Category Archives: Special Education

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

Coffee Brings Together Families of Autistic Kids

coffee with autism

One of the disadvantages of having an autistic child is that it’s often hard for other families to understand and relate. In an effort to connect with other moms like her, Jessica Kitney created Coffee With a Side of Autism.

Coffee With a Side of Autism is a family support group for parents and children who have family members on the autism spectrum. At each meeting, families in the Belleville, Canada community are able to meet others who can understand and relate to daily life struggles.

Kitney founded this support group as a result of her son, Andy, being diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Andy, who is on the severe end of the autism spectrum, is also nonverbal. The daily struggle was difficult for Kitney, so in late March she started the organization.

Kitney says that Andy has helped her grow so much. She credits him as her inspiration for getting the support group off the ground. During Kitney and Andy’s journey, Kitney felt that finding support was hard and that many friends distanced themselves after learning about Andy’s diagnosis.

Coffee With a Side of Autism provides families with support and play group. Parents, caregivers, and kids are all welcome. The group meets for two hours every fourth Monday of the month. Parents and children are not required to register, and the flexible meetings allow them to show up whenever is convenient for them. Kitney says she understands that sometimes problems arise and members aren’t able to make it. By knowing this, she wanted to create a support group that was easy-going and comfortable for all who come out.

By offering playgroup, Coffee With a Side of Autism is also an opportunity for children with ASD to make friends. Social interactions and communication skills are a known difficulty for autistic kids, so by having a playgroup, the like-minded kids are able to relate to each other.

By Sejal Sheth

The Case for Avonte’s Law


The murmur of Avonte Oquendo’s name still burns nearly two years after the Autistic teenager’s body was found in the East River.

Since then, have we done enough to avoid such grave reoccurrences? Lawmakers haven’t moved much on the subject. Maybe it’s because such incidents are rare? The numbers show that just the opposite is true.

Numerous Autistic children have wandered off and were never seen alive again. Research indicates that almost one out of two Autistic children has the tendency to wander off. However, over ninety percent of parents fear that their Autistic child is at risk of doing so.

Luckily, these numbers can be immensely reduced. Let our mourning for Oquendo and others like him motivate proper action. Let us translate our sorrow into demands for safety. Let us take action now— before another child goes missing.

Advocates are calling for new safety protocols for those with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Thankfully, one has been drawn up in loving memory of the New York City student. “Avonte’s Law” (S. 163) was introduced by the U.S. Senator Charles Schumer in 2014, a day after Avonte’s funeral.

“Avonte’s Law” aims to reduce the risk of harm or death of individuals who tend to wander off, including individuals with ASD and those suffering of Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, the law will “safeguard the well-being of individuals with disabilities during interactions with law enforcement” as well as “increase their personal safety and survival skills,” as notes the Autism Safety Coalition’s website. Furthermore, the website states that Avonte’s Law will implement procedures to educate others on minimizing the risk of wandering. This not only means training law enforcement agencies and first responders, but also schools and the general public.

According to Senator Schumer, the Department of Justice would finance optional electronic tracking devices for individuals at risk of getting lost. These devices, worn as a watch or even sewn into clothing, emit signals to first responders in order to find the wanderer as quickly as possible, before harm hits. Senator Schumer calls them “a high-tech solution to an age-old problem.” Furthermore, as a preventative measure, twenty-one thousand audible door alarms are being installed in New York schools before the end of the year, says deputy schools chancellor Elizabeth Rose.

“It’s a commonsense bill,” said Wendy Fournier of the National Autism Association. The Bill is highly supported by the Autism Safety Coalition, a group of national organizations united to promote national safety policies specifically aimed at individuals with ASD or other developmental disabilities.

Unfortunately, Avonte’s Law has not been passed, yet. It is up to us to inform our senators that the Law is a smart solution to a pressing problem. We must persuade them to co-sponsor S.163. To learn more about Avonte’s Law, browse Autism Safety Coalition’s website at .

Written by Maude Plucker

Photo source:

Safety In the Summer: Autism Cards

autism summer safety

Ahhh! Summer is officially here! The sun is out, the days are longer, and school is over!

The summer months are a great time for the entire family to relax, go to the beach, or watch a ballgame. Going on vacation is another great activity where families can explore a new place and create long lasting memories.

But big events and family outings like these can cause some concerns for parents. These days, many parents are utilizing “Autism Identification” in order to help keep their children safe when out of the house. Making it clear that a child has autism can ease concerns if they are discovered by a stranger. In this scary event, it becomes easier for the child to get the help they need.

Here are three forms of Autism Identification that can help ease parents’ stress:

1. Autism ID Card: One of the most agreed upon issues is better training for first responders like police officers, firemen, medical personnel, and others. This card explains autism as a medical condition that hinders the person’s ability to communicate with others. So not answering questions or follow directions should not be perceived as refusal to cooperate. On the back, the card lists an emergency contact number.

2. Medical ID Bracelets: This includes important medical information that can be helpful during an emergency situation or if a child were to become lost. They help locate the parent, caregiver, or physician if necessary. At times accidents may leave a person unable to talk. Having this bracelet would help give medical staff the information that they need.

3. “Hand in Autism” Autism Info Card: Many parents may have experienced embarrassment when their child displays negative behavior in public. They take this opportunity to educate others about autism by passing around the info card. The card includes some information about how many people are affected and some common difficulties individuals with autism may have.

Although we focused on summer vacation safety, these forms of ID are useful all year round. Information is the key and can really make a difference during a time of urgency. It helps the assisting personnel or authority figures properly asses situations. All the cards described above can be purchased online at a low cost. The Hand in Autism Info cared is actually a free download!

Written by Raiza Belarmino

Mom Seeks Shelter For Son With Behavioral Issues

shelter for behavioral problems

Hitting, head banging, physical aggression, and self-injury are all means of communication for 17 year old Austin to send the message that “he is not OK.”

When this behavior starts, his mother Heather Ratcliffe responds quickly either by turning down the television or changing the channel. If things don’t go his way, the situation can get bad. There have been times where Heather was head butted, thrown to the ground, or had her hair pulled by her son- all in an attempt to get his point across.

At 23 months Austin was diagnosed with severe developmental delay on the autism spectrum. Over the years, like many children, he grew – taller, wider, and stronger. With the combination of frustration and strength he began to exhibit dangerous behavior to himself and his family members whenever he became upset.

This was the family’s warning sign. Austin’s behavior had changed and it became less manageable. Heather then knew she needed more help and decided to put Austin on a list for residential housing for individuals with special needs. It was a very hard day but she realized her son needed more specialized and professional care than she was able to provide for him.

As years passed the family became less and less hopeful that help would arrive. Unfortunately, Heather is not alone in this dilemma. Pat Muir, chairman of Family Advocates United, says “Those families often spend years – not days or weeks – on that list. And that is too long.”

It wasn’t until Austin’s younger brother, Brendan, wrote a letter to New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo. In his correspondence, he shared his personal experiences at home, expressing that something needed to be done about Austin.

On April 22, after 5 years of waiting, Austin was given a spot at the Lifetime Assistance home on Chili Avenue. Although it has only been a few months, he has really improved his behavior and has been able to experience new things. The home has passes to local museums, something Heather has difficulty offering herself.

In an earlier post we discussed 5 tips for teenagers transitioning to adulthood. We suggested to apply for residential housing early, far before the deadline approaches. There are resources available but processing can take quite some time. In the case of Austin and Heather, the family was placed on the wait list for 5 years before landing a spot. Those years are crucial and it is usually to the child’s detriment to wait years for available housing.

To read the original article please visit The Democrat & Chronicle

Written by Raiza Belarmino

Maine Family Moved Across State Lines For Better Autism Services

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A family from Carmel, Maine was forced to move after not being able to find services for their adult autistic child. The Levasseur’s are planning on moving to Virgina, where they hope to find help.

Michael Levasseur, who is 19 years old and has a high school diploma, has been able to hold a few jobs. He also tries to live as independently as he can but he requires supervision. Along with that, Maine’s assistance programs are having funding problems. This has led to individuals being put on waitlists for services they are eligible for but not able to receive.

The Levasseur family had to leave New Hampshire when Michael was 2 years old because there weren’t services for autistic children. Now, they are having the same problem. Michael had the option of staying in school for 2 more years but he opted out of it. He said that he wouldn’t have been able to participate in swim team and he didn’t feel like it was worthwhile.

Michael has always required supervision. His mother, Cynthia, has had to switch or quit jobs to help him. This has led to financial difficulty in the family. However, most recently, Cynthia has been working at G.E.A.R Parent Network, which is a network that offers advice and guidance for parents who have children with behavioral health needs. She says that it is a great job because it helps parents understand and figure out the government bureaucracy, something that she has experience in.

Michael is a high functioning autistic person. Because of this, he is able to cook for himself, use public transportation, and manage some of his money. However, this means that he is also unable to qualify for programs that support housing services. Michael was able to qualify for a state run program that provides job coaches, day activities, and support. But when the 19 year old brought home a pre-made frame, decorated with stickers, his family realized they wanted more for him.

In 2014, the Levasseurs were able to catch the attention of Governor Paul LePage. LePage presented their story in the State of the State address.  LePage suggested increasing spending in order to provide services for elderly and disabled residents of Maine. Gov. LePage and the Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew have been working hard to convince legislators to consider increasing funding yet their priorities do not match.

Luckily for our students here at Shema Kolainu, all of their therapy services are provided in a close-knit environment. The kids have experienced enormous growth as they are prepared for adulthood. Getting capable students with autism ready for adulthood is such an important priority as more of them reach maturity every year, ready to contribute to the work force.

Cynthia Levasseur says that she worries about other families. She doesn’t want them to be forced to sell their homes or put a loved one into a nursing home. In Virginia, the Levasseur family hopes to find work for their son so he can continue to live his life.

Original coverage for this article sourced from Bandor Daily News.

Written by Sejal Sheth

Autism Parenting: High Stress, High Rewards

stressed out mother

Mothers of adolescents and adults with autism show signs of chronic stress similar to soldiers in combat and struggle with recurring fatigue and work interruptions, new studies report. These mothers also devote significantly more time caregiving than those with non-disabled children. 

Researchers kept track of a group of mothers of adolescents and adults with autism for eight days. At the end of each day, the mothers were interviewed about their experiences. On four of the days, researchers measured the subjects’ hormone levels to evaluate their stress.

They found that one of the hormones associated with stress was very low, similar to people suffering from chronic stress such as soldiers in combat, researchers say in one of two studies published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.

These findings show that this is the “physiological residue of daily stress,” according to Marsha Mailick Seltzer, a researcher at University of Wisconsin-Madison who organized the studies. But while it is clear that mothers of children “with high levels of behavioral problems,” we still do not know the long-term effects on their physical health.

However, such hormone levels have been connected with chronic health problems such as decreased immune functioning, glucose regulation, and mental activity.

A companion study shows that mothers of children with autism spend at least two more hours per day caregiving than mothers of children without disabilities. These moms were twice as likely to be tired and three times as likely to have experienced a stressful event, researchers report.  

Furthermore, these moms were interrupted at work far more frequently than other moms, causing tension with their employers. 

Still, raising a child with autism does not mean that all positivity will be drained from one’s life. In fact, an article by Michelle Diament from Disability Scoop says:

“Despite all of this, mothers of an individual with autism were just as likely to have positive experiences each day, volunteer or support their peers as those whose children have no developmental disabilities…”

The real issue here is how to give mothers with special needs children the support that they need. These mothers experience high levels of stress in their daily lives, so they have less time to themselves. According to Leann Smith, a developmental psychologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who worked on the study, “we need to find better ways to be supportive of these families.

One way to improve the situation, researchers suggest, is to participate in behavioral management programs, for they can “go a long way toward improving the situation for mothers and their kids alike.”

Written by Nina Bergold

Finding the Right Words to Say: Accommodating Nonverbal Speakers

nonverbal autistic

We take our ability to speak for granted. The ability to say exactly what is on your mind at any given time is in fact a very unique gift, one that not all people are afforded.

It’s only in the absence of this ability that people realize just how significant a role it plays throughout our day to day lives. No one knows this better than the families of nonverbal individuals.

Though autism is not always accompanied by an inability to speak, it is not wholly uncharacteristic. Nonverbality affects nearly 25% of this population. As with the disorder itself, there is no cure for this handicap, only treatment to alleviate the limitations it creates.

Families of nonverbal speakers have to work harder than most to create an environment in which the individual not only gets attention, but has their needs and desires met. For the families of Jaydan Murphy and Colton Smith, this statement could not ring more true. Through therapy, they’ve devised their own languages dependent on gestures, sounds, and eye contact. Whether the boys wish to have a certain toy in their presence or they feel some kind of discomfort that needs to be alleviated, communication requires patience as they form conversations with their parents through alternate means.

Though both boys have the option of using alternative communication devices, which essentially speak for them, they, like many others, prefer a more direct form. Over the years, their parents have had to learn what the significance of a single syllable might mean or interpret what a gesture like knee patting connotes. Bona Vista, a therapeutic program that both families use, have enabled them to do as such.

It’s important to remember that communication, while sometimes limited by autism, is not totally unattainable. The Murphys and Smiths, with the aid of Bona Vista, have been able to establish their own language, in which both parents and children are able to participate equally. It hasn’t always been an easy road, but it is a promising one: something families new to this experience must keep in mind.

Written by Sara Power, Fordham University

Autism Preschool Soon To Be in Knoxville

autistic preschool

Brent and Jaime Hemsley are the parents of 5 year old Logan, who has autism. For most of his life he has been nonverbal; this began to turn around 5 months ago.

One night, as Brent was putting his son down for bed he told the boy he loved him. So far, this was the normal nightly routine. Unexpectedly, Logan replied to his father in a very clear manner, “I love you.” It was a beautiful moment Brent would never forget. He credits it to the years of therapy Brent has attended.

Through this experience the Hemsleys were inspired to create The Autism Achievement Academy. It will be the first preschool in Knoxville especially design for children with autism.

When trying to locate resources, the Hemsleys noticed there weren’t enough services available in their area. They found some programs and people available to help, but they were often met with long waiting lists and backlogs. An even bigger issue was when they did get the services they needed, they would only receive about one or two hours. But the recommendation for children is to get 25-40 hours of individual intensive care and instruction.

The idea for the preschool came after touring Hope Academy in Greenville, South Carolina. Jamie was particularly impressed with the real classrooms, filled with children who had similar diagnoses and received plenty of individual attention. She wanted to have that experience for her son and other children in Knoxville.

They Hemsleys hope to start school in the fall with only 1 preschool class. However, they also hope to expand throughout the years. The school is currently under an application process for non profit status. A curriculum, teacher, and administrative leadership has already been lined up. But the project is in need for more funding and a building. There will be a fundraiser held in late July to help cover finances.

Written by Raiza Belarmino

Words that Parents of Autistic Children Love to Hear

things to say to autistics

Raising a child with autism is rife with ups and downs. Parents are often the child’s biggest advocates- the true heroes who deserve to commended.

According to a blogger for The Mighty who is also an autism parent, there are certain approaches that are more welcomed when touching on the sensitive topic of autism in the family. Below is some of her advice for using the right words to say when referring to a beloved special needs child.

1. Recognize how far the child has come.

2. Emphasize what they are good at.

3. Focus on a positive example of a successful person with autism that resounds with you.

4. Ask if there is anything you can do to help.

5. Sympathize with their intense emotions and sensory perception which is probably more overwhelming than your own.

6. Take note of how fascinating this child’s mind is- their autism gives them an amazing ability to see things others cannot.

7. Tell his parent how much he loves them; they will really appreciate it.

8. Take the time to get in their head and try to figure out what they are thinking.

9. If you have questions, don’t be afraid to ask them because an autism advocate always wants to educate others.

10. Mention the ways the child has educated you and how they have enriched your world view.

11. Provide a listening ear and companionship to ease the struggling a caring parent endures every single day.

12. Offer to be the one to provide something the child needs, like the one food they reliably eat.

Above all, show empathy and understanding. The child or adult with autism may have severe language deficits. It is possible to say so many things without uttering a single word. On the other hand, an hour-long conversation might be the best thing an exhausted mother needs.

Written by Hannah Jay