iPads used to help Florida preschool children with autism

A Ft. Lauderdale preschool program for children with autism has raised enough money to buy an iPad for each of its 18 classrooms.

As United Press International reports, the tablets are loaded with applications such as Proloquo2Go, a communication app that allows users to select phrases and words to make sentences.

The school raised the money for the iPads in an “18 iPads in 18 Days” donation initiative.The Baudhuin Preschool, located at the Mailmen Segal Institue at Nova Southeastern University, specializes in teaching children with autism spectrum disorders with programs designed for pre-kindergarten students.

The school teaches about 150 students through a contract with the Broward County Board of Education.

via Faster Forward – iPads used to help children with autism.

Autistic children have trouble catching on to patterns in real-world scenarios

Children with autism spectrum disorder ASD often exhibit a heightened ability to pick out patterns and excel at other visual-spatial tests. But a new study puts this presumption to the test in a more real-world scenario and finds that ASD kids are actually found wanting when it comes to search skills.

The stereotype that ASD children are good with patterns and searching have been based largely on small-scale tests, such as computer- or table-top-based assays. But these tests “fail to model abilities in the larger-scale context that is typical of everyday life, including finding carrots in the grocery store, looking for one’s keys in the kitchen,” noted researchers in the new study, which was published online December 20 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

via Observations: Autistic children have trouble catching on to patterns in real-world scenarios.

Toddlers with autism show improved social skills following targeted intervention

Targeting the core social deficits of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) in early intervention programs yielded sustained improvements in social and communication skills even in very young children who have ASD, according to a study funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), part of the National Institutes of Health. The study was published online December 8, 2010, in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.

Although some research suggests that ASD may be reliably diagnosed earlier than the current average age of 3 years, few interventions have been tested in children younger than 3.

During the course of typical development, children learn to interact with others in socially meaningful ways. Measures of social communication include:

* Initiation of joint attention—spontaneously directing others’ attention to something of interest, such as by pointing or holding something up to show for social purposes rather than to ask for help

* Affect sharing—sharing emotions with others through facial expressions paired with eye contact

* Socially engaged imitation—imitating others’ actions while showing social connectedness through eye contact.

Deficits in such measures are hallmark symptoms of ASD and can severely limit a child’s ability to engage in and learn from interactions with others or from the world around them.

via Toddlers with autism show improved social skills following targeted intervention | Bioscience Technology Online.

Autism Society of America’s holiday tips for families living with autism

The Autism Society of America has 12 great tips for the holidays. Whether you are thinking about holiday food, gift giving, or Christmas decorating, preparation (tip #1) is key.

While many happily anticipate the coming holiday season, families of people on the autism spectrum also understand the special challenges that may occur when schedules are disrupted and routines broken. Our hope is that by following these few helpful tips, families may lessen the stress of the holiday season and make it a more enjoyable experience for everyone involved. The following tips were developed with input from the Autism Society, the Indiana Resource Center for Autism, Easter Seals Crossroads, the Sonya Ansari Center for Autism at Logan and the Indiana Autism Leadership Network..

1. Preparation is crucial for many individuals. At the same time, it is important to determine how much preparation a specific person may need. For example, if your son or daughter has a tendency to become anxious when anticipating an event that is to occur in the future, you may want to adjust how many days in advance you prepare him or her. Preparation can occur in various ways by using a calendar and marking the dates of various holiday events, or by creating a social story that highlights what will happen at a given event.

2. Decorations around the house may be disruptive for some. It may be helpful to revisit pictures from previous holidays that show decorations in the house. If such a photo book does not exist, use this holiday season to create one. For some it may also be helpful to take them shopping with you for holiday decorations so that they are engaged in the process. Or involve them in the process of decorating the house. And once holiday decorations have been put up, you may need to create rules about those that can and cannot be touched. Be direct, specific and consistent.

3. If a person with autism has difficulty with change, you may want to gradually decorate the house. For example, on the first day, put up the Christmas tree, then on the next day, decorate the tree and so on. And again, engage them as much as possible in this process. It may be helpful to develop a visual schedule or calendar that shows what will be done on each day.

via Autism Society of America: Holiday Tips for Families Living with Autism.

For autistic boy, a Bocelli concert in Boston

Tenor Andrea Bocelli gave three front-row seats to his show in Boston to a 10-year-old with autism who is a huge fan of the opera star. George Maroun III is non-verbal, but all you have to do is watch him grin and sway in his seat to see how much he loved the Bocelli concert.

BOSTON — An opera superstar, tenor Andrea Bocelli, took center stage at the TD Garden Sunday night in a performance many in the audience will likely never forget.

But it’s what happened backstage with a very special fan of the star that stole the show.

The boy, a 10-year-old with autism, has always felt a special connection with Bocelli and for the Amherst New Hampshire native, and his dreams came true when he got to see the star in person.

George Maroun III, a fourth-grader, has listened to Bocelli every day of his life. He is diagnosed as autistic, non-verbal, and he has never said a single word in his life, not even “mom” or “dad,” but Bocelli has helped him communicate and thrive.

Sunday night, he suited up in a tuxedo and was allowed to stay up late on a school night to attend the Bocelli concert in Boston.

His mother said Bocelli’s music has been magic in the child’s life.

via For Autistic Boy, Opera Is Dream Come True – Most Popular News Story – WCVB Boston.

Artist helps Florida students with autism express themselves

NEW PORT RICHEY – Adam Schmiz had the oil pastels, the paper and the freedom to create whatever he wanted, but the artistic muse refused to kick in.

Artist Mindy S. Egert decided to give the 12-year-old a little coaxing and a pep talk.

“You know what you can do, Adam?” she said. “You can close your eyes and draw with your eyes closed. It doesn’t matter. Art is from you and it’s all wonderful in my opinion.

“Adam began to draw.

It was one more small victory in the autism/varying exceptionalities class at Seven Springs Middle School, where Egert is serving as an artist in residency and giving a creative boost to the nine students in teacher Kala Hamilton’s classroom.

About half the students are autistic and the others have other disabilities, Hamilton said.”It’s very hard for these kids to focus five minutes,” Hamilton said during a one-hour lesson with Egert this week. “It’s already been 11 minutes, and they are still very involved.

Egert’s visits to Hamilton’s classroom are made possible through the VSA Florida Artist in Residency Program, which is based at the University of South Florida’s College of Education.

via Artist helps disabled Pasco students express themselves.

Playing with Legos help children with autism adapt

In an attempt to help children with autism learn the building blocks of creativity, researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center tapped a toy box staple for help — Legos. By building Lego structures in new and unique ways, children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) learned to use creativity, an important skill that they had seen as very challenging prior to the study.

“In every day life we need to be able to respond to new situations,” said Deborah A. Napolitano, Ph.D., BCBA-D., the study’s principal investigator and assistant professor of Pediatrics at URMC’s Golisano Children’s Hospital. “If a child has only a rote set of skills, it’s hard to be successful.”

Many children with ASD can become frustrated and uncomfortable when asked to break out of repetitive activities and create something new. Using Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), the science of figuring out how to target and systematically change a specific behavior, the study’s researchers succeeded in teaching all six children with ASD in the study to play with Legos in a more creative way. The study’s findings have been published in the Journal of Applied Behavioral Analysis. The children, who had wanted to create the same 24-block Lego structure over and over again at the start of the study, began venturing out of their comfort zones to create new structures with different color patterns or that were shaped differently.

via Playing with building blocks of creativity help children with autism | R&D Mag.

IQ scores don’t predict academic performance in children with autism

New data show that many children with autism spectrum disorders have greater academic abilities than previously thought. In a study by researchers at the University of Washington, 90 percent of high-functioning children with autism spectrum disorders showed a discrepancy between their IQ score and their performance on reading, spelling and math tests.

“Academic achievement is a potential source of self-worth and source of feeling of mastery that people may not have realized is available to children with autism,” said Annette Estes, research assistant professor at the UW’s Autism Center.

Improved autism diagnosis and early behavioral interventions have led to more and more children being ranked in the high-functioning range, with average to above average IQs. Up to 70 percent of autistic children are considered high-functioning, though they have significant social communication challenges.

via IQ scores fail to predict academic performance in children with autism.

Florida zoo welcomes children with autism

Harvey the tortoise seemed bewildered by the sudden attention as 9-year-old Anthony Cancel tapped his shell with two fingers and the other children quickly followed suit.

“This is our special guest today,” said Andy Bortzner, part of the Brevard Zoo’s educational staff and a child psychology major at Brevard Community College. “Only I can hold him, but you can touch him to see what he feels like.”

The children, eight in all, watched Harvey intently before raising their hands and peppering Bortzner with questions: Is Harvey a boy or a girl? Where does he come from? Does he like the land or the sea?

Most, but not all of them, including Anthony, have been diagnosed with autism, a complex developmental disability that interferes with social interactions and communication skills. On this particular day, however, none of that mattered, as these ordinary barriers seemed to ease amid the excitement of a tree house, a cave and the lagoon landing in the kids’ section of the Brevard Zoo.

The zoo setting is part of a new collaborative effort between the zoo’s educational staff and Florida Institute of Technology’s Scott Center for Autism Treatment to provide a model program for autistic children and their families called Zoo Quest.

via Brevard Zoo takes on autism’s barriers | floridatoday.com | FLORIDA TODAY.