Category Archives: Uncategorized

Samsung App “Look at Me” Helps Children Improve Eye Contact

child uses iPad

On Monday, Samsung announced the development of a new app that helps children who struggle with eye contact, facial expression recognition, and emotional expression. The program “Look at Me” has been launched in Korea and is still in the clinical testing phase.

The curricula on the software was designed with the assistance of cognitive physiologists, clinical psychologists and psychiatrists. Using an interactive “smart camera” which is hooked up to a Samsung tablet device. Using the tablet screen, children can view facial expressions and play games in which they identify the emotion and improve their eye contact.

The child is also able to take photos of themselves with the smart camera attachment and load their own facial expressions into games that are fun and instructive. In addition, parents are provided with daily feedback on the child’s progress. Samsung recommends that children use the app 15-20 minutes per day.

Although Samsung has not revealed when the app will be released on the Android platform, the company has collaborated with a non-profit in Canada to create a training program in which 200 recipients are given the Samsung Galaxy Tab S free of charge, which comes with the “Look at Me” app already installed. So far, this program is limited to Canadian residents only.

According to Samsung’s website, “Look at Me” was designed to keep families connected to each other. Their introductory video on the Youtube channel “Samsung Tomorrow” follows the journey of an 11 year old Korean boy, Jong-Hyun Kim and his mother. Jong-Hyun has autism and experiences difficulty connecting to others and coping with everyday challenges. By the end, his mother (in an actual interview) praises the program for the marked improvement she has seen in her son.

“At first I wasn’t sure about the program,” says they boy’s mother. “But these days I feel like he’s changed for the better. He can express himself in various ways and more naturally, and I feel like he looks at me as a mother. Now that we can look into each other’s eyes, we’ve become much closer.”

Although children on the autistic spectrum often have difficulty with eye contact and social skills, it has been noted that they often demonstrate interest in electronic devices. Use of iPads, for example, has proven helpful in many ways to improve many skills that they struggle with. According to a study conducted by parents of autistic children using Look at Me, 60% of the children demonstrated improved eye contact after using the app, as well as being able to identify emotions more easily.

Research for Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Gets a Boost


A Canadian University received praise in response to their use of a treatment for autism called Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy.

The research program at Simon Frasier University received this prize in the form of a $500,000 grant from Central City Brewing and Distillery President Darryl Frost. Frost and his wife were compelled to donate to the program after seeing the improvements their son had made after receiving intensive HBOT.

5 year old Callum, who had struggled with behavioral issues, began undergoing the treatment along with dietary changes to improve his symptoms. Before the therapy he began, his father Daryl described him as an “extremely low-functioning child” who was not capable of communicating, feeding himself, or getting dressed independently. He also exhibited aggression, tantrums, and self-harming behavior.

Now, Callum’s father claims he can speak in full sentences, can eat and dress by himself, and is fully potty trained. His behavior and communication has largely improved and he attends kindergarden with the help of an aid.

During an HBOT session, the patient is placed in a pressure chamber where they are able to breathe 100% oxygen. The researchers claim that this allows for greater tissue saturation by up to ten times when compared to normal pressure.

The newly funded HBOT study will be conducted by SFU’s Environmental Medicine and Physiology Unit and the university’s associate dean from the Faculty of Science. The study is planned to accept 40 volunteers, both children and adults. Some of the individuals will have autism while others will not. Research will likely begin by 2016. Though studies on HBOT and its effectiveness on autism symptoms have been conducted in the past, the results were fairly subjective and difficult to measure scientifically.

This time around, SFU will be using the university’s Magnetoencephalography (MEG) machine. This piece of technology is the most modern brain imaging device available to the university. Using the MEG machine, scientist will be able to track brain oscillations and note changes in mental network connectivity. It will also enable scientists to determine which patients will benefit most from HBOT.

It is not yet clear how this treatment will improve symptoms of autism. What researchers do know is that HBOT increases the oxygen supply to the blood stream, therefore allowing more oxygen to reach the brain. In turn, they theorize that this increased oxygen energizes brain cells and cell pathways. This may actually help repair cells that are damaged or functioning at a low metabolic level.

You can read the original article here.

Special Behavioral Autism Therapy May Alter Brain Activity



Preliminary results from a four-month study show that pivotal response training (PRT) can alter brain function in children with autism.

Areas of the brain that process social information showed changes after the therapy was used on children. Several mental areas showed improvement after the experiment which was measured by response to visual stimuli.

Pivotal Response Training was used with half of the participants in this study with autism spectrum disorder. This therapy uses some of the child’s favorite playtime activities. The therapist then develops certain ways to communicate by engaging the child in their own interests.

Researchers showed photographs of houses as well as pictures of human faces to children in two groups. The first group contained 40 children with autism spectrum disorder and the second was a control group of 20 children who did not have autism. All children were shown the photos before the treatment and then after receiving it for 4 months. Functional magnetic response imaging (fMRI) was used to monitor activity in the brain.

At the beginning of the study, the children with autism showed more brain activity when shown photos of houses than when they looked at the face pictures, which was the opposite of what the control group demonstrated. This indicates that they respond more to physical objects than to social stimuli.

Early results from the therapy showed that following the treatment, children in the autistic group showed increased activity in the medial prefrontal cortex. This area is associated with social cognition. The children within this same group who did not receive treatment showed a small decline in mental activity in the same area.

However, in one way the results were contradictory. Some of the children were monitored to determine which regions of the face they focused on. The children with autism actually focused more on the subject’s mouths than they did on their eyes during the second observation after receiving the therapy. This indicates that the children read mouths for social cues more than eyes, like most other children would, though researchers expected to see the opposite after the therapy was complete. This data was only recorded in nine children, so the results should be noted with a larger sample size.

While the research is still in its early phases, the findings show that PRT may be effective in normalizing social cognition in children with autism. Students and associates at Yale University conducting the study hope to have more in-depth results published early next year.

Looking for the perfect autism book to read with your family during Hanukkah?

Special-Needs-BLOGNicole Katzman’s book, Nathan Blows Out the Hanukkah Candles brings together various themes related to the holiday, family, acceptance, and autism. The book is about a boy named Jacob who loves his brother Nathan. Nathan has autism, and when Hanukkah comes, Jacob worries that Nathan might embarrass him in front of his new friend. Katzman is a mother of four children, one diagnosed with autism.

The book is illustrated by Jeremy Tugeau and presents an artistic way many of the thoughts and feelings children with special needs experience.

Katzman said that she wanted to convey the value of acceptance in her book. In an interview, she stated, “Accepting the other in our midst is an important Jewish value. As a mother of a child with autism child I didn’t feel that acceptance. All too often I found the situation to be reverse and at times painful. I knew that in order to help children understand how to accept the other they needed a story to which they could relate.”

Nathan Blows Out the Hanukkah Candles is a great resource and teaching tool for children.

Click here to read more about the book or here to purchase.

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

Dr. Shore Presents

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nonprofit Helps Families Affected by Autism Cope with Daily Challenges

mature child

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the original article here

Interior Design Concepts for Best Response in Autistic Children


At Shema Kolainu – Hear Our Voices, we have a specially designed multisensory room for the children to explore.

Also called the Snoezelen room, students enter the controlled multisensory environment (MSE) to experience various scents, colors, sounds and music, and tactile stimulation that is designed with their needs in mind. Each exhibit aims to stimulate their curiosity, while providing comfort at the same time.

This is because children on the autistic spectrum tend to respond differently based on their surroundings. This can also apply in the home environment, which is why a Minneapolis-based mother and interior designer has arranged her own home to suit the needs of her child.

When A.J. Paron-Wildes’ 3 year old son Devin, now 19, was diagnosed with autism, she described the experience as “traumatic.” When she poured over what research she could find, she discovered much of it was outdated and institution-based, dating back to the 1970’s. But Paron-Wildes wanted to keep her son at home, so she had to learn to adapt her own design concepts so that Devin was not overwhelmed.

The young interior designer felt that the typical loud, colorful rooms most people deemed appropriate for children were far too overpowering for a sensitive autistic child. By observing cues from Devin, Paron-Wildes worked backward by eliminating patterns, colors, and lighting that he did not respond well to.

Autistic children also respond to cues from their own observances. They tend to perform better in rooms that use clean, neutral colors with no brash patterns, and they often have an aversion to harsh artificial lighting. Children on the spectrum are drawn to order and structure, and are often confused when they do not receive it.

Here are some tips for creating an autism-friendly environment:

1. Keep it simple and calm.

Avoid crazy patterns on the walls and furniture, like zigzags. Also keep the color palette basic. Tones like beige, variations of earth colors, and pastels are soothing and promote emotional stability. Paron-Wildes has actually painted many boys’ rooms pink, which tends to have a calming effect.

2. Pay special attention to the most important areas.

Is it necessary to update the entire home for an autistic child? Probably not; parents should especially focus on the areas where the child learns, and where they rest. This applies to any area where a child studies or does homework, such as the living room, as well as the bedroom.

3. Use bright colors to signal cues.

Particularly effective for young children, using bright hues in the right way can actually be instructive. Use color-coding to organize areas like closet storage or bookcases. Using patterns, however, can be distracting in unintended ways. Children tend to analyze and follow patterns, particularly on the floor.

4. Avoid an institutional atmosphere.

Create a balance between calming and fun. Just because children need organization does not mean they want to spend time in lifeless, boring rooms. Many treatment centers make the mistake of using bland white walls in the waiting room, for example. Paron-Wildes has found that a lofted bedroom with large windows provides natural light and inspiring landscape views for her son, who is an artist. He also enjoys displaying his art in certain areas of the home.

You can read the original article here.

Service Dogs Provide Assistance to Families Affected by Autism


Photo from 4 Paws 4 Ability's Website (

Photo from 4 Paws for Ability’s Website (

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.