Category Archives: Treatment

Autism & Severe Problem Behavior: What Do We Do?

Some children on the spectrum experience very severe problem behavior, that includes causing themselves great physical harm or causing others harm, which poses a real challenge to parents, doctors, and educators alike when it comes to treatment.  Earlier this month a California couple was accused of keeping their 11-year-old autistic son in a cage, which elicited a lot of criticism and debate over how to best take care of those children who unfortunately engage in this behavior. Amy Lutz, the author of Each Day I Like It Better: Autism, ECT, and the Treatment of Our Most Impaired Children, and a mother of a severely autistic son, talks about how people are quick to judge when it comes to taking care of your child. Her son’s aggressive behaviors were so dangerous that he has to spend ten months at the Kennedy Krieger Institute at just nine years old. Without knowing the details and context for these parents accused of caging their own child, we can’t really say whether this was a form of abuse or maybe a short-term solution to a very difficult challenge.

Dr. Gregory Hanley, Professor of Psychology at the Western New England University and adjunct Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, gave a dynamic and informative workshop about how to assess and treat severe problem behavior for children with ASD at ICare4Autism’s International Autism Conference. He talked a lot about using effective and safe methods as a behavioral analyst to not only help children on the spectrum, but also making sure to treat them as an individual with dignity and respect. Much of the problem behavior that he used as examples throughout the workshop included children who would throw tantrums, or engage in self-harming behaviors, and even trying to physically harm others.

The method he described to work through these behaviors is called functional assessment. He then provided a few qualifications and adjustments to the way behavioral analysts used to and still do functional assessments. Many behavioral analysts can be afraid for their safety or the child’s especially if the case is one of producing physical injury. Dr. Hanley argues that with the right method and approach, the analyst can provide a safe environment that allows them to learn essentially what it is that causes the problem behavior. Functional assessments like the ones that Dr. Hanley described are just ways in which behavior can be treated, however, there are other cases where the problem behavior is in fact a mental issue that requires medical treatment. The medicine available today includes anti-depressants, anti-seizure drugs, or in extreme cases electroconvulsive therapy. 

We hope that as this field of research continues to grow, we can come to a better understanding about the individual and how to help them lead more successful lives. To see Dr. Hanley’s presentation slides used during his workshop, click HERE.



Using Technology as a Tool for Skill Development

Dr. Dana Reinecke Presenting at 2014 ICare4Autism Conference

Dr. Dana Reinecke gave a presentation at the 2014 International Autism Conference titled, “Technology Opens Doors for Students of All Ages on the Spectrum” where she discussed the best ways to use different aspects of technology to help those on the spectrum. She also discussed the reasons and situations where technology might not be so helpful and even so far as detrimental to a child’s development. For example, if the technology you are using does not actually meet a particular need that you may trying to address, if it becomes more of a distraction than it is helpful, and if it is too expensive and time consuming, then using technology may not be the best choice in your situation.
Another important point she was about using technology as a replacement for social interaction or as a babysitter for your child. Using technology too much and to the extent where it is being used in place of any other types of exercises can be counteractive towards the progress you are trying to make with your child or student.
​Young adults need to have social skills in today’s world to be able to ​maintain a job make personal decisions that are helpful and beneficial for their lives. Individuals need to be able to negotiate with others in order to have their needs met, which can be an especially difficult thing for people on the spectrum as many of them process the environment differently than we do.
​She also stressed the increase of autism diagnoses and rising need for different kinds of treatment and therapies to help people on the spectrum lead productive and fulfilling lives. Dealing with the stresses of daily life, the working life, the young adulthood life can be overwhelming for people who are not on the spectrum, and for people who are these could be disabling for them as they need certain skills in order to thrive in today’s social and tech savvy society. ​
Teachers, parents, and therapists all listened in to learn ways in which they could use technology to further their goals in teaching students on the spectrum different skills. She made sure to provide examples of sources as well as her own program design that people can create themselves to focus on specific needs. Overall, Dr. Reinecke was able to convey alot of useful tools for the audience.


Creating New Understanding around Autism Spectrum Disorder​

Dr. Stephen Shore presenting at 2014 ICare4Autism International Autism Conference

On Day 3 of the 2014 ICare4Autism International Autism Conference, Dr. Stephen Shore, assistant professor in the Special Education Dept. at Adelphi University and ICare4Autism Advisory Council member, gave a presentation of Autism and the Arts: Movement, Music, and the Sensory System. In his presentation he engaged audience by having them participate in an activity that would help them better understand what it means when autistic people experience sensory overload.

In groups of five, audience members chose one person to “have autism”, while the other people in the group were told to read loudly, tap the person’s head, scratch their necks, etc. The person designated to have autism’s goal then was to listen carefully to a passage being read to them by one of their group members in order to answer questions about it after. At the end of the activity, the audience shared their experience and feelings.  Many of the responses included feeling overwhelmed and annoyed, feeling the need to lash out or run away, and just an overall sense of loss as to how to appropriately complete their task and focus. 

The first step to helping an autistic person really is to understand the hows and whys of their feelings and actions. Behavioral therapists do a good job of this as they assess why children react or act out in certain ways and in turn, develop ways to help translate these behaviors into something productive. Dr. Shore’s demonstration let the audience have a glimpse into an autistic person’s mind who is suffering from sensory overload.  With that understanding comes the ability of the parent, teacher, therapist, or other professional, to better deal with and help the individual on the spectrum. 

Dr. Shore focuses on music therapy as an important creative outlet for students on the spectrum.  He has developed his own ways of teaching music that is tailored to the meet the needs of autistic individuals for example by having his students engage in a more visual and creative learning process. ​Another main point of his presentation focused on the way movements and your ability to understand the environment is an imperative part of helping people on the spectrum gain control of their bodies and minds. Research has shown that o​nce you have control over your body and understand your environment, you are able to function and communicate more effectively .

Overall, Dr. Stephen Shore left the audience with a renewed sense of creativity and some important lessons in learning how to address the needs of people on the spectrum so that they are able to succeed in mainstream society.



Making Global Connections at Shema Kolainu

Dilara Mitu discussing how to help poverty stricken children with disabilities in Bangladesh with Dr. Joshua Weinstein, CEO & Founder of Shema Kolainu & ICare4Autism

Today Dilara Mitu, Managing Trustee and Director of the SEID Trust took the time to visit Shema Kolainu in the hopes of starting a collaborative relationship and learn some best practices used at the center. The SEID Trust is an NGO in Bangladesh that is a voluntary development organization working towards promoting the rights of underprivileged children with disabilities, especially those with ASD. It specifically serves poverty stricken children within the community who need the resources the most; they do this through their own fundraising efforts, as they are not publicly funded.

Ms. Mitu met with Dr. Weinstein, CEO & Founder of Shema Kolainu and ICare4Autism, to discuss ways in which she could help the children and the larger community that she serves. After attending the 2014 International ICare4Autism Conference this past June 30th thru July 2nd, she says that she was able to learn a lot. When she heard about the conference there was no doubt in her mind that it would be worthwhile. She says the expenses that she paid to make the trip was nothing compared to the insights and knowledge that she gained from the 3 days. She especially enjoyed the presentations by Anat Baniel and Martha Herbert who gave her different perspectives in which to learn about ASD and best practices.

Ms. Mitu has a strong belief in simply having faith in children and promoting their abilities so that they can be productive members of society similar to Shema Kolainu and ICare4Autism’s goals. Dr. Weinstein was enthusiastic to learn about her organization’s commitment to giving autistic children a voice of their own and also listened to many of the challenges they faced in doing so.

After having an constructive discussion, she was then given a tour of the center so that she could see for herself the practices they had discussed. Overall we are excited to have another organization reach out and are more than happy to share resources. ICare4Autism is dedicated to its mission of collaborating on an international level so that people on the spectrum are able to live more fruitful and happy lives. We thank Ms. Mitu for her visit and will be keeping in touch!



Can Solitary Mammals Help Us Learn About Autism?

There is still so much that we do not know about autism spectrum disorder—from why it has increased in prevalence in the past decade to how to treat those who are affected.  Autism is defined as, “a neural disorder characterized by poor social interaction, problems in verbal and non-verbal communication, and restrictive, repetitive behavior.” Using these common characteristics seen in people on the spectrum, researchers are now looking into studying solitary mammals as a means to better understand the disorder. 

A recently published article in the Journal of Comparative Psychology argues that certain mammals exhibit similar behavior to that typically seen from people with autism. Some of these mammals include polar bears, opossums, skunks, tigers, cougars, and orangutans. Though many of them do have some social behavior they tend to function more independently. According to researcher Jared Edward Reser, both people on the spectrum and solitary mammals have a smaller need for attachment and bonding behaviors, lower stress from separation, and less expressiveness. Biologically the two groups are also similar in that they both produce lower level of oxytocin and vasopressin, which are two hormones that play a large role in social bonding and feelings of attachment. For example, oxytocin is released into the body during positive social interaction, which is responsible for the feelings of closeness we experience with others.

A previous study that used oxytocin injections on adults with autism had results that showed an increase in eye contact, prosocial behavior, and reduced fear/anxiety in social situations. Although much more research is still needed to determine whether oxytocin has a place in treating autism, it does have potentially promising results especially for treatment of more severe cases.

Using this comparative research can be controversial, though researchers acknowledge that only a certain autistic behaviors can be studied and explained by using these comparisons. Autism involves a variety of symptoms and no single animal model could possibly be enough to understand autistic individuals, but it can provide new insight and points for research. Reser points out that it may give us new perspectives on how we look at autistic behavior. “Are the different behaviors we label as being autistic necessarily pathological or are there advantages involved, especially in modern society?” Many scientists as well as autism advocacy groups realize that autistic people can be very successful, especially in fields such as computer programming, mathematics, and physics, therefore continuing to treat them as mentally ill can be counterproductive to our society.

Helping children with autism by providing them with therapy and specific attention to their needs has been a successful and alternative form of “treatment”. So by studying these solitary animals, perhaps we can gain insight into the biology of social interaction, “we can also recognize the need to accept that humans vary widely in terms of how they deal with others.” Dr Eric Hollander,chairman of ICare4Autism Advisory Council, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Albert Einstein and Director of the ASD Program at Montefiore Medical Center does similar research especially with studying social attachment and the biology behind social interaction as it relates to ASD. He is committed to finding best practices that will help advance the lives of children and adults who are on the spectrum. In an interview with Medscape he says, “Studying autism is really a great opportunity because if you understand what goes wrong in autism, you understand a little bit more about what makes people human. It gives you insight into issues around being able to see things from other people’s perspectives and issues around social attachment, which are really what makes us human.”

Dr. Hollander has been listed in NY Magazine and Castle Connolly’s as one of the “Best Doctors in America” and has done several interviews for the New York Times, the Today Show, and Dateline NBC. He will be giving the opening remarks at our upcoming International Autism Conference as well as presenting on Day 2, which focuses on biomedical research and new developments in autism treatments. For the opportunity to hear him speak, get more information and register for the conference HERE! 

For original article, click here



The Economic Burden of Autism

Families with an autistic child or children know all too well the financial strain of paying medical bills. According to a new study from the University of Pennsylvania and the London School of Economics and Political Science, the lifetime cost of being diagnosed with autism in the United States is anywhere between $1.43 million and $2.44 million. These costs are mostly from residential care, early intervention treatments, special education, and small chances of employment/lack of employment opportunities. The researchers included people who were over the age of 18 to acknowledge the price of a potential lifelong disability.

Over 3.5 million Americans in the U.S are estimated to have autism, according to the Center for Disease Control. And when we assume that about 40% of them are intellectually disabled, the total cost of autism in the U.S comes to about $236 billion per year. The national cost of supporting children with autism is estimated to be between $61 and $66 billion a year, for adults that cost came up to between $175 and $196 billion a year.

The largest costs for children were the special education costs and parental productivity costs, whereas the largest costs for adults on the spectrum were residential care/supportive living accommodations, and individual productivity lost. In other words, parents tend to cut back on their work hours or quit their job to care for their autistic child and then once their child reaches adulthood, they have limited earning potentials. 

According to a pair of experts from the A.J Drexel Autism Institute at Drexel University in Philadelphia we need to start thinking differently about these very large costs. Instead of there being “costs to help needy people” we should rather be focused on the issue as “investments in building stronger communities.”

Paul Shattuck, an associate professor at Drexel argues that more studies of adults and young adults with autism are needed as well as better employment practices to engage the autistic community. At the end of the day it will cost us more if decide to not care about those on the spectrum.

​For the original study, click here.

​ICare4Autism will be addressing many issues that autism families and young adults face as well as looking forward to new research and roads to opportunity. To get more information, click HERE!



Autism & Epilepsy

 

Epilepsy is a brain disorder that is marked by recurring seizures or convulsions. It includes impaired social interaction and language development, which often leads to repetitive behaviors. The connection between these two neurological disorders came after another study that explored the mechanisms in the brain that are responsible for each and how they contribute to each disorder. For example, both disorders show patterns of impaired socialization.

A new study now examines the connection between the long-term outcome of epilepsy in autism and the epilepsy characteristics of adults with autism. The results estimate that nearly one third of people on the autism spectrum also have epilepsy.  Before these studies, many issues with behavior management and socialization for people with epilepsy remained largely under diagnosed, meaning these people did not have proper access to treatment they may have really needed.

This new research could mean that adults with epilepsy would be able to benefit from a wide range of autism treatment services and improving their overall quality of life. The highest epilepsy incidences actually happen within a child’s first year after being born. Each year, approximately 150,000 children and young adults in the U.S have a single seizure and 30,000 end up being diagnosed after they experience more seizures.

Some epileptic symptoms that are commonly overlooked by parents include:

-      Prolonged staring

-      Uncontrolled jerking of the arms and legs

-      Lack of response from verbal stimulation

-      Shaking or loss of balance

-      Smacking of the lips

The ICare4Autism International Autism Conference 2014 will have an entire day dedicated to scientific advances in autism research as well as new drug developments. For more information on this resource, CLICK HERE!

For original article, Click here!



Autism Takes Strides in the Workforce

There is a growing population of young adults who are on the autism spectrum that are now emerging into the professional world and unable o find a job for themselves. There are a large number of them who are classified as high functioning, who have achieved higher education, and who are more than capable of joining the workforce.

Only about 35 percent of young adults on the spectrum actually move on to postsecondary education, and of this 75 to 80 percent are unemployed when they graduate—which equates to about half a million people. Marcia Scheiner, president and founder of the Asperger Syndrome Training and Employment Partnership (ASTEP) presented these figures in a recent panel as part of Internet Week New York. She argues, “Today’s interview process is largely based around the concept of socialization: Your ability to network, your ability to interact with othersThis can be one of the biggest challenges for individuals on the spectrum.”

Scheiner’s approach through ASTEP provides support and education by, for example, persuading human resources at Fortune 500 companies and others to expand the neurodiversity of their workforce.

“People that already appreciate difference believe that by being more tolerant and being able to see different kinds of people, they are going to build a stronger team,” co-founder of software testing company “Ultra Testing” , Rajesh Anandan, says. The traditional methods we normally use to assess individuals don’t work so well for people on the spectrum, though, so how do we change the assessment so that it is informative for the employer as well as fair to other candidates?

Knack is a company that wants to use games to evaluate specific attributes and skills that an individual may have. Halfteck, the founder of Knack, says, “Games are very nonthreatening, because there is no interaction with peoplecausing anxiety, causing all sorts of other fears. Not everyone is good at interviews, not everyone is good at social interaction.”

Both Halfteck and Anandan believe that the employment rate for people on the spectrum will soon start to increase once there is data that proves that there are environments where people on the spectrum regularly outperform their neurotypical colleagues—driving an increase in recruitment.

To hear Marcia Scheiner speak more on autism workforce initiatives, come to Day 1 of our International Autism Conference! Click here for more info!

Click here for original article



Autism Screening App in the Making!

Researchers at Duke University are currently working on developing a software that tracks and records your infant’s activity during videotaped autism screening tests. They had very successful results in their trials, showing that the program has been just as good at spotting certain behavioral markers of autism as professionals who would be giving the test themselves and was actually more accurate than non-expert medical clinicians and students in training.

The study focuses on three specific behavioral tests that are used to identify young children who may be on the autism spectrum. The first test get’s the attention of the baby by shaking a toy on their left side and then counting how long it takes for them to shift their attention when the toy is moved to their right side. The second test examines the child’s ability to track motion as a toy passes across their field of view and looks for any delays. The last test involves rolling a ball to a child and seeing if they make any eye contact afterward, which would show some engagement with their play partner.

The new program allows for the person administering the tests to concentrate on the child while the program measures reactions times down to tenths of a second, giving much more accuratereadings. Amy Esler, assistant professor of pediatrics and autism at the University Minnesota, participated in some of these trials and says, “The great benefit of the video and software is for general practitioners who do not have the trained eye to look for subtle early warning signs of autismThese signs would signal to doctors that they need to refer a family to a specialist for a more detailed evaluation.”

Jordan Hashemi, a graduate student in computer and electrical engineering at Duke, further states that they are not trying to replace the experts by proposing this app, but rather are trying to provide a resource and tool for classrooms and homes across the country. They recognize the importance of early intervention and are hoping that this app can be a real tool in catalyzing how early we are able to help those on the autism spectrum.

For more information on how technology is paving the road to opportunity for children on the spectrum, look into day 3 of our upcoming International Autism Conference! Click here for more info! 

For more info on the Information Initiative at Duke and original article, click here.



Learning to Drive with Autism

 

A member of a research team led by Dan Cox at UVA Health System demonstrates the driving simulator. Cox is recruiting teens with autism for 10 sessions of instruction in the simulator. (Jackson Smith/UVA Health System photo(Jackson Smith, UVA Health System / March 7, 2013)

The University of Virginia Health System researchers have developed a virtual world that simulates the experience of driving. According to their study, autistic teens were able to react appropriately to non-human cues and hazards, but did not react very well to the people on the screen. Researcher Daniel Cox reports that, “they had a hard time reading interpersonal cues.” Daniel Cox along with the University of Iowa, home of the National Advanced Driving Simulator is conducting this research into teens with autism and their driving skills.

“Many individuals with high-functioning autism can learn to drive, but it takes at least four times as long to learn. One of the biggest challenged is learning to steer,” Cox. Their current study is recruiting teens with learner’s permits and using the addition of an eye tracker to help them improve their skills. He says that autistic people tend to be “rule-followers” which makes the constant adaptation needed to drive, such as taking care of a flat tire, avoiding accidents, filling gas, and dealing with reckless drivers, something of a real challenge for these teens.

One mother of 15 year old Conner Wenzel, who has his learner’s permit and is diagnosed with Asperger’s and ADHD agrees with Cox on this. She says about her son’s driving, “He’s a real stickler for the rules. He takes a yellow light or ‘no turn on red’ very seriously. The biggest problem is deviating from the route. I worry if he has to make a judgment on the fly.” She describes him as “hyper-vigilant” and acknowledges, “It’s going to take some training on our part, above and beyond driver’s ed.”

John Harrington, a pediatrician, has an 18 year old autistic son who passed his driver’s ed test with flying colors however he worries about letting him drive alone. In the event of an accident or a police stop, Harrington fears that his son won’t know how to respond. But he does believe that driving is an important part of gaining self-esteem and independence. For now, he has informed that DMV that his son should not have his full license, but he is considering letting his son drive as long as there is an adult next to him.

The driving simulator offers a safe environment for practicing these very important driving skills that can only really be taught through experience. Cox has found that the teens he worked with benefited greatly over the course of 10 sessions with the simulator when they had to navigate complex driving scenarios and will continue accepting autistic teens as part of this study.

Our upcoming International Autism Conference will have a whole day dedicated to Technology and the Road opportunity, Click here for more info!