Maureen Bennie's Autism Blog

Autism News - Blog

Maureen Bennie’s blog on a wide variety of subjects pertaining to autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Maureen is a mother of a son and a daughter ages 24 and 22 with autism. She has managed an at-home Intensive Behavioral Intervention Program for eight years for her children. She has written hundreds of articles and book reviews that have appeared in publications and on websites throughout North America and the UK. Maureen also gives presentations both live and online across Canada on various topics about autism, available books and resources and how to use them.

What do I need to know about a student with autism?

Answer: It would be a challenge to find a school anywhere that does not have a student in it with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Most teachers will have a student with ASD in their classroom at some point in their career. Because the symptoms and characteristics of autism can present themselves in a wide variety of combinations, from mild to severe, a teacher may not recognize new students in their classroom with an ASD from year to year.

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The Case for Long-Term Support of Children with ASD

There are many reasons for continued programming for children with autism spectrum disorder. Firstly, ASD’s are lifelong and on going with no present cure. We know that early intervention programming has made significant gains for our children and helped them with behavior, communication, social interactions, and sensory issues; however no human being is a stagnant entity.

Children with ASD’s grow, develop, and change, as does a neurotypical child. The problems present at age 5 are not the same problems at age 7 or 12. Yes, they are rooted in the same causes such as the inability to read the hidden social curriculum, anxiety, on-going sensory problems, and restricted behavior patterns, but new strategies need to be developed on a continual basis to meet the new challenges.

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How can I help with my child’s language development?

Answer: Perhaps you fit one of these parenting scenarios. You suspect your child has a language delay and are on a six-month waiting list for an assessment. In the meantime, you want to take affirmative action to help your child. Or maybe your child has been diagnosed with a language delay, is receiving therapy, but you want to provide additional parental support at home. There are several strategies a parent can use at home to assist in language development: following the child’s lead, balance turn taking, match what your child is doing, wait for communication, and listen to communication attempts.

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Caveat Emptor or Buyer Beware – Know Your ASD Services

I had an eye-opening experience this week with my social worker about my children’s services. I’ve almost run out of funding on my current contract that will expire next month. Part of the reason for this is because I have not been accessing all of the correct programs. When I said I didn’t know about a certain program, I was told it is my job as a parent to know what the programs are available and what I should be accessing. It’s on a website, which is transparent, and I should be able to figure out all of the information from there. I was dumbfounded because how do you ask a question and search for information when you don’t even know the right question to ask?

I had a similar experience when my son was younger and was still in diapers until the age of 9. A parent told me in passing that I was eligible for funding for diapers because my son was over the age of 3. Why had no one on my professional team ever told me about this program? Same thing with the disability tax credit – another thing I stumbled upon on my own quite by accident.

It boils down to this – caveat emptor or buyer beware. You have to think of yourself as a consumer even where autism supports and services are concerned, read the find print, and do some investigating to find out what you qualify for. So where do you start and who is in the know?

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Who should be told about an autism diagnosis?

Answer: Receiving an autism spectrum diagnosis is a life-changing event. Now that you know, the next question becomes who should you tell? What do you base this decision on? It can be difficult to know how much information to give because you don’t want to overwhelm people yet you need to give enough information to educate and inform. There will be some trial and error in disclosing because there’s no way to predict another person’s reaction; some reactions will be positive and others will be negative. Negativity often stems from fear so an initial negative reaction can turn positive once a person is more comfortable with autism and what it’s all about.

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Autism Awareness Centre Celebrates 9 Years

This month, Autism Awareness Centre Inc. (AACI) celebrates 9 years of service in the autism community. Our journey has been a remarkable one. When we first started the company, we had 90 books in our bookstore. Now, we have over 500 and continue to expand the collection monthly. I spend a great deal of time researching new books, reviewing them, writing book reviews for publishers, and help authors bring their new works to an enthusiastic readership. We added a French books section 7 years ago. We were one of the first bookstores to develop a Girls Only section, finding information pertinent to girls – a gender not often discussed in the field of autism. I’ve seen tremendous growth in the autism book industry over the past 9 years and have tried my best to pass on new information to all those who visit AACI. Our monthly book blasts keeps our readership on the cutting edge of new publications.

We’ve travelled throughout Canada with our bookstore supporting other autism and related disability events. AACI has represented speaker/authors, organized book signings, donated books for door prizes, and been on-site to answer questions about resources, websites and much more! It’s been a great source of pride for us to support and enhance community events. Thank you to all those organizations who have made us feel so welcome and a part of things.

Our website has expanded considerably over the years. I started blogging 3 years ago and have written about many autism topics. Although the concept was to be a weekly blog, constant travel and family demands have caused me to miss a week of posting here and there. Thank you for your patience with the blog! We’ve added a monthly Q & A which addresses your most pressing and frequently asked questions. The Help/ Resources links section continues to expand monthly. Last month, a Technology section was added to address this growing field. The website will continue to evolve and grow to meet the changing needs of the autism community.

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What’s App-ening? Using Technology and Apps for Autistic People

iPads, iPhones and other tech devices are gaining popularity for assisting people on the autism spectrum. There are lots of positives going for technology: people on the spectrum often enjoy using technology, there is some autonomy, it takes the pencil out of the process to demonstrate learning, there are 1000’s of apps to teach a myriad of skills, and their use can be both motivating and rewarding. Nonverbal individuals have another way to express themselves. These tech devices are also becoming more affordable all the time. But is there a down side?

Daniel Donahoo wrote an interesting blog about the iPad and autism for Wired magazine last March that brought up some important points. He stated in his blog, “the potential of the iPad is not achieved by the iPad alone, nor by simply placing it in the hands of a child with autism. The potential of the device is realized by the way professionals like speech pathologists, educators, occupational therapists and early childhood development professionals apply their skills and knowledge to use the iPad to effectively support the development of children. The potential is realized by engaged parents working with those professionals to explore how the device best meets the individual needs of their child.”

 

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How to Tell a Child They Have Autism Spectrum Disorder

How and when do you tell a child about their diagnosis of ASD? Is there a right age? How do you know when the child is ready to hear the information? These are frequently asked questions around helping a child understand they have ASD.

It is recommended not to start this process before the age of 7. Children under that age generally don’t have enough understanding to grasp what autism is all about. When parents feel anxious about wanting to talk to their young child about autism, I usually suggest they begin with celebrating differences and building positive self-esteem. A couple of good children’s books to start with are It’s Okay to Be Different or Special People, Special Ways. Let them know that each of us is unique, deserving of respect, and we should appreciate different ways of seeing the world.

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Autism Diagnosis and Service Delivery for Immigrant Families

This week I attended an excellent seminar about how to best serve immigrants who have a child with a disability. One of the guest lecturers began the presentation in Spanish; her Power Point slides were also in Spanish. Although I could understand the overall meaning of what she was saying and had visual support with the slides (I have a good background in French), I found myself having to concentrate twice as hard as I normally do. I was worried that I was missing important details of what was being said, even though I understood the information generally. What a great way to open this topic by putting us in the shoes of a person who doesn’t speak the language fluently.

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What can I do to help a child who is on a waiting list for assessment?

Answer: When it is suspected that a child has autism, they are often placed on a waiting list for an assessment. The wait can be several months, sometimes longer. In the meantime, parents, grandparents, caregivers and other professionals would like to help that child in any way that they can. There is much that can be done even before an official diagnosis is given. If suspicions turn out to be incorrect, the help given will not have been harmful in any way. Where do you start?

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Reflecting on the Past Year

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.

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What They Do Well for People with ASD in the UK

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.

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Fostering Language Development In Children with Autism

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.

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