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Tips for Successful Summer or Anytime Travel for Kids with Autism

Parents of children on the spectrum understand that transitions are particularly challenging and that structure, continuity and familiarity are their child’s best friends – so how can vacation travel be made more manageable for the parent and child (and their siblings) and even create opportunities for growth? Businesses and services that cater to families with children on the spectrum are no longer obscure, but are springing up constantly – particularly because of campaigns for autism awareness.

Even savvy parents, however can still benefit greatly from a ‘how to’,  just to get the wheel turning, so here are some essential things they can do to plan a vacation or just a getaway with their special needs child.

1. Partner With Your Destination (PWYD)

Planning cannot be stressed enough, so once a decision is made on where to go—even if the vacation is coordinated by a travel agent, it’s essential to partner with your destination – always speak personally with hotel staff, park and recreation members, restaurants, car rental companies in advance.  Be secure by obtaining maps, confirming locations, checking road and traffic and hours of operation.

2. Partner with the child’s spec education teachers, any occupational/physical behavior therapists, or art/music therapists to have them introduce and incorporate ideas about the planned trip as far in advance as possible.

3. Create a visual story

Create a visual story (ie:  picture Board) to prepare child for travel away – can be done by the parent and reinforced by the child’s educators or play therapist or introduced outside of the home and practiced there. Check out DO2Learn Products for an excellent assortment of picture boards and visual displays, or make your own like the ones Kathie Maximovich posted on Pinterest.

4. When in Doubt, Use an APP

There are no shortage of apps to entertain and educate all children and adults alike, so try an app to prepare tech-loving kids such as Smart Fish: Frequent Flyer, available on ITunes and compatible with Apple mobile products.

5. Visit the Airport ‘for Fun’ or try a Air Travel Dress Rehearsal

What started as a small-scale program, Wings for Autismoriginating at The Charles River Center in Massachusettsis now a national initiative by The ARC, that offer ‘pre-travel’ or practice boarding program experiences for special needs children.

6. Travel Check -What a Relief

The TSA can be “called in advance” to prepare for family boarding – TSA Cares – ask for a Passenger Support Specialists. 

7. Familiarity is Crucial

Your child likes and needs familiarity to reduce stress (on them and you) and meltdowns.  Pack wisely – bring familiar bedding such as sheets, favorite blanket, pillow, etc.

If renting a car, try to rent the same type/model car (same color if possible or at least same color)

Anticipate special dietary needs to bring along and inquire about availability of a microwave and/or refrigerator at the destination, as well as any eateries that will be suitable.

8. Some Important add-ons:

**Headphones:  If possible invest in a pair of noise canceling headphones if the child will wear them or work in advance with the child’s OT to help with just that.

**Portable timer/stopwatch– fantastic to help the child when waiting on lines.

**Pack inexpensive “new” toys or novelties for distraction

9. During the Vacation:Travelling can seem endless and exhausting on everyone – and much more so on a child with autism.  Take sensory breaks as needed and cool down periods during and between activities.


Even the most well planned va-stay -cations can go awry when you are traveling with a child on the spectrum.  Make contingency plans and be prepared to switch things around.  If the child prefers to go swimming in the pool before, or do another activity, try to be flexible.  Use all aforementioned pre-travel resources to help alleviate the stress for the child and for the parent.

International Child Development Center’s Special Visit to Shema Kolainu

Ms. Narine Vardanyan of the International Child Development Center meets with Dr. Joshua Weinstein, CEO & Founder of ICare4Autism and Shema Kolainu-Hear Our Voices along with dedicated staff, to discuss Applied Behavioral Analysis in Armenia

Shema Kolainu – Hear our Voices, School and Center for Children with Autism welcomed a very special guest on the morning of July 3, 2014, International Child Development Center Director (ICDC), Ms. Narine Vardanyan.  Ms. Vardanyan recently attended the groundbreaking 2014 ICare4Autism International Conference, which commenced on Monday, June 30th in New York City and included over 500 attendees. As an autism industry professional, Ms. Vardanyan represents ICD Center’s interest in state of the art methods for treating children with autism in Armenia.

Upon major breakthroughs and news in autism spectrum disorder (ASD) research and policy announced at the ICare4Autism conference, Ms. Vardanyan made the special trip to Shema Kolainu to gather insights and methods used in the United States based on the principles of applied behavior analysis (ABA) to treat children with autism in an educational setting.  According to Ms. Vardanyan, “ABA specialized educational approach and awareness for children living with autism in Armenia is greatly needed, especially in small villages where our children are often overlooked.”

Ms. Vardanyan met with Shema Kolainu and ICare4Autism Founder and President, Joshua Weinstein Ph.D., M.B.A. along with staff and students.  As a dedicated school for children with autism, Shema Kolainu-Hear Our Voices offers a broad spectrum of evidence-based education and therapy programs in a warm and nurturing environment. Such a special visit made by Ms. Vardanyan helped further ICare4Autism mission as the catalyst that drives collaborations globally through the organization’s groundbreaking international conference to help deliver awareness and education for families touched by autism worldwide. She is taking the exam for BCBA and all necessary assistance will be forthcoming as well as wishing her success on her mission.

Recognizing Differences & Organic Education

John Elder Robinson, a high functioning autistic and popular blogger, talks about how autism made modern schooling an insurmountable challenge for him. He explains that like education, autistic people have been around for awhileHowever society has not done their best when it comes to accepting and integrating neurodiversity into everyday life. Robinson says, “Unfortunately, when they describe us, they forgot to enumerate our gifts. They called us disabled because they saw what we couldn’t do, and they overlooked what we do better than anyone else. We’re only now unraveling the damage that’s done to a generation of autistic people. We’re recognizing that we’re different—not less—and joining the community of neurodiverse humanity—people whose brains are wired differently.”

Robinson argues that our education system does not offer the kind of variety and accommodation for a neurodiverse group of students. He says that we have a total focus on book learning and have largely eliminated the hands on/experiential component of learning. “Learning a trade or job skill at the side of a master or tutor evolved over thousands of years and it works. Automating the process with a textbook may work for some people too, but for those of us who are different…”

Teaching communication and creating more opportunities for vocational education are an important part of setting a student up for success in life. If we look at the system in place now, we see a very rigid structure that is largely based on test scores. For example, a student interested  in cars is advised to tread the educational path towards becoming a mechanical engineer. This means, completing high school, while not learning practical skills, but more so learning how to be successful in college and hone test taking and writing skills; then completing a four year program in college where many of the subjects she will take most likely will not be related to car design, however are required before grad school; then once in grad school, the student can finally really engage in independent work that actually relates to her specific automotive interest. Hopefully by doing all this the student is able to pave a successful life route. But this situation, especially for an autistic individual, is really only happening in a perfect world, because their everyday challenges make life a little more complicated that the school system seems to accommodate for.

Robinson says that if we add more hands on learning at both the high school and college levels, we can encourage teens to focus on their interests and gifts early to teach skills that relate more closely to those interests. He argues, “Keep this as a goal: If a student goes on to college, great. But send them out of high school with solid job skills, no matter what… Let’s build up our community college system, which is the closest thing we have to hands on learning in college today. By moving more students through college on the way to a four year degree, we teach even more real life skills, and increase the odds of a student who can make a living, whether he continues or not.”

According to Robinson, we need to push our schools into discussing how to teach real and usable work skills at every stem on the educational ladder, how to teach people in a comfortable environment, and helping students to organize themselves in a way that nurtures their interests and talents.

High functioning autistic professor, Stephen Shore will be discussing ways to develop employment opportunities through interests and strengths for high schoolers on the spectrum. Peter Gerhardt, founding chair of the scientific council of the Organization of Autism Research, will also be presenting on transitioning from high school to work, underlying issues and quality of life. These two specific presentations will take place on Day 1 of our upcoming International Autism Conference. For more information and registration, please CLICK HERE!

For the original John Robinson post, click here!


Toys for Children with Autism

Toys can have a very positive impact on the development of children with autism spectrum syndrome. Choosing the right toys that will entertain your child and at the same time encourage development could be challenging. Toys are a big part of the development program at the Shema Kolainu- Hear Our Voices.

Keep in mind that ability of the child is more important than age recommendation when you are choosing toys for kids with autism.  Simple toys like puzzles and mazes will help your child to focus on completing tasks and will bring a sense of achievement.  Any type of painting or drawing will be great because working with tools will help improve your child’s motor skills.  Board games could be amazing entertainment for the whole family and it will improve the social skills of a child.

Besides regular toys, you can choose from a variety of electronic resources, apps and DVDs that are designed for children with special needs. Shema Kolainu- Hear Our Voices School use iPad apps such as Buddy Bear app and PlayHome.

Model Me Kids,, specializes in creating toys that focus on the development of social skills, by teaching children how to express emotions and the proper usage of body language. Another company, TeaChildMath, www.teachildmath.comwill help with improving basic knowledge of math and will enhance motor and writing skills of the child.

Generally any toys would be extremely helpful with connection, improvement of social skills and overall development.

For original story, please click here.

Therapeutic Aquarium Programs

aquarium therapy

Aquariums can be both soothing and educational for children on the autism spectrum. At the Le Chemin ABA VB Learning Center in Paris, France, the therapeutic aquarium is key in behaviorally oriented programs. At the learning center some lesson plans are designed around the aquarium.

Having an aquarium can help in keeping children calm which can help prevent or reduce melt-downs. Children who are prone to emotional outbursts benefit from the soothing nature of the therapeutic aquarium.

At home, you can guide your child to participate in all activities aquarium related from designing and installing an aquarium to selecting compatible fish. Guide your child to participate in cleaning and maintaining their home aquarium. Participating in these activities may increase your child’s sense of responsibility help them learn to follow directions and aide in the development of their own self-help skills.

Sharing these activities with others may increase positive sibling relationships. Taking turns, working as team, reinforcing a joint activity. Creating and maintaining a therapeutic aquarium is hard work but fun and valuable for your child on the autism spectrum for so many reasons.

For more information on autistic therapy please visit

Congratulations Class of 2013!

On Thursday, June 13, Shema Kolainu-Hear Our Voices held our 2013 graduation for all of the students. From arts-and-crafts to watching class slideshows and everything in between, each classroom had a special schedule of activities lined up for both the students and their families.

Graduation took place from 11:30 am-12:30 pm for the pre-school and SEIT classes, and 12:45 pm- 1:45 pm for the school age classes. Each class had a pizza party along with the activities the teachers prepared.

Having a graduation day for our students, even if they were coming back next year, was important to the faculty at Shema Kolainu. All of our students work so hard during the year, and we wanted to make each child feel special and accomplished. Suri Gruen, Program Director at Shema Kolainu-Hear Our Voices, reflects,

“We were really excited with the positive feedback we received from parents regarding this year’s end of the year celebration! We look forward to continuing this tradition where parents get to interact with their children in their classroom environment.”

Everyone involved – students, parents, teachers – are in agreement that the 2013 graduation at Shema Kolainu- Hear Our Voices was a huge success!

Deremiah *CPE visits Shema Kolainu

We were delighted at Shema Kolainu to have Deremiah *CPE come visit. It was our pleasure to give a grand tour. Our Educational Director, Gili Rechany and Program Director, Suri Gruen introduced Deremiah *CPE to the children at our school, with a little insight on the programs we offer and special success Stories we’ve had.

He was glad to find out that not only do we raise our kids but we grow with our teachers! Our teachers come in with the best recommendations and keep training and attending seminars to be up to date with all current methods. Deremiah *CPE also gained knowledge of the different difficulties we are facing, financial and such.

Deremiah *CPE: ‘My mission is healing through love!’ Dr. Weinstein: ‘So you have come to the right place, we have miracles happening everyday.’

Bullying and Autism After 16

In an essay titled “Eyes Wide Open”, Julie van der Poel writes about her son’s account with bullies and violence.  Many other parents of children with autism, or who are on the autism spectrum have responded to her essay with their own stories of their children being bullied.

Parents write that although you prepare your child for all likely situations, it is impossible to anticipate everything.  Another reader wrote in response to this essay that her autistic son was beaten so often in a public school that they had to finally relocate.

In preliminary findings by social scientists, they have found that people with ASD are more likely to be bullied than their ordinary peers.  Kennedy Krieger Institute’s Interactive Autism network states “Bullying is extremely common in the lives of children with ASD, and occurs at a much higher rate for them than it does for their typically developing siblings.. Cruelest of all is the fact that bullying may further impair the ability of a child with ASD, who is already socially disabled, to engage with the social world.” Continue reading

A Day at the Carnival

The Washington Times reports from Silver Spring, MD in a personal perspective from a mother of a child with autism. What to most parents is a simple day in the park turns into a day of anxiety and frustration for this parent. The mother, Jean Winegardner, writes a personal blog at Stimeyland and an autism-events website for Montgomery County, Maryland, at AutMont. You can find her on Twitter as @Stimey. Read more of Jean’s work at Autism Unexpected in the Communities at the Washington Times.

The stress that Ms. Winegardner experienced at the elementary school end-of-the-year carnival began as simple: keeping an eye on her child in a crowd. It’s something that all parents deal with. The additional stress of his autistic behaviors can be both damaging to himself and other children. Ms. Winegardner is most times unsure whether to let her child go off by himself.

On a personal level in her article titled “Autism at the school carnival” Ms. Winegardner shares how painful it is for her to see the other children ignore her child. She writes, “My kid is different than the other kids. I get that and I’m okay with it. I think my kid is pretty cool and I don’t care that he has a different way than everyone else.” It’s the other kids that see the differences and don’t see the similarities.

Many schools have integration programs that allow autistic children to learn within a public school environment with a personal tutor or shadow. These shadows help the child to learn while the environment helps with the social process. The socialization of course affects not only the child dealing with autism but their peers. Group education can help avoid in the future what Ms. Winegardner and her son are dealing with on a daily basis.

This day at the carnival for Ms. Winegardner becomes a looking glass to the future. She worries not for the great fun and giggles that he experienced that beautiful day as an elementary school child, but for the future. She knows he will notice the way he is treated as an adult. Autism education is not only for the families dealing with the disorder, but for society at large. We are all part of communities and we need to learn how to live together and respect one another.

Researchers, Educators and Policymakers Meet in Jerusalem to Combat Escalating Crisis

ICare4Autism conference call for posters from students in autism research

On August 1-2, 2012, more than 1,500 leaders in autism research, educationand policy from every continent will gather in Jerusalem, Israel, for ICare4Autism‘s 2012 International Conference, “Autism: A Global Perspective“.

Dr.Joshua Weinstein, CEO & Founder indicated that the, “Conference will highlight groundbreaking research into the causes and treatments of Autism Spectrum Disorders, and serve as a catalyst for powerful new collaborations to tackle the global autism crisis”.

Students from around the world are invited to present their autism research at a poster session. One poster will be selected by the review committee to receive a scholarship to attend the Conference.  The scholarship will cover travel, hotel accommodations and conference registration fee. The scholarship winner will also be invited to participate on one of the Conference panels. The Poster Session consists of physical displays (aka posters) of information shown during a 60-90 minute session, with presenters standing by their poster reporting empirical research and pilot projects for future research.  Attendees have the opportunity to speak with the presenters about their work.

Dame Stephanie Shirley, The British Government’s Founding Ambassador for Philanthropy, and Chairman of the Shirley Foundation, will deliver the Keynote Address and The First Lady of Panama Mrs. Marta Linares de Martinelli will be giving opening remarks.

They will be joined by distinguished researchers and practitioners from more than 20 countries who will unveil their latest biomedical discoveries andeducational innovations. Attendees will tour the campus where ICare4Autism will open the world’s first Global Autism Research and Education Center in 2015.