Category Archives: Special Education

Video-based therapy may help treat infants at risk for autism

video based therapy for autism

In the year 2000, one child out of 150 children born was diagnosed with autism.  Today, one out of 68 children will now be affected by it.  As the number of children born with autism increases each year, doctors are attempting to treat the condition by testing children as early as three or four years old.

Early signs of autism in babies, such as not responding to their names by one year of age or not showing any interest in objects by 14 months, can be an indicator that therapy may be needed to prevent further advancement of the condition.  Some families have a relatively low risk of having a child born with autism, while other families are more likely to have a child who has the condition if they have a family history of autism.

Dr. Jonathan Green and his team at the University of Manchester in the UK are now studying the effects of an adapted Video Interaction for Promoting Positive Parenting Program (i-BASIS-VIPP), a new treatment for early onset autism in infants.  The treatment uses video feedback that allows parents to learn how to communicate with their child’s unique communication style.  Over time, this could help the child develop stronger communication and social skills.

With the help of a therapist, video recordings of parent-infant interactions are done privately in the parents’ home.  When reviewing the recordings, parents can view how they can improve their interactions with their infant.  The study used 54 families who had an infant between seven to 10 months old.  During a five month period, some families used i-BASIS-VIPP treatment, while the other families received no treatment.

At the end of the experiment, the Autism Observation Scale for Infants (AOSI) was used to determine autism scores of the infants in the study.  The infants of the families who used the new treatment showed improved attention and social behavior and had lower AOSI scores than the children who received no treatment at all.

Although the study has not yet proven to eliminate autism in babies, it is a stepping stone for more research that will reveal more about the effects of i-BASIS-VIPP and its possibilities of reducing early autism symptoms.

Mara Papleo, Cleveland State University



Nonverbal Children Show Marked Improvement Using Video Series

 

Gemiini

An innovative yet relatively simple video series therapy may prove effective in treating speech disorders.

Laura Kasbar’s twins were diagnosed with autism as young children. They did not respond to the speech therapies offered to them, so Kasbar realized that she had to search for an effective solution to their speaking difficulty.

Now Kasbar’s twins are grown and they excel college. Their mother claims that a large part of their success can be credited to her invention, The Gemiini System. This series of speech therapy videos may soon be reaching children all over the country, or possibly the world.

Videos from the Gemiini System lay things out in a way that children understand. For each word, a child appears onscreen accompanied by a picture demonstrating the word’s meaning. The word is spoken slowly and clearly several times. This includes a close up of the child’s mouth when speaking the word.

The Gemiini system uses a method called “discreet video modeling.” This method is effective for many because it presents words with their associations so the children grasp their meaning. This direct approach allows autistic children to concentrate on learning.

Dr. Amanda Adams, Clinical Director of The California Autism Center and Learning Group in Fresno, California, is interested in using the Gemiini system, stating it can work well when combined with other therapies.

“Along with good behavior intervention, a good school program and all of the other pieces still in play, this tool I see as a supplement.” says Adams.

Dr. Heather O’Shea with autism therapy provider ACES in Fresno, is looking forward to using this therapy within her own company.

“We’re very excited about it. We are starting to implement it, the research is giving me great hope,” says Dr. O’Shea.

Since Laura Kasbar’s twins have progressed so well, she is optimistic about the success of other children using The Gemiini System. She emphasizes the importance of starting such therapies young, in order to increase the chances of lessening or eliminating speech difficulties the children face.

These videos are available online for parents, teachers, and therapists. This is good news for families that struggle with insurance coverage for the therapies they need.

The website asserts that The Gemiini System may also be used for children who struggle with reading. Additionally, Kasbar says the system is effective for adults who need speech therapy. These include stroke survivors, those affected by dementia, and patients with traumatic brain injury.



Seven Ways to Use Play-Based Therapy with Your Child

kid play

A number of different therapies can be beneficial to improving the social and motor skills of an autistic child. Some examples include Applied Behavioral Analysis and Pivotal Response Training. Methods that include your child’s favorite playtime activities can be effective for improving their symptoms if used in a way they respond well to.

Play-based therapy can help with your child’s skills in the areas of communication, fine and gross motor development, joint attention, peer socializing, patience, following directions, and much more. Play therapy may be structured in certain ways that children with autism respond well to.

Though behaviors and symptoms vary widely amongst the spectrum, children with asd tend to exhibit “stimming” tendencies. Stimming refers to repetitive behaviors that may serve to comfort the child. Children with autism also commonly prefer rigid structure in their daily activities and often have difficulty when patterns change and things do not play out as expected. Implementing play-based methods can help them cope with unexpected situations, and can improve their sense of security in general.

Here are some tips for using play therapy effectively with a child on the autistic spectrum:

1. Start out on the same playing field.

The child will respond better if they are coaxed out of their comfort zone slowly, not forced into it. Take it one step at a time for the best outcome; do not expect anything to happen overnight.

2. Participate in activities you know they already enjoy.

You can do this by watching the child and mirroring their behavior. Imitate what they are doing. He or she will feel like they are part of something when you actively participate.

3. Make small changes to their activities to expand their thinking.

Again, start with small steps. For example, if the child likes playing with toy cars, take one of the cars and make it do something new.

4. Work up to making them more comfortable with sharing.

If your child does not respond well when others touch their belongings, slowly increase the amount of interaction you have with them that involves taking things away.

5. Communicate even if they do not respond.

For a child who struggles with verbalization, getting the words out can be a challenge. Comment on your child’s activities even if they do not converse back.

6. Show them their needs are important to you.

Try to offer them things they might want often. If they are comfortable and enjoying themselves, they will learn to associate you with positivity.

7. Be fun, enthusiastic, and engaging.

Show genuine interest in the child and what they are doing.

Check out the original article here



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

basketball

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

Dr. Shore Presents

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Simulated Flight Prepares Autistic Children for Plane Travel

Autistic children at airport

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



How Autistic Children Can Benefit from Horticultural Therapy

autistic children gardening

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can read the original article here.



Nonprofit Helps Families Affected by Autism Cope with Daily Challenges

mature child

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the original article here



Service Dogs Provide Assistance to Families Affected by Autism

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Autism and Race, are they connected?

autism and race

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

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

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

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

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