autism Network – also known as IAN – supplied their online data registry to the Institute. Information was supplied from almost 50,000 families and individuals affected by autism. The study factored in the age and gender of the individuals diagnosed.

Pervasive developmental disorder, diagnosed by delayed growth in social and communicative areas, affected girls beginning at age four in comparison to boys at an average age of 3.8. As well as this, Asperger’s Syndrome was also more common later in girls’ lives, while earlier in boys’. The overall ratio of boys versus girls in the IAN database was almost 4.5 to 1.

This link could be related to the female tendency to be more shy and quiet rather than males. Dr. Paul Lipkin, the director of IAN, says that these autistic behaviors are often written off as shyness. He also stated that girls struggle more often than boys with ability to understand social cues from others, whereas boys struggle with more obvious mannerisms. This shyness can deter professionals from making the diagnosis, while the true cause remains beneath the surface.

Females with autism cannot always be treated identically to males with ASD. This study aims to help determine the recognizable traits in females that have previously led to later diagnoses. This gender gap can hopefully begin to close by implementing social skills training for girls who exhibit these behaviors. Treating this should not change who these children are as people, but should instead allow them to be more aware and flexible with their emotions and the emotions of those around them.

By Kat O’Toole, University of Maine

(Image source: http://autism.lovetoknow.com/image/144126~Girls-playing.jpg)



Innovative Sensory Therapy Shows Promising Results

 

autism therapy

The Sensory Learning Program in Sarasota, Florida has been making local headlines with their impressive growth. Since it’s start in 1995, the system has had an amazing 92% success rate.

Ali Latvala, the mother of 8 year old Tyler Graham, can personally testify to the benefits of their new sensory therapy. Tyler has Autism Spectrum Disorder, and he mostly struggles with keeping up in conversations and becoming overwhelmed with too much light or sound.

Unfortunately, other therapies were not giving him what he needed. It came to a point where it was a lot to handle and Tyler was having trouble sleeping well. Last Fall, Latvala took her son to the New Path Development Center and, within days, was able to notice dramatic results. He was able to communicate better with others and when making requests, he was more detailed than ever before. Latvala was so inspired by the their work that she soon became the program’s Business Director to help spread awareness.

When undergoing a sensory therapy session, a child is placed in a relaxing reclined position on a circularly rotating bed. He/She is given headphones with a randomized playlist of music based on their individual needs and goals. The child also stares into a box that shows a range of colored lights. By exposing the child to multiple sensory inputs (sight, sound, and vestibular motion) therapists try to emulate the intense sensory environments they will encounter. Each session will incorporate more and more sensory stimulation.

Program Director Keri Porter explains that through this process the neural pathways in the brain will modify their physical structure and functional organization. At the end of the program the child is better at tolerating more daily activities like going to the grocery store where there are lots of people, bright lights, and noisy cash registers.

Throughout the years, research and surveys have proven the treatment program’s success rate. The children have improved on behavior abilities, cognitive abilities, and processing their senses.

Although the 30 day long program is designed for children, it has also been used as therapy for adults with brain injury, stroke, and PTSD.

These are some aspects the program has improved on for patients:

  • Self-regulation
  • Expressive language
  • Fine motor skills
  • Gross motor skills
  • Memory
  • Speed of mental processing
  • Physical and mental organization
  • Goal setting and planning
  • Transiting in thought or activity
  • Language comprehension
  • Building vocabulary
  • Sensory Processing
  • Cognitive control

Written by Raiza Belarmino



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: http://www.autismdailynewscast.com/podcast-cara-koscinski-autism-mom-ot-author-pocket-ot-series/25431/catherinepascuas/

Written by Raiza Belarmino



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.

http://blog.hear-our-voices.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/IMG_9505.jpg

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.



Applied Behavior Analysis: Opening New Doors

Shortly after an autism diagnosis is made, parents are typically recommended to navigate the tricky waters of behavioral analysis services for their child.

Applied behavior analysis (or ABA), is defined as “…the process of systematically applying interventions based upon the principles of learning theory to improve socially significant behaviors to a meaningful degree”. It targets areas where core symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder are usually expressed, namely in behavior patterns, communication, and social skills. It is useful when teaching children with autism behaviors that they may not adopt on their own (such as understanding sarcasm, or limiting repeated behavior). 

As ABA is one of the more common intervention plans for children with autism, it is understandable that there may be some misgivings in its application. Critics of the intervention program accuse it of ‘forcing’ children with ASD to be someone that they are not, meaning that they are being forced to behave and act differently than they would naturally.

However, those in favor of ABA intervention argue that there is no ‘forced’ change in the child at all. They insist that these treatment programs are tools to guide these children and they are helping them to learn to communicate and connect with their peers and those around them. 

Human connection is not just a want, but a necessary component for living a fulfilling life. By teaching these children specific behavioral, communicative, and social skills, behavior therapists are ensuring that these children will have the necessary skills to interact with people as they grow and develop.

Critics who argue against ‘forced’ social skills (insisting that many people with autism prefer to stick to themselves) don’t necessarily understand that by teaching these children how to interact and giving them tools which are necessary to socialize comfortably, they are also given a choice of how to utilize these tools- and a choice of whether to be social or to be more isolated. 

ABA need not teach children with autism to be someone else, but rather, to develop into a different version of themselves- a version where they have control over their own behavior, socialization and communication.

ABA can provide a child with a sharpened awareness of how others perceive them, and also give them a knowledge of behaviors, communication, and social skills that they wouldn’t necessarily pick up on on their own. 

By Sydney Chasty, Carleton University

Photo credit: www.zmescience.com



Interpreting the Correlation between Infant Communication and Autism Onset

autism diagnosis

Over the years, researchers have fiercely debated the origins of autism. Theories regarding its conception have targeted everything from inattentive parents to biological bases. Despite their sundry allegations, these theories all have one thing in common: an emphasis on infant development.

Experts maintain that a clear diagnosis of autism cannot be established until early toddlerhood. Before then, behaviors vary too much to create a firm connection. Studies regarding eye movement and tracking have come close to identifying early clues to autism’s onset; however, they remain somewhat insufficient to establish an accurate diagnosis.

Jonathan Green, professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at the University of Manchester, strives to substantiate an intensive evaluation and therapy approach that could create a stronger, more accurate method for infant diagnoses. He is currently supervising a study following 53 at-risk infants in order to document autism’s manifestation.

Green believes that it is a combination of genetic and parenting influences that activates autism during infancy. He has not been satisfied with the popular notion that biology alone determines autism development so he hopes to outline compounding factors. Thus far, he’s discovered that an intensive parental intervention correlates to increased social interaction and attention in the infants.

It is important to note that Green does not place the origin of autism on parents. Rather, he believes that parent-child relationships may simply influence the trajectory at which a biological predisposition towards autism may begin.

His intervention consists of training parents to recognize and interpret attempts at communication, fostering an interest in the infant’s changing attentions, and translating gestures into words to build verbal understanding. It also expounds on electroencephalography findings regarding brain response to speech sounds.

It is too soon to say whether this training can truly alter the course of autism’s development. Nevertheless, Green’s program does provide important feedback to parents regarding how their interactions play into the child’s development, whether they be typically developing or not.

“I don’t want to say that one can ‘cure’ autism like this, that’s not true,” Green says. “But I hope we’ll be able to make a difference.”

Sara Power, Fordham University



The Autism Impact Measure: The New Gold Standard

Autism Impact Measure

Tools, measures, and assessments for diagnosing what is now called Autism Spectrum Disorder have been around since the early 1960s when treatment plans began to take shape.

ASD first appeared as ‘Infant Autism’ in 1980 in the DSM III. Since then, the name, markers, and symptoms for autism have changed in almost every version of the DSM up until the umbrella term Autism Spectrum Disorder was used. Through the years, many types of tools have been created to diagnose cases of ASD, and many adhered to the definition and symptoms described in the current version of the DSM (III through V). 

Currently, the DSM V has made major changes to how autism is seen in the clinical world, and the diagnosing process has widened the spectrum. Previously, the two ‘gold standards’ of diagnosing tools were the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS), and the Autism Diagnostic Interview Revised (ADI-R). While these two still hold the spots for top diagnostic tools, they have many limitations that call for a revision of assessments. 

The ADOS and ADI-R, while reliable in diagnosing cases, are not well suited to assess and track the outcome measures of treatments, meaning that they are unable to assess chances in core symptoms of ASD over time. These tools focus on placing an individual onto the spectrum through ‘categorical caseness’, which leaves no room for changes in core symptom expression during and after treatments. Luckily, there is a new player in town.

In 2013, Kanne and his team created a new measure for assessing and diagnosing cases of ASD while focusing on a “finer gradation of symptom expression both short and long term”. The Autism Impact Measure, or AIM, targets the sensitivity of changes in core ASD symptoms during and after treatment sessions. The assessment itself is a 24 item questionnaire which looks at frequency and intensity of behaviours and symptoms of the individual. It has proven to have high reliability and validity when measured by professionals in the field.

This measure would be issued by a behavioral therapist during a regular session with the individual. It is used with a 2 week recall period, meaning that the initial measure is followed up two weeks after with a second assessment. Using this assessment tool in regular treatment settings allows for the individual’s immediate team to watch as their symptoms change in a natural fluid way, rather than have the individual placed on a scale and have them stagnate there. This means that if the the ‘gold standard’ becomes the Autism Impact Measure, individuals would have a constantly updated version of their symptoms on file, as well as a completely tailored treatment plan that would help them thrive.

By Sydney Chasty, Carleton University