What in the World Is Going On – November 2013 Edition

This will come of no surprise to most parents, but a recent study in the Archives of Disease in Childhood on sleep revealed that children with autism have poorer sleep quality than do other children. They both sleep less overall and are prone to frequent night wakening.

“Clear differences in sleep patterns began to emerge around 30 months of age and continued through the 11-year end point. Over this span, children with ASD slept, on average, significantly less per night than other children their age. They tended to both fall asleep later and wake earlier than their peers. The largest sleep gap – averaging three quarters of an hour – occurred between 6 and 7 years of age.”

“Parents of children with autism were also significantly more likely to report three or more wakings per night. By the time the children were 7 years old, more than one in ten children with autism were waking three or more times a night. By contrast, this was true of just 1 in 50 of other children this age.”

Sleep deprivation affects the quality of life for the entire family. A lack of sleep affects a child’s ability to learn and cope. For families who are struggling with sleep issues and need a good resource, there is a free downloadable toolkit available from Autism Speaks.

If you are assisting a person on the spectrum with their healthcare needs, you must read The 7 Important Ways That Autism Can Impact Medical Care. This article covers the reasons for not seeking help, medications, reporting and treating pain, examinations and much more. The helpful tips section will assist in improving medical care for those with ASD.

Dr. Magda Mostafa, Assistant Professor at the Department of Architectural Engineering at the American University in Cairo who also serves as Deputy Vice-President for Africa in the UNESCO-International Union of Architects’ Education Commission and Validation Council, was asked back in 2002 to design Egypt’s first educational facility for autism. She was surprised to find no guidelines for such a project existed anywhere. Dr. Magda decided to do her own research in order to create designs with the sensory and social needs of people with autism in mind.

“Her study, completed in 2008, was “among the first autism design studies to be prospective not retrospective, have a control group, and measure quantifiable factors in a systematic way.” The results of her research led to the development of the Autism ASPECTSS™ Design Index, a matrix to help guide design, as well as to assess the appropriateness of a standing building for individuals with autism. The Index presents seven design/criteria issues that have been shown to foster positive behavior and skill development in people with autism. They are Acoustics, Spatial sequencing, Escape spaces, Compartmentalization, Transition spaces, Sensory zoning, and Safety.” You can read Dr. Mostafa’s 2008 study here. There is also an in-depth interview with her in Arch Daily.

All the world’s a stage and our individuals with autism could really benefit. A novel autism intervention program called SENSE (Social Emotional Neuroscience and Endocrinology) is using theatre to teach reciprocal communication skills to improve social deficits in adolescents with the disorder, a new study has revealed in journal Autism Research.

SENSE Theatre program evaluates the social functioning of children with autism and related neurodevelopmental disorders. “Camp participants ages 8 to 17 years join with typically developing peers who are specially trained to serve as models for social interaction and communication, skills that are difficult for children with autism.” To read more about this program, click here.

There is a common misconception that people with an ASD are not interested in relationships or romance. This simply isn’t true. While this population struggles with social skills and communication, this doesn’t equate with disinterest, even though the stress and sense of self-defeat may dissuade an autistic person from attempting romance. “In a study done by Toronto’s Redpath Centre, just 32.1 percent of people with autism had had a partner and only 9 percent were married. This contrasts with the statistics of the general population where about 50 percent of adults are married.”

Romantic relationships are not addressed in transitional support plans from childhood to adulthood. Just because a person has autism doesn’t mean there is no desire for affection and intimacy. To learn more about romantic relationships and autism, check out the upcoming film Autism In Love due to be released in 2014. To read this article in its entirety, click here.

The world of apps is a daunting one with new creations launched weekly. How do you decide which are the best apps for a child with special needs? Check out the website www.appabled.com which has app reviews, listings, developer of the week, and news. The apps are divided by topic such as motor skills, literacy, autism, etc.

AppAbled is run by Teriann and Julie-Anne, a pair of busy Mums with seven children between them. Based on opposite sides of the world, Teriann is Australian and Julie-Anne lives in Ireland. They are joined by AppAbled’s reviewers: resident SLP Jean (US) and the team of Super-mums Niamh (US), Elaine (IRE) and Mary (IRE).

Buying special equipment can be costly and draining on limited budgets. Pediatric OT Anne Zachry shows us in her blog how to make a slant board for next to nothing. Slant boards are used for both reading and writing. The angle of the board puts the wrist in a nice extended position, and it puts the writing surface in the line of vision which is good for posture.

Bridget is a middle-aged newlywed autistic vegan perpetual mom raising sons and a granddaughter. She writes a blog called It’s Bridget’s Word, sharing her insights and opinions about being autistic. Her recent post My Value: Autism, Feminism, and Poverty talks about the dollar figure attached to her right to exist. There is that ledger of what to one contributes and what one takes.

Bridget can’t work. “I am autistic, and being the autistic I am means I am real world, social model disabled. I do not work because I cannot. There are a dozen hypothetical ‘what if…’ or ‘should be…’ scenarios in which I could hold down a job, but that is not my reality.” This is a thought provoking piece that challenges us to redefine what makes person valuable and who sets these guidelines.

“I started to apply for disability once, but every worker I spoke to asked the same question: if you are too disabled to work, how can you be a fit mother? I was told, repeatedly and in no uncertain terms that if I submitted an SSI application, a Child Protective Services investigation would be in my future. That is not a risk I could take. My children need me.” Society puts disabled people in a Catch-22 cycle. When we will eradicate the barriers to helping those who are disabled have a successful life, whatever that may look like?

Calgary’s own Dean Svoboda, executive director of Autism Aspergers Friendship Society, made the Top 40 Under 40 list for Avenue Magazine. Dean started AAFS in 2004. The organization is built around reframing how youth with disorders including autism, Asperger syndrome and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder learn and socialize. AAFS provides a variety of opportunities for individuals on the spectrum to learn new skills and explore their interests with support and guidance of a kind and caring staff. Congratulations Dean!

Ninety percent of communication is nonverbal. This new publication helps in this area – Body Talk: Teaching Students with Disabilities about Body Language. Children and teens with autism and other developmental disabilities can be taught the language of nonverbal communication with the practical strategies developed by veteran special education teacher Pat Crissey. More than 100 activities break down elements of body language into teachable components.

Choose from a range of scenarios to demonstrate to students such subtleties as knowing when a conversation is ending, what excitement looks like, or how to acknowledge someone with raised eyebrows. The companion CD-ROM includes many of the activities to print out for use in the classroom or for practice at home.

Also hot off the press this fall and a great read – The Reason I Jump. Naoki Higashida was only a middle-schooler when he began to write The Reason I Jump. Autistic and with very low verbal fluency, Naoki used an alphabet grid to painstakingly spell out his answers to the questions he imagines others most often wonder about him: why do you talk so loud? Is it true you hate being touched? Would you like to be normal?

The result is an inspiring, attitude-transforming book that will be embraced by anyone interested in understanding their fellow human beings, and by parents, caregivers, teachers, and friends of autistic children. Naoki examines issues as diverse and complex as self-harm, perceptions of time and beauty, and the challenges of communication, and in doing so, discredits the popular belief that autistic people are anti-social loners who lack empathy.

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

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