Monday, August 24, 2015

Random Thoughts In August

Well, for this week and a little bit of next week I am still on vacation. I use this time to reflect, revise, create, and read whatever I can about autism. For those of you who read me here, you already know that my reading is pretty eclectic. I love hearing (reading) the voices of people on the spectrum, the DIR and ABA groups, and any news that might help.My reading list on, however, seems to weigh heavily on the vaccines-cause-autism controversy (still hard for me to believe that it still exists in 2015, but it does).

However, I do enjoy more neutral venues, such as the National Autism Network. Here is the link:

They comment on a renewed effort to study the environmental causes/precursors to autism. While it is clear there is an genetic link, it is also clear to me that environmental toxins play a part. Take a look at the article listed on the Network.

And here is another interesting story. Ten years ago and article was published about Donald. T., the first child diagnosed by Kanner in the US. Following up on his ten years alter, apparently he was 'cured' by 'gold salts', which eliminate mercury.


Research? None. Gold salts reduce mercury? Mercury causes autism? Take a look:

Are we limiting our construction of what is autism by science, or are we saving children from the harmful effects of unsubstantiated interventions?


Saturday, August 15, 2015

Expanding Our Understanding of Attention Seeking Behaviors

This is adapted from a blog post by the It expands the way we understand "Attention seeking".

Story: a young child, possibly in preschool, had kept it together for the entire day. She seemed to be an energetic child. By the end of the day, when all the others were gathering their belongings to go home, she was lying n the floor, hiding her face, indicating "no" to her teachers when she was told togged her things. Ignoring the adults for attention? I think not. I think she was too tired and needed help. In this situation, she needed proprioceptive input to her arms and legs to give her the strength to end the school day.

In our schools we do this a lot. We give the child the benefit of the doubt, even though the strict behaviorists do not. (There is no science behind "giving the child the benefit of the doubt", and thus it is a 'mentalism'.). "Tired" is a  behavior that can be measured, observed and defined for that individual child. Giving a child the benefit of the doubt is a more caring and thoughtful way to apply ABA. We have to keep in mind that there children are in school for 6-8 hours a day, and may have been awake since 5:30 or 6:00 AM. Sleeping through the night and keeping a sleep schedule is uncommon for children on the spectrum; they often can't fall asleep, or fall asleep too early and wake up too early. Thus, being fatigued at school is very common. Many teachers with whom I work recognize this and adjust accordingly. However, this is an interpersonal decision, and not one that is prescribed in the ABA canon.

So let's be flexible in our thinking; defiance may be an attempt at humor (playfulness), a way to run around the room and be chased. "Refusing to comply" may be fatigue, sensory, or auditory processing delay. In my experience, educators talk about 'defiance' depending on the quality of the behavior. Is he not doing the task with a smile on his face? Is he looking for a reaction? This child might need to be taught to ask for and enjoy 'play', or 'tag', or 'run'. If a child is tense, angry, and/or sobbing, "refusing to comply" might be sensory overload, too much too fast, or we missed a cue to offer the child a break.

Melding the science of ABA with our human intuition is a wonderful way to meet the child's social and emotional needs. These students depend on us to decipher the meaning of their behavior and to have compassion and an open mind.

Thankfully, most of the educators with whom I have worked come by this naturally, but certainly not all of them.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

"The Hidden Costs of Planned Ignoring": Well done!

This is just a quick post to alert the readers about an excellent essay written by Mona Delahunt on the neurodevelopmental costs of planned ignoring, which is an approach often used in ABA.

We should be nurturing communication.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Does Inclusion Have To Mean....

That the included students need to learn the same strategies (for example, in math or reading) that the typical kids do? I admit to speculating here.

An example I am thinking of is to "show your work" when solving a math problem. So each child must come up with not only an answer, the right one, but they must also show how they arrived at that answer. At least that is what I think is happening in local math curricula.

Handwriting for most of the students on the spectrum is slow and often a significant challenge; teachers often teach older students to use a keyboard to bypass handwriting.

So, if the students on the spectrum also have to show their work, that could mean out of a 45-minute math block, they spend more time laboring to manage the handwriting portion of the math block and less time actually doing math.

What is wrong with memorizing? That's how I learned math. And just knowing the answer? Does 'showing your work' benefit everyone? Or anyone?

Here's what I am thinking: that in some places, and some classrooms, the students on the spectrum are being taught in the same way as the neurotypical peers. Perhaps they are required to complete fewer equations, with more time.

But what if those strategies do not fit the specific learning profile of a student? In fact, how often in public schools do we ever talk about the specific learning style(s) of a student? We may mention at an IEP meeting that a particular student is a visual learner, but what does that actually mean in terms of how we instruct that student in math?

When do we decide that a particular strategy is or is not working for a child?

I imagine that there are many talented teachers out there who drive home at night wondering if a challenge a child is facing in class is due to his/her autism, learning style, or the match between learning style and instructional strategy. And I am guessing that there are just as many who don't.

I am not thinking here about particular teachers or teaching styles, but I am wondering about the bigger question: how do we know whether the learning challenge a student is facing is not because of his/her ASD diagnosis but a mismatch with the instructional strategies we are using?

Thoughts, please?

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

What Does This Child Bring?

It occurred to me today that the question I should place forward in my mind (and on the table) when a child on the spectrum is about to walk through the door is:

"What does this child bring to me today?".

S/he might bring lack of sleep, excitement, over-arousal, anxiety, frustration, warmth, concern, a disconnect from his/her surroundings, or anything else.

And that is where I have to start.

I can't teach/direct the child if I don't know his/her developmental level on THAT day. I could sing and dance and pull and push, but if the child is not ready to see or hear it, then I have nothing to offer.

This means that what they knew yesterday may not be available today; or they may 'know' things that I don't know they know (what they see at home, for example, or what they hear).

So if a child comes in with a mouthful of swear words, for example, then s/he has learned something that I wish s/he hadn't. So I modulate my response, not letting my shock and surprise show, and gently redirect.

If a child comes in very tense and overstimulated, I have to remain calm and soothing. On a different day, s/he might might need me to be affect-full to get her to notice me.

It all depends on how I answer the question, "What does this child bring to my room today?"

Thursday, April 30, 2015

A Compilation of New Autism Reseach

(NOTE: This post is derived from reading the most recent "Schafer Autism Report", a compilation loosely connected with Autism Speaks and Cure Autism Now, both organizations that see autism as a disability needing a cure. There are differing opinions and politics about that. More on that in another post)

In Volume 16, number 2, of the Shafer Autism Report, the most promising areas of autism research are in genetics and epigenetics. Let me explain.

In the genetics world, scientists have made the discovery that autism occurs as a result of many gene expressions, which implies that there are many "autisms" or at least many genes that drive the disorder.

In the largest-ever autism genome project, researchers sequenced 340 genomes from 85 families with two children on the spectrum. they focused on 100 different genetic variations in the genomes sequenced. They found an amazing result: 70 percent of siblings with autism had little or no overlap in the gene variations that contribute to autism. I think this is amazing; maybe it's because I am not a scientist,  but I always thought that having more than one child on the spectrum had to be genetic!

Epigenetics is the study of the interplay between genetic and environmental health factors. Research has show that certain stressors and environmental factor can activate certain genes. As an example, a recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that women who develop diabetes while pregnant are 42 percent more likely to have a child with autism. Another study linked autism to prenatal exposure to two air toxins, chromium and styrene.

And finally, in a recent study that included approximately 95,000 children with older siblings,  getting the MMR vaccine was NOT associated with an increased risk of ASD, regardless of whether the older sibling had ASD, and that these findings show no harmful association between receipt of the MMR vaccine and autism, even among children who were considered to be at higher risk of ASD.

Even though none of this influences my practice, I find it all fascinating (albeit very challenging to read and comprehend).

Enough for now.

Here's a link to the Schafer Autism Report page:

Monday, April 20, 2015

More Evidence-Based Baloney

The National Standards Project (an entity funded by and based at the May Institute, a well-known Massachusetts school for children with autism based entirely on ABA) complete its Phase 2 of its report on Evidence-Based Interventions, and surprise, they are all ABA-derived.

What keeps people, particularly ABA researchers, so blind to other interventions? Here's what I think: when you study ABA, live ABA, teach ABA, and research ABA, it is not possible for your brain to function outside that universe. It's similar to the phrase, "The blind leading the blind".

What they did not include are the 25 + studies on DIR/Floortime and other relationship-based interventions, which have different research methodologies, different outcomes, and are not based solely on observation of measurable behaviors. That's because these other studies have a different form and function than ABA does, and ABA does not take them seriously, because they are not developmentally-minded themselves. In order to see what is right before your eyes, you have to have vision.

And these researchers do not take into account the personal experiences of adults and young adults who, in their own words, state very firmly that ABA did not 'work' with them, and in fact some of them say that is was a form of abuse to them. (See; "Ido in Autismalnd", "", or "Ask an Autistic" on youtube to begin with).

I am not suggesting that we throw out ABA, but that we be open to other research and interventions.

Another important piece: Zwaigenbaum et al (2009) (This article is co-authored by 20 researchers, represent 17 major institutions and 3 countries) collaborated to write a paper which outlines principles of assessment and effective interventions for children with suspected autism under the age of two. They state, "Interventions should ultimately be directed toward specific functional concerns and be informed by key developmental principles, including the role of the child as an active learner, the social context of learning, and the pivotal role of the parent-child relationship".  In 90% of what I see in ABA contexts, there is no indication that the "role of child as active learner" is a concept that is utilized.

Here's what I want: an end to the polarization and the beginning of combining interventions that work best for the individual child.

Let's be visionaries!

(NOTE: I was unable to load the NSP's pdf file. If you would like a copy, leave a comment on this blog with your email.)