Category Archives: Education

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



Shema Kolainu Workshop Addresses Technology Applications for Autism

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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.



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



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



Television Star Addressed Hurtful Comment in a Powerful Letter

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Parents of autistic children are often subjected to judgment by others, and reality star Jacqueline Laurita is no exception to that.

You may have seen her in the cast of the Real Housewives of New Jersey television series. She has three children but her youngest, Nicholas, was diagnosed with autism at about the age of 2.

When he was 18 months old she noticed he wasn’t meeting the same developmental milestones as other children were. His speech and motor skills regressed. He stopped answering to his name and preferred to play by himself. All the while she also noticed Nicholas made strides in recognizing letters, numbers, and was great with the iPad.

Since then, Laurita has dedicated her time to educating herself and becoming an advocate for other parents of children with ASD. She quickly learned that symptoms can be alleviated through early intervention. One particular episode showed Nicholas’s ability to regain his speech skills. Laurita’s husband, Chris, had been working diligently with their son to say one simple phrase: “I love you.” Although it is only three words it brought the entire room to tears and was extremely heartwarming to witness.

Recently, an insensitive comment was posted on Facebook that struck a chord with Laurita. The commenter suggested that it was wrong to give birth to a child with autism because it would be a waste of resources.

Initially, Laurita was extremely angry but decided to take it as an opportunity to educate people about what autism really means. As many may already know, autism isn’t something that can be detected before or even at birth; children are typically diagnosed around the age of 2 when symptoms become more apparent.

The New Jersey mother also explained that autism is a neurological developmental disorder that affects social and communication skills. She then listed 30 well-known artists, politicians, and academics who all have, or who were suspected to have, autism.

Using these facts, Laurita pointed out that people on the spectrum are not a “waste” of resources, since many of them have greatly contributed to the improvement and advancement of society. Without them we wouldn’t be where we are today. She concluded by stating that individuals with autism are different and in no way are less of a person. 

Click here to read the full letter.

Written by Raiza Belarmino



When to Tell Your Child About Their Autism Diagnosis

tell child about their autism

It’s never easy for a parent to hear that their child has autism. It’s even harder for parent to relay this information to their child, knowing that their entire world is about to change. Mary Hickey, mother of three sons with varying degrees of autism, knows this struggle all too well.

Her oldest son was granted his autism diagnosis at an early age. For her second son, the wait was longer, receiving his diagnosis at the age of eight. Her youngest received his diagnosis just after turning four.  Each of them has responded in a different way to their diagnoses. The common thread? Hickey’s inspiring and encouraging words to her sons at these life-changing times:

“Every person has things that are easy for them and things that they are working on. Your brain works in a very special way- that is called autism. It means that some things that are hard for other people, like remembering numbers and all the states and capitols, are easy for you. But it also means that some things, like understanding conversations or what people are trying to say, can be hard for you. It is why sometimes noises, smells and the feeling of things bother you too. But it also means that you are amazing for how hard you work to get through it all! There are a lot of strategies we can use to help make the things that are tough a bit easier. There are lots of people in the world with autism and so many of them have done amazing things. Would you like to learn about some of them?”

Hickey emphasizes the fact that there was no fixed age that was right for her sons to hear about their autism. She has found a common denominator though in that she has allowed her sons to explore the world and recognize their differences from the children around them.

Each and every time this occurs, Hickey reminds her sons that different is not bad: it’s just different. There is no need to disguise autism for something it’s not, or to pretend it doesn’t exist. The best way to make life livable in a household affected by ASD is to openly embrace it and all the unique perspectives offered by everyone.

The initial conversation may be tough, but it’s important for children to recognize their strengths and limitations on some scale. It can simply help to explain why they see things in a different light, and that they need not be limited by their diagnosis. Hickey does an excellent job of relaying this information and provides profound insight into the importance of being open about autism, especially in the home.

by Sara Power, Fordham University



ALEC: First Responder Training Program

first responders and autism

We recently posted about a program called BOLO (Bring Our Loved Ones home) from Delhi Township, Ohio. Since its start, it has proven to be an extremely helpful tool for police officers in locating and returning lost loved ones to their families.

There has been a wave of similar programs across the country working to spread this type of awareness. One in particular is ALEC (Autism and Law Enforcement Coalition). It was created in Massachusetts in 2003 by a group of parents and first responders. With the rise of ASD diagnoses, there comes a need for training and education when interacting with individuals on the spectrum.

Fire Captain William Cannata is the National Program Coordinator for ALEC and is traveling to DeSoto County, Mississippi for their first training session in the area. Although the name implies it is designed for law enforcement officials, the teaching sessions are actually geared toward all first responders. Fire fighters, emergency medical technicians, and paramedics are all encouraged to participate. Often times in their line of work they need to make quick, on-the-spot decisions. The program is designed to help assess these certain situations and respond appropriately when someone with autism is involved.

Cannata chooses specific first responders who also have a personal relationship with someone with autism. He believes that they are the ideal presenters because they are able to meld the two worlds together, so they can implement the most effective life-saving strategies.

The goal of ALEC’s creators is to cater to the needs of their community while still upholding their duties as first responders. For example, the training outlines ways to calm an autistic person during a high stress scenario. Another priority is being able to communicate effectively and get everyone out of harm’s way.

The local DeSoto coordinator, Prosecutor Craig Treadway knows this all too well. He has a son with autism and recognizes the need for this type of training in his area. It is something they have been awaiting for a long time and excited to be a part of. They believe that it will make it safer for everyone in the community.

For more information you can visit their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/ALECtraining. They training is available for anyone who is interested.

by Raiza Belarmino



Director of Autism Asperger Initiative Visits Shema Kolainu

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Shema Kolainu CEO Dr. Joshua Weinstein (center) poses with AIM Director Bradley McGarry (right) along with his brother Ryan McGarry (far right) along with his graduate assistants Paulina Wielandt and Kristen Robson, and Educational Director Gili Rechany (far left).

On Friday, Shema Kolainu received some special attention from faculty at the Autism/Asperger Initiative at Mercyhurst University.

The program’s director Bradley McGarry works with college-bound seniors on the autism spectrum to prepare them for academic and social success. Working as a bridge between grade and school and higher education, the AIM helps the young adults during the summer before their freshman year by developing their social skills and setting up individualized education planning and accommodations. They even go the extra mile by offering support groups, mentoring, and behavioral plans.

McGarry paid a visit to Shema Kolainu for a tour of our facilities. Along with his brother and two graduate assistants, he was given an inside look at our classrooms and shown what makes the school so special. Children at the school receive highly individualized attention in the classroom since each class is capped at 6 students. Shema Kolainu also prepares students for adulthood through specialized behavioral assistance and life skill training provided by programs such as the Daily Living Skills Center.

The goal AIM is to build on such life skills so crucial for the independence and success of young adults on the autism spectrum. By collaborating with organizations like Shema Kolainu and ICare4Autism, McGarry hopes to share resources and expand upon the impact that AIM can offer.

In summation, the objective of the Autism/Asperger Initiative at Mercyhurst University can best be characterized by their mission statement:

“The true definition and character of a person is their ABILITIES, not disabilities.”