Category Archives: Special Education

Children’s Book Shows What Life is Like for Autistic Students

mikey

Today, not only are 1 in 68 children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, they are also bullied four times as much as their neurotypical peers.

By each of us doing our part to raise autism awareness, we can work together to tackle the amount of bullying that children with ASD are subjected to. This is exactly what mother-daughter team Judy Cohen and Mindee Pinto hope to accomplish with their new book, Mikey.

“They get early intervention, then they are placed in public schools. We have decreased our resources to help teachers understand how these children work,” explains Ms. Cohen, the mother-half of the duo, in an interview with AM Northwest News. They are bright, they have incredible strengths, and we need to build on that so that they can be happy and successful in our school systems.”

The title character Mikey is a child on the spectrum who has made the transition to a mainstream, public classroom. Though he is intelligent, it is obvious he is different from the others. Authors Cohen and Pinto want to show that it’s alright if Mikey is different from the other kids, and that real kids in our classrooms understand and accept their peers who think and learn differently.

Mikey was also written to educate teachers who have students with autism. A child with sensory processing issues may have an aversion to the sticky texture of clay when creating art projects, or they may be extremely irritated by overhead LED lighting. If their sensory issues are not accomodated, says Cohen, behavioral meltdowns are the result, and that’s not fair to anyone.

Three main traits of autism are outlined in a simple format for readers- social difficulties, communication difficulties, and sensory processing disorders.

The bottom line of the book, according to Ms. Pinto? The authors want Mikey (and other children with autism) to be happy, and to make plenty of friends.

Mikey is available for purchase through Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble Booksellers. To visit the official website, click here.



A Voice Out of Silence: Hope for Nonverbal Communicators

hope for nonverbals

The world is filled with sound. Everything from our footsteps to our breath makes an audible impact on our environments. Most notably, these human sounds come in the form of words spoken to one another. Unfortunately, this aspect of reality is not one that all individuals get to experience.

For twenty-year-old Federico, silent participation marks the entirety of his world. Diagnosed at age 3, Federico lives his life on the autism spectrum. One of the most marked distinctions of this handicap is limited language capability, both in terms of its spoken quality and understanding. For Federico, this impairment is extreme: he is nonverbal; in other words, he cannot communicate by speaking.

Over the past decade, there has been a great rise in augmentative and alternative communication devices that have allowed verbally limited persons the ability to speak. It may not be in their natural voice, but such devices grant people like Federico the autonomy to form their own words and sentences via computers.

Federico first happened upon such technology when he was eight, and it has made a world of difference. Since then, Federico has learned to technologically verbalize his needs and thoughts. Recently, they have adapted to even imbue a sense of feeling into the automated voice, which he controls via his device.

Recently, Federico used his newfound voice to publish his autobiography entitled “What I Never Said.” In it, he details his spiritual journey along the path of surmounting the limitations his diagnosis has placed on him. He opens with the following words:

“Today I share with you a great joy. After 20 years of silence, a life passed without being able to speak, and 12 years struggling to learn to write, my book arrived in the bookshops. In my book I tell my story. I explain my autism. And finally I can say how I see the world and what I believe in. After a life spent in silence, communicating is finally the long-desired joy that I have attained.”

He makes a point of explaining his autism while at the same time instructing readers not to think of it as a handicap. Federico describes it as something much more profound, and describes his gratitude for the other skills of listening and understanding that have been strengthened in the absence of his voice.

Nevertheless, he dreams of a “sunny day when my feelings and thoughts flow like a river or spring of words for all my friends. How lovely it must be to be able to talk.”

Federico has big plans for the future and hopes to one day help young children come to know their inner narrator just as he has over these past 20 years.

Sara Power, Fordham Univeristy



Robot Tutor for Children with Autism

robots helping autism

A Texas-based company called RoboKind has recently developed an innovative teaching tool geared towards children with Autism.

It is a 22-inch tall robot named Milo with cool, spiky hair, wide-eyes and a child-like voice. He is equipped with a video screen, sensors, cameras, and facial recognition software to evaluate the child’s responses and progress. They hope to help children with expressing empathy, self-motivation, and how to navigate social situations.

Two iPads are used, one for the student and one for the (human) instructor, to carry out each lesson. It is dependent upon the instructor whether they move on to next part or if they re-do the lesson. Throughout the entire session Milo is monitoring and recording data such as eye contact, speed and accuracy of answers, and frustration and interest levels. Lessons are also structured around particular social situations such as every day greetings, birthday party behavior, interpreting expressions, predicting others’ feelings, and how to be a good friend.

At the moment, Milo is being distributed regionally and used within private homes, treatment centers, therapy clinics, and schools. There are also some that are being tested for research in American and European universities.

One may think it is an odd approach to therapy, a robot teaching human emotions? It doesn’t make much sense. However, researches have found that children who are on the autism spectrum tend to respond better to technology rather than people. It is somewhat similar to when animals (such as dogs and horses) are used for therapy treatment. The Milo robots are different methods that help to achieve goals.

However, the company makes it very clear they are not replacing the traditional human therapist. Their goal is to create a new tool in which aides the therapists as part of their treatment plan. We all know that children with Autism can fall anywhere within the spectrum. So their therapies, as well, can be varied. The company states that the robot is best used for children who have the following skills: picture symbol recognition, ability to answer yes/no questions, ability to understand cause and effect, and the ability to use a tablet to communicate.

By Raiza Belarmino



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.



Emotional Regulation and Coping Strategies with ASD

autism emotional regulation

Regulating emotions can be a very daunting task for some individuals. Likewise, in an emotional situation or environment, keeping control can be very difficult.

If a situation which requires a higher level of composure is coupled with mental illness or a cognitive disorder such as Autism Spectrum Disorder, emotional control has the potential to become a secondary issue in this situation.

A recent study has recently been completed which demonstrates a neurological disconnect that may contribute to the inability of a person with ASD to handle a high stress/high sensory situation.

The study included 30 participants (15 with ASD and 15 without), and had them complete an emotional regulatory task while in an fMRI. This task had all participants view various pictures of people with neutral faces and no emotional cues. They were instructed to think positive, negative or neutral thoughts while viewing these pictures, and the neural areas that ‘lit up’ were recorded.

The results showed that regardless of instructed emotion, the participant’s pupils all dilated (meaning they were thinking hard about changing their emotion), and the prefrontal cortex and limbic systems of those without ASD ‘lit up’ much more than those with ASD. These two areas of the brain are significant as the limbic system is technically an evolutionarily ‘old’ part of the brain, and in tandem with the prefrontal cortex they control the regulation of emotions, decision-making, and needs.

These two areas were slow to start up and did not activate as strongly in participants who did not have ASD. If the structure that regulates emotion works differently in people with ASD, then emotions are expressed differently as well.

There have been many publications regarding overall strategies to help a child or individual cope with this unique style of emotional regulation. All of these publications include suggestions for the three pillars of ASD: communication, socialization, and behavioral patterns. In general, these strategies are repeated through each publication, which means they are tried and true for most cases.

Depending on who the tip sheet is written for, the child or individual is referred to as someone’s child, a student, or a client (if it is geared towards a behavioral therapist). Suggestions include having access to communication tools at all times and knowing how to paraphrase and simplify sentences without talking down to the child, helping the child/student understand common language like slang and puns, etc.

A key issue that is discussed is to not use sarcasm and to explain body language. Strategies to improve socialization include personal coping skills like not taking rude remarks/behavior personally, as well as using reinforcers to help condition proper social behavior. The child can be taught to recognize their behavior and emotions in addition to the behavior and emotions of those around them while working on simple social skills.

Finally, helping a child create positive habitual behavior patterns can begin to be accomplished by simply giving reinforcement, creating a routine, and being aware of anything that could cause anxiety. By utilizing resources that are aimed to help create a positive environment for an individual with ASD, one ensures their strongest chance for success and reaching their very best potential.

By Sydney Chasty, Carleton University



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.



The CDC Grants Rutger’s University $550,000 for Autism Research

autism research nj

Rutger’s University Medical School was awarded $550,000 to study childhood autism and developmental disorders in New Jersey. This grant is apart of the CDC’s $20Million budget allotted to fund autism monitoring centers across the United States.

By accepting the grant, Rutger’s is joining the Autism and Developmental Monitoring Network and will work with them to estimate the number of children with Autism in the United States. With Rutger’s now joining the network, it makes it easier for the organization to get a more accurate number of children living with autism.
John Hopkins University, University of Minnesota, University of Vanderbilt, and several other research universities are also in the network.
According to the CDC, one in 45 children are placed on the “autism spectrum” in New Jersey. The national rate is one in 65 Children.
Rutgers will be researching school-age children receiving autism support and assessing their progress, and why there has been such a rise in autism diagnoses. Now that Rutger’s has joined the network, it puts more educated brains, eyes, and ears in action to help monitor and enlighten on the epidemic.


Georgia Joins the Ranks of States Requiring Insurance Coverage for Autism Treatment

autism insurance laws

Thursday, January 29th, 2015 was a happy day for 10-year-old Ava Bullard and her mother, Anna Bullard. After years of hard work, Senate Bill 1, also know an Ava’s Law, was approved in an unanimous decision requiring insurance companies to provide evidence driven treatment that’s been shown to help children with autism spectrum disorder.

At the age of 2 Ava couldn’t speak a word, respond to her name or seem to recognize her mother.  “She was staying the same, like she was 6 months old” says Bullard.

After months of research, Bullard found that there are children with autism whose worlds were rediscovered through intense therapy.  Once a formal diagnosis was made, Bullard could not believe nor afford the price tag of treatment. She soon learned that her insurance company wouldn’t cover any of the expenses.

Research has shown that intensive behavioral therapy can significantly improve cognitive and language skills in young children with autism spectrum disorder. During an interview conducted by the Autism Heath Insurance Project, Dr. Karen Fesset, DrPh, founder and executive director of the Autism Health Insurance Project said  “Without these therapies, children will likely cost their states considerably more money in the long run, by requiring special education programs, and possible needing a lifetime of public assistance,”

Georgia joins New York, Nebraska, Oregon, plus 33 other states including Washington DC which have autism insurance mandates. 

For a list of states that provide coverage for Autism Treatment please see the attached link: http://www.autismhealthinsurance.org/health-plan/affordable-care-act



Video-based therapy may help treat infants at risk for autism

video based therapy for autism

In the year 2000, one child out of 150 children born was diagnosed with autism.  Today, one out of 68 children will now be affected by it.  As the number of children born with autism increases each year, doctors are attempting to treat the condition by testing children as early as three or four years old.

Early signs of autism in babies, such as not responding to their names by one year of age or not showing any interest in objects by 14 months, can be an indicator that therapy may be needed to prevent further advancement of the condition.  Some families have a relatively low risk of having a child born with autism, while other families are more likely to have a child who has the condition if they have a family history of autism.

Dr. Jonathan Green and his team at the University of Manchester in the UK are now studying the effects of an adapted Video Interaction for Promoting Positive Parenting Program (i-BASIS-VIPP), a new treatment for early onset autism in infants.  The treatment uses video feedback that allows parents to learn how to communicate with their child’s unique communication style.  Over time, this could help the child develop stronger communication and social skills.

With the help of a therapist, video recordings of parent-infant interactions are done privately in the parents’ home.  When reviewing the recordings, parents can view how they can improve their interactions with their infant.  The study used 54 families who had an infant between seven to 10 months old.  During a five month period, some families used i-BASIS-VIPP treatment, while the other families received no treatment.

At the end of the experiment, the Autism Observation Scale for Infants (AOSI) was used to determine autism scores of the infants in the study.  The infants of the families who used the new treatment showed improved attention and social behavior and had lower AOSI scores than the children who received no treatment at all.

Although the study has not yet proven to eliminate autism in babies, it is a stepping stone for more research that will reveal more about the effects of i-BASIS-VIPP and its possibilities of reducing early autism symptoms.

Mara Papleo, Cleveland State University



Nonverbal Children Show Marked Improvement Using Video Series

 

Gemiini

An innovative yet relatively simple video series therapy may prove effective in treating speech disorders.

Laura Kasbar’s twins were diagnosed with autism as young children. They did not respond to the speech therapies offered to them, so Kasbar realized that she had to search for an effective solution to their speaking difficulty.

Now Kasbar’s twins are grown and they excel college. Their mother claims that a large part of their success can be credited to her invention, The Gemiini System. This series of speech therapy videos may soon be reaching children all over the country, or possibly the world.

Videos from the Gemiini System lay things out in a way that children understand. For each word, a child appears onscreen accompanied by a picture demonstrating the word’s meaning. The word is spoken slowly and clearly several times. This includes a close up of the child’s mouth when speaking the word.

The Gemiini system uses a method called “discreet video modeling.” This method is effective for many because it presents words with their associations so the children grasp their meaning. This direct approach allows autistic children to concentrate on learning.

Dr. Amanda Adams, Clinical Director of The California Autism Center and Learning Group in Fresno, California, is interested in using the Gemiini system, stating it can work well when combined with other therapies.

“Along with good behavior intervention, a good school program and all of the other pieces still in play, this tool I see as a supplement.” says Adams.

Dr. Heather O’Shea with autism therapy provider ACES in Fresno, is looking forward to using this therapy within her own company.

“We’re very excited about it. We are starting to implement it, the research is giving me great hope,” says Dr. O’Shea.

Since Laura Kasbar’s twins have progressed so well, she is optimistic about the success of other children using The Gemiini System. She emphasizes the importance of starting such therapies young, in order to increase the chances of lessening or eliminating speech difficulties the children face.

These videos are available online for parents, teachers, and therapists. This is good news for families that struggle with insurance coverage for the therapies they need.

The website asserts that The Gemiini System may also be used for children who struggle with reading. Additionally, Kasbar says the system is effective for adults who need speech therapy. These include stroke survivors, those affected by dementia, and patients with traumatic brain injury.