By Maureen Bennie
Autism Calgary Community
Autism Awareness Centre Inc.
September means back to school, transitions, and changes in routines. Judy Endow, adult with autism, wrote a blog post about changing classroom strategies, asking us to alter the way we do things based on past knowledge in light of new information. This is good advice for all of us as autism is a relatively new field where knowledge is rapidly changing, challenging our long-held views which may no longer be applicable.
For example, asking for eye contact should not be a goal, although you can still see this written on IEPs. Many people with autism find eye contact too painful or looking at the eyes while hearing information can result in sensory overload leading to a shut down.
What is most poignant about Judy’s post is the need to be kind to ourselves in the face of changing information. We did our best with what we knew at the time. As we learn new things, it is important not to cling to our old ways and strategies and be willing to investigate a possibly better way of doing things without guilt. This is good advice for both professionals and parents!
Speaking of changing beliefs, we have long had the notion that individuals with autism can’t read emotions. A new study is challenging this idea because there is more to reading emotions than just looking at the face – you have to look at the whole body too. People with autism tend to struggle with eye contact, but the study suggests that perhaps reading body language to identify emotions isn’t as challenging.
In the study, Candida Peterson of the University of Queensland in Australia and her colleagues “showed children between the ages of 5 and 12 full-body photos of trained actors portraying happy, sad, angry, afraid, disgusted or surprised emotions. The actors’ faces were blurred. The children with autism did just as well as the children without the disorder in identifying the posed emotions. In a similar test that just showed people’s eyes, the children with autism did not score as well as those without.”
This new information could change the way we teach emotions within the context of social skills.
A good night’s sleep is important. Without it, children can be irritable, struggle with academics, engage in more repetitive behaviors, become easily fatigued, and are more likely to suffer from unintentional injury. Over the long term, poor sleep can lead to adult obesity, anxiety in adulthood, and sleep problems throughout adulthood.
Examples of sleep disturbances are taking a long time to fall asleep, waking up in the night, nightmares, or waking too early in the morning. A new study suggests that sleep disturbances could be linked to genes. Lead researcher Takanori Yamagata, professor of pediatric developmental medicine at Jichi Medical University in Shimotsuke, Japan says, “My hypothesis is that some circadian genes may be related to some of the genetics of autism.”
Yamagata and his team sequenced 18 genes known to govern the body’s day-night rhythms in 28 children and adults with autism, half of whom have sleep disorders, as well as 23 controls.
“They identified a total of 68 mutations in 15 of these genes. About half of the mutations are ‘silent,’ which means they have no effect on the proteins the genes encode. But the other half are ‘missense’ mutations that disrupt the corresponding protein sequence. Nine of the mutations had never been reported before, Yamagata says.”
A woman who worked with a nonverbal, visually impaired young man with autism asked me an interesting question. She was told the young man had low cognitive ability but when he heard music, he came alive. Sitting in his wheelchair, he would rock back and forth in time to the music and hum along to songs. When the music was no longer playing, he would hum the songs and everyone around him recognized the tunes. She was wondering if there was a way she could explore this connection to music in some way to enhance his life and maybe teach him some things too. As a classical musician and former music teacher, my response was an enthusiastic yes!
I think what was happening with this man was he felt a connection to music and could communicate through it. His support team can pursue and build on this interest. Often when a person is blind, their other senses become more acute such as hearing. With autism, many of our individuals have a heightened sense of hearing even without a visual impairment.
There is a great deal that can be taught using music. Use certain songs to cue association with tasks. For example, choose a song that you can use for transitioning to another activity. Play it every time you move to something new and an association to that song will happen with that transition. You can pick songs for cleaning up, end of day, lunchtime and the list goes on.
To learn more about using music as a teaching tool, read my blog post Enhancing the Life of an Individual with ASD Through Music. It contains a list of music resources as well as “how to” You Tube videos. Don’t be afraid to use music even if you have no formal musical training to enrich a person’s life. There are a lot of materials out there to guide you.
A change of seasons means a change in temperature. This can be problematic for some on the autism spectrum because of difficulty with temperature regulation. Jeannie Davide-Rivera, mother of three sons with autism, wrote an excellent post about this very topic. She says, “Temperature regulation is an automated body system that regulates the body’s core temperature in response to outside stimuli. The temperature of the body is regulated by neural feedback mechanisms in the brain, which operate primarily through the hypothalamus. It has the remarkable capacity for regulating the body’s core temperature that keeps your body temperature somewhere between 98F and 100F. When your body is exposed to heat or cold conditions this system balances your internal temperature with the temperature outside.”
Because of sensory processing issues, individuals with autism may exhibit hyper or hypo sensitivities to heat and cold. A child may not feel how cold it is in the winter and take off his coat. Another person may start to shiver as soon as they come out of the sun and enter an air-conditioned room.
Temperature regulation issues are important to know about because it can lead to discomfort and later, challenging behavior such as meltdowns or shutdowns. Teachers and school playground supervisors, keep an eye on those children who are not wearing a coat while outside at recess. Look for signs of overheating or the need for extra cool down time, like after physical activity.
Pets can be a wonderful addition to a person’s life. They don’t judge, bully, provide tactile pleasure through petting, and are accepting. One recent study examined the use of guinea pigs to help alleviate anxiety and break down social barriers. Children who interacted with the guinea pigs reported feeling happy and registered higher levels of arousal, but even though feeling elated, the animals lowered the children’s stress.
Animals could also be used to teach empathy and responsibility. To learn more about this study with guinea pigs and other animal/autism related research, read this article from the New York Times.
When it comes to academic work, students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) often have the required knowledge but struggle to get their thoughts down in writing. This is a practical guide to teaching and improving writing skills in students with ASD to meet academic writing standards and prepare for the increased expectations of higher education.
Helping Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder Express their Thoughts and Knowledge in Writing covers key considerations for all educators teaching writing skills to high school and college students with ASD including how to address difficulties with comprehension, executive functioning, and motor skills, how to structure ideas into a coherent argument, and how to develop creativity and expression in writing, as well as how to successfully adapt these skills to meet university expectations. Each chapter includes teaching tips, insightful student perspectives, and ready-to-use writing exercises.
Picture stories can play a vital role in helping parents negotiate challenging scenarios with kids with ASD. Yet no matter how many books and flashcards you have, they can’t cover every eventuality. So, suppose you could draw the stories yourself…
Brian Attwood took up pen and paper when his son John’s meltdowns became harder to deal with. The effect was immediate and time and time again picture stories have bailed the family out of trouble and saved John from unhappiness and confusion. In the book Make Your Own Picture Stories for Kids with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder), Brian describes step-by-step how to create simple yet effective picture stories using basic drawings and short lines of text, and provides examples based on real-life situations for you to adapt for your child.
This book will give parents and carers the tools and confidence they need to create individualized picture stories to help their child with ASD cope with social situations, difficult emotions, transitions and other challenging situations.
These are the highlights of what in the world is going on in autism for September 2015.
IPads and Autism (Level I)Tuesday September 15, 2015 11:00 am – 12:30 pm Alberta Children’s Hospital Kinsmen Learning Centre (4th floor) 2888 Shaganappi Trail NW Calgary
Presenters: Meagan Ponton, M.Sc. OT, Occupational Therapist, Melanie Sicotte, M.Sc. (A), R.SLP, S-LP (C), Speech Language Pathologist & Pam Jung, M.Sc. OT, Occupational Therapist, Renfrew Educational Services Assistive Technology Team
This presentation will discuss ways to use an iPad as a tool to support participation and skill development for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Participants will learn about matching iPad features, accessories and apps to individuals and their environments. App topic areas discussed will include communication, sensory regulation, social interaction, video modeling, routines and transitions.
Limited child care available, please call 403 955 2500
For more information, click here:
July of this year, the Federal Minister of Health made an announcement to launch news of a Working Group to develop a plan for a Canadian Autism Partnership. (This same announcement can be found here on the government of Canada website.) The purpose is stated to build strategies to support families and people affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Autism Calgary Association together with Autism Society Alberta and our affiliates across the province will plan an active role in joining an advisory group that is forming to pull together represenation across Canada (more news on this in September.)
On this topic are some interesting documents on Autism Strategy Initiatives:
- United Kingdom “Think Autism” programme of action (2014)
- Autism Through the Lifespan – Nova Scotia (2010)
Inspired by the Father’s Autism Network, Autism Calgary has booked two group camp-sites this year! These weekends are open to families throughout Alberta who care for a loved one with Autism Spectrum Disorder. The cost is free, but a recommended minimum donation of $20-$25 per night per family is requested to help recover costs. (Donations can be made in advance or following the camp weekend .)
Weekend Camping: The Pocaterra Walk-In Group Tenting Camp-site at Peter Lougheed Provincial Park for the weekend of Friday August 21, 2015. Only TENTS are permitted at this group camp-site.
The purpose of this camping weekend is to provide an opportunity to take your family camping, joining other families who care for a family member with ASD. There will be a group campfire Friday and Saturday night. Your family are responsible for your own camping units, meals, and all supplies. We thank you for cleaning up your camp area before your departure. You are welcome to come for the whole weekend, Friday night only, Saturday night only, or just come for the day for a picnic.
Your voluntary donations to contribute to cost can be paid in advance by contacting our office, or your cheque or cash can be put in an envelope and given to our volunteer family host (not the park representative). Be sure to include your address and contact information in order to receive a tax receipt.
[One registration ticket allows for one camping site for your whole family for one night – if your family is camping both Friday and Saturday night, you need only one ticket for Friday night and only one ticket for Saturday night.]