Category Archives: Research

New Lego Therapy to Help Build Communication

lego therapy for autism

Playing with Legos is an all-time favorite activity for kids. The colorful building blocks are now being used to help with social and communicative development for children who are on the autism spectrum.

It’s called Lego Therapy, and has become a very popular new type of Play Therapy. The idea is that using Legos will encourage children to have more meaningful interaction and communication with their peers.

Children with autism are often attracted to this kind of toy because it’s systematic, and building with them uses elements of predictability in a highly structured way. Researchers and practitioners throughout the US and UK have found that autistic children are focused, more motivated, and happy to participate in these types of therapy sessions.

This is what makes Lego Therapy hugely successful. Since the child is engaged they are more likely to benefit from it. It’s also said that skills learned in this therapy are easily transferred to other settings.

Some skills that are strengthened through this therapy are:

•   Verbal and Nonverbal Communication

•   Sharing and Taking Turns

•   Listening and Following Directions 

•   Goal Planning

•   Teamwork and Problem Solving

Lego therapy can be used in one-on-one sessions between a child and an adult facilitator. Using it in a group setting allows the children help one another achieve their goals.

The therapy has also been shown to improve communication and social skills as kids work together (or with an adult) to build the intended object.

Mother of 6-year-old Dylan Ryan has noticed a tremendous change in her son. Before, he had minimal language and often replied ‘no’ frequently. However, after years of therapy he’s taken a big step forward by asking to play with other kids.

Therapies for autism are just as individualized as the child. The new Lego Therapy gives parents more options to choose from.

Written by Raiza Belarmino



11 Strategies for Camping With Your Autistic Child

camping trips for autism

Thinking about going camping this summer? It’s the best time of year; school is ending and the weather is too good to pass up. Being around nature is a great way to relax and can create long lasting memories.

But we understand that any type of outing can cause some concerns when traveling with an autistic child. One mother, Tara, can definitely relate to these worries. Her 8 year old daughter Maggie likes routines and familiarity, so going somewhere new can be a big obstacle. However, through experience Tara has strategized in a way for camping to be enjoyable for the entire family. Here are her 11 tips:

  1. Use the Buddy System. Travel with families whose children are around the same age. This way you can pair the kids up and have an extra set of hands helping you out.
  2. Bring Friends. More people means more fun, and also more help available. It will come in handy if your child doesn’t want to participate in all activities. For instance, the adults can be split up while some take a group to the water and others stay back.
  3. Consider an Electrical Site. Although this kind of defeats the whole “getting back to nature” idea, it can be life saver. Having a fully charged iPad or mobile phone can come in handy in situations if your child starts to become dysregulated. It can provide the break that they need so they can come back to join the fun.
  4. Lock the Tent. You can use a combination lock or zip ties to keep the front closed. This ensures that your child won’t sneak out in the middle of the night without your knowledge (but remember to plan bathroom trips well). You can hide a pair of scissors inside the tent in case of an emergency.
  5. Plan the Location for Your Site. Take a look at the camping site beforehand and find a good place to set up. You want to consider being close to places you’ll use often, such as the bathroom or swimming area.
  6. Look for Playgrounds. They are full of great activities for kids to let out all of their energy.
  7. Always Have Snacks on Hand. This is a great way to get your child to do certain things. For example, if they want some pretzels let them know they can have a bag but first they must help clean up or play catch.
  8. Fire Safety. This is important for all kids but especially those with autism. The sensory stimulation with the lights, heat, and sound can draw their attention. When burning a fire it’s best to have an adult by their side at all times.
  9. Water Safety. You can take water out altogether by choosing a site without a lake or a pond.
  10. Find Shade. Heat can sometimes be overwhelming so having a good shaded area can provide relief.
  11. Have a Lost Plan. If your child tends to wander it’s a good idea to be prepared. Keep a current photo nearby and in your phone. Taking daily pictures is a great way to remember what your child was wearing that day. Also, program the campsite’s numbers into your phone so it’s easy to access if needed.

Originally sourced from The Huffington Post

Written by Raiza Belarmino



Parent Training to Improve Autistic Child’s Behavior

parent training for autism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Raiza Belarmino



Autism Spectrum Disorder Has Later Onset for Females

autism onset in girls

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

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

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

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

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

By Kat O’Toole, University of Maine

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



Innovative Sensory Therapy Shows Promising Results

 

autism therapy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Raiza Belarmino



Shema Kolainu Workshop Addresses Technology Applications for Autism

video modeling

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.



Director of Autism Asperger Initiative Visits Shema Kolainu

skhov

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.”



The Autism Impact Measure: The New Gold Standard

Autism Impact Measure

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Sydney Chasty, Carleton University



Study on Baby Horses Starts New Research on Autism

baby horses and autism research

It was an unexpected scene- soon after a baby horse was born, owner Ellen Jackson noticed it avoiding its mother and refusing to nurse.

After a few more similar incidents she contacted the University of California Davis veterinary expert John Madigan. He explained that these baby horses are being born with that is called neonatal maladjustment syndrome (MNS), which account for the detachment from their mothers.

To fix the issue he performs “the squeeze” technique where a soft rope is tied around the baby horse’s body. Then it is squeezed to apply increased pressure until the baby horse falls over and goes to sleep. After a few minutes have passed the pressure is released and the baby horse wakes up. When that is complete they see, in almost all cases, an improvement of interaction between the mother and baby horse.

But how does all this relate to humans with autism spectrum disorder? Madigan and a group of researchers are exploring the connection between high levels of neurosteroids (brain steroids) in the blood and development of autism. He states that their effects at different birth stages could give more insight as to why ASD develops later on.

The researchers believe that this study can provide important information on the development of Autism for pre-term infants, cesarean born babies, and newborns who spent little time in the birth canal. Madigan suggests that a lack of pressure through the birth canal prevents the body from receiving the proper signal to lower brain steroid levels.

Pas statistics have shown that those born within these circumstances have a higher likeliness to develop Autism. But is it due to the levels of brain steroids? That is what future research will tell. Madigan’s study on baby horses has prompted a new perspective on discovering a possible explanation for the development of ASD.

David Stevenson, a professor of pediatrics at Stanford University, has come together with Madigan to bring “the squeeze” technique to human infants. Although a little different, they will be using a method called “kangaroo care” which is more commonly used for premature babies. This method requires an almost naked infant is placed on the parent’s, or caregiver’s, chest for a long period of time. They hope to measure the steroid levels to see if there is a drop after this technique has been performed. They will then use these results to expand their research further and possibly find a connection with ASD.

Written by Raiza Belarmino



Unfocused Infant Gaze- Early Sign of Autism?

autism eye gazing

Eyes are said to be a window into the soul. They express emotions, personality, and depth beyond which any facial expression can hide. In certain cases, eyes do not only tell us important things about the nature of the soul; they may also signify early developmental issues.

Recently, researchers have postulated that tracking the eye movements of infants may indicate the emergence of ASD later in their toddlerhood. Thus far, they have noted that these children tend to focus their eyes less and look much more rapidly (and in many different directions) than do typically developing children.

Researchers believe that this rapid eye movement may signal possible learning deficiencies exhibited later on in development. One explanation for this could be that rapid scanning signifies a disengagement from one’s surroundings. This also may be related to rapid processing, which is a trait commonly found in autism. However, it could also simply demonstrate a child’s need for stimulation within their environment.

By studying 100 six-month-old infants who looked at a static image, researchers at the University of London found that the infants who would later develop ASD tended to move their eyes around more than infants who followed a more typical path of development.

As mentioned earlier, this could simply be a sign of the infants’ differing needs to stimulation. However, it could also signify an easily identifiable early sign to enable an early autism diagnosis. More research needs to be conducted but for the time being, diagnosticians are taking these findings seriously in looking at infants who already demonstrate early risk factors.

Sara Power, Fordham University