Category Archives: Education

Going to the Dentist

Taking your child to the dentist can be an ordeal, especially for the first few times, since they are expected to let a strange person put cold metal tools into their mouths and sit still during the whole visit. For a child on the spectrum, this ordeal can be especially challenging for the family as well as the dentist. For Nicole Brown and her daughter Camryn, going to the dentist for a basic cleaning was a miserable experience. Camryn was confused and disoriented by the bright lights in her face, the strange noises the dentist’s tools made, and everything else unfamiliar in the room. She would sometimes panic and run out of the office altogether.

Ms. Brown was finally able to locate a pediatric dentist that was able to help her daughter adjust to her routine visits. Instead of suggesting that her child be sedated with anesthetics or immobilized, Dr. Luedemann-Lazar set up weekly visits to help ease Camryn to the norms of seeing the dentist. She gave her lots of breaks so that she wouldn’t get overwhelmed as well as gave incentives, with the help of mom, such as listening to a snippet of her favorite song when she sat calmly for a bit.

Now, researchers are studying how to help children on the spectrum overcome any challenges and fears they have when visiting the dentist. New programs are also being implemented to help dentists and their staff learn more about treating children with special needs. Josalyn Sewell, a dental hygienist with an autistic son, says, “There are children who are completely nonverbal, and if they have a toothache, it completely shuts them down.” This is why parents are urged to start dental care before there is an actual emergency, such as a toothache or cavity, because putting a distressed child in an unfamiliar situation never goes smoothly.

Here are some tips to help your child adjust to dental hygiene and dentist visits:

  • Start Early: get your child familiar with the brushing sensation on gums before their first teeth even come in, so that when your child is ready for the toothbrush they are used to the process and sensations that come with brushing your teeth.
  • Go Electric: since many children, including those not on the spectrum, have very little patience when it comes to brushing their teeth, an electric toothbrush can help parents make the most of the time they are able to actually brush their child’s teeth.
  • Start Small: if getting the brush in your child’s mouth is a major obstacle, then start with baby steps; maybe brush one tooth first for a few seconds and then two or three days later, try brushing the same tooth again for a few more seconds. It’s always okay to take it slow.
  • Rewards: some parents call it bribery, others call it incentives, whatever the case, introducing a small reward every time your child is able to keep the brush in their mouth or even allows the brush in their mouth can go a long way–just make sure the reward isn’t candy.
  • Set up the routine:  let your child know what is going to happen. This can be done through visual aides such as creating a picture schedule to supplement the words used to describe what will happen.
  • Careful with toothpaste: use kid-friendly toothpaste kids, especially those still learning how to spit, and even so, only use a very small amount. Sometimes a wall-mounted toothpaste dispenser can be helpful for kids learning to handle toothpaste portions on their toothbrush.
  • Set a timer: brushing until the count of ten, or to the end of a song, or setting a timer to let the child know how long they should brush for and when the brushing is okay to stop makes this activity much more manageable for both parent and child.

To read the original articles, click HERE and HERE


Earlier Autism Detection Raises Questions About Early Intervention

Autism is a genetic disorder that affects about 20% of younger siblings of those on the spectrum. Researchers are now saying that they often show symptoms as early as 18 months, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (JAACAP). The study used 719 younger siblings of those with autism, otherwise known as ‘high risk’ siblings, who were assessed at 18 months and then 36 months to identify any social, communications, and repetitive behaviors that could be early symptoms. Warning signs such as poor eye contact and/or repetitive behaviors were observed in 57% of siblings and among those without symptoms at 18 months, for the ones who were later diagnosed, started showing signs by 36 months. Researchers note that about half of the children had poor eye contact combined with limited gestures and imaginative play while other children exhibited repetitive behaviors and lacked nonverbal communication skills.

Although it is important to detect these warning signs or early symptoms of autism, John Elder Robison, author of Raising Cubby, Look Me in the Eye, My Life with Asperger’s and Be Different–adventures of a free range Aspergian, and member of the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee of the US Dept. of Health and Human Services, expresses his concern over early intervention. According to people on the spectrum who had received early intervention treatments as children, their experiences seemed half positive and half negative.

While many people talk about how wonderful it was to have that support throughout their childhood, “others talk about suppressing behaviors that embarrassed parents…[and] imposing their will where it was not wanted.” Robison argues that this is something to take into serious consideration as we move forward with creating new treatments and therapies for early intervention. He critiques our abilities to deter autism in infants now as young as 6 months old, asking what interventions are actually appropriate at this stage and to what end?

When providing intervention for a four-year-old, we are able to see the progress we make in the child’s behaviors and adjust our plans accordingly. However, with an infant, the issues are not very clear, Robison says, “We may pick up a sign of autism, but what kind of autism? Will the child be verbal or silent? Will the child be lovable, eccentric, unable to care for themselves or talk…it’s too early to know.”

As we continue to move forward with autism diagnoses at earlier stages, we also need to move forward in the methods and treatments we use for early intervention.

To read the original study, click HERE

To read John Elder Robison’s article, click HERE

Taking Literacy to the Next Level

Dr. Marion Blank is a developmental psychologist with a specialization in language and learning, director of the A Light on Literacy Program in the Department of Child Psychiatry at Columbia University, and a consultant to government bureaus in England, Canada, Holland, Israel, and Australia. After studying how children learn language for over 40 years, she received the Upton Sinclair Award in Education. For children on the spectrum, about half are non-verbal or are limited to few words. So when we see news stories like the one about the non-verbal autistic teen who gave a graduation speech using technology, we think of them not only as an extraordinary individual but also as an isolated case that goes against the norm.

Dr. Blank uses this point to criticize the assumption we make that children who are non-verbal will not be able to use language. She asks, “what if most, if not all non-verbal children could learn to read and write and are not doing so simply because they have not been taught?” For typically developing children, spoken language comes before written language, so if they cannot speak then they are not ready for reading and writing. For these students on the spectrum, their school instruction focuses on learning to write their name, learning signs relevant to the classroom, and learning a few sight words; but they are not given the same opportunities as those that we hear about on the news.

Is it possible that all non-verbal children are able to learn language to the extent of these “isolated cases”? Dr. Blank argues that is it because its important to recognize that many of the success stories we see on the news actually started with a lot of home instruction. They were able to find the methods that fit their child’s needs in order to teach them in a way that allowed them to learn. “They [parents] also did not use traditional reading instruction and so were able to transcend the assumptions guiding the educational system and use technology to give their children the opportunity to become competent language users,” she says. This is why she designed her own program the mimic this type of home instruction, called Reading Kingdom.

Overall, it is important for parents, professionals, and the general public to understand that non-verbal autistic individuals are definitely capable of more than we usually assume. Dr. Blank says we know we succeeded when we no longer see these success stories on the news because literacy in children on the spectrum will be the norm.

To read the original article, click HERE

Did you do those errands yet?

Many parents with children on the spectrum face challenges in taking their child out into a variety of public settings. For Katrina Davis, a family services advisor, she thinks of all the places her son can’t go every time she walks along a bike trail and cyclists occasionally yell “on your left!” Her sone Arthur is 15 and autistic, and although has come a long way in how he behaves and communicates, does not always pay attention to his surroundings. With the bicyclists having the right of wat and expecting those rules to be followed, she could see how an accident could easily happen. How could she explain to her son, who struggles with language and communication that there were different rules to follow when you were in certain environments?

Davis was tired of having bad experiences with simply trying to do errands such as grocery shopping or going to the bank. She explains, “the tantrums, the odd behavior, the stares, the abandoned shopping cart filled with food, the failed attempts at waiting in a line left me exhausted, hopeless, and feeling isolated.” However, she recognized that these outings are an important life skills for her child and healthy experiences for both of them. Below are some tips she shared based on her own experience, on how to make doing errands a more enjoyable experience for everyone.

Plan: keeping a dry erase board in the car to draw a picture story to help explain unexpected changes in schedule, for example a traffic jam or a closed store. Bringing along activities or toys that your child likes to help them stay calm and stimulated.

Exposure: Return to familiar areas and even if you’re passing by consistently and never get our of the car, you are still setting up a more successful future outing.

Small steps: plan short trips to the grocery or a particular place so that your child gets familiar with the environment and people. Gradually increase the time you can spend in these places as your child gets more comfortable in them.

Persistence: There will be setbacks and things will not always go smoothly, maybe you don’t get anywhere near the end of your grocery list, still celebrate the small victories.

Take a deep breath: if someone has a negative reaction to your child’s behavior, remember that it is a good opportunity to educate others about autism and create a positive connection.

Ask for help: ask a family member of a friend to come along for the trip if it will make you feel better able to handle any challenging situations that may come up.

For other autism resources, check out our resource links HERE

Understanding Sensory Challenges

Occupational therapist Lindsey Biel, co-author of “Raising a Sensory Smart Child” and “The Definitive Handbook for Helping Your Child with Sensory Processing Issues,” has some important points to make about how to best support a child with sensory issues. As the number of children with autism rises, so does the concern in the autism community for providing the necessary knowledge to understand those affected by sensory overload.

Inspired by Temple Grandin’s book, “Thinking in Pictures,” Biel became facinated with people who see the world in a unique perspective. She explains the importance of educating others about sensory challenges, stemming from her own struggles as a child with issues such as discomfort in fluorescent lighting and noise in the cafeteria. Her first two books were geared towards giving parents and professionals best practices that were usually only implemented during a therapy session or within the school. Her new book “Processing Challenges: Effective Clinical Work with Kids & Teens” is more geared towards professionals in the autism field–psychologists, therapists, social workers, etc. Many times sensory problems are not recognized as the problem and the connection between the sensory challenge and the behavior gets lost. Biel pushes the idea that we need to start to really listen to what people with sensory issues have to say. In order to make a difference in these people’s lives, we need to:

  • Collaborate with individuals who experience the world and their bodies differently and work together
  • Empower people with sensory problems to become  more self aware to self-advocate
  • Share ideas, perspectives in magazine articles both in general parenting and other general consumer publications as well as autism specific publications
  • Speak to parenting groups and have professional workshops, including staff development around these issues

She argues, “There is still so much research, education, and awareness that needs to happen. We still ask students and workers to adjust to schools and workplaces rather than adjusting those environments to meet the need of the user. Parents still have pediatricians who trivialize their concerns about oversensitivities to noise, or clothing fabrics, smells, and so on. And they still have friends and relatives who think they’re indulging their child when they give them movement breaks or special allowances to accommodate their sensory needs…Every parent, teacher, and caregiver needs to know first and foremost that when a person is at the mercy of sensory issues, it can be extraordinarily difficult to behave as expected.”

Some basic tips for caregivers dealing with children on the spectrum are:

  • avoid harsh lighting
  • provide soft and seamless clothing
  • use a reassuring and firm touch
  • speak gently and patiently using clear language that is straightforward and free of unnecessary words 
  • do not demand eye contact when you are speaking
  • understand that they are not going to stop self-stimulatory behaviors just because you tell them to
  • assume competence even if the child/person has yet to prove this to you

Shema Kolainu- Hear Our Voices, offers its students a one-of-a-kind multisensory environment called the Snoezelen room. This room is specially designed to deliver stimuli to various senses using lighting effects, color, sounds, music, and scents. It provides a sense of calm to the child who may be experiencing some form of sensory overload and allows for student and teacher to work on communication, enhance their understanding of each other and build trust. Read more about our state-of-the-art room HERE!

For more resources on handling sensory challenges:

To read the original interview with Lindsey Biel, click HERE


5-Year-Old Raises Awareness

Iris Grace and her cat Thula

Iris Grace is a five year old diagnosed with autism who picked up a paintbrush last year and has been making waves ever since.

“It was her first painting I noticed a difference in her painting compared to how you would normally expect a child to paint. She filled the page with color but with thought and consideration…We did’t think much of it at the time, we were just so happy to have found an activity that brought her so much joy,” Iris’s mom, Arabella Carter-Johnson, explains.

Her paintings have gotten attention and praise all across Europe, Asia, and America. In fact, many have been sold to private collectors for thousands of pounds each. Iris and her family use the profit to pat for art supplies as well as all of her therapies. Even Ashton Kutcher has tweeted about her artwork:

“She will watch water, trees, wind, leaves, flowers, birds, clouds…she is so interested in movement and how it changes things…I can see so much of what fascinates her in her art, I believe she can see things in more detail or notice things in more detail,” says Arabella. By following through on Iris’s interests, they are now also able to raise awareness about the kinds of resources and tools that we need to help children with autism. They even started their own activity club that meets every Saturday to provide support to children on the spectrum.

According to the American Art Therapy Association, art therapy is the process where “art media, the creative process, and the resulting artwork is used to explore feelings, reconcile emotional conflicts, foster self-awareness, manage behavior and additions, develop social skills, improve reality orientation, reduce anxiety, and increase self-esteem. A goal in art therapy is to improve or restore functioning and his/her sense of personal well-being.”

Shema Kolainu offers art therapy as part of their program to help children on the spectrum focus their thoughts and express themselves through mediums other than verbal communication, which can be very challenging for students on the spectrum. Read more about the therapies offered by Shema Kolainu, HERE.

To see more of Iris’s artwork, click HERE

ABA Therapy Continues Its Success

PHOTO: The Rogersons are happy their sons Tom (L) and Jack (R) are close but don't think Tom should be responsible for Jack as he grows older. (ABC: Australian Story)

Jack Rogerson was diagnosed with autism as a toddler and written off by many medical professionals as low-functioning and limited to special education schooling. He was a hyperactive child who could not express affection and could barely speak but his parents believed that with the right tools and support, their son would eventually be able to live independently and engage in all the same activities as his peers.

After meeting Dr. Elizabeth Watson, a speech pathologist and therapist, Jack’s parents learned about Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) that is used for early childhood intervention for kids on the spectrum. ABA therapy is essentially “a teaching technique that breaks down every skill that a child needs to learn into very small discrete steps, each of which is taught individually with painstaking repetition and they joined together to complete the task. It is applied to everything from tying shoelaces to social skills and conversation.”

Living in Australia, they found no centers or schools offering ABA therapy and the resources that Jack needed. Wanting to expose Jack to ABA therapy in the hopes that it would help him, Ian and Nicole dedicated themselves to giving Jack the support he needed and turned their house into their own early intervention center. “You’d walk into the house and there’d be labels on things and a big whiteboard and words written on it…and computer screens,” Ian Rogerson explains. “We decided he needed roughly 25 hours a week in that first year of one-on-one therapy,” Nicole said.  

Ian and Jack were determined to mainstream school their son and were eventually able to place him in a public school in Sydney. Jack had an ABA trained helped with him at all times at first to help him adjust to certain routines and behaviors but by the end of his elentary years his ABA helped was only needed for a few hours a week.

Jack went on to the Special Education Inclusion Program where he learned academics as well as domestic life skills. Director of students, Adam Lewis, says, Jack’s help a leadership role this year as a house monitor…He speaks well and politely to the younger guys, he has very high standards himself in terms of how he presents and his own conduct.”

In 2003 Nicole Rogerson decided to team up with Elizabeth Watson to open and establish their own center that specialized in ABA therapy for children on the spectrum. Nicole says she was impressed with Jack’s progress after the therapy. And is now CEO if the non-profit Autism Awareness Australia. She says, “Intensive ABA programs are still the only thing that come out as showing any evidence whatsoever of efficacy, and they’re still not funding it. Unless the government makes a genuine investment in this area, so many children are not going to reach their best outcome and I think that’s a tragedy.”

Shema Kolainu is committed to providing resources for parents and families in all five boroughs and offers a variety of therapies. All of our programs are individualized and based on the science of Applied Behavioral Analysis. To read more about ABA therapy and all the therapies offered by Shema Kolainu, click HERE


To read the original story, click HERE

Resources for Students Transitioning to the Workplace

In Hawaii a student ages out of their public school system at 20 years old. For 1,800 special-education students, this meant that they could no longer finish high school and earn their diploma. But a recent federal judge ruling will actually change that. These students will now be entitled to free educational services to make up for 2 more years of schooling that they were denied.

However, this additional schooling would not involve sending these students back to high school, but rather provide a 2 year secondary education transitioning program. The Hawaii Disability Rights Center argued that the state allows students without disabilities and older than 20 to complete secondary education programs under the state-run Community Schools for Adults. Also, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act entitle children with disabilities access to public education until the age of 22. “In Hawaii…non-disabled students between the ages of 20 and 22 can pursue diplomas that eluded them in high school, but students with special needs are simply out of luck,” they argued.

Attorney Paul Alston explains, “We are talking about a population that the DOE has never served and trying to provide them not classroom education, but work education, life education and to help them get skills so that they can function as independent adults.”

Wheels in the US Department of Labor are moving as well, as they are in the midst of choosing individuals to serve on the National Advisory Committee on Increasing Competitive Integrated Employment for Individuals with Disabilities, where they will make recommendations to the Secretary of Labor, Thomas Perez.

“Individuals with disabilities can make significant contributions to our workplaces,” says Perez, “This advisory committee will help American Job Centers, Workforce Development Boards and vocational rehabilitation agencies nationwide work collaboratively to promote employment opportunities for this pool of talented workers.”

Apart from this, the new workforce law would make changes to the transition from school to work for students with disabilities and limits who is eligible to work for less that minimum wage.

ICare4Autism is working on a comprehensive Autism Workforce program for all 50 states to provide the modality to obtain work for all autistics. See their site here,

To read the original articles: 

Important Questions to Ask Your Autistic Child’s Teacher

We’re about a month into the new school year, and for parents of children on the autism spectrum, getting the information you need about how they’re doing in school can be even more difficult than it is for parents of “neurotypical” children. This is partly due to the difficulties many autistic children have with communication in general, but also because their perspective on their social progress and behavior can be very different. 

Why wait for the formal parent-teacher conference where the teacher has limited time and is focused mainly on academic performance? Whether in an integrated or specialized school for autism, your child’s teacher should be happy to set up an informal meeting so you can get on the same page and get all the answers you need. For many parents with autistic children, it can be very emotional and overwhelming to talk about their child’s condition and progress, so we recommend being prepared with a list of questions. 

Does my child seem to like school?

Allow the teacher to respond with their honest opinion, but ask for specific examples. Be sure to share your opinion and experiences too, so that together you can form a more complete picture. If your child is upset every day when you pick them up, it could be because they are having difficulty transitioning from school time to home time, they could love school so much that they don’t want to leave, or they could hate it so much that they have been upset all day. This is important information for you to know. 

How is my child’s behavior in school?

Again, get specifics. If the teacher says your child is being disruptive, try not to be defensive. Ask how you can work together to provide consistency on behavioral issues. Ask for a list of class rules and school policies so you can go over them with your child and help prepare them for a successful day at school. Most importantly, discuss discipline. Ask how the teacher punishes bad behavior, rewards good behavior, and how effective they think those methods are with your child. Be sure to share what works for you at home. 

How’s my child doing socially?

If your child isn’t enrolled in a specialized school or special ed program, their teacher may not be fully aware of the social difficulties your child faces. If they are high functioning this can be particularly easy for a teacher to overlook, so ask them to look. Ask if your child has made friends and whom they play with at recess. Ask if they’re making eye contact or ignore direct questions. Because children with ASD are so sensitive to their environments, their social behaviors can differ dramatically from home to school. Get a clear picture, but also share your child’s “other side” with their teacher so they have a better idea how to relate to your child. 

How is my child doing academically?

Ask which subjects they have difficulty with and which they find more interesting. Just as with any child, you want to find out what you may need to work on outside of school and what talents and interests to cultivate. Find out how much time they should be spending on homework and whether they are handing in their assignments. 

How can we work together?

Find out the best way to communicate with your child’s teacher. If they prefer email, you don’t want to call them every day, but if they don’t read their e-mail you’ll only get frustrated. Make sure they understand that you are all on the same team with the common goal of giving your child the best foundation for a good education and life. It can be easy to establish adversarial relationships with teachers, but when parents and teachers work together, your child wins.

Temple Grandin Spreads Hope and Honesty

Temple Grandin, author, inventor, animal whisperer, and autistic icon delivered a message balanced with hope and honesty last night at the University of San Diego.  More than 600 people were completely enraptured by the woman in her 60’s known best for her ability to understand animals (she was the subject of the 2006 HBO documentary, “The Woman Who Thinks Like a Cow”).

Grandin grew up autistic and attributes her success to a devoted mother and dedicated teachers. As a world-renowned livestock behavior expert, she is living proof of what it is possible for autistic people to achieve and serves to inspire parents to invest in their children’s futures.  

As a child, living with autism made life very difficult. She didn’t speak until three and a half, was mocked and bullied as an adolescent, and struggled to learn to navigate social interactions that were completely foreign to her. As an adult, however, she found her autism to be a great advantage. She credits her autism with her deep empathetic connection to animals and understanding of their nonverbal, sensory comprehension of the world. Her understanding of how animals receive and process sensory information enabled her to design humane cattle transportation systems that are currently used by more than half the cattle processing centers in America. 

Temple Grandin is an excellent role model for people with autism, and she is a tireless advocate.  In her talk last night, she delivered a twofold message. First, she detailed the differences between autistic and “normal” brains, using herself as an example.

“Parents must understand those differences to understand, for example, why a flickering light, a loud noise — or the click of a photographer’s camera — can be unbearable,” Grandin explained. 

The other half of her message was an honest, unsentimental instruction for parents on how to train push their children to learn the social skills necessary for them to become independent adults. She warned that children who aren’t pushed to do things they don’t want to or are afraid of will not grow. Parents and teachers must present a united front because, she says, “autistic children are masters of manipulation.”

She urged parents to take advantage of information, services, and materials that are freely available to help educate their children. With all the free information online about schools, therapy, medication, and resources, she is frustrated by parents who don’t put in the work to access this information. 

“I am appalled by the lack of resourcefulness. A parent came up to me and said, how do I find a college for my kid? Well, I got back home, I typed Ohio and colleges,” she stated unsentimentally to a laughing audience. “They had done no work.”

Temple Grandin’s honest delivery of a somewhat critical speech was met with cheers. The audience was a mix of fans of her work with autism and animals, and all gratefully accepted her message. 

“The thing I’ve appreciated about Temple Grandin for many years is her unabashed honesty,” said Mary Lau, who works at a school that has autism spectrum children. “And from that, I can glean a lot about the autistic community and the education community in general.”