Category Archives: SKHOV News

Workshop Covers Emergency Preparedness for Autistics

emergency preparedness for autism

For the final Shema Kolainu workshop of the spring season, Dr. Stephen Shore of Adelphi University helped the audience with tips on disaster readiness involving people with autism.

When someone on the autism spectrum suffers from sensory overload or social difficulties, this adds an entirely new layer of difficulty to an already stressful situation. First responders, whether police officers, firemen, or 911 operators, are trained to respond quickly and often harshly. Even with just a small amount of awareness and training, authorities acting during emergencies can utilize effective and gentler techniques to accommodate a person with autism.

When a child or adult with autism encounters a police officer, there are some “unwritten rules” that may be understood by most, but are frequently missed. For example, a teenager with autism may come off as overly blunt or disrespectful when answering an officer, since they speak quite literally or may not understand the question being asked. One in a series of videos that Dr. Shore screened for the audience showed adults with autism being read their Miranda rights. Because of their difficulty communicating, many of these individuals did not understand their rights to remain silent, and whether they should be waived.

Dr. Shore emphasized in his presentation that a first responder should remain very calm and use extra patience when dealing with an autistic person. Flashing lights or a burning building are very intense for a child on the autism spectrum; it should be expected that their reaction will be intense as well, and a screaming meltdown may well ensue. It is important to comfort the child instead of demanding answers from them. In many cases, it may be required to restrain the person, so that they don’t run back into the fire or another situation that is dangerous for themselves and others.

Disaster preparedness is not only a topic of interest for authorities; perhaps the very first responder in an emergency is a parent. Therefore, parents must take extra steps to ensure their autistic child’s safety. Dr. Shore suggested that parents notify local authorities of their child’s condition and address, preparing police officers and other government officials for a situation where they may encounter their child in a state of high stress. They can then be educated on exactly how to handle the situation.

Parents may also alert others by providing their child with a medical ID bracelet, clearly giving out their name while making others aware of their condition, which is particularly helpful if the child is non-verbal. Another idea is to affix a sticker decal onto a car, or even on a child’s backpack, that lets others know how an emergency should be handled.

Sometimes, locking the doors is not always enough to ensure a child’s safety. It is advised that parents of an autistic child keep a close eye on them at all times, and that there is always a plan in place for when something goes wrong.



Shema Kolainu 2015 Reunion

shema kolainu reunion

A joyous celebration of past achievements for Shema Kolainu – Hear Our Voices: School and Center for Children with Autism took place on Thursday, May 7 at our 2015 Reunion Banquet.

Our students were treated to dancing, toy giveaways, and a spectacular magic show at the Renaissance Ballroom in Borough Park, Brooklyn on May 7, 2015. Following the initial festivities, a very special award was presented to Volvi Brown in honor of his distinguished achievements for the school.

Brown was able to take home stunning original artwork created by several Shema Kolainu art students, which symbolizes the creativity and collaboration between so many outstanding people that have made Shema Kolainu a wonderful place for growth and fond memories.

This delightful reunion brought together our current school aged students with Shema Kolainu alumni, and of course, their parents, who are the driving force behind the children’s progress. Shema Kolainu leadership present at the event included CEO Dr. Joshua Weinstein, Program Director Suri Gruen, Educational Director Gili Rechany and IEP Coordinator Chani Katz.

Thank you to all who made this event a great success and put a smile on our kids’ faces! Special thanks extended to The Friedlander Group for putting together the event, and to all Shema Kolainu staff in attendance.



Staff Comes Together to Make Three Birthdays Special

shema kolainu birthday

April 29 was a triple feature for staff birthdays here at Shema Kolainu! CEO Dr. Weinstein (center), Educational Director Gili Rechany, and SC Supervisor Judy Cuevas all celebrated birthdays yesterday at the office.

Receptionist Lisa Berenbaum (far left) surprised the CEO today with a lovely cake and three candles for each staff member with a birthday today, while all of our office workers followed behind to sing “happy birthday.”

Like every day, Shema Kolainu staff works hard to show they care! Dr. Weinstein sends well wishes to the people who work to create a welcoming environment at the school.

Happy birthday all, and here’s the beginning of another great year to grow on!



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.



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.

 



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.”



Dr. Shore Speaks About Successful Transition to Adulthood

Stephen Shore on transitioning to adulthood

Professor Shore has been able to remedy his sensitivity to overhead lights by wearing a baseball cap during his lectures.

Dr. Stephen Shore is no stranger to awkward situations. Through his lecture “Promoting Successful Transition to Adulthood for Individuals on the Autism Spectrum” presented on Friday at Hotel Pennsylvania, Dr. Shore hopes that his experiences navigating through life with Asperger’s Syndrome are instructive for young adults on the autistic spectrum.

A successful transition to adulthood often revolves around choosing the right career. Dr. Shore spoke about his fascination with mechanical watches as a child, and how he was able to parlay this strength into a college job repairing bicycles.

It is an unfortunate truth that the unemployment rate among adults with autism remains high today. The majority of young adults affected by asd struggle to achieve full-time employment- some estimates suggest over 90%. While teens on the spectrum vary widely in their degree of functioning (high/low), there are steps that may be taken to improve their likelihood of achieving independence.

Anyone on the autistic spectrum has their own set of strengths and interests. A child may love putting items in the correct order, for example. It may be ideal for this individual to take a job stocking shelves. This could parlay into a career in inventory management.

There are various professions that benefit from the skill set exhibited by some people with ASD. We have seen several companies, such as engineering firms, that actually have programs designed to place bright young adults on the autistic spectrum with jobs that utilize their math skills and minimal socialization. Employers sometimes praise these workers for their lack of idle chatter during a productive work day.

But proper employment is not the only challenge on the path toward adulthood. Learning to build social and relationship skills is usually a challenge for someone with ASD. Dr. Shore suggests that we ask for what he calls “reasonable accommodations” in order to successfully integrate into social groups.

For example, Dr. Shore typically presents his lectures wearing a baseball cap. Although this may seem unusual, his reasoning has nothing to do with making a style statement. He explained how the overhead LED lighting in lecture halls bothers him more than it would the average person, who may not even be affected. Asking for reasonable accommodations like this can help a person with autism fit in with others. The key, as always, is awareness- if the adults around him understand what his needs are, they may be more likely to feel comfortable with his differences.

Children with autism are poorly prepared for their adult lives, according to Dr. Shore, which is something that caregivers, therapists, and teachers need to change. It is typical to begin preparing a child for their adult lives at 16.

“This is about ten years too late,” said Dr. Shore, in response to that idea.

ICare4Autism is in the process of creating a Global Workforce Initiative vocational training program that will help teens develop their skills and translate them into a career. It is estimated that this year alone, around 50,000 18 year olds with autism will enter the workforce or choose to continue their education.



Dr. Shore’s Music and Autism Lecture Resonates

Shema Kolainu hosted another successful community workshop with Dr. Stephen Shore on Tuesday. Entitled “Including Children on the Autism Spectrum in the Music Curriculum,” the presentation struck a chord with those in attendance.

The workshop held at Hotel Pennsylvania covered several topics that addressed involvement of special needs children in musical education. Currently a Special Education Professor at Adelphi University, Dr. Shore’s undergraduate work focused on music education. His teachings are influenced by his own experiences taking music lessons as a child with Asperger’s Syndrome.

Dr. Shore covered the benefits of introducing a child to a music curriculum. One of these benefits is that the students engage in social activity with their teacher and other students. There are many social rules to learn and practice when taking lessons in your teacher’s house, for example. It helps the child to be reminded that they should be courteous and say “hello” when arriving at the house and “thank you” once the lesson is over.

Dr. Shore displayed a numbered instruction sheet that one of his former students used:

autism music task list

 

In addition to helping the children with social cues, Dr. Shore has also come up with many methods that have been effective to teach them music. Sometimes charts can be helpful when teaching notation because children on the spectrum love structure. His students responded well when they had the letter names of notes placed on a piano.

Dr. Shore’s lecture also addressed how to adjust traditional classroom instruction within a school environment. Since there is rarely enough time to address each student individually, he suggests asking other students to instruct a child who is struggling. This also will help the “student instructor” obtain an even better grasp on the material as they mentor.

Often in a classroom environment, lessons have not been planned with a special needs child in mind. For a child on the autistic spectrum, these lessons can be adapted to suit their alternative learning styles. This is called a “substitute curriculum.” One avenue to take is to reach out for extra help from a paraprofessional. The teacher’s aide can work with a child separately until he or she is up to speed on the material. Once the part is mastered, the child can perform with the ensemble.

A musical education can improve the lives of young people in a number of ways, both for typical and atypical learners. When introduced before adolescence, musical literacy can improve a child’s motor coordination in regards to finger movement. The areas of the brain responsible for touch perception are more developed in people who learned to play music at a young age.



Shema Kolainu Reaches out to Support Autism Parents

 

chani katz shema kolainu

Family time is crucial for building confidence in a child’s life. For parents of a special needs child, the everyday challenges for managing behavior and raising a self-sufficient child are magnified.

Yesterday’s Shema Kolainu workshop at Hotel Pennsylvania, hosted by IEP Coordinator Chani Katz, MA, BCBA, gave support for parents who have an autistic child. Ms. Katz presented strategies for parents to cope with routine issues, ranging from sibling relationships to toilet training.

Whether public or private, parenting a child with autism can feel stressful and even lonely. Others around will be quick to judge a parent’s methods before they have ever tried to walk in their shoes. Shema Kolainu- Hear Our Voices strives to not only provide top-notch education for our students, but also to help give parents the tools for success.

“It definitely brings a lot of lessons to the family when everyone is able to become more nurturing and empathetic,” Ms. Katz said when addressing the crowd.

Milestone’s in a young child’s life such as sleeping through the night or using the toilet properly can put them outside of their comfort zone. For an autistic child, creating a training schedule can prove quite helpful since they love structure. Other tips that have proven effective are to use positive reinforcement of good behaviors and to create a calming environment for activities the child may feel overwhelmed by.

When parenting a special needs child, it is important to remember that each sibling deserves just as much love. The other children may feel jealous and lonely when they feel that their sibling gets priority and extra attention. Some things that parents may do to combat this is to involve themselves daily in their children’s hobbies. Even if they only have a few minutes to devote to a child at the end of the day when they are drawing pictures, for instance, it makes them feel special.

It also helps to reach out for support when tasks become too overbearing for parents. Behavioral intervention services from a professional are often quite important for a child’s development. Parents may also choose to seek out support groups of other children like them to share wisdom. Sometimes, the help of a housekeeper can ease stress.

Above all, educating the public about autism seems to be the most effective way to minimize negativity from other. Katz suggests helping more “atypical” siblings through difficult situations by encouraging them to talk about it, and also to be open with others in the community about a child’s special needs.