Recognizing Differences & Organic Education

John Elder Robinson, a high functioning autistic and popular blogger, talks about how autism made modern schooling an insurmountable challenge for him. He explains that like education, autistic people have been around for awhileHowever society has not done their best when it comes to accepting and integrating neurodiversity into everyday life. Robinson says, “Unfortunately, when they describe us, they forgot to enumerate our gifts. They called us disabled because they saw what we couldn’t do, and they overlooked what we do better than anyone else. We’re only now unraveling the damage that’s done to a generation of autistic people. We’re recognizing that we’re different—not less—and joining the community of neurodiverse humanity—people whose brains are wired differently.”

Robinson argues that our education system does not offer the kind of variety and accommodation for a neurodiverse group of students. He says that we have a total focus on book learning and have largely eliminated the hands on/experiential component of learning. “Learning a trade or job skill at the side of a master or tutor evolved over thousands of years and it works. Automating the process with a textbook may work for some people too, but for those of us who are different…”

Teaching communication and creating more opportunities for vocational education are an important part of setting a student up for success in life. If we look at the system in place now, we see a very rigid structure that is largely based on test scores. For example, a student interested  in cars is advised to tread the educational path towards becoming a mechanical engineer. This means, completing high school, while not learning practical skills, but more so learning how to be successful in college and hone test taking and writing skills; then completing a four year program in college where many of the subjects she will take most likely will not be related to car design, however are required before grad school; then once in grad school, the student can finally really engage in independent work that actually relates to her specific automotive interest. Hopefully by doing all this the student is able to pave a successful life route. But this situation, especially for an autistic individual, is really only happening in a perfect world, because their everyday challenges make life a little more complicated that the school system seems to accommodate for.

Robinson says that if we add more hands on learning at both the high school and college levels, we can encourage teens to focus on their interests and gifts early to teach skills that relate more closely to those interests. He argues, “Keep this as a goal: If a student goes on to college, great. But send them out of high school with solid job skills, no matter what… Let’s build up our community college system, which is the closest thing we have to hands on learning in college today. By moving more students through college on the way to a four year degree, we teach even more real life skills, and increase the odds of a student who can make a living, whether he continues or not.”

According to Robinson, we need to push our schools into discussing how to teach real and usable work skills at every stem on the educational ladder, how to teach people in a comfortable environment, and helping students to organize themselves in a way that nurtures their interests and talents.

High functioning autistic professor, Stephen Shore will be discussing ways to develop employment opportunities through interests and strengths for high schoolers on the spectrum. Peter Gerhardt, founding chair of the scientific council of the Organization of Autism Research, will also be presenting on transitioning from high school to work, underlying issues and quality of life. These two specific presentations will take place on Day 1 of our upcoming International Autism Conference. For more information and registration, please CLICK HERE!

For the original John Robinson post, click here!


Autism App Adopted by Clinical Institutions

SpeakAllis an iPad therapy app that is specifically designed for children and adults who have little to no functional speech skills, especially in the area of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC). The app allows them to acquire initial symbol vocabulary and learn the process of constructing simple sentences. It can be customized to each child or individual learner’s specific needs by allowing the instructor or caretaker to use recorded audio of their own voice as well as custom images from your iPad library. The app uses these photos and graphic symbols to represent what the child wants to say and helps them construct sentences accordingly.

Developed at Purdue University, this app is now being adopted for use at speech and language clinics at San Jose State University in California and the University of Central Florida in Orlando. “The SpeakAllapp is a major technological advancement in the available AAC tool kit for use with children with autism,” says Chad Nye, executive director of the University of Central Florida Center for Autism and Related Disabilities, “the system is easy to understand, learn, adapt, and deliver and should be in the professional tool kit of anyone working in the field of autism or other language interventions. The transparency of the actions make the stimulus and response items a practical application that can be individualized for each child.”

Clinicians are impressed by the apps clean layout of the app, especially since they have been looking for ways to figure out the issue of sensory overload with dynamic displays that are hard to work with. To much sensory information can create stress and anxiety for an autistic person struggling with speech development and further hinder their learning process. Communication is one of the biggest issues that children and families with autism face because they don’t have enough verbal speech to meet their day-to-day communicating needs.

A free version of the SpeakAllapp provides usage of up to 20 graphic symbols, two activity sheets, and one learner’s profile. The premium versions of the app include access to four different synthetic voices, data tracking and managements, unlimited symbols, unlimited activity sheets, and unlimited learner profiles.

Shema Kolainu takes full advantage of apps that can be used for speech therapy, especially ones that use clean visuals and auditory cues to help facilitate language production. In fact, one of our very own non-verbal students said his first words and first simple sentence, “want iPad,” just this past month. Integrating these newfound technologies into our therapy practices are an important part of creating a strong foundation for the children and students we work with. Innovations and advancements in technology will be covered in depth on Day 3 of our 2014 ICare4Autism International Conference.

Get more conference info & tickets here

Get more info on SpeakAllhere


Autism in the Global Workforce

ICare4Autism will have the first day of its 2014 International Autism Conference dedicated to developing and promoting national and global Autism Workforce programs. Harley Lippman, founder and CEO of Genesis10, is our Workforce Chairman. The committee will help to oversee and promote our own initiatives, which you can read about here.

As part of our push for an inclusive workforce, we were glad to hear that just today, SAP, a world leader in enterprise software and software related services with locations in over 130 countries, announced that it would be collaborating with the University of Cambridge in a five year agreement to create a new internship program to promote its “Autism at Work” initiative. “Autism at Work” is the company’s own global initiative to employ people with autism. This announcement came after they recently employed its first group of people with autism, right here in two of their U.S offices.

The internship focuses on autistic students with skills and a strong interest in software and programming and gives placement to these students in one of five SAP locations, US, Indian, Canada, Ireland, or Germany. The goal is that they will move on to become SAP employees at the conclusion of their internship and become an important part of their company.

SAP will be working specifically with Professor Simon-Baron Cohen, Director of the Autism Research Center in Cambridge as well as an Advisory Council Member of ICare4Autism. He will be responsible for the outlining and developing the specifics of the internship that will make the transition a smooth process for the new autistic interns.

Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, the Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge University, says, “SAP is setting a terrific example, showing that a multinational IT company not only positively welcomes applicants with autism of Asperger Syndrome, but believes that there is a strong business case for employing them, because of their special talents.”

ICare4Autism is attempting to bring about more global initiatives like SAP’s internship that can be implemented on a national level. Our keynote speaker for Day 1, Randy Lewis, Former Walgreens Executive Vice President, will be talking about how Walgreens was the first company of their kind back in 2007 to employ a significant number of people with disabilities. More that 40% of their South Carolina distribution center have a physical or cognitive disability with similar numbers in their Connecticut center, opened in 2009. These employees work side by side with other team members all of whom have the same goals and equal pay. There are on-site training facilities that help those with special needs feel prepared for their job and daily tasks. “We’ve worked technology and creativity into every inch of this place, but it’s the people here who amaze you,” Randy Lewis explains.

These changes in the workforce globally and at home will ultimately open up doors for not only young adults, but also the younger generations that we care for here at Shema Kolainu, giving them a better chance at a brighter future.

For more information on the upcoming 2014 conference, click here

For the original post, click here

Argentinean Professor and Autism Researcher, Daniel Orlievsky, Visits Shema Kolainu- Hear Our Voices

 Just two days before presenting his research on language and writing in autism at the 2013 ICare4Autism Conference, Argentinean professor and researcher, Daniel Orlievsky, visited Dr. Joshua Weinstein at his center-based school for children with autism, Shema Kolainu- Hear Our Voices. The meeting was accompanied by Dr. Orlievsky’s wife, Gili Rechany-Educational Director, and Suri Gruen-Program Director.

Dr. Orlievsky is a Child and Adolescent Psychologist and Director of the Rehabilitation Through Writing Project Program at the Infantile and Adolescent Psychiatric Hospital “Dra. Carolina Tobar García,” in Buenos Aires. His main area of research and expertise involves teaching written language to children with autism spectrum disorder, and other mental disabilities. Dr. Weinstein was very intrigued by this approach,

“We have many students at Shema Kolainu who are non-verbal. Dr. Orlievsky’s approach to teaching students written communication, even if they do not have verbal communication, seems to be effective. I enjoyed discussing with him the many approaches towards facilitating communication, and look forward to collaborating with him further to help our children.”

Dr. Orlievsky and his wife then took a tour of the facility, observing the lessons utilizing Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) through double sided observations rooms. He was also introduced to theSnoezelen Room, a controlled multisensory room and the Daily Living Skills Center, which contains a mini supermarket, gym, kitchen, bedroom, and laundry center. Dr. Orlievsky was very enthusiastic about the state-of-the-art equipment and technology Shema Kolainu-Hear Our Voices utilizes. Educational Director of Shema Kolainu-Hear Our Voices, Gili Rechany, was very impressed by the work Dr. Orlievsky has produced thus far, and would be interested in utilizing his techniques with her students.

Dr. Weinstein was able to view some of Dr. Orlievsky’s case studies, and was very impressed by the work he has been conducting. The pre-conference visit as a whole was very successful, and both Dr. Weinstein and Dr. Orlievsky feel working together in the future can be very beneficial for children with autism worldwide.