Talk Focuses on Art Therapy to Help Autistic Children

An autistic child is afraid of letters, but loves drawing faces.

So Patrick Allred, a registered behavior technician who works with the Utah Autism Academy, used to help him learn. Drawing faces on each letter helped him get over his anxiety about letters, said Allred, “With these letters, he was able to learn the alphabet because they were nice to him, they weren’t scary.”

Art, and how it can help children with autism, was the topic of an art talk Tuesday evening at the Woodbury Art Museum, where three professionals who utilize art therapy talked about how children who have difficulties vocalizing needs can learn to use art to communicate.

Allred has involved students in projects where they will draw what they’re afraid of, or will listen to music and draw how the music made them feel. He shared with a small audience how a child learned to draw faces with different expressions and emotions, and would mimic each face as he drew it.

Jenny Elizabeth, an artist who has used art therapy to help children, spoke on how art can be used to help with trauma. She has witnessed that some art mediums are seen as safer than others, like watercolors, which can evoke more emotion than pencils.

“You can tell a lot about where a person is and what they need to work on if you look at the media they’re using and what they are drawing,” Elizabeth said.

George Cepull, a professional artist who volunteers as an art instructor at local elementary schools, is known to his students as “Mr. Cepull, the man with the robot leg.” When he enters classrooms, he dresses so the students can see his prosthetic leg.

“I am something different to them, and I think that helps them adapt to the real world,” Cepull said.

He teaches the children that everything is made up of shapes, and making a picture is like putting a jigsaw puzzle together. At the end of his lessons, he projects their drawings onto a screen.

“I think this is a way they can feel good about themselves and see what they can do,” Cepull said. “They can see their art on the wall.”



Creativity and it’s Connection with Autism

Edgar's Blog Image Feb 3A recent research study conducted by psychologists from the University of East Anglia in England have discovered a surprising link between creativity and autism. Their study has uncovered that individuals on the autism spectrum produce original and unusual ideas to a particular problem more frequently. At the same time, they’re also more likely to respond fewer times to the same problem. This unique way of processing information is called divergent thinking.

The study examined individuals who demonstrate certain behavior patterns and thoughts that are related to autism without being diagnosed with the condition. The purpose was to show how some traits associated with autism can be beneficial and not harmful to the development of a person. “People with high autistic traits could be said to have less quantity, but greater quality of creative ideas”, says Dr. Martin Doherty from UEA’s School of Psychology. 

The study consisted of a series of tests in order to determine the participant’s level of creativity when solving a certain task. Out of the study’s 312 participants, 75 of them were on the autism spectrum disorder. They were instructed to come up with alternative uses for a brick or a paper clip. Four or more uses meant that the individual was likely to display more autistic traits. The test also consisted on showing the participants four abstract drawings in which they had to give as many as ideas possible in just under one minute of time. Again, the more number of ideas produced were related to a higher level of autistic traits. 

Even though most persons would go for cognitively simple answers at first, those that exhibit autistic traits go straight for the more complex and demanding strategies. According to Dr. Doherty, this means “people with autistic traits may approach creativity problems in a different way”. Noted celebrities such as Temple Grandin and Stephen Wiltshire are prime examples of individuals diagnosed with autism who are yet immensely creative to their dedicated field of profession. This remarkable link between creativity and autism is helping researchers understand the brain better and they are hoping future findings can aid persons that are on and off the autism spectrum. 

By Edgar Catasus

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The Benefits of Aquatic Therapy for Children with Autism

120380-320x212-SwimLearning and acquiring new skills can be a difficult thing to master for any child, but for those diagnosed with autism it can be especially challenging. Simple tasks and daily activities become overwhelming for children with special needs and as a result life can turn into a series of obstacles. Researchers around the globe are aware of the challenges those with autism face and have been working diligently to make significant advances in order to enhance their quality of life.

The latest breakthrough comes in the form of aquatic therapy. What is traditionally used as a method for physical rehabilitation and fitness improvement can now aid a child with autism. Water, the most basic element that sustains life on Earth, can positively impact a child with autism’s cognitive growth. Aquatic therapy is one of the recreational treatments that may develop delayed cognitive functioning.

Even though those with autism suffer from pervasive neurobiological deficiencies, the pressure of water can be incredibly soothing and provide a lasting sense of relief for the autistic child. Another aspect of water that can make a difference lies in its temperature. Warm water creates a relaxed learning environment for the child as they have a tendency to overreact to tactile stimuli. It’s helpful for the autistic child to experience the stimuli in order to make progress.

Aquatic therapy is beneficial for the child because it’s not overwhelming and at the same time it facilitates their need for sensory stimulation to develop their processing tolerance to a higher level. In other words, water provides just the right amount of exterior interaction best apt for learning. However, it’s important to keep in mind that a negative reaction to the water doesn’t necessarily mean aquatic therapy will not be fit for that child. On the contrary, the child needs to experience the sensory input in order to be able to process it. In fact, many clinicians reported the child was able to tolerate touch better after receiving treatment.

Another factor that contributes to aquatic therapy being beneficial for the autistic child is its in reduction of stress. Water makes the body feel 90% lighter and in return it reduces stress on the body during therapeutic exercises. Water reduces tension in the muscles and calms those children that deal with anxiety. Many children enjoy the peaceful aquatic environment and take their time to develop their abilities in the water. As an added bonus, it can also improve the child’s eating and sleeping habits by cutting their excess energy. Aquatic therapy is a welcome addition to the already large repertoire of treatments that can improve a child with autism’s lifestyle. Even though researchers are currently investigating more of its perks, the studies accumulated so far indicate a positive trend.

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Special thanks to our guest blogger, Edgar Catasus

Image Analyst: A New Career Path For Autistic Adults

israelBecause of the challenges associated with neurodevelopmental disorders, people living with autism too often find themselves in situations of exclusion and/or isolation. For instance, autistic adults are likely to get exempt from military service in countries where it is mandatory to serve. But the Israeli Army is now proving society that we should not be too quick at labeling autistic people “deficient”.  Autistic soldiers’ unique skill sets actually present a strategic advantage as part of Unit 9900 in the Israel Defense Force (IDF) and turns out to be extremely valuable to intelligence services.

People living with autism demonstrate superior capacities for visual thinking, which is much needed for aerial analysis. “People with autism often talk about thinking in pictures, rather than categorizing information according to language,” explains Geraldine Dawson, the director of the Duke Center for Autism and Brain Development. “They tend to think less in a holistic form, they’re integrating lots of pieces into a whole, and they’re much more likely to see the finer details of something,” she says.

Those finer details are Unit 9900’s reason of being. Autistic soldiers decrypt complex satellites images delivered in real time and thus act as eyes on the ground for highly sensitive operations. Through its program Ro’im Rachok (Hebrew for “seeing into the future”), Israel is working on training image analysts-to-be among the network of special needs schools. 

Those developments are not only giving hopes to autistic adults who can now dare to dream to being employed and sustain themselves, but it is also promoting a sense belonging and civic integration to the nation as the IDF widely influence the Israeli collective psyche.  With new hopes, a whole new life has started for the autism community in Israel.

Essential Oils: Can They Improve Sleep for Children with ASD?

oilsEssential oils have been used throughout history for multiple medicinal purposes, ranging from skin care to cancer treatment. In more modern times, they have been used in aromatherapy to aid in easing one’s stresses and anxiety.

Recently, a study has just begun at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center’s Nisonger Center to see if there are measurable results in using the oils to treat children with autism disorders. Furthermore, parents of children with ASD have been sharing their experiences on support sites, expressing how these oils may improve their child’s quality of life.

Jill Hollway, research scientist at the Nisonger Center states, “[Parents are] reporting that they’ve seen improvements in quality of life, noting that transitions throughout the day appear to be smoother as their children go from one activity to another.” Parents have expressed that the oils have increased relaxation in their child during times that they may typically be hyperactive, including helping them wind down prior to bed time, improving their quality of sleep. They also assist during transitional times throughout the day (where the child goes from one activity to the next), which is often difficult for them.

Due to the fact that the parents’claims are subjective, Hollway and her team of researchers are launching a study to see if the oils actually improve the quality of sleep for children with ASD and aid in their relaxation. The team will use the oils and a watch-like activity monitor, called an actigraph, to see if the oils can improve sleep.

Researchers will compare the effectiveness of two mixtures of 18 essential oils. For the first three months, only one mixture will be tested, by giving the child a topical skin application on the back of their neck and feet prior to school. Furthermore, prior to bedtime, the mixture will begin diffusing throughout the child’s room, continuing through the night. When the mixture begins diffusing (20 minutes before bedtime), the children will wear the actigraph, measuring their sleep quality and movement. Measurements are recorded prior to falling asleep, during sleep, and 20 minutes after the child wakes up.

“A lot of these children wake up during the night, and the actigraph will capture those times. So, it will record the minutes awake, minutes asleep, and calculate overall sleep efficiency,” Hollway states.

After three months of testing out the first mixture of oils, there will be a one-month break, where no oils are tested. Once that period concludes, another three-month study will take place, using the other mixture. The researchers have set a goal to test the two mixtures over the next two years, and will then focus on another group of children with ASD, building a significant data collection. They are hopeful that the study will provide evidence to the effectiveness and safety of using essential oils as a part of the child’s therapy plan.

Model School Shema Kolainu – Hear Our Voices Hosts Workshop On Language Acquisition Because Communication is Life

NEW YORK, NY – December 8, 2016 –


Once again, a crowd of distinguished professionals and dedicated parents rushed to attend School Shema Kolainu – Hear Our Voices (SKHOV)’s autism workshop hosted at the Hotel Pennsylvania in New York City. Thursday’s workshop focused on the acquisition of language by adopting a behavioral approach based on the principle of Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) therapy. Academic Leader in the field of autism and IEP Coordinator Chani Katz of the school and center for children with disabilities addressed an audience eager to expand their knowledge and obtain continuing education credits by benefiting from Katz’ expertise.

For Katz, Verbal Behavior complements ABA science. Children with developmental delays are taught how to make sense of words. Through Verbal Behavior Intervention, they experience the purpose of words applied to their reality. Quoting the works of B.F. Skinner, Katz elaborated on how to teach a child with developmental delays elementary verbal operants of language. These include echoics (vocal imitation), mands (making a request for reinforcement), tacts (labeling), and intraverbals (conversational skills). Katz also discussed different milestone assessment methodologies and the common barriers to progress.

Under Katz’s leadership, the Model School Shema Kolainu – Hear Our Voices implements and experiments the principles of Verbal Behavior Intervention on the daily basis. The school strives to help autistic children on the road to recovery and ultimately, achieve independence, productivity and their inclusion in the community. Teachers use augmentative communication devices and different computer programs to supplement verbal behavior program.

The school has established itself as an example in the field of special needs education and has earned a reputation of the most respected leader in autism education. The workshop series is a great opportunity to gain knowledge from some of the best resources in the field of autism.IMG_2295

The workshops are made possible by NYC Council Autism Initiative Funding. The next workshop will be held on February 2nd, 2016 and will discuss senses and sensory issues. Admissions are free of charge. If you would like to partake in their programs, please send an email to to be in attendance at their future events. If you cannot attend the workshops, you can always catch the replay on the webinar platform

The Importance of a Healthy Diet for Children with ASD

obesityWith various diseases and disorders rising across America, it is becoming increasingly critical to examine what exactly may be contributing to this rise, affecting the health of our children. Autism, ADHD, and asthma, among others, have become commonplace – and it has researchers wondering if they can pinpoint factors that may increase or downplay their severity.

Autism, for one, is being widely researched as there are a number of factors that may contribute to its occurrence in children. Although there are many things that are out of one’s control, a child’s diet is something that can be regulated, and may play an important role in improving the child’s behavior.

Parents already know that it is important to feed their child nourishing meals and to avoid processed foods – however, it is essential to help try to educate their child that they need to eat quality products, and that they cannot just eat whatever they want all the time. Processed foods contain inflammatory fats and chemicals that can create imbalances within the body, resulting in irritability.

Furthermore, food dye is commonly found in products marketed towards children, and research has shown that the dyes can cause hyperactivity. Multiple reports have shown that behavior improved in the autism and ADHD community by removing the dyes from one’s diet. Another item shown to affect behavior is brominated vegetable oil, or BVO, which is found in many soft drinks. Studies showed that the chemical led to impaired neurological development in humans and animals. The effects of BVO were so alarming that PepsiCo announced it would discontinue its use in May 2014.

Lastly, multiple researchers claim that gluten-free regimes have improved behaviors and digestion in children with autism. It is well-known that many children with ASD suffer from poor digestion or irritable bowels, making it difficult to process heavy foods containing wheat, barley, or rye. Although further studies need to be done to establish a link between gluten-free diets and improved health, many parents are finding that the removal or limitation of gluten has improved attention, bowel movements, and sleep patterns.

Different But Not Less Capable

Artistas Café, located inside the Mercedes-Benz Tampa dealership, is more than just another coffee shop. All the staff members behind the counter are on the autism spectrum. They prepare espressos, coffees, smoothies, and snacks and run a cash register BECAUSE THEY CAN.

Autism has the highest unemployment rate of all developmental disabilities because there is a common belief that people affected by autism are unable to function and operate. Artistas’ team of baristas proves society wrong. Andrew Richards, Mercedes-Benz customer, actually says they completely changed his opinion. ”I think these people have the capabilities just like any other normal people,” says Richards.

In the hopes of breaking the stigmatization that autistic people suffer from, the cafe has been training and employing workers with autism since 2011. The need to boost the employability of people living with autism is artistasconsiderable.  Studies show that this upcoming year, 500,000 people with autism in the U.S. will turn 18, and 90 percent of them will not be able to find a job. “When they turn 18-22, doesn’t seem to be a lot of options still for young people with autism,” argues Westra.

A few non-profit organizations are trying to meet those needs and develop programs to teach autistic adults workplace skills. ICare4Autism is leading the way and is currently developing a High School training program that will be available everywhere in the United States. The initiative will involve a dynamic partnership among medical, behavioral, educational personnel with community business partners, fostering research-based best practices to effectively WORKFORCE READY youth ages 18-25, diagnosed within the Autism Spectrum Disorders.

Its founder, Vicky Westra who is the parent of an autistic child, has made it her personal mission in this world. Employees of Artistas Café report feeling comfortable and safe being whom they are. Westra has created a positive environment that suits them and in which they can thrive. Their disabilities are no longer the focus of attention, but rather their “uniqabilities” are. Just like she wants it and how it should be.