Category Archives: Special Education

Environmental Enrichment – At Home Sensory Stimulation Supplements Autism Therapies

Environmental enrichment is a simple, low-cost program that parents can implement at home to support sensory input therapies their children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). A recent clinical study led by Dr. Michael Leon, PhD of the University of California Irvine indicates a significant improvement of autism symptoms in children whose therapy was supplemented with environmental enrichment over those who stuck solely with their regular therapies.

The process is simple. Start by introducing a changing set of sensory exercises every morning and evening that engage at least two of the senses in any combination, like pairing a new fragrance with a gentle rub on the back or listening to classical music at bedtime while petting a soft blanket. Change the exercise every two weeks, making them increasingly more challenging, building to games like squeezing objects of different shapes, colors, and textures or pulling a specific toy out of a bag containing other items.

Sensory input therapies have been proven effective for children with ASD and have been increasingly incorporated into special education programs. Shema Kolainu – Hear Our Voices School and Center for Children with Autism in Brooklyn, NY features a Snoezelen Sensory room where children with autism can improve their auditory, visual, and motor skills by stimulating their senses while relaxing in a safe environment.

The clinical study indicated that 42% of the children receiving environmental enrichment in addition to their regular therapies saw a significant improvement after six months – more than 10 points on the Leitner International Performance Scale. However, like all ASD therepies, symptoms, and theories, results vary by individual. The good news is, environmental enrichment offers parents an opportunity to participate in their children’s growth, at little to no cost. There are no possible negative side effects, and it can be fun for both parent and child.



Back to School Tips for Parents of Autistic Children

Back to school is a stressful time for anyone, but for autistic children and their parents, the transition between sleepy summer Sundays and hectic Monday mornings can be traumatic.  That’s why we collected all the best tips to help make your back to school transition a little easier.

1: Countdown to change: The new school year brings a lot of changes all at once. The more prepared you and your child are (both practically and emotionally), the less stressful and more successful the transition will be.  Familiarize your child with everything that will be different. Arrange a visit to their new classroom and an introduction to their teacher before the new year starts. Take pictures if possible and add them to a visual calendar so your child knows what to expect and when to expect it.

2: Ease into new routines: Slowly adjust wake up times and other back to school changes in routine to mitigate the shock of that first day.  Practice leaving and coming home at the expected time and slowly introduce new after school routines.

3: Shop early and often: Buy all new clothes and supplies as early as possible and integrate them into your child’s world before school starts. It’s more important that your child feels comfortable on the first day of school than that they are seen in a brand new outfit.

4: Talk it out: Help your child be ready for unforeseen changes by talking about different scenarios ahead of time. Talk about what they will do in free times, at lunch periods, if they need the bathroom. Create stories around these scenarios so your child can visualize what to do when they need it. Also go over do’s and don’ts of school behavior, always demonstrating with a story.

5: Prepare yourself too: It’s easy to lose yourself in the endless lists of what to buy and do before that first day back to school, but you also need to prepare yourself and minimize your stress so you can be your child’s best advocate. Collect all the contact information for your child’s teachers, classmates, coaches, etc. as early as possible and keep it together so you always know who to call in any situation. Have your day mapped out as thoroughly as possible. See if you can’t find time for a walk, yoga class, or even five minutes to sit in the park. Regular scheduled time to de-stress will allow you to be a better parent and happier person.



Autism & Bullies

We consistently read news stories about children with disabilities, especially children/adolescents with ASD as victims of bullying, the most recent being Aaron Hill’s violent beating which was caught on video that later went viral on the internet. Studies in the past have shown that children on the spectrum are bullied nearly five times more often than their typically developing peers. In fact, higher functioning kids on the spectrum are three times more likely to be bullied than those who are nonverbal or have a harder time communicating. Another challenge autistics face is reporting the bullying act itself; they need to be able to understand that they are being harassed and effectively communicate how so.

Here are some signs that your child is being bullied:

-       Reluctance to attend school

-       Extra emotional, sensitive behavior and anxiety

-       Change in their daily routines, such as sleeping patterns or diet

-       Torn clothing or damaged possessions

-       A decline in academic performance

As parents there are definitely steps you can take to help your child have a more stress-free and healthy learning environment:

1)   Talk to teachers, councelors, and administrators and ask what programs they have in place to combat bullying at their school. For example, social and emotional learning (SEL)  helps kids develop skills to handle school relationships and attitudes about self and others.

2)   Address your concerns when developing an IEP. Making sure that self-advocacy skills are on the agenda in an important part of preventing bullying and helping your child handle a bully. Also consider if the school has peer programs to make sure your child has a buddy with them going to class or lunch etc.

3)   Prepare you child in your home. Talking to your child about friendship and how friends should and shouldn’t treat each other is an important way for your child to learn the skills necessary to recognize when they are in a bad situation and either need to stand up for themselves or try to get help.

For more resources on helping your child with bullying:

http://www.autismsafety.org/bullying.php

http://www.asiam.ie/download-today-asiam-back-school-handbooks



Using Routines to Help Autistic Students With Post-High School Transition

The transition from high school to employment or college is a stressful challenge for any teenager, but that change in environment can be exponentially more difficult to navigate for a teen on the autism spectrum. Educators and parents can use routines to help prepare children for post-high school transitioning and cultivate skills they will need once they graduate.

Establishing routines can help autistic young adults become more independent and practice foundational skills they will need in their adult lives. Everything from telling time and self-grooming to balancing checkbooks and going on job interviews can be cultivated and practiced through routines. 

Start by identifying the task or activity you want to teach. Break it down into ordered steps and individualize the routine. Make a routine of practicing the routine. (Practice regularly, preferably at the same time and in the same environment.) Start by using a combination of natural and instructional cues. Use instructional cues to reinforce natural cues so that eventually the student will be able to complete the routine independently, using only natural cues.  Once the routine is mastered and becomes… routine, you can introduce changes such as location or time. The goal is for the student to understand the natural cue to begin the activity. 

If an autistic young adult practices routines they will need when they move on to college or employment, they will feel less overwhelmed by a new environment. If they are prepared with proper responses to possible scenarios, their transition will be less stressful and more likely to be a successful one.



Creating More Equal Workplaces

Jeff Long was one of 21 men with intellectual disabilities discovered in 2009 toiling away at an Iowa turkey processing plant and living in deplorable conditions while earning just $65 per month from an employer with an expired subminimum wage certificate. (Melanie Burford/Dallas Morning News/MCT)

The National Disability Rights Network are now advocating for a nationwide effort to crackdown on employers who are paying their disabled workers unfair wages. Currently, employers can engage in a legal process where they get permission from the U.S Department of Labor to pay people with disabilities what is known as a subminimum wage, or less than the minimum wage. These special wage certificates do have strict procedures attached to them, including regularly checking on worker productivity levels among the list of requirements.

These sheltered workshops, as they are called, have recently come under extra scrutiny as there is an increased focus to create sustainable programs for people with ASD as well as other disabilities. Also as the population of working age people either on the spectrum or with other disabilities, is growing each year or creating an imperative need for revamped workforce program.

Amy Scherer, a staff attorney at the National Disability Rights Network, says that individuals can contact the protection and advocacy organization in their state is they are aware of any violations or potential violations. The Department of Labor welcomes these tips and investigations since they have trying to find ways to make sure employers comply with the law.

Last month alone, President Obama signed the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act that would put significant restrictions on placement into a sheltered workshop or other work environments where people with disabilities are paid below minimum wage. For example, disabled individuals who are 24 and younger are no longer allowed to be paid less than min. wage unless they first explore their other options such as pre-employment transition services or vocational rehabilitation services. In the cases where they are in a placement earning less than min. wage, the new law requires that the state provide career counseling periodically and are informed of other work opportunities. This new law, however, won’t actually be effective until two years after its enactment.

For more information on workforce initiatives being taken by Shema-Kolainu’s affiliate organization, ICare4Autism, click HERE.

For the original article, click HERE.



Study Finds Inclusive Classrooms Boost Language Skills

Inclusive Classrooms Can Boost Language Up to 40%

A new study published in Psychologilcal Science finds that young children with Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD), particularly those with speech delays, improve their language development more rapidly in inclusive educational and social environments. The study found that preschoolers with disabilities who attended mainstream classes were using language on par with their highly skilled peers within just one school year. In contrast, ASD preschoolers who were surrounded solely by other children with a similar level of disability lagged far behind their typically-developing peers in the same time frame.

The study focused on 670 preschoolers in Ohio, of which slightly more than half had a language impairment, autism, or Down syndrome. Language skills of all the children were measured at the beginning and end of the school year via standardized testing.

The children with disabilities in inclusive classrooms outperformed those in exclusive classrooms for children with disabilities by 40 percent at the end of the year. Laura Justice, a professor of teaching and learning at Ohio State University and co-author of the study concludes that, “the typically-developing children act as experts who can help their classmates who have disabilities.”

It should be noted that while the children with disabilities were positively influenced by their highly-skilled peers, the children with the highest skill level were in no way negatively impacted by their exposure to their peers with disabilities.

The findings of this study certainly indicate that children can only benefit from an inclusive setting where they can learn from more advanced children and assist less advanced children. “We have to give serious thought to how we organize our classrooms to give students with disabilities the best chance to succeed,” Justice said.



The Benefits of Early Behavioral Intervention

Researchers have analyzed the success of early behavioral interventions. (photo: specialedpost.com)

According to researchers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, children on the autism spectrum have benefited tremendously from behavior-focused therapies, in comparison to those who did not receive the early behavioral intervention. The recent study updates the prior systematic reviews of interventions, with a focus on recent studies of behavioral interventions.

The review, which was conducted by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, funded by Vanderbilt, states that the quality of research studies has improved dramatically within just 3 years, when authors reported that there were significant gaps in the research that documented the benefits of certain treatments. The new review provides evidence of the effectiveness of early intervention, specifically interventions with behavioral approaches based on applied behavioral analysis (ABA) principles.

Dr. Amy Weitlauf, assistant professor of Pediatrics and an investigator at Vanderbilt Kennedy Center, states, “We are finding more solid evidence, based on higher quality studies, that theseearly intensive behavioral interventions can be effective for young children on the autism spectrum, especially related to their cognitive and language skills.” Dr. Weitlauf continues, “We are also finding evidence that some of these targeted interventions, especially related to cognitive treatments for anxiety disorders, are also very effective for many, many children. Again, responses vary substantially and there are some children for whom these treatments have not yet been studied. So there is lots of promising evidence that these interventions are helpful, but we definitely need more research on which kids the treatments are more helpful for over time.”

Dr. Zachary Warren, director of TRIAD, the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center’s Treatment and Research Institute for Autism Spectrum Disorders, focused on the improvements in children receivingearly behavioral intervention. These children were documented to display impressive progress in cognitive, educational, and language skills. Dr. Warren states, “Given the potential for interventions to powerfully improve children’s quality of life, in combination with the significant costs and resources often associated with treatment, it is not surprising that many groups — parents, providers, policymakers, insurance providers — are searching for an enhanced understanding of which interventions work the best for children with ASD.”

One of the biggest topics facing medical experts is finding the fastest and most effective ways to diagnose a child with ASD, as the diagnosis will enable the child to receive theearly intervention that can truly make the biggest difference in their lives. This study is just one example of howearly behavioral intervention can build multiple skills in the child, and provide them the methods to grow in various aspects to live a life full of opportunities.



Autism & Success Stories

Mark Macluskie, around 12 months, about two years before his autism diagnosis; and at home last month before his 16th birthday.

Researchers are finding more cases where early, intensive behavioral therapy can improve language, cognition and social functioning in children on the autism spectrum. Deborah Fein, a clinical neuropsychologist at the University of Connecticut conducted a study of 34 young people who were all medically diagnosed with autism but now no longer meet the criteria for autism. She compared this group with 34 other typically developing peers and 44 young people who were considered “high-functioning” autistics. Another researcher, Catherine Lord, a leader in the field of autism diagnosis and evaluation and teaches at Weill Cornell Medical College, published a study that tracked the progress of 85 children from age 2, when the child was diagnosed, to about age 22, and found that nine percent of the cases no longer met the criteria for autism. They also found correlations with active parental involvement to play a role in the cases where the child was no longer autistic.

One such case was Mark Macluskie, who was diagnosed with medium to severe autism between the age of 2 and 3 years old. He didn’t seem to understand words, threw tantrums, engaged in self-harming behavior such as running his headfirst into the wall, and didn’t show any interest in the people around him. After being placed in a high functioning classroom Mark’s behavior actually got worse. Mark was then moved to the lowest functioning class where a neurologist told his mother to be prepared to someday put him in an institution.

Marks parents, Cynthia and Kevin, were desperate and so they made a lot of sacrifices to spend more time with Mark. Mrs. Macluskie quit her job and started doing all the research she could while also taking out a second mortgage on their house. They also had to empty all the furniture from their living room and instead made room for an inflatable trampoline with rubber walls so what Mark could get the sensory input he seemed to need by running into the wall, but without hurting himself.

She began to home school Mark, starting by watching episodes of “Leave It to Beaver” and “Little House On the Prairie” and then asking him what he thought the characters were thinking, feeling, or going to do next. Mark says, “I remember it being hard to answer my mom’s questions and being confused when I watched those shows. I knew she was doing all those things for a reason, I just didn’t know how it was going to help.” 

Later on Mark discovered a passion for robots after receiving a robot kit as a gift. His mother jumped on this development and formed a robot club where Mark was able to play with four typically developing children and build robots together. Soon, they were writing programming codes and entering into competitions. By this time, a specialist had concluded that Mark no longer met the criteria for autism.

Many parents are quick to read the cases and attempt to create their own plans for how to get rid of their child’s autism. Catherine Lord explains, “I see a lot of parents of 2-year-olds who have heard stories about kids growing out of autism and they tell us, ‘I want my kid to be one of those kids.’” She then serves to remind and counsel them that they should put their focus towards helping his/her child reach their highest potential, whatever that may beWhen you get too focused on ‘getting to perfect’ you can really hurt your childIt’s good to hope—but don’t concentrate so much on that hope that you don’t see the child in front of you.”

To read the full article, click HERE



Autism Students Are College Ready, Now What?

Findings recently published in the Harvard Review of Psychology reveal that there has been a significant upsurge of people with Autism Spectrum Disorder applying to and arriving on college campuses.  Studying this particular increase is difficult, however, because “for every student receiving special services, there are 1-2 on that same campus who have not identified themselves to anyone,” says lead author of the review, Stephanie Pinder-Amaker. “We are only seeing the tip of the iceberg in terms of the number of these students seeking to access higher education.”

As the statistics for autism seems to be on an upward trend—reported by the Center for Disease Control that 1 in 68 children are autistic—the need to create opportunities for those on the spectrum to thrive also increases. Many colleges and universities across the country are beginning to establish their own programs for people on the spectrum that include things like academic tutoring, anxiety reduction, and social skills workshops. Students are not forced to enroll in these programs, however, they are simply available if a student feels a need for them.

The Rochester Institute of technology requires its students to have real paid work experience before they can graduate and actually attracts about 20 to 30 students on the spectrum each year. Through their Spectrum Support Program, students are able to engage in a 15 week program of job interview seminars, resume help, networking, interview practice, and other necessary skills needed to feel confident when transitioning to the workforce. “Every program looks different, and families need to know how much time students will spend with the program staff. It’s equally important to know what a program is not going to do,” explains Lurie Ackles, director of the RIT program.

Mercyhurcy University in Erie, Pennsylvania actually offers special residential housing devoted to the Asperger Initiative at Mercyhurst (AIM). The program houses 25 students and grad student mentor where they have optional meetings for meals, support groups, off-campus outings, on campus activities, etc. One student reports that it was the first time she was able to suggest watching Disney movies on a Friday night without being laughed at. 

It’s great that different schools are recognizing the importance of opening their doors to this growing population of autistic young adolescents. Giving them more options on campuses and the ability to choose one that matches their goals and needs the best. Jane Brown Theirfeld, E.D, co-Director  of College Autism Spectrum, explains, “The reality is, students on the spectrum are going to be your next door neighbor, the person in the cubicle next to you and the parents of your kids’ friends. As long as you can understand the possibility of some social awkwardness, then people on the spectrum are equally as prepared and qualified.”

 



Autism Parents Create Life Changing App

Birdhouse for Autism is Changing the way Caregivers Can help Children on the Spectrum

Parents with children on the spectrum are constantly looking for innovative ways to help their child develop the skills they need lead happy lives. One couple in metro Detroit has come up with an in genius idea to help parents and people in the autism community better help their children. Mother, Dani Gillman, would always take notes on her daughter’s behaviors and daily routines, including her diet, medications and vitamins, her bathroom use, doctor visits, sleeping patterns etc. She kept these notes in a well-organized binder. As parents with autistic children know, it can be difficult to assess the needs of your child. So although Mrs. Gillman had all of these notes documenting her childs behaviors, she had no way of synthesizing the information in a way that would provide some answers to how to address her daughter’s needs.

With help of her tech-savvy partner, Ben Chutz, they were able to create the idea that would become “Birdhouse for Autism.” “It’s chaotic for parents of autistic children because there’s no one-size-fits-all approach for a child with autism. It’s very individualized,” Mrs. Gillman says, “Managed care really comes down to the parents keeping everything organized. Even with doctors,, therapists, teachers and dieticians, we’re the ones trying different therapies, diets, and interventions to help our children thrive.”

The app ‘Birdhouse for Autism’ is meant to revolutionize our capacity to help children on the spectrum, by creating a digital space to store and organize a log of your children’s activities and behaviors to learn best practices to address their needs. There are currently two versions of the app, one that is free and the other that requires a monthly payment of $10. Although there has been an outburst of apps to help children with developing skills such as verbal communication, there hasn’t been a tool for parents themselves.  Even so the app can also be used by other caregivers, therapists, doctors alike. “Birdhouse is a place where all members of the care team—parent, therapist, caregiver, grandparent, or teacher—can go to in order to manage the child’s care together,” Dani Gillman explains.

To read more about their story and success click here.

To read more about the app and download a free version, click here