Posts Tagged ‘ autism ’

An OT-Approved Gift Guide for All Kids

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014

If your child works with an occupational therapist (OT)–or even if he doesn’t–you’re practically guaranteed to find at least one perfect gift for him on this holiday gift guide curated by my sister Meghan, an OT in New York City and mom of a 4-year-old little girl. She originally started this list in the form of an email, as a service to the parents of the children she works with (who range in age from 2 to 12 and have minor fine-motor/manipulation delays, developmental delays, Down syndrome, autism, sensory processing disorder, and ADD/ADHD). She includes toys, games, crafts, and apps, and takes great care to explain exactly what skills it builds, which children will benefit most, and tips to get the most from it. “My goal is to find products that will be fun for the kids, that parents won’t mind spending money on, and will encourage both cognitive and creative development,” Meghan says. Her first list was such a hit, she now works on it nearly year-round, and unveils it right around Thanksgiving on her blog, MAC & Toys. This year’s collection is bigger than ever, so I asked her to pick her absolute favorites of all the picks making their debut on her list. Here they are:

1.  Discovery Putty

This has been a huge hit with the kids I work with. They love digging through this magical putty and finding treats or animals. I like to have the kids pretend to be explorers and talk about what they’re finding. Even better: Kids who may need to work on making their hands stronger can do just that while playing with it.

2.  Seedling’s Art Kits

I love doing crafts with my own child and the children I work with. This New Zealand-based company began seven years ago with the simple goal of creating products that would encourage hours of creative and imaginative play for kids of all ages.  Each kit (and there are so many wonderful ones to choose from) comes with all the supplies needed to make your own SuperHero Cape, Snow Globe, Bird House, or many other magical things.  For those busy parents who may not be so crafty, this is the perfect thing to make you feel like Martha Stewart!

3.  Boogie Board

Remember Etch-A-Sketch and Magna Doodle boards? Those toys still bring hours of entertainment to kids. A couple of years ago, my daughter received a Boogie Board as a gift and we’ve been playing with it since.  I brought one to my office to use with the kids and it’s been really popular. Whether it be for practicing writing letters or numbers, drawing pictures, or making lists, this lightweight and easily portable writing tablet allows for hours of creative fun and it’s great for long car/plane rides, waiting at the doctor’s office, or to just chill out on the couch with. And it’s perfect for all ages.

4.  Squigz

These suction cup construction toys are super fun, and motivating for kids of any age. Whether you decide to get the starter or deluxe set, these toys will not only be relaxing but provide some sensory (auditory and tactile) stimulation that will keep your kids entertained for hours. It encourages creativity, fine-motor skills, and social interaction. They are incredibly versatile and can be used on walls, bathtubs, windows, table and desktops. Be sure to check out Squigz Benders and pipSquigz.

5.  Osmo Tangrams

In my practice, I have embraced the use of the iPad into sessions, since it’s often motivating for some of my older and more challenging kids. One of my new favorite iPad accessories is the Osmo Game System, especially the Tangrams set. What I love most is that my kids who really struggle with visual perceptual and visual motor activities–and often avoid things like puzzles–have found this particular Tangram set to be more fun and less like work. Arrange the tangible puzzle pieces into matching on-screen shapes to unlock more puzzles. Kids can play individually or against a friend. Watch your child’s self-esteem and confidence grow after she successfully completes each puzzle.

6.  Kinetic Sand

At this time of year, when we’re cold and dealing with snow, what’s better than feeling like you’re playing at the beach? WABA Fun has created this amazing moldable sand that kids can mold into objects, flatten with a rolling pin, cut into shapes with cookie cutters, and hide objects in. There are lots of imitators out there, but be sure to splurge and get the real stuff since it will last longer (WABA guarantees it will never dry out) and has nothing in it that may cause allergic reactions.

So those are Meghan’s favorites this year–but there are dozens more where that came from, so be sure to check out her complete list. Happy Holidays!


Photo via Shutterstock.

Not-so Frosty the Snowman
Not-so Frosty the Snowman
Not-so Frosty the Snowman

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Vaccines. Autism. Are We Done With This Yet?

Thursday, August 28th, 2014

Editor’s Note: This guest post was written by Parents advisor Ari Brown, M.D., who is a pediatrician at 411 Pediatrics, in Austin, Texas, the author of Baby 411, and a mom of two.

It has been 16 long years since the shot heard round the world. I’m not talking about the Revolutionary War, but the Modern Vaccine War. It all started with a press conference held in London on February 26, 1998.

Researchers convened the press to discuss the findings of a newly published case report in The Lancet on a handful of children with gut problems and autism. It turned into a worldwide panic attack about the combination Measles-Mumps-Rubella (MMR) vaccine possibly causing autism. Despite the fact that their report proved nothing of the sort (and has never been validated by later studies), the researchers chose to vilify the combination vaccine and advise that the three vaccines should not be given together.

As we know now, the Lancet case report had no scientific merit. What makes good science? When various independent researchers set up well-conducted studies and they all find the same results.

(Forget about the fact that the researchers on that Lancet report were paid six-figure sums to publish the study, the lead researcher lost his license to practice medicine in the U.K., and the report was permanently retracted from the journal. Truth is sometimes stranger than fiction!)

My point is simple and I bring it up today because there is yet another “controversy” swirling around social media about vaccines and autism.

Here’s the rub: A biochemical engineer dad with a child who has autism reviewed data from a 2004 study conducted by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). After looking at the raw data, he determined that African American males have a greater risk of autism if they receive the combination MMR vaccine before age 3. (The CDC did not include some of this data in the published study because they did not have the complete data on race for all study participants and including it in the report might have led to erroneous conclusions.) He was alerted to this “hidden data” by a CDC researcher, Dr. William Thompson.

(Forget about the fact that this well-meaning gentleman is not an epidemiologist or a statistician and believes that his own child developed autism from vaccines. Although Dr. Thompson actually publicly agrees on the need for transparency in all research, he does not feel parents should “avoid vaccinating children of any race.”)

As you can imagine, this has brought the anti-vaccinationists, denialists, and conspiracy theorists out of the woodwork. While it certainly makes for provocative YouTube videos comparing the vaccination program to the Holocaust, let’s go back to my simple point.

What makes good science? Independent researchers study the same hypothesis and draw the same conclusions. The study in question came out in 2004, and was certainly not the only or definitive study done on the safety of the MMR vaccine. Believe me, the MMR vaccine has been studied repeatedly by researchers all over the world since the Modern Vaccine War began in 1998. Good science shows there is no association between the MMR vaccine and autism. Period.

The Vaccine Schedule
The Vaccine Schedule
The Vaccine Schedule

Image via Shutterstock

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Your Autism FAQs Answered

Monday, April 14th, 2014

As part of Autism Awareness Month, Parents and Easter Seals teamed up to bring our Facebook fans expert  answers to their biggest questions about autism spectrum disorders during our Facebook chat. Dr. Patricia Wright, a board certified behavior analyst and Easter Seals’ National Director of Autism Services, and 2014 Parents Social Media Award Winner Autism Daddy, a 44-year-old blogger and dad to a 10-year-old son with severe/classic autism, shared their expert opinions on all things autism.

Note: Some responses have been edited for clarity.

“What do you wish more people knew about autism spectrum disorders?”

Dr. Wright: I wish that all parents knew how important it is for EVERY child to be screened for autism and other developmental disabilities as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatric Guidelines. For autism, that is at 18 months and again at 24 or 30 months. For society as a whole, I wish that people could meet the many adults living with autism who are happy, contributing members of society. I think this would leave to greater acceptance of people living with autism and increase the opportunities for children and adults with autism to have greater success in life.

“What are your thoughts on the rising numbers in children with autism? What do YOU believe is a factor?”

Dr. Wright: “There is certainly lots of discussion about the rising prevalence. I have focused my career on supporting people who have already been diagnosed. I do look to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for information and there is some great research being done at places like UC Davis  that are trying to answer this important question.”

“My son was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder at 22 months. He is now 25 months and with the help of speech and Applied Behavioral Analysis therapies, he went from completely nonverbal to speaking more than 40 words appropriately (as well as better eye contact and interaction). I’ve heard of, ‘falling off the spectrum.’ Have you seen this happen? Is it really possible?”

Dr. Wright: “The most recent data reports that approximately 13-17 percent of children who are accurately diagnosed with autism lose their diagnosis.”

“Is there a guide of the actual spectrum, from severe to non-severe?”

Dr. Wright: “Autism is diagnosed via observation and interview. Autism diagnostics are typically conducted by a team of professionals which might include a physician, psychologist, speech-language pathologist, occupational therapist, and others as appropriate. There are two ‘gold-standard’ tools: the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS) and the Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised (ADI-R). These are the best tools we have. The ADOS is an activity based assessment that involves interaction between the parent and the assessor. The ADI is an interview conducted with the parent. It is important to have professionals engaged in the assessment that are trained in autism diagnosis and using good assessment tools like the ADOS and ADI-R. A diagnosis is often a multi-step process and based upon the unique needs of the child there may be other assessments that need to be conducted such as a hearing test, genetic testing and others. Your healthcare provider should lead you through the diagnostic process.”

“Different doctors tell us different things about where our son is on the spectrum. I’ve been told he can’t be because he speaks and is too social. He has a very low IQ. So is he what some would say high functioning?”

Dr. Wright: “Speaking and being social aren’t necessarily rule-outs for an autism diagnosis. An autism diagnosis is conducted through behavioral observation of the child and interview with parents. Autism diagnostics are typically conducted by a team of professionals which might include a physician, psychologist, speech-language pathologist, occupational therapist, and others as appropriate. There are two ‘gold-standard’ tools the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS) and the Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised (ADI-R). These are the best tools we have. The ADOS is an activity based assessment that involves interaction between the parent and the assessor. The ADI is an interview conducted with the parent. It is important to have professionals engaged in the assessment that are trained in autism diagnosis and using good assessment tools like the ADOS and ADI-R. A diagnosis is often a multi-step process and based upon the unique needs of the child there may be other assessments that need to be conducted such as a hearing test, genetic testing and others. Your healthcare provider should lead you through the diagnostic process.”

“What has been the most helpful resource for you as a parent of a child with autism?”

Autism Daddy: “Facebook! Seriously when my son first was diagnosed, it was pre-Facebook and I went to a few support group meetings in person. The parents were all at different parts of their autism journey, and most were higher functioning than my son. I found the support group meetings frustrating and uninformative. The great thing about Facebook is that you can find the specific support group that fits your needs. Low-functioning, Aspie’s, non-verbal, autism and epilepsy, etc.”

“What do you wish more people knew about what it’s like to raise a child with autism?”

Autism Daddy: “That it can be very hard, exhausting, and isolating. That’s not easy to hear, I know, but it’s the truth. Though the autism parents you know may be putting on a brave face and saying they’re fine and don’t need help, offer to help them anyway. And all you autism parents out there: stop acting so damn strong. I don’t want pity as much as the next guy, but there’s no shame in saying you are overwhelmed and need help.”

“What do you find is the most effective way to encourage your child to communicate with you—and others?”

Autism Daddy: “My son is a tough customer when it comes to communicating, but the iPad is starting to work its magic. He’s able to navigate the iPad like a champ, which is great since he doesn’t have fine motor skills. He likes a lot of the toddler apps like Monkey Preschool Lunchbox and Elmo’s Numbers & Letters.”

My 3 ½-year-old daughter was evaluated a few months ago. They told me she’s not autistic, yet she’s on the spectrum scale. She tells me what she needs and wants, knows how to count to 20, is familiar with her colors, etc. How do I explain or make people aware when they wonder why she doesn’t talk as well as other kids her age?”

Autism Daddy: “Don’t get bogged down in the labels. Maybe she’s autistic, maybe she’s not. The key is that she’s young, and she needs a little extra help. When people ask, just say she’s a bit speech delayed. If the experts tell you she’s on the spectrum, don’t freak out. Use that diagnosis to get extra services like speech and occupational therapy.”

“Do they always flap their hands and walk on their tiptoes? Can they be on the lower end of the spectrum if they don’t do this but have other signs?”

Autism Daddy: Flapping and toe walking are just a few of the “stims” that a lot of kids with autism do, but not all. Just because they do or don’t doesn’t indicate their severity.”

Dr. Wright: “Autism is a spectrum disorder, so every child presents symptoms in their own unique way. Not every child with autism has toe-walking or hand-flapping and these behaviors in isolation would not indicate a severity level.”

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Children with Autism: The Parents Perspective
Children with Autism: The Parents Perspective
Children with Autism: The Parents Perspective

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How Has Autism Affected Your Friendships?

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

There are so many important issues surrounding autism: early detection. Proper diagnosis. Early intervention. Research-proven treatment. Bullying. Nutritional complications. Safety. At Parents, we’ve covered them all. But there was one angle we hadn’t addressed, and it was the impact the diagnosis has on friendships between parents. Writer Jamie Pacton (at right in photo) pitched us a moving essay about her own story: Ever since eighth grade, she and her best friend Ashleigh (at left) had been on parallel tracks, and even ended up living in their hometown after marriage and getting pregnant at precisely the same time. They each gave birth to a son within four days of one another. But that’s where the similarities ended, because Jamie’s son, Liam, would go on to be diagnosed with autism, and Ashleigh’s would not.

The strain this put on their relationship was immense. It took Jamie quite some time to come to terms with Liam’s diagnosis and all it entailed, and she found herself increasingly jealous of the kind of mothering experience Ashleigh was having. Ashleigh, meanwhile, was often at a loss for words–or the right words–when trying to discuss Liam’s challenges. If you read her touching, honest essay, you’ll learn how she and Ashleigh handled it.

It obviously resonated with parents, because Jamie has heard from many who are in a similar situation. One mom tracked down Jamie’s email to thank her for the article and let her know how much she could relate. She described how, when trying to get out of a reunion with college friends, she tearfully burst out, “I don’t want to see how well your kids are doing and resent you! I’m sorry!”

Thankfully, Liam, who is nearly 6 and nonverbal, is making huge strides of late. He went to the zoo last week and for the first time, he didn’t need a stroller–he was able to walk through the whole zoo, he rode a pony and a train, and was engaged with the animals. And in another first, in January he used his Yes/No board to answer two questions he’d never answered before: “Do you love your Mommy?” “Do you love your Daddy?” I think you know what the answers were, and what it meant to Jamie and her husband.

For ways to help friends understand Autism, download Autism Speaks Family Support Took Kit.

A Test for Autism Risk: Head Lag
A Test for Autism Risk: Head Lag
A Test for Autism Risk: Head Lag

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Meditation as a Potential Treatment for Autism Spectrum Disorder

Friday, November 22nd, 2013

According to the CDC, 1 in 88 people have an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The prevalence has increased ten-fold over the last 40 years. There is no cure, but there seem to be as many treatments as there are manifestations of symptoms of the disorder. On November 14, the David Lynch Foundation and Joey Lowenstein Foundation co-sponsored a webinar called “Autism, Meditation, and Stress” to discuss transcendental mediation as a potential treatment for those affected by ASD—one that is non-invasive, non-medical, and works to help those with ASD as well as their families.

Transcendental meditation is the name of this treatment—truly a practice or technique to quiet the mind. While transcendental meditation itself is not new, the initiative to bring the practice to those on the spectrum has taken off in the past couple of years. A panel of experts in the fields of autism, psychiatry, and neuropsychology, gathered to vouch for the merits of meditation for this particular population.

“Those with ASD are in a state of chronic stress,” explained David Black, Ph.D., director of the Center for Autism Assessment and Treatment. While at this time the benefits of transcendental meditation are largely anecdotal for those with ASD, the research conducted with people who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder show that this practice settles the sympathetic nervous system, can reduce blood pressure, and lessens reactiveness to stimuli. The experts emphasized that ASD is a stress-related condition since the four components of stress are novelty, unpredictability, perceived threat, and low sense of control. It’s the sensitivity to all of these that make those with ASD “wired to be stressed,” according to William Stixrud, Ph.D, a clinical neuropsychologist and President of the Stixrud Group.

But how does TM work to relieve this stress? What does it mean to meditate? Is it just sitting quietly in a room—is that meditation? Transcendental Meditation is taught in seven steps, usually over a four-day period. Anyone who wants to learn will be paired with a certified TM instructor—of which there are thousands in more than 200 cities nationwide. The teacher helps an individual choose a mantra that custom-fits him or her and teaches the student how to use the mantra to access and inner quiet. It all sounds very vague, but I trust that you have to try it to understand it. I haven’t tried it myself, but I’m intrigued enough that I hope to meet with a TM instructor in 2014. I could certainly benefit from increased focus and decreased stress as much as anyone else.

It may sound counterintuitive that a child who cannot sit still would be able to meditate, but families report that after working with an instructor their child can do it—albeit only for a few minutes at first, but this will grow over time. Many families have already seen changes in the behavior of their children on the spectrum. Roberta Lowenstein and her 17-year-old son Joey—founders of the Joey Lowenstein Foundation—meditate together. Joey is nonverbal and when he first started to practice TM two years ago he was only able to sit for about 5 minute spurts. But after eight weeks, Joey was able to meditate for 20 minutes twice a day. Joey said (through his letterboard) that TM really helps him. He feels calmer. His mother has noted less outbursts. His grades in school have improved.

Roberta was shocked that her son was even able to sit down long enough to meditate. But he can, and he does. Children with ASD are able to meditate and find the calm within. “[The mind] is like the ocean,” said Bob Roth, Executive Director of the David Lynch Foundation. “On the surface, the it’s is busy and noisy, but deeper, a calm exists. We use TM to access a deep state of calm which is already present in a person.” Scientifically, this meditation enlivens the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which allows for more flexibility, sociability, and ability to cope with novelty. Sounds like a good matchup.

While this webinar focused solely on TM, it isn’t the only kind of meditation that can benefit children with ASD. In the past decade experts have embraced the idea of teaching a form called mindfulness to children with conditions including ASD and ADHD.

More research is necessary, and you do have to have the resources (TM costs around $375 per child—although scholarships are available) to match your child with a certified TM practitioner, but this practice may be worth exploring based on its tested effects on other populations. After all, TM doesn’t produce the side effects that accompany drugs and some other experimental therapies. As one mom said during the webinar, “After one month of meditating, I realized that I couldn’t remember the last time Alex had a tantrum.”

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Image: Courtesy David Lynch Foundation; Students meditating at a San Francisco school

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