Category Archives: Special Education

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.

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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.

 



Autism Resource Shop Opens in the Bay Area

twilight turtle for autism kids

Natural Autism Resources offer therapeutic devices like Twilight Turtle, pictured above

National Autism Resources has been an online retailer since 2008. They are known for providing specialized tools and technologies that cater to the autism community.

In September 2014, the company opened their first physical walk-in store in Benicia, California, a city in the Bay Area region. It is the first store of its kind on the west coast and third in the whole country. The creators are skilled in selecting the right products that are proven to be successful.

Local resident, Kat Negrete, is overjoyed with the news of this new business. She is the mother of 3-year-old Johnny who tends to have trouble with loud noises and transitioning from one thing to the next.

She often uses toys and games to help keep her son calm. But locating these particular toys may be somewhat difficult. Negrete recalls a time where she was so distraught when she visited a well-known teaching supply store that has no resources for special needs children.

National Autism Resources has over 120 vendors that they pull their products from. There is a lot of research and work going into making sure the items they sell will be helpful. This may be the reason why there aren’t more stores like this, but with an estimated 1 in 68 children now being diagnosed with ASD, there still stands a strong need for local, available resources.

Store owner Bonnie Arnwine also has a son with autism and understands the demand for a shop like hers. Here, a shopper can find over 1,600 products that may look like simple toys but are actually effective therapeutic tools.

One example is the GoTalk 9+, their most popular speech device. It helps people who are just starting augmentative communication. There is also an item called Twilight Turtle that is used to help calm children or put them to sleep. The soft lights illuminate the room with constellations, which helps ease the child.  Arnwine believes this is more than just a store or job, but rather her purpose. She quotes her business’s motto, “Love, Hope, and Support Autism.”

Read the original article from CBS San Francisco.



When to Tell Your Child About Their Autism Diagnosis

tell child about their autism

It’s never easy for a parent to hear that their child has autism. It’s even harder for parent to relay this information to their child, knowing that their entire world is about to change. Mary Hickey, mother of three sons with varying degrees of autism, knows this struggle all too well.

Her oldest son was granted his autism diagnosis at an early age. For her second son, the wait was longer, receiving his diagnosis at the age of eight. Her youngest received his diagnosis just after turning four.  Each of them has responded in a different way to their diagnoses. The common thread? Hickey’s inspiring and encouraging words to her sons at these life-changing times:

“Every person has things that are easy for them and things that they are working on. Your brain works in a very special way- that is called autism. It means that some things that are hard for other people, like remembering numbers and all the states and capitols, are easy for you. But it also means that some things, like understanding conversations or what people are trying to say, can be hard for you. It is why sometimes noises, smells and the feeling of things bother you too. But it also means that you are amazing for how hard you work to get through it all! There are a lot of strategies we can use to help make the things that are tough a bit easier. There are lots of people in the world with autism and so many of them have done amazing things. Would you like to learn about some of them?”

Hickey emphasizes the fact that there was no fixed age that was right for her sons to hear about their autism. She has found a common denominator though in that she has allowed her sons to explore the world and recognize their differences from the children around them.

Each and every time this occurs, Hickey reminds her sons that different is not bad: it’s just different. There is no need to disguise autism for something it’s not, or to pretend it doesn’t exist. The best way to make life livable in a household affected by ASD is to openly embrace it and all the unique perspectives offered by everyone.

The initial conversation may be tough, but it’s important for children to recognize their strengths and limitations on some scale. It can simply help to explain why they see things in a different light, and that they need not be limited by their diagnosis. Hickey does an excellent job of relaying this information and provides profound insight into the importance of being open about autism, especially in the home.

by Sara Power, Fordham University



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.