Lately, I’ve been addressing the many hard and scary aspects of autism,
in particular, safety issues at school and in the community. I now feel the need to shift my attention.
It’s easy to see the world of autism through a glass darkly when there’s so much work
to be done to ensure our children have a warm, safe place to be within society.
On the flip side, I want to let the sun shine on a day of happiness I enjoyed
last Friday as my son competed in a regional robotics competition in Seattle. My son has high functioning autism and has always been
inordinately shy and self-contained. At the age of fifteen, one of his current IEP goals is “to initiate a conversation with a fellow student once a
week." This goal is indicative of just how shy he is.
Chronically underestimated by teachers, I’ve always known his potential, even as they cast dire warnings about his future.
Lack of eye contact, emotional withdrawal and struggles with homework are
issues, but do not define him as a person.
My son has always gravitated towards science and his interest has been honed to engineering.
Just as he entered high school, a new robotics club was founded at his school.
Ecstatic at his good fortune, he faithfully attended meeting after meeting.
He joyously learned C++ programming, which he excelled at to the point of becoming head of the programmers, only one of two ninth graders to hold a position of leadership within the club.
Towards the end of the build season, he put in eight-to-ten hour days on weekends and over vacations, working hundreds of hours on
a robot. The social skills and sense of belonging he acquired through this
club could never have been delivered through an IEP goal.
Yesterday, the huge event was held in which all the roboteers and their creations assembled to compete against one another.
The atmosphere was incredibly festive as teams feverishly worked in their assigned pits to ready for battle.
Looking down upon my son from the balcony, I felt tears of joy well up that my self-professed geek had
finally found his people and path forward in life.
The first round of competition ended badly for my son’s team. Their big robot didn’t even place one inner tube on the hook as it was supposed to and their minibots
assigned to block the other team seemed quite unequal to the task. Afterward,
everyone on my son’s team, including the mentors, looked like their dog had just
died. One frantic team member ran off with a big part of the robot in his hands looking as if he was carrying his very heart.
My son’s dad had rallied from his sickbed to come see our son and we had to leave soon after, as he was fading fast.
We could only hope the day got better after we left.
When my son got home at eight that evening, he was beside himself with happiness.
His team had won a special award for “Best Rookie Team” based upon citizenship,
dedication and teamwork. And he brushed off the opening fiasco, proclaiming that they improved throughout the day and had a solid finish.
These are the things that make having a child with autism such a poignant experience.
Any parent would be proud of their kid on a day like today, but for a parent of a child with autism,
the feelings are amplified one-thousand fold. In moments like these, the weight of the burdens of autism are more than
counter-balanced by the blessings.
Help your child find his or her passion. When they are young, give them lots of clay,
paint and paper. Turn on the music and let them dance. Take them to museums with hands-on exhibits.
Read to them as much as possible. Buy an annual pass to the zoo and the aquarium.
See if they like children’s drama. Try not to impose expectations, especially
in the area of athletics, as many children on the autism spectrum shun organized sports.
You may never be a little league dad or a soccer mom, but that’s okay.
Regardless, let your child reveal himself to you out of the plethora of experiences you provide.
Believe me, as I have just experienced, the rewards will be immeasurable and profound.
A global financial crisis. Unrest in the Middle East. Earthquakes and tsunamis in
Japan. Nuclear radiation fallout. Bombings in Libya.
A cursory glance at these recent headlines would give any neurotypical
person reason for concern at our world’s current state of affairs. However, for
those on the autism spectrum, these events can create unneeded anxiety and
worry, particularly for those who are high functioning.
My son is at an age where he pays attention, understands and fully comprehends current events. As it stands, he already has an elevated phobia of earthquakes and
natural disasters, so recent events in Japan only served to exacerbate those
As with any child, it’s important to keep a healthy balance of reality, while at
the same time, protecting them from unnecessary information that is going to
cause undue fear. As renown autism expert Tony Attwood once stated, "Autism
is anxiety looking for a target.”
Many fears associated with those who have autism manifest when routines are
disrupted and children find themselves in unfamiliar situations and events. With
apocalyptic headlines coming in on a near-daily basis, parents should do
everything possible to provide comfort and solace to their children and ensure
them that no matter what happens around them, they will continue to have a
loving and caring support system in their lives.
Some things that can be done to allay some of the fears in children with autism
include the following:
1) Offer up a favorite game or activity. When anxiety sets in, offer
your child a familiar game or activity to help divert their attention from the
problem at-hand. This could include a favorite iPad app, Nintendo/PlayStation/Xbox
game or book.
Tell them that things are going to be fine and providing them with a familiar
activity will go a long way in soothing frayed nerves.
2) Limit television and Internet exposure. While it’s important not to
completely shield children from the realities of our world, TV time
and Internet usage should be kept to a minimum. Internet filters are also very
important and one of the
best programs I have come across for protecting a child on the Internet is
the K9 Web Protection program. This is a completely free software program that
can be installed on your computer that will filter news, social media, gambling
sites, adult content and just about any other topic you can think of. Everything
is customizable and the best part of this software is that it’s free. It can be
downloaded at: http://www1.k9webprotection.com/get-k9-web-protection-free
3) Pray. Take the time to pray with your children on a daily basis.
Bedtime is usually an ideal time when you can say your prayers, then discuss the
things that are concerning your child — all while they are in a relaxed and
safe environment. Talk them through their fears and let them know that despite
bad things happening in the world, there is a greater purpose to their lives and
ultimately, God is in control.
Children with autism already have a lot to deal with and there is no need to add
to those fears by having them concerned with every headline that comes across
the newswires. Keeping an open line of communication with children and being a
supportive parent or caregiver is typically the best anecdote for any anxiety
that may be created from recent news events.
The majority of children with autism have at least one or more sensory
issues, which may include sensitivity to light, sound or touch. A particularly
common problem for a child on the spectrum is an aversion to toilet paper, which
can often lead to stressful potty episodes for parents. Even the softest toilet paper products
on the market can turn a routine trip to the bathroom into a meltdown of epic
Not long after our son was diagnosed with autism, I recall him dreading trips to
the bathroom because of the uncomfortable feeling toilet paper produced on his
backside. Wiping with paper is irritating enough for neurotypicals, so this
problem is only compounded for those who are hypersensitive
to touch, which included my son.
Then a few years ago, we discovered a relatively inexpensive product called the
Biffy, which is a bidet-like attachment that affixes to existing toilets,
turning them into powerful cleaning devices. The product was invented by a
physician and has been a lifesaver for our family.
The Biffy is hygienic and doesn’t require any manual dexterity or
coordination, which is particularly important for those with special needs. It
draws from a home’s clean water supply and incorporates a showerhead-like
apparatus that produces a fan of water to a user’s bottom, thoroughly rinsing the area clean.
An adjustable dial helps a user control the strength of the spray, which can be
quite strong when on its maximum setting.
The standard Biffy retails for around $99 and is definitely money well spent.
However, we have found that it does tend to wear out after about a year or two, at which point you would need to buy a new one. To counter
this problem, the company has recently released a "Chrome" version
which is said to be more durable and last longer.
Other similar products include those from BBC
Innovation and Bidet
International, which I have not tried. Although they produce similar
results, the designs are noticeably different from the patented Biffy.
I’m not a big fan of product promotion within our stories. However, there are
times when we make exceptions if we feel something will be particularly
beneficial to parents, caregivers and individuals with autism. The Biffy
certainly fits this category and although it takes some getting used to, after a few times of using this thing, you will wonder how you and your child ever went without
(no pun intended).
The topic of bullying has been front-and-center this past month, including an anti-bullying conference
held last week with President Barack Obama, along with First Lady Michelle Obama.
The conference addressed the administration’s anti-bullying campaign and plans
to hold school districts accountable if they don’t adequately protect bullied
students. Then a video went viral this week featuring Casey
Australian sixteen-year-old who turned the tables on a school bully and body slammed him
into the ground.
More notably, Congresswoman Jackie Speier of California recently spoke before her colleagues about the epidemic of bullying in our
schools and addressed the heartbreaking truth that children with special needs are bullied at a
much higher rate than all others. Additionally, it was noted that bullying reported among those with autism and Asperger’s Syndrome was markedly higher than
neurotypical children. Ms. Speier will soon be introducing legislation to address this crisis head-on, requiring schools to track incidents against children with
disabilities and include content in anti-bullying programs that specifically addresses this
susceptible segment of students.
While I applaud these efforts, it seems more education and awareness will be required to truly make a difference. If a school has an inclusion program, as most do, guest autism speakers should address the PTA on what it means for neurotypical and children with autism to share a classroom. This would cue parents of neurotypical children to not be fearful or resentful of a child with autism sharing a room with their child. The parents could then in turn help their children become more compassionate and supportive of their special needs classmates.
Tragically, much of the problem comes from the top, as administrators and teachers themselves don’t understand or appreciate the nature of autism, even as they are required to meet the needs of those students in their midst. Too often, the principal regards the child with autism as a “headache” and a behavior problem absorbing
his or her valuable time.
As far as teachers go, my experience has been that when a teacher sets a respectful tone towards a child with autism, students
will follow the lead. Sadly, the converse is also true.
Earlier, I recommended a new DVD called “Intricate
Minds” as a way of facilitating a dialogue about Asperger’s
Syndrome and though I personally haven’t had the opportunity to introduce it in a needed school setting, I hope someone else will do so and share their findings.
Personally, I would advocate training about autism among adults in schools
who are most likely to encounter a child with autism and also require a fixed number of training
hours for all special education teachers. There is also software that some schools are using with great success that enable students to report incidents of bullying they have endured or witnessed anonymously online to a school administrator. This is a resource that should be available in every school.
We all want to provide children on the autism spectrum a bully-free and safe
environment, but we cannot do that alone. Only through knowledge and awareness
will we be able to counter the ignorance and fear that currently exist in our school
The National Autism Association is making headlines for advocating the
implementation of a diagnostic code on behalf of minors with special needs that have a history of
wandering. A serious risk among children with autism is death associated with wandering, including accidental
drowning and exposure. A special diagnostic code would increase awareness among physicians about this phenomenon and help disseminate critical prevention materials and safety recommendations. As we head into
spring and then summer, accidents and fatalities associated with wandering will surely rise with warmer temperatures, making these issues all-the-more pressing.
In addition to greater preparedness and prevention, a diagnostic code would help police and search-and-rescue teams establish protocols for interacting
with individuals that have autism. This dovetails nicely into the necessity of our police force to become more skilled in dealing with
those in the community. As we have seen lately, too many avoidable tragedies
have occurred when individuals with autism were unable to interact appropriately with officers.
Another related issue involving children with autism is the propensity to flee when their sense of safety is threatened. Statistically, these children are at
a much greater risk for restraint. Unfortunately, I know this all-too-well as it has happened to my fifteen-year-old son multiple times and in multiple ways.
Most recently, his anxiety was triggered in school, which caused him to flee his
class and scream down the halls. While his teacher didn’t restrain him physically, she did tell him that he terrified the entire school and his classmates thought they were in the midst of another Columbine situation. I can’t tell you how devastated and humiliated he was to be told this.
He even had a horrific nightmare that his teacher grew huge and sprayed him with pesticide and he died. Obviously, her tactics were as
psychologically wounding as any type of restraint she could have used.
Since children with flight impulses have been known to disappear from environments where they are presumed to be safe, best practices entail addressing a child’s triggers at the
source and having a response plan ready when an incident does occur.
Right now, there is a way to protect a wandering child with autism without having to wait for any changes to the diagnostic code. Project Lifesaver (
http://projectlifesaver.org ) fits individuals with
a lightweight tracking device and trains teams to successfully recover them when they get lost. Cost of the service is twenty-five dollars
per month for maintenance of the device, although sometimes the services are rendered for free. With the advent of the diagnostic codes, insurance would likely cover it as well.
There are so many ways parents of a children with autism need to address their safety, especially since
their emotional and physical needs are so directly and powerfully linked.
It’s essential to connect with existing resources within the local community and for those resources to be strengthened and
expanded. And ultimately, it’s the people who interact with our children on a
regular basis who are the ones that will be instrumental in helping us keep them
The Internet and blogosphere have been buzzing all week about a bullying
incident that occurred on Monday in Sydney, Australia. Sixteen-year-old Casey
Heynes was the target of repeat bullying by numerous students at Chifley College, Dunheved Campus at North St Mary’s
and can be seen in a video once again being tormented by a fellow student.
However, the video, which has gone viral this week, shows an unexpected turn of
events when Heynes decides to retaliate and ends up body slamming his
12-year-old attacker, who has been identified as Ritchard Gale. Despite the clear act of self-defense, the school made the
decision to suspend both Gale and Heynes once the video began to circulate online.
Casey’s father said yesterday his son had been the victim of bullying for several years and feared for his safety if he spoke about the fight.
“There’ll be reprisals from other kids in the school and he still has to go to school somewhere,” he said.
Luckily, no one was hurt in the incident, despite Gale getting up
with a severe limp after being slammed into concrete.
This story is important because bullying is all-too-common for children on the autism spectrum, particularly
those who are high functioning. While the incident was unfortunate, it is
encouraging that it is receiving so much attention as it will certainly bring
greater awareness to bullying and some of the torment that many
students have to endure on a daily basis.
Most incidents of bullying don’t turn out like this and it’s safe to assume Ritchard Gale will think twice about picking on someone again. Kudos to Casey.
A recent Virginia case in which an teenager with Asperger’s was sentenced by jury to ten-and-a-half years in prison for assaulting a police officer is a horrible tragedy for all concerned.
News accounts reported that the teen went to the library, but finding it closed, sat down outside on the grass.
It was pointed out that the teen happens to be black and nearby school children became afraid
and complained to the school crossing guard, saying that he might have a gun. Police were then summoned.
A single officer approached the teen, checked him for a gun and found no weapon. He then asked his name several times with no response. Because the teen wouldn’t tell the officer his name, he grabbed the youth by the arm and threw him over the top of his car in order to cuff him while declaring him under arrest. A struggle ensued and the teen
caused injuries to the officer.
This is a terribly disturbing case on many levels. The officer is himself the father of mentally
challenged thirty-three year old and on that basis, was said to be highly sensitive of
those with developmental disabilities. However, an officer experienced with autism would not expect
their subjects to answer all questions asked or find the need to suddenly grab and arrest
them. Why was there no call for back-up?
So basically, a young man with autism was sitting outside a library waiting for it to open and then a short while later,
an officer is injured from a struggle and now a young man faces over a decade behind bars.
This is the latest in a series of avoidable tragedies, including the wrongful deaths of two young adults with autism in Los Angeles. All
of the cases share the fact that the suspects were committing no crimes, but failed to respond properly to police commands. The
concerning element is without proper training and awareness, the number of these cases
are going to expand exponentially as more and more children with autism grow into young adults.
Because the teen had another incident on his record, the prosecutor maintained that he was wasn’t impaired by autism, but rather is an innately aggressive and dangerous person.
The fact that the jury bought this parsing of conditions is not good news for anyone.
In a previous article, I advocated for a voluntary autism
registry, but that is a distant goal that requires a great deal of work and effort, even after communities agree that it’s needed. I am now thinking that teens and young adults with autism should carry visible medical alert
indicators such as a bracelet or necklace to notify officers of their condition and provide an emergency cell phone number
of a caregiver.
Of course, the need for more officer training in autism is only amplified by
these heartbreaking turn of events.
One of the premier organizations that offers autism training for officers is run
by Dennis Debbaudt. Dennis is an ex-law enforcement official, father of a son
with autism and the founder of Autism Risk and Safety Management. We interviewed
him a few years ago and he provided some great insight into this emerging
problem and what is being done to address it.
While his organization is doing a tremendous job, much more effort is needed by others to
address this growing problem so these types of incidents are minimized or
completely eliminated in the future.
Parents of children with autism are always seeking ways to enhance the quality of
life for their children and massage therapy is becoming an increasingly popular
way of doing so.
One would think that a child with autism, who is commonly averse to touch, would find massage therapy intolerable. However, a massage therapist who works with children
are usually skilled at introducing touch and slowly building tolerance for it. Massage therapists know that it’s the light touch that is so aversive to these
children and they actual tolerate deep massages quite well.
The health benefits of massages are well-documented to the point where they are covered by many insurance companies and prescribed as supplemental therapy by some medical doctors.
Biochemically, body massages release serotonin, a neurotransmitting chemical known for giving a sense of well-being and
happiness. Conversely, abnormal serotonin synthesis is said to be linked to autism.
The Touch Research Institute of Miami has conducted several studies on the effect of massage therapy for children on the autism
spectrum and their results confirm what is anecdotally acknowledged – massage therapy can be of great benefit to children on the spectrum.
In one particularly interesting study, twenty children with autism ranging in age from 3 to 6 years were randomly assigned to massage therapy and reading attention control groups. Parents in the massage therapy group were trained by a massage therapist to massage their children for 15 minutes prior to bedtime every night for one month, while the parents of the attention control group read Dr. Seuss stories to their children on the same time schedule. Results showed that
the children in the massage group stayed on task better at school and showed more social relatedness during playtime observations.
Parents also reported that their children were more responsive to verbal cues, had an easier time with daily tasks, slept
better and were generally calmer.
Most poignantly, these children were more receptive to their parent’s touch and even initiated affection themselves. Scientists used to believe children with autism couldn’t bond with their parents.
This theory has since been discarded and children with autism do indeed bond with
parents, but sometimes just cannot show it. It is very encouraging to know that massages
create a new avenue of expression and help bridge the worlds between a parent and child.
As always in examining alternative choices, consider them as ways to augment and enhance established medical protocols, not replace them.
When my son with autism was finally released from the hospital after battling Crohn’s, massage therapy was instrumental in him regaining his health and vitality. Doctors were amazed at his progress at his first follow-up visit, proclaiming that he “looked and felt like a different
person." I credit massage therapy with providing a boost of energy to his recovery. His cheeks were rosy, his eyes bright and his spirit was calm.
Best of all, there was no risk and no gimmicks — just the ancient art of human touch.
Sal Khan was a hedge fund manager tutoring his cousins through
distance learning. He started making them instructional videos to reinforce their learning when he couldn’t be there in
person and after a few lessons, his cousins told him that they liked him better on video. After absorbing
the shocking statement, he realized it was a back-handed compliment.
Through the use of video, his cousins could repeat what they didn’t understand without suffering embarrassment, while still having the benefit of their uncle’s warm, approachable demeanor. He started making them videos for a myriad of subjects and envisioned an entire public academy of free lessons delivered via YouTube.
That dream is now a reality in the form of the Khan Academy, which boasts 2,100 instructional videos on a range of
topics, as well as ongoing assessments and test preparation courses. There’s no
sign-up and no
login requirements — users simply go to the Web site and start learning ( http://www.khanacademy.org
Children with autism naturally gravitate towards computers and online learning where the social and sensory issues of a classroom are eliminated.
As a result, the Khan Academy is a great resource for parents of these children
to be aware of. Although much of the information is advanced, basic arithmetic is offered and affords a perfect way to augment math learning for young children with autism. Older children with autism can find many topics to reinforce classwork, or explore their special interests.
As a mother of a high school freshman with autism, I have been forced to home
schooling because his high school placement failed, so I am thrilled to discover
the Khan Academy. The timing of
the discovery couldn’t be more fortuitous as I was worried about the expenses
associated with gathering all of the appropriate curriculum for him.
The Khan Academy even attracted the attention of Bill Gates, who sees it as the wave of the future
for education. His foundation is supporting Sal Khan in his quest and is actively seeking ways of bringing his model of learning directly into the classroom.
Since time immemorial, man has been connected to the earth. Working in fields or gardening, walking barefoot on
beaches, or sleeping under the stars are all activities that link us to the natural, electrical energy of the earth’s surface. But modern man, in his concrete world filled with monitors and machines, has become more estranged from these elemental forces.
Earthing (aka grounding) is a term that refers to the conscious choice to re-establish that lost connection. People who subscribe to earthing report better sleep, less stress,
reduced chronic pain and faster recovery from trauma. Earthing has been reported to
equalize the body to the same energy level as the earth’s, resulting in the
synchronization of our biological clocks, hormonal cycles and physiological rhythms. Hence, the body is
suffused with healing through negatively charged electrons present on the earth’s surface.
Earthing as a scientific and medical movement began in the late 1990s when a retired cable TV executive named Clint Ober started to think about the human body in terms of electrical
grounding. Mr. Ober drew parallels between the workings of cable TV and the
human body’s electrical system. He realized that most people wear synthetically-soled shoes that insulate their bodies from the
earth’s energy field, which stabilizes not only cable TV, but all electrical
equipment throughout the world. This realization has lead people to
recognize scientifically what man has always known intuitively: direct contact with the earth is beneficial to one’s health.
In fact, two separate studies on earthing/grounding were conducted in 2004
and 2010 and published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.
In the latter study, twenty-eight men and women took part and were subjected to a grounding
device while sitting in a standard reclining chair for two hours.
Readings were taken during all phases of "treatment" and surprisingly,
they indicated changes in blood oxygenation, pulse rate, perfusion index and respiratory rate.
As a result, the following was concluded by Dr. Gaetan Chevalier, who oversaw the study:
"These results warrant further research to determine how grounding affects
the body. Grounding could become important for relaxation, health maintenance
and disease prevention."
Grounding as a potential treatment for autism came to my attention through my son’s physician, Dr. John Green of Oregon City.
Dr. Green only works with children with autism and also specializes in environmental health and immunology. His response
was, "I think earthing will prove helpful with sleep quality in some of the sleep disturbed
children and may in the longer term help with oxidative stress, which is such a huge factor in most kids on the
As alternative treatments go, grounding appears to be safe, natural and very
intriguing. Earthing "blankets" can be purchased at a relatively inexpensive
price and while no one method should serve as a substitute for traditional
autism therapies, it’s certainly worth investigating to examine its potential
We would encourage anyone who has tried (or will try) grounding to report back
on their experiences.
All information in this site is presented for support and educational purposes only. It is not intended to substitute for medical treatment or visiting a licensed medical physician. Visitors who desire to apply or use any information listed herein are urged to consult with licensed healthcare professionals first. All information is deemed reliable but its accuracy can't be guaranteed.
Autism strikes a family’s heart, soul and wallet. Estimates by The Autism Society puts a lifetime of care for an autistic child at $3.2 million. Autism parents know firsthand the brutal toll to the family coffers of therapies that can run $40,000 to $50,00 per year. Families tangle with insurance companies, invariably ending up with […]