Monday, January 16, 2017

What To Do With Despair?

I suspect this blog post introduction might not resonate with some readers, but I was in deep despair after the election.  My reasons? Too many to write here, but the sum of it is the following: I could not believe that Americans I know voted for a clueless businessman who is a crude braggart, who insults anyone who dares to cross him or says a bad word about him, who believes that climate change is a hoax and that the Affordable care Act is "Terrible" , a man who believes that because he thinks something, he is right. and a man who bragged about assaulting women. Not to mention making fun of a person with a disabling condition!

But here it is in 4 days.

I am struggling to find the good in this, to find solace in how I treat people (children), and to find moments of joy. This physician describes one in particular that resonates with me.

Happy New Year!

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Apologies and "Life Animated"

Hi all,

I have ignored this blog for so long because I never seem to get traffic, but I recently had a mother call me and she told me she likes the way I think. So I think I will be back for a while.

(Just a little summer picture as the cold weather settles in).

 I saw the movie "Life, Animated" last night. And while I liked it, I found some information was completely missing.

Owen is a boy who regressed at about age 3 into mutism and "Pervasive Developmental Disorder". His family lived in DC. To watch this two-hour documentary was disappointing; the parents (Including his dad, well-regarded journalist Ron Suskind) barely mentioned school. It was as if the Education for All Handicapped Children bill was never passed and did not exist. My guess is that they did not accept the recommendations of their local public school, and did not send him to school. Instead, at one point they put him into a D.C. area LAB school for children with special needs (And the dad commented that his family was lucky that they could afford to pay for the private school), but after two years of making no progress ( Dad's report) the school let him go. Mom did some homeschooling. He went somewhere else for high school but was bullied and again taken out. (again, in public education there are procedures to handle bullying, but no mention was made of any of this). Eventually the family moved to Massachusetts, where the parents enrolled him in the Riverview School (probably paying the private tuition themselves) from which he graduated at age 23 (again, under the federal and state laws, kids with special needs graduate at age 22).

He is a kid who obsessively watched Disney animated movies, memorizing scene after scene. He commented in the documentary that he "taught himself to read" by reading the credits of each movie.

At about age 5, they were watching "the Little Mermaid", and Owen kept repeating something that sounded like "Juicervose"....and repeatedly rewinding the video to what the witch tells Ariel that all she has to do to become human was to "Use your voice". Suddenly the parents understood that what they thought was gibberish was, in fact, Disney dialogue.

However, they did not attach meaning to this until the older brother, Walter had a birthday (9th, I think), After Walt's friends left, he was sitting outside sadly, down in the dumps. Owen watched him and watched him, and Owen walked to his parents and said, "Walter does not want to grow up like Peter Pan didn't.".

I find this a lot hard to believe, but I was not present. He began compulsively drawing all the Disney sidekicks, and his dad walked into his bedroom and started talking in the Aladdin parrots voice with a puppet. He then had an entire conversation with Owen, about Disney.

Owen eventually wrote a story about how he was the "Protector of the Sidekicks', and invented a new one. The documentary uses an artist to draw visuals that represent what is going on in Owen's mind.
It's very colorful!

Apparently Owen figured out how the world works, emotions and friendships, from Disney movies. As an adult, his handwriting looks like that of a six-year-old, but he draws to tell his stories. he is verbal, reflective, but cannot manage change (coins and dollars) and he hates change (in his life).

So the story was moving and the care that the parents provided him with was astonishing, but the absence of any information about his education, speech therapy, or any interventions at all except for his young adult years at Riverview left a lot of information out.

So is this a case of another "Miracle child" to which parents can aspire? My students repeat scenes from movies and TV all day long, and it's very difficult to ascertain meaning to any of it. Maybe I am not as tuned in a Owen's parents were, or maybe Owen is just one-of-a-kind.

The dad, Ron Suskind, wrote a book about this. I was intrigued by the book because I was hoping I could find a connection to some of my students, who may be using echolalia for meaning, but there was not in this movie or book.

(Watch a trailer for "Life, Animated").

Monday, April 18, 2016

Random Thoughts and Anomalies

This is a post about some random things I have been thinking/reading, leading me to have questions.

 One blog I occasionally read is "Age of Autism", which is typically about the vaccine controversy, which they continue to promote even after several studies have disproved the link. But the national Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, as of 2011, has awarded compensation to 88 families who 'proved' that their child's autism (Or encephalopathy and seizure disorder) was caused by vaccines. Contradiction?

But there is another 'anomaly' mentioned in this blog which I find very interesting: an apparent lack of autism among the Amish in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.


This article suggests, but does not prove, that vaccines are a culprit as are environmental toxins (Since the Amish don't use products as often as middle America does). At any rate, this non-scientific study did not find the rate of autism in Amish communities that the CDC estimates in the general population.

And on a different note:

There's a blogger out there who calls ABA "coercive" and then transitions to the Judge Rotenberg Center, which uses harsh electro-shocks for behaviors and has been a controversial program for years.

It is a stretch to link all ABA directly to aversives and painful punishers, but I was stumped by his assertion that ABA is "coercive". Hmmm.....the definition of "coercive" is:

"Using force to persuade people to do things that they are unwilling to do", according to the Cambridge Dictionaries online.

I maintain that most of ABA does not use 'force', and by the BACB's position statements, 'force' is never used. Reinforcers, defined by ABA as "elements which increase behaviors', are usually chosen based on a child's preferences. Yes, the curriculum is decided by the Common Core or state standards, are not chosen by the child, nor is the methodology of instruction. But "force"? I don't think so.

And there are alternatives to ABA, and certainly the majority of people involved in education and treating children on the autism spectrum do not use shocks or other aversives. Even the CDC offers alternatives:

You can make up your own mind about the Judge Rotenberg Center.

Here's a thought: When a program is based on aversives, the people who are hired learn aversives, are trained in using them, and probably are not trained in positive alternatves. So they use punishers, more and more, until that is all they know how to do.

So, a review: The Vaccine Injury Compensation Program,  apparent reduced numbers of children with ASD among the Amish, and ABA as "coercive".

Monday, January 25, 2016

Article Worth Reading

This is a terrific article and well worth the read. It offers some insights into the historical (and contemporary) struggles for parents as well as into the thinking of Donald.

The authors have also recently published an excellent history of autism, entitled "In a Different Key".

It's well worth a read.

PS: I wish I had written it! (Both the article and the book!).

Monday, January 4, 2016

It's Been a Very Long Time, and I Apologize

Well, beyond saying I've been very busy, there's not much more to explain. I have had a photography show, a fabric art show, participated in a holiday craft fair, and I also have been teaching two professional development courses on ASD in my school district.

Some examples here:

These activities were, however, unrelated to my work with children with ASD. (except for the two courses I am teaching).

However, the major question I have been repeating to myself since September is this:

How is it possible that the majority of parents and teachers I know in the field of ASD believe that academics are more important than connection for our children? 

Yes, I know children need a solid grounding in academics. However, this isn't an either/or question (academics or connection). So many of the children I see are so much involved "in their own heads", replaying movie scripts, story lines from television, video games, and other electronic activities that they are really challenged to pay attention to academics. So the kids have to work to 'earn' something that they like (often, time spent on the iPad or computer, looking at repeated images of these scripted thoughts) and even then it it hugely difficult to get them to pay attention.  

And often their preferred activities are emotionally charged : Kung-fu Panda is powerful, Mario is funny, Mindcraft is (whatever it is). And the school-based academics are not. 

And for many of our students aren't going to make a career out of their academic skills. The majority will not go to college and many will never read for pleasure or to learn new things.

What they need is to pay attention to their environment, to notice things, to engage in conversation, and to be taught to their strengths rather than to remediate their deficits.

But academics and tests are what matter now in public education. Everyone has to learn the same skills, in the same manner, as everyone else. Social skills, playtime, and problem-solving are not tested, and therefore, their importance ranks lower.

I often feel I am fighting a losing battle.

Teaching is not telling; teaching is providing the environment in which children learn best.

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.