What in the World is Going On in Autism - October 2014
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What in the World is Going On in Autism – October 2014 Edition

The school year has been underway for a month now. The education system has its challenges for students with ASD and other disabilities. I’d like to open this month’s column with the wisdom of an 11 year old girl named Harriet. Like only children can, she shares her honest observations about inclusive practices for a fellow student with a disability named Eleanor.

“She is labeled with a disability and, to me, the way that most people treat her is not right. I have noticed the teachers, other kids, her aides, the principal, and even the teacher who is supposed to be in charge of inclusive education treat her like she is different from the rest of the students our age. It’s hard for me to understand why,” says Harriet. Her words will make you think about inclusion and how people should be treated. To read her poignant essay, click here.

Eliot Borenstein, father of a son with autism, debates the merits of inclusive education in his blog post entitled Please Segregate My Special Needs Child. Borenstein is responding to a recent article by Lisa Long on the Time website about the need for inclusive education. Where the debate lies in school is one size does not fit all. We can’t always label segregation as a terrible thing in schools. Not every child will thrive in the inclusive setting which tends to have larger class sizes, more noise, and less accommodations made for students due to a variety of reasons (lack of resources, aide support, etc.).

“Inclusion is a wonderful idea, and should always be the goal whenever it is reasonable. But inclusion must not be treated as an inflexible ideology.”

There are many labels around for children who struggle with learning. What is the difference between an intellectual disability and a learning disability? An intellectual disability is a neurodevelopmental disorder with subaverage intellectual functioning (IQ of 70 and below) that can be shown to have started prior to age 18, and is accompanied by subaverage adaptive functioning.

A learning disability does not affect intelligence, but affects the brain’s ability to process, store, and respond to information. It is important to understand the distinction of these two diagnostic labels in order to provide the most appropriate support. To read more about these two definitions, click here.

If you’ve just received an autism diagnosis in your family, your emotions will run the gamut. Feelings of grief, anger, fear, confusion, and denial are all commonly felt emotions for the newly diagnosed. Dr. Cathy Pratt of the Indiana Resource Center offers some good do’s and don’ts of what to do for a new diagnosis.

“Parenting a child with ASD can be challenging. There are numerous things to learn and balance, including schedules and plans, so that every family member feels loved, accepted, supported and valued. Educating yourself, learning your legal rights, seeking support and maintaining a sense of humor will help parents as they embark on this unique journey.” Good advice!

A new study published in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology found that by the time infants turn one, infants who are later diagnosed with autism smile less often than those who do not develop the disorder. Reduced smiling may be an early risk marker for an autism diagnosis. Past studies depended on home videos which are not considered accurate because parents tended to film their infants when they were happy. “The new study employed a stronger study design by assessing infants at more than one time point and in a controlled environment. Although the sample size was relatively small, the study picked up differences in smiling among baby sibs.”

Executive functioning difficulties may be a term you hear when speaking about individuals with autism. Although not all people with autism struggle in this area, many do. So what exactly is executive functioning (EF)? EF covers a wide range of areas such as organization, impulse control, attending, transitioning to another activity, and emotional control to name a few.

Stephen Wetz wrote a great article entitled Improving Executive Function In Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders that provides a definition of EF, identification of EF problems, and how to help a child improve. We are seeing more books on this subject being published every year and the awareness is growing. To learn more about executive functioning, Autism Awareness Centre is hosting a conference in Calgary on November 15 with Joyce Cooper Kahn, and this topic will be the focus of the day.

It’s hard for parents to address the topic of sexuality and personal safety with their child on the spectrum. By not doing so, you leave your child vulnerable and open to more risk of abuse. The National Autistic Society in the UK has developed a campaign called The Underwear Rule to help prevent sexual abuse. It’s based on the acronym PANTS:

Privates are private
Always remember your body belongs to you
No means no
Talk about secrets that upset you
Speak up, someone can help

There is a free download available for parents to learn more about how to teach sexual safety.

Need an idea for meaningful work for someone on the spectrum? Maybe horticulture or farming is a good option. Growing Solutions Farm in Chicago, IL teaches 20 students, ages 18 to 26, all aspects of farming, from planting and harvesting vegetables and herbs to cooking what they grow. This type of program encompasses a number of job skills. To read more about it, click here.

Amanda Baggs, now using her middle name of Mel, writes a blog on her site, Ballastexistenz. “Ballastexistenz is a historical term that means ‘ballast existence’ or ‘ballast life, that was applied to disabled people in order to make us seem like useless eaters, lives unworthy of life.  I knew when I started this blog that this was how many people perceived me, but I have since experienced levels of discrimination, particularly in the field of medical care, that would have killed me outright had I not had a strong disability community fighting for me.”

Although Amanda is autistic, she has other diagnoses in addition to her autism. She is extremely intelligent and writes very well. Her recent post about the people who antagonize her, causing her stress which affects her well-being, is brilliantly stated. As a parent, it makes you think twice about the kinds of people your child may be exposed to in a care setting or day program.

We don’t often hear a father’s perspective on the autism experience, but Autism Daddy features the anonymous writings of a 44 year old father of a severely autistic son. He writes with both humor and honesty. He did this great post about how to keep your marriage strong. The male perspective is important to be aware of because it takes two committed people to keep a marriage together and the family thriving.

There is much excitement around Bill Nason’s long-awaited new book The Autism Discussion Page on the Core Challenges of Autism. The Autism Discussion Page blue book focuses on the core challenges associated with autism (cognitive,sensory, social, and emotional) and provides concise, accessible information and simple tools for supporting children with these vulnerabilities.

Based on posts on the popular Facebook community page and organized by subject for ease of reference, this book offers an excellent understanding of how children with autism process and experience the world and effective strategies for coping with the challenges.

We already covered the topic of executive functioning earlier in this column. For further reading, have a look at Rebecca Moyes’ new book Executive Function “Dysfunction” – Strategies for Educators and Parents. Concise and accessible, this plain English guide will help parents and educators to understand and support children with executive function difficulties at home and in the classroom.

The author describes the cognitive processes that make up the executive functions, including attention, behavioral inhibition, theory of mind, organizational skills, time management, planning, decision-making, and self-talk. Using real examples, she describes how difficulties in each of these areas may manifest, and offers practical hints, tips, and accommodations for supporting children both in and out of school.

Containing a wealth of helpful information as well as tried-and-tested strategies, this is the perfect primer for parents and educators of children with executive function difficulties.

These are the highlights of what in the world is going on in autism for October 2014.


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2 Comments Moderation Policy

  1. Angela Wilm says:

    Hi Maureen,
    So many great resources for topics I am currently teaching! I will share with my students.

  2. Maureen, thank you for sharing Harriet’s story about Eleanor. It’s profound.

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