Posts Tagged ‘ education ’

Let’s Chat About Autism

Wednesday, March 27th, 2013

This is a post in the weekly Autism Hopes series by Lisa Quinones-Fontanez, a mom who blogs over at AutismWonderland.

When this photo was posted on Parents Magazine’s Facebook Page, some wondered why I would even mention that my son has autism.

From the moment my son Norrin was diagnosed, I’ve been very open. I remember my mom first telling me that I didn’t need to tell everyone about Norrin. And when he was younger, it probably wasn’t necessary. But the older he gets, the more obvious it becomes. Rather than have people wonder, I’d rather educate.

There are so many misconceptions about autism. So many things that other parents and kids don’t know. And autism is unique to every individual.

There have been times when I’ve told people Norrin has autism and they’ll say something like, “Oh, I never would have guessed. I know someone with autism and they’re like ______.

I talk about Norrin’s autism because I want people to know what our autism looks like.

I never fault anyone for not knowing about autism. But autism seems to become more prevalent, and the more I talk about autism the more I hear, I know someone with autism. I think autism is something everyone should know about – whether they have a personal connection or not.

Next Wednesday, April 3, Parents and Easter Seals will host an autism-themed chat on the Parents Facebook page from 1 to 2 p.m ET.

And I’m excited to be one of the hosts along with developmental-behavioral pediatrician Georgina Peacock, M.D., MPH, and board certified behavior analyst Patricia Wright, Ph.D., MPH.
We’ll talk about the early signs of autism, treatment options and services, and I’ll share my own personal experiences parenting an autistic child. Readers can participate in the chat by asking questions.

Join the Facebook event for the chat and remember to visit the Parents Facebook page on Wednesday, April 3 at 1 p.m. ET. We look forward to hearing your questions!

For more information please click HERE.

Add a Comment

Including Kids With Special Needs In Classrooms: There Are No Easy Answers

Thursday, February 28th, 2013

Max is in a school for kids with special needs, and always has been, but I often wonder about whether we should consider inclusion for him.

It’s a toughie: We think he’s getting a great education, and the teachers and therapists are outstanding. If he were in a so-called typical class, he’d get pulled out a lot for therapies. I’ve heard, straight from a school source, that the quality of aides in our district’s public schools isn’t up there.


I long for him to be around so-called typical kids, both because I think they could have a positive impact on learning and for social reasons, too. And then, there’s this truth: Growing up in a special needs hothouse, as wonderful as it is, isn’t preparing him for the real world.

Last night, I watched the documentary Certain Proof: A Question of Worth; it’s about the challenges children with severe cerebral palsy face in the public education system. It really got me thinking about inclusion, as did this infographic on the topic.

Ah, special needs parenting decisions, decisions….

Photo of child writing on blackboard via Shutterstock

Add a Comment

AutisMate: A New App for Individuals with Autism

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013

This is a post in the weekly Autism Hopes series by Lisa Quinones-Fontanez, a mom who blogs over at AutismWonderland.

A few weeks ago in an effort to get my seven-year-old son, Norrin, settled into a routine, we (our amazing therapist) created a visual schedule. It’s been so helpful for  us that I was thinking of creating schedules for other parts of our day – after school, bedtime, weekends. But I’m as crafty as Norrin’s therapist and it’s just one more thing on my never ending to do list. So when I was asked to review AutisMate, a new app for the iPad, I immediately said yes!

AutisMate is an iPad app that is designed to overcome the developmental challenges associated with autism by utilizing a more comprehensive, holistic approach that emphasizes the interconnected issues of communication and behavioral skills together.

Jonathan Izak, founder of AutisMate, collaborated with over 300 special educators, tech experts, clinicians and parents to create the app.  However, Izak, was inspired by his younger brother Oriel who is autistic and nonverbal. Empathetic to the frustrations individuals with autism may have, Izak describes his brother as “someone yearning to communicate with the outside world.” The AutisMate is designed to help alleviate those frustrations. More importantly, AutisMate can be personalized to suit individual needs and to grow with the user.

Within minutes of downloading AutisMate, I was immediately impressed. It is so user friendly and offers plenty of help along the way. The “My House” menu features several rooms in a house. One of the many cool things about this app, is that you can upload pictures of rooms in your own home to replace the default photos. You can also download additional scenes like “My Pets,” “Dining Room” or “The Park.” And since the AutisMate is GPS enabled – you can create your own scenes.

The Kitchen is one of my favorite rooms. Norrin likes to click on the hands by the sink – a video of someone washing their hands pops up.

We are really working on toothbrushing – this scene will be helpful for us. By clicking on the toothbrush a video pops up of a little boy brushing his teeth.

On the bottom right corner of each scene there is a  ”1 2 3 star” – by clicking on that, the visual scheduler appears – another of my favorite features! The “Brushing teeth” visual schedule even has a timer to show kids how long they should be brushing. After checking off each step, they work until they reach their reward (goal). Again, you are able to create your own visual schedules and customize it with your own photos.

The sentence builder will be especially useful for individuals who are not only non-verbal but for those who want to expand their vocabulary. By clicking on each picture, you can create a sentence and have the sentence repeated to you.

I’m not tech savvy at all, but this was easy enough for me to navigate and figure out. And I’m excited to create new schedules for Norrin and incorporate this into his daily routine. Norrin has been having fun with it too and the toothbrushing schedule and video is really helping us. This is something I could see us using for years.

The app is available via iTunes App Store for $149.99 and while it is on the more expensive side – it’s truly an investment and one that will grow as your child grows.


Disclaimer: I was provided with a complimentary app for review, all opinions are my own

Add a Comment

Are You Prepared For A School Bus Strike?

Thursday, January 17th, 2013

This is a post in the weekly Autism Hopes series by Lisa Quinones-Fontanez, a mom who blogs over at AutismWonderland.

I will never forget the first day I put my son, Norrin, on a school bus. He was two years old, his book bag straps kept falling off his shoulders, he had no language and he was still wearing diapers. Norrin’s been on a school bus ever since (he’ll be seven in a few days). He’s never gone to a school within walking distance. And most of the special needs children I know are taken to school by bus. It’s a service so many parents rely on. And I never even thought about what I would do if that service abruptly stopped. Not until recently anyway.

New York City students and families are being impacted by a school bus strike – 152,000 students to be exact, with a significant amount being students with special needs.

Norrin is one of those students. And on Day Two of the strike, our family is already struggling.

I work full-time outside of the home as a Legal Administrative Assistant, my husband is a Court Officer – we don’t have the kind of jobs where we can work from home. Norrin’s school is twenty miles away – far from public transportation. We have a car but I don’t know how to drive. If I were to take Norrin to school on my own it could take up to two hours in commuting (by bus, train and a short cab ride) or a thirty minute cab ride (about $75 each way).

But getting Norrin to school isn’t really the problem.  It’s picking him up – that’s the issue. It interferes with work and after school therapies. I’ve spent this last week trying to weigh all my options in the event of a school bus strike. And we’re still trying to figure out the logistics and put together our contingency plan. But the reality is, there are no easy options. I’ve already used two vacation days to stay home – not sure how much longer we can last. The last strike was in 1979 and it lasted three months.

Can you imagine if your special needs child missed three months of school because of a bus strike?

I’m hoping it doesn’t last that long. Because Norrin cannot miss three months of school or services.

But this strike has been an eye opener. I realized that I don’t have the contact information for any of Norrin’s five classmates. And even though Norrin does well riding trains and buses – I’ve never taken him up to school by myself. I haven’t even made the  trip on my own. I love Norrin’s school, it was well worth the fight to get him there but I wish it were closer. I wish I had the ability to drop him off and to connect with other parents. Once things get back to normal, I’m going to reach out to the parents of Norrin’s classmates.

I’m home with Norrin and we’re ready to head out – maybe to the zoo or the museum. But I want to hear from you.

Are you impacted by the NYC School Bus Strike? What are you doing? For more strike information and reimbursement forms – please click HERE.

And if you’re not in NYC but you depend on a school bus to transport your child to and from school – do you have a Plan B if busing was no longer an option?


photo credit: Caitlinator via photopin cc

Add a Comment

The Six Degree Project To Raise Autism Awareness

Thursday, January 10th, 2013

This is a post in the weekly Autism Hopes series by Lisa Quinones-Fontanez, a mom who blogs over at AutismWonderland.

National Autism Awareness Month may be in April, but The Six Degree Project is a grass roots student organization passionate about taking autism awareness to the next level. With the collaboration of Carly Fleischmann, Emily Albert and Mia Kibel, the goal of the project is to get people talking about autism outside of autism awareness month.

Working off the basis that we’re connected to everybody in the world by six degrees of separation, the students picked 12 celebrities they feel the people in their communities might be able to reach: Jimmy Fallon, Ellen Degeneres, Justin Bieber, Brad Pitt, Dr. Phil, Ernie Els, Whoopi Goldberg, Kelly Ripa, Travis Stork, Anderson Cooper, the cast of Saturday Night Live, and Ryan Seacrest.The goal is to prompt these 12 celebrities and more to wear a blue scarf in February to show their support for autism and educate people as to why they’re wearing them. Since these celebrities are often the centre of media attention, the students feel it will get people talking about autism and increase overall awareness of the disorder.

The Six Degree Team made this really awesome YouTube video – you can watch it HERE. (It explains the project in more detail.) When I watched it, I got a little emotional because it’s truly inspiring to see a group of teenagers working to make an impact.

I appreciate National Autism Awareness month, I am grateful that we have an entire month dedicated to raising awareness. But for me and for so many other autism parents and autistic individuals, autism awareness is every single day, not just one month out of the year. And in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook tragedy, the autism community needs this. We need positive awareness. We need support. We need your help.

The average person on Facebook has between 120 to 245 friends…and you never know who your friends are Facebook friends with. I mean just a few weeks ago, I discovered that I have a three degree separation from Tom Cruise. And earlier this year, I learned that Amanda Seyfried is the first cousin of my former coworker. And doesn’t everyone have a some degree of separation from Kevin Bacon? By sharing, tweeting or posting about The Six Degree Project YouTube video you never know who it may reach.

But you don’t have to have a known celebrity connection to participate. You don’t even have to know anyone with autism. Autism awareness is a two way street. You just have to be willing to learn, show your support and meet us half way.

I am excited to order my blue scarf and I will wear it proudly.

For more information on The Six Degree Project visit them at

Image: Screen grab, The Six Degree Project


Add a Comment