On the Road With Autism

My journey of discovery. I welcome your comments!

Expanding Our Knowledge

The 2014-2015 Series…..Expanding Our Knowledge

This was an amazing series to develop & support.

The September 2014 lecture showcased Dr. David Traver M.D. from Foster City, a pediatrician who became interested in the Autism Spectrum Disorder when he was at Neuropsychiatry Clinic at Stanford Medical Center’s Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. He became familiar with the biomedical approach to treating Autism as well & integrates his practices. Dr. Traver presented on The Biomedical Approach to Autism. He suggested parents look into gastrointestinal, nutritional, biochemical, metabolic & immune issues in their children. www.dptmd.com 650-341-5900

The October 2014 lecture, Using Music to Enrich the Lives of Children with Autism Spectrum was presented by Ian Wilkerson, MT-BC NMT founder of Bay Area Music Therapy. www.bayareamusictherapy.org Ian demonstrated how Music Therapy can improve cognition, physical skills, social skills and support emotional challenges in youth and adults with Autism. He even discussed the use of music through technology.

My November 2014 Lecture: with Liz McDonough, MFT/Drama Therapist, http://lizmcdonoughmft.com/ presented on the Social-Emotional Terrain from Adolescence to young Adulthood for those on the Spectrum. Liz demonstrated how she incorporates drama therapy, psychodynamic and cognitive behavioral approaches in helping teens & young adults navigate the social and emotional challenges of school, work and life in general.

Then our January 2015: Reading Strategies That Work for ASD Students was presented by Beth Powell, BS/MS and Director of the Reading Clinic www.thereadingclinic.com . Beth focused on addressing the comprehension challenges of children on the spectrum encouraging all of us to pay careful attention to this key factor and suggesting that the teacher and the speech and language therapist work hand in hand to address a student’s understanding of what they are reading. She let us know that it is important to develop visual imagery. The student must be able to see what word means. Can they describe what a picture is telling them? Can they make a prediction about what happened before or may happen after in the picture?

The February 2015 lecture showcased Dr. Peter Clive Mundy, professor of Neurodevelopmental Disorders & Education in Psychiatry, Professor of Education & School of Education & Director of Educational Research M.I.N.D. institute University of California at Davis. He presented on Elementary & Secondary Education for Autism. Dr. Mundy showed us how the lack of developing joint attention can affect all future learning opportunities & emphasized how important that curriculums address this key feature so students can experience success in school. Teachers & speech & language therapist all need to work collaboratively on developing joint attention. Joint attention is key for developing social relationships, reading comprehension and communication.

Our March 2015 lecture featured Dan Phillips, MS CCC-SLP from the Technology Resource Center of Marin, http://trcmarin.org/ who presented on Supporting Curriculum and Communication with Technology. Dan shared a variety of apps that can be found on the tech. center’s web site that work amazing for students with ASD (Bitsboard, Choiceworks, Bookshare, Tar Hee Reader, Pictello, Story Creator, Book Creator, Co-Writer, Clicker Docs and Proloquo 2). He stressed how important it is to find apps that can be individualized with interests of the student and individual information about the student. He stressed that we should choose apps that can be programed to speak and can also use email to send communications to the student’s family.

Our May 2015 final lecture was given by Jennifer Griffith, MSW, ACSW Regional Director of College Living Experience www.experiencecle.com , a post-secondary support service for individuals with special needs & varying exceptionalities between 18 & 28 years of age. Her lecture Preparing Students with ASD for a successful Post-Secondary educational experience was a very timely lecture. She advised that our high school programs develop self-advocacy, independent living and social connections. She spoke to the parents about teaching their sons & daughters to pay their own bills, live on a budget, help manage their medical needs and learn to navigate in their community. All these steps will help prepare their sons & daughters for a post-secondary experience.

Wisdoms of the 2013-2014 Lectures

The 2013-2014 Autism Lecture Series Full of Wisdoms

It was a great year. I was delighted bringing such wonderful state of the art information to families, students & professionals

September 2013 was honored to support Dr. Neal Rojas, Board Certified Developmental Behavior Pediatrician from University of California SF. Problems with Evidence Based Autism Interventions was his theme. Many families find interventions that cannot be proven through evidence based studies but no less have helped their son or daughter. Dr.Rojas introduced the guests to some of the state of the art interventions for ASD (TEACCH, ABA, DIR/Floortime, Denver Model, Speech & Language Therapy, Occupational Therapy, and Social Skills Instruction) and then helped us explore Alternate Therapies (diet, supplements, gastrointestinal issues, seizure management and pharmacotherapy).

October 2013 showcased the work of Dr. Kari Berquist, Ph.D, BCBA-D from Stanford University School of Medicine. Evaluating ASD & Related Disorder Interventions: A Parent Group Approach was her topic. She strived to open our eyes to the importance of families becoming excellent consumers in deciding on and evaluating programs for their children. Her group has been educating parents in evaluating practices for their child’s profile. The program has emphasized parents understanding what each intervention is supposed to do and evaluating if it has truly happened. Her group focused on teaching parents effective decision making processes when looking at programs and keeping their children in them.

January 2014 was a power lecture “Hear our Wisdoms” featuring three fathers with sons on the spectrum & a grandfather with a grandson on the spectrum. Each speaker told his story about their son or their grandson with autism. They each communicated how important it was to spend time alone with their family member, to accept them for who they are 7 never give up hope. One suggested that you find the little things that occur in the lives of your family members with autism & appreciate them. They all encouraged fathers to reach out & connect with others. They all realized how important it was to support the other siblings in the family or their own daughter & son-in-law as they support their child with autism. They all suggested finding a higher source to connect to as well.

February 2014 “Moms…The Wisdoms of Our Voices” was also very compelling. Three moms with sons & one with a girl told their stories of fear, anxiety, frustrations and acceptance. They spoke about their learning curve in the field of education and the fights they encountered along the way to get their children assessed, understood and supported in the school system. One mom brought a pair of boxing gloves that she has kept hung in her room to remind her that the fighting for hope will never stop even as her son enters adulthood. They all encouraged others to find the right team of experts to help. They all stressed the need to connect with others experiencing similar challenges. They all stressed the need to take care of themselves so they could take care of their children and other family members.

March 2015 “Understanding how illness can present as Behavior Challenge; a practical approach for looking at behaviors of people with special needs through a Health-Minded Lens was presented by Dr. Clarissa Kripke, Clinical professor of Family and Community Medicine at UCSF. Dr. Kripke reminded us to “Think Medical” first when we see behavior (migraines, hearing, vision, dental or injury). Think Urinary tract (infections & obstructions). Think reflux and gastrointestinal problems. Think seizures & side effects of medication. Behavior can also signal (abuse, escape, social attention, stressors, control, and reduction of anxiety). Remember all behavior is communicating something. Also remember that the caregiver could be the answer due to their anxiety, stress, training or support. She advised families to chart (bowel movements, periods, seizures, medications, behavior, mood, movements, strength, & energy). These can all lead to behavior challenges. Her advice was to improve body functions & structures, increase activities, improve the physical environment, improve their quality of life & develop skills.

May 2015: Laura Briggin, Cypress School Director with her MS in Special Education & holding her Board Certified Behavior Analysis license presented last in the series. “Real Work for Teens and Adults with ASD & Similar Developmental Challenges was her topic. Laura started out emphasizing the need to make sure that a student’s IEP (Individual Education Plan) addresses transition issues very early on. When it is time to develop the ITP (Individual Transition Plan) inviting future adult employment supports to the meeting are key. All plans should be built on the student’s personality & his or her interests, strengths & abilities. The IEP and ITP should address the student’s areas of need (communication, sensory, executive functioning, social, visual thinking) for them to be successful in a working environment. Thoughts need to be given on the jobs & types of environment the person will be successful. She suggests drawing a Vision Plan with each student (college, work, living, play). Start with their strengths & likes. Then identify the skills needed & start teaching them. Provide many opportunities for the student to volunteer in their community developing ideas for future employment. Students need self-awareness, career awareness, career preparation & work experience before they leave school.

2011-2012 Lecture Series Takes a Therapeutic Path

September 2011 Rudy Simone, author, speaker & Self-Advocate for those on the spectrum presents on Asperger & Employment. Rudy described her life on the spectrum. She explained how scary faces were & explained the anxiety & fears of people on the spectrum. She explained how she might freeze or flee a situation. She urged neuro-typicals to understand more how it might feel to those with Asperger. She explained how going to work has them leaving their comfort zone. Rudy explained the disappointment of the person on the spectrum thinking all they have to do is hard work & they will succeed. Nope, got to make small talk & talk about things of no interest to be accepted. Rudy said people on the spectrum must learn & then practice social scripts & etiquette for working. Rudy said employers should welcome their logical decision making, their honesty & their pride in their work. She listed supports that can help (maps & GPS, planning lists, wardrobe help, asking for instructions in writing instead of verbally). In her book Asperger & Employment there is a great tool for mapping out your best personal job. It is important for the person with Asperger to identify interests, current skills, job skills required, what the plan for getting skills is, triggers that could limit accepting certain positions and the solutions to all challenges they have identified on the Job Map.

The October 2011, Movie Time Social Learning: Using Kid-Friendly Movies to Expand Social Thought was presented by Anna Vagin, Ph.D., Speech & Language Therapist. Anna explained her Social Time Movie program, which uses popular movies as a tool to teach social thinking & to build language skills. Anna shared how she had her clients choose movies they truly liked so as to engage them. Then together they watched them, identifying feelings of characters, intentions, perspectives, facial expressions, gestures & other non-verbal language characteristics. Then she used role playing. Anna also helped us understand how gesture language often comes before language expression & how our kiddos need to develop a gesture system to help lead to verbal expression.

The Power of Play was the November 2011 lecture with Registered Music Therapist Lizz Domash http://www.marinautism.org/macresourcedirectory/listing.php?id=66 & Liz McDonough, licensed MFT http://lizmcdonoughmft.com/ & registered Drama Therapist. Both therapists explained the importance of PLAY. They demonstrated how play activities help build problem solving, spatial awareness, fine motor control, reading, math, social skills, listening skills, language development, visual skills, cooperation & coordination & motoring planning. Each therapist designs drama activities, art activities, movement activities, & music activities in schools & in their private practices to help children develop & grow in the above areas. Music, Art, Movement, Drama area also fun & engaging. Children hardly know they are working on all those developmental levels when involved.

January 2012 lecture showcased the LindaMood-Bell Learning Center’s reading program for ASD. Kat Vaughan, MBA & Center Director presented the lecture “Improving Reading Skills in Students with ASD”. The strategies that truly work with students with Autism are sensory input, visual imagery and language comprehension. Our students need to see the words in their minds. They need to also see the directions given to them in their mind. They need to work on word meanings so they can comprehend what they are reading. Pronouns are challenging and need to be addressed. Coming up with a main idea of what was just read is another activity needed.

The February 2012 lecture “Yoga Therapy for Every Special Child” was with Nancy Williams a Speech & Language Therapist from Arizona who had earned her Adept Instructor of Hatha Yoga certificate. She realized that Yoga & Neuro Developmental Therapy, another certificate she obtain could help special needs kiddos acquire a broad range of skills. In her presentation Nancy focused on how Yoga can improve the quality of life for our kiddos, increase their breathing, & help them self-regulate, socialize, process sensory information, sleep better & communicate. Her book, Yoga Therapy for Every Special Child http://www.amazon.com/Yoga-Therapy-Every-Special-Child/dp/1848190271 is easy to learn from & incorporate in classrooms and therapy sessions.

Diane Hunter www.afterautism.com , mother of a son with autism & life coach kicked off our March 2012 Autism Lecture with “Beyond Words” Diane shared her story of her son Ian & her realization that she was communicating things to Ian that she was unaware. She explained to the families and professionals that it is important to learn how our non-verbal communication sets our students to succeed or fail. She explained the work she is doing with parents and professionals, working with their non-verbal language systems (tone, pace, facial expressions, proximity, touch, eye gaze, inflection, volume and gestures) so they can get the best results & decrease their own stress and anxiety.

The April 2012 Autism Lecture, “Creating Therapeutic Foundations for ASD was presented by three amazing therapists, Christine Egan, MPH/PT licensed physical therapist, Miki room, OTR/L, licensed Occupational Therapist & Margaret Bourne, CCC/SLP, certified speech and language therapist. Their topic was all about an interdisciplinary approach to early intervention. It was apparent to all guests that it is critical for a collaborative team to be working together to resolve the complex challenges of kiddos on spectrum. Core Strengthening needs to be led by a physical therapist & strong body foundation set for learning. Sensory Processing challenges need to be identified by the Occupational Therapist and sensory strategies put in place to support learning at home, in school & the community as well as fine motor & motor planning. Addressing the receptive & expressive language challenges in all children with ASD is critical. Behavioral challenges stem from the inability to express needs, wants, choices, requests, likes, dislikes, confusion & anxiety. Without an effective communication system there will be behaviors that will express those needs. Language comprehension must be addressed so that our children can make sense of communication and what they read as well.

The final lecture of the season, May 2012 was offering the “Ten 10 Behavior Management Tactics for Children with Autism” and was presented by the Founder & Director of Gateway Learning Group, http://www.gatewaylg.com/ . Melissa shared the First/Then strategy, of having the child do a less preferred activity before getting to do a highly preferred activity. She told us providing choices is the next tactic. We might then set up a token system to increase appropriate behaviors & delay immediate gratification. Visual schedules provide understanding & clear expectations. Using praise is key but very specific. She said sometimes using Vicarious Reinforcement (complimenting on another peer) works too. Choral responding helps & teaching rules ahead of time also help manage behaviors.

As you recall, during my transition from Oak Hill School to Wings Learning Center, I volunteered on the Marin Autism Collaborative, helping to develop autism supports in the community. The Autism Lecture Series was founded by me in 2009-2010 to meet the needs of brining researchers, specialists, authors & therapists to the North Bay Area to offer state of the art information on Autism.  "Hear Our Voices" the 2015-2016 series will show case teens & adults living each day on the spectrum. It will again be hosted at the conference center in San Rafael at Marin County Office of Eduation.

But come with me as I share with you some of the amazing speakers & their wisdoms.

2010-2011 Autism Lectures focused on Different Perspectives for Learning

September 2010 “Teaching Parents to Become Effective Autism Services Consumers” was presented by Dr. Bryna Siegel, author, Developmental Psychologist & Professor in Psychiatry at UCSF Autism Clinic. Dr. Siegel helped the parents better understand their role, to find teachable moments to improve non-verbal and verbal communication & to understand how they can improve spontaneity of communication. Her advice was to look at their child from a learning challenged perspective. Once identifying the learning challenges then they can better match the interventions that will best support the learning challenge. Children with ASD have social learning challenges, expressive & receptive language challenges & sensory processing challenges &regulation. Dr. Siegel believes it is crucial for the parent to be trained and have a key position in intervening. She supports the Pivotal Response method to engaging children on the spectrum.

Robyn Steward http://www.robynsteward.com/ , kicked off our October 2010 lecture “Asperger from a Person Not Just a Textbook”. Robyn was inspirational helping the audience understand what it has been like growing up on the spectrum. She told us her stories about her challenges in school, connecting & making friends. She let us know that she recognizes people by their shoes. She is an artist & mentor. She likes to inspire those on the spectrum to know they can succeed & that there is “life after diagnosis. She stressed that people on the spectrum are creative. She let us know that she needs help regulating sensory input & often comes across very hyper-active. She loves to travel and speak out on behalf of the spectrum. She is the author of The Independent Woman’s handbook to super safe living on the Autistic Spectrum. 

The November 2010 lecture “Making Life Work…A Menu of Options for Developing Life Skills for Children, Teens & Young Adults on the Autism Spectrum” was presented by Kara Barber, parent advocate & author. Her curriculum is a creative way of helping our kiddos understand social communication. Prepare, Project, Practice & Produce are her core concepts developed in her curriculum. She has also developed a clear visual method for our teens to visual a social interaction with someone (A Menu!! There is a Starter to begin the conversation, the Meat and Potatoes of the conversation, the purpose & then the Treat, to end the conversation). Her curriculum contains all kinds of activities to teach skills her son was not learning to develop independence. http://www.kalahari.com/Books/The-Social-and-Life-Skills-Menu_p_39050203

The January 2011 Lecture featured Dr. Miranda board certified in Neurology, Electroencephalography, Neurological Rehabilitation, Sleep Disorders & Evoked Potentials. His lecture “A Neurologists Perspective on Autism” was interesting. As the founder of Bright Minds Institute he created a team of specialists to develop a goal-orientated plan of treatment. His plan included physical therapy, occupational therapy and behavior therapy. Dr. Miranda felt that many seizure disorders go unnoticed to the untrained eye in the autism population and there needs to be careful attention paid in this area. He felt it was very important to identify discharges in these kiddos as they affect cognitive and behavior functions. Temporal lobe epilepsy should be ruled out. He felt testing needed to be done during sleep as well, since 80 percent of discharges will occur at nighttime. He felt that MRI scans & EEG can be used.

February 2011 Lecture featured Dr. Kristin Whalen a licensed psychologist & board certified Behavior Analyst specializing in Autism. Her lecture “Computer Assisted Instruction for ASD” was well received. Dr. Whalen wanted to make sure parents & professionals understood how to choose programs that would work for children on the spectrum. She introduced The TEACH TOWN program which builds language comprehension in children with ASD & has been successful in a school environment and home environment.

Our March 2011 lecture “Auditory Processing Problems in Children with ASD was presented by Dr. Deborah Ross-Swain the Clinical Director of the Listening Center http://www.theswaincenter.com/ and The Swain Center for Listening, Communicating and Learning in Santa Rosa. Dr. Swain is a national speaker, writer and researcher. Dr. Swain supports that children with Autism have auditory processing challenges. They can have near or near normal hearing and yet not understand what is heard. She explained that Auditory Processing is what the brain does with what the ears hear. She cited studies that clearly indicate our kiddos have challenges discriminating simple auditory sounds. Dr. Swain gave some red flags to look out for (fails to respond to name, experiences hyper sensitivity, experience delays in processing, covers ears, distracted by noises, speech delays, seem deaf).

The April 2011 Lecture was presented by Leah Kuypers, M.A. ED, OTR/L currently practicing Occupational Therapy at Communication Works http://www.cwtherapy.com/ as a private therapist. Leah was there to present her newly developed curriculum, Zones of Regulation published by Think Social. Leah went over how this curriculum will work. It will explain sensory processing systems, outline executive functions that impact self-regulation, explain emotional regulation, teach a systematic way for students to self-regulate, cite strategies to identify ones level of arousal & then describe how social cues can be used to determine appropriate arousal levels. She then identified ways to integrate the Zones into regular settings. http://www.amazon.com/dp/0982523165/?tag=mh0b-20&hvadid=4162882971&hvqmt=e&hvbmt=be&hvdev=c&ref=pd_sl_8lzs2p1hbf_e

The final lecture of this series occurred in May 2011 & was presented by Dr. Melanie Johnson www.melaniejohnsonphd.com and Janet Lawson www.autistrystudios.com , parent and MFT. The topic, “Parenting ASD Children across the Lifespan” was inspiring. They acknowledged that there is a large diversity in ASD and parenting is very complex. Parents have to find a balance within self, family and community. They discussed the roles parents play as the child moves from infant, toddler, pre-school, adolescent, young adult & to middle age. The parent of a child with ASD is making critical decisions about health care, education and often postposing their own careers. The parent can often remain the primary caregiver throughout the child’s life having to consider financial stability & residential needs. They explained the impact on Marriage. They offered that 80% of parents with ASD children will divorce. They discussed the stages of Grief (shock, anger, confusion, depression, guilt, shame, fear, bargaining, hope and acceptance.) They ended the lecture providing strategies (developing a support system, accepting help, gathering information & realize that you can’t do everything so learn to delegate!!)


On The Road Once Again

On The Road Again

The board of directors at Oak Hill School decided it was time to take the school in a direction of which didn’t align with my Autism Journey

I provided a 9 month notice & prepared myself to journey on & began preparations of all the written systems for my successor

I knew, unlike the Tin Man, that I had a great heart, as it was truly affected by this switch in the road.

So, for the first time in my career, since graduating school, I decide to take some time to discover where my Autism Journey was truly supposed to head.

I traveled a bit & then joined the development committee for the Marin Autism Collaborative http://www.marinautism.org/ & helped them develop a platform for the collaborative. I helped facilitate the collaborative’s first “Town Hall Meeting” & then headed the Youth Committee on Autism for over 4 years for the collaborative.

As a group facilitator & committee chair I learned quickly the needs in our county & as a volunteer worked at creating & implementing projects for the ASD community

I started the 1st Autism Lecture Series in the North Bay Area, connecting my resources in the field to parents & professionals. On my own I raised funds to put on the series & 7 years later, I am still hosting the series under my non-profit Offerings http://www.globalofferings.org/

I am so grateful to my lecture sponsors through the years (Cypress School http://www.cypress-school.org/ ANOVA School http://www.anovaeducation.org/ Oak Hill School http://www.theoakhillschool.org/ Wells Fargo North Bay Area, Craven Foundation, The Oken Family, The Massocca Family, The Ryder Foundation http://www.ryderfoundation.org/beneficiaries.html, Marin County Office of Education & Psychology Learning & You http://www.playbc.biz/ )

The Series (www.offerings.org events) has brought researchers, specialists, educators, parents, authors & therapists to the North Bay Area to offer state of the art information on autism to the general community. I am so very proud of this accomplishment & look forward to 2015-2016 series “Hear Our Voices” which will bring youth & adults on the spectrum to offer their wisdoms.