Tag Archives: autism treatment

Applied Behavior Analysis: Opening New Doors

Shortly after an autism diagnosis is made, parents are typically recommended to navigate the tricky waters of behavioral analysis services for their child.

Applied behavior analysis (or ABA), is defined as “…the process of systematically applying interventions based upon the principles of learning theory to improve socially significant behaviors to a meaningful degree”. It targets areas where core symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder are usually expressed, namely in behavior patterns, communication, and social skills. It is useful when teaching children with autism behaviors that they may not adopt on their own (such as understanding sarcasm, or limiting repeated behavior). 

As ABA is one of the more common intervention plans for children with autism, it is understandable that there may be some misgivings in its application. Critics of the intervention program accuse it of ‘forcing’ children with ASD to be someone that they are not, meaning that they are being forced to behave and act differently than they would naturally.

However, those in favor of ABA intervention argue that there is no ‘forced’ change in the child at all. They insist that these treatment programs are tools to guide these children and they are helping them to learn to communicate and connect with their peers and those around them. 

Human connection is not just a want, but a necessary component for living a fulfilling life. By teaching these children specific behavioral, communicative, and social skills, behavior therapists are ensuring that these children will have the necessary skills to interact with people as they grow and develop.

Critics who argue against ‘forced’ social skills (insisting that many people with autism prefer to stick to themselves) don’t necessarily understand that by teaching these children how to interact and giving them tools which are necessary to socialize comfortably, they are also given a choice of how to utilize these tools- and a choice of whether to be social or to be more isolated. 

ABA need not teach children with autism to be someone else, but rather, to develop into a different version of themselves- a version where they have control over their own behavior, socialization and communication.

ABA can provide a child with a sharpened awareness of how others perceive them, and also give them a knowledge of behaviors, communication, and social skills that they wouldn’t necessarily pick up on on their own. 

By Sydney Chasty, Carleton University

Photo credit: www.zmescience.com



Robot Tutor for Children with Autism

robots helping autism

A Texas-based company called RoboKind has recently developed an innovative teaching tool geared towards children with Autism.

It is a 22-inch tall robot named Milo with cool, spiky hair, wide-eyes and a child-like voice. He is equipped with a video screen, sensors, cameras, and facial recognition software to evaluate the child’s responses and progress. They hope to help children with expressing empathy, self-motivation, and how to navigate social situations.

Two iPads are used, one for the student and one for the (human) instructor, to carry out each lesson. It is dependent upon the instructor whether they move on to next part or if they re-do the lesson. Throughout the entire session Milo is monitoring and recording data such as eye contact, speed and accuracy of answers, and frustration and interest levels. Lessons are also structured around particular social situations such as every day greetings, birthday party behavior, interpreting expressions, predicting others’ feelings, and how to be a good friend.

At the moment, Milo is being distributed regionally and used within private homes, treatment centers, therapy clinics, and schools. There are also some that are being tested for research in American and European universities.

One may think it is an odd approach to therapy, a robot teaching human emotions? It doesn’t make much sense. However, researches have found that children who are on the autism spectrum tend to respond better to technology rather than people. It is somewhat similar to when animals (such as dogs and horses) are used for therapy treatment. The Milo robots are different methods that help to achieve goals.

However, the company makes it very clear they are not replacing the traditional human therapist. Their goal is to create a new tool in which aides the therapists as part of their treatment plan. We all know that children with Autism can fall anywhere within the spectrum. So their therapies, as well, can be varied. The company states that the robot is best used for children who have the following skills: picture symbol recognition, ability to answer yes/no questions, ability to understand cause and effect, and the ability to use a tablet to communicate.

By Raiza Belarmino



Early Intervention: How Effective Is It?

early intervention success

Children are the most precious gifts that any mother could have.

Before the child even takes its first breath of air in this world, a mother carries him or her for a full for nine months. In those nine months, a woman is advised to take care of herself, her body, and her soon-to-be child by  exercising as much caution as possible with her daily routine. A mother creates a relationship with her child in those nine months through the simple things such as the way he or she may kick or move. As we all know, having a child comes great responsibility, no matter what kind of problems it may come with on both the physical and mental spectrum.

Normally, autistic children do not show noticeable signs of their disorder until they are around the age of three. Even though the signs may be hard to find when they are very young, there are ways to determine if your child may have autism. To begin, it is common for children that have autism to lag in their speech development. They cannot make certain sounds or many noises to “talk” or communicate with their loved ones, or whoever it may be. They also tend to be focused on one object or concept for a very long period of time, which makes it hard to direct his or her attention towards something else.

Kristin Hinson, who is a mother of four, participated in a study conducted by Sally Rogers, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral studies at UC Davis MIND Institute. Hinson began to see signs indicating that her son Noah may have autism when he was just nine months old. Rogers was curious what a difference it would make if parents intervened before their children were officially diagnosed with autism.

The study involved behavioral therapy for twelve weeks, in which Hinson was taught behavioral mechanisms and techniques, including sensory. Six other parents that saw signs of autism with their toddlers participated as well.  After therapy was over, 18 month-old Noah caught up developmentally with other children his age, if not even better. He became more engaged. Along with Noah, the six other children showed much more improvement.

The sample size for this study was small, so it is difficult to draw a conclusion stating that early intervention before age three can prevent autism symptoms from becoming severe later on. But in general, scientists do agree that early intervention can change the outcome for toddlers at risk for the disorder.

Taja Nicolle Kenney, Eerie Community College



New Treatment Reduces Autism-Like Symptoms in Adolescent Mice

DNA

According to a new unpublished study, a compound used to treat genetic deficits may be effective against symptoms linked to autism.

Scientists announced at the 2014 Society for Neuroscience Annual Meeting that experimental treatments using an immunosuppressant called rapamycin have been met with success when used on adolescent mice. At 6 weeks old, the rodents are at a similar development phase to that of a human teenager.

This treatment has previously been used to treat a genetic mutation associated with the TSC1 gene. Abnormalities in this gene can cause a condition called tuberous sclerosis, which is characterized by the growth of benign tumors. About half of the population that suffers from tuberous sclerosis also has austim spectrum disorder.

It was observed that mice who lacked TSC1 in their Purkinje cells, neurons located in the cerebellum, exhibited autism-like symptoms, such as social difficulties, narrow interests, and repetitive behaviors, when they reach 2 months of age. It was noticed that when these cells died, symptoms associated with autism became apparent.

A previously released study demonstrated that rapamycin could prevent the symptoms when used on mice that were 7 days old. It was however not determined how effective the treatment was in older mice. In the most recent study, researchers found treated at 6 weeks of age did not develop these behaviors.

The results suggest that this therapy may be used to reduce- or even reverse- behaviors associated with autsim in children of a wide age range. Though the therapy is still in the developmental stages, these findings could be indicate promising discoveries in the field of behavioral treatment for children with autism, even at the later stages.

The average age of an autism diagnosis in children is 4 years. Older children who were diagnosed years ago are often still searching for treatment options into their teenage years, since they may not have had access to intervention in the formative years. Since them symptoms are not always understood at the onset, others are not diagnosed until adolescence, and some not until adulthood. Along with traditional speech therapy, occupational therapy, and psychiatric treatment, biological methods of treatment could signal a huge leap in our understanding of autism spectrum disorder.



Environmental Enrichment – At Home Sensory Stimulation Supplements Autism Therapies

Environmental enrichment is a simple, low-cost program that parents can implement at home to support sensory input therapies their children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). A recent clinical study led by Dr. Michael Leon, PhD of the University of California Irvine indicates a significant improvement of autism symptoms in children whose therapy was supplemented with environmental enrichment over those who stuck solely with their regular therapies.

The process is simple. Start by introducing a changing set of sensory exercises every morning and evening that engage at least two of the senses in any combination, like pairing a new fragrance with a gentle rub on the back or listening to classical music at bedtime while petting a soft blanket. Change the exercise every two weeks, making them increasingly more challenging, building to games like squeezing objects of different shapes, colors, and textures or pulling a specific toy out of a bag containing other items.

Sensory input therapies have been proven effective for children with ASD and have been increasingly incorporated into special education programs. Shema Kolainu – Hear Our Voices School and Center for Children with Autism in Brooklyn, NY features a Snoezelen Sensory room where children with autism can improve their auditory, visual, and motor skills by stimulating their senses while relaxing in a safe environment.

The clinical study indicated that 42% of the children receiving environmental enrichment in addition to their regular therapies saw a significant improvement after six months – more than 10 points on the Leitner International Performance Scale. However, like all ASD therepies, symptoms, and theories, results vary by individual. The good news is, environmental enrichment offers parents an opportunity to participate in their children’s growth, at little to no cost. There are no possible negative side effects, and it can be fun for both parent and child.



The Struggle for ABA Coverage

When 2-year-old Tony Burke was diagnosed with autism, his parents like many in their shoes, wanted to get him the best services they could that would serve their child’s needs. After doing some research they decided to start him with applied behavioral analysis therapy or ABA therapy, which is considered to be one of the most effective treatment methods for those on the spectrum. After some time, Tony’s grunting noises turned into words and then smaller sentences—the therapy was working. But then something happened that slowed down all his hard work—his family’s insurance started to deny claims.

In Pennsylvania, health insurance laws require ABA therapy to be covered, though in Tony’s case, his therapy was not covered in school, where he needed the most help. His family all of a sudden could not afford o pay therapy costs—adding up to $80,000 a year. These autism coverage acts were passed since 2010 in states like Pennsylvania and New Jersey, but coverage for ABA therapy still remains hard to obtain.

The prevalence of complaints can be hard to assess since the law also requires Medicaid to cover autismservices leaving providers who don’t get paid by private insurance with the option to just bill Medicaid. Some insurers also avoid covering therapies a child can get at school, including ABA, by dumping cost onto public schools or other agencies.

Another major problem is delayed payments. Kara Matunas from New Jersey had her claims for her 2 year old autistic daughter repeatedly denied. Her daughter Reagan, was receiving early intervention, speech, developmental, and occupational therapy. Two of the denials were reportedly “incorrectly generated due to a manual handling error.”

“They’re just purposely delaying coverage,” Mrs. Matunas explains. Even when the claims are eventually paid, the family is left paying $400-$500 a month which can be especially hard on even middle-class families. Autism laws apply only to fully insured plans where companies have a contract with insurance companies to pay claims. However, as more and more large firms are converting to self-funded plans where they have to pay for care more directly from their own wallets, coverage seems harder to come by.

Shema Kolainu – Hear Our Voices is a non-profit school and center for children with autism that offer a variety of services at no cost to families all over New York City. They not only offer center-based services, including ABA, speech, art, occupational, therapies to name a few, but also home based services that reach hundreds of families. Organizations like Shema Kolainu have had great success in helping children on the autism spectrum from early intervention to school-age children, and hope to offer services to families like the Burke’s and Matunas who need these services to help their children succeed.



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.

 

minnesota.cbslocal.com

 

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

http://www.codyenterprise.com/news/local/article_3c2a2340-7252-11e3-9f12-001a4bcf887a.html