Category Archives: Education

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.



Is Autism Different for Girls?

girls and autism

Boys are more likely to get diagnosed with autism–four times more likely. Scientists, however, and many others in the autism community are still debating whether this gender difference is due to biological causes or that girls have symptoms that they are able to “hide” better. Below, researchers have identified some broad characteristics/symptoms that have typically been seen in girls with autism.

  • Having a specific interest can manifest itself differently in girls. For boys, when we find that they are interested in something out of the norm such as a stop sign or bathrooms, we take that as a red flag. But for girls, their interests can come in the form of dolls, books, music groups, or other things that are typically interesting for her peers. “An autistic girl may be more interested in collecting or cataloging information about her passion, she may develop an unusual depth of knowledge for her age, or she may spend an unusual amount of time pursuing one interest, to the exclusion of other activities.”
  • Although there isn’t much difference between when autistic boys and girls start speaking, girls may actually be more linguistically developed than their male peers. Girls tend to actually be more verbal by learning to read at a very young age or becoming a fast reader.
  • Girls and women are better at using imitation to get through social situations. Although they are not very good at being socially interactive, they are able to learn “a set of socially appropriate scripts by copying other girls.”
  • Girls and women on the spectrum oftentimes enjoy socializing and have friends. They especially enjoy one-on-one or small group situations, however social interaction can require alot of recovery time due to sensory overload or other limitations.
  • Females with autism can also experience a variety of conditions such as depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, eating disorders, and others that can really confuse the diagnostic process.

To read more research on females and autism, click HERE

To read the original article, click HERE



New & Improved Google Glasses Offer Help for Autistic Children

(Image taken from Brain Power Program and WBZ-TV)

(Image taken from Brain Power Program and WBZ-TV)

As we continue to develop new ways to help children and people on the spectrum learn life skills, there has been a general consensus that technology has the potential to overcome many of the challenges they face. Ned Sahin, neuroscientist, neurotechnology entrepreneur, and founder of Brain Power is making waves with his new idea of using Google Glasses to navigate the world. The glasses are being engineered to help children on the spectrum with social skills such as engaging in conversation, reading social cues, and encouraging eye contact.

The glasses allow the child to see the person they are interacting with and places an emoticon or icon that illustrates what that person is feeling next to their face. For example, if someone is smiling at them, they will see a smiley face that they will come to associate with happiness, and thus be able to react appropriately. Another aspect of the glasses allow the child to choose what they person is feeling from two icons that appear on the glass, earning them points that encourage them to engage in this game of face and emotion associations.

Dr. Sahin says, “I wanted to do something that would impact people in their daily lives. There was a huge unmet need here. it was staggering when I realized how little progress we’ve made in autism…Parents tell me, ‘I just wish my child could look me in the eye. I wish my child could understand what I’m thinking…what I’m feeling.’ And we’re giving them that.”

While IPads are also useful for providing similar programs, the google glasses are unique because they allow the child to actually look up or towards the person they are interacting with. The glasses also track how many times the child looks at the person who is trying to get their attention by using a motion sensor. Even Dr. Martha Herbert, pediatric neurologist and brain development researcher, says, “That’s the beauty of this device…It tracks multiple things over time so you can get real data about how things are improving.”

To read more about using google glasses to help children on the spectrum, click HERE 



Unique Faces of Autism

unique

Credit: Lisa Feng

People often say, “If you know one person with autism, you know one person with autism.” But what does this mean? Take two boys Geoffrey Ondrich and Waylon Cude, 16 years old and unrelated, who both have the same diagnosis of autism.

Waylon is a very serious person and also very into computers. He spends the majority of his time playing games online and spent his last summer interning at IBM programming websites. He is a perfectionist when it comes to working on computers. Though he speaks politely and answers questions, especially factual ones, he doesn’t engage in too much other conversation.

On the other hand, we have Geoffrey, who loves his iPad where he watches pieces of his favorite movie or finds music to listen to and starts dancing. His other past times include rocking back and forth and slapping his left wrist onto his right hand. His clinician finds it hard to engage him as he picks up a plate and bites it, then rolls a toy car back and forth on the table.

Two boys, both have the same age and diagnosis, yet are living two very different lives. Geneticist David Ledbetter, chief scientific officer at Geisinger Health System in Danville, Pennsylvania says, “What we’ve learned in the last five years about the underlying genetics is that there are hundreds of, if not a thousand or more, different genetic subtypes of autism.” In the same sense, it is just as no two people have the same personality. Researchers are using this information to try to get to the root cause of autism at the genetic level that could create new treatments in the future that go to the root instead of just addressing the symptoms.

To read more about different mutations triggering different types of behaviors, click HERE



Parents Can Be the Best Resource

parents

When autism was first recognized as a disorder back in the 1940s, people thought that the parents were to blame for their child’s withdrawn behavior. Psychoanalysts thought that cold and detached parenting was the reason behind an autistic child having trouble communicating socially. However, today we know this is not true and there are biological shortcomings of the body and brain development that are responsible for these social deficits.

An important part of helping children on the spectrum with these issues of social interaction is being responsive to the child’s behaviors. This includes making comments or doing things that build on your child’s current interest and actions to support what they are already trying to do. For example, if your child is playing with a ball, you might point to the ball and say, ‘it’s a ball,’ opposed to taking the ball away and asking your child to say ball before giving it back.

Dr. Michael Siller, co-director of the Hunter College Autism Center and Dr. Marian Sigman, co-founder and co-director of the UCLA Center for Autism Research and Treatment (CART), have done research where they show that parents using this responsive method have children who develop better language and social skills. Another study assigned half a group of parents to a one-year long intervention program where they worked one-on-one with a speech therapist to improve their abilities and skills on understanding their child’s subtle social cues. This program was made to help parents interact in a more responsive way to their child. The other half of parents continued receiving their usual community services and, as expected, the parents who went through the program were more responsive and saw more positive results in their children’s social skills as well.

There is a lack of research done on parent-child interaction, since some people are afraid that parents will feel that they are being blamed. However, working on parenting skills and assigning blame are two very different things. This is an important area of research to continue to explore as it can have very promising results for children on the spectrum.



Future Funding A Serious Issue for Autistics

Road to Adulthood

We always talk about how to best get people on the autism spectrum the resources they need to thrive. Typically, that conversation centers around early intervention, therapies inside and outside of school, routines and advice for parents in the home, and advocating for a safe and healthy environment for these kids. But what happens when they become an adult? We put all this effort into having them reach their highest potential, but not everyone on the spectrum at 21 is developmentally at that age. So does all that effort go down the drain?

Christopher Merchant, now 19 years old, was diagnosed with autism and is developmentally on par with an elementary school student. He can read and do simple math problems and dedicates three hours daily at a car dealership where he has an aide to keep him on track. His mother, Lisa Merchant, has seen her son reach these milestones that she didn’t think were possible after his diagnosis, “it’s like learning a sport or playing an instrument: The more therapy he gets, the better he gets at it,” she explains.

When Christopher turns 21, he will no longer be eligible for therapies that address his speech and feeding challenges. His mom, expresses her concern, “Our biggest fear is he won’t end up with funding and he’ll end up sitting on the couch. My school district does a really food job–I’m just afraid all their good work will be for naught.”

In Pennsylvania, where the Merchants live, the number of people with autism has more than doubled, with adults being the majority of the growing population. In 2013 there were 8,395 adults on the spectrum in the state, and that number is projected to be over 30,000 by the year 2020. These numbers are reflected across the country with autism diagnoses being made for 1 in every 68 children. A report from their Bureau of Autism Services (BAS), created in 2007, found that even though they have started creating programs for adults on the spectrum, “as people transition to adulthood, the needs for supports and services often increase, although services become more difficult to access.”

This transitioning process and lack of funding/resources for people in the autism community is a serious issue; it is an issue for the parents who sometimes lose their job since their adult child still needs them, it’s an issue for the person on the spectrum, who after making so much progress up to this point now faces a brick wall, and it is an issue for the state, who has to find a way to incorporate people on the spectrum as productive members of society worth investing in. However, states like Pennsylvania are really taking these issues by the reigns. Other states should also being to recognize the need to address these challenges sooner rather than later.

 

Read the original article HERE

Read about ICare4Autism’s Workforce Initiatives HERE



Kids Helping Kids

Tate Smith (middle) with two of his peers. (http://www.people.com/article/lunch-buddies-help-teen-with-autism)

Tate Smith (middle) with two of his peers. (http://www.people.com/article/lunch-buddies-help-teen-with-autism)

Lisa Smith is a stay-at-home mom with two children who have special needs. After doing her own research and attending conferences on autism, Lisa decided to write her own booklet that explained autism to kids who were in kindergarten and first grade. After getting approval from teachers, she was able to share it with her child, Tate’s, classroom. Mrs. Smith explains the importance of teaching kids about disabilities, “if they don’t know what the disability is, or that there is a disability, they just think the kid’s weird. There’s no understanding, and no real compassion. I don’t think there’s anybody that Tate goes to school with that doesn’t know he has autism and what autism is.”

At the age of 7, Tate’s mom pushed his speech therapist and school to initiate a lunch buddy program, where he would be able to sit with a few assigned peers who were also willing to have lunch with him, and thus be able to work on his social skills with people his age. Tate’s teacher sent notes home to each child’s parent asking for permission for them to have lunchtime with Tate, and they all responded with a yes. “When I thank parents for loaning their children to me for all of their lunch period, they often tell me that their children have learned more from Tate than Tate has learned from them. Compassion. Understanding. Perseverance. When they ask Tate a question, he doesn’t always respond right away. He has to process the language. Sometimes they have to repeat the question. And they stick with him. They don’t lose interest and give up on him,” says Mrs. Smith.

Tate’s speech and language pathologist, Jessica Barker, reflects, “It’s evolved quite a bit with Tate and his age and how far he’s progressed. He’s always had to be taught those explicit rules of social communication: to make eye contact, what tone of voice to use, that facial expressions and body language are important. Also reciprocity: he’s had to be taught that when someone asks you a question, you need to answer. Tate and I worked a lot on how not to kill a conversation. ‘Lunch bunch’ was a great way for him to take what we learned one-on-one and apply it.”

Even his peers see the progress he’s made. One boy, Jayson Brown, has been one of Tate’s lunch companions for the past three years. “He has his own personality. He’s respectful toward others. He’s changed quite a bit, just in his maturity. His manners are much better now, he’s more comfortable in his talking, and I think we’ve helped him with that.” Tate not only feels more connected to his peers, but also feels like he has real friends that he can talk to, which is a nice break from constantly being with a teacher, therapist, or parent. Stories like these make us realize the importance of awareness and the importance of teaching our own children to be sensitive to the needs of those with disabilities.

 



New Perspectives for Children on the Spectrum

Paul Braun with son Mitchell working with a drone.

Paul Braun with son Mitchell working with a drone.

One group of parents is using technology to help engage children who are on the autism spectrum in something that they are interested in, with children who also share their interests. “Taking Autism to the Sky” or TATTS, was developed mainly to help with socializing skills and learning about the physical world around them. Paul Braun’s son Mitchell inspired him to start this project. As a geographer, Braun noticed how useful drones were in helping them survey and map the land, so he was curious as to how seeing the earth from an aerial view would help an autistic child view and understand their world.

Getting a group of kids together that liked technology and were fascinated by the flying drones was an easy enough task. The kids were able to get together and work on every aspect of the drone, including building and customizing their own. They are then able to be the pilot and navigator and even edit and analyze the video that they capture. Braun’s son says, “Sometimes, I imagine actually being in the drone when I fly it. We use some goggles and in there is like a little TV…you could actually see what the drone is seeing right now.”

Dr. Peter Williamson, a neuropsychologist at Dean Clinic, talks about the benefits when autistic children especially, are able to connect to their peers through a shared interest, “when you have kids and they’ve got a common interest and they’ve got something that can kind of bring them together, galvanize them as a group, all of a sudden these kids start talking to one another, they start relating to one another. So technology is a perfectly good hook.” Not only was this helpful to their social skills but they were also able to gain a deeper understanding into how the world looks on a realistic scale, including improving their depth perception.

When the kids were asked to draw their surroundings before seeing the video from using a drone, this is what they came up with:

before dronebefore drone 2After experimenting with the drones and seeing the world from an aerial perspective, this is what their drawings looked like:

after drone

after drone 2As you can see from their drawings, their understanding of reality was definitely enhances from being able to see a new perspective they wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to. Paul Braun hopes to expand this program into a non-profit one day so that other children on the spectrum can have the opportunity to engage in new perspectives too.