Holiday Gift Ideas for Children with Autism

With Christmas just a few weeks away, parents of children with autism may be in the familiar position of having difficulty in finding the right gift for their loved ones. In the current economic environment, this can be even more of a challenge for those who are on a tight budget. For those last-minute shoppers, I’ve outlined some products below that may serve as great gift ideas. The items vary in pricing, so there should be something for just about anyone on any type of budget.

Apple iPad – For many, this gift will be out-of-reach financially, but I feel it’s important to include because of the benefits it provides. The iPad has been heralded as a breakthrough device for children with autism, primarily for its downloadable applications, or ‘apps’ that have been developed to enhance communication for those with autism. If the iPad is out of your price range, consider the less expensive iPod Touch. eBay is a great spot to pick up an iPad at a discounted rate from what you typically would find in a retail store. PRICE:  $350-$450 (used) or $550 – $800 (new). iPod Touch: $100 – $250 (used) or $250 – $500 (new). Prices vary based on model, storage space and web connectivity options, so be sure to do your research. http://www.apple.com 

Sensory Pea Pod – The sensory pea pod is an inflatable vinyl pod for children that creates a “cocoon-like” effect, calming and relaxing them in the process. The item is safe and comfortable and children particularly enjoy the gentle pressure that it exerts on all sides. Available in different sizes. PRICE: $75.00 – $150.00 http://tinyurl.com/sensorypeapod 

MeMoves™ – A multi-media presentation offered on DVD that helps a child’s auditory, visual, motor planning and sequencing and limbic parts of the brain. Organized into three categories; Joy, Focus and Calm, users select one of the 13 sequences on the DVD and follow along (imitate) the actions on the screen. PRICE: $59.95 http://www.thinkingmoves.com 

Computer Games – It’s no secret that children with autism are drawn to video and computer games. The following selections from Different Roads to Learning will help apply your child’s love of video games into an interactive, positive learning experience. PRICE:  $49.95 – $150.00 http://www.difflearn.com/category/computer_games 

Grace – For those who already have an Apple device, the Grace app is a digital version of the Picture Exchange Communications System, a book that helps those unable to speak to build sentences from relevant images. The app starts with 400 images that were chosen by non-verbal people as communication starters. Categories include colors, food and drink, my body, and places. Grace allows the users to build their “photo vocabulary” by snapping their own photos to use within the app. PRICE:  $38.00 http://www.graceapp.com 

Weighted and Pressurized Vests – Vests that apply weight or pressure to the body have been shown to benefit some children with autism and help calm down a child, allowing them to better process information. These types of vests and clothing may also improve a child’s ability to concentrate. Generally, children who are easily distracted or hyperactive respond well to the additional weight or pressure the clothing provides. PRICE: $30 – $80. http://www.especialneeds.com/weighted-vest.html

Chewelry – Offered by Kid Companions, Chewelry functions as a chewable, wearable or attachable sensory tool for individuals with special needs. Items are discreet and age-appropriate alternatives to traditional oral motor and fidget toys. PRICE: $8.00 – $20.00 http://kidcompanions.com

While we don’t officially “endorse” the above products or the companies that provide them, they are definitely worth checking out and will hopefully spur some unique gift ideas for you this holiday season. More important than any gift, however, this time of year should be focused on family, friends and our loved ones and hopefully, the stress of shopping and gift-giving should be eclipsed by the more important things that really matter and really last.

Cub Scouts Beneficial for Children with Autism

Cub Scouts

Courtesy: Scouting.org

A challenge for many parents of children with autism is finding age-appropriate activities that help improve their social skills and interaction with others. For some, the Cub Scouts (part of The Boys Scouts of America) can provide a great way for children to improve in these and other areas, all while having fun in the process.

Designed for children in grades 1 through 5 (ages 7 to 10 yrs), Cub Scouting helps prepare youngsters for the more-rigid and structured Boys Scouts program and offers a myriad of activities that help bring families together. In a no-pressure environment, children participate in optional programs such as campouts, educational courses, picnics and other events. Most activities are based on a rewards system, meaning each time a new skill-set is learned or activity is completed, a child is awarded a patch, badge or pin — something that many children with autism respond very well to.

While not suited for everyone (kids on the lower end of the spectrum may have some difficulties), the Cub Scouts offers a great way for children with autism to spend quality time with their parents or families and learn important life management skills while doing so.

Our nine-year-old is in his first year of Cub Scouts and is benefiting a great deal from the program. In his brief three months of involvement, he’s improved his fine-motor skills (attempting to tie knots and set up tents), increased socialization with peers and for the first time, has a sense of belonging to something he really enjoys. In fact, he recently stated that the Cub Scouts has "changed his life." The other kids have been very accepting and supportive of him — something that has played a big role in his success thus far.

And with so many non-traditional families out there, there’s a good mix of mothers, fathers, grandparents and even caregivers that participate in many of the events. This parental involvement is crucial for a positive experience for scouts and even more so for children with autism, so it’s not recommended getting involved unless you are willing to commit to the time with your child.

With minimal financial commitments and positive upside potential, I would recommend parents of children with autism giving Cub Scouts a try. Ask if you can pay your dues in monthly installments (ours is $10/month), so you won’t be financially committed in the event things don’t work out. Trying this new venture just may help your child find his passion and develop skills that will be beneficial for years to come.

To find a Cub Scouts program near you, visit https://beascout.scouting.org click on the ‘Cub Scouts’ tab and enter in your zip code.

Autism and Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Debate Continues

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Autism

Courtesy: Oxyhealth.com

An article published today by the New Jersey Star-Ledger entitled "Questions, risks surround hyperbaric chamber treatments for autistic children" is an interesting story addressing the pros and cons of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) for autism. In the article, writer Susan Livio addresses the key points involving the treatment, which is frequently implemented by parents of children with autism.

However, the story caught my attention because of its title, which I found to be very misleading. Other than a glancing mention of rare side effects, there are no inherent "risks" that Livio alluded to in her title, other than the fact that HBOT therapy can be expensive when not covered by insurance, hence posing a financial "risk" to families. However, this is significantly different from the inference that HBOT poses health risks.

With so much misinformation currently circulating within the autism community, these types of attention-grabbing headlines do not do any favors for those searching for the truth. Whether intentional or not, the article immediately casts HBOT in a negative light before a single sentence of the story is read.

I am neither a proponent or critic of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy, but I do take issue when I see these kinds of headlines coming from the media as it pertains to autism, mainly because they needlessly create further division among a fractioned community that so desperately needs to come together.

While any form of medical treatment poses "risks," HBOT therapy is considered relatively safe, assuming that patients are properly supervised by a licensed medical physician (an important fact omitted by the author). And unlike some of the more controversial biomedical treatments such as chelation and IVIG, research has consistently shown HBOT to have minimal risks or side effects and in many cases, have proven beneficial. I personally know of parents who swear by HBOT therapy and have heard nothing but positive things by those who have tried it.

Yes, HBOT can be expensive, particularly for those who chose to buy a chamber for their own home, but we must be careful not to confuse the very different issues of financial risk vs. health risk. 

Children with autism should have all potentially beneficial treatments at their disposal, regardless of cost.  Just because something is expensive should not disqualify it as a treatment option nor should it be unfairly cast in a negative light, especially when it has the potential to benefit some of those who try it.

Giving Thanks in the Face of Autism

For many parents of children of autism, much of their year is fraught with frustration, setbacks, disappointments and letdowns. Dealing with autism can be an emotionally draining experience, but as we learn to cope and manage with our child’s condition, we can also come to realize that we have much to be thankful for, particularly on a day like today.

Every life is a gift and in that gift are the special treasures, giftings and unique characteristics that make individuals with autism so very special.

When our child was officially diagnosed with autism at the age of three, our world came crashing down. The depression, anger and despair we felt at the time were too overwhelming to put into words. As a family, like so many others like us, we went through the "why me?" phase, shaking our faith to the core in the process.

However, as the years have passed, we’ve seen our now-nine-year-old son grow into an incredibly talented and gifted individual. He may not be "normal" by society’s standards, but he is an amazing and bright young man and if given the chance, I would not change a hair on his head.

This Thanksgiving, it’s our hope that all parents who have been touched by autism can truly see through the obstacles and challenges and realize that our children are unique and special in their own way and it’s those qualities that help make the world a better place. Craig Nicholls, John E. Robison, James Durbin, Tim Burton, Daniel Tammet and Jacob Barnett (and many, many others) are all individuals on the autism spectrum that testify to this truth.

Happy Thanksgiving from our family to yours.

James Durbin Readies for Launch of Music Career

James Durbin

Courtesy: WindUpRecords.com

Since being voted off of American Idol back in May, James Durbin has been busy ramping up his professional music career, which officially launches this month. With an album debut scheduled for November 21st entitled, "Memories of a Beautiful Disaster," Durbin will be releasing the video for "Love Me Bad" on VEVO November 16th. The song is a great power ballad with commercial appeal and will also be available on iTunes November 29th. In addition, Durbin’s team has released the single "Stand Up" to help promote his album and upcoming tour.

Durbin signed with Wind Up Records (of Creed & Evanescence fame) a few months ago and there are many fans eager to support his efforts. In preparation for his upcoming tour, Durbin also has announced that Drummer Jeff Fabb and guitarist Blake Bunzel of the California metal group In This Moment have joined his band.

James Durbin was the subject of an American Idol controversy when he was voted off, as documented on this and other sites. Voter confusion, along with potential phone and texting errors may have been responsible for his premature departure. There are many, however, who have noted that his early exit may have been a blessing in disguise, since the top two finalists are typically more creatively restricted by American Idol-backed producers and record labels.

Diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome and Tourette’s at an early age, Durbin has overcome enormous obstacles to get where he is today, including the death of his father when he was nine-years-old. James has a large backing within the special needs community and hopefully, he will use his newfound notoriety and fame to promote awareness and acceptance for those with autism and other special needs.

We wish the best of luck to James and will be fully supporting him, which includes the purchase of his new album when it becomes available later this month.

Study Suggests Some with Autism Don’t Care What Others Think

Caltech researchers believe they have evidence that those with high functioning autism (HFA) don’t seem to care what other people think of them. This lack of “theory of mind,” or the capacity to know what others think and feel is not a new premise.

In their recent experiment, Caltech researchers had those with HFA and neurotypical individuals make online donations to UNICEF alone in a room and then with other people watching them.

Cognizant of their social reputation, neurotypical individuals donated more when being watched, while those with autism gave the same result regardless of who was observing.

In a control experiment, both groups performed better on basic math skills while being watched.

The study, which is documented in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, concluded that “in people with autism, the presence of another person is indeed registered, and can have general arousal effects .. what is missing is the specific step of thinking about what another person thinks about us.” 

The researchers regard this lack of “theory of mind” as meaning those with autism can’t figure out their social reputation, the skill that psychologists claim motivates people to be nice to others. 

Personally, I don’t buy it. The inability of individuals with HFA to understand how others perceive them is NOT the same as them not caring what others think. High functioning individuals are hypersensitive to their own social awkwardness and isolation. Having difficulty navigating social scenarios is a far cry from not caring about the impact they make on others.

As for them giving the same amount to UNICEF with or without being watched, that’s a breath of fresh air. Individuals with autism are genuine. Yes, it gets them in trouble at times, but it’s also part of the beauty of their condition. You can trust what they say, because they are brutally honest. Sometimes the unvarnished truth stings, but their compliments are worth their weight in gold. 

Do people really have to be socially constrained by the opinions of others in order to learn to be nice? If you want to be liked, you learn to be likeable, but the implication that high-functioning individuals will be less nice because they are unaware of the social reputation is not credible to me, and I have two extremely kind high-functioning sons to prove it. 

This is one of those cases where researchers drawing conclusions peering from the outside looking in on autism overreach and end up putting a negative spin on what could be positive results.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
http://SusanMoffitt.com

Indiana Teacher Cleared of Charges in Restraint of Child with Autism

The Indiana Court of Appeals dropped charges against a special education teacher in connection with her restraint of 12-year-old boy with autism. When the student began striking himself in the classroom, she and her aide taped socks over the boy’s hands, used orthopedic belts to tie his legs to a chair, then tipped the chair onto its back on the floor. Just trying to visual that is disturbing. Imagine the child’s terror! The boy is going to be that much more unruly after being traumatized by their reaction.

Originally charged with confinement, battery and neglect, the Appeals Court called the action necessary to protect the student and others in the classroom. The court declared that the teacher’s actions fall under qualified immunity which grants legal protection “with respect to a disciplinary action take to promote student conduct … if the action is taken in good faith and is reasonable.” 

Autism advocates are rightfully concerned about the message this sends to teachers. The local news account said that “The Perry Township School District was unable to provide a copy of the district’s seclusion and restraint policy." That’s because it doesn’t exist. A quick survey of state by state laws shows that Indiana has no clear policies on restraint and seclusion in the classroom, making this ruling a doubly-dangerous precedent. Indiana is one of the remaining states that allows corporal punishment as well.

The teachers union hailed the decision as a victory in the fight to protect teachers in the classroom. Sadly, the teachers should be armed with more classroom support and better autism training, not granted immunity for what would be considered assault in any other context. 

In viewing threads of local news accounts, a reader stated that the boy never should have been placed in that classroom as his autism was too severe and the teachers had no training in dealing with someone with his issues. They cited the common cost cutting move of schools combining classrooms that should be separated according to level of need. 

Sadly, there is still no national policy governing restraint, confinement, use of aversives and corporal punishment in our nation’s schools. Cases like these only point out the necessity of have a clear and uniform law protecting our children when they are at school from the adults who are supposed to be taking care of them.

The Indiana Attorney General’s Office has 30 days to appeal the ruling. Let it be so.

About the Author:
http://SusanMoffitt.com

Autism Caused by Depression of Mothers?

istockphoto.com/diane39

There’s a new theory for the autism epidemic that hearkens back to the “refrigerator mother” theory that autism is caused by cold, withholding mothers. The Albany Times Union reports that Dr. Gabor Mate believes that parental stress, especially the mother’s, causes developmental disabilities. The author of four books that explore the connection of mind, body and stress, Mate asserts that, " The electrical circuitry of a child’s brain is programmed by the mother’s emotional state."

Research does, in fact suggest that childhood trauma influences a child’s developmental success, affecting both their mental and physical outcomes well into adulthood. Careful not to fault individual parenting, Mate points to the modern society’s family structure of overworked parents and overbooked kids as an indication that the “it takes a village to raise a child” model is extinct, leaving troubled kids who are then medicated when they have problems. The doctor goes on to offer tips about effective parenting, like “Don’t parent when you are feeling hostile. Wait for your heart to open up” and “Catch your children ‘being good’ and give them positive attention.” It’s a bit disingenuous to not blame poor parenting, then proceed to give parenting tips that are less than a revelation.

Dr. Mate concedes that he has no proof for his theory of rising autism (ADD and obesity as well), “but nothing else makes sense”.

With all due respect, many other things make sense as factors in the rise of autism — environment toxins triggering genetic propensities for instance. I guess in this case, a mother’s depression would count as an environmental toxin, but it’s hard to swallow the notion that alone causes autism. I know plenty of parents, myself included, who have sacrificed a great deal to be present for our children and the kids were still on the spectrum. Were we too stressed out, too depressed in the midst of our efforts? Geez, we’re all just doing the best we can. 

Dr. Mate could make his useful points without going overboard. Parents are going to end up depressed because they’re depressed, thinking they are putting their child at risk for autism. Dr. Mate could well end up inducing the stress he claims to want to alleviate.

About the Author:
http://SusanMoffitt.com

Another Police Encounter with Autism Goes South

Blake Wimberly (Courtesy CBS11 DFW)

A young man with autism and schizophrenia, yet able to live in his own apartment, had a harrowing trip to a Whole Foods Market in Dallas.

After customers complained that he was “behaving oddly,” police were called to the store. Apparently, the young man was running in the aisles and not staying in the store proper. Confronted in an “Employee Only” area and told to leave or he’ll be arrested, 28-year-old Blake Wimberly refused, stating that he needed to call his mother. He also told the officers he was autistic, displaying his medical alert bracelet. Officers nonetheless arrested him for criminal trespass and took him to jail, an action that was totally at their discretion. His mother was in the shower when the police station called and no one answered when she returned their call. Blake was in custody for twelve hours.

Even before this episode Blake suffered from a paranoid fear of the police, which was at times crippling. Now one wonders if it wasn’t a premonition.

What, pray tell, is the use of a medical alert bracelet if it’s only going to be ignored? Why instruct people with disabilities to disclose their condition to officers if the information is treated with indifference? Clearly, the officers should’ve let the docile young man call his mother, who would’ve come to the store and taken him home. Oddly, Blakely is a former employee of that store. Was there no one working who knew and remembered him who could speak on his behalf? 

Blakely’s mom is planning to sue the police over the incident and rightfully so. Her son’s fragile mental health was seriously eroded by the trauma of his arrest. He maintains he was treated badly at the station and there’s every reason to believe him. 

It seems as if nary a day goes by without some fresh news of the colliding worlds of law enforcement and autism. It’s regrettable when the officers don’t know the person they’re dealing with has autism. 

It’s inexcusable when they do.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
http://SusanMoffitt.com

 

New Study Finds IQ Tests Underestimate Autism Intelligence

A new study published at www.plos.org finds that traditional IQ testing likely underestimates the intelligence of individuals on the autism spectrum. The common perception that autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are characterized by uneven intellectual profiles and concomitant impairment can now be ascribed to the bias of the test itself.

Researchers administered the standard Wechsler IQ test and another test called Raven’s Progressive Matrices which addresses reasoning, novel problem-solving skills and high-level abstraction. Two groups took the tests, an Asperger’s and a neurotypical group. While scores for the neurotypical group were about the same regardless of the test, the individuals with autism scored much higher on the Raven’s Progressive Matrices. 

Researchers found these further results:

“Interestingly, Asperger participants’ performance on Raven’s Matrices was associated with their strongest peaks of performance on the traditional Wechsler Intelligence test… A previous study by the same group found very similar results for autistic individuals as well, whose peaks of ability are perceptual, rather than verbal as in Asperger individuals.”

The conclusion reached is that pockets of abilities attributed to ASD people are actually indicators of their general intelligence, the true norm, rather than an aberration.

This study affirms what most parents of children with autism already know — schools favor the neurotypical child, and children with autism often aren’t seen clearly by educators. Hopefully, new tests will be made to fairly assess autism IQ and new educational modalities will be created to deliver information to our children in a way that honors their unique processing style. 

The paradigm shift is a refreshing focus upon the strengths of ASD children rather than their weaknesses and the acknowledgment that while atypical, autism intelligence is also “genuine, general and underestimated."

About the Author:
http://SusanMoffitt.com

 
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Did You Know?

  • * In 1970, Autism affected 1 out of 10,000 children
  • * Autism now affects 1 out of 88 children
  • * Autism affects 1 in 54 boys
  • * 1.7 million Americans have some form of autism
  • * 4 out of 5 autistic children are boys

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