On the Road With Autism

My journey of discovery. I welcome your comments!

Life can be challenging for families with children on the spectrum. Parents are always on the internet looking for the latest & greatest interventions, scheduling their son or daughter for every kind of afterschool activity to help them develop & may never see the most obvious intervention!


Can Cooking Really Help Our Children Learn?

           Cooking is A Central task for Life

           Cooking connects us to our families

           Cooking connects us to our culture

           Cooking is a social activity

           Cooking is a physical activity

           Cooking involves problem solving

           Cooking is a sensory experience

           Cooking is a leisure activity

Well, Cooking Builds skills in our Children!

           Cooking involves planning

           Cooking involves organization

           Cooking develops focus & attention

           Cooking improves self-esteem

           Cooking improves balance & coordination

           Cooking improves strength & movement

           Cooking builds social skills

           Cooking builds comprehension

           Cooking can involve team work

           Cooking teaches safety

           Cooking teaches equipment use

           Cooking develops taste & smell

           Cooking teaches nutritional awareness

           Cooking teaches reading

           Cooking teaches math concepts

           Cooking incorporates communication & expands language


It Begins With:

           Planning a meal or snack

           Can include making a shopping list

           Going shopping & locating ingredients

           Exchanging money & making change

           Using cooking utensils & equipment

           Reading recipes

           Understanding measurement

           Learning to stir, chop, squeeze, pound, roll, cut, peel

           Involves pouring, filling, flipping, scooping, opening, greasing, spreading (motor & comprehension task)

           Cooking helps students build independence

           Cooking expands our students social awareness and connections (cooking classes, potlucks, holiday experiences, gift giving, sharing)

           Cooking teaches manners

           Cooking provides opportunities to take turns

           Cooking exposes children to new & different foods

           Cooking then provides reading opportunities

           Cooking develops organizing & planning and following sequence skills

           Cooking develops patience and accepting & delay in gratification

           When the cooking process is completed & the recipe finished & the meal shared, there is the clean up

           Cooking provides opportunities for our children to learn clean up skills & follow the dishwashing processes, kitchen cleanup process & meal table clean up

           Cooking Needs to Be Structured to Maximize its Effectiveness

           Possible Lesson Plans for Teachers!!

           Learning the Food Pyramid & Food Groups

           Reading and Understanding Food Labels

           Reading a Menu and Making Healthy choices

           Using money to budget a meal at a restaurant

           Navigating the grocery store: finding various items and charting where found inside the store

           Teach students to understand the various food groups & which foods fall within each category-using visual aids

           Teach students that foods have different nutritive values (some are ‘healthier’ than others)

           Help students understand they can make food choices & promote healthy food choices at school, home & community

           Promote functional life skill development by helping students learn to read a menu, make choices, & budget money

           Help promote independence by teaching students how to navigate the grocery store-both spatially & categorically

           Teach students about portion control when eating & what constitutes a ‘healthy plate’

           Cooking Improves motor planning, focus and self-esteem

           Yep it is an amazing education, therapeutic and life skill tool and it doesn’t require hiring a specialist to implement.

           Try it!!!


I am having a hard time understanding why we are not doing a better job at educating and preparing children with Autism when we understand more about how these children learn than ever before, have more support curriculums and choices of interventions than ever before.

Why is it so hard for the education field to design & implement school programs for children with Autism? Why are these children still suspended from schools, parents forced to stop work so they can pick their son or daughter up at school when things aren’t going well or sent to private schools outside their districts so that families feel the lack of belonging in their own communities? Why are private schools not able to offer a full variety of educational practices? Why are these children also leaving the schools unprepared for their next steps?

We have Universities who have created credential programs that say they address Autism. The Occupational Therapy Departments are talking about Autism. The Speech & Language Departments are talking about Autism & of course the psychology departments are invested in Autism. We have created a huge industry of BCBA personnel who say they can support families and schools. The bookshelves are lined with information, workshops are presented all over the state of California & out of state. Autism Speaks has made it National Known that 1 in 68 children are born with Autism.

Ted talks hit the social media across the world on Autism. Movies have been released on autism. Plays are presented on Autism. Every newspaper imaginable has posted an article on autism.

What is it? Why is it that I still get calls from desperate parents, crying? Why is it I still walk into classrooms & see a stapled pile of dittos being placed in front of these students as the only intervention for learning math, language arts, science or history & the teachers wondering what they can do to keep them engaged? How can a student get sent to a private school at the cost of $60,000 to $80,000 a year & still not be prepared for the next step?

Why does it have to cost so much money to figure out how to help our students communicate, take care of their daily needs, learn to their potential, find a way to develop friends and gain control over their sensory & feeling differences?

Are we spending more money on research instead of educating & training teachers, therapists & families? Has our education system made teaching so difficult that the idea of teaching no longer is exciting to our college graduates? Are we not accessing effective interventions? Are we hiring just because someone has a license & not the education or experience due to shortages? Are our budgets so tight that we cannot provide support for the teachers once they are in these classrooms? Are we expecting our teachers to handle more students than they can at one time? Do we have to put more students in a classroom that is truly therapeutic just to make our payrolls?

Are our Universities failing? When was the last time a teacher at the college spent time in the classroom managing a child with autism? What materials are they teaching from? Does each university provide effective mentoring? How can a student take a weekend credentialing program in Autism & be prepared? How can students just take classes on line & be prepared? What have we sacrificed for quickness & media ability?  Are the training programs truly effective? Why is it that tuition at colleges is so high, loans are needed? What have our graduate students received for $40,000 a year!!!!

I can’t help thinking that it is all of the above & that we need to take a careful look at what’s happening & find ways to repair.

We have the knowledge. We have the technology. Certainly a great deal of money is being spent.

Perhaps all this Mindfulness infusion into our culture needs to be infused into our administration at every level (credentialing departments, universities, private & public schools, agencies, centers, clinics, government) & allow the time to find real solutions instead of plugging holes in the dam.

Perhaps we need to get away from our screens, come face to face with each other, turn the systems upside down & actually see where they are working & where they are not working. Perhaps we need to stop competing & do more collaborating/sharing between districts, universities, centers, schools & clinics. Perhaps we need to look at how the salaries have sky rocked just like home prices did, leaving more people without possibilities.  

Perhaps everyone needs to take some long breaths instead of holding them & hoping to survive the day.

I started in this field when we knew very little but it was a time when those who cared about Autism came together to find solutions. It is now 40 years later & I am wondering what has happened!!!

What do you think happened? What are you willing to do about it?

First Breathe deeply.

Thought I would share

Some Tips for Parents of Children with ASD

  • Life as you knew it has changed
  • Along with your child’s gifts and talents you will have to support his/her learning challenges
  • Your own family values, beliefs, hopes and desires will lay the foundation for your actions
  • You will need to be an informed leader of a lifelong team
  • You will need to create this lifelong team
  • You will need to lead this lifelong team
  • Parents are
  • Responsible for the support and positive development of their children
  • They accept the child for who he/she is and find strengths and develop them
  • They guide (from their own experiences)
  • They coach (to build skills)
  • They mentor (to teach)
  • Offer wisdom
  • Offer safety
  • They encourage mind, body and spiritual well being
  • They celebrate the small step by step successes of their children
  • Families MUST
  • Learn everything about their child’s learning challenges
  • Become well informed about current state of the art interventions and strategies that will help support growth
  • Should learn how to evaluate the progress of an intervention and be ready to STOP it if it isn’t bringing about positive change
  • Need to learn how to develop independence in their child EARLY
  • Re-think their role as mother and father and add on teacher!!!
  • Stop doing and thinking for their child and instead build
  • Communication skills
  • Skills of daily living
  • Social Skills
  • Set Rules
  • Set boundaries
  • Set expectations
  • Teach other family members to become mentors, coaches and teachers
  • Teach home care-providers to become teachers not Nannies & Butlers!!!
  • Start early to help your child understand that they need to
  • Communicate, Socialize and participate in the family
  • The Child Must Learn
  • To dress themselves
  • Feed themselves
  • Shop for themselves
  • Cook for themselves
  • Maintain their own clean spaces
  • Maintain good hygiene on their own
  • Problem solve
  • Parents Must
  • Stop thinking and doing everything for their child including
  • Communicating
  • The longer the parent does it all, the harder it will become to encourage independence and success in
  • Home, School and the Community
  • When Parents Do it For them
  • The child never learns to solve a problem
  • Test out solutions
  • Find Answers
  • Develop plans to implement solutions
  • In the end they will ALWAYS need someone to Think and Plan and Do for them
  • How?
  • Start early (now)
  • Start small
  • Build gradually
  • Consider their current skill levels
  • Be Patient
  • Be Calm
  • Celebrate each small step towards independence
  • Acknowledge each and every communication intention: what they look at, what they point to, sounds they make, taking you to what they want and then EXPAND from there
  • Play with them and teach them to accept you as a play partner. Join them in their preferred activities and then EXPAND from there
  • Identify jobs they can help with in the home (putting away toys, putting clothes in drawers, putting dirty clothes in laundry area, helping to carry things in the store and them putting them away after shopping, empting trash, setting the table, making a snack and packing their lunch for school)
  • Teach them Daily living skills and require them to participate more and more instead of you doing it all.
  • Hand washing, tooth brushing, bathing, dressing, hair brushing, using utensils, using a napkin, pouring, stirring are some places to start
  • Expose them to community activities (parks, family celebrations, temple, stores, museums, art galleries, music events)
  • Start with short visits and with places of THEIR interests
  • Use visual supports in form of visual stories and visual schedules to show them how it will be in those places
  • When Parents
  • Expose their children to the community then the child engages in learning.
  • They learn social skills, language expression and comprehension, motor planning and problem solving.
  • Parenting is Complex
  • Each parent has to give up something when it comes to seeing that their son or daughter with a special learning challenge LEARNS
  • Each parent becomes a part of not only providing a safe environment in which to live but a TEACHING ENVIRONMENT in which to LEARN
  • So, parents need to sleep well, eat well, connect with each and form support groups, share ideas, find time to do the things they enjoy too!
  • Parents also need to be there for the other siblings in the family and encourage their unique strengths and talents

How Can We Start To Accommodate Children with ASD in typical Classrooms?

Just wanted to offer some first steps for regular education teachers…Here are some ideas for accommodating & modifying

Accommodate: What does that mean?

  • To make an adaption
  • To make an adjustment
  • To compromise
  • To re-vision
  • To re-shape
  • To Shift our thinking
  • To Transform

Modify: What does that mean?

  • To change, correct, convert
  • To refit, repair or reconstruct
  • To remodel

WHAT Do We Modify or Accommodate?

  • The Environment/Setting
  • Materials
  • Content of lessons and activities
  • Perhaps people in the classroom
  • Perhaps the amount of time given
  • Perhaps the amount of work given

The Environment/Setting

  • Space between desks, tables
  • Less clutter
  • A special seat closer or further away from specific people/teacher
  • Design a quiet corner
  • Reduce Visual distractions (walls, boards)
  • Some students need a study carrel
  • Some students may need a special chair or desks

   Time Management

  • Shorter sessions
  • Frequent breaks
  • Extended time for some projects
  • Shorten tests
  • Shorten assignments

Materials & Equipment          

  • Books on tape
  • Check Lists / Flash Cards
  • Number Lines /Calculators
  • Computers
  • Magnification Special Paper
  • Manipulatives
  • Tape recorder

Other Supports:

  • A student buddy to read to them
  • A note taker to take notes for them
  • More examples/more practice with each lesson

Specific Modifications for Different Challenges

  • Visual Challenges:
  • Larger print
  • Magnification
  • Sitting closer to the board
  • Auditory Challenges:
  • Hearing aids
  • Taping sessions/listen later/Books on Tape
  • Seat Position/ Keep room quiet
  • Printed Instructions /Teacher gives outlines of assignments
  • Teacher repeats directions more than one time
  • Teacher makes sure to face student
  • Strategies for Everyone
  • Highlighting important key words and passages
  • Avoid window seats for those who are very distracted
  • Students could wear ear plugs or headsets if noise bothers them
  • Offer test taking in a quiet room or in another space
  • Special pens, pencils with grips, scissors
  • Special seat cushions for students
  • More Strategies
  • Teach around interests/ Use favorite people, foods, toys, activities to read about
  • Use lots of repetition with new materials
  • Leave space between words
  • Make materials funny or silly
  • Final Thoughts 


Building Independent Sons & Daughters


Getting out of our own way and Firing the Nanny and Butler

It’s not so easy for parents…..

           Parents may feel guilty

           * Parents may be afraid their son or daughter might get hurt

           * Some parents want it perfect & done fast

           *Parents may not understand their child’s capabilities

           Parents may work full time, have other siblings & have little help in the home

           * Parents may not know HOW!! Confrontation can be hard

           * The task seems so time-consuming & exhausting

           * Sometimes cultural beliefs and roles make it difficult

           But You Are Sustaining Dependence The Longer You Wait

           You are anticipating their every need

           * You are problem solving for them

           * You are communicating for them

           * You are picking up after them

           * You are taking care of every activity of daily living

           You Are Limiting Their Growth & Development

           They never have to initiate

           * Think of a plan or carry out a plan

           * They are not required to communicate but instead throw tantrums to get needs met

           * You choose their clothing

           You do their laundry

           * You make their lunches

           * You make sure they have a coat or jacket

           * You pour, cut, stir, open and even get out all food items for them

           With the best of INTENTIONS (Love, Caring, time, fights, lack of knowledge)

           BUT Parents Need to Do Less for their son/daughter BECAUSE

           Your children will take a longer time to learn all the independent activities that their typical peers learn easily

           * Your child learning skills will build his/her self-esteem, give them confidence and develop a willingness to try new things

           * Your praise for their accomplishments in this area will make them proud

           * The more skills your son or daughter attempts, partially meets or totally accomplishes opens more social doors, educational doors, vocational doors and living doors


           So Get Out of Your Own Way

           FIRST Forgive yourselves if you are holding yourself responsible for your son or daughter’s challenges


           Let go of the following pre-conceived ideas

  1.    a) My child will never learn, or it’s too early to teach that or I can’t learn how
  2.    b) My child can’t do that, my child won’t do that
  3.    c) I don’t have time to help my child learn this
  4.    d) This is the school’s responsibility
  5.    e) The Speech Therapist, the Occupational Therapist & the Physical Therapist or teacher will

                  solve this problem



           To Parent Networks who provide workshops on just about everything, even teaching independent skills and how to write functional living IEP goals

           * To your education team & regional center team early and make sure independence is a major part of each & every IPP and IEP discussion with IEP & IPP goals addressing skills of daily living

           * Hire in home helpers but make sure they are also addressing the building of independence

           * Reach out to counseling if you are needing to work through guilt, depression or accepting and prioritizing life with your special needs amazing son or daughter

           Take Responsibility

           Teachers want to help…reach out to them

           * Agencies and private consultants are available…..reach out to them

           * Manuals and curriculums are available….. Buy them, read them and choose one activity a month to try

           * There are conferences, workshops, lectures, seminars, video web sites on line for teaching living skills…. Click on them, experience them

           Start giving your son/daughter choices early

           * Don’t wait to your son/daughter is almost an adult to act

           * Don’t do everything for you son/daughter

           * Don’t rule out possibilities

(see more steps in next blog)

Story 1

Let me tell you about one of the many memorable Oak Hill days. I had taken some time to go to In & Out Burger close by the school. I purchased two t-shirts & those very attractive hats the employee’s ware. I inspired my executive assistant to join me in, In & Out Burger day at Oak Hill. There were two large windows in my office that opened to the recess area. Perfect. We labeled the 1st one, Order Here & the 2nd one ,Pick Up Order Here.

We then ordered & picked up chocolate and vanilla milk shakes, fries & plan burgers for everyone at the school from In & Out.

I sent a memo to all teachers telling them I wanted to see them all & their students at the recess area. They had no idea what I wanted or what was about to happen.

They arrived & when they scanned the windows big grins & smiles appeared on their faces. The students were in heaven. They placed their orders & picked up their lunch.

I loved it.

Story 2

When I first arrived at Oak Hill School the faculty & staff were still feeling a lack of community due to some leadership challenges prior to my arrival.

The first process I instituted was a morning check in. We took 15 many 20 minutes to connect. I had a theme for each day (Music Monday, Tickles Tuesday, Wacky Wednesday, Thirsty Thursday & Film Friday). Staff shared their favorite music, jokes, crazy adventures, favorite drinks and films. This small activity helped begin to bring them together.

At the same meeting I would ask each of them to name one success they had the day before. I wanted to institute a half-full feeling at work rather than a half empty feeling. Things began to shift

TGIF meet ups at local restaurants, birthday celebrations and staff appreciation activities added to community building. Our yearly retreat in Napa Valley always brought the community together as well.

Story 3

Oak Hill School employed this amazing creative arts therapist. She appeared to have something just right for each & every student, hidden in her closet.

One day she asked if I would come up & be the audience for one of the students. I happily agreed. I watched Lizzy lower the art tables’ legs. It was now flat on the floor. She then pulled these frozen OJ can lids from that closet!!! And attached them to Reed’s shoe bottoms. It appeared that Reed wanted to tap dance to a favorite song of his

So Lizzy played the song on the piano & facilitated Reed stepping up on the table and tapping away.

Every Halloween the entire student body & staff dressed up in costumes & Lizzy put on an assembly to build trick or treat skills. She used puppets, musical instruments & a variety of songs to sing which had directions to follow.

She then played the old built in organ that lived in our hallway & filled the school with spooky music.

Finally the students paraded around the school grounds & knocked on administrators doors. “Knock, Knock, whose there, Trick or Treat”

At Thanksgiving time a thankful tree suddenly appeared in our hallway & it was Lizzy who worked with our students to create thankful leaves to hang on bear limbs until Thanksgiving arrived when each leaf was read, by our students at our Thanksgiving feast where students learned appropriate social skills for this type of holiday.


Soccer Brings Typical & Special Needs Together

Soccer on the island of Bali: Accepting, Accommodating & Applauding

Yesterday 26 typical children arrived on a simple soccer field in Mas & were joined by 4 children with physical challenges, children you rarely see outside their villages & rarely see in a public school setting. The 26 typical were receiving scholarship funds so they could attend regular school, an activity not all children can afford in Bali. Two of the physically challenged children came in their wheel chairs pushed by friends or teachers. Two others smiled as they walked on the field encouraged by their teacher. One child’s mom supported quietly in the background. It was the first time her son had left the village & joined a community activity other than time in therapy or at YPK. This young boy was about 11 years old.

My youngest son had planned all the activities for the two hour soccer event & had brought 30 leather soccer balls, one for each participant, jerseys for the children to take home as well, soccer ladders, cones & support equipment to execute the exercises they would engage in.

My middle son listened carefully the night before about the activities & was asked to support the children & come up with some additional modifications for those less able.

My youngest son’s significant other also joined with her excitement, enthusiasm & caring manner to help facilitate the activities as well.

Cones were set up along one side of the field for all to line up, a ball at the feet for each.

Other cones & ladders were set up to outline centers where a variety of activities would occur.

Children with physical challenges were accepted in the lines, at the centers & on the field enjoying the activities.

Children with physical challenges were cheered & applauded as they tried and succeeded at each activity.

Some activities were modified to accommodate feet& legs that did not work & yet there was a smile on every child even with his or her limitations. Teachers pushed wheel chairs, hands held balls as they were moved across the field in their chairs & helped to throw balls through nets, into hula-hoops or straight at the cones to knock them down.

Two of the children with balance and strength challenges ran the lines, fought to get a ball away from another & balanced as their feet went in and out of spaces along the ladders. Typical eyes on them smiling.

Did I mention that none of the coaches spoke Bahasa or Balinese but there was absolutely no miss communication between them & the children that day? The children watched & the coaches demonstrated & the children tried every exercise.

It was a day of high fives, applauding, verbal celebrations (Bagus (good job), hooray, yes, great, try again)

Sacramento Unified School Programs

Clayton B Wire Elementary School laid the foundation for my thinking that anything was possible if you have courage to risk, a heart of compassion & acquire the brains (knowledge) you need to create effective programing.

The District saw my potential & believed it could now support children with Autism at the middle school & high school level so we worked together & those programs were developed.

I moved from the elementary site to open the High School Program at Luther Burbank High School in South Sacramento.

My classroom was positioned way out in the back of the school in a portable but it didn’t stop me from finding ways of integrating my students. My classroom had a rather mixed student body some with Autism, a couple with cognitive challenges & still others with more social/emotional needs.

I learned the following very, very quickly:

  • Make friends with the Cafeteria staff & identify volunteer activities
  • Make friends with the Home Economics Teacher & identify times during the week to use the kitchen
  • Connect with the counselors & develop a student volunteer program. High School students need volunteer hours
  • Never give up on teaching a student academics. One of my students learned to read at 16
  • When a student says they can’t do something because they have a disability, realize if they have the ability to say that, they have the ability to do what they say they can’t. Expect them to do it & find a way to support the challenges
  • Do not stop trying because an idea failed. Find another way
  • Attend all teacher meetings & develop relationships with regular teachers. Help them understand & believe in your students’ potential, so you can mainstream with success
  • When your students are integrated check on them consistently
  • Reach out & connect to all families
  • It’s okay to allow a student to stand at the window & watch the clouds move by

David’s Story: This was the clincher to knowing it was time to start my own school.I was teaching out in the famous portables, where they housed special day programs. I had just allowed David, a non-verbal teen with Autism to walk on his own to the bathroom (within my sight from my classroom). We had been practicing for several months. I watched him enter, turned to answer a question from another student & realized he hadn’t come out. I remembered that David was always distracted during the toileting process & gave him a few more minutes. But David still did not return.

My instructional assistant took over. I stood outside the bathroom calling David. No response. I went in. David stood by the sink, trying to wipe off his bleeding lip, trembling. I noticed he had a bruise above his eyebrow. A student must have come into the bathroom during those very few minutes David was taking responsibility for himself & punched him in the face.

Someone had intentionally hurt this young boy, who could not identify his assaulter.

I escorted David back to class, applied first aide. David clamed & enjoyed his most liked activity, watching the clouds pass by in the sky. I dialed the 7 numbers of his Mom’s phone. My stomach was churning.

“Hope, that was his mom’s name, “David is okay but there was an incident. I am so sorry. David has a bruise on lip & eyebrow. He was in the bathroom & I think he was assaulted. I am sorry.” “That’s okay, accidents happen”, Hope said

I could not believe her response. It was NOT okay. Accidents like that should NOT happen. Encouraging mainstreaming too fast & encouraging mainstreaming for all should not be the only objective .

There has to be other choices for these children, I thought to myself. There has to be more than a public school or the state hospital.

Thus, the next step along the road of Autism was revealed, I founded The Kaplan Foundation, a private school for children with Autism …. My first attempt to provide a safe, nurturing educational environment for students to learn.