Category Archives: Treatment

Swimming Lessons for Autistic Children: Pros and Cons

autism swimming lessons

There are hundreds of articles and videos on the Internet dedicated to teaching kids with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) how to swim. The exercise has a great number of benefits in itself, but it can be particularly beneficial for individuals on the autism spectrum.

There are numerous physical benefits. Research indicates that children with ASD who follow hydrotherapy treatment may see an increase in overall fitness, specifically measured by improved balance, speed, flexibility, and endurance. These are areas in which autistic children are often limited. 

Swimming is a great way to get fit while avoiding the high impact that other exercises like running can have on joints. The largest muscles in the body are used for swimming, which in turn promotes the development of gross motor skills. Roughly nineteen percent of children with ASD are overweight, and just under 40% are at risk of becoming so. It is crucial for these children to stay active, for excess weight may cause an increased risk for other health issues such as bone and joint problems, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

Furthermore, depression is a possible consequence of being overweight. Swimming can be fun and increase strength, which is why so many people encourage that all children, not just those with ASD, learn to swim and practice often.

In addition, there are social benefits to learning to swim. It may offer children with ASD the opportunity to practice communicating and following directions. The impaired ability to communicate is common for individuals on the spectrum, so this may be one of the greatest challenges in teaching them to swim. However, when done effectively, it has been said that these children made progress in their ability to concentration on a task and also respond to others.

It is both fortunate and unfortunate that children with ASD are often attracted to bodies of water. This is fortunate because they may be enthusiastic to learn to swim, an exercise that may pertain many benefits. However, this attraction is also unfortunate because water can be dangerous, especially for autistic individuals who have a tendency to elope or wander away from safe, supervised areas. According to the National Autism Association, drowning is one of the leading causes of death for individuals with ASD. The question becomes: will teaching my child to swim encourage him/her to approach water, possibly putting him/her at greater risk of drowning? Or should I avoid teaching my child to swim in the hopes that he/she will feel too insecure to approach water?

In response to an article entitled “How to Keep Children with Autism Safe Around Water,” “Eileen,” the mother of a twenty-two year old son with severe autism, says she completely disagrees that autistic children should learn to swim. Eileen points out that autistic children are often drawn to water because it feels good and calms them. However, the danger, she says, is that these children may not distinguish a supervised body of water from an unsupervised one and, with a “false sense of security,” may jump in and drown.

In contrast, Dana Walker, the mother of a nine year old autistic boy, is glad she choose to enroll her son in swimming lessons. “I know that with additional practice, Brady will beat the odds that are so against our children that have autism and water concerns,” she says. By doing some research, Walker found a qualified and enthusiastic institution that was dedicated to teaching Brady to swim safely. Walker adds, “I will be comforted knowing that he is learning the skills that will keep him safe near and in the water.”

Each parent must think long and hard about their decision to enroll their autistic child in swimming lessons. While drowning is the leading cause of death for individuals with ASD, many of these children learn to swim, adore it, and are equipped with swimming techniques to handle these situations. It is up to you to evaluate the pros and the cons and make a decision that feels right for your family!

Written by Maude Plucker



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



New Lego Therapy to Help Build Communication

lego therapy for autism

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

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

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

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

Some skills that are strengthened through this therapy are:

•   Verbal and Nonverbal Communication

•   Sharing and Taking Turns

•   Listening and Following Directions 

•   Goal Planning

•   Teamwork and Problem Solving

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

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

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

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

Written by Raiza Belarmino



7 Things to Consider When Getting a Service Dog

autism service dog

We’ve heard the research, and we’ve heard the personal testimonials. Service dogs offer countless benefits to those with disabilities including autism. But the entire process can be very difficult and sometimes comes with a hefty price tag.

You may have seen offers that promise completed training in less than a year or training for an existing pet. Although it sounds very tempting, you probably want to steer clear of these offers. The amount of time and work required to instill obedience simply cannot be done in this time frame. Also, use caution with resources like Facebook, Twitter, Craigslist, etc. Reputable businesses/organizations are often in high demand and have no need to advertise.

Instead, here are some tips to help guide you when getting a service dog:

1. Check out Assistance Dog International. This organization requires all of its members to adhere to certain standards of training, placement, and utilization of assistance dogs. Some requirements include initial 6 month follow ups, annual followups thereafter, humane methods of animal treatment, ethical practices, working well with clients and meeting their needs, and complying to legal regulations. Businesses who aren’t members of this organization should be looked at more closely.

2. Review application processes thoroughly. Due to high demand, service dogs are very limited. Those companies who offer less than a year should be treated with skepticism. Questionnaires typically ask for the age of the child, who will be trained, whether there are other pets in the home, what support the child may need, and current therapies in place. Questions about payment should not be included, though general costs and fundraising are often brought up.

3. Obtain referrals. Talk to people in your area. You can often ask the business for families you can contact for references and feedback. This is your chance to ask questions about the application process, training, follow ups, and their overall experience.

4. Contact IRS and BBB. Many organizations claim to operate as nonprofits and this can be verified by contacting the IRS. This may seem odd to do, but if they are lying about that, they are likely being dishonest about other things as well. You can look into reviews on BBB and also Yelp.

5. Research names and credentials of trainers and volunteers. Check to see employees are certified trainers to confirm you will be receiving quality training.

6. Become knowledgable about the breed. Service dogs for autistic individuals are often calm-mannered, family-friendly breeds; typically Golden Retrievers, Labradors, or a mix of the two. Do some research on your own to be more familiar with the type of dog. You should also ask where they get the dogs from and why they chose the specific breed.

7. Make a contract. This is a service that will take some time, so it’s best to have a contract that outlines exactly what services you will be receiving from the business or organization. You should not send money until the contract has been signed unless there is a small registration fee.

Service dogs can provide so many advantages but must be done in the right away to get all the benefits. It can be quite an overwhelming process but with these 7 steps you can find a great organization that will help match you with just the right dog.

Written by Raiza Belarmino



Innovative Sensory Therapy Shows Promising Results

 

autism therapy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Raiza Belarmino



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.



A Passport to Understanding the Nonverbal

nonverbal communication autism

Non-verbality is problematic not only for the obvious impediment to social interaction, but also because it impedes necessary communication. Statistics state that persons on the autism spectrum and other learning disabilities can die up to 20 years prematurely due to a lack of care.

It’s important to note that such a lack of care is not malicious; practitioners and family members simply do not always know when their loved one is in distress. What might appear to be routine stimming (i.e. flapping of the hands) may actually be an attempt to signal an ailment or discomfort for which they cannot find the words to express.

The problem is multi-fold. First, persons with ASD sometimes lack the self-awareness to identify that they are ill or in pain. Second, they may not have the appropriate means to alert others to their distress. Third, certain individuals who are hyposensitive simply may not feel what would be extremely painful for typically developing people. Of course, there are many other reasons behind this debacle, and these are just a few.

To combat such issues, medical health care professionals have developed systems such as visual pain scales, EasyHealth demonstrations, and Books Beyond Words. The latter are particularly useful because they give visual representations of how a person might feel, describe, and treat their ailments.

For those who are nonverbal, the struggle is all the more difficult because they have few means, if any, to properly alert caregivers to their ailments. To combat this, the National Autistic Society has created “passports” for such autistics that they carry on them, detailing their medical history and needs. By compiling this information in a mobile manner, professionals understand why the individual may be acting unusual and possibly identify what the source of their problem is based on past occurrences.

Just because a person can’t say what they’re feeling doesn’t mean that they don’t feel it. Not only does this apply to the autistic community, but to the global community at large. In order to benefit the masses, it’s vital to remember that we don’t all say what’s wrong. Sometimes listening with our eyes, ears, and hearts is the best bridge toward understanding.

By Sara Power, Fordham University



Tennessee’s Artistic Spectrum

artistic spectrum launches

This month, Eastern Tennessee will be raising awareness for Autism Spectrum Disorder in the form of a number of traveling attractions.

Artistic Spectrum is a non-profit founded in Knoxville. They are dedicated to providing creative and recreational opportunities for children on the spectrum while also educating the public about their special needs.

Their goals are three-fold:

  • To organize fine art workshops which develop the individual talents of persons with ASD

  • To facilitate family-oriented events where children with ASD are welcomed and accepted

  • To work with other arts venues and museums to create Autism Arts opportunities for families to attend fine arts performances and events

Thus far, this month’s events have comprised of speciality cocktail hours, sensory-friendly haircuts, and an art field trip via “the Love Bus.” It will be interesting to see what else they have in store for the days to come!



Interpreting the Correlation between Infant Communication and Autism Onset

autism diagnosis

Over the years, researchers have fiercely debated the origins of autism. Theories regarding its conception have targeted everything from inattentive parents to biological bases. Despite their sundry allegations, these theories all have one thing in common: an emphasis on infant development.

Experts maintain that a clear diagnosis of autism cannot be established until early toddlerhood. Before then, behaviors vary too much to create a firm connection. Studies regarding eye movement and tracking have come close to identifying early clues to autism’s onset; however, they remain somewhat insufficient to establish an accurate diagnosis.

Jonathan Green, professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at the University of Manchester, strives to substantiate an intensive evaluation and therapy approach that could create a stronger, more accurate method for infant diagnoses. He is currently supervising a study following 53 at-risk infants in order to document autism’s manifestation.

Green believes that it is a combination of genetic and parenting influences that activates autism during infancy. He has not been satisfied with the popular notion that biology alone determines autism development so he hopes to outline compounding factors. Thus far, he’s discovered that an intensive parental intervention correlates to increased social interaction and attention in the infants.

It is important to note that Green does not place the origin of autism on parents. Rather, he believes that parent-child relationships may simply influence the trajectory at which a biological predisposition towards autism may begin.

His intervention consists of training parents to recognize and interpret attempts at communication, fostering an interest in the infant’s changing attentions, and translating gestures into words to build verbal understanding. It also expounds on electroencephalography findings regarding brain response to speech sounds.

It is too soon to say whether this training can truly alter the course of autism’s development. Nevertheless, Green’s program does provide important feedback to parents regarding how their interactions play into the child’s development, whether they be typically developing or not.

“I don’t want to say that one can ‘cure’ autism like this, that’s not true,” Green says. “But I hope we’ll be able to make a difference.”

Sara Power, Fordham University



Study on Baby Horses Starts New Research on Autism

baby horses and autism research

It was an unexpected scene- soon after a baby horse was born, owner Ellen Jackson noticed it avoiding its mother and refusing to nurse.

After a few more similar incidents she contacted the University of California Davis veterinary expert John Madigan. He explained that these baby horses are being born with that is called neonatal maladjustment syndrome (MNS), which account for the detachment from their mothers.

To fix the issue he performs “the squeeze” technique where a soft rope is tied around the baby horse’s body. Then it is squeezed to apply increased pressure until the baby horse falls over and goes to sleep. After a few minutes have passed the pressure is released and the baby horse wakes up. When that is complete they see, in almost all cases, an improvement of interaction between the mother and baby horse.

But how does all this relate to humans with autism spectrum disorder? Madigan and a group of researchers are exploring the connection between high levels of neurosteroids (brain steroids) in the blood and development of autism. He states that their effects at different birth stages could give more insight as to why ASD develops later on.

The researchers believe that this study can provide important information on the development of Autism for pre-term infants, cesarean born babies, and newborns who spent little time in the birth canal. Madigan suggests that a lack of pressure through the birth canal prevents the body from receiving the proper signal to lower brain steroid levels.

Pas statistics have shown that those born within these circumstances have a higher likeliness to develop Autism. But is it due to the levels of brain steroids? That is what future research will tell. Madigan’s study on baby horses has prompted a new perspective on discovering a possible explanation for the development of ASD.

David Stevenson, a professor of pediatrics at Stanford University, has come together with Madigan to bring “the squeeze” technique to human infants. Although a little different, they will be using a method called “kangaroo care” which is more commonly used for premature babies. This method requires an almost naked infant is placed on the parent’s, or caregiver’s, chest for a long period of time. They hope to measure the steroid levels to see if there is a drop after this technique has been performed. They will then use these results to expand their research further and possibly find a connection with ASD.

Written by Raiza Belarmino