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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

8 Ways to Build a Strong, Loving Bond with Your Autistic Child

From About.com - Autism Spectrum Disorders

By Lisa Jo Rudy
July 27, 2013

Children with autism are different from typically developing children. For many parents, this creates a serious problem. How can they connect with a child who doesn't ask questions, initiate play, enjoy sports, or want to try new things?

Here are some tips for parents who want a strong relationship with their autistic child, but aren't sure how to get started.

1.) Don't Make Assumptions About Your Child's Thoughts and Feelings.

Most of the time, you can make a good guess about a person's feelings by looking at his face, listening to his tone of voice, or watching his body language. People with autism, however, may not speak at all -- or may use a flat tone even when excited. Body language -- including eye contact, appropriate gestures and facial expressions -- can be even more challenging.

Don't assume that a flat tone, lack of eye contact, or difficulty with staying focused mean your child isn't having fun. There's a good chance that your assumptions are wrong!

2.) Take the Initiative.

Many young children can't wait to get their parents involved in play. In fact, many parents get very tired of hearing "Mommy, come play!" or "Daddy, you be the monster and chase me!" Parents of children with autism would generally give their eye teeth to hear that kind of request. That's not because children with autism don't enjoy chase games or time with Mommy, but rather because they don't yet have the skills to envision what they want, put words to that vision, and communicate their desires. That means it's up to you, the parent, to initiate play.

Rather than waiting to hear from your child, let your child hear from you. If they have a tough time understanding spoken words like "Let's play with Elmo," it's fine to let your body do the talking by modeling the kind of play you have in mind.

3.) Build on Your Child's Interests.

It's not unusual for a parent to impose her personal interests on her child -- with great success. Mom loves dress up, so she buys dress up clothes for her daughter, who joins with Mom in her interest. Dad loves baseball, so he signs up his son for Little League, and the experience is wonderful. Children with autism are less flexible in their interests than typical children, so it is often an uphill struggle to get them to engage in your favorite pastimes.

A better choice is to focus not on YOUR preferences, but on your child's. Does your child love model trains? Find your inner railroad buff. Is he fascinated by Sesame Street? Discover why everyone is talking about Big Bird! As you find ways to join your child in his interests, whether verbally or non verbally, you'll find more ways to play and connect.

4.) Think Outside the Typical Box.

When our son was little, we tried hard to get him involved with team sports. But to no avail: he just wasn't interested, even when the team was made up entirely of kids with special needs. So what DID turn him on when he was seven years old? His favorite Daddy and Me activity was attending a classical children's concert with the Philadelphia Orchestra, followed by a couple of hours at the Philadelphia Museum of Fine Art. Typical kid fare? Absolutely not. A ton of fun for Dad and Tom? You bet!

5.) Get Dad Involved.

All too often, children with autism wind up living in a world of women. This happens for a number of good reasons: mothers are usually more involved with their special needs child's daily care and choice of programs and therapies and women are more likely to choose to become teachers and therapists for young children. But a much more significant issue is the reality that fathers of autistic children -- especially autistic boys -- are often put off by the fact their son just doesn't understand or do well with typical male activities such as team sports, working with tools, and so forth.

Without a clear idea of HOW to relate to his son, many dads back away, allowing Mom to take the lead and losing out on the opportunity to connect. By following your child's lead, however, and looking for alternatives (hiking instead of baseball, for example), you may find many common interests that are just outside the usual box.

6.) Don't Give Up Too Soon.

Autistic people don't like change very much. In fact, some downright hate change. As a result, it can take a very long time to successfully introduce anything new -- from a new video to a new activity, game, or venue. That doesn't mean you are doomed to repeating the same activities forever, but it does mean that you, the parent, must be very, very patient. Start by introducing the new activity with pictures and words. Then engage your child by short, easy stages.

When our son first started playing with Legos, his idea was to stuff as many as he could into his pockets -- and that was it. Today, many years later, he is a true Lego "artist," designing and building his own structures, carnival rides, jazz bands... you name it!

7.) Keep the Bar High. Parents get tired, and it is easy to keep doing the same thing with your autistic child over and over again. After all, he enjoys it -- and it's easy for you. But when you allow sameness to take over your relationship with your child, both you and she lose the opportunity to grow together. Sure, it's fine to enjoy favorite activities. Who doesn't enjoy re-reading a favorite book together, or visiting the same rides at the same amusement park year after year?

But it's important to remember that, like all children, your child with autism is growing and changing. He may not ask for change, or even crave it -- so it's up to you, the parent, to help your child get to the next level of maturity and competence. Has he made the same circular train layout 25 times in a row? Time to add in a bridge, a tunnel, an obstacle, or a new route. It may take a little while for change to feel comfortable, but that's okay: you're growing together.

8.) Be Proud of Your Child's Achievements. Your child with autism may or may not become an "achiever" in the usual sense of the word. If he is relatively low functioning, chances are he won't win an academic or sports award, or become the star of the class show (though you never know: stranger things have happened). But every time your child with autism exceeds his past limitations, he achieving something remarkable.

When your child asks a question, shares a toy, tries something new on his own, or engages with a stranger -- it's an opportunity to celebrate!

Guest Blog: School's In

From SFARI.org - The Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative

By Connie Kasari
July 23, 2013

We all know that most kids with autism spend more time in schools than in any other environment, but how much do we actually know about developing effective school-based interventions?

Not much, it turns out.

One thing we do know is that schools represent a huge opportunity for advancing and improving the impact of autism interventions — but not without some challenges. As my colleague Sarah Parsons and I noted
in an editorial for a special issue on school-based intervention studies, published in May in Autism, it is time to implement proven interventions in real-world school settings (1).

This claim too often appears just in the parting comments of the discussion section — few have made good on it. But the tide may be turning.

The federal
Autism Intervention Research Network for Behavioral Health, funded by the Health Resources and Services Administration and of which I am the principal investigator, has been aggressively taking on the challenges of conducting intervention research in schools. One significant advantage of working in schools is access to children.

School-based interventions are arguably the best way to reach the truly underserved, under-represented and under-resourced children with autism.

In our local Los Angeles Unified School District, 91 percent of children served are ethnic minorities and 80 percent qualify for Free and Reduced Lunch programs. And importantly, there are about 12,000 children with autism. The opportunity for a successfully transplanted intervention in such a setting is truly enormous, so there is hope for making a meaningful difference.

Still, identifying quality treatments and finding success in implementation is easier said than done.

Conducting research in schools is not for the faint of heart. Indeed, developing a partnership with school-district personnel takes real work, a lot of time and the development of trust. Schools need to be convinced that the researchers are committed to the bigger picture, and are there for more than just the data.

There is also a science to this process that goes beyond good faith. We are testing both the implementation and the effectiveness of two interventions with our school partners — Remaking Recess, a social-engagement intervention on the playgrounds, and Schedules, Tools, and Activities for Transitions, which helps children transition between activities in the classroom.


Equal Partners

Our project uses Community Partnered Participatory Research, meaning we are on equal footing with our school partners in identifying challenges and working collaboratively to come up with feasible solutions (
2). Based on their feedback, we are applying a randomized controlled design in multiple schools within three different urban, low-resourced school districts across the country.

The results of this three-year implementation process will yield data on the success of the intervention, as well as teacher, staff and student outcomes. We expect preliminary results around the end of the 2013-2014 school year.

After conducting several studies in school settings for the past 12 years, we have learned many lessons that will guide us along the way.


"One obvious lesson is that tightly controlled, restricted-sample interventions that work well in the laboratory do not transfer easily to real-world settings. Schoolchildren with autism rarely match the participants carefully selected for studies."

One obvious lesson is that tightly controlled, restricted-sample interventions that work well in the laboratory do not transfer easily to real-world settings. Schoolchildren with autism rarely match the participants carefully selected for studies. This is especially true of children who test as nonverbal or are non-English-speaking, who might be poor or have multiple
 disabilities.

So, painfully, we must admit that large numbers (perhaps the majority) of children with autism served in public schools are not represented in studies constituting the “evidence base.” Rather than trying to bring this demographic to us, we are trying to reach out to them. By design, then, school-based studies will be more inclusive of a broader range of children with autism.

Another reason our best lab-based interventions may not transfer to real-world settings is that we are not really certain about the active ingredients of the interventions — for example, how many hours are necessary per week, how much one-on-one support is needed, or what exactly should be the focus of intervention in teaching communication.

So much of what we do may be either unnecessary or missing the right stuff for the population. No doubt, knowing the necessary elements of an intervention can potentially change the scale of an intervention from unfeasible to realistic.

Some elements might be more easily adopted than others, however, and even simply being added to a teacher’s toolbox of skills can lead to a more informed, eclectic approach to interventions for children with autism.

This means that we are looking to provide teachers and school personnel with a variety of skills that can be incorporated within a diverse classroom setting, rather than trying to offer a nicely packaged intervention that looks good in theory but that turns out to be ineffective
in practice.

‘Informed eclecticism’ is an approach that takes into account the rapidly changing components of life in school settings. Rather than providing narrow treatments for restricted settings, it can offer an individualized, powerful approach to intervention in which the sum is far greater than the parts (3).

Finally, we are seeking to shorten the time it takes to bring evidence-based interventions into real-world settings and to increase their effectiveness and sustainability. Testing interventions in schools from the beginning, rather than after the first, second or third lab-based trial may increase the likelihood that we will get it right.

Obviously, we still have much to learn about the experiences of children, teachers and staff in schools. But we believe that the best approach to improving interventions for these children is likely to come from real-world research in partnership with schools. Together we can throw the net wider to bring evidence-based interventions to the diverse population of children with autism.

References

  1. Parsons S. and C. Kasari Autism 17, 251-253 (2013) PubMed
  2. Jones L. and K. Wells JAMA 297, 407-410 (2007) PubMed
  3. Kasari C. and T. Smith Autism 17, 254-267 (2013) PubMed

..............................................................................................................

Connie Kasari is professor of human development and psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Sensory Seeking

From the Blog "Musings of an Aspie" - One Woman's Thoughts about Life on the Spectrum

By Cynthia Kim
May 24, 2013

The summer before seventh grade I went to an amusement park with my cousins. Until that day, my amusement park experience had been limited to kiddie rides. My parents weren’t roller-coaster-riding types and they assumed I wasn’t either.

So there I was, first time in a real amusement park with real rides and roller coasters and everything and I was . . . terrified. I felt sick to my stomach just looking at the rides. But my cousins, who had been to the park many times, grabbed my hands and made a beeline straight for a ride that looked like this:


It was called Strawberry Fields and as we waited for it to start, songs from “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band” blared from the speakers overhead. My memory of that moment is clear as if it happened yesterday. I can hear the scratchy version of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”, feel the greasy vinyl of the safety bar beneath my sweaty palms and practically taste my fear as my heart galloped in my chest.

And then we started to move, slowly at first, gaining speed, a little more and a little more until the wind was whipping my hair across my face and the three of us were pressed in a bone-crunching heap against the outside of the car and I was screaming right along with everyone else through 90 seconds of pure, unadulterated joy.

When the ride stopped all I could think was, “holy shit, let’s do that again!” And again and again and again.

I’d discovered one of my favorite sensory experiences: going fast. Blindingly fast. Mind-numbingly fast. The speed was exhilarating. I rode everything in the park. The faster it went, the more I liked it. Spinning, falling, dipping, swinging–I had no idea why I liked the intense physical sensations that the rides created, but I did.

When I went back to the park on a seventh grade field trip, I spent the morning riding a roller coaster, jumping off and running around to the entrance to get right back in line.

Sensory Seeking =/= Stimming?

Now that I know about sensory seeking behavior, my sudden intense love of amusement park rides makes sense. Autistic people are often sensory seeking in a big way. We have a strong need for intense sensory input and will deliberately seek out or create sensory experiences to satisfy that need.

Sensory seeking is often described as a way to either stimulate an understimulated nervous system or calm an overstimulated system. Which sounds a lot like the typical definition of autistic stimming.

That raises the question: is sensory seeking behavior a form of stimming? There is a lot of overlap between the two, but I don’t think they’re identical. Stimming provides sensory input so I think we can say that all stimming is sensory seeking. But stimming is generally repetitive, which isn’t always true of sensory seeking.

Going on a roller coaster once or twice? Probably sensory seeking. Going on a roller coaster twenty times in a row? Could be stimming.

Honestly, I have no idea. Feel free to weigh in with your own theory, opinion or confusion in the comments.

The Wild Ones

Much of my childhood play was sensory seeking in disguise. Some of my favorite activities as a kid:
  • Going as fast as I could down big hills on my bike, roller skates or sled
  • Jumping or diving off the high board
  • Hanging upside down and doing somersaults on the monkey bars
  • Jumping on the bed (broke my jaw doing this)
  • Bouncing on a trampoline or Hippity Hop
  • Sit ‘n spin!
  • Climbing trees and hanging upside down from the branches or jumping to the ground
  • Running into the padded gymnasium wall and bouncing off
  • Zipping my arms into my coat and playing crash dummies with a friend (this never ended well)
  • Lying underneath my beanbag chair while watching TV
  • Swinging as high as I could on the swings then flying off


These are not especially “girly” pastimes. They’ll get you branded a tomboy and a handful. If you’re a boy, you’ll be seen as wild and unruly, and maybe you’ll get an ADHD diagnosis.
My next door neighbor had a Hippity Hop and Sit ‘n Spin–neither of which my parents would buy me. I didn’t especially like my neighbor, but I loved her toys.


As a teenager I took up martial arts, primarily for the self-defense aspect of it, but I discovered that I liked the contact that sparring involves. Getting hit while padded up with gear creates a very tangible kind of physical feedback. So does pounding a heavy bag or kicking a hand target hundreds of times in a row.

Although that may sound masochistic, it’s not. I don’t seek out pain. Let’s be clear about that. Although I often engage in activities that have a risk of injury and pain, what I’m looking for is a benign physical sensation–one of pressure or contact or movement–not pain.

There is sometimes a belief that people who engage in sensory seeking activities like headbanging, slamming into objects or biting themselves are doing it because pain is the desired outcome and I don’t think that’s always true. It may be true for some, but for others, those activities don’t hurt, either due to pain hyposensitivity or an ability to regulate the level of contact in a way that keeps it below our pain threshold.

64 Flavors of Sensory Seeking

While I’m primarily a proprioceptive and vestibular sensory seeker, there other types of sensory input that I’m strongly drawn to:
  • touching surfaces and objects
  • the feeling of sound resonating in my chest (Tibetan singing bowl, trains, explosions in IMAX movies, loud music)
  • the exhaustion after a hard workout
  • the smell of fire
  • being immersed/floating in water.

Of course, that’s me. Everyone’s sensory seeking preferences are different. Some common examples by category:

Tactile: seeking touch from others; touching objects, textures or surfaces (either certain types or everything).

Visual: seeking visual patterns, moving objects, specific colors or shapes.

Oral: seeking food or nonfood objects to taste, chew or suck on; seeking specific sensations like crunchy, spicy, or minty.

Olfactory: seeking specific preferred smells; smelling everything.

Vestibular: spinning, rocking, being upside down; seeking specific head or body positions; jumping from heights; seeking intense speed or movement.

Auditory: seeking loud, repetitive or specific types of noises; making sounds because they’re pleasing.

Interoceptive: seeking bodily sensations like hunger, thirst, urgency to use the bathroom, fatigue.

Proprioceptive: physical contact, crashing into things, stretching, pressure, sound resonance.

But Why?

What drives to seek out our preferred sensory inputs? I haven’t been able to find much scientific background, so I have only my personal experiences to share:

Regulatory: As a kid, I think my intense sensory seeking behavior was a way of soothing my overloaded brain. There were many many days when I couldn’t wait to get home from school and ride my bike to the top of the highest hill in the neighborhood. The hard climb up and brain rattling ride down were the only way I knew to soothe the angry anxious restless feelings that built up during the day.

As an adult, I’m better at regulating myself in more typical ways. Still, after a long day in the city I like to wedge my body into a seat on the train so my legs are pressed up tight against the seat in front of me. I do the same thing on airplanes and long car rides. The pressure calms me and helps downregulate my sensory overload.

I’ve read that stimming and sensory seeking behavior can be stimulating (hence the term stimming) but I’m rarely in need of any added sensory stimulation. I usually have more than I can handle.

Connection: Sensory input reminds me that I have a corporeal form. It connects my mind to my body and my body to my environment in tangible ways. Without touch, pressure and movement, I can easily get disconnected from my physical self.

Organization: Some types of sensory input help me feel more organized and integrated. At the end of the day, when I’m watching TV, putting my weighted blanket over my legs keeps me from turning into a squirmy mess on the couch. Without the added weight on my legs, I’ll change positions every five minutes trying to get comfortable because my body feels so disorganized and physically confused by the end of the day.

Physical dissociation and disorganization are things I’ve only recently realized that I experience. I was going to write about them to help clarify the “why’s” of my sensory seeking but I wrote so much that it will have to be a separate post.

Not Growing Out of This One Either

I’ve always had strong sensory-seeking tendencies. I think I always will. This isn’t a bad thing. It’s actually one of the things I like about being autistic. I have the ability to experience certain sensations in ways that most people don’t.

I like the intensity and immediacy. I like the pleasure I can find in mundane everyday things like the rumble of a passing train or the feel of a matte book cover. It’s not exactly a superpower, but does give the world around me a vivid tangible realness that I can tap into whenever I need to reconnect myself with my self.

Prenatal Mercury and Autism

Science-Based Medicine 

Exploring issues and controversies in the relationship between science and medicine.

By Steven Novella
July 24, 2013

"No consistent association between prenatal methylmercury exposure and ASD screening instrument was found, using linear and nonlinear regression analyses."

Mercury in unequivocally a neurotoxin. It is especially damaging to the developing brain. But it’s the dose that makes the toxin, so a low enough exposure even to something known to be potentially harmful may not be. Further, the body has mechanisms for dealing with toxins, and toxins in the body may not be reaching the cells they can potentially damage in significant amounts.

Therefore if we want to know if a potential toxin is actually causing any harm to people we need to do some type of epidemiological study – correlating exposure to possible adverse outcomes. All the studies in petri dishes and with cell cultures just won’t answer the question of harm.

The question of whether or not mercury in vaccines has caused neurological harm, specifically autism, has been largely answered. Numerous studies have shown no association between the amount of mercury exposure from vaccines and the risk of developing autism.

A separate mercury-related question, however, is whether or not there is any risk of harm from mercury exposure from seafood. Mercury is methylated by bacteria into methymercury, and through them gets into the food chain in the oceans. Fish that eat other fish then concentrate the mercury in their tissues, and so predatory fish and sea mammals tend to have high concentrations of methymercury.

This has led to some precautionary recommendations, including that pregnant women should not eat tuna or other fish with high mercury levels. This makes sense, but what is the actual risk?

The precautionary principle can also cut both ways.

Fish contain many high-quality nutrients important for a developing brain, such as polyunsaturated fatty acids. Removing this food source from the diet of pregnant women may have unintended negative consequences.

The best way to address this issue is to look at net clinical outcomes associated with the consumption of seafood. There are a number of studies that do this, and a recently published follow up study ads to the growing evidence-base addressing this question.

Wingaarden et al. recently published the study Autism Spectrum Disorder Phenotypes and Prenatal Exposure to Methylmercury. In this study:

"We administered the Social Communication Questionnaire to parents of a cohort of 1784 children, adolescents, and young adults. The Social Responsiveness Scale was administered to teachers of 537 cohort subjects at about 10 years of age. Prenatal exposure to methylmercury was measured in maternal hair samples collected at or near the time of birth. Multivariable regression models evaluated the relationship between prenatal methylmercury exposure and ASD phenotypic scores, adjusting for relevant covariates."

The conclusion:

"No consistent association between prenatal methylmercury exposure and ASD screening instrument was found, using linear and nonlinear regression analyses."

This is a large and well-conducted study looking specifically at features of autism. Of course, no study can every demonstrate a risk of zero, but the evidence from this and other studies suggests that any such risk must be minimal – too small to show up in the data. The other possibility is that any negative effects of mercury are more than compensated for by the nutritional benefits of eating seafood.

Davidson et al. published a previous study in 2010 in Neurotoxicology, Fish consumption, mercury exposure, and their associations with scholastic achievement in the Seychelles Child Development Study. The Seychelles are the “canary in the coalmine” for mercury exposure from seafood. The inhabitants of these islands have a fishing economy and consume about ten times the amount of seafood as Americans and Europeans.

In this study they measured mercury exposure through hair analysis, with an average prenatal exposure level of 6.8 ppm (compared to an average of 1 ppm in the US). They compared prenatal mercury exposure and postnatal exposure (hair mercury levels in infants) with various scales of neurological development and academic performance (the Southern and Eastern African Consortium for Monitoring Educational Quality, the Family Resource Scale, the Henderson Environmental Learning Profile Scale, and standard IQ tests).

In this study they found:

"For the subgroup of 215 subjects who participated in the SACMEQ test, there were significant adverse associations between examination scores and postnatal exposure, but only for males. The average postnatal exposure level in child hair for this subgroup was significantly higher than for the overall cohort. These results are consistent with our earlier studies and support the interpretation that prenatal MeHg exposure at dosages achieved by mothers consuming a diet high in fish are not associated with adverse educational measures of scholastic achievement.

The adverse association of educational measures with postnatal exposure in males is intriguing, but will need to be confirmed by further studies examining factors that influence scholastic achievement."

In other words, they found no consistent pattern of negative outcomes. They found the typical scatter of results indicative of the random results seen when looking at multiple outcomes. The outlier of postnatal exposure (not prenatal) in males only would have to be independently replicated before it should be considered anything but a random result.

The Seychelles cohort is a resource of information that can be examined in multiple ways. Essentially you have a large cohort of children followed for years with standard measures of IQ and academic performance. Another study, for example, looked at prenatal mercury exposure from dental amalgam fillings and found no association with a negative outcome.

At odds with the evidence from the Seychelles are previous studies of prenatal mercury exposure and IQ from the Faroe Islands. This research has found a relationship between mercury exposure and decreased IQ.

How do we reconcile these differing results? As others have pointed out, the Faroe Islanders get their mercury from whale meat, while inhabitants of the Seychelles get it from fish. It’s not clear why this would cause a difference, but it is a possible factor. The Seychelles have a genetically diverse population, while the Faroe Islands are homogenously Scandinavian. Overall, the Seychelle data is more robust, especially when the latest study is taken into consideration.

Conclusion

While the data is not unanimous (it rarely is), the bulk of the evidence indicates that prenatal exposure to methylmercury from seafood is not a significant risk for reduced IQ or the development of autism. The data is more compelling for fish than for sea mammals such as whales. This is true even at mercury exposure levels many times that in the US and Europe.

What is the bottom line for pregnant women? The most common recommendation is still to balance the possible risk from mercury with the nutritional benefits of seafood. It is counterproductive to avoid seafood completely out of fears of mercury. It is reasonable to seek out fish that have generally lower mercury levels but still contain the polyunsaturated fatty acids that are beneficial.

A quick guide from the Mayo Clinic advises, eat a variety of seafood that’s low in mercury and high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as:

Monday, July 29, 2013

Best-Rated Apps for Autism and Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)

From the Blog "Yahoo Voices"

By Cari DeCandia
July 5, 2013

Children with autism may experience difficulties communicating, speaking, and socializing as a result of their disorder. Fortunately, the advent of smart technology and its applications have helped many children, parents, and therapists work to overcome these difficulties in a way that was not possible even ten years ago.

Some applications condense the principles of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy so that you can utilize an iPad to educate any child using certified methods. We have scoured the internet to find some of the highest rated applications available from iTunes for parents and therapists assisting children with autism.

*The following apps are listed in no particular order and were chosen based on positive customer ratings/reviews

Apps for Parents

Kid in Story ($9.99) Developed by Locomotive Labs, this application utilizes social stories, which are basically step-by-step stories of everyday events that teach children how to interact with their environment in a given situation. This relatively new app (launched February 2013) allows parents the ability to insert their child's photos into the storybook they create. Use real-life pictures of places and your child to teach your child when to wash his/her hands or what they should expect from a day out at the cinema.


See.Touch.Learn. (FREE) Developed by Brain Parade, this application utilizes the ABA philosophy of using picture cards as an effective learning tool. Parents are able to combine the effectiveness of picture cards with the power and interactivity of the iPad. The See.Touch.Learn. Pro application is also available for purchase at $34.99.

Proloquo2Go ($219.99) Developed by AssistiveWare®, this application enables people to talk using symbols or typed text in a natural-sounding voice that suits their age and character. The application has provided a "voice" to over 50,000 individuals around the world who use iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch.

iCommunicate for iPad ($49.99) Developed by Grembe Apps, this application allows the user to create visual schedules, storyboards, communication boards, etc. Users are also able to add their own pictures to customize their own lessons.

Stories2Learn ($13.99) Developed by MDR, this application allows the user a way to promote sociable behavior through messages to individuals with autism and other developmental disabilities. The app is currently in its 3.0 version and requires an iPad 2 or better to allow for on the fly picture taking.

MyTalkTools Mobile ($99.99) Developed by 2nd Half Enterprises LLC, this application allows users with communication difficulties to express their needs and desires to those around them in a variety of ways. The application is currently in its 4.0 version and all information is backed up on MyTalk Workspace, in case your device crashes.


iComm (FREE) Developed by Bappz, this application includes a picture and voice communication aid for children, the ability to add your own personal content, and an upgraded full version is available for purchase for $6.99.

Look Into My Eyes (Series) ($2.99) Developed by FizzBrain, this series of apps helps promote eye contact in the user. There are a number of different themes including "Under the Sea," "Dinosaur," and "Car Mechanic."


Question Builder ($5.99) Developed by Mobile Education Store LLC, this application is designed to help elementary aged children learn to answer abstract questions and create responses based on inference. Some of the features of this app include why, what, where, how, and random question formats, 1,200 audio clips of questions and answers, and 60 encouragement animations and audio clips.

Conversation Builder ($19.99) Developed by Mobile Education Store LLC, this app is similar to its Question Builder counterpart and won the 2nd best Educational App of 2011 by Smart Apps for Kids. The app is a conversation simulator designed to help elementary aged children learn how to have multi-exchange conversations with their peers in a variety of social settings. A teen version of this application is also available for $29.99.

All About Me ($2.99) Developed by i Get It, this storybook application offers picture and text support to individuals learning their personal information. The typical personal fields are included (Name, Birthday, Home Address, Friends, etc.) and the app also has the ability to take personal photos with a camera ready Apple device.

Autism Tracker Pro ($9.99) Developed by Track & Share Apps, LLC, this application allows you to explore autism by keeping track of what matters to your child and your family. Stay current on a number of categories, including mood, behavior, food, health, and reports. It is recommended that you purchase the Lite version of Autism Tracker before upgrading to the Pro version.

For Therapists

ABABasic ($2.99) Developed by KV Adaptive LLC, this application is designed by a BCBA and biomedical engineer and makes running a discrete trial something you can do anytime it's convenient. The application makes running these trials accessible, easy to run, and records all data into an easy to use and automatic email file.

ABC Data ($4.99) Developed by CBTAonline, this application allows for professionals and students in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) to collect data for counting behaviors and for recording session duration. ABC Data Pro version is available for $27.99.

Skill Tracker Pro ($29.99) Developed by Marz Consulting Inc., this application automates ABA therapy instruction for children with autism. Skill data collection methods are available for skill acquisition, mand acquisition, rate of manding, and prompt fading.


Behavior Tracker Pro ($29.99) Developed by Marz Consulting Inc., this application allows BCBAs, behavioral therapists, aides, teachers, or parents to track behaviors and automatically graph them. The app also allows the user to email data for insertion into Excel or other spreadsheet software to create personal graphs.

Autism Track ($0.99) Developed by Handhold Adaptive, Inc., this application is a portable, customizable data tracking tool that allows caregivers of those with autism to easily track interventions, behaviors, and symptoms. Checkboxes give the user the ability to record therapies, medicines, or diet.

Resetting Education: The Special Needs of Special Ed

From VatorNews - The Source for Emerging Tech

By Faith Merino
August 6, 2012

Special Education comes with its own set of challenges, and technology is offering solutions.

Most would agree that you have to be a pretty selfless person to be a teacher. The days are long, the pay sucks, and when something goes wrong, you’re the first person that everyone blames. Never mind the fact that the only way you’re even able to stay on top of the unique needs of each of your 20 or so students is by taking your work home with you and doing it after dinner.

But Special Education teachers? They’re a special breed of selfless.

If you’ve never experienced a day in the life of a teacher—any teacher—it’s all about controlling the chaos and getting as much done in as little time as possible. Teachers have to find a way to miraculously get a room full of emotionally volatile and hyperactive little people to somehow work together in unison to get through the day’s activities. But more importantly, that teacher has to find a way to customize each lesson and assignment to the individual educational level and needs of each student.

Now, let’s compare that to a day in the life of a fictional Special Ed teacher named Mrs. Jones. Mrs. Jones has 16 students. Two have Down Syndrome, four have autism, two have ADHD, and the rest all have varying degrees of mental retardation. Not only is Mrs. Jones dealing with a wide range of developmental disabilities—the kids are also from several different grade levels.

The classroom is 4-6, so some of the kids are in the fourth grade, some are in the fifth grade, and some are in the sixth grade. Mrs. Jones clearly has her hands full with the basic task of classroom management. Now, add to that the fact that each of her 16 students comes with his or her own Individualized Education Program (IEP).

What's an IEP?

When a child is diagnosed with a disability, she is legally entitled to an IEP as mandated by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The IEP inludes an array of specific goals for that student’s education. For example, if the student has autism and is non-verbal, his IEP might include developing a method of communication for use with teachers and peers, such as a blend of sign language and picture exchange. The IEP may also include modified academic goals, like reading and math skills.

Obviously, this means that one IEP meeting might include a whole team of specialists and stakeholders, including parents, speech therapists, occupational therapists, psychologists, physical therapists, social workers, mobility specialists, and other professionals—all of whom are there to make sure the student receives an education based on his needs rather than existing programs and services.

So if you’re Mrs. Jones, your classroom doesn’t just consist of 16 students—it also comes with 16 sets of specialists and professionals who are all staying on top of you to make sure you’re meeting each student’s needs on time.

Needless to say, Special Ed is a totally different ballgame.

The Growing Special Ed Population

There are approximately 6.6 million students in the U.S. who receive services mandated by IDEA. That’s out of approximately 53 million students ages 5-17 in the U.S.

And with increasingly accurate and earlier diagnoses, special education has become the fastest growing segment in U.S. education. Roughly one in six U.S. children has a developmental disability, and the prevalence of developmental disabilities rose more than 17% between 1997 and 2008, according to the CDC. The fastest growing population in special education is students with autism. The prevalence of autism increased 289.5% between 1997 and 2008. Today, one in 88 children is diagnosed with autism.

Several companies and organizations have come up with different solutions to the fast-growing needs in Special Education. Some, like MyAutismTeam, are offering solutions to meet the specific needs of children with certain developmental disabilities. One company that really deserves special attention is Goalbook, a service that was designed by a former Special Education teacher to help others stay on top of their students’ IEP goals.


Co-founded in 2011 by former teachers Daniel Yoo and Justin Su, the platform is both a service that allows teachers to track their students’ progress toward their IEP goals, as well as a social platform where teachers, parents, and other members of a student’s team can collaborate. When Yoo was a Special Education teacher for 7th and 8th graders in Palo Alto, he struggled to keep track of all of his students' IEP goals and felt like there was never enough time to collaborate with everyone.

“What we’ve found is that when everyone is using Goalbook, IEP meetings go much faster and smoother, because everyone’s on the same page,” said Justin Su in an interview.

The Importance of Communication

Having everyone on the same page is critical to a student’s success. Take, for example, a non-verbal autistic child whose typical week might include school, speech therapy, occupational therapy, ABA therapy, and music therapy. Let’s say four of those five players are teaching the student to answer “yes” or “no” for items he wants or doesn’t want, while one of those players—maybe the speech therapist or the music therapist—is having him answer “okay” or “no.” He gets confused, doesn’t make any progress one way or the other, and no one knows why.

To help keep everyone on the same page, Goalbook’s platform has an intuitive design with visual aids, like built-in charting that automatically tracks a student’s progress towards an IEP goal. There is also an activity stream reminiscent of a Facebook wall, so all of the team members can see what’s going on. Additionally, administrators can view real-time reports to make sure students are on track.

And, to make sure that teachers don’t fall behind on deadlines, Goalbook automatically reminds teachers when a deadline is approaching.

“The problem of implementing personalized learning for students is a difficult one to solve,” said Su. “Each student is an individual, and each one has different goals. The goals are in lots of different areas, and there are different stakeholders. If you do this with ten students, that’s a lot of goals and stakeholders.”

He added: “There are a lot of edtech companies that are trying to create better content, like Khan Academy. But what we’re trying to do is employ the best technologies from the enterprise space—the kind of workflow technologies you get with Box and Yammer—and apply them to the management of IEPs.”

The time-savings that Goalbook offers teachers is priceless, since it makes it much easier for teachers to collect and track data—a time-suck that even General Education teachers have a hard time balancing. So it’s no wonder that Goalbook has several thousand free users and 25 schools that are paying to license the technology.

But when you think about it, every student has her own individual educational needs. Special Education students definitely have more complex needs, but no two students are exactly alike—which is why Su says Goalbook is planning on expanding in the coming year to help meet the needs of at-risk students—those who are falling behind but aren’t actually considered special needs.

“Our vision has always been an individualized plan for all students,” said Su.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

A Special Educator Shares Her Perspective on the Common Core State Standards

From NCLD.org - The National Center for Learning Disabilities

By Chelsea Miller
July 26, 2013

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) creates high expectations for student success by outlining the set of skills that students need to master at each grade level. At the end of the day, students are supposed to be equipped with critical thinking, problem solving and other career-oriented skills for college and 21st century jobs. Although the implementation of the Standards will have a big impact on students with disabilities, the authors of the Standards have provided only limited guidance in this area.

In the midst of this uncertainty, I hope to provide educators and families my perspective on how to leverage the enterprise of CCSS adoption for the benefit of students with learning disabilities (LD).

CCSS is explicit in outlining goals but ambiguous on how teachers should instruct or assess. Words like “analyze” and “identify” are frequently mentioned, but can have different meanings to individual teachers. It’s like the game of telephone – the original intent can get lost when standards are passed from the Standards writers to textbook publishers, teachers and finally students.

In some ways, this ambiguity plays to the strengths of teachers in special education – those who mentor and teach students with LD. Their day-to-day work involves finding outside-of-the-box solutions to adapt broad goals to the varying skills and individual needs of their students. Special education teachers will play a large role in ensuring that students with LD have access to grade-level curriculum through collaboration, Universal Design for Learning, and most importantly, differentiated instruction. Fortunately, Common Core encourages educators to be creative and to differentiate or individualize lessons for students.

Having taught in middle school, I know that some of my students will struggle with traditional academic assignments at their grade level. So rather than evaluate them on one set of criteria, I will accept multiple versions of the same assignment. For example, one student can read a book with visual supports, such as a graphic novel. Another can do an oral presentation rather than writing a formal book report. In addition, based on my assessment of each of their needs and interests, I encourage them to use technology to make these activities more engaging. This addresses another goal highlighted by CCSS – the ability to “use technology and digital media strategically and capably."

According to research, students with LD spend more time on task in the classroom when technology is thoughtfully integrated into instruction. It’s not merely the novelty of technology that excites students, but rather the access to the curriculum that technology gives them.

Here are two examples from my classroom:

As an English-language learner and a student with LD, Juan does not yet read and write at grade level. When the term paper for his social studies class rolled around, Juan and I watched historical documentaries online and then turned his research into a stellar Google Docs presentation which incorporated all of the key elements of the CCSS for writing a research paper.

Alex is a student with LD and ADHD. She struggles with motivation and has a hard time sitting still – that is, until I found Raz Kids. Although she sometimes produces little work during the day, she can’t wait to play Raz Kids for at least 30 minutes, three times a week. I used data from Raz Kids to target reading instruction in the classroom, and as a result, Alex’s reading level increased from 3rd grade to 4th grade in three short months. Now that she’s engaged and receiving differentiated instruction, she’s learning to read.

Of course, these kinds of teaching techniques and uses of technology are not limited to special education. Many general education teachers employ similar strategies.

With all the uncertainty about putting CCSS into practice, we should remember that the idea of standards is not new. Both general and special education teachers have been differentiating and individualizing standards-based content for students for years, and there’s a lot they can learn from one another to share and explore innovative methods to accomplish the essential purpose of the new Standards.

Fundamentally, we need thoughtful implementation of the Standards for all students, including those with LD. Just as importantly, educators and families must believe that all students deserve access to the general curriculum and are capable of achieving.

About Chelsea Miller

Chelsea Miller is a special education teacher who holds a Master’s degree in Learning and Instruction from the University of San Francisco. She is also a consultant for Goalbook, and teaches at the University of San Francisco. (A version of this article appeared on EdSurge.com.)

Peanut Butter, Other Fatty Foods Found To Contain Fire Retardants In Recent Survey

From the www.HuffingtonPost.com Green Section

By Lynne Peeples
lynne.peeples@huffingtonpost.com

May 31, 2012

Nothing says "lunch time" to an American kid quite like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Slices of deli meat might be a close second.

Unbeknownst to most parents who pack school lunch boxes, however, both of these favorites could expose kids to toxic chemicals.


In a new study of popular products purchased from grocery stores in Dallas, Texas, researchers found that nearly half of the sampled peanut butter and cold cuts, as well as turkey, fish, beef and other fatty foods, contained traces of a flame retardant commonly used in the foam insulation of building walls.

"This is not good news. Here's yet another toxic chemical that can be found in many of the foods we buy at our supermarkets. Food does not need to have flame retardants." 

"This is not good news. Here's yet another toxic chemical that can be found in many of the foods we buy at our supermarkets," said Dr. Arnold Schecter of the University of Texas School of Public Health and an author of the study published on Thursday. "Food does not need to have flame retardants."

The particular flame retardant Schecter's team investigated, hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD), is just the latest in a string of manmade chemicals that researchers are discovering in popular foods. Previous research has turned up DDT, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), mercury, dioxins and other flame retardants. And this is in addition to the chemicals purposefully added to products during processing, or that leach into food from packaging.

Each of the uncovered chemicals poses health concerns, from diabetes to cancer, and HBCD is no exception. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the flame retardant is "highly toxic" to marine life and may disrupt the proper function of human hormones and reproduction. Most worrisome are the chemical's potentially damaging effects to a young child, even before it's born.

Sonya Lunder, a senior analyst with the Environmental Working Group, noted that the chemical has been discovered in umbilical cord blood. "The prenatal period is an incredibly sensitive time," she said, adding that breastfeeding and toddlers' penchant for putting their hands (and other objects) in their mouths is likely to add to a body's early burden of the chemical. "Exposure starts before birth and may continue on in for their entire life."

The chemical industry, however, offers a different interpretation of the new study. "Based on these findings, the real story is that HBCD was not detected in the majority of the samples and in those where it was, it was well below levels where one might see adverse health effects," Bryan Goodman, a spokesperson for the lobbying group North American Flame Retardant Alliance of the American Chemistry Council, said in a statement. "These results should not pose a concern for human health."

The study did not specify which particular brands were tested, but Schecter noted that all were "conventional" brands and not brands that market themselves as organic.

While the amount of HBCDs found in the food samples studied were relatively small -- below what the government considers dangerous -- Lunder still expressed concern. The chemical isn't acting alone, she explained. Rather, it is just one of multiple chemicals to which consumers are frequently exposed, which, when combined, could prove more harmful than any one acting alone. Small quantities of HBCDs can add up to a much more significant chemical presence over time. Once in the human body, the same fat-loving disposition that attracted the chemical to fatty foods like meat and nuts can help it bind to human fat, where it can stick around for years.

"We can expect levels to slowly increase over a lifetime," said Lunder.

So, how does a chemical meant for use behind a thick wall end up in our lunch bags and on our dinner plates? Experts suggest that HBCDs make their way into the food chain via the air, water and soil. "They could migrate out of products into dust and end up in sewage sludge," suggested Arlene Blum, executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute, an environmental health watchdog and research group. "The chemical may then end up in the marine food supply, or the sewage sludge could get put on fields," where peanuts crops might be grown or on which livestock might graze.

The dangers of HBCDs are receiving increased attention around the world. In fact, Blum expects them to be the next class of toxic chemicals banned globally through the Stockholm Convention.

Blum highlighted the problem of simply replacing one toxic chemical with a related one. When Congress banned PCBs in the 1970s, for example, the chemical industry began employing an alternative flame retardant called polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) for use in furniture and other products. When PBDE was found to be equally as harmful, the industry looked again among its related chemical cousins, including chlorinated Tris, which has itself been declared a carcinogen by a California state science panel. Meanwhile, HBCDs have remained a go-to for reducing flammability in home insulation despite growing evidence of harm.

"After 30-some years of doing this, I have yet to see a case of a halogenated flame retardant that didn't have problems," said Blum, whose research contributed to the removal of chlorinated Tris from children's pajamas in the 1970s. (PCBs, PBDEs, chlorinated Tris and HBCDs are all considered halogenated chemicals.)

"The tragic story here is that people have been talking about this family of chemicals for 10 years and amassing a body of data on how toxic it is to people, and how it's found in the food chain." 

Lunder, too, has been paying attention to the science and policy surrounding flame retardants, including HBCDs, for many years. "It's difficult to watch," she said. "The tragic story here is that people have been talking about this family of chemicals for 10 years and slowly amassing a body of data on how toxic it is to people, and how it's found in the food chain."

"It's a common story, with unintended effects on the environment and human health," she added. "But I'm not seeing a system that is very rational or preventative, or that is learning from prior experiences. Right now, the system is very reactive. No one has a clear mandate to look for problems or ban chemicals, when it comes to that."

Environmental health advocates and experts have been urging Congress to retire the1976 Toxic Substances Control Act and replace it with the more rigorous and precautionary Safe Chemicals Act, which currently awaits a Senate vote.

In the meantime, Lunder and Schecter suggest that people can reduce their own exposures to HBCDs by eating fewer fatty foods, such as peanut butter and meat. Parents can consider filling lunch boxes with more fruits and vegetables.

"However, we can't prevent the problem completely," Lunder said. "It's going to take more than shopping tips to really reduce exposures."

About Lynne Peeples

Lynne Peeples covers the environment and public health at The Huffington Post, focusing on the impact of pollution, toxic chemicals and infectious disease on our lives and the lives of our most valuable and vulnerable resource -- our children. Before becoming a science journalist, she was a biostatistician at Harvard. E-mail her with ideas or requests: lynne.peeples@huffingtonpost.com.