Category Archives: Special Education

Regular Exercise Releases Stress and Builds Confidence for Youth on the Autism Spectrum

basketball

Exercise can have stress-relieving benefits that release calming endorphins throughout the body.

For a person with autism spectrum disorder, exercise can be beneficial in other ways. In addition to easing tension, regular exercise can help a child build confidence and improve general morale.

Confidence does not always come easy for Anthony Angelico, a 17 year old high school student from Chicago who lives with asd. With the help of his coach, Dave Geslak, Anthony has made large strides in both his stamina and strength. Both his coach and his mother have noticed an improvement.

Geslak points out that since individuals with autism are sensitive to bright lights, loud noises, and other intense stimuli, being able to release anxiety can lift a burden. After an hour’s workout, Anthony is able to channel his energy positive way, making him able to balance his homework and his job at a grocery store.

Physical activity can also minimize compulsive or negative behaviors in autistic children. A regular exercise regimen has the added benefit of providing structure, which can be applied to other areas of life. Learning this type of discipline can help a young person improve their work ethic, whether in school, work, or hobbies.

Coach Geslak, who specializes in creating regimens for youth with autism spectrum disorder, builds custom workouts to ensure the success and happiness of Anthony and others whom he instructs. Shema-Kolainu provides an Adaptive Physical Education program to its students. In a therapeutic environment, children are instructed through techniques tailored to their own needs and abilities.

Anthony’s workout includes weight lifting, hurdle jumping, and hand-eye coordination. A variety of different methods can be employed, so your child is not limited to gym equipment only. Perhaps incorporating dance, a game of tag, or organized sports are more stimulating to your child. Aquatic therapy, where children complete exercises in water, has been used with positive results and does not put stress on joints.



Shema Kolainu Presents Guest Speaker Advocating for “Success with Autism” at United Nations

Dr. Shore Presents

Dr. Shore speaks to audience at United Nations about success as an autistic individual

Due to demand, the Shema Kolainu Autism workshops, which have continued to draw larger crowds of people, have relocated presentations to the Hotel Pennsylvania in New York City.                                         

On Thursday, December 11, Shema Kolainu presented speaker Dr. Stephen Shore, a professor at Adelphi University. Dr. Shore’s lecture entitled “Success with Autism: Using our Strengths for Achieving a Fulfilling and Productive Life (Just Like Everyone Else)” presented some of his findings from his academic research, which focuses on matching people on the spectrum with the ideal occupation.

Dr. Shore spoke in a room at the United Nations following a highly attended presentation at Hotel Pennsylvania. Speaking about his own experience with autism, having been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome as a child, he views having the disorder simply as a different frame of mind rather than seeing it as a handicap. There are different “kinds of minds”- with particular characteristics, interests, and abilities that are actually valuable in the workforce if applied to the right field.

Giving the hypothetical example of a man with asd named Robert, Dr. Shore described how this man’s autistic personality traits were suited to his job at an information desk at Penn Station. His communication skills were factual, detailed, honest, data-driven, and repetitive. Social interaction for Robert is limited and predictable. Because of his restricted interests, he is able to memorize information that his co-workers cannot remember without references. Because of his autism, he is actually more productive than most of the other employees.

After devoting so much of his life to researching asd in addition to his personal knowledge, he can often recognize the signs. Revealing a photo of himself as a baby, he described the “autism stare” which he and others with the disorder seem to exhibit.

“They study everything, like a scientist,” said Dr. Shore.

Something Dr. Shore felt was important to emphasize was that it is important to make autistic children feel like their interests have validity and to nurture that. For instance, if an autistic person enjoys stocking shelves because they love to put items in order, this should be looked at as a meaningful use of their time. When a person with asd is good at something, Shore says, they tend to really excel at it.

So instead of feeling despair when a child is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, Dr. Shore hopes that parents and teachers will recognize their strengths and teach them to translate these qualities into meaningful, productive work. The ultimate goal is to mentor youth affected by the disorder to become independent, educated, self-aware individuals who are determined to succeed.

A list of upcoming workshops like this one can be found here. Reserve your spot today and receive a certificate of participation.



Simulated Flight Prepares Autistic Children for Plane Travel

Autistic children at airport

Anyone taking a flight for the first time is likely in for a few surprises. For an autistic child, the experience can be a sensory overload.

The process of boarding entering the crowded terminal, going through security, checking luggage, and boarding a plane are not everyday occurrences. A child with autism may by quite sensitive to all the crowds and unfamiliar situations that move along so quickly. Feeling overly stimulated causes them to feel bombarded.

Schools lead children on fire drills and even storm preparedness simulations, so why not take them on a run-through of what to expect when they fly for the first time? That is exactly what 50 families participated in through the Arc of Baltimore’s Wings for Autism at Thurgood Marshall Airport, joining a trend of similar projects set forth by other similar organizations.

This organization leads families through a test run to familiarize the children with what is expected when taking a place. Children were instructed to wait in line for entrance to a designated security gate, then handed boarding passes for a short flight that never actually left the ground.

Once seated on the plane, the children listened to the security procedures over the speaker, before the staff distributed pretzels and drinks to everyone. Since children with autism are often prone to become absorbed in electronic devices, they must also learn to put these devices away when the airline staff requires it.

The simulation is seen as a test for special needs children to determine whether they are ready and able to take an actual flight. Possible scenarios could be reminiscent of a scene from the film Rain Man, in which Dustin Hoffman’s autistic character Ray has a screaming meltdown at the possibility of an unsafe flight.

Jennifer Bishop, a Baltimore mother of a 14 year old autistic boy named Nathaniel, took a plane trip with her son 10 years ago that she describes as “disastrous.” Jennifer had such a difficult time that she vowed she would never fly with him again. Now, with her aging mother turning 92, she wants to revisit flying with Nathaniel.

The teen is wheelchair-bound at times and does not always want to walk. New places intimidate him. When boarding the plane with his mother behind pushing his wheelchair, Nathaniel at first refused to get up and board without his mother beside him. With just a bit of maneuvering, Jennifer was able to stand in front of her son and coax him into the first row of seats with her. Once he sat down, Nathaniel smiled with satisfaction.

Implementing a “drill” procedure for boarding a plane and completing the flight successfully can make the experience less traumatic for both special needs children and their families, once an actual flight is necessary. The patience and understanding of volunteers who assisted the children was quite instructive when it came to preparing them for airline travel.



How Autistic Children Can Benefit from Horticultural Therapy

autistic children gardening

The healing properties of gardening have long been discussed for improving mental well-being. Connecting with nature in this way can help reduce stress and improve your mood.

Tending to plant life can also be helpful to those with autism spectrum disorder. Horticultural therapist and author Natasha Everington assists parents, teachers, and school counselors in applying these techniques to improve child development.

Etherington’s book entitled Gardening for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders and Special Educational Needs – Engaging with Nature to Combat Anxiety, Promote Sensory Integration, and Build Social Skills, was released in 2013 and received much acclaim. According to the Canadian Horticulture Therapy Association, “Horticultural Therapy (HT) and Therapeutic Horticulture (TH) use plants, gardens, and the natural landscape to improve cognitive, physical, social, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing.”

The author claims that working outdoors in the dirt can offer psychological benefits that cannot be found in a traditional classroom environment. Children build social and cooperation skills while working with others to complete these activities. You may also see improvement in their speech development as they communicate with others working on the task.

Benefits of horticultural therapy are also physical. Digging builds flexibility, endurance and motor skill development. It can also result in lower blood pressure and reduce muscular tension.

It can also be a bonding activity for parents and children. Parents sometimes see a different side of their child when working on a garden together, and this can lead to more positive behavior. These therapies can also be useful to patients affected by Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Gardening requires focusing energy on a larger goal and following instructions.

Ideally, there would be an available patch of land to work with. This is not always possible, so there are other options for those who do not have yard access. These include using a wooden box, constructing a box out of brick or cement block, or using window boxes and planters. If possible, place potted plants on a balcony or rooftop, or build a greenhouse out of plastic materials.

Programs teaching gardening skills can be hard to come by. Etherington suggests that if you are interested in exploring the benefits of horticulture therapy and do not have access to an existing program, you can always create one. The book contains plenty of information on how to start your own horticulture therapy program.

You can read the original article here.



Nonprofit Helps Families Affected by Autism Cope with Daily Challenges

mature child

The things many of us took for granted as a child- a trip to the beach, a shopping errand, swimming lessons, a walk around the neighborhood- are a daily struggle for an autistic child and their family. For a young person with behavioral and communication issues, these simple activities can become complicated and overwhelming.

It becomes difficult for families to relate to others when they experience these struggles. Friends may have children who do not experience the same hurdles on a day to day basis. This leads families affected by autism to feel a sense of isolation.

In order to help these families cope, pediatrician Wendy Ross has created a non-profit organization Autism Inclusion Resources. In honor of her work, Ross is featured as one of “CNN Heros” of 2014. The weekly program which pays tribute to “everyday people changing the world.” The show airs every Sunday at 8 pm.

The goal of Autism Inclusion Resources is to make sure that no family feels left behind, and that each unique child is given support to build the skills they need to function in their society. She emphazises that each child functions in their own special way, so each case receives special consideration to suit the child’s learning needs.

In the basic sense, Ross wants the children to enjoy daily tasks and build fun memories. The ultimate goal is to equip the children with the tools to become independent adults. This could include anything from taking a smooth plane trip to conducting onesself professionally in the workplace. The world can seem large and intimidating for a child who feels different, so Ross hopes that through her work she can make the surrounding environment less scary. Each little challenge can seem overwhelming, so the children and their families are provided with coping skills to tackle everyday challenges while building up to larger life events.

Ross also works to build awareness of autism in the public sphere. She educates airline employees, museum personnel and other workers likely to come into contact with an autistic person, and how to react most appropriately. Mrs. Ross believes that by starting at the root of how autism is perceived will help make daily life easier for everyone involved.

Numerous familes have been helped by Autism Inclusion Resources, including The Stockmals. Mary Stockmal’s 12 year old son was prone to severe episodes in public, and she felt she faced judgement from others for not disciplining him appropriately. After staff at the Phillies stadium were trained by Dr. Ross, the Stockmals were moved to a private section with no one else around. Even feeling normal for five minutes is a blessing, Mary stated, mirroring the sentiment of many children and families who just want to fit in.

Read the original article here



Service Dogs Provide Assistance to Families Affected by Autism

 

Photo from 4 Paws 4 Ability's Website (http://4pawsforability.org/)

Photo from 4 Paws for Ability’s Website (http://4pawsforability.org/)

Silas, a young boy who struggles with autism, may soon receive the help of a four legged friend to navigate through his daily tasks.

The 5 year old boy from Cincinatti, Ohio is playful and expressive, but is unable to speak. This communication barrier puts him at all kinds of safety risks. Silas already confronts all sorts of protective mechanisms set up by his family, who say these issues have gotten more difficult as their son has grown older. They have installed locks on the kitchen cabinets because he climbs on the counters to open them. Cameras have been placed inside the home. When he opens the door to leave the house, a bell sounds to alert others in the house that he may be outside without supervision.

But since technology can only go so far, Silas is a candidate for the 4 Paws for Ability program. This non-profit organization provides service dogs trained to assist children like him.

Service dogs trained through 4 Paws for Ability are assigned to veterans with disabilities as well as special needs children. For children with autism spectrum disorder, the canines can prevent them from running away or harming themselves in other ways. Silas, for example, is constantly at risk when he is outdoors. When taken to a nearby park, he has a habit of running for the water.

The training process can be quite extensive to prepare the animals for this type of work, and it does not come cheap either; the cost to get a dog ready for service is about $15,000. The organization relies largely on donations and fundraising to help with the cost. Silas’ family runs a number of fundraisers to raise money for his very own service dog.

Perhaps most important though, according to the boy’s mother Sally, is just having the unconditional love and support provided by a service dog. “We see pets as a part of the family that could provide him with that extra bond,” Sally told Fox-29 News in San Antonio, Texas.

You can read the original article here. If you are interested in learning more about how you can help Silas, visit his 4 Paws for Ability fundraising page.



Autism and Race, are they connected?

autism and race

Since the rate of autism diagnosis has more than doubled between the year 2000 and now, many studies have pointed to the importance of early diagnosis and treatment. The idea is that, the earlier the symptoms can be detected, the better equipped family and professionals will be to provide the right treatments and therapies. Not only this, but also by helping their child sooner rather than later, they are giving their child the best chance at reaching their full potential. However, for many families, it can be challenging to receive all of the appropriate resources they need to help their child.

According to the Center for Disease Control, African American and Hispanic children do not get an autism diagnosis as promptly as their Caucasian peers. While many children tend to get diagnosed on the spectrum at the age of 4, research shows that African American children are diagnosed one year to two years later. Those two years may not seem like a huge issue, however those are years of critical brain development, where children learn many of their language skills and social skills. Research also shows that when minority children do get a referral, they are often misdiagnosed as having ADHD or other behavioral conduct problems.

This lends the question of whether autism may look different or manifest itself differently in African American or Hispanic children. So far, research has shown that regressive autism is twice as common in African American children as it is in Caucasian children. Regressive autism is when children lose social and language skills after they have developed them. Other studies hint that African American children are likely to exhibit challenging and aggressive behaviors, or that they have more severe problems with language and communication. The causes for these differences are not known, but it could still be traces back to the lack of resources and diagnosis of this specific population.

Recently Dr. Daniel Geschwind, autism scientist and researcher at UCLA, has joined with the Special Needs Network (SNN) to work on a large research project that will help identify genetic causes of autism in African American children. You can read about this project and how to get your child involved with his study here. In a topic full of uncertainty, one thing is certain, and that is the lack of scientific research to help us understand any differences in autism due to ethnicity or race. As more research is underway for underrepresented populations, we hope to be able to provide the right resources and service these children will need to thrive.

At Shema Kolainu, we serve children of all religions and backgrounds in the New York metro area and have a strong belief in giving every child their best chance.



Council Member Mark Levine Supports Children on the Spectrum

Council Member Mark Levine visits school age classroom at Shema Kolainu - Hear Our Voices

Mark Levine, Council Member for District 7, Chair of the Committee on Parks & Recreation, and member of the education, finance, housing, and operations committees took the time to visit Shema Kolainu – Hear Our Voices to learn more about the services we offer at the school and see the work we do. Many of the special needs children we provide home-based services to are also located in the district he serves. He is a leading voice in advocating for safer streets, reliable public transportation, cleaner parks, and more affordable housing. As a strong supporter of equal opportunities and the Autism Initiative, he was interested in learning about the success we’ve had as well as the work that is still left to be done. Dr. Weinstein, CEO and founder of Shema Kolainu, explained the goals of the school and center and the daily activities we have to meet those goals. He also gave an overview of the history of our school and how we’ve grown to accommodate over 60 children at the school and over 1000 children citywide for home based services.

Councilmember Levine was particularly impressed by our teacher to student ratio and our commitment to providing each child with one-on-one therapy. While observing some of the classrooms, he was surprised but humbled by the level of engagement that the kids were showing with their teachers, Ipads, or the activity that they were doing at the moment. He remarked that, “oftentimes, disabilities are paired with extraordinary ability,” when discussing the success we’ve seen over the years at Shema Kolainu and shared in our vision of a more inclusive society. Mr. Levine was also able to interact with some of our school-age children and see some of our unique rooms; such as our Daily Living Skills Center, used to help the children develop and hone practical skills such as making their beds and setting the table, and the Snoezelen room, which is our multisensory room used to help children overcome any sensory challenges they may experience throughout the day.

He even expressed concern for the children’s safety when they visit Brizzi park, located across the street from Shema Kolainu. As someone who has worked with under-served children in his years as a teacher in the South Bronx and Director of Teach for America, we hope that Council Member Levine will continue to show his support for the autism community; especially as we strive to provide better and more far-reaching resources for our kids and their families and continue our commitment to giving children their best chance to reach their highest potential.



Tips for Helping Your Child with Social Interaction

Autism can sometimes be characterized by a person’s inability to connect with people, even their own families in a constructive and relationship-building way. The National Center for Learning Disabilities promotes that “guiding your child through various social scripts will enable him or her to navigate such situations with greater ease and less apprehension, especially when he or she is interacting with other children. Research has shown that adolescents with learning disabilities have difficulty in making and keeping friends, spend lots of free-time alone, especially watching television or on their computers.

Here are some activity ideas for helping your child prepare for certain types of social interactions they are likely to face throughout their lives:

– Read storybooks with themes on family and friendship and try to engage your child in storyline to help them understand the interactions between the characters.

– Identify specific social situations that are challenging for your child and role-play how to handle them one-on-one

– Give your child a scenario that he/she can understand and ask them to help you finish the story. Afterward, talk about their ending and other possible endings.

– While watching TV or a movie, point out social cues that may not be so obvious and talk about them with your child

– Make playdates for your child so they can get comfortable with interacting with other children. Supervision is an important part of helping your child along at first.

– If your child seems to have a particular interest, enroll them in an activity that can build on that interest and put them with other kids who have similar interests.

In helping them through these interactions, make sure to be actively listening at all times. For children who have a hard time communicating, you have to also try to understand their emotions, which can be expressed in a variety of ways including but not limited to: outbursts and repetitive behaviors. Also make sure to work with your child’s school and other professionals to make sure your child is having their needs met and that they are receiving appropriate services.

For more resources, click HERE



Making Physical Education Accessible

Daniel Hernandez (foreground, left), 16, a sophomore with autism at American Senior High School, teaches April Brown (foreground, right) the basics of kayaking in Miami’s Biscayne Bay. Photo by Mike Fritz/PBS NewsHour

People with disabilities tend to be less active than other children who do not have disabilities according to recent research that says about 12% of adults with disabilities are physically active on a regular basis, which is about half as much as adults without disabilities, 22%. In the same toke, the obesity rate for children with disabilities in the U.S is 38% higher than those without disabilities and adult obesity 57% higher when compared to that for adults without disabilities. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Children with Disabilities,parents and doctors oftentimes overestimate the risks or overlook the benefits of physical activities for special needs children.

Jayne Greenberg, the Miami-Dade County Public Schools’ Director of Physical Education and Health Literacy and who also serves on the President’s Council for Fitness, Sports and Nutrition, has worked  to share best practices on improving fitness and health for people with disabilities. Through grant funding and also partnering with community members such as the Coconut Grove Sailing Club, Oleta River State Park, the Miami Yacht Club, and even the Miami Heat, at no charge to their school, she is able to develop physical education programs for students who want to learn and participate in activities that can have lifetime benefits. These programs are so popular now that all the students who would like to participate still can not.

She explains that, “There’s a lot of self-confidence and pride that the students learn because we always teach them what they can’t do: ‘don’t do this or you’re going to get hurt; don’t do this, I’m afraid to let you try it.’ We tell the kids, ‘we want you to do this,’ and for the first time they do activities and they feel so good about themselves.” One tenth grader, Daniel Hernandez, as well as some of his other autistic classmates, is an expert in kayaking. He knows how to set up the seats, put the oars together, position himself in without flipping over, and also how to steer and maneuver the kayak. He says, “It’s like peace and quiet. It makes you feel the wind inside, in your heart,” and he isn’t afraid to talk to strangers about this newfound passion, or help someone else learn how to kayak. Another classmate, Demetrius Sesler, explains how being able to help others learn how to kayak has given him a sense of pride, and even his teachers have said he has gained a lot more  confidence and leadership qualities since starting these lessons.

One teacher at South Miami Senior High says, “It’s holistic. It teaches them how to be a person…I have a golf game in my classroom, but it’s not the same as being out in a golf course where actual golfers play the game. To them, this is a big deal. It makes them feel whole. It makes them feel like they can do something that students without disabilities can do.” It is important for parents, professionals, and educators alike to realize the important for physical education programming for students with disabilities and even activities such as kayaking and golf can be on the list of sports they can participate in.

Shema Kolainu makes an effort to provide physical education programs for the students that we serve and also understand the importance of them being healthy both mentally and physically. To read about the various therapies that we offer at our school and center, click HERE.