Category Archives: Special Education

Teen Becomes Advocate for Children with Autism

Autistic Teen Support Group

Connor Cunningham, a junior in high school, has become an advocate for autism, speaking to children and teachers in the Sunny Isles Beach area about autism and the importance of tolerance.

Cunningham, who has Asperger’s Syndrome, enjoys public speaking. He said that, as a child, he received help for his Asperger’s, but it was never from someone who knew what he was going through. This encouraged him to become an advocate.

The speeches that Cunningham gives are particularly for third and fourth graders. He also addresses some other middle-schoolers. In his speeches, he starts out by relating to the audience he is talking to – touching on topics, such as art, video games and favorite movies. He continues with facts, personal stories, humor and games. He also gives the children a chance to ask questions.

Because of his success with his advocacy, Cunningham has started his own organization called “Stand in My Shoes.” His hope is that the organization can grow into a speaker’s bureau and then it can be used as a school resource. He also wants to start recording podcasts and have an online forum for children with autism to help them connect.

Cunningham says that speaking at Sunny Isles was, and has been, a great opportunity. He says that the kids are a lot of fun and that knowing that they listened and felt compassion was rewarding.

Cunningham hopes that his speeches and advocacy have helped other kids who feel different and that they know that there is someone in similar shoes there to listen to them.

By Sejal Sheth

Florida Teen Launches Operation Super

operation super

Big brother Andrew ‘s goal is to help kids with disabilities. He’s inspired by his 10 year old brother, Nate, who has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

They two were born 6 years apart but their bond is unlike any other. He sees his younger brother have difficulty with common everyday activities. So he decided to start gathering gently used therapeutic toys and devices for children on the autism spectrum disorder.

Through his Eagle Scout team he created Operation Super. He explained he doesn’t like the word ‘special’ because, nowadays, its used in a derogatory manner. So he decider on superhero because that’s how he sees his younger brother.

At the moment, their most sought after items are noise-canceling headphones, ring stackers, shape sorters, fidget toys and tables, and educational activity games. There are six collection sites set up around the area in Hope Lutheran Church in Viera, Faith Viera Church, the Holz Law Group in Rockledge, Parkway Psychiatry in Melbourne, Merritt Island Christian Academy and Florida Counseling Center in Melbourne.

He’s teamed up with local organization Autism Early Enrichment who will be distributing the donations to various programs and schools who assist children with special needs.

So far he hasn’t received many toys but he’s hopeful that with more exposure and word-of-mouth more people will donate. He would love to give other kids the opportunity and support that has been helpful for his brother.

Andrew is an active member in the community, a camp counselor at Kiwanis Island Summer Camp, and volunteer at Viera Hospital. He loves science and working with children. In the future he hopes to combine both of his passions and become a pediatrician to continue to help others.

His efforts have been recognized by others as well. Director of Autism Early Enrichment James Holz, who is also a parent of an autistic child, was extremely impressed by Andrew’s vision and ability to execute such a ambitious project.

By Raiza Belarmino

Teenager With Autism Raises $10,000

autism advocate teen raises money

Seventeen year old Connor Archer is, for the most part, a typical high school senior. He’s a distinguished student who is on the honor roll and a member of the National Honor Society. He plays in several school bands. He is part of the Cross Country, Track & Field team. But at the age of 3 he was diagnosed with Autism. Although he is still overcoming his own challenges, he has been determined to help others overcome theirs as well.

Two years ago, Connor started the Courageous Steps project in an effort to spread awareness about his condition and to fundraise for local programs that have helped him throughout the years. He would like to give others the same opportunity to defy stereotypes associated with any disability.

He was able to generate over $10,000 through his fundraising event held at Victory Field. Two special education programs were given $1,000 each. The Green House Nursery School was given $2,000 to help purchase adaptive equipment and technologies as learning devices. Connor even set up a scholarship fund that awards graduating seniors who have overcome substantial challenges. This year $300 awards were given to three students.

Currently, Connor is working on two summer projects. The first is a benefit dinner that was held at the Old Town Governor’s Restaurant. Ten percent will be donated to the Courageous Steps project. He’s also teamed up with the Old Town Recreation Department for the annual Back to School Drive which donates much-needed school supplies to the local community.

In a recent email he shows his gratitude to all his supporters, stating “It takes a community to come together and support these kind of endeavors, and I cannot thank enough the businesses all over the Bangor area for supporting Courageous Steps. One person can make a big difference, but several can make an impact.”

By Raiza Belarmino

Shema Kolainu 17th Annual Legislative Breakfast A Great Success

Screen Shot 2015-07-22 at 4.55.40 PM

With esteemed political guests, great food, and artwork created by children presented as awards, the Annual Shema Kolainu Legislative Breakfast wrapped up as another wonderful success in 2015.

Speakers from all over New York City delivered inspiring addresses pledging their support for the special needs community in Borough Park’s Renaissance Ballroom.

The morning’s honoree was Dr. Merryl H. Tisch, Chancellor of the New York State Board of Regents. Dr. Tisch has long served as an educational advocate.

Dr. Tisch began her career as a schoolteacher in Manhattan. She was later appointed to the Board of Regents in 1996. Eleven years later, she was elected Vice Chancellor of the Board, and soon after became Chancellor in 2009.

Also honored at the event was NYC Councilmember Andrew Cohen, and Zelig Friedman of The Tantzers, the dance group who performed at the Shema Kolainu Alumni reunion.

Opening remarks were made by Dr. Joshua Weinstein, Founder and President of Shema Kolainu Hear Our Voices.

“The mission of Shema Kolainu is to allow children with autism to enjoy a better life and a better future,” said Dr. Weinstein. “ We have seen such a tremendous amount of success stories from the kids.”

Also in attendance was Letitia James, current New York City Public Advocate and longtime friend of Dr. Tisch.

“From education, to poverty and beyond, Dr. Merryl Tisch’s advocacy knows no limits,” said James.

Shortly after, NYC Councilman David Greenfield introduced award recipient and fellow Councilman Andrew Cohen.

“Andrew Cohen has single-handedly saved millions of dollars this year for mental health services!” Greenfield said.

Finally, US Assistant Attorney Tali Farhadian Weinstein took the stage to introduce Dr. Merryl H. Tisch.

Dr. Tisch brought up a memory she had when dealing with a mother of a child who had special needs. After hearing much anxiety and uncertainty, it became clear that this mother wanted Tisch to be able to “fix” her child.

“We can’t fix them, but we can help every child in overcoming challenging circumstances,” said Dr. Tisch.

She wrapped up her speech by mentioning how honored she is to advocate for New York City’s children.

At the end of the ceremony, Dr. Joshua Weinstein delivered closing remarks.

“I want to thank Merryl Tisch again for what she stands for, what she has done, and what she will continue to do,” said Dr. Weinstein.

Daniel Tiger Becomes Autistic Boy’s Guide to Social Life

daniel tiger autistic life lessons

Daniel Tiger, a recent creation of PBS, provides life lessons for all children, but his teachings are particularly effective for those who have trouble reading social cues. 

Daniel Tiger is a relatable preschooler who wears a red cardigan and has friendly phrases to help children understand things like disappointment, frustration, anger and fear of the unknown. He also gives lessons on certain skills like turn taking, cooperation, problem solving, and empathy. 

Rasha Madkour, who has an autistic son, says that she has seen Daniel Tiger’s lessons and sayings being used by her own children when they play with others. The first time she noticed it, she was waiting for her 5-year-old’s occupational therapist. The therapist was very busy, and a small child, was crying about wanting a toy that her child was playing with.

Madkour sang the words, “Think about how someone else is feeling; maybe you can help them feel better” to her son, a jingle from Daniel Tiger. Her son thought for a moment and then handed the toy to the crying child. The child immediately stopped and Madkour could see that her son understood that he had helped.

Individuals with autism often times have a hard time understanding unspoken social codes. Daniel Tiger uses a different approach by explicitly saying a certain social skill and then providing multiple examples in each episode.

From providing encouragement to teaching children what to do when they have wronged someone, Daniel Tiger’s words of wisdom are beneficial to all children.

By Sejal Sheth 

Student With Asperger’s Thrives at Charter School 

autism charter school

The opening of a new charter school in Anderson, South Carolina has helped the growth of a student with Asperger’s syndrome.

Devon Haist, 17, was diagnosed with Asperger’s in 2010. Before that, his mother said that he often had trouble socializing in school. Haist went to a public middle school. After having panic attacks from crowding and loud bells, his parents decided to transfer him to an online school. Later, they tried a private school. 

Cindy Haist, Devon’s mother, said that he always had a rough time in public school. In 2011, Anderson School District 5 decided to open a charter school. Cindy felt this would be be beneficial to her son. 

Once he began attending the charter school, Devon found his place. He is able to take classes in machine technology and robotics. Devon is also able to participate in a dual enrollment program at Tri-County Technical College. He will be graduating next year with an Associate’s Degree as well as a certification in basic electronics. Devon hopes to follow his father and grandfather’s footsteps and go into engineering.

Cindy Haist says that from this program, Devon has learned to use eye contact and shake hands while interacting with other people. He has also learned to handle himself better.

Devon has also received other therapies to help cope with his Asperger’s symptoms. He saw a therapist for a while who helped him with anxiety and recognizing social cues. He has also completed 45 treatments of transcranial magnetic stimulation to help improve his socialization.  

Cindy Haist says that everyone has seen an improvement, not only because of his treatment, but also because of a better school education.

Written By Sejal Sheth

Guinea Pigs and Autistic Children Get Along Well

guinea pig autism therapy

According to a recent article published in Developmental Psychobiology, guinea pigs are animals that help children with Autism Spectrum Disorder display more interactive social behaviors and become less anxious.

In previous research that had been done, the results were taken from parental or teacher surveys. However, this study is different because it looked at the level of arousal from three different children (one autistic child and two typical developing children). Each child wore a wristband that measured the electric charge that races through skin.

The typically developing children reported being happy and had high levels of arousal. Researchers believe this is because children are excited by the idea of animals and playing with them. Children with autism also reported feeling happy but their level of arousal had declined. This could suggest that the animals lowered their level of stress and anxiety.

This research could be used as a type of intervention for teachers without many resources. Geraldine Dawson, the director of the Duke Center for Autism and Brain Development, says that it may be easier for children with autism to interact when there is a third object rather than a face-to-face interaction. 

Another study, carried out by Marguerite E. O’Haire from Purdue University, gave groups of three children with varying abilities two guinea pigs to play with. The study found that there was improved sociability for all children.  The children had the opportunity to feed, pet, photograph, groom, draw the animals, and clean their cages. After the eight-week test period, typical and children on the spectrum described the guinea pig as their best friend.

Deborah Fein, an autism expert at University of Connecticut, says that when you lower a child’s anxiety level, they pick up social skills incidentally. Along with that, the guinea pigs can be used to teach children with autism empathy and responsibility.

Check out the original article at New York Times Blog.

By Sejal Sheth

The Easiest Thing You’ll Do All Day- ICareTV is Just A Click Away!


Today, more people are hearing this word than at any point in human history.

But if you ask the world, “What is autism?” the responses vary.

To some, this word conjures up thoughts of people with superhuman abilities to organize and remember facts. To others, it is a strange disorder that makes it hard for some people to socially interact.

And for many, “autism” is the reason why they struggle for employment, why they are denied an education, why they are excluded from society’s definition of “normal”.

Since it was first formally recognized in the 1940’s, our society has made impressive steps to improve the  lives of those on the autism spectrum. Autism awareness increases daily and doctors are getting to know the signs better all the time.

But, where do we go from here? How do we take the next step towards global awareness, inclusion, and acceptance?

What the world needs is CARE:

Connections with the most experienced autism experts in the world

Accurate and immediate autism news and research updates

Revolutionary training videos for parents and caregivers

Education on autism that’s free and easy to access

Shema Kolainu’s Autism Webinar portal, iCareTV, provides what our global community truly needs to make the next step towards improving the lives of those with autism.

If life is a movie,  iCareTV allows the global community to look at it through a new lens.

With iCareTV, the world can watch in-depth workshops and webinars from leading professionals in the field, including Anat Baniel, Ari Ne’Eman, and Stephen Shore.

At the heart of this initiative is a common mission to provide greater awareness of new autism information and research findings. To provide a trustworthy, alternative autism news network. And, to provide a solid community of support for a world that deserves to understand autism better.

Making a real impact today is easier than you think. In this big world we live in, we are connected by a common hope that future generations are able to lead better lives. Make that hope a reality!

Register for free within a few minutes today:

Autism Mom Shares Tips for a Healthy Marriage

tips for maintaining marriage with autism

There’s no doubt that extra stress on a relationship can cause some issues. However, Julie Green has plenty of advice to share on how to keep your marriage strong while having a child with special needs. She’s been married for 15 years and is a mother for 10. Although Green claims to be no expert, these methods have been successful for her.

  1. Work as a team.

This actually applies to parenting in general but crucial for those with an autistic child. Things tend to to fall apart when you start to work against each other. Instead, work with each other. Remember you are all on the same team, which also includes the child. So no one should feel like the enemy. The main goal is try and achieve a better understanding of your child.

  1. Designate an Autism-Free Time.

This may be odd to hear, and even more difficult to do especially if the diagnosis is fresh. Of course a majority of the time you will need to talk about it. But autism can often dominate your entire day and conversation. Even when the child goes to sleep parents read books and watch documentaries to try and learn more. It’s important to have a time and space that’s ASD-free where you can focus on unrelated challenges you face.

  1. Set aside couple time.

Finding the time and money to go on a date can be challenging. Even if there is room in the budget for night out, it’s hard to find a good babysitter who has experience with special needs children. But a night at home can be just as beneficial, even if it’s just lighting some candles, dancing in the living room, or watching something on Netflix.

  1. Have each other’s back.

Everyone reaches a boiling point at one time or another. And when your child is having a meltdown it’s important to be calm and level headed. Have your spouse take over while you take a break and settle your nerves.

  1. Be understanding.

One parent, out of necessity, is often more versed in autism than the other. Julie recalls that at times she noticed herself being bossy, nagging, or correcting her husband on how to handle their child. Don’t point fingers or blame one another. Remember to be mindful and share the information.

For the full article please visit

By Raiza Belarmino

Solutions to Sensory Integration Dysfunction

sensory processing disorder

We live in a physical world. No matter how still or silent our surroundings may be, our bodies are always detecting the sights, sounds, smells, and tactile sensations around us.

Your average neurotypical person might feel most at ease in a ratty sweatshirt and a pair of blue jeans. A child with sensory processing disorder, on the other hand, cannot stand the polyester these materials contain and feels on edge whenever she wears them. She has a very different perception of the same material. This doesn’t mean that her senses are “inferior,” they are simply different.

One of the hallmark symptoms of autism spectrum disorder is SPD. This is characterized by having a disorganized manner of feeling and processing certain tactile sensations. What may feel slightly rough to one person may feel like sandpaper to an individual with ASD. However, the same can happen with stereotypically “soft” items like cotton or silk.

Rather than providing comfort, as they would for most, they agitate the individual and cause them to go into a sensory overload often culminating in a meltdown. If you were constantly in pain, wouldn’t you be screaming out too?

Due to the fact that everyone’s preferences are so individual, it’s difficult to determine what the best course of action is for maintaining a comfortable environment.  The best way to do this is through a simple test of trial-and-error. Of course, the stakes are different for children who become distressed at the touch of certain materials. It is best not to bombard them with potential disturbances.

A better solution would be to gradually and non-forcefully present them with items that could cause a reaction.  Sensory processing is not a simple problem to solve; however, starting off with something as simple as a test of yes-or-no presentations may be a step in the right direction to making the world a little less stressful for them.

By Sara Power