Maureen Bennie's Autism Blog
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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’s App-ening? Using Technology and Apps for People with ASD

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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What in the World is Going On, May 2012 Edition

The Centre for Disease Control (CDC) released their autism prevalence numbers on March 29th. The new statistic for autism diagnosis is 1 in 88 the USA. This is a significant increase from the last report of 1 in 110. These numbers will more than likely shift again once the new DSM V is released in 2013. Since the release of these numbers, the media has responded with reports of possible causes for autism. The public wants answers as to why autism occurs, but nothing definitive has been discovered yet. To read the CDC’s report in its entirety, click here.

Dennis P. Wall, one of the lead researchers on the project at Harvard Medical School, is part of a team developing a new web-based diagnostic procedure to identify autism more quickly; an advance that they hope will allow clinicians to provide better care to their patients.

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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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What in the World is Going On, April 2012 Edition

The 5th annual Autism Awareness Day, declared by the United Nations, is on Monday, April 2nd. This UN resolution is one of only 3 official health-specific United Nation days. The idea is to bring world attention to autism and encourage Member States to take measures to raise awareness about autism throughout society, and to encourage early diagnosis and early intervention. By bringing together autism organizations all around the world, a voice will be given to the millions of individuals worldwide who are undiagnosed, misunderstood and looking for help.

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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 in the World is Going On, February 2012 Edition

Every month I do a blog post for the Autism Calgary Association about what in the world is going on in the field of autism. Here is the February post.

The University of Ulster in Northern Ireland has launched a new Master’s Degree program that will expand and enhance the management of Sensory Processing Disorder by occupational therapists and other allied health practitioners. The new Master of Science in Sensory Integration degree is based  on a series of modules conducted in partnership with the not-for-profit educational organization, Sensory Integration Network (UK and Ireland).

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Developing Dating and Relationship Skills

For individuals with as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), dating can a real challenge. It is a misconception that people on the spectrum don’t want relationships – often they do, but they just don’t know how to meet people or understand the nuances of relationships. How do we effectively teach relationship skills?

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What in the World Is Going On, January 2012 Edition

I recently became a guest blogger on the Autism Calgary website. I am writing a monthly blog called What in the World is Going On? which features the latest news in the field of autism. Here is my second post for the month of January that I’d like to share with our Autism Awareness Centre readers.

As we welcome in the New Year, let’s have a look back at the Autism Speaks Top Ten Autism Research Achievements of 2011 released this list last month. Some highlights include genetics, prenatal vitamins, brain discoveries, and earlier autism screening.

The University of British Columbia has launched a pilot program for people with intellectual disabilities age 18 and up. The Canadian Inclusive Lives Learning Initiative (CILLI) 8 month web-based program gives participants the opportunity to learn about decision-making, employment, financial literacy, legal matters and how to access outside resources. The program is a combination of on-line learning modules and telephone sessions with facilitators. People with intellectual disabilities can enroll in the course on their own or with a family member or friend. Each month, participants log onto a website to complete a learning module on a topic. In addition, participants receive telephone calls from an expert on that month’s topic and a program co-ordinator who helps them incorporate what they’ve learned into their life plan.

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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 in the World Is Going On – December 2011 Edition

I recently became a guest blogger on the Autism Calgary website. I will be writing a monthly blog called What in the World is Going On? which will feature the latest news in the field of autism. I will share my first post here with our Autism Awareness Centre readers.

National Autism Strategies play a big role in both Europe and the UK as a way of providing a framework for effective autism treatment, support and services. National standards raise the level of services, service delivery, best practice standards, and quality of care for people with ASD.

On November 2, 2011, Scotland announced its Autism Strategy. In addition to £10 million funding to help and support people with autism and their families, announced earlier this year, the Strategy for Autism commits to a further £3.4 million investment. It is estimated that 50,000 people in Scotland are affected by autism.

England passed their Adult Autism Strategy back in March 2010. The Strategy made recommendations for central Government as well as for local authorities, the National Health Service and Jobcentre Plus, focusing on five key areas. To read more about the Strategy, click here.

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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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