As 2012 fast approaches, I like to spend time reflecting on the past year and all the things to be grateful for. I receive e-mails from all over the world and hear the struggles facing families and professional in other countries. Even though I complain at times, I do realize we have support and options in the field of autism in Canada. Although some areas of the country are stronger than others and more options exist in urban than rural areas, there is still support to be found in most areas along with funding.
I recently returned from running our 4th annual conference in Bournemouth, UK. We partner with a school there called The Linwood School, which is a local school for children with special needs in the district or Local Education Authority (LEA), as they are called in the UK. I am fortunate to have the opportunity to speak with parents and professionals about the UK autism scene and observe firsthand what they do well. I know I am an outsider looking in so my impressions may be somewhat skewed, but I have to say there is so much that I admire about the programs and options that they offer for families.
Let’s start with early intervention. There is a program offered by the National Autistic Society (NAS) called the Early Bird Programme which is for parents whose child has received a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and is pre-school aged (not yet of statutory school age). The programme is designed to support parents in the period between diagnosis and school placement, empowering and helping them to facilitate their child’s social communication and appropriate behaviour in their natural environment. It also helps parents to establish good practice in handling their child at an early age, so as to pre-empt the development of inappropriate behaviours. They use PECS, the TEACCH approach and the NAS’ approach called SPELL. The programme lasts for three months and combines group training sessions with individual home visits, where video feedback is used to help parents apply what they’ve learnt.
Whether you are a parent or professional, encouraging language development can be a difficult task. Many children with autism don’t seek out interaction with people and language delays/difficulties can impede the acquisition of speech. A lack of speech along with the ability to express wishes or thoughts can result in challenging behavior.
The other challenge with communication is a lack of nonverbal cues such as pointing or using facial expressions. Even before language develops, toddlers use nonverbal techniques to get their message across. Eye contact, eye gaze, and hand gestures can give an adult cues about what the child wants.
In today’s world, technology is all around us. We use computers, iPhones, iPads, video camcorders, digital cameras and DVD players. Using technology with the autism spectrum disorder population can be beneficial. These items offer a visual way to organize information and offer quick accessibility. Programs are predictable; the repetitive way in which we use tech devices creates comfort and independence as familiarity grows. The user can work at a suitable pace. Many programs reinforce or encourage with positive comments such as “good job” or “well done” accompanied by a pleasing sound or visual which motivates.
Looking for an appropriate person to provide respite or in-home care can be a daunting task. The person needs to be a good fit with both the child and the family. How do you find the best person? What qualities to you look for?
Before you even start looking and interviewing, ask the following questions and write down your answers:
- What are our family values?
- Do you want someone who shares your family values or do you want to introduce your family to different ways of thinking?
- What kind of pace does your family feel comfortable with?
- What is your lifestyle – casual or formal?
- Is your family structured with routine or are you spontaneous?
- Do you value privacy or are you more open with personal issues?
- How much time are you willing to devote to train someone or do you want someone with a lot of experience?
Answer: There is a dizzying array of information about autism and what treatments/therapies work best. You’ll get advice from parents who’ll tell you how well something worked for their child. Medical professionals will have an opinion. Internet research, forums, and articles may also influence your decision.
A visual support can be anything that shows a student what to expect and/or what is expected on the student. The image itself may take any one or a combination of forms: objects, photographs, line drawings, printed words. The benefits of using visual supports with students with ASD are well established and can be obvious to even the casual observer in a classroom, home or community setting.
Whether you are dealing with a recent diagnosis, transitioning a person to adulthood, starting a child in school, or are somewhere in the middle of these, it is important to ensure success for an individual with special needs. What can you do to help a person have the best life possible?
Here are some things to consider:
A Good Doctor – Having a supportive doctor who listens can make all the difference to a family. Find one that is knowledgeable at giving referrals to specialists for matters they can’t deal with, can see you quickly when problems arise, and can offer help with difficult problems from sleep disturbances to challenging behaviors. A doctor also needs to sign the Disability Tax Credit form (T2201 form).
In my June 1st blog post, I wrote about volunteering as a way of introducing the world of work to people with ASD. My two children, Marc and Julia, were going to start volunteering at a local Farmer’s Market organized by my figure skating group once a week in July. We had our first 3 hour shift yesterday and I am happy to report that it went very well.
I’d like to share what made this a successful experience for Marc and Julia.
This study caught my eye at the CAOT conference in Saskatoon, SK June 15 – 17th. The study looked at how adolescents with an ASD used computers (how often, amount of time, and what did they look at) and the associations between computer use, autism symptoms and friendships.
The information for the study was collected by mailed surveys completed by parents and adolescents during the summer months of 2009. Participants ranged in ages from 12 – 18 and the parents ranged in age from 31 – 60 with an average income of $85,000. Their findings would probably not surprise most parents.
I attended an interesting poster session last week at the Canadian Association for Occupational Therapists conference in Saskatoon, SK. The title of the session was Parental Perspectives in Sexual Health Education of Physically Disabled Children. Although it pertained to physical disabilities, the information was applicable to intellectual disabilities as well.
Answer: Whether you are switching schools, moving from elementary to junior high or junior high to high school, or starting school for the first time, entering into a new school environment can be stressful for the child with autism.
As our folks on the autism spectrum age, we begin to wonder what will the future look like for them. How will they support themselves? Will they find meaningful and rewarding work? Entering into the work force can be a tricky business and one that needs some preparation. I think there is no better way to introduce the world of work than through volunteering.
Volunteering can happen before a person is ready for paying work. It’s a great way to try a variety of different jobs without being tied into a contract. There is not the same pressure as paid work, yet there are expectations. The volunteer experience can introduce them to a community they may not have known and in turn, an extra support network can be created. Skills important for job success such as patience, conversation skills, customer service, answering the telephone, computer skills, perserverence and problem solving can be practiced. If the volunteer work is for a particular event, they can be part of the planning process and see their work come to fruition at the event.
People on the autism spectrum tend to learn best using visual supports rather than through auditory input. Seeing it, rather than saying it, helps the person retain and process information. Temple Grandin, the most famous woman in the world with autism, describes being a visual thinker in her excellent book Thinking in Pictures.
Visual supports can be used to: create daily/weekly schedules, show sequential steps in a task such as a bedtime routine or getting dressed, demonstrate units of time, make a “to do” list, or to aide communication.