Tag Archives: autism treatment

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

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, www.modelmekids.com, 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.

The Basketball League for Children with Autism.




Sport therapy is important for kids with autism and at the same time it could be a great challenge for them. Some of the issues are motor functioning problems, difficulty in planning and low motivation. Exercise and team sports, such as soccer, baseball and flag football, can be a great benefit to improve these problems and also enhance the quality of everyday life for children with autism. We have talked about yoga and martial arts, having a positive impact on the behavior of children with autism, but how about a real team sport such as basketball?

The Minnesota Autism center organized a Basketball league for children with autism about three years ago. This Autism center in South Central Minnesota is a non-profit organization that support families affected by autism. The basketball league is a great success for the center and the Minnesota community.   Team sports help these kids learn how to communicate with each other and how to express themselves in a small group and listening to a coach give directions.   With every ball in the basket, kid’s faces light up with pride. The ability to accomplish goal, compete and to work with a group significantly boosts their confidence, which increases children overall happiness.


Original story http://minnesota.cbslocal.com/2014/03/18/league-introduces-team-sports-to-kids-with-autism/


Riding Horses Used as Animal Therapy

A therapeutic horseback-riding program in Cody,Wyoming is working to help children with disabilities like autism and down-syndrome.

The program, called One Step at a Time, is intended to improve communication skills and anxiety. According to one of the program’s founder’s Lori Rhodes, it all has to do with the horse’s movement (their gait) and how they relate to humans through that. This type of therapy is called equine therapy.

“It’s all about the horse’s gait,” Rhodes says. “Generally, kids with challenges have something different about their gait. Because a horse’s gait is the closest to a human’s, it helps by overlaying the stride pattern and helps the brain work better, especially the part dealing with speech.”

This is not the only horseback-riding therapy program in the country. In Wisconsin, two sisters opened up their own equine therapy center called Flying Horse. Like One Step at a Time, this center is meant to help anyone overcoming a struggle- youth at risk, veterans suffering from PTSD and children with autism.

“It’s amazing how horses can sense what people are feeling,” co-founder Jewel Johns Root said. “The horse really is the therapist.”

Root is a certified riding instructor with a degree in K-3 education. Besides her and her sister, the program has five trained therapists to work with patients and help them cope with their struggles. There are also 10, trained therapy horses.

“They’re so patient and very thoughtful in the way that they let their clients go at their own pace,” said Christin Skolnik, administrator of the La Crosse County Comprehensive Community Services program. “I think they’re really creative in the way that they are able to help people bring about change.”

For more information on equine therapy in New York, read here: http://blog.hear-our-voices.org/2013/11/14/an-autistic-boy-forms-a-special-bond-with-a-horse/

Sources: http://www.postbulletin.com/news/local/therapy-patients-find-comfort-in-the-pasture/article_6807926b-9638-5927-9ffb-ce4b6e37c572.html


Extreme Sports Camp for Individuals with Autism

Aspen, Colorado is home to many popular skiing, hiking and snow-boarding resorts and programs. Now it is also home to Extreme Sports Camp- a sleep-away camp for children and teens with autism.

The program was founded in 2004 by Sallie Bernard who wanted her son Bill, who is diagnosed with autism, to enjoy the same opportunities as his brothers.

“Sometimes we get so focused on academics, behavior, or speech that we forget our children are people who have an inner life and need diverse experiences just like anyone else,” Sallie says. “If anything, children with autism need even more opportunities than typical children to access enough essential bridges to adulthood.”

Extreme Sports Camp offers winter and summer programs teaching attendees sports like skiing, rock-climbing, kayaking and other extreme sports. The counselor to camper ratio is higher than 1:1, and all counselors are certified sports instructors who have extensive training in working with those on the autism spectrum.

Activity-based socializing can be incredibly beneficial to individuals with autism, according to Dr. Stephen Shore, member of ICare4Autism’s Advisory Council;  ICare4Autism is a non-profit partner organization of Shema Kolainu.

“Those of us on the spectrum will be much more successful in gatherings that are activity-based, and it may become a special interest,” Dr. Shore said in a Google Hangout with ICare4Autism.

Sallie expresses a similar notion about the benefits of her camp in Aspen.

“At camp, everyone is new and the playing field is level,” Sallie says. “Everyone has a chance to be good at something and not good at something, to mentor someone else and be mentored, to be a potential friend.”

To watch the highlights of ICare4Autism’s Google Hangout with Dr. Shore, follow the link here: http://www.icare4autism.org/news/2013/12/dr-stephen-shore-speaks-on-autism-workforce/

Sources: http://www.extremesportscamp.org/about/


Dog Helps Girl with Autism Surf

Gina Gill, a 9-year-old girl with autism from San Diego, has struggled with socializing and self-confidence for most of her life.

Fortunately, Gina has been able to boost her self esteem by learning how to surf: her teacher being a 5-year-old golden retriever name Ricochet.

Ricochet is part of a program called “Puppy Prodigies,” which provides ocean-based therapy for individuals with disabilities including autism. Since she surfs with people who have disabilities, Ricochet is called a SURFice dog.

“I think she has a lot of trouble with everything in life, socializing and school, things can be really hard for her. She’s kind of a loner and it’s hard to make friends,” Gina’s mother Gail said. “I think this is building her confidence enormously.”

Gina’s canine partner Ricochet has even become a bit of a local celebrity, winning surf contests, posing with the Laker Girls and “throwing” out the first pitch at a Padres game. Ricochet “is the only dog in the world that surfs with children with special needs, people with disabilities and wounded warriors as an assistive aid and SURFice dog.”

Puppy Prodigies hosted a New Year’s Eve event in Del Mar, California, where people with disabilities as well as members of the military suffering for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, could surf tandem with Ricochet. This was Gina’s third time surfing with the golden retriever.

Ricochet also surfed tandem with Randy Dexter, an army veteran with PTSD, for the New Year’s event.

“It’s given me a new lease on life,” says Dexter.  “Now my relationship with my wife and family has gotten so much better.”

For more information on animal therapy in New York, read here: http://blog.hear-our-voices.org/2013/11/19/heeling-autism/

To learn more about Ricochet, follow the link here: http://www.surfdogricochet.com

Sources: http://www.kpbs.org/news/2013/dec/31/surf-dog-ricochet-tandam-surf-therapy/


Mother of Missing Teen Gives Back

Alex Irwin, an autistic teenager from Portland, Ore., went missing last Saturday during a wilderness hike. He was found the next morning by guests at a nearby wilderness lodge.

Alex is part of a larger group of individuals with autism that strayed from their homes and schools this year, and were deemed missing.

Alex’s mother Jill is working to combat this with a new program called PIE- Promoting Independent Experience.

“The tension between offering Alex opportunities for him to be independent, and navigating his safety, it’s always the most challenging,” Jill said. “I started to understand that underneath all these autistic behaviors, there was this teenage boy who wanted to start to have some control of his life.”

Jill began contacting local businesses to see if there were volunteer or job opportunities for her son. He now works at a non-profit Chinese garden.

“He leaves with a sense of pride I don’t think I’ve ever seen in him in his life,” Jill Irvin said. 

Jill’s organization is expanding this idea to the rest of the autism community in Portland. She’s looking for local openings that can help individuals with autism, “learn new skills and demonstrate their potential.”

ICare4Autism, a non-profit organization affiliated with Shema Kolainu, is promoting a like-minded workforce initiative in New York. By providing workforce training and pairing with local stores like Walgreens, ICare4Autism is helping place young adults with autism into career and volunteer positions. You can read more about this program here :http://www.icare4autism.org/global-autism-center/comprehensive-autism-workforce-development-initiative/

For more information on PIE: http://piepdx.org/

Sources: http://www.katu.com/news/local/Mother-of-lost-hiker-looks-to-educate-others-238183281.html


Court Allows Boy with Autism to Keep Therapeutic Chickens

The DeBary City Council is letting J.J. Hart, a three-year-old boy from Florida, keep his therapeutic chickens. 

Earlier in December, the council voted that DeBary residents would not be allowed to keep chicken coups in their backyards. Unfortunately for the Hart family, their chickens were the one thing that helped J.J.’s verbal skills and eased his outbursts.

“We’re very happy,” J.J.’s mother, Ashleigh Hart, said Wednesday. “We like to think that the chickens have been a great help in addition to everything else that we’ve done for J.J.”

“I always felt that it was a violation of a person’s rights,” Mayor Bob Garcia said in support of accommodating the Harts.

City officials agreed to let the Harts keep their chickens after their attorney Mark Nation threatened to sue the city council and take the case to federal court. According to Nation, removing the chickens would violate the Federal Fair Housing Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Rehabilitation Act.

Pressure also fell on the city council due to media coverage, notably from NBC’s Today Show.

“This is a 100 percent win for J.J.,” Nation said about the council considering an exception. “People with disabilities do have special needs and accommodations.”

For more information on animal therapy and autism, please follow the link here: http://blog.hear-our-voices.org/2013/11/19/heeling-autism/

Sources: http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/2013-12-11/news/os-debary-chickens-hart-attorney-20131210_1_ashleigh-hart-j-j-hart-pet-chickens


Video Games Can Be Helpful for Autistic Individuals

An occupational therapist explained in an interview with Marketplace on Tuesday that she has found video games to be helpful for those with autism.

Amanda Foran works with both autistic children and adults and is the director of occupational therapy at Motion Therapy in Rockville, Maryland.

Foran encourages families with an autistic child to look for video games with simple rules that also tend to be very interactive, such as tennis or boxing. Seek out “games that offer the motion capture technology, that shows the individual on the screen instead of an abstract character,” Foran says.

Video games can be a meaningful physical activity for those on the autism spectrum. Foran particularly likes the Xbox Kinect because it encourages full body motion. Also, it doesn’t require any handheld controller, which is good for autistic people who may have limited fine motor control or coordination.

Foran explains that video games can also help build autistic people’s social interaction skills if the games are played with a partner. Therefore, families should encourage them to play with siblings or peers. Foran points out that many people on the autism spectrum are already skilled at playing video games, so this may provide them with the opportunity to act as the expert.

When asked about any concerns for the competitiveness that naturally is part of video games, Foran states that it’s not face-to-face competition. They are looking at a screen, which makes the competitiveness less threatening.

Foran drives home her point by explaining that people with autism desire to engage socially, but they might not have the underlying skills to do so. Or perhaps their sensory and language differences create challenges in communication. Technology like video games can help to make this communication somewhat more comfortable for those with autism.

“People just blossom when they’re playing,” Foran says.

To listen to the interview go to: http://www.marketplace.org/topics/tech/mind-games-mental-health-and-virtual-reality/video-games-and-autism-spectrum

By Rachel Schranck