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Kids that Fidget

It can be hard for any child to sit still in classes all day long.  Let’s face it – it would be hard for most grown-ups to sit still that long.  Even with breaks, lunch, and recesses, kids are still expected to be still and quiet for long periods of time.  This becomes even more of a struggle for kids with special needs like ADHD or autism.  There are some resources that will give your children an outlet for them to fidget in a calmer manner.

Pencil Fidgets

Kids that have to be doing something with their hands with appreciate these pencil toppers.  Each of the four kinds has a long piece that fits on the pencil.  The long piece holds a shorter piece that can move up and down.  A child can sit in class with their pencil and still be able to move their hands without distracting other students or the teacher.

Stress Balls

Another help for kids that fidget is the common stress ball.  In this case, the stress ball is not just to relieve stress.  The purpose instead is simply for the child to have something to do with their hands.  Squeezing the stress ball allows children to release energy in a less active way.

Chew Objects

While some children need to move or fidget with their hands, other children need to chew on things.  If not given something specific, these students tend to bite their fingernails, chew on their pencils, or even suck on their hands.  If you child is a student like this, it may help to give them something that is specifically for them to chew on.  Companies are making chewing objects for kids that are fun and cute accessories.  Boys will like the dog tags while girls with feel pretty in a beaded necklace.

So if your child needs to fidget in class, try out one of these toys.  Maybe they need to hand movement or feeling in their mouth to help them concentrate.  Maybe the need to move or chew is completely out of their control.  Either way, these toys are resources that can help.  What other sensory toys does your child like to use?

Photo by: Kids that Fidget

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April: Autism Awareness Month

April is Autism Awareness Month.  This month is dedicated to spreading awareness about autism through various events that help to raise money for research about this developmental disorder.  The Autism Society began holding Autism Awareness Month in the 1970’s.

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Autism impacts social and communication skills.  There are varying degrees of autism including Kanner’s Syndrome (classic autism), Rett Syndrome, Asperger’s Syndrome, and Pervasive Developmental Disorder.  Autism is measured on the Autism Spectrum Disorders scale and can range from mild to severe.   Autism is typically diagnosed between birth and two years of age.  When the diagnosis happens at a young age, interventions can begin to help the child with social interactions and learning communication skills.

Typically, a form titled ARI’s diagnostic form is used to diagnose autism.  Questions about the pregnancy, birth, developmental growth stages, and behaviors of the child are used to calculate a score.  This score is then utilized in part of the diagnosis process for autism.

There are many organizations and companies that are dedicated to helping individuals with autism.  Many of them provide information on this disorder, raise funds for research, and provide support for families and individuals with autism.

The Autism Society

The Autism Society is a non-profit organization that strives to improve the lives of all individuals with autism.  They are actively involved in pursuing educational initiatives for children with autism as well as holding conferences and providing assistance to families with autistic children.  For Autism Awareness Month, The Autism Society has an article with an annotated list of events that are happening around the United States to build awareness and raise funds for autism research.

Autism Speaks

Autism Speaks is a non-profit advocacy organization for autism research, treatments, and support.  Their website provides information about autism, ways to raise money for autism research, and support for families with autistic children.  The information section is a great resource for teachers to learn what autism is, theories about what contributes to the development of autism, how it is diagnosed, how it is treated, special education services provided for students with autism, and family planning for a child with autism.  These valuable resources can help to lead to the diagnosis and treatment of a student with autism and make the teacher more aware of classroom modifications that will need to be made for students with autism.

The Autism Education Network

The Autism Education Network provides information about special education rights for students with autism.  They also coordinate trainings, programs, and services to help support families with autistic children.   There is a resource center with links, books, downloads of autism reading materials, and connections to find experts or speakers in the field of autism.  This network also helps families make connections with other families with autistic children in their area.

Vizzle

Vizzle is an online learning program for students with autism.  There are pre-made lessons that can be customized to meet the student and classroom needs or teachers can also create their own lessons with the large database of pictures and sounds.  Students learn academic-based curriculum with the use of pictures, sounds, video, and animations.  Lessons can also include teaching students social, communication, and every-day task skills.

Article By Laura Ketcham

Picture By Beverly & Pack

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Therapeutic Toys for Children with Autism

Children who have been diagnosed with autism have difficulty appropriately displaying their emotions, interacting with other children and adults, and expressing their feelings.  Having structured play time with therapeutic toys can help children with autism to learn to overcome these deficits.  There are many websites that offer different types of therapeutic toys to be used for this purpose.  These would be great additions to the pre-kindergarten and elementary level special education classrooms.   Many of these different toys are eligible items to be included in various grant funded opportunities for special education students.

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KidScope Toys

KidScope Toys sells toys for students with autism.   They have toys that help with educational goals, therapy goals, and general toys for children with autism.  Some of the toys help the children build both fine and gross motor skills, and some of the toys help to build play skills.  The specific toys that help children to express their emotions are included under the category of social skills, emotional regulation, and language and communication.

The toys in these categories help the students to communicate their feelings through play.  The social skills toys include dolls that can interact with the child and books about social skills that students can read with a parent or teacher.  The language and communication toys include toys like interactive calendars, books on feelings, reward and responsibility charts, and a play tea set.  The play tea set is a great toy for children with autism to play with to learn skills like sharing, asking questions, and responding in a non-threatening environment.  The emotional regulation toys include tactile toys like stuffed animals, timers, small playground style toys.  One toy that I found particularly interesting was a small hand-held textured (and colorful) twisting toy.  This is a toy that a child with autism could use to help them to work through anxiety and difficult social situations.

Step Forward 123

On the website for Step Forward 123, they offer many different toys that help students to build motor and social skills.  One of the most popular products that this site offers is therapy balls.  The balls come in various sizes and help children to learn balance and coordinator, as well as being able to work with the different colors and textures.  The children’s play sets by this include colorful sets of foam blocks that can be arranged into different ways.  Children can role play while learning social skills and interacting with other students in a non-threatening way.

Special Needs Toys

Special Needs Toys has toys for children with a variety of disabilities.  All of the toys would be helpful for children with autistic, especially toys in the sections about communication and socialization.   The toys in the communication section ranges widely from toys that are used for speech therapy to art and music kits that allow children to express their feels through sound and color.  There are also magnetic communication kits that involve a series of emotions, home activities, facial expressions, and behavior magnets.  The socialization toys include games where the child would interact with other children or adults in a play-based manner.  There are also dolls and stuffed animals that can be used with the child to play and display appropriate behaviors from a toy that will not judge the child.  The last set of toys in this section are tactile toys to increase the child’s sensory responses.

All of these toys would make great additions to the elementary special education classroom.  These tools are often used at home and in therapy sessions outside of school and would bridge the gap between these experiences and school.

Article by Laura Ketcham

Picture By EvelynGiggles

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Moving Along – Autism Movement Therapy

At Denise Gucwa’s School of Dance in Lederach, Pennsylvania, music and movement are the key factors in leading a group of children with autism.

denise school of dance

This dance studio is the first in Pennsylvania to offer Autism Movement Therapy (AMT), which combines sensory technique that promotes communication between the brain’s right and left hemispheres, improving behavior, communication and social skills.
Because the activity of dance uses both sides of the brain to remember patterns and process movements, it can act like a different form of therapy for these students. The studio also welcomes entire families to participate in the program.

With families signing up, there has already been a positive response of the program. With small classroom sizes, there is less of a risk of overstimulation for the students involved. With a separate entrance that leads to the AMT room, students can also avoid the crowds and busy areas where the other dancers are.

In the class, students start by practicing movements like bending, swaying and simple motions. In the loco motor segment, students start skipping, running and other more intense movements across the floor. Once everyone is gathered in a circle, each student becomes a leader, guiding the others through a series of movements and sounds. Finally, freeze dance allows the students to express their independence and freedom to move about however they choose.
With the growing number of certified AMT instructors across the country, there are more opportunities for students with autism to take advantage of these types of classes.

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A Sound Idea – Program for Students with Autism and Hearing Impairments

Many programs are created to give students with special needs a chance at growing and learning at their own pace. Many of them focus on one or many disorders. In Brattleboro, Vermont, they are catering towards two specific disorders.

vermont

In recent years, the number of autistic children has increased. In addition, many of these children also have been classified as deaf. The Vermont Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing has decided to start the first deaf-autism program in the country. The program is a better way for these students to communicate with each other, which was more difficult to do in previous years.

The program has a lot of the same approaches and curriculum as it had in the past, but many of the details have been edited to better fit for the deaf students.  The non-profit organization already serves 625 deaf and hard of hearing people in Vermont and southern New Hampshire. Eight students have already enrolled in the deaf-autism program.

With help from several grants, they plan to expand and grow with their program to accommodate more students and open more programs around the country. They want to also make sure the appropriate staff are selected and trained so that the students get the most out of the program.

Since this program addresses the most important needs for these students, they can benefit from the learning experience in a new way. In addition to the learning taking place, there will also be research done to discover more effective learning methods for the autistic students, both hearing and deaf.

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Center for Autism and Related Disabilities | UM-NSU CARD


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Article by Laura Ketcham

UM-NSU CARD is an organization to help children and adults with autism.  This specific organization is based out of two South Florida universities including the University of Miami and Nova Southeastern at three different locations.  There are also other regional centers around Florida, based at the various Universities, and also other organizations around the United States that have the similar goals.  UM-NSU CARD provides family support services, consultations, training programs, and community outreach to individuals with autism, their families, and individuals who work with them.

Individuals who ask for assistance with a child or adult with autism from UM-NSU CARD are served at their home or schools.  The staff members travel there and may help them with various concerns including behavioral, communication, or learning difficulties.  They will make suggestions for therapies or programs that may help the individual with autism.  They cannot help with providing a diagnosis for the individual, but can help families to obtain information to contact physicians or organizations that can help with those needs.

Their website also has many online resources for educators and parents to learn more about various services, facts, therapy options, behavior and social modifications and strategies to support individuals with autism.  These resources can help teachers and parents to learn more about autism, therapies and programs that can help the child build socially appropriate behaviors, and teaching strategies for learning new skills.

Being part of this organization allows the parents and teachers to join this “community” in South Florida. It can open doors to meet other families or teachers working with children who have autism.  Building this network can lead to finding therapy options, programs, strategies, or other connections for assisting children with autism.  UM-NSU CARD holds various fundraising events and support group sessions throughout the year in both Miami-Dade and Broward Counties.

There are many other support groups throughout the nation that provide similar services.  Many of these are federally funded and run through local universities.  These can be helpful organizations to provide the needed assistance and education for both parents and teachers to help autistic children to lead independent and successful lives.

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Summer Guidance for Students

Children with special needs or other learning disabilities usually need extra help in the classroom, but they oftentimes need help outside the classroom in social situations and other interactions with people.

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Teaneck’s Extended School Year is a six-week summer program that is offered to the special education students in New Jersey school districts. The programs focus on behaviors like nonverbal communication, problem solving and appropriate social behavior.

With students ranging in differences from all over the autism spectrum, there are many different needs and behaviors that have to be addressed. One thing in common is that all of these students need help in socializing with one another. With the help of this program, six different social skills modules will be covered.

Because social skills are such an integral part of education for autistic students, the summer program is also used to help them keep up with these behaviors through the summer months. Some students may have trouble communicating with others while some may have a harder time socializing.

A main focus is on nonverbal communication, which can alter relationships with teachers and students in the classroom if misunderstood. Combined with help from the West Bergen Mental Health Center, parents are also offered classes and guidance in supporting their children.

By combining education and health, the friendly and knowledgeable staff hopes to offer helpful and effective help to help children with special needs lead more efficient lives. Keeping up in the summer months is a crucial step in bettering social and behavioral interactions during the school year.

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Working Together for Autism – The Groden Network

For many people with special needs, learning more than just academics can be a vital and important aspect of their education.

groden

The Groden Center, a Rhode Island school and residential treatment facility for youths with autism and other developmental disabilities, was fortunate enough to receive a $333,000 federal grant.

This school has been both treating and educating students and their families for over 30 years. The majority of this grant money will go towards developing the program they have for vocational training and employment for those people with Asperger’s syndrome. This disorder, which is on the high end of the autism spectrum, often makes social interaction and communication more difficult.

Although they may be slower to develop social relationships, people with Asperger’s syndrome are willing to work hard and are usually reliable and loyal, great characteristics for employees. The vocational program is the perfect opportunity for these students to further enhance the skills necessary to finding and maintaining jobs in the future.

In addition to giving the people skills and information needed for future jobs, it is also useful to provide all other members of society with the information they may need to know when dealing with these members of society, making everyone more aware of people with differences.

Within the first year of the program, participants landed successful jobs or internships including positions in banks, school cafeterias, auto shops and other local businesses. The Groden Center also has future plans to add an academic component to the program, helping participants of the program to continue to further their education while working on the social challenges they come across.

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Inspirational Student with Autism: Haley Moss

Haley Moss is an autistic teenager from Parkland, Florida.  She is also an artist and a writer.  At 16 years old, she currently has her artwork being shown at various South Florida galleries and has published her first book.  She is a student at the Pine Crest High School in Ft. Lauderdale and attributes part of her success to the great teachers at the schools she has attended.  She attends regular classes, and until now, many of her fellow classmates didn’t even realize that she had autism; they just thought she was shy.

Autism

Haley is a high-functioning autistic girl who gets good grades and is able to strive in mainstream classes.  She struggles socially, but realizes that it is just part of who she is, not all of who she is.  Her book, Middle School:  The Stuff Nobody Tells You About, is about her struggles through middle school and how her experiences can help other students to be successful both academically and socially through the awkward years of middle school.

Haley began speaking openly about her autism when she spoke at a national conference on Autism.  Today, 1 in 110 children have autism, and 1 in 70 are boys.  Many of her classmates didn’t know she had autism until she spoke out about it while her artwork was beginning to be presented at local South Florida Galleries and had several articles and TV interviews during April – Autism Awareness Month.  Her digital art, created with a computer, is a cross between Japanese cartoons and whimsy.  Many of her pieces relate to her life including her friends, her struggles, and her mother.

Part of Haley’s success can be attributed to her parents who were persistent and tried various therapies until they found a combination of successful tools that helped Haley to speak, read, and learn social stills.  They stress that they never gave up – nor should other parents in similar situations.

Besides being an author and artist, Haley is also starting a jewelry line.  Many of the proceeds from her various works help to aid various organizations that support autism research and assistance.  There is a current article including information about her book and picturing various electronic paintings created by Haley in the South Florida Parenting Magazine.  You can also check out what Haley, this extraordinary teenager is up to on her website.

This inspirational teenager will stimulate both teachers and parents to continue to work with their children to find what tools, technology, therapies, and academic modifications can help them both academically, socially, and with life skills and to help them live the most independent and successful life.

Article By: Laura Ketcham

Picture By: Beverly & Pack

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A Graduation to the Future – Special Needs Salutatorian

High school graduates may not always remember their fellow graduation speakers, but for the students of Rhode Island High School, most of them will.

Salutatorian Eric Duquette was just not any other high school student. Diagnosed with autism at a very early age, Eric did not talk until he was five years old. Working hard with his mother at speaking and communicating through sign language, Eric’s parents were told that they would most likely have to send their child to some type of an institution. His parents spent up to 8 hours a day working with Eric on just 10 words.

Eric and his parents did not listen to the doubts that they were given. Much to the surprise of doctors and teachers along the way, Eric went on to become the school’s salutatorian. He also speaks both English and Spanish fluently. Not only did he have these great accomplishments, but he also was accepted to every college to which he applied to. He jokes in his speech that college must be the institution that they were talking about.

As you can see in the video, Eric gave a very touching speech at his high school’s graduation, thanking his parents, teachers and peers for believing in him and making him feel that anything is possible. His outstanding achievements really do emphasize that point. He is a prime example of believing in yourself and putting your mind to a goal. Learning disabilities should not get in the way of the hopes and dreams of anyone. Eric shows success in that belief as he will be attending Rhode Island College in the fall.

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