Melissa Schumacher, SPED Homeschool Team Member

 

When my older son was five years old, we took our first trip to Florida. Living in a northern state, my children had only experienced splash pads and bathtubs. I was shocked when my son – with no swimming pool experience – wanted to jump into the deep water. And he wanted to do it over and over and over again. When we returned home, I immediately looked into swimming lessons for him. I was not excited about his love of water because I knew that, without proper training, water posed so many risks for my son.

As a mom of two boys, I am used to adventure and shenanigans. I generally don’t worry about the climbing and jumping. But I had real fears about water. I know that children with autism frequently and quietly elope, like my son. I know that children with autism, like my son, are attracted to water. I also knew that we would move soon to a warmer climate, and swimming pools would be a part of our experience.

 

DO YOUR RESEARCH

Through a local moms group, I was connected with another military spouse and swim instructor, Sheila McCarrier. Sheila has been an Infant Swimming Resource (ISR) Instructor for nine years and has taught hundreds of children water safety skills. Even more than teaching children, she has taught families like mine to enjoy the water, be vigilant around water, and spread the message of water safety. 

We had tried swim classes at our local community center years before but my son refused to go into the water or participate in the silly songs. I did not want to repeat that experience. To make sure ISR was a good fit for my son, I observed Sheila’s lessons for almost two hours. I wrote down my questions and asked her after her lessons were over. I spoke with other parents about what to expect and how to prepare my son for this new experience. Sheila even met her students for pizza a few days before lessons started! This allowed all her students to meet her and connect with her over something everyone loves – pizza! Before our first day, we also watched several videos of friends swimming and talked about how we would learn to swim, too. 

While it was a big commitment, both of my sons became quick swimmers, and we have loved the water ever since. The water provides great sensory input for my son and he has gained more strength and confidence through swimming than through years of physical therapy. I am so thankful that my children and I can enjoy the water, but I still do not let my guard down. 

I asked Sheila for her water safety tips as we all head into the summer season.

 

EFFECTIVE SUPERVISION

The most critical line of defense is adult supervision. No level of aquatic skill can replace active supervision. If your child is ever missing, look in the water first. 

 

ASK TO ENTER

Teach children to ask permission before entering the water. Being present and actively engaged means being IN the water. Never let a child go in the water alone. They will learn they can get in without you, and this increases the risks they will when you are not present. Even non-verbal children can be taught to wait for an adult before entering the water. 

 

POOL FENCES

Install a permanent 4-sided fence with self-locking gates. Ensure that the pool fence is at least 3-5 feet from the pool edge. 

 

ALARMS

Make sure all doors and windows leading to the pool are locked and alarmed. For children with eloping behaviors, door alarms can provide additional protection and can be easily transported during travel.

 

SURVIVAL SWIMMING LESSONS

A moment’s inattention does not have to cost a child his life. ISR’s Self-Rescue® training is an added layer of protection, teaching your child water survival skills in a completely safe environment.

 

CPR

If an emergency happens, it is essential parents and families are prepared. Learn to perform CPR on children and adults and remember to update those skills regularly.

A key phrase frequently repeated is “Be a CEO” – have Constant Eyes On. No one watches your child like you do so be sure others know your expectations for safe behavior if you have to step away. “You go, or it’s a no” is another popular phrase. As children age, they are invited to playdates and pool parties. The risk of drowning does not go away, the type of injuries and drownings just change with the older more grown bodies. 

 

Sadly, as I finished writing this piece, a news story popped up about a young boy with autism who eloped and drowned in a local pond. My heart sank to hear of this tragic accident. Drowning is one of the leading causes of death for children under 14 with autism. We know how much joy and fun the water can be for our children during the dog days of summer. But let us all remember to enjoy the water safely.

 

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Rebecka Spencer, SPED Homeschool Consulting Partner

 

A few weeks ago, I shared a story about our daughter’s experience starting school, a life-changing autism diagnosis, and our successes in addressing underlying issues through exercises like Brain Hemispheric Integration. I also mentioned the significance of something called primitive reflexes. 

 

What are Primitive Reflexes?

Primitive Reflexes are the special reflexes that develop in the brain stem before birth. This set of involuntary primitive reflexes help the baby with positioning in the womb, birthing, the first breath of life, feeding, urination, etc. Most of these reflexes go away in the first year of life as higher brain functions begin to control development. If the reflexes remain, though, they can interfere with the neurological organization of the brain and can cause learning, behavioral, social, sensory, and health problems. These remaining reflexes are unnoticed muscle movements in older children and adults that are not normally noticed if one isn’t looking. They cause ongoing issues until they are resolved through exercise. 

  

Why Are Primitive Reflexes Important?

Retained primitive reflexes have been found to cause neurological underdevelopment in some areas affecting learning, behavior, development, vision, and sensory processing. Children with autism spectrum disorder often benefit from primitive reflex integration. Research has indicated there is a relationship between the retention of infant reflexes and a wide range of neurodevelopmental disorders like autism. 

 

Symptoms when Primitive Reflexes Remain: 

Because primitive reflexes start at the base of the brain. Functions that try to develop above them cannot wire properly. It can cause or contribute to: 

  • Autism 
  • Autism Spectrum Disorders 
  • Asperger’s 
  • Hemispheric Imbalance
  • Sensory Processing Disorders 
  • Hyperactivity 
  • ADHD 
  • Speech Disorders 
  • Social Disorders 
  • Asthma 
  • Dyslexia 
  • Dysgraphia 
  • Dyscalculia 
  • Immune Problems 
  • Other Health Issues 
  • Other Learning Disabilities 

 

There are many children and adults that, for one reason or another, still have one or more primitive reflexes remaining. Some causes may include a traumatic birth, lack of tummy time, too much time laying in seaters or swings, induced labor, and traumatic C-Section birth. Most of the time, there is not a known reason. 

If any of them remain past 12 months, they are called Retained Primitive Reflexes, and they are a problem. There are simple exercises that can solve each one. This process is called Integrating Primitive Reflexes. Once they are integrated through these little exercises, many learning disabilities, behaviors, sensory disorders, and health issues disappear or greatly improve. You need to check for each of them, even if your child is not displaying the usual symptoms. If one remains unnoticed, it slows improvement in cognitive function. 

While we do not fully understand autism, primitive reflexes, and the marvels of the brain and its development, the first rule of thumb with Cherish Children Ministries is to give yourself grace and do not blame yourself.

Simple assessments and exercises can be done 10 minutes per day for a few months to integrate reflexes. Then, you can stimulate the other brain functions with additional cognitive exercises and symptoms improve.

After any diagnosis, primitive reflexes are one of the first things to check. Primitive reflexes can appear with many diagnoses but are the foundation for other therapies. Other therapies or brain stimulation, such as Hemispheric Integration Therapy, work best if retained primitive reflexes are already integrated or are being exercised simultaneously. When we assessed our daughter for retained primitive reflexes and completed exercises to integrate those reflexes, she began to succeed with higher-level learning.

While we do not fully understand autism, primitive reflexes, and the marvels of the brain and its development, the first rule of thumb with Cherish Children Ministries is to give yourself grace and do not blame yourself. There is a wide range of reasons these things occur, so rest assured it is not your fault. 

Our struggling learner with autism is now finishing up her eighth-grade year, and we continue sessions together to make sure we are exercising the needed areas. She is excited about the future and wants to enter the field of education!  

 

Interested in learning more on this and other autism related research? Use  this link to receive research updates from Dr. Rebecka

 

 

 

 

 


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by Brandi Timmons, M.Ed., BCBA, LBA, SPED Homeschool Partner at Incuentro and Social Motion Skills

 

April is Autism Awareness Month and we here at SPED Homeschool understand how autism can affect learning and the education process. SPED Homeschool Founder and CEO, Peggy Ployhar, started their family’s homeschooling journey after their son’s autism diagnosis 19 years ago. We hope that our resources will empower your homeschool and your student will reach his/her full potential.

 

“He doesn’t talk much. He reads at a 1st grade level. We’re working on coloring and staying in the lines.”

 

As a public school special education teacher, nothing upset me more than statements like these in an IEP meeting. An incoming 6th grader, the student went on to gain three years of academic growth that year. By the end of 7th grade, he was in all mainstream classes, played baritone in the band, and was a fantastic cross-country athlete. 

 

The most recent prevalence study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) shows that almost half (44%) of children identified with ASD have average to above-average intellectual ability. A 2016 study of 1,470 children discovered that nearly half of individuals with minimally-verbal autism had high nonverbal intelligence (Zeliadt, 2016). Compare that to a 2015 study–less than 20% of students with autism in Texas public schools are in a mainstream setting and, in New York, less than 10% (Kurth, J., 2015, pp. 249-256). Those students are not being educated with and in the same setting as their peers. For adults with autism, the statistics are just as alarming. National data indicates that most adults with autism are unemployed or underemployed (Migliore, Butterworth & Zalewska, 2012). Some sites report the percentage as high as 90%. How has this even happened?

 

What are the consequences of presuming incompetence? Learners are often educated in more restricted settings. We communicate with them differently–we use more basic vocabulary or “baby talk.” How many times have you heard someone talking to a teenager with autism as if they are 5 or 6 years old? What an insult to someone who may have the cognitive abilities of a genius! They also often don’t get invited to participate in groups and activities in which their peers do. 

 

What is the harm of assuming competence? NONE! Yes, in some instances, we might spend some time working to find supports that help them be successful, but in no way have they been denied their right to try. A large part of the level of success learners will ultimately achieve depends on the level of expectation we set for them. When you set high expectations for students, the amazing tends to happen–they meet them! 

 

The following intentional strategies will help empower your program or organization to create a climate of high expectations for all learners:

  • Know your learners. Find out their interests. Ask about their learning styles. What supports do they already receive that help them succeed? 
  • Set short-term goals. Set goals for them that you are certain they will achieve. When they master a short-term goal, use the momentum from that success to introduce another slightly more difficult goal.
  • Utilize the Goldilocks Principle—give students tasks that aren’t too easy, aren’t too hard, but are just right for them. (Estrada 2018)
  • Build on the learner’s strengths. Set goals that allow the student to utilize natural abilities. Incorporate those strengths into other tasks as much as possible. 
  • Make expectations explicit. Define instructions clearly and concisely. Don’t “dumb down” your language, but rather cut out any unnecessary words. Give instructions one or two steps at a time if necessary. Use visuals to support understanding of expectations.
  • Provide praise at a 7:1 ratio to correction. There is ALWAYS something good you can say about someone!
  • Use positive language. Re-frame your corrections in a positive way. Instead of saying, “Don’t run!” you should say, “Walk in the hallway, please.” 
  • Don’t GIVE the correct answer. Probe for answers. Ask leading questions. When a student solves a problem or realizes a solution on their own, he or she is much more likely to remember. 
  • Don’t just tell a learner what they’ve done wrong. Again, probe. When a learner understands the rationale for a skill and recognizes the personal value of that skill, he or she is much more likely to use that skill. 
  • Give longer response time. Wait at least 5 seconds before you repeat a question. For some, this time may need to be longer. As you get to know your learner, you will begin to recognize what length of wait time is sufficient. 
  • Always remember that behavior is communication. Take a course in Behavior 101. Understand the four functions of behavior (escape, attention, tangible, and sensory) and be familiar with strategies to address behaviors related to each function. 
  • Provide equal response opportunities. Because the level of support needed for them to practice may be high and they might take more “work,” our inclination might be to not call on them as often. Be assured they will recognize this slight. 
  • Treat them like everyone else. Talk to them about the same, age-appropriate topics. If a student is non-verbal, have a conversation with them anyway. Never talk about them in front of them. Include them in age-appropriate activities. Everything their peers do, they should do as well. 
  • Do not ever give up. Provide high levels of support. Finding supports that work may take trial and error. Don’t get frustrated. Often finding the right supports requires thinking outside the box. Consult with others who might have great ideas. 

 

You may be thinking that these strategies are obvious and should be done anyway. You’re right. They should. But unfortunately, they often aren’t. Very sadly, many individuals with disabilities are often denied the dignity of being treated as capable individuals and knowing someone believes in them. When strategies for creating a climate of high expectations are implemented, students will know. Students will trust you because they understand you are going to treat them with dignity and respect. Those on the spectrum need us to see them as a person first. They need us to believe in them. Most importantly, they need us to provide a climate of high expectations so they have the freedom to learn, succeed, and fulfill their potential. 

 

 

 

 


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By Jan Bedell, Ph.D., Master NeuroDevelopmentalist, SPED Homeschool Board Member & Therapy Partner

 

April is Autism Awareness Month and we here at SPED Homeschool understand how autism can affect learning and the education process. SPED Homeschool Founder and CEO, Peggy Ployhar, started their family’s homeschooling journey after their son’s autism diagnosis 19 years ago. We hope that our resources will empower your homeschool and your student will reach his/her full potential.

 

An autism diagnosis has become alarmingly more prevalent, moving from 1 in 10,000 births 25-30 years ago to 1 in 66 in recent reports. This increase is not explained away by better testing or the “gene pool” theory. So many children today fall into this label because of the broad spectrum of symptoms that are currently included under the umbrella of autism. As neurodevelopmentalists (NDs), the thought process is that the symptoms causing behavioral triggers resulting in this label should be addressed directly and not simply labeled. The question is, where do you start? 

 

Every individual on the planet learns through their senses. The bulk of the information comes primarily from three of the five sensory avenues – auditory, visual, and tactile. In the case of a diagnosis of autism, these sensory messages can be too sensitive (hypersensitive), not sensitive enough (hyposensitive), or a scrambled message. All of the above cause misinterpretation of sensory input by the brain. Every child does the best they can to function with the information provided through these sensory input channels. If one or more channels are giving distorted information to the brain, it compounds the challenge of the daily demand to function in a typical manner.

 

The NeuroDevelopmental Approach uses brain plasticity (its ability to grow and change) to improve the functional ability of the child. We also acknowledge the huge part that the chemistry of the body plays in individual progress. There isn’t enough space to expand on the metabolic aspect of spectrum disorders, so we will focus here on the ND help that is available. Let’s look at the main areas of input to the brain for some examples.

 

Vision:

When peripheral vision is hypersensitive, it means the detail or central vision is not working well, and the peripheral is working too well. When this happens, it is easy for a child to “play” with their vision by moving objects, flapping arms, or moving fingers, just to name a few common repetitive actions that we refer to as sensory play or stimming. These actions produce endorphins that are the same chemicals that make you feel good when you run. Running to get this feeling is good and very different from continuously pumping this chemical into your system by engaging in sensory play. The more this destructive behavior happens, the further the child retreats from the world around them. NDs encourage a multi-pronged approach to this situation. 1. Discourage the sensory play and redirect as much as possible. 2. Work to improve the central detail vision through specific stimulation so the child’s payoff (endorphins) is no longer there and the behavior stops.

 

By addressing the root cause, these symptoms can diminish significantly and allow more typical functioning to emerge.”

 

Tactile/Touch:

Many children with an autism label have an aversion to light touch. Certain clothes bother them, hugs are rejected, washing hair, haircuts and showers can be a nightmare, and food sensitivities make it hard to get nutritional meals consumed. At the same time this hypersensitivity exists, children may also have trouble distinguishing deep touch or pain (hyposensitivity). They might have unexplained bruises or ear infections that are not acknowledged as a problem until the eardrum bursts. All of these examples reflect a brain that is not getting the right messages from the tactile sensory stimulation in the environment. The ND’s solution again is to provide enough tactile input to change the brain and thus the reaction to the outside stimulus.  

 

Auditory:

Many autistic children are so hypersensitive to sound that much of the auditory stimulation in their world is painful. To combat this pain, many children simply turn off their auditory systems. This results in two very negative outcomes. 1. Withdrawal from friends and family as well as struggles with negative behaviors in noisy environments. 2. Lack of use of the auditory channel creating deficits in auditory sequential processing, which is holding pieces of information in short-term memory. This results in the inability to follow directions, stay on task, comprehend what is said or read, understand cause and effect as well as posing a challenge to reading with a phonetics approach. This deficit causes behavioral and academic challenges. For example, if you have a 9-10 year old that is only processing like a 2-year-old, you may have behavior and even academic abilities more like a 2-year-old. 

 

To address the first issue of hypersensitivity, the auditory system needs stimulation to reduce sound sensitivity. For low processing (short-term memory), the children need to learn to stretch their ability over time to be more age-appropriate. This is done through specific 1-2 minute interactions that happen multiple times a day. The results have astounded parents as well as professionals working with these children. To find out more about this important aspect of the autism diagnosis, visit this link. You will find a free test kit to check your child’s short-term memory level for yourself, information about the importance of auditory processing for successfully navigating life, as well as how to enhance this extremely valuable, life-long skill. 

 

In conclusion, it is the author’s opinion that we must pay much more attention to the cause of those negative indicators. By addressing the root cause, these symptoms can diminish significantly and allow more typical functioning to emerge. The best place to do this is at home, so homeschooling a child with autism is highly recommended. When parents are equipped with the right kind of information to stimulate the child’s brain at the root cause, progress toward typical function can be achieved. This is in stark contrast to public schools that have rooms that overstimulate with random stimulus. When there is a room full of children with sensory issues and non-typical behavior, how can you expect your child to gain typical development or behavior? Home with the model of parents and siblings is a much better option. 

 

 

 

 

 


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By Dianne Craft, MA, CNHP,

SPED Homeschool Board Member, Curriculum Partner & Therapy Partner

Sometimes a subject comes up that is so wide-reaching in its impact, that it cannot be ignored. As a special educator for over thirty years, and a nutritionist, I am always on the lookout for ways to relieve suffering in kids who are struggling with learning or behavior. It has come to the point that evidence of the impact of fish oil on the brain and nervous system of these struggling children is so large that I think it deserves its own article.

 

Recent Trends

The incidence of children diagnosed with food allergies (notice all of the gluten-free and dairy-free items in grocery stores as of late?), asthma, autism, Asperger’s, sensory processing dysfunction, ADD, ADHD, dyslexia, and dysgraphia has increased greatly in the past five years. There is a disproportionate number of boys in this increase. Why is this occurring? UCLA School of Medicine has found that boys have a three times higher need for DHA, a type of Omega-3 fat from fish oil, than girls. Let’s explore this more…

 

Depression

The incidence of depression has skyrocketed in children and adults since World War II. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 11 percent of Americans over the age of 12 take anti-depressants. What is going on? Researchers report that blood levels of inflammatory markers such as C-reactive protein are frequently elevated in those diagnosed with depression. Could inflammatory changes in the brain be one of the main drivers behind our epidemic of depression? This may also explain why anti-depressant medications often do not work for people with depression. Emory University in Atlanta confirmed the depression/inflammation connection. Fortunately, there are natural ways to reduce inflammation. The most effective way includes a diet high in Omega-3 fatty acids, specifically DHA in fish oil. Dr. Michael Norden, a practicing psychiatrist in New York, uses essential fatty acids, and particularly fish oils, for his patients who are suffering from depression. Using fish oil in addition to medication, and sometimes without medication, Dr. Norden reports impressive relief from depression among his patients. Likewise, Dr. Andrew Stall, a physician from Harvard has found that the DHA in fish oil has proven to be extremely helpful in patients suffering from postpartum depression, bipolar disorder, ADD, and ADHD.

 

Autism

Many studies implicate inflammation of the white matter of the brain as a common thread in children diagnosed on the autism spectrum. However, one very unique aspect of fish oil is its effect on the gaze aversion that afflicts so many children with autism. The rods in the retina of the eye are very responsive to the supplementation of DHA. Dr. Mary Megson, a developmental pediatrician in Richmond, Virginia, has found that the reason that children with gaze aversion will seem to look away from a parent’s face is that, when looking directly at the face, all they see is a white block. Thus, they use their peripheral vision to at least get a glimpse of what they are looking at. With proper amounts of naturally occurring vitamins A and D in cod liver oil, this gaze aversion disappears or is greatly reduced. Dr. Megson states strongly that it is important that synthetic vitamin A in the form of retinyl palmitate not be used. Interestingly enough, I have found this also to be the case in the children in my consultation practice who come to me with gaze aversion. I have always found that with the proper amounts of DHA, for which I use a specific cod liver oil, the gaze aversion is eliminated or reduced by 85 percent. In fact, in the autism conferences at which I speak, I have “before and after” pictures of children with autism, showing the lack of gaze aversion after giving this vital nutrient. Besides affecting gaze aversion, parents report increased socialization, speech, bladder control, and sensory processing after even a short while of this supplementation. It has also helped many children struggling with ADHD, dyslexia, and bipolar disorder.

It has also helped many children struggling with ADHD, dyslexia, and bipolar disorder.

 

Traumatic Brain Injury

Probably the most dramatic healings reported after the introduction of high amounts of fish oil, have come from the healing of traumatic brain injuries that were not responding to other treatments. When Peter Ghassemi’s son was lying in a coma after a severe car accident, the doctors reported that while his son had survived the accident, he would likely be a vegetable for the rest of his life. This dad reached out to Dr. Michael Lewis, an Army colonel, for help. Dr. Lewis, the founder of the Brain Health Education and Research Institute, urged him to talk with his son’s doctors about using the same protocol that was used for a young man who had experienced this same type of traumatic brain injury. In that case, the young man, Randal McCloy, was the sole survivor of a mine disaster in West Virginia. McCloy, 26, had been trapped in the mine for 41 hours while the air around him was filled with noxious methane and carbon monoxide. His brain was riddled with damage from these potent toxins. McCloy’s doctors were looking for ways to stem the tide of inflammation and cell death occurring in his brain. His doctors embarked upon an unorthodox treatment regimen that included high doses of fish oil. Dr. Julian Bailes, one of McCloy’s doctors said “The concept was to attempt to rebuild his brain with what it was made from when he was an embryo in his mother’s womb. High doses of omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil), since they mirror what is already in the brain, would facilitate the brain’s own natural healing process. These fats are literally the bricks of the cell wall in the brain.” Dr. Bailes referred to the National Institutes of Health research that suggests that omega-3 fatty acids may inhibit cell death and could help in reconnecting damaged neurons. Worthy of note is that, in addition to massive cell death, the protective sheath around McCloy’s nerve cells had been stripped. The sheath, called myelin, allows brain cells to communicate with one another. Amazingly, three months after saturating his brain with high doses of fish oil, McCloy was walking and speaking. Armed with this success story, Peter Ghassemi urged his doctors to try this same, safe protocol with his son. The result? Three months after his accident, Bobby Ghassemi was well enough to attend his high school graduation. Bobby said, “The whole place was cheering for me…I took my graduation cap off and waved it around.” Peter Ghassemi said, “His brain was damaged, and this was food for the brain.” Dr. Lewis concluded, “The message that I’m trying to get across is, there’s more you can do. If you add the fish oil, we can then begin to let the brain heal itself a little more efficiently.”

 

Dyslexia

In 2000, Dr. Jacqueline Stordy began to research the connection between DHA and dyslexia. She performed a double-blind, placebo-controlled study in which she studied children with ADD, dyslexia, and dyspraxia. She found that when a protocol amount of DHA (from fish oil), was given over three months, that statistically significant improvements were made in these children’s focusing ability, reading ability, and coordination and balance.

 

Teeth, too?

If you have a child who suffers from multiple cavities, no matter what you do, you will be interested in Dr. Weston Price’s research. A dentist, Dr. Price found that one way to prevent cavities from forming in the mouths of his young patients was to make sure that they had adequate levels of Vitamin D and the all-important Vitamin K2. Vitamin K2 helps to form the dentin, the porous tooth material underneath the enamel of the teeth. This vitamin can be found in fermented foods, butter, meat from grass-fed cows, hard cheeses, like Gouda, and a fermented food from soybeans called natto, or in supplements. As we know, good ol’ cod liver oil is a great source of both vitamins A and D.

 

What can moms do to help their child get these brain-healthy fats?

Begin to reduce the bad fats that block healing by including more good fats into a child’s daily diet with simple measures like adding some avocado in sandwiches, using real butter instead of margarine (especially if the butter is from grass-fed cows), and using real mayonnaise. Eat more whole grains and legumes versus white flour several days a week. Lastly, make raw vegetables and a salad an everyday part of your children’s diet. If you choose to give a supplement such as cod liver oil, fish oil, or Vitamins D3 or K2, it is best to check with the child’s doctor before beginning any supplement program. For a list of the amounts of fish oil, vitamin D3 and vitamin K2 that was used in these and other studies, just type “Fish Oil Article” in the subject line, and send to craft@ecentral.com

 

This article was originally published in The Struggling Homeschooler Magazine, February 2013.

The information in this article should not be construed as a diagnosis or medical advice. Please consult your physician for any medical condition and before adding supplements or changing a child’s diet.

Dianne Craft has a Master’s Degree in special education and is a Certified Natural Health Professional. She has a private consultation practice, Child Diagnostics, Inc., in Littleton, Colorado. Read more at her website www.diannecraft.org .

 

References

Andrew Stoll, MD, The Omega-3 Connection

  1. Jacqueline Stordy, Ph.D., American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 71, Jan 2000 Dianne

Craft, MA, CNHP, “Essential Fatty Acids and the Brain”, www.diannecraft.org Drs. Kay Judge and

Maxine Barish-Wreden, “Healthy diet shown to cut risk of depression”,

www.denverpost.com, October23, 1012

Kate Rheaume-Blue, ND, The Calcium Paradox

Mary Megson, MD, “ The Biological Basis for Perceptual Deficits in Autism”, www.megson.com

Melvyn Werbach, MD. Nutritional Influences on Illness

Michael Norden, MD, Beyond Prozac

Stephanie Smith, “Fish Oils for Brain Injury”, http://www.cnn.com

 

 

 

 

 


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By Mary Winfield


You have heard about Temple Grandin, right? If not, study up! She is amazing. During a time where children with autism were institutionalized, her mother refused to give up on her even when doctors told her Temple would never speak or function independently.

Because of her mother’s persistence, Temple now has her Ph.D in Animal Sciences and works world-wide doing autism advocacy. If you want to learn more about her life, HBO did an excellent movie (it is also free to watch on Amazon Prime). She has written several books, but the one I read most recently is called The Loving Push with Debra Moore as her co-author.

This entire book is dedicated to helping parents help their children with high functioning autism learn to become independent and successful adults. There is so much good information in this book, I highly encourage parents of teens or pre-teens to read it. It discusses dealing with depression in teens with autism and dealing with video game addictions. It also talks about preparing teenagers to drive. It follows several different families with their experiences and lessons.

The part of the book that I want to focus on in this article is preparing teenagers for their post high school lives. In, The Loving Push, they interviewed a college professor who had worked with many different students on the spectrum, and he gave 4 areas where he sees the most struggle when students come to his college: household and personal care, using independent organizational aids, asking for help, and keeping a stable mood.

Household and Personal Care
The professor reference in the book The Loving Push said that most of these teens do fine with household chores and personal care when they are at home because their parent reminds them. Their parent will tell them it is time to shower, but then doesn’t teach them how often they need to shower or teach them to look for signs of dirty/sweaty skin, greasy hair, or body odor as indicators that they need to shower. Teaching them how often to shower (and giving them examples of when to shower more frequently ex: if you are involved in sports or physical exercise) will help them be able to duplicate it on their own. 

The same goes for household chores. They may not notice when something needs to be done, but explaining things to look for or even telling them how often chores are typically done will give them concrete guidelines to follow on their own.

Independent Organizational Aids
Sometimes we try to teach too many things at once. Stepping back and thinking about a lesson’s goal and focusing on the goal instead of trying to group multiple skills will help a child learn quicker. Sometimes we may just need to focus on making a list of things to do and how to decide what to do next.

Talk about deadlines and consequences for not meeting deadlines. The ability to prioritize oftentimes is more important than what is actually on the list. Learning to prioritize and complete tasks is something parents often do for children with autism in setting schedules and routines. Helping them to master this skill for themselves is a necessary skill if they are going to be successful on their own. We can do this by having them help us create their homeschool curriculum and plan out the day and week. Talk with them about making a goal and then setting up steps to reach that goal. These are life skills that will follow them forever.

Asking for Help
The college professor they interviewed also said he saw so many students who could have done the assignments if they had asked for a little help, but they didn’t think to reach out and ask. Instead, they would try to accomplish the task on their own, and when they hit a roadblock, their conclusion reached was they just couldn’t do it. They opted to leave the assignment undone because asking for help wasn’t something they were used to doing.

Parents of autistic children often offer our help their child when he/she is struggling instead of teaching the process of asking for help. Another way to work on this skill is to enlist the help of a mentor for your child. This person becomes someone they learn to reach out to for help and guidance that isn’t constantly around them. This will further help them to practice the skill of asking for help instead of giving up on something.

Stable Mood
Having a positive mindset and reacting proportionately to situations can sometimes be a struggle for our children. One tip discussed in the book is to help them know how to duplicate good behavior and a positive mindset by giving specific and positive feedback. Temple says saying things like, “You are so kind” won’t hold very much meaning for teens on the spectrum. Saying, “Helping me with the dishes was so kind. It made me feel happy and proud of you” instead will help them to know what constitutes being kind, how it makes someone else feel, and incentive to repeat the behavior.

Furthermore, helping a child with autism remember that one failure or setback isn’t permanent and doesn’t mean they can’t be successful in the future is important. Reminding them of past successes when they suffer a setback and talking about solutions to their current problem will help them learn to persist through a struggle. If they struggle in one area, showing them their whole life is not a failure by reminding them of the areas they accel is also important. Be sure to show them strengths and weaknesses in other people as well.

“The Loving Push”
The title of the book explains to us how we need to approach preparing teenagers to be adults. Our kids are more likely to just want to stay in their routines and scripts instead of venturing out and trying new things. That means that we have to be the ones who give them a push out of their comfort zone and make them try new things. Giving them these pushes in a loving way so they know they have a safe place with lots of support will help give them the confidence to try new things in the future and transition into adulthood successfully.

 


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By Mary Winfield

Dr. Stanley Greenspan developed The Developmental, Individual Difference, Relationship-Based Model (DIR Method) in 1979. Dr. Greenspan’s work was a response to the growing need to help children with autism (or other special needs) to learn and develop both academically and socially.

The DIR Method helps parents and educators to determine goals and map out the best way of reaching those goals through structured interactions. While this method was originally developed for children with learning struggles, I think it is helpful for all students.

What I love about DIR is that it is not a bulk, one-size fits all solution to a problem, but rather an intensive look at a specific person with individual needs, wants, and interests. Instead of just treating symptoms of a problem, it builds a solid foundation for healthy development.

Below I am going to take you through the individual parts of DIR to help provide a more in-depth understanding of this teaching model.

“D” stands for Developmental
This model starts with the premise that a student must make incremental steps in development. You can’t take a nonverbal child and set their next goal at having problem-solving communication with a peer. That is unrealistic. You should assess where they fall developmentally and what the next natural step is in their progression. Not knowing the developmental steps often leads to skipping important developments that act as building blocks for future goals. Skipping these necessary incremental steps only sets all involved for unnecessary frustration.

“I” stands for Individual Difference
Each child has their own quirks and interests that make them unique. Because of that, there is no one solution to fix a problem. There are as many solutions as there are children. Helping children engage in learning means taking into account their interests and dislikes. When you approach learning from an interesting standpoint, they will grasp onto it and dive right in instead of having to be dragged along behind you. We learn so much better when we care about what we are learning. We have all seen that gleam in a child’s eye when something grabs their attention, and that is where we should strive to place our teaching.

“R” stands for Relationship-Based
Have you ever heard that saying, “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”? We don’t have to be taught this principle as children, it is pre-programmed in! Children can tell if they are an item on a checklist. They know when someone cares about them and when someone is just trying to cross something off their list. When we take the time to develop personal relationships with our children in areas other than schooling, we are able to approach learning from a position of love and equal respect. When they know our teaching is flexible enough to allow for bad days or to push it back to deal with a personal crisis, then they will feel loved and thus be better able to learn.


The DIR Method Applied
When I was working in the public school system, I worked one-on-one with a rambunctious kindergartener who I will call Steve. It was a huge struggle. He had a hard time sitting still which meant we took a lot of breaks to burn off energy before returning to his classroom. He had a hard time focusing on anything because his mind wanted to move as fast as his body. He acted out by running away, throwing things, and yelling loudly when we tried to do work. I was exhausted from trying to keep up with him.

Normally during recess, the one-on-one aides would take a break along the sides of the playground (since that was the only time we could other than a short lunch) while the kids ran around. One day I decided to play with Steve during recess instead of sitting down for a few minutes. We pretended we were pirates and were being chased by crocodiles while we searched for hidden treasure. After coming in from recess, I braced myself for another hard afternoon. We sat at the table and as we started to do our work, I continued to call him “Captain Steve” when I gave him instructions or guidance. He sat and focused for longer than I have ever seen him work!

As I continued to work with him, I continued feeding this relationship with him during recesses. I also started incorporating his interests (like counting buried treasure for math, etc.) into his learning. At the end-of-year IEP meeting, everyone was astonished at the progress he had made. People had written him off (I was not his first aide that year, he had gone through several before it was my turn), but all he really needed was someone to care about him and his interests. In receiving those two simple things, he suddenly had all he needed to blossom.


A Method to Nourish Change
Learning and teaching are always going to be hard work, but it is possible to make progress. I like to think of The DIR Method as a tree. The developmental and academic goals we have for our children are like the fruits of a tree. They are our end goal. But we cannot reach those goals without a few other things first. We need a solid trunk of interests and talents that work with those goals to hold them up high and support their learning. And, we also need deep and nourishing relationship roots to feed the whole tree and keep it safe and secure.

There is a lot more to DIR than just these small suggestions, but implementing them can make a huge difference no matter how much or little homeschooling you have left ahead. There are a lot of resources to learn more about The DIR Method, but https://profectum.org/about/dir/ is a good place to start if you are interested in finding out more about this method and its implementation.

 

 

 


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This is Fred. 

When he first joined our family he looked like this, which is good, because he was a terror. His beginnings with our family are catalogued in an  earlier article.

This post talks about Fred’s work as a service dog with our family, how we all changed because of him, and steps to take if you think a service dog might help you or those you love.

 

Training and a Different Life
Fred’s work with Corrina, our trainer, proceeded quickly. First, Corrina taught Fred basic obedience and good citizenship skills. Fred obtained the AKC Good Citizenship Certification before we took him into public for training. From there, he learned scenting and tracking skills, how to provide deep and calming pressure on demand, and how to walk Jonathan through public places and traffic safely.

Fred developed keen scenting/tracking skills easily. Learning to calm Jonathan safely and on demand proved more difficult, but Fred picked it up fairly well too. Training Jonathan to stay with Fred in traffic and public places proved more difficult than training Fred to navigate traffic.

Our team (Sue, Corrina, and myself) brainstormed variations of harness and handle operations to find something that finally worked to keep Jonathan at Fred’s side in public. Using a service vest with D-Rings, I attached a clip-on handle for Jonathan to hold as needed. We avoided a harness for him because of the social stigma and safety concerns. When Jonathan understood what we wanted, he easily chose to stay connected to Fred. Staying with Fred was a much more desirable option than enduring mom’s death grip on his wrist!

Fred became adept at the following: finding Jonathan if he ran away, sensing and calming meltdowns, and aiding Jonathan by calming and navigating for him in public places. Children with ASD often run to escape stressful or overwhelming situations. Every outing came with risk. Here is a great article detailing this challenge. 

 

Even in the training phase, Fred’s help began improving our lives. I could grocery shop with much less stress and hypervigilance as Jonathan and Fred walked and waited together. I could give attention to my younger son and know that Fred was helping me watch Jonathan too. Jonathan was much less restless in the store because he could interact with Fred. Parking lots no longer terrorized me because Fred and I shared the load of getting both boys safely into our vehicle. Fred appeared to love the tasks we gave him as it allowed him to accompany our family everywhere, but the focus and work the outings required would tire him after a few hours. I could empathize; outings with two energetic boys wore me out too!

The greatest gift Fred has given us was not the additional safety or help even as life-changing as they were: It was his ability to “bridge the gap” for Jonathan to the community. People love Fred. They are drawn to him. Each outing brought people into our lives because Fred was with us. We went from being stared at in public for meltdowns or odd behavior to attracting people for positive interactions.

Fred’s service vest said, “Service Animal. Please ask before petting me.” People did…by the hundreds. Suddenly social interactions came to us rather than me chasing them down and facilitating them. People’s curiosity drew questions that I would direct to Jonathan because Fred worked for him. Jonathan couldn’t discuss many things easily, but he could talk about Fred all day long…and he did. His language and confidence grew as he had a topic he loved to share with others. His pride in Fred and great love for him showed. The hope that Gross’ book had stirred in my heart a couple of years before became reality.

 

Fred’s Accomplishments and Retirement
Here are a few career highlights from Fred’s work with our family:
· finding Jonathan after he got lost on a state park trail
· helping save a young friend who got stuck in sand during a high tide
· preventing myriad public meltdowns
· reducing the family’s stress
· helping Jonathan grow into independence in the community
· expanding his work to help my younger son as well

I’d love to tell you many stories about Fred. He is much more than a dog or pet to me. For several years he was a lifeline, an ally, and a dependable friend to us in a world that was often lonely.

The time came that Jonathan’s skills and abilities had grown to no longer require Fred’s assistance. He developed self-calming and regulatory strategies. He could process my directions and understand the dangers around him. My husband said it was time to let Jonathan stand alone and he was right. It hurt and scared me a bit to leave Fred at home, but we did fine. Fred adjusted after time to being our pet and friend though we still take him with us everywhere we can. He still guards Jonathan at night, greets him with joy each morning, and acts as a bridge to the community when he goes out with us.

One memory to end our story: Jonathan was competing in a cross country meet and I brought Fred along to encourage him. As we walked at the park, people from our team and competing teams came over to see Fred.

Teenagers disengaged from their phones to come meet and pet Fred. Many wonderful introductions and conversations were exchanged. One man came running with a glass full of water for Fred just in case he needed it. I’ve never seen anything like the attention and love Fred inspires; many other dogs were around the park, but Fred was the star. He will always be a star to me.

 

Is a Service Animal Right for Your Family?
While our story might inspire hope in you, I also want to impress upon readers the great work and responsibility that a service animal requires. Here are my tips for assessing if a service animal might be a good option for your family.

1. You must love animals. If you cannot commit to sharing all your day with an animal companion and caring for their needs, find another option.

2. Commit to the investment. Training and care for a service animal is costly. They provide great assistance to your family and it will cost you time, money, and energy in return.

3. Research before you jump. Just because a service animal has helped others, does not mean one will work for your family. Learn and know what you can reasonably expect the dog to do and whether it matches with what you need, can provide for the animal, and the law.

4. Do NOT skimp on training or fake service training for your pet. A disturbing trend has emerged where people get a vest for their pet and call them a service animal. Those of us who have trained and worked with service animals can spot them quickly. They behave like a family pet who has gone out for the day, not as a trained service animal whose focus is on their job. It may be comforting to have your pet with you, but that is not a benefit that rises to federal and state laws. Please don’t jeopardize the reputation and freedom of those benefiting from service animals to perform daily necessities.

5. Recognize that the dog will retire. The day will come when the strenuous work becomes too great for the animal. Compassion and love dictate that you respect the animal’s limitations. Some dogs work longer than others. When it is time for the animal to retire, return the love and support it has provided to you; they have earned it. 

 


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By Dyana Robbins, M.Ed

Fred entered our lives when my oldest son, Jonathan, was seven years old. For several years, Jonathan had wanted a dog. We had another family dog, but Jonathan desired one of his own. Our dog was older and not able to run with Jonathan or tolerate the noise and rambunctiousness of my children. Another factor in this decision was my son’s diagnosis of ASD-related challenges and developmental delays. My husband, Chris, and I worried that Jonathan’s intensity and energetic play would overwhelm a dog, so we began researching which breeds would best suit our wonderful son.

Far and away, Golden Retrievers met all the requirements for Jonathan’s pet. They are loyal, patient, energetic, and exceedingly tolerant of children’s inadvertent roughness. Unfortunately, they are also costly to obtain through breeders. I began praying for the right dog to come into our lives. Within a short period of time, an acquaintance shared a post looking to rehome a Golden Retriever. I responded and Fred came to our home for a three-day visit so we could determine his suitability for our family. We were completely unaware of the great change this visit heralded.



Awkward Beginnings and Mutual Need
Fred was a young dog who had been hit by a car, ended up in a shelter, and was then adopted by a young woman who had no time for him. All of his tough beginnings were on display when he came for his visit. Fred leapt on everyone daring proximity. He was so hyper that he couldn’t listen to a command or even respond to his name. His front left leg had significant muscle and nerve damage from his accident which caused a noticeable limp. Yet, he and Jonathan immediately bonded and I knew we were committed to making the relationship work.

After convincing Chris that we could somehow tame this wild beast and survive the experience, we welcomed Fred home. Within weeks, we observed remarkable changes in Jonathan as he interacted with Fred. His empathy and gentleness were growing as he learned to care for his dog. Jonathan began noticing Fred’s needs and wanting to meet them. He asked questions about Fred’s thoughts and feelings; exhibiting a growing “theory of mind.” We were greatly encouraged and hopeful about the future.

Fred’s leg grew stronger as Jonathan walked and played with him. He became calmer and able to receive training. He even mastered basic obedience skills. Jonathan and Fred found in one another what they both needed: unconditional acceptance, love, and a joy in companionship that fueled their growth.



More Than a Pet
Fred became an integral, beloved member of our family. Intrigued by the transformation in Jonathan, I began looking for others who had experienced something similar with their children. There was not a lot of research on the relationship between children with autism and dogs at that time, but there was some. Most information was anecdotal. I ran across a wonderful book called, The Golden Bridge: A Guide to Assistance Dogs by Patty Dobbs Gross. This book details a mother’s experience obtaining a service dog for her son with autism and the benefits of service dogs for children with developmental challenges. Reading this book compelled me to explore whether Fred could be more than a pet for Jonathan.

Jonathan was attending twice-weekly therapy sessions with an occupational therapist, Sue. I presented my ideas about Fred to her and was shocked to learn that she was writing a doctoral dissertation on the assessment of dogs for suitability for service work. We became excited about the idea of using her assessment tools on Fred and obtaining training for him if he passed. Sue was also instrumental in helping me develop helpful tasks that Fred could perform. These tasks had to meet federal criteria and Jonathan’s needs. I brought Fred in for assessment: He passed with flying colors. Next, we focused on finding the right trainer.

Corrina became a friend and ally as soon as I called her. Searching for a certified trainer that could help Fred become a service dog was difficult. All the places that advertised to train service dogs required a long separation from Fred, lots of money, and travel. Given the bond that had already developed between Fred and Jonathan, our need for continuity, and a budget-friendly option, we needed a local trainer. Corrina fit the bill, but had not trained dogs specifically for service work before. She willingly looked at federal and state laws and requirements for service dog certification with me. She read Sue’s tasks for Fred and decided to jump on the wagon with us.

Fred would be trained in scenting for Jonathan, providing deep pressure to aid in calming meltdowns, and helping Jonathan navigate traffic and public places. The tasks seemed large, but Corrina’s confidence and enthusiasm encouraged me that Fred’s transformation to service dog was not only possible but doable. We began training in earnest and Fred eagerly assumed his new work duties.

In my next article, I’ll share more about Fred’s transformation, Jonathan’s steps towards community, and how Fred continues to help our family nine years later. I hope you’ll come back to read it!

 

 


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Dyana Robbins

As much as special-needs parents understand caring for others, cultivating compassion in our children can be difficult. Sometimes, conditions like autism or mental illness make compassion challenging to develop. Other times, children can become self-centered and focused as they grapple with the pain of their struggles.

Here are some practical strategies to develop this vital characteristic in our families:

1. Intentionally point out and discuss the needs of others

Young people may require direct teaching in this area.  When my sons were toddlers, we had a poster with kids displaying various facial expressions.  Each expression had an emotion attached to it.  We rehearsed this almost daily to help them interpret non-verbal cues, but also to cultivate empathy.

When they were a bit older, we began coaching them in social interactions by telling them how their behavior was impacting their friends or likely perceived in the community.  This direct teaching was used for both positive and negative interactions.  In many ways, I acted as a narrator for their lives during this stage; explaining the world around them and how they were operating within it.

As they have grown, we discuss news events, life events in the people around us and their own experiences in ways that point to not only facts but likely emotional responses that co-occur.  This practice has challenged us to perceive likely needs and emotions that we can respond to as we engage with these situations.

2. Travel, Serving, and Giving

Despite the limitations our families experience, there are ways we can help our children see beyond our walls.  Even trips to the library or stores provide a myriad of ways to really see those around us.  If you are able to travel more broadly, cross-cultural experiences will greatly hone your family’s compassion as you experience being “the others” while being immersed in the struggles of other cultures.

Serving others is possible for almost every child.  Finding ways to do this as a family cultivates compassion in each member.  Food banks, Operation Christmas Child, visiting nursing homes and volunteering in our neighborhoods provide ample service opportunities.  Prayer for others’ needs is always possible even when we are homebound.

Our family’s favorite service place, besides church, has been a local ministry to the homeless called the Mercy Tree.  This wonderful ministry provides lunch in a local church, devotions, laundry service, showers and transportation to those without homes.  As we cook for our friends and eat together, we understand more of a world we have never experienced and our ability to love in those places broadens.

 

 

3. Share great stories!

Powerful stories that transcend their time always include adversity that their characters overcome.  We can link the characters’ struggles to relevant experiences in our lives or those of others.  This helps us not only understand pain, but what is required to face and overcome the type of struggle depicted.  These stories are blueprints to guide us in helping others.

4. Practice gratitude and compassion at home

  • Tell your spouse frequently what you love and appreciate about him/her in front of your children
  • Around the dinner table, have each family member share thankfulness about the person next to them
  • Keep a thankfulness list in a central location and encourage everyone to contribute
  • Each month, assign one family member to select a person or family to serve in some way
  • Invite others into your home
  • Love each other well
  • Find penpals from other countries and exchange letters

 

I hope that some of these strategies encouraged you to find new ways to encourage compassion in your family.  Besides the joy it will bring your children, fostering compassion expands their relationships and equips them to better relate to their communities.

 

 

 


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This article was reposted from www.amblinggrace.com with permission from the author.