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Did You Know?

  • All young people experience learning losses when they do not engage in educational activities during the summer.
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Hey, Kids, Look at Me When We’re Talking 

Everywhere you turn there are articles about the dangers of screen technology. Recent articles have focused primarily on the dangers it poses to our children; children as young as toddlers and preschoolers.   But, is it all bad? 

There are an increasing number of professionals and studies coming out about the benefits of engaging in screen technology.  Benefits such as earlier visual perception and cognitive gain have been cited among other skills as being achievable as a result of this technology.  So where does that leave us?  As parents, a decision must be made about how much time your child will spend on this technology.  While specific guidelines citing how many minutes is not my style, I urge you to keep the following in mind:

  1. Your child needs to have a large amount of face to face social interaction with peers and people of varying ages.
  2. Your child should look at you when you are talking to each other.
  3. Your child should be engaging in imaginative play without the assistance of technology as an entertainment tool.
  4. You should always discuss what you did when you were using technology. 
  5. Your child should be expected to behave appropriately in large group situations (restaurants, family gatherings, etc.) without the assistance of technology.

A recent New York Times Article, “Hey Kids, Look At Me When We’re Talking” presented a great way to get started.

What is dyslexia? - Kelli Sandman-Hurley

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What’s Really Going on in Babies Brains? Language Development

by Alyssa Haywoode

Photo: Courtesy of the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences, University of Washington

Babies who babble are actually rehearsing, according to a new study. As early as seven months, those vocalizing babies are practicing the movements they will need to start forming words, Patricia Kuhl explained recently in an interview on NPR.

Kuhl is the co-direcor of the University of Washington’s Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences.

To do this research, Kuhl and her research team used a magnetoencephalography, a brain scanner also called MEG. Babies sat in the brain scanner, which “resembles an egg-shaped vintage hair dryer and is completely safe for infants,” according to a University of Washington news release, which adds, “The Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences was the first in the world to use such a tool to study babies while they engaged in a task.”

Researchers worked with 57 babies, ages 7- and 11- or 12-month-old.

Inside Babies’ Brains

The research results? “…for the first time we can see inside the baby brain as the baby’s doing something interesting – like listening to language,” Kuhl told NPR’s Robert Siegel.

“As the brain listens to sound, the baby’s auditory areas aren’t the only areas lighting up. It’s also the areas that they use to talk — their motor-planning areas. It’s as though the baby’s rehearsing their next moves. They’re trying to join the community of people who use their mouths in these funny ways to create sounds,” Kuhl said.

“And so here we see the babies at 7-months where on the outside you don’t see anything — they’re wide-eyed and they’re looking at you and they love to listen to you. But what’s going on in their little brains is the attempt to do it too; they want to be one of us. And that means they have to rehearse the mechanics of this pretty difficult signal to produce.”

What the Research Means for Parents

As the University of Washington news release explains: “The results emphasize the importance of talking to kids during social interactions even if they aren’t talking back yet.”

Kuhl adds: “Hearing us talk exercises the action areas of infants’ brains, going beyond what we thought happens when we talk to them. Infants’ brains are preparing them to act on the world by practicing how to speak before they actually say a word.” These are the early, critical steps in the language-learning journey of a developing reader.

In addition, the news release explains, “The study has social implications, suggesting that the slow and exaggerated parentese speech – ‘Hiiiii! How are youuuuu?’ – may actually prompt infants to try to synthesize utterances themselves and imitate what they heard, uttering something like ‘Ahhh bah bah baaah.’”

Kuhl says: “Parentese is very exaggerated, and when infants hear it, their brains may find it easier to model the motor movements necessary to speak.”

You can read the study, which was published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Or, better yet, you can find a baby and have a happy, brain stimulating conversation.

Study Finds That Brains With Autism Fail to Trim Synapses as They Develop

David Sulzer, a neurobiologist at Columbia, led a study that may help explain symptoms of autism like oversensitivity to noise, as well as why many people with autism also have epilepsy. Credit Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

As a baby’s brain develops, there is an explosion of synapses, the connections that allow neurons to send and receive signals. But during childhood and adolescence, the brain needs to start pruning those synapses, limiting their number so different brain areas can develop specific functions and are not overloaded with stimuli.

Now a new study suggests that in children with autism, something in the process goes awry, leaving an oversupply of synapses in at least some parts of the brain.

The finding provides clues to how autism develops from childhood on, and may help explain some symptoms like oversensitivity to noise or social experiences, as well as why many people with autism also have epileptic seizures.

It could also help scientists in the search for treatments, if they can develop safe therapies to fix the system the brain uses to clear extra synapses.

The study, published Thursday in the journal Neuron, involved tissue from the brains of children and adolescents who had died from ages 2 to 20. About half had autism; the others did not.

Researchers found more spines in children with autism. Spines branch out from one neuron and receive signals from other neurons through connections called synapses, so more spines indicate more synapses. Credit Guomei Tang, PhD and Mark S. Sonders, PhD/Columbia University Medical Center

The researchers, from Columbia University Medical Center, looked closely at an area of the brain’s temporal lobe involved in social behavior and communication. Analyzing tissue from 20 of the brains, they counted spines — the tiny neuron protrusions that receive signals via synapses — and found more spines in children with autism.

The scientists found that at younger ages, the number of spines did not differ tremendously between the two groups of children, but adolescents with autism had significantly more than those without autism. Typical 19-year-olds had 41 percent fewer synapses than toddlers, but those in their late teenage years with autism had only 16 percent fewer than young children with autism.

One child with autism who was 3 when he died had more synapses than any of the typical children of any age, said David Sulzer, a neurobiologist and senior investigator of the study.

Experts said the fact that young children in both groups had roughly the same number of synapses suggested a clearing problem in autism rather than an overproduction problem.

“More is not better when it comes to synapses, for sure, and pruning is absolutely essential,” said Lisa Boulanger, a molecular biologist at Princeton who was not involved in the research. “If it was overgrowth, you’d expect them to be different from the start, but because the synapse difference comes on so late, it’s probably pruning.”

Dr. Sulzer’s team also found biomarkers and proteins in the brains with autism that reflected malfunctions in the system of clearing out old and degraded cells, a process called autophagy.

“They showed that these markers of autophagy decrease” in autism-afflicted brains, said Eric Klann, a professor of neural science at New York University. “Without autophagy, this pruning can’t take place.”

The findings are the latest in an area of autism research that is drawing increasing interest. For years, scientists have debated whether autism is a problem of brains with too little connectivity or too much, or some combination.

Ralph-Axel Müller, a neuroscientist at San Diego State University, said there was growing evidence of overconnectivity, including from brain imaging studies he has conducted.

“Impairments that we see in autism seem to be partly due to different parts of the brain talking too much to each other,” he said. “You need to lose connections in order to develop a fine-tuned system of brain networks, because if all parts of the brain talk to all parts of the brain, all you get is noise.”

More synapses also create opportunity for epileptic seizures because there are more electrical signals being transmitted in the brain, Dr. Klann said. More than a third of people with autism have epilepsy.

In addition to analyzing the human brains, the Columbia team studied mice they programmed to develop tuberous sclerosis complex, a rare genetic disease that is often accompanied by autism. The mice developed some social behaviors that resemble autism in humans.

In the mice, a key protein called mTOR was hyperactive, which impaired the brain’s ability to clear out unnecessary synapses. By giving the mice the drug rapamycin, the scientists were able to reduce mTOR’s activity, fix the process of pruning synapses, and eliminate the abnormal social behaviors.

“They could treat with rapamycin and restore behavior and restore the pruning,” said Kimberly Huber, a neuroscientist at University of Texas Southwestern. “It’s a very exciting paper. It suggests these deficits in pruning may be contributing to these autism behaviors.”

When they tried the experiment in mice with broken pruning ability that could not be repaired by the drug, the behavior did not improve. That, Dr. Sulzer said, added more evidence that pruning problems were linked to symptoms of autism.

Dr. Sulzer also said that while the mice had a specific and rare disorder, many of the hundreds of genes that have been associated with autism risk in one way or another were linked to the mTOR protein at some stage.

Experts and the authors cautioned that it was much too early to know if a drug like rapamycin, an immunosuppressant with potentially serious side effects, could be used successfully in people with autism. The condition can only be approximated in mice, so the study results may not translate to humans. And the mice studied had a rare genetic disease that accounted for a fraction of autism disorders.

“We don’t know if it’s this particular flavor of autism,” Dr. Boulanger said. “This drug has really horrible side effects, and you don’t want to give it to everybody.”

But even though the drug may not be a treatment for people, the research gives hope that another therapy might be found to correct the pruning problem in childhood or adolescence, after autism symptoms emerge.

“The pruning problem seems to happen later in development than one might think,” Dr. Klann said. “It suggests that if you could intervene in that process that it could be beneficial for social behavior.”

Early Intervention In Babies May Eliminate Autism Symptoms By Toddlerhood

Waiting until toddlerhood to “treat” the symptoms of autism may be too long, a new study from UC Davis suggests. Infants as young as six months old who showed early signs of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) – reduced eye contact, a lack of interest or engagement socially, repetitive patterns of movement, and a lack of communication with caregivers – benefitted from a behavioral treatment called Early Start. In fact, autism symptoms in most of the children dissipated by the time they reached toddlerhood, the study reports. Many kids do not undergo any kind of early intervention before the age of two or three – and this is because ASD diagnosis is not considered possible before the age of two or three. But the new study suggests that treating it much earlier on may be the key to eliminating symptoms in the long run.

“Most of the children in the study, six out of seven, caught up in all of their learning skills and their language by the time they were 2 to 3,” said Sally J. Rogers, the study’s lead author and the developer of the Infant Start therapy, in a press release. “Most children with ASD are barely even getting diagnosed by then.”

US Navy 100310-N-4178C-003 Christopher Adams h...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The seven infants who participated in the study were highly symptomatic, according to their scores on the Autism Observation Scale for Infants (AOSI) and the Infant-Toddler Checklist, and therefore considered at risk of developing ASD. They and their parents took part in the Early Start therapy, which is based on the Early Start Denver Model (ESDM), also developed by Rogers and her colleague Geraldine Dawson from Duke University.

Early Start focuses on engaging a child’s attention in everyday activities with the parents – focus on the parents’ faces and voices, interactions between parent and child that foster joy and smiling in both parent and child, the parent’s imitation of the infant’s vocalizations and actions, and using toys to support a child’s social interaction. For example, if a child is doing repetitive motions with his hand, the parent might mirror the movement with a toy to shift attention and model a different way of interacting with the world. Similarly, even small facial reactions or vocalizations by the child would be met with positive and encouraging reactions from the parent. All of the methods are aimed at increasing infant’s attention to and communication with parents, as well as their capacity for play, language, and social engagement with caretakers.

The infants were all between six and 15 months old when they were enrolled in the study. The treatment consisted of 12 one-hour therapist sessions with the baby and his or her parents. This was followed by biweekly visits for six-weeks, and follow-up assessments at 24 and 36 months.

At the end of nine months, the children in the treatment group (compared to those in a control group) had significantly more symptoms. But at the end of 18 and 36 months, the children in the treatment group were significantly less symptomatic – they were less likely to have an autism diagnosis, and less likely to have developmental or language delays.

“For the children who are achieving typical developmental rates, we are essentially ameliorating their developmental delays,” Rogers said. “We have speeded up their developmental rates and profiles, not for every child in our sample, but for six of the seven.”

She credits the fact that the people closest to the child, the parents, were really the central part of the treatment. “It was the parents – not therapists – who did that,” she said. “Parents are there every day with their babies. It’s the little moments of diapering, feeding, playing on the floor, going for a walk, being on a swing, that are the critical learning moments for babies. Those moments are what parents can capitalize on in a way that nobody else really can.”

Credit UC Regents

Credit UC Regents

Rogers adds that the goal isn’t to take away any of the benefits of ASD – only to reduce the more challenging symptoms. “I am not trying to change the strengths that people with ASD bring to this world,” Rogers said, when asked about the “cure” concern. “People with ASD contribute greatly to our culture,” she said. “The diversity of human nature is what makes us a powerful and strong species. We are trying to reduce the disability associated with ASD.”

She added, “My goal is for children and adults with autism symptoms to be able to participate successfully in everyday life and in all aspects of the community in which they want to participate: to have satisfying work, recreation, and relationships, education that meets their needs and goals, a circle of people they love, and to be generally happy with their lives.”

The study was extremely small, and will need to be replicated in a randomized trial of a larger sample of infants. But if the results stand up to more testing, it would suggest that screening in infancy might not only be beneficial, but it might need to be standard.

For more information on ESDM, see the Early Start Lab at UC Davis. The study was published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.

Scientists Say Child's Play Helps Build A Better Brain

This week, NPR Ed is focusing on questions about why people play and how play relates to learning.

When it comes to brain development, time in the classroom may be less important than time on the playground.

"The experience of play changes the connections of the neurons at the front end of your brain," says Sergio Pellis, a researcher at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada. "And without play experience, those neurons aren't changed," he says.

It is those changes in the prefrontal cortex during childhood that help wire up the brain's executive control center, which has a critical role in regulating emotions, making plans and solving problems, Pellis says. So play, he adds, is what prepares a young brain for life, love and even schoolwork.

But to produce this sort of brain development, children need to engage in plenty of so-called free play, Pellis says. No coaches, no umpires, no rule books.

"Whether it's rough-and-tumble play or two kids deciding to build a sand castle together, the kids themselves have to negotiate, well, what are we going to do in this game? What are the rules we are going to follow?" Pellis says. The brain builds new circuits in the prefrontal cortex to help it navigate these complex social interactions, he says.

Learning From Animals

Much of what scientists know about this process comes from research on animal species that engage in social play. This includes cats, dogs and most other mammals. But Pellis says he has also seen play in some birds, including young magpies that "grab one another and start wrestling on the ground like they were puppies or dogs."

To Read the full article please visit the link below:

Does Your Child Have Working Memory Issues?
By:  National Center for Learning Disabilities

Working memory, also known as short-term memory, is an executive functioning skill that is key to learning and everyday life. If you suspect your child might have working memory issues, this quiz may give you some solid clues. Read the questions below and keep track of how many times you answered “yes.”


  1. Does your child struggle to follow a set of multi-step directions like “Please pick up your napkin from the floor and throw it away, and on your way back to the table can you grab the salt from the pantry?”

    It’s common for younger kids to have a hard time following directions with more than two steps, but by kindergarten most kids have that ability. Kids with visual-spatial working memory issues have a hard time visualizing the steps in a set of directions. Even if they’re able to create a mental picture, they often can’t hold onto it long enough to finish the task.

  2. Your child waits for his turn to talk while you finish a phone call, but does he forget what he wanted to say by the time you hang up?

    Kids with weak working memory skills can quickly lose track of their thoughts. Even a few minutes of wait time may be too much for them to remember what they wanted to say or do.

  3. Does your child have trouble retelling the bedtime story you just read or summarizing a chapter he’s reading?

    Kids with weak working memory skills have hard time juggling lots of information. With stories or books, they might struggle to remember what already happened while continuing to read or listen to more.

  4. Does the teacher tell you that your child doesn’t follow directions well, even for daily tasks?

    Kids who have weak verbal working memory skills may seem as though they’re not listening to a teacher’s directions. In reality they’re probably having a hard time keeping track of everything that was said.

  5. Does your child have a hard time telling you the names of most of the kids in his class?

    Remembering names can be hard for school-age kids with working memory issues. They have an easier time if they’re able to connect more information—for example, that Joe likes to eat glue—to the person’s name.

  6. Does your child have a hard time following along when his friends are having a fast-paced, lively conversation?

    Kids with working memory issues often have difficulty following the thread of a conversation, especially if there are many people participating.



If you answered yes between 0–2 times

Your child’s working memory skills appear to be fairly strong! Learn more about the other executive functioning skills your child uses in addition to working memory to help him stay on task and keep organized.


If you answered yes between 3–4 times

It looks like your child’s working memory skills might need some boosting. Learn more about the possible causes of executive functioning issues and how kids use working memory to learn. Then check out strategies you can use at home to help your child strengthen working memory skills.


If you answered yes between 5–6 times

Your child may have some issues with working memory and other executive functioning skills. You may want to consider speaking to your child’s school or doctor about having your child’s skills evaluated. In the meantime, learn all about how kids use working memory to learn and ways to help build those skills at home.

Brains Are Different in Today’s Children

By Janet M. Krebs

Anyone who has lived through the past few decades has witnessed a mind-boggling amount of change in the development of technology as well as its various applications.  As the appearance of technology was explored in industry and education, it was embraced just as fiercely on the childhood entertainment scene.  Some of the first uses of this technology were in the creation of video games.  As children began to use and obsess about the possibilities of this technology, they began to spend their leisure time differently than those of previous generations.  No longer did they play board games and spend so much time in pretend play or even social interaction; they kept themselves stimulated with animation accompanied by music and sound effects. A whole new culture was born.

As parents struggled to limit exposure to video games, the educational industry was busy thinking of ways to gain children's attention during learning.  By the beginning of the millennium, children were being exposed to digital technology on many fronts.  Children were clearly more interested in learning by using video technology than by traditional methods.  The more time they spent learning this way, the more they would need to learn this way.  Their brains were being stimulated differently than those of their predecessors.  Connections in the brain reflected those changes. 

The need to step up technological learning approaches became necessary in education.  This applied to the special needs community and to all children who need an alternative way to learn.  One of the earliest remedial programs, Fast ForWord, appeared in 1996 and continues to make a name for itself.  First designed to treat language and auditory processing, it became clear early on that Fast ForWord had great application to reading skills as well since one must be able to hear the slight distinctions in sounds to be able to retain them, apply their sound to a written symbol and use them to determine meaning.  Fast ForWord has been independently researched and proven to work as any intensive training does, by making neural connections that are then available for future learning.  However, Fast ForWord is a very palatable way of working daily on skills which have historically frustrated and bored children when using a traditional method of teaching.   As a result, there are tremendous gains seen after 6 weeks of work. 


More Children With Autism Are Going To College Than Ever Before (And 5 Other Key Findings)

Research on autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is still in its infancy, but knowledge about the brain disorder, which is associated with developmental delays and social challenges, is growing in leaps and bounds.

The Harvard Review of Psychiatry published summaries on Tuesday of the most recent findings in ASD research. The journal contains six articles, all of which review the latest studies from the past few years. While the reviews are for professional use by clinicians who work with patients, they offer a glimpse into the state of autism studies today, and cover issues like genetics, medication and how people on the autism spectrum should prepare for college.

The articles will all be available on the Harvard Review of Psychiatry website. Here's a summary all six.

1. There may soon be a way to genetically test children for ASD. So far, there have been "unprecedented advances" in the genetic study of ASD. Perhaps the most significant breakthrough of the past half-decade has been establishing the genetic basis of ASD in the first place, writes author James Gusella, Ph.D.

So far, researchers have identified hundreds of genes associated with varying degrees of ASD risk. Those genes also appear to be related to other neurodevelopmental disorders and psychiatric problems, writes Gusella. The hope is that these breakthroughs will open the door to research on the interplay between environmental factors and genes.

Currently, there is no standard blood/genetic test for diagnosing ASD. Instead, professionals evaluate a child's behavior for signs which include failing to make eye contact with others, repetitive play, sensitivity to everyday noises and a lag in motor skills.

2. Researchers are developing new medicine to specifically address ASD's "core symptoms" (like difficulty communicating and repetitive behavior) by targeting specific neurotransmitters and the hormone oxytocin. They're different from drugs like antidepressants or stimulants that are made and marketed for other disorders, explained author Dr. Laura Politte to The Huffington Post.

"Currently, medication available now can be helpful for particular problems associated with autism -- for example problems with distractibility, hyperactivity, aggression, anxiety -- but not necessarily the core social deficits of autism," said Politte , who works as a psychiatrist at the Lurie Center for Autism at UMass General Hospital for Children. However, new drugs that could more effectively target ASD symptoms with less harmful side effects are on the way, she said.

3. Children with ASD are at equal or greater risk of developing obesitycompared to their peers.

"Kids with autism might have some unique risk factors that would make them more susceptible to weight gain," said author Carol Curtin of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver Center at UMass Medical School. Those factors include delayed motor development, significant sleep problems, the side effects of antipsychotic medications and an unusually picky palate.

"This is a consciousness-raising piece," Curtin told HuffPost about her work. "Obesity isn't necessarily a thing parents have on their radar screens."

4. Severe stomach pain could be part of the reason children exhibit symptoms of ASD, and treating that gastrointestinal issue directly could lessen the severity of those symptoms, writes Elaine Hsiao, a senior research fellow in the California Institute of Technology's Division of Biology and Biological Engineering.

Hsiao studies the "human microbiota," or all the microbes/bacteria that live in the human body. She recently published findings on how moderating the microbes in mice affected their autism-related symptoms, but the work has yet to be validated in humans.

"Microbe-based therapies may be a promising avenue [for ASD] since they could potentially be readily manipulated, easily controlled and long-lasting," wrote Hsiao to HuffPost.

5. Children with ASD can sometimes either be too responsive or not responsive enough to sounds, touches, tastes and smells. For example, they could refuse to wear certain clothes because they feel the tag is scratching them. Alternately, they could be slow to feel pain, which can result in more severe physical injuries.

In the past, doctors thought that these sensory symptoms were peripheral to ASD, writes author Dr. Eric Hazen of Massachusetts General Hospital. In fact, research is establishing that these symptoms may be a core feature of ASD, and could be related to abnormal brain structure and function in people with ASD. More studies are needed on how things like occupational therapy and "sensory integration therapy" can help children ease their symptoms, writes Hazen.

6. More high-functioning children with ASD are going to college, and they can be at greater risk for developing psychiatric issues like depression or anxiety. They're also more likely to drop out of school.

Research on ASD university students is spotty, but author Stephanie Pinder-Amaker, Ph.D., proposed in her research a transition plan for those young people with ASD who do attend college. One idea is to establish a campus support system for the student, much like the parent-teacher-therapist teams that support high school students with ASD. Another idea is for campuses to create a summer transitional program for at-risk students that teaches skills and strategies for navigating different parts of campus life.


ASD affects 1 in 88 children and 1 in 54 boys, but autism received only .55 percent of the National Institutes of Health's $30.9 billion research funding budget in 2012, according to the advocacy group Autism Speaks.

That needs to change, Politte said.

"We have a growing understanding of the biological underpinnings of the disorder, but we're far from having a good grasp," she said. "Autism research in general is underfunded and deserves to be looked at more closely."

Autism researcher Robert Koegel, Ph.D., who is not affiliated with the journal or the articles, noted that while autism research is steadily marching forward, working on solving problems associated with ASD doesn't necessarily mean stamping out uniqueness and idiosyncrasy.

"Autism has a lot of really good things associated with it too, like honesty, humbleness and sincerity," said Koegel, who works directly with families affected by ASD at the Koegel Autism Center at the University of California at Santa Barbara. The disorder has also been associated with brilliance and child prodigy.

"We wouldn't want an all-out cure because we might throw out the baby with the bath water," said Koegel. "All we want to do is throw out is the problems and retain the strengths."

Research in Brief  |   March 2014
Research in Brief:
Children With Hearing Loss Experience More Fatigue
The ASHA Leader March 2014, Vol.19, 16. doi:10.1044/leader.RIB1.19032014.16
School-age children with hearing loss reported significantly more fatigue than did children with normal hearing in a study published Dec. 23, 2013, in the American Journal of Audiology ( These preliminary data are significant, given the negative academic and psychosocial consequences associated with fatigue.
As part of a larger ongoing study, researchers led by Benjamin W. Y. Hornsby at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, Tenn., examined the effect of hearing loss on subjective reports of fatigue in school-age children. The authors obtained subjective ratings of fatigue from 10 children with hearing loss and 10 age-matched children with normal hearing, using the Pediatric Quality of Life Inventory Multidimensional Fatigue Scale. The scale provides a measure of general fatigue, sleep/rest fatigue, cognitive fatigue and an overall composite measure of fatigue.
Preliminary results show that school-age children with hearing loss experience increased fatigue. In addition, the impact of hearing loss on fatigue in school-age children appears pervasive across multiple domains—general, sleep/rest and cognitive fatigue. Further research is needed to determine the underlying mechanisms responsible for fatigue, and to identify factors that may reduce its impact.


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Special Needs and Special Occasions

Making family gatherings good, not ghastly

By Terri Mauro, Guide

Family get-togethers are the worst. Too many people. Too much noise. Too much food. Too many opinions on the ways you're raising your children. Never mind the fact that kids with special needs often go crazy during big family events -- they're often not exactly a shining hour for us as parents, either. How can you make it through the meal without chewing someone out, putting your foot in your mouth, or eating your words? If a quiet dinner at McDonald's is out of the question, here are some ways to get through these gatherings without going crazy.

Make an escape plan. Better to leave before things go bad than stick it out and live to regret it. If you're spending the holiday at a home other than your own, arrange a time limit or a signal ahead of time and observe it -- even if it means missing the pumpkin pie. If your child seems to be coping better than expected, you can always extend the deadline, but be ready to split at a moment's notice. If at all possible, when your holiday travels involve such a distance that you'll have to stay overnight, get a hotel room. Your child (and you) will need someplace quiet and chaos-free to decompress after so much family exposure. Then again, if everybody's coming over to your house for dinner, make your child's room off-limits to everybody but him or her, and encourage your child to use it as a refuge when things get overwhelming.

Clothes don't make the kid. If your child has sensitivities to certain types of clothes, or just stubbornly insists on wearing something you (or, you suspect, your mother) will find inappropriate, don't pick a battle today. Eyebrows may raise if your kid's in sweats while every other little cousin is dressed to the nines, but you want to start your child out with as low a stress level as possible. Fussing over clothes, or putting him or her in clothes that you know will cause anxiety, is a bad way to start. And this way, when the inevitable spills occur, you'll be the only parent at the table who's not worrying about ruined outfits.

Augment the menu. Whether you're bringing a little something to somebody else's party or planning your own repast, make sure there's something your child will enjoy eating. And then don't comment if that's all he or she will eat. The goal of the day isn't cleaning your plate or trying new foods or pleasing the cook. It's getting through the meal with a minimum of trauma. And, more importantly, it's about giving thanks for the good things in our lives. If your child only wants to give thanks for macaroni and cheese, so be it.

Be the one who watches the kids. Keeping a close personal eye on your little one has a number of benefits. You can intervene in inter-child squabbles. You can assess your child's level of overstimulation and act accordingly. You can play with your child if no one else will, or lead the other children in a game your child can participate in. And, perhaps most importantly during these events when you feel every judgmental eye is on you and your family, you can avoid conversations with grown-ups. You'd sure like to discuss your child-rearing flaws with Aunt Gertrude, but -- oh, honey, do you need some help with that? Why don't we sit down here on the floor and do it together.

Bring supplies. Fill a backpack with things your child finds reliably comforting or fun to play with -- toy cars, a stuffed animal, a tape and tape player, a few books. Having them available, even if he or she doesn't actually play with them much, may give your child a sense of familiarity that will be relaxing. If he or she gets overstimulated, find a quiet corner or a back room in which to spend a little time with the toys. If nothing else, toting the toy bag around and making it available when necessary gives you something to do that does not involve long conversations with unpleasant relatives.

Beware of bribes. You may be tempted to offer some big reward for your child's good behavior at a family get-together, but that can backfire. The fear of losing that much-wanted thing may add to your child's stress overload and actually bring on even worse behavior. Some kids may talk themselves out of wanting the reward because they feel so incapable of providing the required self-discipline. And once you've lost that incentive, things can go downhill very quickly. Small spontaneous rewards during the course of the event are often more effective, because they reduce stress and improve mood. Then, if your child does pull it off, you can always give the big reward later with much praise and encouragement.

Remain calm. Memorize this phrase, and repeat it over and over in your head whenever you feel yourself losing your cool: I do not have to apologize for being a good parent to my child. We may struggle under the weight of "advice" or disapproval from family members, but our kids don't care about that: They need what they need. You know best what your child needs, and providing it is your most important responsibility, no arguments. Since most children with special needs react badly to stress in their environment, particularly stressed-out parents, staying relaxed and low-key is one of the best things you can do to keep your child's behavior in line. You can always throw a tantrum when you get home.

Don't overbook. Hold the festivities down to one event per holiday. Don't hop from house to house, or plan a big outing the night before a family event. Give your child (and yourself) the maximum amount of de-stressing time surrounding the minimum amount of stressful activity. This may be a disappointment to friends and family members who feel you are sheltering your child too much or rewarding difficult behavior, but you know best -- better one successful foray into the outside world than three or four really miserable ones.


School Bullies Prey on Children with Autism  

Connie Anderson didn’t know what was bothering her 17-year-old son, a Baltimore-area high school senior with Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism. He was usually a diligent student, but his grades began to plummet.

“He was starting to go downhill fast,” Ms. Anderson said. “His grades were crashing, and he wasn’t able to focus.”

At a meeting with school counselors, the teenager finally spoke up, confessing that he was being bullied by students in the cafeteria. Once, they had pulled his pants down to his knees in front of his class. 

While the problem of school bullying has received national attention, with many states passing anti-bullying legislation and school districts adopting anti-bullying programs, a troubling new pattern has emerged among victims. Research published on Monday in Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine shows that children with autism spectrum disorders, who typically have difficulty in communicating and forming relationships, are far more likely to be bullied than their non-autistic peers.

 “I would call it a profound public health problem,” said Paul R. Sterzing, lead author of the new study and an assistant professor at the school of social welfare at the University of California, Berkeley. “The rate of bullying and victimization among these adolescents is alarmingly high.”

The children at greatest risk, it turns out, appear to be those who also hold the most promise for leading an independent life. The researchers found that the risk of being bullied was greatest for high-functioning children who end up not in special education programs, but in mainstream classes, where their quirks and unusual mannerisms stand out and they are more exposed to bullies.

Many parents of children with autism already are well aware that their children are taunted and tormented at school, but the new study suggests the problem is pervasive. Dr. Sterzing’s data, collected from a nationally representative sample of 920 middle- and high-school students with an autism disorder, shows that 46 percent have been bullied.  By comparison, in the general adolescent population, an estimated 10.6 percent of children have been bullied.

Dr. Sterzing’s study also showed that children were at highest risk for bullying if they also had a diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Notably, children with A.D.H.D. also were more likely to display aggressive behavior themselves; however, the rate of bullying perpetrated by children with autism was 14.8 percent, similar to the rate estimated for the general population.

The findings are based on data collected in 2001 from a larger 10-year study of more than 11,000 special education students. Parents of autistic children and school administrators were asked to report on instances of bullying that occurred in the previous year.

Children and adults with autism spectrum disorders often are socially awkward and have difficulty communicating and recognizing social cues. Another hallmark of the disorder is a strict adherence to rituals and habits.

“Many of the defining characteristics of autism are the ones that put them at greatest risk of bullying,’’ said Dr. Catherine Bradshaw, deputy director of the Center for the Prevention of Youth Violence and an expert on bullying at Johns Hopkins University.

Bullying of children with autism disorders most often occurs as teasing and name-calling, being shunned from activities and hitting.

Dr. Paul A. Law, director of the Interactive Autism Network at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, said middle school can be particularly perilous for high-functioning children with autism who lack social skills, because it represents a time when peers can be especially unforgiving of social missteps.

“Social interactions are extremely complicated at these younger ages,” said Dr. Law. “It doesn’t take long sitting in a middle school cafeteria to see that.”

Dr. Law said his group has found that children with an autism spectrum disorder are victimized at a rate more than three times that of their non-autistic siblings.

One mother of a high-functioning autistic teenager in Los Angeles, who asked that her name not be published to protect her son’s privacy, recalled that he was routinely bullied by a group of middle-school classmates who would pick on him at the playground or ambush him or throw things as he walked home from school.

“They knew that a little thing would throw him off his regimen,” she said. “If you stole his book or stole his homework, to him it would literally be a disaster. He would run around the schoolyard yelling, ‘Who’s got my homework?’ He didn’t have the skills to cope with that.”

To avoid the harassment, he began taking a car home from school, but one day the bullies pounced on him as he waited for his ride. The school intervened, punishing the bullies, and two of their parents called the boy’s mother to apologize.

Because children with autism have limited communication skills, many may struggle to talk about bullying even to their parents. Others with impaired social skills may not always realize when they are being harassed.

“Children with autism spectrum disorder aren’t very good at picking up on things like sarcasm and humor,” said Dr. Bradshaw. “They can be set up and made fun of in front of groups and not understand it.”

A version of this article appeared in print on 09/04/2012, on page D7 of the NewYork edition with the headline: Autistic Pupils Face Far More Bullying.

Poor social skills evident in screen addicted generation 
by: Evelyn Yamine  From: Herald Sun  January 16, 2012 12:00AM  



Experts say too much screen time can stunt the development of a child's social skills. 

CHILDREN'S social skills are being stunted because of "screen addiction", and parents are being urged to wean their children off electronic games before school resumes.

NSW child psychologist Kimberley O'Brien, of Quirky Kid Clinic, said more parents were enrolling children in social skills classes because of the time children spent watching TV or playing Wii, Nintendo DS, Xbox and PlayStation games.

Dr O'Brien said "screen addiction" was increasing even for children of kindergarten age and many were more comfortable playing electronic games than playing with other children. She said about 60 per cent of children questioned had said watching TV or playing games was their favourite activity.

"Social skills need a bit more work these days because of screen time," Dr O'Brien said.

"The ones that may have spent too much time on the screen may be a little behind when it comes to social skills, but kids can be very adaptable."

Dr O'Brien said the clinic's social skills and communication program taught children how to join groups, take turns and be able to talk and play with other children.

NSW Kids First Children's Services director Sonja Walker advised parents to wean their children off the games and set up rules around TV and games access during the school year.

"It's about setting up boundaries for school times," Ms Walker said.

"Holidays are different but when it's back to school, you tell them this is how it's going to be when it comes to electronic games and screen time."

Ms Walker said children should turn off screens at least an hour before bed.

Children also began to feel anxiety as school approached and experts said familiarity was the best way to combat those fears, especially for children starting kindergarten, high school or changing schools.

Sydney Child Psychology Centre principal psychologist Dr Fiona Martin said parents of children starting "big school" should take the children for a visit to the school, encourage them to practise putting on their uniforms and packing lunch boxes and organise play dates with other children.

"I think it's all about making kids resilient, teaching them so they are able to cope when something goes wrong," she said.

Helpful Hints for Good Speech and Language Development

1.       Avoid use of sippy cups and baby bottles, they prolong the suckling pattern, inhibiting the evolution of a correct swallow pattern.  This often results in a tongue thrust (swallowing with the tongue between the teeth) and/or an interdental lisp (saying “s” with the tongue between the teeth). 

2.      If using a straw cup, cut the straw so only ¼ inch is protruding from the spout.  This keeps the straw between the lips and not beyond.  If the straw goes in past the lips, the tongue automatically comes out to meet it, prolonging a suckling pattern.

3.      Model correct speech patterns for your child without correcting their conversational speech.  If you want to show them a correct production of a sound in a word, do it at a time where you can look in a mirror and practice.  This allows for a positive experience. 

4.      Everything you do is a potential language activity. Take advantage of your daily experiences and discuss what you are doing as it happens.  Pick out a simple experience and report about it later in the day:  “Remember we went to the supermarket and saw all the fruits?” or “The mailman brings us mail every day.”

5.      Children generally find it easier to say words containing simple sounds such as: [m, p, b, t, d, n, w, h]. After those sounds are established, they can generally produce: [f, k, g, s].  Correct production of [l, r, th] does not come in for most children until close to 5 years of age. 

6.      If your child is difficult to understand and is showing signs of frustration, consulting a speech-language pathologist is recommended. 

7.      Correcting mispronunciation of sounds such as: [s, z, sh, ch, j, l, r, th] is not usually done until after the age of 5 unless the sound is being omitted.

8.      Sound omissions (“at” for “hat” or “haa” for “hat”) can be dealt with before the age of 4 in most cases.

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Thomas the Tank Engine helps autistic kids identify emotions

By Saeed Ahmed

(CNN) -- Thomas the Tank Engine, whose television adventures on the fictional island of Sodor have delighted children around the world for years, is now on a real-life mission to help kids with autism.

Thomas the Tank Engine is part of a new online game to help autistic children recognize different emotions.

The steam locomotive and his friends are the stars of a new game in Australia, designed to help autistic children recognize emotions.

Autism Spectrum Australia (Aspect), a nonprofit that provides services to people diagnosed with the developmental disorder, unveiled the game on its Web site Tuesday.

The game asks players to recognize which engine has a sad face, or which is happy or angry.

Children with autism often have a difficult time distinguishing different facial expressions.

Each time a child plays the game, he/she is presented with a different sequence of emotions. In doing so, the game takes advantage of the single-mindedness of autistic children to assist in their development.

"It's a great way to help develop social and communication skills," said Anthony Warren of Aspect.

A study conducted in the United Kingdom found that autistic children were far more fascinated by the television series, "Thomas and Friends," than they were with other fictional characters.

The study, by the National Autistic Society, summarized that the show held such appeal because of the clear facial expressions of the characters, the pacing of the program and the easy-to-follow story lines.

"We got those results down here, and we thought, how could we leverage that strength and give a little back to the community?" said Tom Punch with Haven Licensing, the company that handles licensing for the characters in Australia.

Warren said one of the reasons Thomas is particularly stimulating and motivating for children with autism is that it's very predictable.

"Children can understand the clear visual messages -- the big smile on the front of the engine," he said. "The messages it communicates are very concrete, not abstract. And the emotions are primary emotions. It's uncomplicated."

Autism is a developmental disorder that affects physical, social and language skills. It usually appears before age 3, though the earliest signs are subtle.

More doctors and researchers are referring to "autism" as "autisms," because each child's case is different, as are the causes, helpful therapies and potential treatments.

The Australian nonprofit unveiled the game this month to coincide with Autism Awareness Month in that country.

After all, as the show's theme song attests: "Red and green and brown and blue; They're the really useful crew."

Can You Invite Me To Your Birthday Party?

Nine year old Mara asked soon to be ten year old Lucy, “Can you invite me to your birthday party?” Lucy responded, “I can’t because it is going to be at my beach house and it’s too far away for you.” Mara had a slightly disappointed face after hearing that response. Lucy went on to describe her upcoming party and what would take place. During an appropriate reciprocal language moment, when Lucy finished, Mara told about her upcoming birthday party, which was to happen in 5 days, and the impending events. Interestingly, Lucy just listened to Mara’s description and then the subject changed.

What a perfect opportunity for a social pragmatic language lesson. Clearly it was necessary for Mara to learn that it was not appropriate for her to request an invitation to someone’s party. Beyond that, though, she requested an invitation to Lucy’s party despite the fact that Mara was having her own party and did not invite Lucy. Mara felt no awkwardness about that. Not surprisingly, Lucy didn’t even pick up on it.

This made me think of all the times I told my sons, “It’s not polite to ask someone to invite you.” or “If you do not invite him, how will you feel if he has a party and doesn’t invite you?” or “Just because you invite someone it is not guarantee they will invite you.” It made me think of the time my son did invite a boy who lives around the corner to his party and the boy had a party two days later at his house, not inviting my son, only to be found out when we drove down his block to get to our house (which is the route we always take). My son was quite philosophical about it, “Maybe his Mom only let him have a certain number of kids.” My son’s mother was not so generous in her thoughts.

I can’t help but ask myself over and over, “Doesn’t anyone teach these children proper social behaviors?” My answer for the general population is “Sometimes I wonder.” My answer for the pragmatically impaired population is, “I will do my best to teach these things since each and every interaction may be a struggle.” If I can prepare Mara and Lucy for the challenges to come, I may not be able to save them some disappointment, but I can help them be prepared for their reactions and the reactions of others.

Activities involving exposure to appropriate and inappropriate things to say to others can set the stage for accomplishing this learning. I have collected quotes “out of the mouths of babes” and had children act them out. We have then categorized them into the famed “DO” and “DON’T” columns. To provide a twist in the activity, we sometimes say the same quote in different tones to see if it changes the meaning. As I compiled these quotes I realized how many of them are appropriate if used in another context. Some have been extracted from conversations where the original comment might have been quite appropriate, but alas, something was lost in the translation.

“You’re only 8 years old?”
“I used to have a shirt like that when I was a little kid.”
“Can you invite me to your birthday party?”
“I saw that movie, it was terrible.”
“If you keep eating junk you’ll get fat.”
“My hair gets messy too when I play.”
“You look better in long hair.”
“The Mets stink.”
“My Mom says the Cartoon Network is bad T.V.”
“My Dad calls my Mom stupid all the time.”
“You can have it if you say, “Please.”
“I don’t want to play any more.”
“Maybe we’ll do that next time.”


Another variation on this activity is to assign children with personality/emotion jobs or hats. I have made hats in the office out of crowns or caps and they are labeled, “MEAN”, “HURT”, “SORRY”, “ANGRY”, “SAD”, “BORED”, etc. If a child is wearing a particular hat they have to act out the quote in this way. It is a good way to see how different emotions can be conveyed with the same words. We then analyze the cues we received. Sometimes I secretly ask a child to say the quote in a particular way and the audience guesses the correct emotion, assigning the hat to the speaker. There are many ways to change up the activity and make it fun.

I have found that just listening to the conversation around me provides multiple opportunities for social pragmatic language lessons. Whether you overhear an adult conversation about gossip, or one person consoling another, ideas should pop into your head. Every time I hear children negotiating with one another I think of new activities. After my late day groups, the children who attend often stay and trade Pokemon cards in my waiting room because that activity is forbidden in the group room. Listening to these unfacilitated interactions is always food for thought. So take some time and listen.