Click to watch a slideshow of our Shema Kolainu – Hear Our Voices students…
Click to watch a slideshow of our Shema Kolainu – Hear Our Voices students…
It’s no secret that kids these days love screens. For a child with autism, the right technology can give them a huge leg up in their education even though they might think it is all fun and games.
BCBA Certified IEP Coordinator Chani Katz addressed a well-attended audience of parents and special ed professionals at today’s workshop entitled, “The Use of Technology by Individuals with Autism.”
Software applications have become an instrumental part of educating children on the autism spectrum for a myriad of reasons. First, using apps with a learning objective is an engaging way to grasp concepts, particularly for children with autism as they are often drawn to technology. Secondly, nonverbal children who struggle to communicate can unlock a new world when they become able to relate to others through computerized devices. Technology like games and videos are also a simple and consistent way for teachers to provide lessons to their students.
Children with autism gravitate toward tablet devices, and many education professionals use this advantage to maximize their impact on a student’s development. Nonverbal children are now frequently supplied with touch-to-speak devices that give them a voice to speak with loved ones. Even though the computer speaks for them, Katz revealed that studies actually support improved spoken communication when children use these programs.
Katz also showed examples of iPad apps that are used to refine a child’s motor skills. One such app requires students to hold their thumb down on an “anchor” button, while reaching with their other fingers to press dots that appear around the screen. The dots get smaller progressively as the student continues to play, and their fine motor skills are strengthened in the process.
The presentation also touched on the use of video modeling for children with autism. Video is a preferred means of communication for many people in general, and for children who struggle with basic tasks, a straightforward demonstration on video can be extremely helpful. Chores like tying a shoe, folding a towel, or paying a cashier for their order can be broken down step-by-step with visual and auditory reinforcement.
As demonstrated by Katz, assistive technology can make life easier for everyone involved in the child’s life. Speaking with an iPad, for instance, is much more acceptable than a frustrated meltdown that ensues when a child can’t say he is hungry, or cold or tired.
This is not to say that precautions should not be taken when relying on technology for these purposes. Power failures or broken devices can instantly take away their means for communication. Technology can also be isolating for the child and should not be used in place of social interaction. The student’s use of technology must also be monitored to make sure it is used effectively for their development.
This means that all the child’s instructors and therapists (OT, PT, SLP, ABA and so forth) should be kept in the loop about which technologies yield the best results. Technology should assist the autistic child in achieving their learning goals, whether that be practicing life skills, improving speech, or building on scholastic subjects like typing or math.
Written by Hannah Jay
This month, Eastern Tennessee will be raising awareness for Autism Spectrum Disorder in the form of a number of traveling attractions.
Artistic Spectrum is a non-profit founded in Knoxville. They are dedicated to providing creative and recreational opportunities for children on the spectrum while also educating the public about their special needs.
Their goals are three-fold:
To organize fine art workshops which develop the individual talents of persons with ASD
To facilitate family-oriented events where children with ASD are welcomed and accepted
To work with other arts venues and museums to create Autism Arts opportunities for families to attend fine arts performances and events
Thus far, this month’s events have comprised of speciality cocktail hours, sensory-friendly haircuts, and an art field trip via “the Love Bus.” It will be interesting to see what else they have in store for the days to come!
Dr. Stephen Shore is no stranger to awkward situations. Through his lecture “Promoting Successful Transition to Adulthood for Individuals on the Autism Spectrum” presented on Friday at Hotel Pennsylvania, Dr. Shore hopes that his experiences navigating through life with Asperger’s Syndrome are instructive for young adults on the autistic spectrum.
A successful transition to adulthood often revolves around choosing the right career. Dr. Shore spoke about his fascination with mechanical watches as a child, and how he was able to parlay this strength into a college job repairing bicycles.
It is an unfortunate truth that the unemployment rate among adults with autism remains high today. The majority of young adults affected by asd struggle to achieve full-time employment- some estimates suggest over 90%. While teens on the spectrum vary widely in their degree of functioning (high/low), there are steps that may be taken to improve their likelihood of achieving independence.
Anyone on the autistic spectrum has their own set of strengths and interests. A child may love putting items in the correct order, for example. It may be ideal for this individual to take a job stocking shelves. This could parlay into a career in inventory management.
There are various professions that benefit from the skill set exhibited by some people with ASD. We have seen several companies, such as engineering firms, that actually have programs designed to place bright young adults on the autistic spectrum with jobs that utilize their math skills and minimal socialization. Employers sometimes praise these workers for their lack of idle chatter during a productive work day.
But proper employment is not the only challenge on the path toward adulthood. Learning to build social and relationship skills is usually a challenge for someone with ASD. Dr. Shore suggests that we ask for what he calls “reasonable accommodations” in order to successfully integrate into social groups.
For example, Dr. Shore typically presents his lectures wearing a baseball cap. Although this may seem unusual, his reasoning has nothing to do with making a style statement. He explained how the overhead LED lighting in lecture halls bothers him more than it would the average person, who may not even be affected. Asking for reasonable accommodations like this can help a person with autism fit in with others. The key, as always, is awareness- if the adults around him understand what his needs are, they may be more likely to feel comfortable with his differences.
Children with autism are poorly prepared for their adult lives, according to Dr. Shore, which is something that caregivers, therapists, and teachers need to change. It is typical to begin preparing a child for their adult lives at 16.
“This is about ten years too late,” said Dr. Shore, in response to that idea.
ICare4Autism is in the process of creating a Global Workforce Initiative vocational training program that will help teens develop their skills and translate them into a career. It is estimated that this year alone, around 50,000 18 year olds with autism will enter the workforce or choose to continue their education.
Written by Hannah Jay
Shema Kolainu hosted another successful community workshop with Dr. Stephen Shore on Tuesday. Entitled “Including Children on the Autism Spectrum in the Music Curriculum,” the presentation struck a chord with those in attendance.
The workshop held at Hotel Pennsylvania covered several topics that addressed involvement of special needs children in musical education. Currently a Special Education Professor at Adelphi University, Dr. Shore’s undergraduate work focused on music education. His teachings are influenced by his own experiences taking music lessons as a child with Asperger’s Syndrome.
Dr. Shore covered the benefits of introducing a child to a music curriculum. One of these benefits is that the students engage in social activity with their teacher and other students. There are many social rules to learn and practice when taking lessons in your teacher’s house, for example. It helps the child to be reminded that they should be courteous and say “hello” when arriving at the house and “thank you” once the lesson is over.
Dr. Shore displayed a numbered instruction sheet that one of his former students used:
In addition to helping the children with social cues, Dr. Shore has also come up with many methods that have been effective to teach them music. Sometimes charts can be helpful when teaching notation because children on the spectrum love structure. His students responded well when they had the letter names of notes placed on a piano.
Dr. Shore’s lecture also addressed how to adjust traditional classroom instruction within a school environment. Since there is rarely enough time to address each student individually, he suggests asking other students to instruct a child who is struggling. This also will help the “student instructor” obtain an even better grasp on the material as they mentor.
Often in a classroom environment, lessons have not been planned with a special needs child in mind. For a child on the autistic spectrum, these lessons can be adapted to suit their alternative learning styles. This is called a “substitute curriculum.” One avenue to take is to reach out for extra help from a paraprofessional. The teacher’s aide can work with a child separately until he or she is up to speed on the material. Once the part is mastered, the child can perform with the ensemble.
A musical education can improve the lives of young people in a number of ways, both for typical and atypical learners. When introduced before adolescence, musical literacy can improve a child’s motor coordination in regards to finger movement. The areas of the brain responsible for touch perception are more developed in people who learned to play music at a young age.
A well-known home goods giant is helping to provide a welcoming environment for autistic children to create meaningful art.
Home Depot stores in certain locations offer free monthly workshops for child and family crafting. The first of these workshops in the Plano, Texas store was offered on Saturday, December 13. The children attending painted holiday decorations with their families.
This workshop was arranged through the work of Hunter’s Autism Specials, which is a Dallas-based organization that provides products and services to businesses and families who would like to assist those affected by autism.
Designed for children ages 5-12, the classes provide the kids with an orange apron and a crafting kit for a project that can be taken home. The Home Depot site states that they “teach children do-it-yourself skills and tool safety and at the same time they help to instill a sense of accomplishment.”
These projects are helpful for children on the autistic spectrum because they foster a sense of independence, which can be difficult for them. In addition to building skills, the children get to spend quality time with loved ones while they build something new. Plus, they must work to see a task to completion, which is a good exercise for children who struggle with short attention spans.
Leslie Griggs, contributor to the Special Needs Insider blog via Dallas News, said of the workshop, “The event is open to children with autism and siblings so my husband took our son Jack, age 6, and daughter Peyton, age 3. The kids had fun and Jack, who has a difficult time following directions and completing tasks, got to experience something new.”
The crafting workshops also take place in Louisville, Kentucky. A mother named Debbie commented on Home Depot’s blog, stating “Our 9 year old has mild Autism and he especially enjoys the projects. The staff is always friendly and [they] encourage the children one on one. I would like to thank Home Depot for offering a positive influence for our area children and grandchildren.”
These workshops are available on the first Saturday of each month at various locations. Families may register in advance. Workshops typically last about 3 hours, taking place in the morning. Check with your local Home Depot to find out if these classes are offered near you. Note that not all of the workshops are designed to be specifically “autism-friendly”.
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.
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.
Fighting for Autism is starting a new trial for using kickboxing as a form of therapy for kids on the spectrum. The managing director of US of Fighting for Autism, Brian Higginbotham, who is overseeing their kickboxing therapy program, says “Their first day they couldn’t put a glove on and had no idea how to properly punch. Now they are doing eight strike and ducking under counter punches. It’s pretty cool to see the development and progression of the kids.”
They were able to start this program with the help of Dr. Avi Domnitz-Gebet, a pediatric neurologist at the Pediatric Neurodevelopmental Center in St. Charles and Christina Hannah, owner and inventor of ‘Changeable Chewables.’
So far, with the success they are experiencing, they are hoping to open new kickboxing programs around the world by partnering with other doctors or facilities that would want to host them. Dr. Avi says the program is great for kids and their parents and is a great opportunity to teach self-control, responsibility, and self-esteem. Having the parents involved to interact with their child is a rewarding experience all around.
Joe and Erica Worden, who usually teach MMA training, are also helping kids in the program. Joe explains how “after the first session one kid actually said ‘fun’ to me and his dad said ‘wow, he’s never talked to a stranger before,’ so that’s pretty cool. That is the kind of progress we are seeing, they are focusing more and there is more enjoyment. I would do whatever I needed to do to bring this program out here.”
Kickboxing is a good way for children to really focus on their hand-eye coordination and it puts them in an active environment with other kids and parents they can relate to. Physical exercise is really important for kids with special needs to be healthy and occasionally get out, especially for those on the lower-functioning end of the spectrum.
Jen Olenizcak, founder of “The Engaging Educator” recently lead a program over the course of two weeks where six students on the autism spectrum and their families took a one hour class on the Neustadt Collection at Queens Museum, which is a collection of Tiffany lamps, windows, metal-work, flat and pressed-glass “jewels” and much more. What she noticed was that there were many individual successes but also the areas of empathy, eye contact, and imaginative play saw improvements through the whole group.
The students she worked with really liked her exercise in empathy. She would pair people up and while one person’s eyes are closed, their partner connects their fingertips and leads the “blind” person around using only the touch of their fingers. Children with ASD tend to have trouble with empathy, but for this activity, they carefully guided their parents around the gallery space and by week two were guiding their peers around.
After the end of week one, the group ended with an activity called “Pass the Clap”. It starts with the first person turning to the person next to them, makes eye contact and then they both try to clap their hands at the same time while maintaining eye contact. The next person then turns to the person next to them, continuing around in a circle to “pass the clap”. Eye contact is something that people on the spectrum in general tend to have a difficult time doing and some student had to be reminded to “see what color eyes” the person next to them had. However, they continued this for a period of time and it was a largely successful activity.
The group also engaged in imaginative activities where they had to try to embody different emotions like “happy” or “sad.” They also tried posing like the people they saw in the photos in the gallery and created their own stories about the plants and flowers design that they observed on the Tiffany lamps. For example Jen Olenizcak’s student partner told her that she was the tulip and then proceeded to act out a story about the wind, a bee getting pollen, and snowflakes falling on the tulip.
She was very excited with the level of engagement from the students and their families and though the results of this very short study was only tried this one time she is hopeful that perhaps if the program could be extended to more than two weeks, more than one class session so that perhaps we can see something really inspiring happen. “Would the empathy move beyond the class and contribute to a better understanding of emotions? Could the eye contact in “Pass the Clap” transfer to everyday life”? We don’t know the answers, but we would sure like to find out.
We will be talking about some emerging and innovative therapeutic practices as well as issues of empathy, specifically on Day 2 of our upcoming International Autism Conference. For more information and ticket registration, CLICK HERE!