Decreasing Neurological Stress

by: Lisa Rogers

How do we decrease neurological stress?  The following is an excerpt from my recent book titled Visual Supports for Visual Thinkers: Practical Ideas for Students with ASDs and Other Special Educational Needs.
A research team funded by the National Institutes of Health (2006) found that, in people with autism, brain areas normally associated with visual tasks also appear to be active during language-related tasks, providing evidence to explain a bias towards visual thinking that is common in autism.beliefs, aspie
Although grammatically incorrect, the following statement is about neurological processing. Visual’s a strength, auditory ain’t. As you say this, make goggles and cover your eyes with your hands. Then, cup your hands and make ear muffs over your ears. This will help your brain to remember an essential understanding that is the foundation for taking a different course of action when responding to the behavior of those struggling with neurological stress.
To process information auditorily means to capture transient information, the spoken word, interpret its meaning and find the most appropriate response within the vast catalog of possibilities in the brain. That requires a great deal of work for any brain, but often becomes a daunting task for individuals with ASDs. If someone gave you a list of 20 grocery items to buy verbally, you would probably be able to remember the first six or seven and forget the others. To decrease your stress about keeping all 20 items in your brain and increase the likelihood that you will successfully purchase the entire list, you would probably want to write them down.  Furthermore, you feel a sense of accomplishment as you check off each item.

How is Autism Diagnosed? Part One

So, how is Autism diagnosed? Until recently, autism spectrum disorders (ASD), including Aspergers Syndrome, have been understood as a range of complex neurodevelopment disorders—characterized by social impairments, difficulties in verbal and non-verbal communication, and restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behavior.

Psychological therapy

Changes in definition have been proposed and accepted by different organizations and groups in the United States and other parts of the world. The changes have been discussed in other posts; meanwhile, I will address how autism is diagnosed.

At the present time, a single test to diagnose autism does not exist. We do know that a biological or single genetic marker has not been identified, thus, autism cannot be diagnosed with a blood test or imaging studies. It is rather a diagnosis that is primarily identified by behavioral and developmental differences.

As parents know their children better than anyone else, they are usually the first to suspect their child is following a different developmental trajectory.

Autism has its roots in very early development—many parents would report that they saw differences shortly after birth—however, signs of Autism are usually apparent between the first and second birthdays.

Suspect Aspergers?

Our son has Aspergers Syndrome. However, getting the diagnosis didn’t come easy and the path to that diagnosis was rocky to say the least. That was over 10 years ago and still the following checklist we received from our school district is the best heads-up to having Aspergers Syndrome that I’ve seen to date. It cuts to the chase.

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The following is only meant as a ‘checklist’. Remember, this is not an official document, and is only meant to act as a flag for a strong suspicion of Aspergers Syndrome, a doctor or trained therapist would need to make the official diagnosis.

However if you are looking for a guideline of sorts, it doesn’t get much better or black and white than the form below. It was spot on for us describing our son Sam. We’ve also put it in a downloadable format at the bottom. May it lead you towards illumination!                  -Jennifer Allen/Aspergers101

Summer College Experiences Can Greatly Benefit ASD Students

The summer between high school graduation and the first day of college classes can be both exciting and anxiety-producing. It can be for anyone, really, but it may be especially so for individuals diagnosed with ASD. Challenges with executive functioning and theory of mind may make aspects important to the transition– planning for it, for example, or knowing who to go to for necessary advice to help with the transition – a significant hurdle to overcome.

Can Success be Predicted for College Students with ASD?

Having a practical experience on a college campus prior to the move-in day may be a good way to overcome some of the challenges associated with transition to college.

Marshall University first developed a college experience for high school students diagnosed with ASD in 2008. Each summer dozens of rising seniors (students who have completed their junior year of high school and are entering their senior year) spend five weeks on campus.

They take a course of their choosing for college credit, live in dorms, and eat meals in a college cafeteria. Students receive one-on-one mentoring from the staff of the West Virginia Autism Training Center, and attend skill-building groups during their stay.

General goals of the summer college experience include:

Aspergers and Sensitivity to Color: Interior Designer Focuses on Interiors for Those with Autism

The interior designer who caters to sensory issues

When our youngest son was no more than 6 years old, we would enter a restaurant or someone’s home and he would throw up. He told us it was a picture or something on the wall that made him so ill.

I thought it had to be due to the content of the picture but after years of testing we found out it was the color! Yes, oftentimes those with sensory issues are not just sensitive to sound and noise, but also have a severe sensitivity to loud splashes of color.

The following article discusses an interior designer who takes that sensitivity in mind when decorating. If she can do it, we can too!

-Jennifer Allen

Designer Focuses On Interiors For Those With Autism

With her son Devin’s needs in mind, A.J. Paton-Wildes chose neutral colors for the walls and new flooring in the living room of their Oak Park Heights, Minn., home. As an interior designer, Paton-Wildes incorporates her personal experience with Devin, who has autism, to help create calming spaces for those on the spectrum. (Jeff Wheeler/Minneapolis Star Tribune/TNS)

MINNEAPOLIS — A.J. Paron-Wildes’ home, a walk-out rambler in suburban Oak Park Heights, Minn., is a study in calm — all clean, uncluttered spaces and earthy, neutral hues that echo the autumn leaves framing the view of the St. Croix River. On an autumn afternoon, daughter Eva, 6, is having an after-school snack, while son Devin, 19, sketches intently, seated at the studio desk in his orderly bedroom.

This peaceful environment is entirely by design. When you have a child child with autism, calm is a precious commodity — and Paron-Wildes has become an expert at creating it, starting in her own home.

That journey started 16 years ago when Devin was diagnosed with autism at age 3. “It was very traumatic,” Paron-Wildes recalled.

At that time, Devin didn’t speak but was prone to explosive tantrums when he was upset or confused. “He’d drop to the floor and start screaming.” She and her husband stopped bringing Devin to the grocery store or on other errands because they never knew what might trigger an eruption. “We’d have to drop everything and leave.”

At the time of Devin’s diagnosis, Paron-Wildes was a very young interior designer, only recently graduated from the University of Minnesota. “I thought, ‘There’s got to be some great research’” about designing spaces for children with autism, but she was wrong. “There was nothing,” she recalled. “Everything was done in the ’70s, when kids were institutionalized.”

Determined to keep Devin at home, Paron-Wildes committed herself to creating an environment where he could learn and thrive. So she started educating herself — by working backwards.

She read books about autism, and pored over studies about the neurological workings of the brain, becoming fascinated by the different ways people with autism perceive colors, patterns and lighting. She tried to determine what design elements would likely trigger difficult behavior — and then did the opposite, learning through trial and error.

“You can’t really get the information by asking, ‘Is this too bright for you?’ ‘Does this make you dizzy?’ You have to watch for cues,” she said.

Devin, too, was watching for cues. That’s a necessary strategy for children with autism, who usually develop language skills much later than their peers. Those who have difficulty communicating verbally often look to their environment for cues about what’s happening and how they should respond, Paron-Wildes said. They crave order and are easily distracted by its absence. They read meaning into seemingly random visual signals, and tend to be hypersensitive to harsh artificial light and to environmental toxins.

Paron-Wildes learned that the Crayola-bright, busy spaces most people consider kid-friendly — “like Ronald McDonald threw up” — are so stimulating that they can easily confuse and overwhelm a child with autism.

She remembers taking a young Devin to speech therapy — “in a room with a jungle gym and kids running around screaming.” The lesson was going nowhere, until she suggested moving it to a closet, the only quiet place available. There, Devin started to respond.

Information about autism and design may have been scarce when Paron-Wildes began searching for it, but that’s changing as autism rates have soared. The incidence may now be as high as 1 in 50 children, a 72 percent increase since 2007, according to a 2013 report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That means Paron-Wildes’ expertise is increasingly in demand. “People think, ‘Oh, I have to redesign my whole house?’” she said. “No. Pay attention to the areas where the child needs to learn.” Those areas, as well as rooms where children rest and sleep, should be well-organized and orderly, with minimal distraction and muted, warm colors. “I’ve painted many little boys’ rooms pink — it tends to be a calming color,” she said.

She has worked with the University of Minnesota to develop research and design principles, co-chaired the Minnesota Autism Task Force, has written a trilogy of e-books on “Design for Autism” and spoke on “Design Empathy” for architects at a recent AIA Minnesota convention.

The bouncy, enthusiastic designer managed to work an autism joke — with a message — into her presentation. Pointing out a mustard-yellow circle at the corner of each page of her PowerPoint, she asked: “How many of you are wondering what that is there for? I did that to confuse you!” she added with a girlish laugh. “That’s what it’s like for kids (with autism).”

A designer for the AllSteel workplace furniture firm, Paron-Wildes also consults with schools, medical facilities and other organizations that serve children with autism and their families. (Most of her consulting work is done pro bono.) At this point, she could probably do autism-related design full-time, but she enjoys working on a wide range of projects. “If my whole life was autism, I would lose perspective.”

One recent consulting project involved working with designers from Perkins + Will on a new space for Fraser, a program Devin attended from age 3 to 6. The designers transformed a former Life Time Fitness office into a speech and occupational therapy site for children with autism and others.

Paron-Wildes pointed out design features on a recent visit. Treatment rooms and “meltdown areas,” where children often struggle with transitions from one activity to another, are quiet and neutral. “It’s easier to add color than to take it away,” she said. In other areas, brighter hues are used as way-finding cues, guiding children down hallways and to color-coded cubbies. Most flooring is kept simple. “If you make a pattern, the kids will follow it.”

There’s a lot more color and pattern in the reception area, however, where parents wait for their children and sometimes meet with therapists.

“One of the biggest complaints in centers is that parents feel like they’re in an institution,” Paron-Wildes said. She vividly remembers the stark waiting room she sat in when she first heard Devin’s diagnosis 16 years ago. “It felt very institutional. There was nothing to look at. It added to the aloneness and trauma.”

Parents feel calmer and more comfortable in a vibrant, upbeat environment. “It’s all psychological,” she said. “These parents want to feel like their child is going to a school — a fun school — not to treatment.”

Today, Devin is a verbal and affectionate teen who graduated from high school, went to prom and has developed into a gifted artist. He hopes to study art further; his work has won numerous awards and is proudly displayed throughout the family’s house.

That house, too, was chosen and designed with Devin’s needs in mind. Up until last year, Paron-Wildes and her family lived in a historic house in Stillwater, Minn. It was not calm, at least not after Devin’s sister joined the family. “We didn’t think we’d have a second kid,” Paron-Wildes said. “Then we had Ava. She’s a screamer. It was hard on Devin. We were having a lot of behavioral issues.”

So they found another house, one with plenty of separation between the kids’ rooms. Devin has a large bedroom with a lofted ceiling and a big window overlooking the river. “It’s really quiet up here; the 6-year-old doesn’t bother him,” his mother said. His room has lots of natural light and views of nature, which he loves studying through his telescope. There’s even an adjacent “Lego room” where he can retreat to build elaborate structures. Devin didn’t want to move at first — transitions are still difficult — and threatened to run away. But he soon adjusted. “He is so comfortable here — he loves his space,” Paron-Wildes said. “We have zero issues now.”

By 

Copyright © 2014 Disability Scoop, LLC. All Rights Reserved

School Bullying and Aspergers in Middle School: Know Your Legal Rights

It’s understood that bullying will happen to those who have Aspergers Syndrome, especially during the challenging middle school years. Where can you turn? One school counselor discusses your options in this edition of Top of the Spectrum News.

School Bullying: Your Legal Rights

Guest(s): Richard Behrens

Academic and Campus Accommodations for College with Aspergers

Autism and Higher Education

Prevalence of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) has risen significantly since first described in the 1940s. The Center for Disease Control estimates currently 1 in 68 children in the United States lives with an ASD diagnosis, and that 46% of those diagnosed have average to above average intelligence.

University Of Tennessee Hill

A large body of literature describes the significant, life-long difficulties faced by many individuals diagnosed with ASD. The support needs for college students diagnosed with more traditional disabilities are well documented.

There is a lack of information, however, in regard to effectively supporting the college instruction of students with Asperger’s Disorder, and how to support their navigation of a campus society.

Ellison, Clark, Cunningham, and Hansen (2013) explored the phenomenon of providing effective supports to college students diagnosed with Asperger’s Disorder. Investigators convened a panel of experts to provide input on the topic, and then categorized common themes identified by panel members. Their research was published in the peer-reviewed Southern Regional Council on Educational Administration Yearbook 2013.

The survey resulted in the creation of the Benchmarks of Effective Supports for College Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders. That documents is available as a PDF file on this website (you can find it at the end of this article).

Research Conclusions on the Supports Needed Most for College Students with ASD:

Raising A Superhero with ASD

Superhero: a fictional hero having extraordinary or superhuman powers; an exceptionally skillful or successful person – Merriam-Webster Dictionary

When the time came for me to have children, there were a lot of options and situations that I knew I needed to be prepared for. Though I have to admit, majority of my thoughts were about choosing nursery bedding and baby names. Would I use cloth diapers or regular? What stroller and diaper bag should I get?  While many things came to mind, it had never occurred to me that I needed to prepare myself to raise a real life superhero.

When I see my son, I don’t just see a child with Autism that needs help to be part of the world. I see a superhero who can teach me and others far more about the world than I could ever teach him.

I see the most amazing, dedicated, triumphant child who has a unique skill set unlike any other: a boy with the truest, honest, kindest heart that I’ve ever seen, with great passion for life and extraordinary interests. He is a person with a special connection to extraordinary individuals and a trusting heart that doesn’t judge. I see so many magnificent qualities in him, but the reality is that it is not all cake and rainbows.

Boy plays super hero at sunset.

The hardest part about raising a superhero is watching the battles that they encounter daily.

Watching them not only battle the outside forces in their environment, but the battle within their own body. There is no way to truly document how that feels as a mother because it is indescribable. However, watching your child discover the world in a way that most people could never imagine is the indescribable counterbalance to it all.

Everyone has their own philosophy on how to raise a child on the spectrum and I respect that. For me, the question often isn’t about how to raise a child with autism. It is how can I help foster his inner superhero? How can I help him build upon the wonderful foundation that he already has, and how can I help further develop the person that he is?

It is hard as an autism parent; mostly because there is a fine line between trying to help facilitate the kind of growth that will better prepare him for this world and how and when to let him soar and just be him. I think many parents of children on the spectrum struggle trying to find exactly where that line is in a life full of therapists and interventions.

Is Higher Education Ready to Support Students with Asperger’s? Part 3

Independent Living

In 2013 I surveyed disability service professionals at 578 degree-granting, four-year public institutions of higher education. The survey was designed to determine the current readiness of higher education to support the academic, social and communication, and independent living needs of college students diagnosed with Asperger’s Disorder.

230 colleges participated in the survey. The survey was designed around the Benchmarks of Effective Supports for College Students with Asperger’s Disorder , a checklist of efforts determined by experts as integral to effective college supports for this student population.

The 2013 study demonstrated college students with Asperger’s Disorder required specialized supports, and that disability services available traditionally on campus to this population were generally ineffective. It explored, in part, whether or not colleges had specialized supports for this student population outside of traditional disability services.

This article is the third in a three-part series that reports the outcomes of that research. Read Part 1 and Part 2 of this series.

Challenging Behaviors and Appropriate Skills in ABA Explained

As I mentioned in my previous blog, there are thousands of published research studies to support the effectiveness of ABA in treating autism and Aspergers. Specifically, ABA seeks to decrease challenging behaviors and increase appropriate skills that are seen in many individuals with autism or Aspergers.

Challenging Behaviors and Appropriate Skills in ABA

To help understand what your ABA therapist seeks to accomplish, let’s cover what these terms mean:

Challenging Behaviors

Challenging behaviors refer to those behaviors that put the individual in danger, put others around them in danger, or prohibit/limit a person’s use and access to community facilities (Emerson et al., 1987).

Let’s say a 12-year old with high functioning autism, “Jake,” told his overweight teacher that she is fat. The teacher, who was very insulted by the comment and the conversation that followed, sent him to the principal’s office for bad behavior.

From Jake’s perspective, he didn’t understand why he was in trouble for telling the truth. If Jake engages in these types of behaviors regularly, he may soon be unable to access his general education classroom.

As such, this behavior is considered a challenging one that an ABA therapist can help address.

Appropriate Skills

On the other hand, appropriate skills refer to skills that a person needs to be successful. Those skills take into account the person’s chronological age and their cognitive level of functioning.

Appropriate skills include the following: