Category Archives: Special Education

New Lego Therapy to Help Build Communication

lego therapy for autism

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

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

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

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

Some skills that are strengthened through this therapy are:

•   Verbal and Nonverbal Communication

•   Sharing and Taking Turns

•   Listening and Following Directions 

•   Goal Planning

•   Teamwork and Problem Solving

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

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

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

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

Written by Raiza Belarmino



Tips for Potty Training A Special Needs Child

potty training for special needs

Potty training is one of the most difficult things to do when your baby is progressing into toddlerhood. It’s a long process filled with accidents, impatience, and miscommunication. When you add in the aspect of disability, potty training can be even more difficult.

Children with special needs are not so different from kids who are typically developing. Though they may need to learn in alternate routes, they are capable of coming to the same conclusions and meeting the same goals as their peers. In recognizing this, the following steps have been recommended while toilet training your physically or mentally delayed child.

Recognize that feeling

First, it is important that you teach your child to recognize when it is that they need to go to the bathroom. One of the biggest rookie mistakes for new potty users is that they do not recognize their need and simply eliminate without prior thought, causing accidents. In order to control this, it’s important that you help your child learn to identify what their body is trying to say to them and to act accordingly.

Make sure all steps are followed thoroughly

Once recognition of need and control over elimination have been accomplished, the child must learn proper bathroom etiquette. One might think that potty ending would end as soon as the child learned to use the toilet rather than their parents, but that is not the case!

The following steps need to be taught: recognizing the need to go to the bathroom; waiting to eliminate until an appropriate time; entering the bathroom properly; manipulating clothing closures; pulling pants down; sitting on the toilet; eliminating in the toilet; using toilet paper correctly; pulling pants up; flushing toilet etc.

 

There is no one right way to address these steps with your special needs child. To modify this lesson, you must pay strict attention to your child’s abilities. Though you may have to wait until later in development, it is always possible and surely worth the wait!

Written by Sara Power, Fordham University



Cruise Line is Newly Certified as “Autism-Friendly”

autism friendly cruise line

Family vacations are a favorite pastime filled with fun memories for all. However, traveling with children with special needs can often pose a challenge.

The people at Autism on the Seas (AotS) have been helping families view traveling as a less stressful idea. The AotS Advisory Team is made up of experts from the Special Needs Industry, representatives from Cruise Companies, parents of children with disabilities, and members of Americans with Disabilities Act legal Counsel. Together they have created comprehensive programs and guidelines that bring an autism-friendly environment to many cruise lines.

The board members are experienced with individuals who have Autism, Asperger Syndrome, Tourette Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, and many cognitive, intellectual, and development disabilities. Also, the organization offers their own well-trained, experienced staff member that travel with the family and assist them with cruise activities and entertainment to ensure an enjoyable experience. For example, Respite Sessions can be arranged for parents to have alone time while resting assured their child is well taken care of.

Celebrity Cruises is the most recent company to achieve a Silver Level “Autism Friendly” certification from Autism on the Seas. This qualifies them to provide quality accommodations for guests with special needs. Their Youth staff have gone through customized training with basic awareness and education in autism and other developmental disabilities. Each ship is certified separately based on the following topics/categories:

  • Staff Training
  • Special Needs Accommodations & Amenities
  • Pre-Cruise Planning
  • On Board Services & Events
  • Specialized Dining & Dietary needs
  • Guest Feedback
  • Support for “Cruises with Autism on the Seas Staff”

One of the new services that will be available is Celebrity’s Fun Factory toy-lending youth program for children ages 3-11 years old. These toys are specially picked to have play and educational value. A catalog is offered by the cruise ship and Big Brain Toys, a leading company highly recommended by occupational, physical and play therapists.

This has been a great achievement for both the autism community and the Cruise Industry as they strive to give all their guests an amazing experience. Celebrity Cruises join the ranks along with Royal Caribbean, Disney, Norwegian, and Carnival Cruises, who have all been certified to accommodate individuals with special needs.

Written by Raiza Belarmino



Parent Training to Improve Autistic Child’s Behavior

parent training for autism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Raiza Belarmino



Autism Spectrum Disorder Has Later Onset for Females

autism onset in girls

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

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

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

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

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

By Kat O’Toole, University of Maine

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



Innovative Sensory Therapy Shows Promising Results

 

autism therapy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Raiza Belarmino



The Autism Show: The Pocket Occupational Therapist

autism show

Cara Kosinski, author featured on The Autism Show

The Autism Show is an online radio podcast that reaches thousands of people in about 32 countries around the world. It is hosted by Catherine Pascuas, an autism specialist and founder of the Edx Autism Consulting company.

Pascuas has 7 years of experience working one-on-one with children and families using Applied Behavior Analysis, play therapy, SCERTS (Social Communication, Emotional Regulation and Transactional Support), and play therapy. Every Tuesday she interviews new experts and educators to share inspirational stories or innovative therapies regarding autism. They’ve had over 30 episodes featuring advocates, organizations, therapists, etc. Some topics that have been covered are motherhood on the autism spectrum, Minecraft, (a popular children’s computer game), and sleeping problems.

On episode 30, Pascuas welcomed Cara Kosinski,  a pediatric occupational therapist in the Pittsburgh, PA area. She is the mother of two boys, ages 15 and 12. In Kosinski’s junior year she knew she wanted to become an OT and started working in adult rehabilitation. When both of her sons were later diagnosed with autism and sensory processing disorder, she quit her job to become a full time caregiver for her children. She became determined to learn everything there is to know about autism.

She took classes designed for OT’s then turned around to use that information at home as a parent. During those years she complied volumes of notes with quality methods and techniques. This shaped her professional career, as she wanted to share this information with other parents. Kosinski eventually decided to open up a private practice.

She is now the owner of Route2Greatness which provides Occupational Therapy consultations, trainings, and seminars all over the county. Kosinski is the author of award-winning books The Pocket Occupational Therapist for Families with Special Needs and The Special Needs School Survival Guide. Both books are widely successful with therapists, teachers, social workers, and most especially, parents.

Her goal is to provide an easy-to-use resource that anyone from any discipline can understand. Readers can look up a certain topic such as hair washing to find out why the child is having difficulty with it. It includes tips and activities that can be done right away. These guides are unique in that Kosinski combines the role of an OT with that of a parent. This type of language and reliability is what makes it so popular within the autism community.

Kosinski believes that the future of autism lies within educating the caregiver. They are given the power to take what they learn in clinic so they may bring it home for optimum results. She is currently holding autism specific classes for OT’s and parents around the country. Her and her son are working on a book that focuses on autistic teens and young adults developing behavior and social skills.

To listen to this episode you can download it on iTunes, Stitcher Radio, or view the original article at: http://www.autismdailynewscast.com/podcast-cara-koscinski-autism-mom-ot-author-pocket-ot-series/25431/catherinepascuas/

Written by Raiza Belarmino



Shema Kolainu Workshop Addresses Technology Applications for Autism

video modeling

The Proloquo2go Speech App, from Youtube user Ellen Seidman

It’s no secret that kids these days love screens. For a child with autism, the right technology can give them a huge leg up in their education even though they might think it is all fun and games.

BCBA Certified IEP Coordinator Chani Katz addressed a well-attended audience of parents and special ed professionals at today’s workshop entitled, “The Use of Technology by Individuals with Autism.”

Software applications have become an instrumental part of educating children on the autism spectrum for a myriad of reasons. First, using apps with a learning objective is an engaging way to grasp concepts, particularly for children with autism as they are often drawn to technology. Secondly, nonverbal children who struggle to communicate can unlock a new world when they become able to relate to others through computerized devices. Technology like games and videos are also a simple and consistent way for teachers to provide lessons to their students.

Children with autism gravitate toward tablet devices, and many education professionals use this advantage to maximize their impact on a student’s development. Nonverbal children are now frequently supplied with touch-to-speak devices that give them a voice to speak with loved ones. Even though the computer speaks for them, Katz revealed that studies actually support improved spoken communication when children use these programs.

Katz also showed examples of iPad apps that are used to refine a child’s motor skills. One such app requires students to hold their thumb down on an “anchor” button, while reaching with their other fingers to press dots that appear around the screen. The dots get smaller progressively as the student continues to play, and their fine motor skills are strengthened in the process.

The presentation also touched on the use of video modeling for children with autism. Video is a preferred means of communication for many people in general, and for children who struggle with basic tasks, a straightforward demonstration on video can be extremely helpful. Chores like tying a shoe, folding a towel, or paying a cashier for their order can be broken down step-by-step with visual and auditory reinforcement.

As demonstrated by Katz, assistive technology can make life easier for everyone involved in the child’s life. Speaking with an iPad, for instance, is much more acceptable than a frustrated meltdown that ensues when a child can’t say he is hungry, or cold or tired.

This is not to say that precautions should not be taken when relying on technology for these purposes. Power failures or broken devices can instantly take away their means for communication. Technology can also be isolating for the child and should not be used in place of social interaction. The student’s use of technology must also be monitored to make sure it is used effectively for their development.

This means that all the child’s instructors and therapists (OT, PT, SLP, ABA and so forth) should be kept in the loop about which technologies yield the best results. Technology should assist the autistic child in achieving their learning goals, whether that be practicing life skills, improving speech, or building on scholastic subjects like typing or math.



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.