University-Wide Learning Management Software Appropriated to Aid Autistic Students in Collaboration Skills

The cyber world of tech-enthusiasts is all-a-buzz over Bellevue College’s new use of school-wide learning management software to aid autistic students with collaboration skills. Bellevue College in Washington is home to Autism Spectrum Navigators, a support and skill development program for students with ASD. Throughout this past academic year, the Navigators have employed a new resource for aiding autistic students in collaboration with small academic groups. The software, Canvas, has a discussion board feature through which teachers and students can share assignments, grades, and interactive materials including audio and video. The content is manageable from smartphone and tablet interfaces as well, enabling continual access to the course dialogue and mediating the social component of learning. Sara Gardner, the manager of the Navigator program, asserts that since appropriating the Canvas discussion board feature for autistic assistance, the program has seen a marked increase in confidence and communication among students. Gardner advocates for the use mediating social tools for autistics. On the spectrum herself, Gardner telecommutes for part of each week to lessen exposure to social interactions that can be disrupting and strenuous for individuals with ASD.

Of the members of Navigators, students who utilized the Canvas program have completed more courses than those not involved in the program and have improved their grades overall. Brain Whitmer, co-founder of Instructure (the company responsible for Canvas), has a six-year-old daughter on the autism spectrum. While Whitmer did not intend for the program to be utilized particularly for autistic students, he comments on the success of Bellevue College’s adaptation saying, “It’s great to hear about how Canvas can help with autism, and that’s something I’d like to continue to help with in the future.” [i]

[i] Hambien, Matt. “Bellevue College Looks to Online Software to Help Autistic Students Collaborate.” Computer World. N.p., 28 Apr. 2013. Web. 29 Apr. 2013. <>.


Special Education Expert Presents Music Education Strategies & Strengths

Tuesday, at Shema Kolainu Hear Our Voices, Stephen Shore Ed. D. held a workshop on music education for children on the autism spectrum. Shore completed his doctoral degree in special education at Boston University and now teaches at Adelphi University in New York. Having been diagnosed on the autism spectrum and non-verbal until the age of 4, Shore brings a unique perspective to the field of special education. He attributes much of his success to the comprehensive interventions his parents guided and the music education he received from an early age. Subsequently, his approach to education is one of both specialization and inclusion. Shore’s strategies are developed particularly for the varying abilities of autistics, but are applicable for neurotypical education as well, allowing for integrated classrooms. While music is often recognized for it’s therapeutic benefits, Shore’s focus is not therapy, but structured, sustained education. Today’s workshop demonstrated the potential of music education to increase communicative abilities, strengthen neurological development in youth, foster social inclusion, and provide potential career paths for those with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Shore charismatically relayed stories of his students’ astonishing talents. One anecdote told of a non-verbal young man who, when guided hand-over-hand while playing piano, sang clear as day. Shore suggests that the structure, support, and focus the student experienced while guided to play the piano enabled him to sing, though he could not speak typically. Drawing from examples of students demonstrating expert knowledge in areas, who are unable to express understanding through certain mediums, Shore makes the case for specialized assessments in education in general, not just for students with developmental disabilities.

Check out Dr. Stephen Shore’s work and many publications at his website: The workshop, ‘Music for Children on the Autism Spectrum,’ will be streaming soon—stay tuned to see Dr. Stephen Shore speak

Autism Education Expert, Stephen Shore, Presents Workshop ‘Music For Children On The Autism Spectrum’ At Shema Kolainu

Tomorrow, Shema Kolainu Hear Our Voices will be holding a workshop on ‘Music for Children on the Autism Spectrum.’ Presenting the workshop will be expert Stephen Shore Ed. D., Assistant Professor in the Department of Special Education at Adelphi University. Shore is an inspiring individual who is on the Autism Spectrum himself. Having been nonverbal until the age of four and having completed a doctoral dissertation on the needs of those on the autism spectrum at Boston University, Shore is a testament to education and therapeutic strategies. He will be making a case for inclusion of autistic children in typically music courses as well as individualized music training and therapy as a means of communication development. Shore asserts that the “structural regularity” of music aids autistic children with communication in varying ways, contingent on their place among the spectrum. For non-verbal children, music may serve as the form of communication itself. Shore’s musical methods go further than skill development, drawing ideology from the proven physiological benefits of music as well. On Shore’s website testimonial for music therapy, he references a study performed by a neurologist/musician at Beth Israel Hospital, which showed an area of nerve fibers that transmits signals between the two brain hemispheres to be 12% thicker among keyboard players who began training before 7 years of age. To register for Stephen Shore’s workshop ‘Music for Children on the Autism Spectrum’ at Shema Kolainu Hear Our Voices click here! The workshop is April 16th, 2013 at 10 AM. Learn more about Stephen Shore’s work at his personal website or his Adelphi University page.

How To Talk To Your Kids: Refraining From Confusing Colloquialisms






In an article for Psychology Today, Dr. Ian Stuart-Hamilton explains linguistic interpretation as affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder, noting that the combination of calculative characteristics and language barriers that define autistic persons to varying degrees makes for an awkward understanding of common phrases. Dr. Stuart-Hamilton tells an anecdote of a woman with high-functioning autism doing so well in her accounting position that her boss complemented her with an English phrase saying the woman was so good she could, “wrap her up in a cotton wool and take her home.” Subsequently the accountant with ASD locked herself in her office for fear of her manager wanting to kidnap her, staying there until firemen gained entry to the office and explained the whole mix-up. This is extreme, perhaps, but this colloquial confusion is common and can cause a great deal of emotional stress for persons with ASD. Dr. Stuart-Hamilton asserts that in addition to the characteristics of ASD itself, autistic persons have trouble comprehending colloquialisms because their literal understanding disables them from learning such contradicting, confusing phrases in context and these phrases are rarely taught formally. Avoiding conflict-causing phrases altogether may be a long-term disservice for ASD persons, who will likely encounter confusing phrases in various contexts as adults. Dr. Stuart-Hamilton suggests that parents and teachers stick to literal phrasing when providing instruction, but speak freely in casual conversation, introducing ASD persons to problem phrases and taking the time to explain why the common understanding and literal meaning are different. At Shema Kolainu we are always thinking of our kids’ futures. We are dedicated to preparing our students for inclusion in all activities.


To read Dr. Stuart-Hamilton’s article, visit:


Stuart-Hamilton, Ian, PhD. “People with Autism Spectrum Disorder Take Things Literally.” Psychology Today. N.p., 7 Apr. 2013. Web. 7 Apr. 2013. <>.

Montgomery Public School System Unveils Their First Sensory Room

This World Autism Awareness Day, two elementary school teachers made inclusion more than a motto with the opening of a state-of-the-art sensory room, also known as a snoezelen or controlled multi-sensory environment (MSE). Tuesday morning Elizabeth Newell and Lauren Breeding, special education teachers at Wilson Elementary School in Montgomery, Alabama, unveiled the school’s new sensory room, the first in the Montgomery Public School System. Newell and Breeding have been working to see the sensory room become a reality since 2009. The special classroom is designed to comfort students on the Autism Spectrum with behavioral research supported lighting, sound, and interactive materials. Though sensory rooms may look like playgrounds, Breeding explains educational benefits for autistic children saying, “It gives them an opportunity to participate in the regular education classroom…to learn and explore in their own way.” On the day of the unveiling, each elementary class had a special lesson about Autism Spectrum Disorders.

At Shema Kolainu – Hear Our Voices, our students have greatly benefited from the soothing stimulus of the snoezelen room. Our controlled multi-sensory environment is alterable for various children’s needs, with multiple lighting and sound designs and a musical hopscotch with adjustable levels of difficulty. Our interactive LED spiral sensation panel is both calming and educational, teaching children cause and effect associations. To learn more about our snoezelen room and other therapeutic or educational innovations, visit the services section of our website or contact us!




To read more on Montgomery’s success story visit:

Griffin, Allison. “Delighting the Senses: School’s New Sensory Room Helps Autistic Children to Learn.” Montgomery Advertiser. N.p., 2 Apr. 2013. Web. 4 Apr. 2013. <>.

New Study Estimates 1 in 50 School-Age Children Have Autism

One in 50 school-age children have been diagnosed with autism, according to a new study published this week from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This figure is a marked increase from last year’s report released by the CDC, which cited a figure of 1 in 88. However, researchers attribute improvements in earlier detection of the disorder for the dramatic rise—not necessarily more cases. Often symptoms of mildly affected children go unnoticed until the child enters school, when challenges with social interaction, communication, and behavior among peers become evident.

While these new findings show strides in making earlier diagnoses of the disorder, for many families, intervention needs to happen much sooner, instead of observing signs and symptoms when a child enters an educational facility. Symptoms can be seen in children as early as 18 months, and doctors are now encouraged to screen children for developmental delays by age 2.

Results were assembled from a telephone survey conducted among 100,000 parents, revealing that an estimated 2 percent of children ages 6 to 17 have autism (1 in 50), up from 1.16 percent in 2007, when the study was first conducted. Researchers from the National Center for Health Statistics, a division of U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, say that this figure translates to 1 million school age children ages 6 to 17 that were reported by their parents to have autism spectrum disorder. Similar to prior studies, boys were much more likely to have the disorder, comprising nearly all of the overall increase in diagnoses.

The finding emphasizes the importance of early screening for developmental delays, in order to undertake early intervention and treatment.

Read the full report from The National Center for Health Statistics:

From Tragedy to Triumph: Reaping the benefits of early intervention


Joseph Peralta Jr.

Carmen Nivar and Joseph Peralta Sr. are the parents of Joseph Peralta Jr., but before Joseph Sr. had the chance to see his first-born son a NYC bus took his life away from him abruptly on the evening of his baby shower.  This tragedy occurred just eight days before Joseph Jr. was born, consequently sending Carmen into a depressive state.  Carmen credits her depression as a part of the reason she did not start to see some of the signs that her son was not doing some of the things her other children had done at his age.  During her regular doctor visits she was always told that he was fine, so she concluded that Joseph Jr. would eventually start to exhibit the typical behavior of a child his age.  It was not until Joseph Jr., who is known to his family as Bebo, was 2 ½ years old that Carmen realized that he still wasn’t speaking.  According to her she was giving him time because she was told that all kids are different.  She would soon find out exactly how different Bebo was after taking him to be evaluated.

After being evaluated at least five times Bebo was diagnosed by a psychologist as having mild to moderate autism, a diagnosis that no other doctor had been able to make.  This diagnosis caught Carmen by surprise and left her wondering what this would mean for her child.  For a while she just felt numb, but found the strength to cut through her own pain, so that she could help her son as much as possible.  She would soon learn that Bebo had nearly missed the opportunity to receive early intervention services (EIS) because his diagnosis wasn’t made sooner.  According to Hear Our Voices, if early intervention services include Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) parents will see their child improve dramatically.

Acronyms like ABA and OT (Occupational Therapy) were not things Carmen typically had to think about.  However, Carmen would now have to enter a world of which she knew nothing about and educate herself on different forms of therapies for autistic children.  She realized that not only are there so many people who are unaware of the prevalence of autism, there are also not as many resources made available to the parents.  Finding the services Bebo would need seemed like a scavenger hunt, however, with the assistance of agencies like ICare4Autism, Carmen was able to find a school that Bebo could attend.  With so few teachers willing or knowledgeable enough about how to educate an autistic child, Carmen was happy to find that the teachers at Katharine Dodge Brownell School (KDBES) were adequately prepared for the task.  Since attending   KDBES, Bebo has made significant improvements.  He now speaks and is able to tell his mother when he wants to eat or if he doesn’t want something.  After three years and eight months Bebo has also finally said the words that all mothers long to hear, “I love you.”  While these improvements may seem modest to some, they have made a huge difference for the relationship between Carmen and Bebo.  Having the ability to finally be able to effectively communicate with her son isn’t something she will ever take for granted.  Carmen is currently seeking ways to become a more effective advocate for children with autism so children like her son Bebo can reap the benefits.

Special Education Costs Continue To Soar

The New York Times reports that the costs to fund private special education programs are soaring. The programs are not well known in the education community, however, they are fundamental in assisting special needs children with every day skills that they need.  An added bonus includes the private classes and in-home instruction for parents with children who need more specialized instruction. However, the fees for these programs are exceeding over $40,000 and private schools as well asparents are in a dire search for more government funding. Continue reading

4th Grader Forced Into Ball Bag To “Control His Autistic Behavior”

9-year-old Christopher Baker was forced into a ball bag and the drawstring pulled tight by school employees as a way to “to control his autistic behavior”. His mother said she found him squirming inside as a teacher’s aide stood by.

The case has caused outrage amongst advocates for the autistic, even spurring an online petition calling for the firing of school employees responsible.

Approaching his classroom on Dec. 14, Chris’ mother, Sandra Baker, saw the gym bag. There was a small hole at the top and she heard a familiar voice calling out to her.

Continue reading

Children with Autism Benefit from Training with their Traditional Education Peers

According to researchers, peer-mediated education and intervention for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can provide a better and more resilient outcome than adult-led individual child-focused strategies.

The study, published by the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, found that children with ASD who attended regular education classes and are coached by their typically progressing peers, who have been trained on how to interact with peers with ASD, were more likely to improve their social skills, including less time spent alone on playgrounds and more classmates naming them as a friend.

“Real life doesn’t happen in a lab, but few research studies reflect that,” said Thomas R. Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health. “As this study shows, taking into account a person’s typical environment may improve treatment outcomes.”

The most common type of social skills intervention for children with ASD is direct training of a group of children with social challenges, who might have different disorders or be from different classes or schools.

The study, done by Connie Kasari, Ph.D., of the University of California, Los Angeles, and colleagues, compared 60 children, ages 6-11, with ASD using different interventions. The four interventions included: child-focused: direct, one-on-one training between the child with ASD and intervention provider, peer-mediated: group training with the intervention provider for three typically developing children from the same classroom as the student with ASD, both child-focused and peer-mediated interventions or neither interventions. All interventions were given for 20 minutes two times a week for six weeks.

Kasari said, “Anytime we involved typical peers with the children with autism we found out that more children in the classroom nominated that child or selected that child as a friend, played with them on the playground more often, and connected with the child. The other model, where we just had an adult work with a child, wasn’t as effective.”

This study is suggesting that an indirect method of education may yield higher results in social skill development for children with ASD and furthermore that one on one child-focused intervention may only be effective when paired with peer-mediated intervention

A follow-up was conducted 12 weeks after the end of the study showing long- term progress such as increased social connections despite a change of peers or classrooms.

Further studies are needed to explore these factors as well as the effect of other combinations of intervention and education methods.