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.

Questions on Autism in Jakarta, Java

There were 285 guests at the day long Autism Workshop in Jakarta. The participants were asked to list an important question they had before attending the workshop. Many were answered thorugh the presentation. Here are 7 additional questions.  They give you an idea where autism understanding & education is in Indonesia.

1)Can we use similar curriculum to teach children with autism & teach typical children?Yes, of course to those who have the cognitive ability to understand it but the way you teach the curriculum must be adjusted as well. Curriculum might need to be presented in more creative ways. No one learns well if they must sit all day, listen to someone speak and then answer questions on a piece of paper, or in choral style with everyone. It is important to find out the learning style of each student and adapt the way one teaches. Sometimes lessons need to be shortened. Sometimes using art, music, technology will help engage a student learn. It is important to check in with the student to see if they are understanding. Comprehension of words and their meanings are very, very important. Teachers may have to teach new vocabulary first, before a lesson.

The student with autism may need help organizing, starting and stopping the assignment. Transitions are hard.

Children with less language, less comprehension may need to curriculum simplified. Teachers can pick one theme from the lesson and focus on it with a student. Teachers can find the most meaningful piece of the lesson and offer that to the student. Teachers can have the families read with the student the night before so they have heard the material before. Using pictures is so important to ensure comprehension. Asking the student what they saw after they read something is very helpful.

Some students need a very functional based curriculum.

2)How long will it take for someone with ASD to integrate into society? I think society must accept differences. No two people are alike. Some are more social than others. We must help people with autism understand the social rules. We must teach each social rule and explain its purpose. Then we must help our students practice it. We must find the parts of society that they feel comfortable integrating into. Not everyone integrates in every part of society. A child’s ability to integrate will depend upon their communication level, their social skills, their sensory levels and their anxiety levels. Noise & crowds will influence integration. Interests will determine integration. We must help society to understand and accept these amazing children with autism. We must be patient. We must find ways to help them lead a life with purpose and happiness and safety.

3)How can we tell when a child is ready for school? Children are ready when the school is ready for them. Children with autism require early education. The sooner they are supported to learn the better. The teacher must understand them. The school site must accept them. The education and home must work together. Perhaps the child needs a half day at first to get use the environment, routine and expectations. Perhaps the child needs speech therapy and occupational therapy to begin prior or at the same time to support school access. Will the school accept someone who isn’t toilet trained? Will they accept a student who needs frequent breaks and an adjusted curriculum? 

4)How to decrease self-injurious behavior or hurting others?   It is very important to make sure the child is not ill in any way (stomach ache, headaches tooth aches). It is very important that a child have a communication system to express frustration, confusion, anxiety. It is very important that the environment be structured and predictable for the child. It is very important that the diet be considered and that the child is getting enough sleep at night. All above must be reduced first. It is always important to look at the activities or people that seem to cause the self-injurious behaviors. What happens right before? Are you taking something away? Are you placing too many demands on the child? Hurting oneself is an expression of frustration or it can be trying to get out of doing something that is non-preferred and each time they self-jury they get out of doing that task. They will then continue. They have learned that if they self-jury, it gets them what they want. We must always remain calm and try to redirect.

When it comes to hurting someone else we must again find out what the motive is. What are they saying to you? (go away, no, I am confused, I am frustrated, I don’t understand, I need attention?).   We must give them another way to communicate these things. We must also not reinforce these behaviors when they occur. Structuring the environment is key. Building a communication system is key. Sleep, eating, exercise is very helpful. Having the student do meaningful lessons also helps.

5)What type of curriculum is good for a student in an inclusive environment? This depends on their level of academic ability, social levels, sensory challenges.   Some students can do the same curriculum with some accommodations. Some students need a functional based curriculum. Some students need more breaks when included. Some students need some additional support in one or more subjects.

6)How does one develop the IEP? There is a simple formula. Good assessments in all areas lead to strengths and challenges. A goal should then be written to address each challenge. Additional therapeutic support should be included to support sensory needs, executive functioning needs, communication needs, & fine motor & motor planning needs. The type of educational environment should be described in the IEP. Parent training should be in the IEP. Teacher education is important. Understanding of Autism should be considered as well. Academic support should be provided where needed. Behavioral support should be provided where needed.

7) What should be done by the school and teacher to help student who enters puberty? This is a sensitive area. The parents should really take the lead on this. They should meet with the teaching staff & explore beliefs & values & determine the best approach for helping this child. Just like any other child, this student will need help in understanding how his or her body is changing. Parents need to explain this. Teachers in secondary programs can help as well with parent permission. Social Stories are a good tool to explain how our body is changing. Sometimes doctors can help. Sometimes outside counselors can help. There are several great curriculums for helping all special needs learn about body changes.


The Research Road 2012-2013

This was a year of bringing the researches together to provide hope to families & professionals.

In September 2012 I introduced Dr. Ruth O’Hara to our community so she could talk about her research in the area of Autism & Sleep. Dr. O’Hara is an Associate Professor, Associate Director, Sierra-Pacific Mental Illness Education & Clinical Center (MIRECC) Director, National Fellowship Program Advanced Psychiatry & Psychology, Department of Psychiatry & Behavior Services, Stanford University School of Medicine. Dr. O’Hara announced that 44% of children with ASD suffer from sleep initiation, 31% from sleep maintenance & 30 with early morning awakening. Dr. O’Hara let us know that Iron deficiency can cause sleep problems. Epilepsy, reflux & sinus problems can also affect sleeping. She said inadequate sleep hygiene, excessive light, noise or temperature of a room can affect sleeping. She said there could be a Melatonin deficiency, sleep apnea or restless legs syndrome affecting sleep. She encouraged families to connect to the sleep clinic at the hospital and get involved with the research study.

October 2012 brought Dr. Grace Gengoux, Clinical Instructor in the Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University. Her topic was Naturalistic Behavioral Strategies for Promoting Language & Social Development. She gave an overview of Pivotal Response Treatment (PRT). This strategy focuses on the relationship with the child, taking their lead and occurring in natural settings. Learning must be motiving she suggests. She reminds us that our kiddos with ASD are hard to motivate and they will engage faster if they are interested and it is meaningful or their choice. She stresses that Natural Reinforces promote generalization of the skill. She strongly supports our kiddos learning how to initiate & use cooperative activities where others must participate & have a role. She feels the parents make the best therapist two work with their child & so training them is key.

In November 2012 Dr. Peter Clive Mundy did his first appearance at the series. Dr. Mundy was working on a first volume manual entitled Autism for Educators. His work on establishing joint attention with kiddos on the spectrum is being worked on at the MIND Institute & is a joint venture with Stanford & University of Southern California in his SAV-Lab. When a child cannot follow a reference and share information with another, their learning will be impaired as well as their social engagement and communication.

January 2013 kicked off the New Year with Dr. Lisa Crone from Kaiser Permanente’s Genetic & Environmental Research Department. Dr. Crone’s Twin Study is a federally funded autism study. She described the project of looking at pre & perinatal methylation in the mother & father & child & the changes in DNA. Her study hopes to identify Biologic markers in genetics & environmental exposure. Another study will be looking at over 1200 mothers of children with autism at the start of a new pregnancy and follow them & the new baby through 36 months. She described the work of the Autism Treatment Network collaborating & being able to look at large samples & drawing better conclusions.

The February 2013 “Combining the Senses to Make the World Whole: Multi-Sensory Integration Deficits in ASD” was presented by Dr. Clifford Saron, Associate Research Scientist at the UC Davis Center for Mind & Brain. Dr. Saron first demonstrated how combining sensory information helps most of us detect & discriminate incoming information but so with the ASD population. There is known that people on the spectrum have challenges integrating sensory information & thus have challenges responding to their environment. Where typical people have a greater chance of identify something in their environment with cross sensory information (visual & auditory) this is not true for people on the spectrum. One may confuse the other. Dr. Saron suggested we create environments conducive to learning for our kiddos on the spectrum and remember their processing is different & must be understood & accommodated. He also believes strongly in having our kiddos engage in meditation to help sensory arousal and focus.

The April 2013 lecture with Dr. Robert Hendren, the Vice Chair of Psychiatry, Director of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry at UCSF, “Combining Clinical Evidence with Innovated Research brought some great information to families. Dr. Hendren really helped us to expand our vision of treatments. He invited us to realize that there will be different treatments at different levels. We must look at DNA, RNA, Cells, Physiological processes, Neuromodulators, Brain structure & Cognition& develop different interventions at each level. There may be biomedical treatments looking at immune & inflammation issues, Mitochrondrial function, Methylation, Oxidative Stress & Neurotransmitter production. He wanted us to know that UCSF & MIND were looking at Vitamin D, Omega3, Pancreatic digestive Enzymes & Methyl B12 treatments. He discussed studies on Memantine (Namenda) for socialization and N-Acdetylcystein (NAC) for irritability and Oxytocin for socialization. He discussed the use of Melatonin for sleep challenges. Dr. Hendren supports an integrative approach to ASD (Medical, Ancillary (Speech & Occupational Therapy), Behavioral, Pharmacology & Biomedical)

We ended the series in May 2013 with Dr. Elysa Marco from the UCSF Autism & Neurodevelopmental Center, Director of Research UCSF Department of Neurology, Psychiatry and Pediatrics and Assistant Clinical Professor of Child Neurology. Her topic was Sensory Processing in ASD & other Neurodevelopmental Disorders: From Scanner to School. Dr. Marco has been leading incredible research in the area of sensory processing & integration in clients with autism. It is clear that her research may indicate that the sensory processing challenges in these children cause many of their communication and social interaction challenges. Not only is her research indicating our kiddos hear, see, feel differently than their typical peers but when stimuli is presented simultaneously the integration is different. In order for our kiddos to learn and integrate their sensory processing challenges have to be considered. Classrooms, work spaces and homes will need to adapt for their success.

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!!)


Years Seemed to Fly By

During the 1st 4 years I was so proud to see the growth in students communication, independence, community access,  regulation & group participation.

I saw how Jazzy's confidence expanded as she took on new volunteer sites like San Mateo Credit Union and Savers.  I smiled when Jonathan tried new foods. I loved my meetings with Dominic as he shared his "Good Day" story with me.  I watched Alex's chair move closer and closer into his cirecle of classmates and I observed Toby, Amanda & others take their toilet icon to the bathroom with staff seveal paces behind them.

There were many success in program.

There were also many in infrastructure.

  • We held open houses inviting the community in
  • Updated our Web Site
  • Began a South Bay Autism Lecture Series
  • Began a South Bay Autism Resource Fair
  • I attended all Individual education planning meetings with districts & private families in the beginning
  • We developed a signature fundraiser
  • We develop a quarterly newsletter
  • We encouraged public schools to visit
  • We updated our curriculum & assessments
  • Increased parent observations & training
  • Established faculty ongoing training in all foundational areas
  • Added outside experts for mentoring
  • Established internships with Universities (OT programs, teacher training programs) http://www.dominican.edu/ , http://www.ndnu.edu/
  • Established partnerships with adult programs ( http://www.kainosusa.org/ )
  • Developed a social media presence (Face Book & Linked In)
  • Built a new school site
  • Expanded our student and faculty census

Knowledge of Wings Learning Center's program expanded throughout the special needs community....just like the arrivall of Dorothy in the "Land of OZ"

Today Wings is once again at a crossroad, with a bright future ahead but wondering in which direction to travel next.  A strategic planning process is in process & the board, community & I are imagining all the places we might go.

Future Roads To Journey for me

1) Mentor & coach future leadership

2) Identify new resources & enhance sustainability for Wings

3) Explore the idea of adding adult programing, consulting or  additional sites

So, for now I continue to Journey on with Wings Learning Center & explore my Global work in deveoping countries


A Great Model & Its' Okay to Let Go

When I arrived at Wings the faculty & team were feeling a sense of failure as they had been unable to find the most effective strategies to meet the needs of one of their long term students. They felt such a deep commitment to this student & his family that they continued to try interventions with little success, as not to let down anyone. I brought in an outside behavior specialist  to ensure we had tried all possibilities. The student was a young man who truly required a one on one program with all activities of his preference. If this did not occur his anxiety increased & physical ways of rejecting were faced by the team. His sensory sensitivities were also high & so activities within groups were very challenging. The team was tired.

It was my responsibility to help them understand that they had given this placement their greatest effort possible. Eight years plus of working with this student should be honored and valued. I tried to help them understand that Wings isn’t always going to be able to help every child & that is not failure on their part. I tried to explain that sometimes change of placements are the best intervention.

They were tired, other students were feeling the effect of the student & it was getting very hard to provide a program of benefit. It was our responsibility to recognize this, meet with the family & district & be a positive part of his moving on. This was hard on everyone, but needed.

Today this young man has his program based out of his home, with a one on one that can provide daily routines & activities that bring this young man a sense of satisfaction. Today this family is still very involved in Wings Learning Center.

Students come into Wings Learning Center without communication, with limited toileting skills, limited hygiene & independent living skills, rigidity, sensory challenges, poor motor planning & challenges with learning in a group, traveling safely in the community & accepting responsibility for their actions on others.

The strong foundational model that exists at Wings provides a way for all these learning differences to be helped & for students to acquire new skill sets but sometimes as hard as we try we are unable to meet the needs & so we help find other supports.

  • The TEACCH model (http://teacch.com )provides environmental structure & builds independence
  • Visual Schedules (http://www.child-autism-parent-cafe.com/visual-schedules.html )provide students with a place to start & finish &help decrease anxiety & support executive functioning challenge
  • Social Picture Stories http://thegraycenter.org/social-stories provide structure, build comprehension & help build positive alternative behaviors
  • PECS (http://www.pecs.com/ ) a picture communication system provides non-verbal students an opportunity to express themselves through pictures
  • AAC (Augmentative & Assistive Communication ) (http://www.asha.org/public/speech/disorders/AAC/ ) provides a variety of devices and software to students with a way to communicate their needs, wants, feelings and to respond to questions
  • Occupational Therapy (http://www.aota.org/consumers.aspx ) provides interventions to address fine motor, gross motor, motor planning, attention, focus, sensory processing & regulation, balance, strength and endurance so that students can better access their education and life
  • Speech Therapy (http://www.asha.org/public/speech/development/language_speech/ ) provides interventions to address receptive language, expressive language, pragmatics and voice challenges
  • The SCERTS (http://www.scerts.com/ ) model helps faculty plan effective goals in social communication & emotional regulation as well as identify effective supports for learning
  • Meaningful & purposeful activities are developed to engage students, increase generalization & help prepare the student to live with purpose
  • Interest-based activities are used to inspire and engage participation & learning and to value & build upon talents, interests and gifts which may lead to long term job opportunities, social & leisure activities & recreational opportunities

 A strong foundation exits at Wings Learning center & it was now time for the special education Community to know it.

Back on the School Path

Back on the School Path…. Wings Learning Center

My plans were to come in as the interim director, help the board build a highly respected program for students, families & staff; one the special needs community would honor & value. There were first year challenges: building trusting relationships with the faculty & families, taking care of state department of education requirements & building a sustainable budget.

First Year Lessons

  • Obtain input from ALL staff & faculty on strengths, challenges & needs
  • Meet with ALL the families & listen to concerns & expectations
  • Offer to meet with Special Education Local Plan Area & County & local districts to obtain feedback (good, bad or ugly)
  • Establish an open door policy with all stakeholders& be honest, transparent but establish boundaries
  • No matter how hard take care of all the RED FLAGS as professionally as you can
  • Observe every part of the program
  • Review ALL systems
  • Decisions will not be like by all
  • Some solutions will need to wait
  • Provide faculty & staff with knowledge they need to understand solutions proposed
  • Help faculty and staff develop professional boundaries
  • Be okay with asking too many questions (staff told me I asked too many), better solutions with greater knowledge
  • Be okay with my first faculty& staff evaluation not having high numbers (change is hard, new communication styles can be challenging)

A Drive Worthwhile

It was a long drive to Wings Learning Center, over the Golden Gate Bridge, down 280, then 92 & then 101 to the Whipple exit, but it was so, so worth it. Every teacher, every therapist & every instructional assistant was so committed to making a difference in the lives of the students with ASD attending the school. The Board of Directors were so passionate about making Wings the most effective program for children and families. I had my goals set for me the first year: resolve any & all system challenges, rebuild a sense of security for staff & families and find ways to help Wings become a sustainable organization. Okay…

I remember that the day I started was the same week Toby started. He could clear off a table full of objects & papers faster than anyone I knew. He had no communication system & dropped to the grown every few steps on his walk in the community so the staff figured a way to take him for walks with in a red wagon to begin with. This also stopped the darting off into the streets. He was unable to join group learning & required constant one on one to keep engaged.

With patience from the team, support from his family & the Wings Model, Toby not only grew taller, but acquired communication through pictures & then assistive technology. He not only learned to be in the community without being pulled in a wagon, but to access the library, grocery store & other community businesses with support. He also participates in group activities.

What I admired most about the faculty was their ability to remain calm, quiet & give the student time to process a direction before ever stepping in too fast with prompting. I had observed lots of educational programs where the teachers were constantly giving directions & making demands. If the student didn’t comply immediately they repeated & repeated. Not the Wings team. They waited, said nothing again. It was so satisfying. The Wings team were also experts at designing visual schedules, structuring tasks for success & designing meaningful lessons for the students to engage in. They were magical at writing social stories to help students prepare for new activities, learn social skills & learn new behaviors.

The therapists & the teachers worked collaboratively & the instructional assistants were treated as equal team players. I liked that a whole lot.

Yes it was well worth the 53 miles one way door to door from Marin County to San Mateo County.

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. so after nearly 6 years I was on the autism road.

I provided a 9 month notice, prepared myself to journey on & prepared  all the written systems for my successor.

I knew, like the Tin Man, in the wizard of OZ, that I had a great heart, as it was truly affected by this switch in the road but I also knew that what was ahead would not only help me grow but othes as well.

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 the community & 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/ ) all of which were connected to the Autism World in some way.

The Series (www.offerings.org) 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.  The series starts in September, one time a month and goes until May. The lectures are held at Marin County Office of Education in San Rafael. Connect with  me This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. & come learn how it feels to live on the spectrum each day of  your life.

Never Forget Kevin Browne

Never Forget Kevin Brown

I woke up today& realized I had not told you anything about Kevin Brown, a student of mine in my first public school program in Sacramento. Kevin was the eldest student selected to be in the first public school program designed for Autism in Sacramento Unified School district. He was 18 years old & had spent many years in Napa State Hospital because people told the Browns, that they would be” lucky if Kevin became marginally human”. I will never forget those words spoken by the parents when they interviewed me for my first position. The district was truly collaborative to include a parent of a child with ASD on the interview team for the first public school program (1973).

Kevin was an “Autistic Savant”. These individuals with autism have extraordinary skills not exhibited by most people. Ten percent of the autism population have savant abilities where as one per cent have these abilities in the general or intellectually challenged populations. Savant ability may take several forms (mathematics, memory, artistic and musical ability).

Remember the movie “Rain Man”? It exposed millions of people to the savant phenomena. Remember Raymond. He had an amazing memory for ball player statics, telephone book numbers & could count cards. He also remembered every airport crash in his life and how many people were killed.

We do not now truly how these abilities are possibly but one theory is that these people have incredible concentration ability & can focus on very specific areas of interest.

Kevin could tell you the exact day you were born on when you told him your date of birth. He could also add, subtract, multiply & divide any numbers in his head.

Kevin was rather out of place in a classroom situated on an elementary site, but he was always happy to come to school.   He had no behavior challenges & wanted to please. Kevin moved quickly onto an adult program in Sacramento. His parents, both teachers always made sure his knowledge increased as well as his independence. Kevin’s brother Vernon was a great brother & looked after Kevin when his parents passed on.

Kevin taught me to be careful how I said things during school time. He was amazing at repeating things he had heard & often not at exactly the appropriate times. I think one day I was a bit frustrated with the lateness of the bus driver once again & said some words to those facts. The next day the bus driver stop in to let me know that Kevin let him know I was frustrated.

Kevin enjoyed drawing. He actually drew the cover to my published book Reach Me Teach Me http://www.amazon.com/Reach-teach-autistic-handbook-administrators/dp/087879171X/ref=sr_1_1_twi_1_pap?ie=UTF8&qid=1438789274&sr=8-1&keywords=books+reach++me+teach+me+autism

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.

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.


There are many stories I could tell you about as I remember the images on the Autism Quilt, but it is time to move forward & tell you how I headed back home after serving as the Director of the School for students with emotional challenges

Three years into my work at the school for emotionally challenged in Sacramento, I received a call came from a head hunter. Four families of children on the spectrum were looking for a Director to help them develop, implement & expand their current private center located in Marin County.

I was ready to start my journey back home to Autism. I had overcome my doubts of not being knowledgeable enough, not taking enough risks & I was ready to deal with the heart-break of leaving all I had created in Sacramento (family, friends & career)

The needs of these 4 families & their mission to establish the best school in the North Bay Area & my father’s encouragement gave me the courage to Start All Over.

I spent nearly 6 years as the Director of Oak Hill School http://www.theoakhillschool.org/ located in Marin City in Marin County. I was involved in getting this school certified as a non-public school with the California Department of Education http://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/se/ds/npsacrtapp.asp & developing relationships with local school districts, the SELPA (Special Education Local Planning Agency) hiring, training, & supporting the team as well as heading all program expansion & being the liaison with the parents, state & districts were some of my roles.

I also unplugged toilets with the Plunger when needed!!!! My students actually liked observing that job responsibility most.

We grew from 11 students to 25, from two classrooms to four and went from 90% private placements to 90% public school placements in the years I directed

Wisdoms I Learned at Oak Hill

  • Therapists & Teachers are equal in importance & must work together to address the complex learning challenges of ASD
  • Faculty & staff need to connect personally to each other in order to support each other
  • It is the responsibility of the Head of School to help everyone see the positives of each day
  • It is important to find ways to support the strengths & challenges of your team & not to expect everyone to perform in the same manner as you
  • It is important to prepare your team to present professionally at all Individual Education Meetings & to make sure parents & the school team are on the same page
  • It is important to be honest with families about their student’s challenges
  • It is important, as a leader, to be able to say “NO” professional to faculty and families
  • Never compromise your values & beliefs for financial support
  • Never take NO without trying everything possible to reach an important goal
  • Say Thank You every way possible
  • Know when it is time to move on & leave to make sure everything is structured & organized for the program to continue to succeed for the students



Daddy’s Princess

Lisa had thick, soft red hair and this amazing smile. When she was excited should shake her head from side to side, mouth wide open, making a sound like “yeiou, yeiou, arms stretched out in front of her, hands rotating left & right like she was turning the knobs of a door handle.

Lisa sucked her thumb to soothe herself & isolated herself when upset. She took her socks off frequently & twirled them around in front of her eyes. This twirling helped her regulate. I was in the kitchen preparing lunch & Lisa ran from the back of the house, crying and upset. My attempts to offer her comfort resulted in her putting her hand up and turning her back on me. She paced back and forth head down, twirling her sock. Her crying lessened. I watched her reflection in the window as she calmed herself down & was then ready to return to her daily routine, the sock now quiet by her side.

I remember how Lisa’s Dad spoke about her. I loved watching the way he adored this little red headed child with autism who could not say Daddy or let him know how safe he made her feel. You could see it in his eyes as he sat still and waited for her to just sit next to him. I loved the way Ken accepted his daughter for who she was and always maintained a sense of hope.

Statistics told us that nearly 40 per cent of children with ASD develop seizures during adolescents. Lisa was about 13 when she had her first seizure. Doctors asked us to maintain a log and keep a close eye on her. Within 6 months Lisa started to have seizures on a regular basis and doctors places her on medication. We kept a close eye on her especially in the evenings when her seizures happened most frequently. Bed checks were every 15 minutes at the Kaplan Foundation School.

Lisa responded well to structure, visual supports & the use of task analysis when learning her skills of daily living. In the beginning she required physical prompts, which faded to tactile, visual and then verbal. She learned best one on one but learned to work with another student and wait her turn. Toilet training was implemented during the first 6 months using Toileting Training in One Day by Azrin & Fox (without the doll). Lisa reached her goal one year later.

During the school day Lisa used a visual picture schedule and completed her independent work at TEACCH stations. During after school hours and weekends, Lisa and her house buddies engaged in every activity their typical peers engaged in (playing at parks, bowling, going to museums, talking walks, attending festivals, making trips to the library, going to the mall, dining out, going to the zoo, having picnics at the lake, swimming and roller skating.)

While the Kaplan Foundation served children until age 22, an adult program placement came available on her 18th birthday and her family needed to take advantage of the opening. Fearing that there would be no opening at age 22, Lisa was moved from the Kaplan Foundation. She had been at the Kaplan Foundation since she was 6. She had been one of the original 6. I would miss her smile, her red hair her quirky sounds and her innocence.

One of the saddest days was when I heard from her dad that Lisa had passed away. It was the first time I would attend a funeral for one of my students. It appears that Lisa’s seizure disorder was not carefully supervised at her adult program. She experienced status epileptic one evening & her staff did not notice. I still can see her beautiful face and amazing smile.









A day of Deep Pressure and Crashing into Fences

Most of our kiddos aren’t excited about exercise but it is one of the most effective regulatory strategies.

Kyle loved the water. He loved swimming under the water where his body could be totally surrounded by deep pressure of the water. His mom use to put a life jacket on him, tie a 100 foot rope to the back of the jacket and let him swim for hours in the lake whenever they went camping.

He also loved rollerblading but would run directly into the wooden fence to feel the deep pressure of the wood hitting against his skates. Once he learned to ride a bike he also ran the bike into the fence to feel the jolt from the impact. He would let us know by his huge smile and laugh each time he crashed.

Today, through the research of licensed Occupational Therapist, Jane Ayers we understand how proprioceptive activities like jumping, pushing, pulling, climbing. Swimming and heavy lifting help children with Autism Spectrum Disorders regulate themselves and reduce anxiety. Sensory integration intervention and sensory processing intervention play a key role in the therapeutic planning for children with ASD.

Kyle often slept better, had less body rotation and hand rotation when he had a day filled with swimming, rollerblading and biking.

Indonesia Reflections on my 2015 Visit

When I think of my time on Bali & Java, I am filled with the images of children, their families, their teachers & therapists smiling as they welcome suggestions, knowledge, ideas, & methods & above all hope. Yes, hope for their sons, daughters, students or clients with autism, ADD/ADHD, downs syndrome, cerebral palsy or some type of developmental learning challenge.

I first think of the smiles on our two wheel-chair bound children from YPK, as they held their soccer balls high in the air atop orange cones as their drivers got them as close to the soccer nets as possible so they could toss their balls into the goals. Wow, such huge smiles because they were outside on a soccer field with normal children while coaches (my sons) helped them go through a variety of soccer drills just like everyone else.

Next I remember the tears running down the face of Ibu (mother) Panji, whose son has autism, when she realized, during my workshop on “Siblings Matter Too”, that brothers & sisters of children with special needs will also require some special understanding & attention because their sibling has special needs. I realized that a second sadness was felt by Ibu Panji, first knowing that one of her sons would never do the typical things all normal children in Bali do & second that she must stay alert to the emotions of her other children.

I remember the laughs & giggles of the 275 participants at the IMPATI (Indonesia Autism Society) workshop I presented in Jakarta, Java on “Building A Curriculum for Students with Autism”, when I had all of them stand up, jump, shake, turn around, stretch, twist, take deep breaths every 30 minutes to demonstrate how important for children with special needs to also have breaks & to move if we wanted them to keep focused & engaged.

I will not forget the looks on the Sari Hati teachers & volunteers’ faces when I joined their group & was able to get the group of the most active kiddos with special needs all seated in a circle of chairs beating drums. They were so surprised to see that this one young child who never sits, was sitting in my lap indicating his desire to obtain deep pressure from my squeezing his hands, arms, shoulders & back. Kent was very happy to know that some children respond with deep pressure in a calming manner & when also pounding drums receive deep proprioceptive input which can be calming as well.

Then there were the smiles on the 4 special needs children, learning in Ibu Gusti’s center, who were so proud to show me their colorful drawings. I loved watching one little girl take pride in learning how to brush her hair & her teacher teaching her how important it is to care about her hygiene. I will remember our discussions on how to teach math in a meaningful way (making shopping lists, counting out needed items at the store and making change when purchasing). Next year I look forward to bringing a special writing program to the center to help improve handwriting.

I will cherish my time spent with founders, board members, directors & administrators of programs listening to their hopes, dreams & challenges & exploring solutions with them. I will remember their openness, caring, their hope for better futures for children with special needs & their honest intentions to do the best they can for children, families, staff & the community. I was happy to help people think about strategic planning instead of living only in the day. I was happy to help others think about learning from other programs on the island & showing a consistent presence in their centers so excellent modeling could occur. Finally, I was happy to connect resources that live on the island, to each other so that together greater things are possible.

I look forward to my next visit & bringing academic teaching strategies, special curriculums & information on specific topics to the teachers. I look forward to connecting more dots together on the island to build collaboration. I look forward to facilitating problem solving strategies with teams who truly want to make a difference in the lives of those who learn differently.

A Center of Emotional Well Being In Bali

About a 30 minute drive from Ubud, there is a special village, where Ibu Gusti has lived with her family. Her father was a very talented carver prior to the bombings & their property was used to create amazing pieces of work. Today it provides education for all. It’s a safe & caring center. It is calm, well organized & emotionally supporting to all.

In the morning children with learning challenges come to the center. In the afternoon typical children who need support in regular subjects, attend.

I enjoyed watching a special teacher work with 4 children with special needs who had been deemed, un-teachable or asked to leave their area’s public school do to their overactive behavior. They sat on a soft pillow in a circle just like their peers. Their eyes were engaged in the story read by their teacher just like their typical peers. They answered questions & all appeared too really like the story, just like their regular peers.

Most of these children appear to have cognitive delays & one perhaps attention deficit disorder. All have challenges learning to read, write & learn math.   The girls came with their heads down with fears of offering anything.

At this well-structured center with people who believe in their capability, they learn. The center is using visual pictures to support, slower pace teaching & first teaches them to be clean & well groomed. This gives them pride.

Ibu Gusti & I spoke about some additional strategies that might help the children learn to write & color. We discussed some ideas on how teach math & reading in more practical ways, instead of through memorization or ditto work. She is going to start, in the new school year, having the students make shopping lists & obtain specific numbers of items to learn quantity. She will also have them cut fruits & count the slices & also begin to see times during the day they can count out items each other need. It is also my hope to bring them the Hand Writing without Tears Program next year & demonstrate how to use at their center. I explained how they might use different grades of sandpaper for tracing the letters of the alphabet or learning to color in lines.   We talked about using grips on pencils to help, slant boards for writing & to read books about Balinese children instead of books from other countries.

We discussed how to prepare her students to go visit community places (shops, museums, post office) by using Carol Gray’s Social Story method of using pictures & words to describe those activities before going. We discussed her reading these stories the whole week before they go to the new place. This will prepare them, reduce anxiety, increase communication & understanding.

All four children finished their coloring project, we celebrated their success & their smiles were huge!!!

Open for Inclusive Education in Bali

It was wonderful meeting with about 120 teachers, administrators & parents who are hoping to successfully include children with learning differences into their schools. First I gave a workshop, toured & finally met with administrators.

They are already accepting some children with ADD/ADHD & Asperger into their programs. They are already wondering how they will teach their current 23 children while meeting the needs of the 24th student who learns differently. The teachers are already asking if I think it is possible to teach 24 students with only two teachers in each classroom. The kindergarten is asking, the elementary is asking & the middle school is asking.

The classrooms, in one school, a school for 407 students, are nicely organized with designated centers to teach Math, Writing, Art, Circle Time, Play, Science and Language Arts. Several children share a table while doing their assignments or activity, no individual desks.

There is a written schedule for the students, a place for their water bottles & personal items. The rooms are colorful & happy places in which to learn.

I tell them it is great that they have labeled each center in words & perhaps a picture could be added that is meaningful. I suggested they might cover the shelves of enticing materials when they are not supposed to be available for children’s choice. I suggest that they remove wall materials & bring them out when they are actually being referred to, decreasing the amount of stimuli & making it easier for the child with learning difference to isolate what is important to attend to.

The presentation was divided into 3 parts. The first was looking at the difference between a typical child & a child with Autism. The second was a discussion on ADD/ADHD, the differences & what teachers can do to support. The final hour together was a period of questions & discussions.

They asked how do they get a child to play in a group of 5. She was 5 years old. I asked if the child knew how to share yet. I asked if the child could play with one other child yet. Did she know how to use the play materials? Yes she knew how to play with puzzles & blocks but not with the animals. I suggested they start with toys she clearly knew what to do with. I suggested they just pair her with one other child & divide materials in half & work on doing play together, sharing the materials (blocks, puzzle pieces). I suggested they wait for some time to expect her to join their imaginary play with animals. They must first teach her to play with animals.

Then they share with me about a new student who did not want to do anything but discuss the Universe. He was refusing to do anything else. This student had been diagnosed as Asperger. He was in Middle School. We discussed the concept of First/Then, Non-Preferred/Preferred. We discussed the need to be calm, but to build boundaries & expectations. We discussed the need to help the student learn that he cannot always do only what he wants. I showed them how to ask the student to only do a very, very short math problem before he gets to work on the Universe. They we discussed how to increase the number of math problems before working on the Universe.

One teacher explained that her student with special needs kicked or hit his friends to engage them. I asked if he knew how to play the games his friends did. I asked if he knew how to ask to join activities. They said they told him his friends would not like him or play if he was mean to them. I told them, that is only half the process. They must help him learn the expected behavior to use. We discussed using Carol Gray’s Social Story Curriculum and Michelle Garcia Winner’s Expected & Unexpected method to help this child learn. I discussed both strategies.

After the larger workshop had ended I met with the principals of each program, kindergarten, elementary and middle school. They were all so open to learning how to help support these included children.

We discussed the concerns of their teachers & the need for them to help mentor them. I suggested that they meet with each teacher & have them identify one or two suggestions I had made that they felt they could implement. Then I suggested the administrator help make it happen with them.

They shared that they do not always know if the child coming into the center has a specific learning challenge or what it is. We discussed the application process & ways to find out before a child starts. We discussed designing a different admission process for these children. Perhaps starting half day at first so the teachers can get to know them, the other children accept them & the student themselves learning the way this new school works. We discussed how important it is to work with the family on admissions & to involve them in all interventions used.

We discussed the need to teach teachers about disabilities, teaching strategies & classroom management. We discussed the need for them to truly identify the type of child they can take & how many they can place in each classroom before there is a negative effect on the children, the teachers & the school.

The administrators seemed very excited about the suggestions.

It is my hope to work with these teachers while I am home through email & to return again to mentor.