Category Archives: Education

“Happy Birthday!” means “Hallelujah!” for Parents of Autistic Girl

5 year old autistic girls speaks after years of silence

Picture a sweet babbling toddler. Now picture a three-year-old screaming and slamming her head every time you try to exit the house. Cue the early years of Ave Arreola.

Despite a rough birth in which her twin sister died, Ave began life similarly to any other baby. She followed typical developmental patterns, babbling and engaging with her surroundings, until the age of 2, when she abruptly fell silent and stopped interacting with her parents and peers. A diagnosis of “autism” shortly followed as her temper tantrums escalated. Her parents desperately sought a solution to calm their daughter’s seemingly unstable reality.

The Arreola family started bringing Ave to therapy at the Center for Children with Autism at Metrocare Services in Dallas, TX. Metrocare Services opened a few years ago after administration noticed the growing population of autistics in the Dallas area. The center just opened a second location recently, so they are now able to serve an additional 270 children with ASD who come from low-income backgrounds.

Despite a rocky start, therapists there have been able to begin developing routines and coping mechanisms for Ave to attach to during times of emotional duress. The center teaches social skills to the children and helps parents develop custom programs to help their children.

After years of silence, 5 year old Ave unexpectedly wished her 19 year-old brother a “Happy Birthday!” while the family was celebrating. They are the first words she has spoken since she was two. Since then, she’s begun singing along to TV shows, and her speech therapists have had greater success in reciprocally communicating with her.

“I don’t think we ever give up on the hope that a child will talk,” said Sarah Loera, program manager at the Center for Children, to Dallas News.

Work with the Metrocare clinic has not only given the Arreola’s daughter’s voice back, but has stabilized their entire family structure. Therapists have helped them design behavioral strategies for Ave to follow, and have given them advice on how to make Ave’s immediate world a little less daunting.

Sara Power, Fordham University



Autistic Teens Start with Gumball Machines to Learn Business Management

autism gumball machine business

While you are out and about in your local mall or your local doctors office, you may see a gumball machine.

Simply put in a quarter, turn the knob, and a gumball drops out of the chute. Something you may have not known is that those simple gumball machines sometimes provide benefits to people, even jobs. In this case, four young teenagers by the name of Ronny, Dylan, Jack, and Reshaun have begun lessons in entrepreneurship through these little candy machines.

These young men also happen to have autism spectrum disorder, but they aren’t letting that stop them from learning to become successful like anyone else. Easter Seals, which is a service that reaches out to all people of different disabilities including autism and more, has created a program called “Bubble 2 Work”. Their job is to maintain, re-fill, and collect money from the machines. With that, the seeds are planted and the boys begin to understand how to run a business.

Kelly Anne Ohde of Easter Seals has stated that it’s an opportunity for them to gain real world experience for them.

Gumball machines are located in 17 south suburban establishments in Illinois where people interact with others, including customers and even a state senator, Senator Michael Hastings. Hastings describes that the four teens are “great kids.”

“We traded movie quotes, what’s going on and what it’s like to be a senator,” he says of his relationship to the four young men.

Not only are the teens learning how to run a business which will indefinitely help them in the future, they are also improving their social skills and even learning new things from influential people like Hastings.

And that’s not all. Ronny, Dylan, Jack, and Reshaun’s job training teaches other people about autism.  Tony Gloria of Rocco Vino’s Italian Restaurant, where the four work on the gumball machines, welcomes them to eat there on their lunch breaks, saying that they have a “personal understanding.”

In this day in time, we must remember the importance of instilling knowledge into our young people regardless of the challenges they face. All children and teens deserve an equal chance at a bright and successful future.

Taja Kenney, Eerie Community College



Quick Behavioral Observations Frequently Overlook Signs of Autism

Lynn Burton reads to her daughter Adelaide. Many toddlers her age are not receiving potentially life-saving autism screenings. | Medical XPress

Lynn Burton reads to her daughter Adelaide. Many toddlers her age are not receiving potentially life-saving autism screenings. | Medical XPress

Parents should not rely solely on a medical professional to detect a child’s autism, according to a new study published in the journal Pediatrics.

Research shows that bringing a child to a 10-20 minute pediatric behavior monitoring session is not sufficient to determine if a child has autism. Parents who trust that their child’s doctor will be thorough in their examination without paying attention to their child’s developmental signs day to day could be missing some key information.

These short sessions simply do not give the clinician enough time with your child to make an accurate diagnosis. The medical professional cannot gather enough information at a simple checkup. Thus, many children with autism will show normal behavior during this window, and will not get referred to a professional who can provide the treatment needed.

If autism symptoms are missed early on in a child’s life, they may miss a crucial point in their development in which early intervention is most effective. Autistic children who receive early intervention and treatment before age three have been shown to vastly conquer or eliminate their symptoms before entering school. Just like learning a new language, changing the child’s brain in this way becomes more difficult after they leave the toddler years behind.

In the study, ten minute videos of children ages 15-33 months were viewed by experts in the field. Children with autism, speech delays, and normal development were all included. It was found that the quick observation was not sufficient to gather accurate conclusions, and the experts missed 39 percent of the children with autism since they displayed typical behavior during this time.

The CDC reports that autism diagnoses have increased 30 percent during the past two years, when the statistic jumped from 1 in 88 to 1 in 68 children. This is why a correct diagnosis early on is especially important.

What this means for young children with autism is that they would benefit from more detailed observation. Exploring in-depth autism screenings and extra attention from parents are key steps in understanding a child’s development.

A parent usually knows their children more intimately than anyone else, and if educated properly, can recognize the symptoms of autism on their own, and alert the child’s care provider to determine the next step.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a formal autism screening for children at the 18 and 24 month mark. A few simple screening tools that help parents know the signs to look for are available to use free of charge. One of these is the M-CHAT-R Checklist. Another resource to use is the CDCs Learn The Signs, Act Early campaign.



Nonverbal Children Show Marked Improvement Using Video Series

 

Gemiini

An innovative yet relatively simple video series therapy may prove effective in treating speech disorders.

Laura Kasbar’s twins were diagnosed with autism as young children. They did not respond to the speech therapies offered to them, so Kasbar realized that she had to search for an effective solution to their speaking difficulty.

Now Kasbar’s twins are grown and they excel college. Their mother claims that a large part of their success can be credited to her invention, The Gemiini System. This series of speech therapy videos may soon be reaching children all over the country, or possibly the world.

Videos from the Gemiini System lay things out in a way that children understand. For each word, a child appears onscreen accompanied by a picture demonstrating the word’s meaning. The word is spoken slowly and clearly several times. This includes a close up of the child’s mouth when speaking the word.

The Gemiini system uses a method called “discreet video modeling.” This method is effective for many because it presents words with their associations so the children grasp their meaning. This direct approach allows autistic children to concentrate on learning.

Dr. Amanda Adams, Clinical Director of The California Autism Center and Learning Group in Fresno, California, is interested in using the Gemiini system, stating it can work well when combined with other therapies.

“Along with good behavior intervention, a good school program and all of the other pieces still in play, this tool I see as a supplement.” says Adams.

Dr. Heather O’Shea with autism therapy provider ACES in Fresno, is looking forward to using this therapy within her own company.

“We’re very excited about it. We are starting to implement it, the research is giving me great hope,” says Dr. O’Shea.

Since Laura Kasbar’s twins have progressed so well, she is optimistic about the success of other children using The Gemiini System. She emphasizes the importance of starting such therapies young, in order to increase the chances of lessening or eliminating speech difficulties the children face.

These videos are available online for parents, teachers, and therapists. This is good news for families that struggle with insurance coverage for the therapies they need.

The website asserts that The Gemiini System may also be used for children who struggle with reading. Additionally, Kasbar says the system is effective for adults who need speech therapy. These include stroke survivors, those affected by dementia, and patients with traumatic brain injury.



California Ranch Would Provide Work and Direction for Adults with Autism

Autistic Farm Workers

Every year, approximately 50,000 people with autism graduate from the school system. That’s as large as many US cities.

In Solano County, California, Jeanine Stanley wants to bring to fruition a ranch that would give some of these young adults a place to go. When her son Ben was diagnosed with autism at age 3, Stanley did not know where to turn since so little was known about asd.

“You end up teaching the teachers,” she told the San Jose Mercury News. “We had to be the pioneers.”

The involved Lafayette mother spent the remainder of her son’s career in school researching all the best therapies and ensuring he received the best treatment possible in order to ensure his academic success. The question remained, however, as to what would become of him when school was completed.

To address this issue for her son and others like him, Ms. Stanley has been working with other advocates to fund a ranch in Fairfield where autistic individuals can apply their talents into practical work. Named after her son (whose middle name is Walker) the property is being referred to as the B. Walker Ranch.

Young adults with autism have are often praised for their ability to focus on independent tasks. With about 1 in 68 people being diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, few programs exist that help channel their abilities. Around 70 percent of these adults suffer from unemployment or underemployment.

Stanley thought back to her own childhood experiences working on a commercial flower farm with her family, and the idea for the program was born. It is her aspiration to connect with autistics who have little direction in their lives, and work with them to determine their strengths. They are then matched with tasks on the working day ranch in order to give them a sense of purpose.

Each participant will have the program tailored to suit their strengths and needs. Tasks include making jam, pulling weeds, and fixing equipment like tractors. Individuals on the spectrum often excel at repetitive tasks and seek detailed organization.

The creators of the ranch not only aim to provide structured work for the participants, they also want to use these tasks to teach problem solving, valuable work skills, and coping skills. The ranch will also provide art therapy and occupational therapy.

The 10 acre property lies just west of Fairfield and was gifted to Stanley’s organization by a benefactor and includes a 19th century house and barn. They have secured a 99-year lease so ensure the program’s longevity. The California ranch is located near bus and train transit lines. The organizers of the B. Walker Ranch hope to begin with 25 workers.



Staffing Organization for Autistics Expands Offices

Mobile testers at Myriad

A nonprofit which places adults on the autism spectrum in jobs has now expanded to the Midwest, opening a third office in Fargo, North Dakota.

The organization Specialisterne, which has been working for years to place autistic individuals into detail-oriented fields of employment, expanded this summer to serve more people in need. The global nonprofit was launched by the Dutch and helps train adults on the spectrum with in-demand skills that suit their mental framework.

Specialisterne’s executive director Mark Grein gave a presentation at the ICare4Autism International Conference this past summer on the topic of business collaboration which helps find suitable employment for those on the autistic spectrum. Their newest office in Fargo was granted funding through the state Legislature and the Anne Carlson Foundation.

One of the companies that works with Specialisterne to place candidates is Myriad, a mobile software development company. Myriad’s CEO Jake Joraanstad says that finding the right employees to conduct detailed, unbiased quality assurance testing has been one of their biggest challenges as they grow.

David Strand is happy to fill that role at the company. Strand is one of four consultants who was placed with Myriad after being trained through Specialisterne.

“I’m part of something. I contribute in a meaningful way to a larger whole, and that sense of purpose is the essence of life, as far as I’m concerned,” Strand said to InForum. Before the job with Myriad, he had never felt welcome or accepted in a work environment.

The mission of Specialisterne is to invest in candidates who have been overlooked because of their disorder, and working with them to build on their strengths. These consultants have been praised for their accurate, detailed analysis of software bugs and their fast turnaround time.

Alex Lee, another consultant from Specialisterne, works for the manufacturing company Appareo Sytems. His managers have noted his excellent attention to detail and manual skills, and they were unaware of his autism.

The executive director of Specialisterne Midwest, Tony Thomann, revealed that his first two candidates struggled extensively with attaining employment, despite having college degrees.

“It can really impact your ability to secure employment that’s of your level,” said Thomann.

He also mentioned that Specialisterne’s mission is not only beneficial for the employees, but for the community as a whole. He is grateful to have found companies in the Fargo area that are so willing to participate, and is hopeful that more businesses embrace the idea.

Specialisterne is currently recruiting another group of candidates to work with, with the first round of interviews scheduled for January 8-10.



Seven Ways to Use Play-Based Therapy with Your Child

kid play

A number of different therapies can be beneficial to improving the social and motor skills of an autistic child. Some examples include Applied Behavioral Analysis and Pivotal Response Training. Methods that include your child’s favorite playtime activities can be effective for improving their symptoms if used in a way they respond well to.

Play-based therapy can help with your child’s skills in the areas of communication, fine and gross motor development, joint attention, peer socializing, patience, following directions, and much more. Play therapy may be structured in certain ways that children with autism respond well to.

Though behaviors and symptoms vary widely amongst the spectrum, children with asd tend to exhibit “stimming” tendencies. Stimming refers to repetitive behaviors that may serve to comfort the child. Children with autism also commonly prefer rigid structure in their daily activities and often have difficulty when patterns change and things do not play out as expected. Implementing play-based methods can help them cope with unexpected situations, and can improve their sense of security in general.

Here are some tips for using play therapy effectively with a child on the autistic spectrum:

1. Start out on the same playing field.

The child will respond better if they are coaxed out of their comfort zone slowly, not forced into it. Take it one step at a time for the best outcome; do not expect anything to happen overnight.

2. Participate in activities you know they already enjoy.

You can do this by watching the child and mirroring their behavior. Imitate what they are doing. He or she will feel like they are part of something when you actively participate.

3. Make small changes to their activities to expand their thinking.

Again, start with small steps. For example, if the child likes playing with toy cars, take one of the cars and make it do something new.

4. Work up to making them more comfortable with sharing.

If your child does not respond well when others touch their belongings, slowly increase the amount of interaction you have with them that involves taking things away.

5. Communicate even if they do not respond.

For a child who struggles with verbalization, getting the words out can be a challenge. Comment on your child’s activities even if they do not converse back.

6. Show them their needs are important to you.

Try to offer them things they might want often. If they are comfortable and enjoying themselves, they will learn to associate you with positivity.

7. Be fun, enthusiastic, and engaging.

Show genuine interest in the child and what they are doing.

Check out the original article here



Research for Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Gets a Boost

oxygen

A Canadian University received praise in response to their use of a treatment for autism called Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy.

The research program at Simon Frasier University received this prize in the form of a $500,000 grant from Central City Brewing and Distillery President Darryl Frost. Frost and his wife were compelled to donate to the program after seeing the improvements their son had made after receiving intensive HBOT.

5 year old Callum, who had struggled with behavioral issues, began undergoing the treatment along with dietary changes to improve his symptoms. Before the therapy he began, his father Daryl described him as an “extremely low-functioning child” who was not capable of communicating, feeding himself, or getting dressed independently. He also exhibited aggression, tantrums, and self-harming behavior.

Now, Callum’s father claims he can speak in full sentences, can eat and dress by himself, and is fully potty trained. His behavior and communication has largely improved and he attends kindergarden with the help of an aid.

During an HBOT session, the patient is placed in a pressure chamber where they are able to breathe 100% oxygen. The researchers claim that this allows for greater tissue saturation by up to ten times when compared to normal pressure.

The newly funded HBOT study will be conducted by SFU’s Environmental Medicine and Physiology Unit and the university’s associate dean from the Faculty of Science. The study is planned to accept 40 volunteers, both children and adults. Some of the individuals will have autism while others will not. Research will likely begin by 2016. Though studies on HBOT and its effectiveness on autism symptoms have been conducted in the past, the results were fairly subjective and difficult to measure scientifically.

This time around, SFU will be using the university’s Magnetoencephalography (MEG) machine. This piece of technology is the most modern brain imaging device available to the university. Using the MEG machine, scientist will be able to track brain oscillations and note changes in mental network connectivity. It will also enable scientists to determine which patients will benefit most from HBOT.

It is not yet clear how this treatment will improve symptoms of autism. What researchers do know is that HBOT increases the oxygen supply to the blood stream, therefore allowing more oxygen to reach the brain. In turn, they theorize that this increased oxygen energizes brain cells and cell pathways. This may actually help repair cells that are damaged or functioning at a low metabolic level.

You can read the original article here.



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.