What in the World is Going On April 2013 Edition

April is Autism Awareness month. April 2nd marks World Autism Day, which was created by the United Nations in 2008. Autism Speaks celebrates this day with their Light It Up Blue Campaign. Check out their blog which gives daily updates as they count down until April 2nd. See how people around the world are planning to light it up blue to raise autism awareness.

And speaking of Autism Speaks, they just launched their Employment Tool Kit. The creation of the kit started back in June 2012 with an employment Think Tank which captured the current state of employment for adults with autism. From that Think Tank, they collected advice, stories, best practice data, tips and resources. The Tool Kit was developed by a diverse group of stakeholders led by adults with an autism spectrum disorder, parents, business leaders, and academic experts. The Tool Kit addresses a wide range of topics from what job is right for you, how to search for a job, resumes, employment rights, and resources.

I discovered several excellent articles this month. One was about autism and first words by Marge Blanc. She talked about children with ASD being gestalt processors, but delayed. These children tended to be behind their analytic counterparts in using single words, but seemed to be the natural storytellers.

“What I learned in the last two decades is that ASD language processors are no different from other gestalt processors except that their timeline is much longer. And because of that, their sources of language input include much more media than natural language of a household. The bank of language inside the head of the child with ASD becomes enormous, and, thus, more difficult to parse. Mitigation is very difficult, and that elusive, naturally-derived “first word” is even more delayed.”

A very thoughtful article and well worth reading. Check out the TED lecture that is posted in this article on first word acquisition.

This article on autism and eye contact received more hits than any other article I posted this past month. New findings show that not making eye contact and looking away sometimes serves a purpose, and encouraging eye contact can interfere with a child’s thoughts. Traditionally, we have insisted on eye contact as a way of socializing and engaging with other people. Study researcher Gwyneth Doherty-Sneddon says, “When teachers or parents ask a child a difficult question, and they look away, our advice would be to wait to allow them to process the information, and focus on finding a suitable response.”

The study showed that autistic children follow the same patterns as other children when processing complex information or difficult tasks. When neurotypical adults or children are asked a difficult question, averting their gaze improves the accuracy of their response.

Share this study with anyone working with a person with ASD. That averted gaze may simply mean they are thinking of a response.

There was an enlightening article in Scientific American questioning the accuracy and validity of intelligence tests for those with autism. Researchers are coming to the conclusion

that we might be underestimating what people with autism are capable of contributing to society. Many people with autism are also diagnosed with cognitive disabilities. These diagnoses focus on what autistic people can’t do. Now a growing number of scientists are turning that around to look at what autistic people are good at. It’s about time.

Laurent Mottron, a psychiatrist at the University of Montreal, acknowledged this hidden potential in a recent article in the November 3 issue of Nature. The hidden potential of autistic people seems to fall in common areas—tasks that involve pattern recognition, logical reasoning and picking out irregularities in data or arguments.

We need to stop assessing this population through standardized intelligence tests and start looking at what they can do – and they can do a great deal!

Aggression is a concern in over half those diagnosed with autism and the cause can be lack of sleep, sensory issues, and other underlying problems. The study published in Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders found children were most likely to lash out physically if they engaged in self-injury or had sleep or sensory problems. Researchers found younger kids were also more likely to be aggressive than older ones, , though they said the problem behaviors remained present at an “alarming rate” in the teenage years, with nearly half of adolescents in the study exhibiting aggression.

Again, aggression is a symptom of an underlying cause that needs to be addressed. Micah Mazurek of the University of Missouri and her colleagues in the study said, “The results suggest that increased attention should be given to the identification and treatment of sleep problems, self-injury and sensory problems, in particular.” To read this article, click here.

The Breezy Special Ed. blog is written by an enthusiastic second year high school teacher, Brie, who addresses topics about secondary school. She did an insightful post a couple of weeks ago on Age Appropriateness Activity for Teenagers with Special Needs. Brie shares many of her worksheets and other materials on the Teachers Pay Teachers website. Special education materials for secondary students are much harder to find so this is a good resource.

I just discovered Canadian adult with autism blogger Gareeth. He just wrote about his perspective on World Autism Awareness Day. Gareeth wrote, “Perhaps the most controversial awareness thing right now though was a push to get people to spend two hours being silent with the premise that would give them an idea of what it is to be a non-verbal autistic. It was called The Six Degree Project. Proceeds from some dashing scarves – since you can’t have awareness without accessories these days, go to the Canadian version of the foundation that shall not be named. While slightly less noxious than the original version that’s the easy thing to object to so let’s get that out of the way and tackle head on why this does nothing for autism awareness.”

It’s important to hear the voices of those with autism on issues that affect them. Although not everyone will agree with Gareeth’s views, it’s important to read another perspective.

There is a new book out that addresses the reluctant hand writer I Hate to Write! Tips for Helping Students With Autism Spectrum and Related Disorders Increase Achievement, Meet Academic Standards, and Become Happy, Successful Writers. The writing process requires a high level of coordination between various parts of the brain. In individuals with an autism spectrum disorder, the areas of the brain do not communicate effectively with each other, leading to great difficulty coordinating all the skills needed for writing. As a result, many students hate to write.

Written in a format that appeals to readers – brief, practical and to the point – this aptly named book focuses on the four areas of writing that are most problematic for students with ASD: language, organization, sensory and visual-motor skills organized under topics such as Getting Started, Knowing What to Write, Getting “Stuck,” Misunderstanding the Directions, and many more. “Take it and use it” worksheets make the task of teaching writing easy and fun. What’s more, it is aligned with the National Common Core Standards. Strategies are appropriate for students K-12 and beyond.

The new book Getting into the Game: Sports Programs for Kids with Autism will help families, clinicians and coaches support children with autism in taking their first steps into sport and recreation.

Participation in individual and team sports plays an important part in children’s development and promotes growth in a number of areas. As well as the obvious health benefits, sport also provides the perfect backdrop to teach young people with autism about rules, strategy and teamwork – all invaluable lessons that can be applied to wider society. By detailing six of the most popular sports: cycling, ice skating, swimming, soccer, taekwondo and tennis and including the unique experiences of families of children with autism, it offers all the information, advice and support needed to help get kids with autism engaged in fun and positive sport environments.

These are the highlights of what in the world is going on in autism for April 2013.

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