Monday, September 29, 2008

"Autism Inspiration"

"Even though you may want to move forward in your life, you may have one foot on the brake. In order to be free, we must learn how to let go. Release the hurt. Release the fear. Refuse to entertain your old pain. The energy it takes to hang onto the past is holding you back from a new life."
- Mary Manin Morrissey

Friday, September 26, 2008

Painting with Shaving Cream

Painting with Shaving Cream

By: Phillip and Ms. Heather

I made letters in the shaving cream. It smells good and feels goopy on my hands. I used paint brushes and my fingers to paint with. It was a lot of fun. For fun I added color to the shaving cream. My two favorite colors are green (John Deere green) and blue.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

What is Remediation?

What is Remediation?
By: Nicole Beurkens, M.Ed.

The word “remediation” is very important in the work my colleagues and I do with families affected by autism and other neuro-developmental disabilities, but it is a word that is unfamiliar to many people. I thought I would take a moment this week to talk about what remediation means in general, and specifically in the realm of autism.

Let’s start with some basic dictionary definitions:
  • Remediate (verb) - To remedy a problem
  • Remedial (adjective) - Intended to correct or improve one’s skill in a specific field; therapeutic, corrective, restorative
  • Remediation (noun) - Use of remedial methods to improve skills; the act or process of correcting a deficiency
  • Dr. Steven Gutstein’s definition of remediation: Correcting a deficit to the point where it no longer constitutes and obstacle
  • My definition: Work ON something, not just around it

Whether you are a parent or professional, it is critical to understand what remediation is, and the distinction between remediation and compensation. Perhaps the most common application of this distinction is in the area of reading problems. If a child is diagnosed with a reading disability, we typically apply remediation approaches to help them learn to read. At various points we may use compensations, such as books on tape, to support them. However, our goal is to remediate, or correct, the problem that is preventing them from reading so they can become functional readers. In my professional experience, I have yet to come across a situation where adults believe that if an 8 year old child is not yet reading, that we should just compensate for that and give them books on tape to listen to for the rest of their lives. Remedial efforts are taken to get to the root of the problem and overcome the issues that are preventing successful reading.

Now take this same concept and apply it to individuals on the autism spectrum. By definition they are struggling in many areas: socialization, communication, thinking flexibly, and the list goes on depending on the person. What approach do we usually take to these deficits? By and large, we take a compensation approach. We find ways to work around these problems so that the students fit into the mold of what we do at home and in school everyday. Our main motivation becomes applying strategies that help them exhibit what we consider to be “typical” behaviors —sit appropriately in the classroom or at church, learn academic skills, play on the playground equipment, wait in line without becoming upset, greet others when we see them, etc. While we may also look for ways to support their communication and to improve their relationships with others, we do this on a very surface level without really understanding the obstacles that create those problems in the first place. And, because we don’t really understand the root issues that create these problems, we resort to compensation techniques rather than remediating the root causes.

When you look at the history of treatments in the field of autism, it has been primarily about compensation. While research on the brain and autism has continued to move forward and provide us new information, our treatment approaches have stagnated. The methods we were using 30 years ago are still the methods being used today, despite the fact that we have a whole host of new information available to us. We now have the capacity to take what we know about the disorder of autism and how it impacts brain function, and develop new techniques and approaches that move beyond compensation and actually work to remediate (correct) the primary features of the disorder. This is one of the exciting things about newer approaches such as the Relationship Development Intervention (RDI)® Program, which focuses on remediating, rather than just working around, the core deficits we see in individuals with autism and other neuro-developmental disorders.

It is time to move beyond thinking about treatment as merely capitalizing on strengths, and begin thinking about how to strengthen areas of weakness. Research has shown us that autism is primarily a disorder of connectivity in the brain—with some portions over connected and others under connected. What is so exciting about this is that we know that neural connectivity can change throughout the lifespan. The human brain has an enormous capacity for developing new connections and changing the patterns of connectivity when given the right types of stimulation. This is what allows us to look at autism treatment in a new light. It cannot be merely about strengthening the areas that are already strong. Effective education and treatment must be focused on building new connections in the areas where connectivity is deficient. This is the essence of remediation.

Monday, September 22, 2008

"Autism Inspiration"

"Things don't go wrong and break your heart so you can become bitter and give up. They happen to break you down and build you up so you can be all that you were intended to be."
--Charles "Tremendous" Jones

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Learning to Think: Part One - All Students Can Learn to be Mindful

Learning to Think: Part One - All Students Can Learn to be Mindful
By: Courtney Kowalczyk, M.Ed.

Summer is quickly coming to an end, and school has begun for many children. School buses are busily picking up students and dropping them off during the morning and evening commutes. With the beginning of a new school year, I thought it would be helpful to look into the realm of education and the way our students think and learn.

For most students in the general education population today, the focus of education is on their ability to think and use problem solving skills. We are seeing more and more schools moved towards integrated curricula that teach children math, reading, and writing skills in a more dynamic fashion. A majority of these curricula pose real world problems that students work through and solve as they learn concepts along the way. For many children, this type of curricula proves to be beneficial; for others however, it can be very challenging. For example, children who struggle with reading typically have greater difficulty using curricula formatted in this fashion, since most of it is comprised of written language that needs to be read, dissected, and understood in order to progress through the problem at hand. For these individuals, accommodations to the curricula are usually made to make it easier for the child to understand and process.

When thinking about children with more significant disabilities like cognitive impairments, neurological issues, or Autism, we typically see educators using curricula of a more static nature. These types of curricula tend to be more repetitive. I wonder though: How are these types of materials preparing children for the real world, given that these students typically have the greatest amount of difficulty in the realm of problem solving and creative thinking?

As a teacher of children with severe multiple disabilities, I found myself in an interesting predicament several years back. How was I going to prepare my students to be active participants in the community? Reading books and doing worksheets was not going to cut it. My students needed to learn how to think and be mindful of their surroundings. I decided to take a developmental approach to their learning, and to provide as many opportunities during the day for my students to think and process information. I threw out all of the extras I had plugged into our day, and gave myself and my staff the time that was needed to help our students become mindful. One of the greatest challenges that I faced was getting out of the rut of doing the same thing day in and day out. I had to do so much more thinking in order to plan activities that would allow my students the opportunity to do their own thinking as well. Here are the first few of several modifications and suggestions that I will be sharing with you over the next few months:

  • Stop asking so many questions! I found myself constantly asking my students questions like “What color is this?” I used such questions to gauge their understanding of what I was teaching; but, I found that they were responding to my static questions in their own static way. Static questions, do not offer opportunities for idea sharing or comparing and contrasting. With this knowledge in mind, think about the questions that you ask. Can you change those questions to more open-ended statements? Instead of “What color is this?”, you could say to a student “I forget the name of this color.” With a more open-ended statement like this, you will be opening the door for more dynamic dialogue and social interaction.
  • Slow down and let your students think! With the demands on today’s teachers, it is tough to consider slowing down—especially when you have so much to cover in such a short period of time. I must say, however, that they old saying is true: “Slow down to speed up”. By giving your students time to process information, you allow them to think and problem solve on their own. If they can make their own discovery about a topic area, it will be so much more meaningful to them than if they had been told what to do or how to fix the problem. All children have the ability to think and conduct problem solving on their own at their appropriate learning level; but they need to be allowed to have the time to do it, and they need to feel supported in the learning process.

By allowing my students to think about the topic we were studying and providing them more opportunities for open-ended dialogue, I found that my students were learning and thinking about so many different things in their environment. It was wonderful to discover how much of an impact I could make on the learning process of my students and their quality of life now and in the future. See what amazing things can happen when you make little changes like these!

Monday, September 15, 2008

"Autism Inspiration"

I'm hoping this quote inspires some of you to get motivated to stop doing NOTHING. Please be involved with your child and do something, but better yet would be to do the right thing.

"In any moment of decision the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing."

Friday, September 12, 2008

Making Salsa

By: Raul and Phillip

We put some tomatoes, peppers, green onion, white onion, and lime juice in a large bowl. Cutting up all the vegetables was a lot of fun. Afterwards, we cleaned the table so we could eat the salsa. The salsa is very good. It was a lot of fun.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

A Journey Through Infant Development: The Fourth Month

A Journey Through Infant Development: The Fourth Month
By: Michelle VanderHeide, BSW

It’s already been four months since our little man joined our family, and I can’t remember life without him. He has been such a joy to have in our family. When I was pregnant and thought about what it would be like, I couldn’t imagine a baby being added to our already busy lives. I look back now and wonder how it was that I found as much joy in life as I do now with another wonderful child. It kind of makes me wonder what other beautiful characteristics could be added to our family with yet another. What am I missing? I won’t go there, though; three children are plenty! Here continue my reflections for my baby boy:
  • You are so funny! You already know what gets a reaction out of us. You started coughing the other day and I responded with “Oh, you’ve got a bad cough,” in that annoying motherly voice that we adults all use with babies. You found that to be quite hilarious, so you began this silly fake cough that then made me laugh. We had some good laughs about that. The next day I was laying you down for a nap when you looked right up at me and coughed, and then gave me a big smile. You remembered that it made me laugh before, and you threw it out there again.
  • On the same note, you are now becoming quite opinionated. If you don’t like something, you let us know – this horrifying scream comes out of your mouth! It’s not a cry, but a “I’m being attacked” kind of scream. It’s usually for good reason though; like when your sisters are on the attack or when I’m trying to clean out your ears or nose. I guess I don’t blame you – I’d probably scream too.
  • At the beginning of the month, I held you up in front of a mirror and you saw me. You kicked your legs and smiled at me through the mirror. I even saw some gaze shifting as you were looking between me and my image in the mirror. You looked at yourself and didn’t know what you were looking at, so you quickly shifted your gaze back to me. Just a few weeks later I did the same thing, and you looked at me first; but when you caught yourself in the mirror you were quite impressed by the handsome little thing you were looking at, which was evident in your kicks and squeals.
  • This was a big month for strengthening motor skills. Your sense of balance and ability to hold yourself up is getting much better. You can sit with much less assistance now, but not independently. You fold in half once your start to reach for something, and get stuck in that position. I find it quite hysterical, but you aren’t so fond of it. You also rolled over from your stomach to your back for the first time. When it first happened you had a look of shock on your face, as you had no idea what just happened to you. You settled down quickly, though, as you saw the toys that were once behind you were now right above you. The next time you rolled over, there were no toys to stare at; so you cried until your oldest sister was in your face, and you realized you were fine. Then the scream returned.
  • Your reach is getting much better. You are so cute when you are focused on trying to grab something. Your lips round out and your eyes get all buggy. You are concentrating so hard on being able to reach and open those precious little fingers. When you grab on, the look on your face is priceless. You are so proud of yourself! Just achieving this goal is a reward in itself!
  • Feeding you is getting much more difficult. As you are drinking your milk, you will turn to see what is going on around you and forget that you are eating. Once you turn back, you see me, then smile. I of course have to smile back. This then turns into a game. You suck once and then smile. This is fun for about three or four times; but I eventually have to look away so you’ll eat, or we’d be there all day!
  • You love to play with your voice. You are making so many sounds, and playing with the intonations while you make your “oohs” and “ahhs”. Watching these early forms of communication already developing in you is so amazing.

Isn’t it amazing how much develops in an infant in one short month? The best part about having infant development at home is that I can take the early objectives in the Relationship Development Intervention (RDI®) program and see how perfectly they fit into infant development. What seem like such small achievements are so critical to human development. Can you imagine speech without the use of intonations? It would be boring. Can you imagine communication without the feedback of facial expressions? It would be meaningless. Through RDI®, we start with such foundational objectives so that kids who missed this the first time can have a second chance at developing these critical components of development. I had a family describe these foundational objectives to me this way: “I tell people that my son is a building, and that there are several gaps in the building that are missing. If we don’t do something now, as the building continues to get taller it will become even more unsteady. We need to go back and fill in the gaps so he can have a solid foundation.” This is a great way to look at it, and a wonderful way to summarize the RDI® program.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Autism Inspiration

With the school year just starting I came across this quote and thought it was appropriate for not only our kids with autism but a lot of kids in general. It can be both applicable in the school setting and in what we do with children at home.

“If a child cannot learn in the way we teach … we must teach in a way the child can learn.”

Friday, September 5, 2008

Tomatoes to Pasta Sauce

By: Raul and Phillip

This week good and moldy tomatoes were found in the garden. The moldy tomatoes were thrown away in the garbage. The good tomatoes were washed and put in a bowl. We made pasta sauce with the good tomatoes to put on our pasta. Yum!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Communication is Dynamic

Communication is Dynamic

By: Erin Roon, MA CCC-SLP

Communication is a dynamic process. It goes way beyond the words we say. Many people interchange the words communication, language, and speech; but these terms are not synonymous. Speech refers to the actual words or sounds that are coming from your mouth. Language is the grammar, meaning and ability to use the words you have. When people talk about language, they are referring to both verbal and non-verbal language. Communication encompasses both language and speech, but it is more than that. It is the ability to share thoughts and experiences in a meaningful way while taking in, processing, and responding to the person you are talking with.

When you stop to think about all the elements of communication, it is a wonder that we don’t have more miscommunication. It is such a multi-level skill! The ability to hear the words someone else is saying is only one small part of dynamic communication that involves the ability to read facial expressions, gestures, tone of voice, and body posture at the same time as listening to what the person has to say. Once you’ve taken in all of this information, then you need to process it and decide how to respond.
Communication is a broadband process made up of many single band processes. Speech, language, and each different type of non-verbal language are the single bands that make up the broadband process of communication. If a person has difficulty processing any one of these bands, pieces of communication will be lost and will be difficult to interpret correctly and respond appropriately to the message being sent. The ability to take in and simultaneously process these multiple modes of communication is an automatic process for most of us. It happens rapidly and without thought. Often times we do not even need to hear all of what is being said before we have begun to formulate our response! When we lose focus or are unable to process a particular band of communication, this can lead to breakdowns and misinterpretations. Think about how easy it is to misinterpret what is being communicated when you are talking on the telephone or reading an e-mail. It becomes increasingly difficult to process accurately the message being sent as you take away pieces of the broadband experience that is known as dynamic communication. When talking on the phone, you have lost the ability to gather information from your speaking partner’s facial expressions, gestures, and body language. You are still able to hear the words they are saying, as well as use cues from their tone of voice and loudness to aid in processing the information being presented; but it can be a challenge. This becomes even more difficult with e-mail. You are unable to use any of the non-verbal cues that are crucial for accurate interpretation of messages. How often do you read an e-mail and begin thinking about it in one way, only to find out that isn’t how the sender intended the message at all. This can be a very frustrating experience.

I compare the communication abilities of children with autism spectrum disorders to the process of trying to communicate through e-mail. You can be fairly successful at this form of communication when you know someone well, which is also true when communicating with people with autism spectrum disorders. When you are unfamiliar with the person on the other end of the e-mail, it is easier to have miscommunication unless you are talking about factual information or have the same frame of reference. Children with autism spectrum disorders have difficulty in processing and using broadband communication. As a matter of fact, this difficulty is one of the core deficits of autism: known as experience sharing communication. While they can be very effective at talking about special interest areas or presenting factual information, they often miss the social aspect of communicating. They have not learned the process by which we share our experiences in a dynamic back and forth exchange; this is the essence of experience sharing communication. Often times, they miss the non-verbal cues that let us know when our listener is not understanding or no longer interested. Children on the autism spectrum have difficulty in interpreting more than one mode of communication at a time. They are single band processors. This means that if they are hearing the words you are saying, they are not able simultaneously to read facial expressions and gestures, or interpret the tone of your voice. Without the ability to process multiple bands of communication, it becomes increasingly hard to respond in a meaningful way.

Helping children on the autism spectrum to begin using experience sharing communication and become broadband communication processors must be a top priority in treatment. This is one of the ways that the Relationship Development Intervention® Program works to remediate this core deficit of autism. Improving the ability to communicate meaningfully is a necessary component of improving a person’s quality of life.