Friday, November 14, 2008

A Precious Child's Different Journey

"You still have a great kid, but you're on a different journey. You'll dream a different dream for your child, not a bad one, just different." Those are the words a mother longs to hear from her physician once she discovers her child has autism. These children have "different brains and different abilities" and they have the capacity to teach each of us a new skill, as they make this world a better place.

This is a mother's journey as she realizes something is different in her child. When the child does not respond to her name, the family seeks medical help. First, the 18 month old has a hearing test with normal results. With concern, the parents visit the doctor at three years of age and hear the soothing advice, "give the child more time." Deep down both mother and father feel something is not right, but cling to hope that their sweet child will be okay. By the age of five, this child attends preschool. During spring conference, the teachers share somber concerns. "Your child," the teacher explains gently, "has abnormal speech prosody - tone of voice. She plays alone with little interest in other children and talks mostly in memorized movie scripts, not flowing conversation. An evaluation with Child Find can help," suggests the caring teacher. Acknowledging a problem in your child is painful for any parent. However, when someone clearly communicates that a problem exists, the parents eagerly seek help. These grateful parents recall, "Knowledgeable, preschool staff made a tremendous difference in getting our child timely help."

In their search for answers, the parents read, study, and ask questions of many health and educational experts, as well as other parents. One evening, the father stumbles upon answers that bring hollow relief and overwhelming anxiety. As he studies information about Asperger Syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder first described in 1944, this father faces the harsh reality that his child shows 14 of the 20 signs.

With new information, both parents realize the only way to truly help their precious child is to grant permission for health and educational professionals to say the "A" word, AUTISM. This family now treads on a mysterious path. However, by facing autism, the family partners with health and educational experts to work collaboratively in the child's best interest. Finally, the mother, father, and especially the lovely child are no longer alone on their journey.

Looking back, the parents' greatest regret is they did not desperately seek help sooner for their child simply because they did not understand. Therefore, crucial early intervention time was lost. "It is so important for everyone caring for children to know the signs of autism and help families get the earliest diagnosis and treatment possible. All kids with Autism can make progress and the earlier they get help the better their chances are," advise these parents who navigate autism's path.

In the US today, autism spectrum disorders (ASD) affect 1 in every 150 children who are eight years old and are increasing at alarming rates. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), "Between 1994 and 2006, the number of 6 to 17-year-old children classified as having an ASD in public special education programs increased from 22,664 to 211,610." These disorders are more common in children than diabetes, spinal bifida and even Down's syndrome.

Children with autism spectrum disorders have a problem in the brain that leads to
developmental challenges. These children may interact, communicate, behave and learn differently than others and have symptoms that vary from mild to severe. ASD children possess thinking and learning abilities that vary from gifted to severely challenged. The most familiar type of ASD is autistic disorder but others include "pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified" and Asperger Syndrome.

Children with autism spectrum disorders do not follow regular patterns of child development. In many cases, parents accurately notice that something is different, but find it difficult to explain and understand what is happening to the child. Even childcare providers and preschool teachers often identify unusual behaviors, but sometimes are uncertain what to do with these observations.

Today health experts agree that early recognition and intervention with behavioral therapies for children with ASD leads to amazing results. ASD can be recognized as early as 18 months and some developmental delays are seen in infancy. Seeking help from health care professionals and organizations like Child Find make a huge impact on the child's progress and success.

Chiropractor treats autistic children

ONONDAGA COUNTY, N.Y. -- Aidan Fitzgerald, 5, has autism. He started chiropractic treatment in the summer and now visits twice a week.

"It makes him feel better, so he looks forward to coming here ‘cause he knows that he's going to feel better afterwards," said Aidan's mother, Kari Fitzgerald.

Cicero-based chiropractor Dr. Joe Borio says chiropractic treatment helps balance out the nervous system and ignite the brain in autistic children.

"When you adjust the spine, you actually stimulate certain parts of the brain and actually turn some of those switches on," said Dr. Borio.

Aidan's mother says the effects for him are immediate. She says it calms self stimulatory behaviors, like hand flapping, and increases eye contact and motor skills.

"It's a definite difference in how his behavior is. He is able to pay attention better. He's able to focus better," said Fitzgerald.

Dr. Borio says the chiropractic adjustments are a part of a broader program, which includes diet and other remedies.

"We certainly eliminate wheat and eliminate dairy in all autistic children," Dr. Borio said.

Dr. Borio says he also uses volcanic ash, approved by both the FDA and CDC, to detox children, since some believe autism could be related to a toxicity of metals.

"That's introduced in a powder form. Kids take about a half a teaspoon a day and they incorporate that into their diet. And what that does is it eliminates a lot of the heavy metals within the body," said Dr. Borio.

Dr. Borio is currently treating about 50 children. Kari Fitzgerald says it something her son will continue to do.

"It's definitely a big part of the whole and it's really helped a lot," Fitzgerald said.

A support group called Healing Autism CNY meets every other week at Dr. Borio's office.

Friday, October 24, 2008

10 Myths About Autism Experts Examine Misconceptions About Autism

10 Myths About Autism
Experts Examine Misconceptions About Autism
ABC News Medical Unit
Oct. 23, 2008

As the number of Americans diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders climbs, so, too, does the number of questions surrounding this disorder. Namely, what is autism, and what is causing a rise in autism diagnoses among adults and children nationwide?

Amid these questions, television shows and magazines feature a barrage of stories and imagery -- families rallying for and against vaccines, debates between medical experts pointing to both genetic and environmental causes, and images of individuals diagnosed with autism who struggle to speak and function independently, while others can interact with others and are able to hold jobs. For many, these competing messages may make this already complex condition even more confusing.

Fortunately, doctors and researchers are learning more about the causes and characteristics of autism.

The following are answers to 10 common myths, that may help us better recognize the range of symptoms we call autism spectrum disorders.

Myth: Autism is an emotional or mental health disorder.

While physical or social behaviors of individuals with autism may suggest that they have a psychological disorder, autism is actually a biological illness that affects the brain's growth and development.

"In the case of autism, the parts of the brain that are most affected seem to impact three areas of functioning," said Michael Alessandri, executive director of the University of Miami's Center for Autism and Related Disabilities. "Social behavior, communication and restricted and repetitive rituals and routines are ways that the child or the adult with autism interact with the environment."

Although autism is now understood to be a neurodevelopmental disorder, Alessandri, an expert for's OnCall+ Autism section, said autism can still be considered a complex disorder because its range of symptoms is so diverse.

"Scientists and clinicians now understand that autism is not a singular entity, but rather, a variety of syndromes that ... create the autism spectrum disorders," said Alessandri.

Myth: There is an autism epidemic.

The word "epidemic" often implies a sudden burst in the number of individuals within a fixed time who have, in this case, autism.

Although the CDC reports that one out of 150 children born have an autism spectrum disorder, some experts are quick to question whether a surge in autism cases is actually occurring. Some are more likely to link the upshot of numbers to the combination of a broader definition of autism, a wider spectrum, and an earlier diagnosis.

"The condition has not become more widespread, but there is more diagnosis of autism," said Dr. Bob Marion, director of Children's Evaluation and Rehabilitation Center at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.

Sheila Wagner, assistant director of the Autism Center at Emory University in Atlanta, added that more awareness of symptoms has allowed more people to identify individuals who have autism.

"There's a lot of media exposure to autism, in television and movies," said Wagner. "This has made [autism] more recognizable in the lay population."

Myth: Autism can be cured.

Some parents may allude to a certain diet, medicine, or set of behavioral treatments that have cured their autistic children, where other parents may try the same mode of treatment and see no results. While there are treatments created to improve an autistic child's ability, there is no known cure for autism.

"We do know that with early intervention with younger children and Applied Behavioral Analysis, we can improve a child's functioning," said Marion.

Applied Behavior Analysis, or ABA, is one form of therapy for newly diagnosed children. It includes repeating behavioral activities to improve a child's social and physical functions.

According to Marion, there is no blanket treatment for autism, and it is up to the individual's doctor to assess what treatment will offer the best benefit for each autistic child.

In some cases, Marion said, behaviors, including eye contact, interaction with others and development of language skills, will significantly improve -- but the underlying biological disorder will not change.

"And that is definitely not a cure," he said.

Myth: Autism is the result of cold and unemotional parents.

In the 1940s, Austrian doctor Bruno Bettelheim theorized that autism was a result of parents, especially mothers, who did not love their children. Children in such situations would withdraw and become autistic, Bettelheim believed.

However, researchers have thawed the "refrigerator mother" theory. According to medical experts, a child's autism diagnosis has nothing to do with how the child is raised.

"We don't know if there are any things that a parent can do or not do, conclusively, will determine whether their child gets autism or not," said Dr. Daniel Geshwind, director of UCLA's neurogenetics program and center for autism research. "Most of the evidence right now points to there being a very strong genetic predisposition in most cases of autism, but not all."

Myth: Individuals with autism always have hidden or exceptional talents.

Stephen Wiltshire, 34, is best known as the human camera. He can replicate architectural designs and landscapes down to each blade of grass -- even if he is only given one opportunity to observe the area he is drawing. Wiltshire has reproduced panoramic scenes of Tokyo, Rome and London by memory after one short helicopter ride over each of the cities.

Wiltshire is an autistic savant. That is, he has extraordinary cognitive skills that allow him to recall details of designs, numbers and measurements that are normally considered too difficult to remember.

The concept of an autistic individual as a savant may have been popularized by Dustin Hoffman's character in the movie "Rain Man."

But while Marion acknowledges that there is a minority group of individuals with autism who have unusual islets of skills, savants are an unrealistic portrayal of the majority of individuals on the spectrum. He said most do not have talents or skills that distinguish themselves by extraordinary talents.

"There are strengths and weaknesses in every child," said Marion. "It's important for every child with autism to have a multidisciplinary evaluation by health professionals who have experience in assessing a child's skills and deficits, to come up with an educational plan that will benefit the child the most."

Myth: Repetitive or ritualistic behaviors should be stopped.

One of the classic indicators of autism is repetitive and ritualistic behaviors, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM IV), a physician's tool to diagnose autism.

While these behaviors -- which can include hand flapping, banging on walls or rocking back and forth -- may seem odd, they do have a purpose: they can be calming; they can feel good; and they may help the individual communicate with others, said Wagner.

Repetitive behaviors may only pose a problem if they begin interfering in family life or if they prevent those with autism from functioning independently, Wagner added.

However, according to Dr. Pauline Filipek, associate professor of pediatrics and neurology at the University of California, Irvine, a child may learn to outgrow repetitive behaviors.

"Often, as an individual gets older, they learn that such behaviors make them stand out in society, and they learn to miniaturize those behaviors," said Filipek.

Myth: Individuals with autism are unable to build social relationships.

"This is a generalization and needs to be individualized because the spectrum is so wide," said Marion.

In short, social relationships are possible for some individuals on the autism spectrum, but not for others on the most severe end of the spectrum, Marion said.

The DSM IV, which includes diagnosing guidelines for autism, lists "impairment in social interaction" as one indication that an individual can have an autism spectrum disorder. But not every child on the autism spectrum will have the same degree of difficulty connecting with others.

"At the most severe end of the spectrum, yes, that's true," said Marion. "But there is a multitude of children who have friends, and even some who do have close relationships."

Myth: Autistic individuals are a danger to society.

"It is a disservice to think that all people with autism are dangerous," said Wagner.

The idea rises from numerous news stories of individuals diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, a high form of autism, who have been accused of burglary and, at times, murder.

However, if you look at the entire population of people on the autism spectrum, the number of people involved in crime is small, said Wagner. If someone with autism were to act out, it may be due to frustration or perhaps physical or emotional overstimulation, not necessarily malice, she said.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Look, Ma, no training wheels

Innovative program teaches youngsters with special needs how to ride a bike
Thursday, July 31, 2008
By Doug Oster, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Zach Spanos rode his specially designed bike three-quarters of the way around the indoor track, then stopped. With a big smile, he flashed the thumbs-up sign to his mother, who watched from the balcony.

The 8-year-old from Mt. Lebanon is one of 40 children with special needs from the Pittsburgh region who took part in Lose the Training Wheels, a national program that uses innovative techniques to teach bike riding.

"These kids are able to ride a two-wheel bike -- they just don't know it yet," said Sharon Gretz, of Indiana Township, a coordinator for the Special Kids Network of Pennsylvania. Her job is to support new programs for youth who have conditions such as autism and Down syndrome.

She helped a group of parents organized by Zach's mom, Timme Spanos, make this event happen, along with the Children's Institute, which was the sponsoring organization for the Amazing Bike Camp held last week in the Iceoplex at Southpointe in Cecil.

"It's a rite of passage for young people to be able to do this," Mrs. Gretz said. "By being able to ride a regular two-wheel bicycle that looks just like their neighbor's bike, it helps them become more integrated and involved in the community with their peers."

Campers paid $175 to attend the camp. Some scholarships were available for children in need. Eighty percent of kids who participate nationwide are able to ride a bike independently by week's end. In some camps, every student will be riding by the end of the five-day program.

The children are taught on a bike equipped with special tires on the back and a handle that volunteers use to help steady the rider. The wheels are solid rubber and shaped to keep the bike upright, although they allow it to rock back and forth. Gradually, as the rider progresses and gets a feel for balancing, the wheels are replaced with progressively thinner tires. By the time the thinnest set of wheels is installed, most riders are on their way.

The teaching style of Lose the Training Wheels is what attracted Amy Guthrie, of Squirrel Hill, to the program. Her son Ben, 10, took off on the bike right away. "Hopefully, he'll continue to have that confidence," she said. "It's a really interesting process because it's so intuitive. Instead of teaching, the student discovers the balance."

Her family has struggled to get Ben to ride without training wheels, and she smiled as her competitive son actually was racing another boy around the track. "I like going fast," he said with a grin.

Sharon Colantonio held a clipboard, evaluating each of the riders to determine their progress. During the school year, she teaches at the School for the Blind in St. Louis, where she lives. For the past three summers, she has worked for Lose the Training Wheels as floor supervisor for the 75-minute sessions.

"When they make that transition to two wheels, their world explodes," she said. "They have opportunities to work with and be part of a peer group they have for so long been excluded from. It gives the family an opportunity to do something together."

Heidi Curtis is the mechanic and technician for the bikes, making sure everything keeps rolling. Ms. Curtis, 21, of Chicago, is an eight-year veteran of the program.

"You get them on those two wheels and it just amazes you. You'll see this huge change, and just seeing the smiles on their faces, that's what I get out of it."

Her favorite success story is about a boy who learned to ride during the week. The next day, his parents couldn't find him in the house, then he walked through the front door with breakfast for everyone from McDonald's. "His parents ended up locking up the bike at night," she said, laughing.

Some riders slowly worked their way around the track, getting a feel for the new bike, but others gave their volunteers a workout.

Cooper Quigley, 7, who lives in Chicago but will move to Peters next month, was very comfortable on his bike. "Because it kind of reminds me of races, like Speed Racer," he said.

The volunteer paired with Cooper, Laura Bradley, of Canonsburg, ran for the entire session, her face flushed after the workout. "Looks like I'm going to get in shape," Ms. Bradley, a special education major at California University, said with a laugh.

Cooper's mother, Laura, held back tears as she watched her son race around the course. "It was emotional. It was nice to see him having so much fun, doing really well and having some optimism that he's going to get this and have success."

Mrs. Spanos, who founded the parent group that brought Lose the Training Wheels to southwestern Pennsylvania, was overjoyed to see her son do so well riding around the track. "It was wonderful," she said.

Her son has a type of autism and is nonverbal, but words weren't needed as Zach smiled and pointed during the riding session. It's been a struggle to get Zach to take off his training wheels at home, and Mrs. Spanos believes learning to ride a bike on his own is an important step for him. "It's not something you just learn today," she said. "It's something that he can carry on for the rest of his life. Not only is it exercise, it's transportation, it's the social element; he's able to ride with the typical peers in his neighborhood."

John Liebrock, of McCandless, was on the balcony watching his 14-year-old son, Stephen, ride a bike longer than he ever had before. "We've tried to get him to ride a bike with his brother and sister, and he just won't do it," he said. Stephen is very athletic, participating in skiing, basketball, baseball, soccer and swimming. "You name it and he does it, except for riding a bike," Mr. Liebrock said.

He watched as Stephen rode for more than an hour, when normally he would stay on a bike for only two minutes. "It was wonderful ... he was having a good time, speeding right along," he said.

Stephen concurred, "I like it. I like going fast."

Katelyn Schultz, 15, of Crafton, has had a lot of trouble learning to ride a bike, according to her mother, Jeanine, who helped bring Lose the Training Wheels to The Iceoplex.

Katelyn is the only one in the family who can't ride a bike, so she rides along on a tandem with her dad.

"We've tried nonstop [to teach her]," Mrs. Schultz said. "Every time the ground becomes uneven, she becomes very frightened. We've always had an issue with the balance."

But Katelyn did fine on the specially designed bike, and her mother was thrilled. "It was very exciting," she said.

Her mother asked, "Do you think you'll be riding a two-wheel bike by Friday?" Katelyn smiled and nodded.

Every participant received a new Trek bike courtesy of GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare. The bikes were handpicked to custom fit each child.

Mrs. Gretz wants to make this an annual event, but she needs other parents to form a planning committee that will be mentored by this year's parents.

She wants every child who comes through the camp to go home with something more than the ability to ride a bike.

"If they feel 'I'm good, I can do things'... If they can come out with that, wow, we have given them a real gift."

For more information about the camp or how to help for next year's event, call Jane Keim at the Children's Institute at 412-420-2209.
Doug Oster can be reached at or 724-772-9177.

Lifewatch: Listening training

DETROIT -- You hear what's going on around you, but are you really listening?

There is a new teaching tool that helps kids pay more attention to what's going on around them, and it can be especially helpful for kids with autism.

Some say, if you can change the way you listen, you'll change your life.

11-year-old Ian wants to be a skate boarding champ, and 14-year-old Jessica wants to be an actress.

But the question is, will listening training help them succeed?

9-year-old Ray is getting his first taste of listening training at the New Medical Foundation in Farmington Hills.

Enlisten is a computer based program that is supposed to train the ear to distinguish between language, music, and noise.

Ray's mom is hoping this will help him connect with people.

"I'm hoping because he will be a better listener he will be more aware of his environment. He'll make better eye contact he'll be able to work quicker," said Ray's mom.

Diane Cotman is the director of the New Medical Foundation.

She feels passionately about the listening technology after doing it herself. But seeing an autistic child break out of her shell really convinced her.

"In only 2 months she was able to hug her parents, and in the life of an autistic family that's life transforming," said Cotman.

The testing involves listening to a series of beeps, which helps determine your listening strengths and weaknesses.

After testing, the training involves weeks or months of listening to different sounds. There have been books written on listening training, but this is still very new.

Reported by Kristy Ondo

New York Autism Specialist Enlists Technology to Empower Parents of Children with Autism

"People need to know that Autism is NOT a mental disorder that is genetic and therefore untreatable. It is a biochemical and neurological problem that can be treated, once you know where to look for the causes of the symptoms!" says Dr. Gruttadauria. This issue and more will be addressed during Dr. Gruttadauria's teleseminar series.

Plainview, New York (PRWEB) July 28, 2008 -- When it comes to Autism, Dr. Michael Gruttadauria is an expert. Not only does he run the Long Island Spectrum Center, a facility that treats children with Autism, he has two children of his own that were diagnosed.

Day after day, patients come from all over the NY Tri-State Area asking questions about their Autistic children...and what can be done to help them. As a clinician, he patiently consults with families and examines and treats their children. But each day, his frustration grows...frustration based on ignorance, misinformation and politics.

There is (and always has been) a lot of confusion as to what Autism and the Autistic Spectrum Disorders are. This starts with a significant problem with the way Autism is classified; Autism is considered a 'mental disorder'. Since it has been classified as such since the 1940s, most physicians learn little to nothing about it. Its classification further breaks down Autism to be an impairment in social interactions, repetitive behaviors and problems communicating. With these 'defining characteristics', it is no wonder that these children are placed into a structured special learning environment accompanied by behavior modification with little to no medical intervention.

"I understand Autism to be a biochemical and neurological problem that alters the way the brain and body develop, and eventually results in the social, behavioral and communication problems that these individuals experience. These characteristics are symptoms, and the result of a multi-system breakdown that went undiagnosed!"

Dr. Gruttadauria states that, "We have let an entire generation of children slip through our fingertips and it is time to mobilize and get them back. If the top three defining characteristics were; under-connected brain circuitry, chronic gastrointestinal dysfunction and underlying autoimmune/inflammatory processes, we would see a very different treatment criteria established for Autism! In fact, based on the research, these three things are the true problems of Autism which eventually lead to the cognitive impairments."

This message is no longer going to be limited to Plainview, NY. Dr. Gruttadauria, with the help of David Craig Marketing, will be launching a FREE teleconference live on August 14th, 2008 at 7 p.m. EST to teach parents around the world about what they can do to help their children.

Just go to to register for this FREE one of a kind event!

He will be sharing some important information regarding some ground-breaking news in the treatment of Asperger's Syndrome, Mitochondrial Disorders and Autistic Spectrum Disorder.

Dr. Michael Gruttadauria, Autism Specialist

Unique, web-based teleconference empowering parents to help their children!

Montessori education for autistic children

Montessori education has been proven to be an effective method of learning for children with ASD.

Autism is a neurological disorder that affects the functioning of the brain. This developmental disorder starts in childhood. There are many reasons for autism. The specific cause for autism is still unknown. Autism is treatable but at present there is no cure. These children could be normalised to some extent with the Early Intervention Programme.

Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD refers to the whole range of 'autistic style' symptoms with their varying degrees and differing ranges of symptoms and is used to describe those mildly affected to the most profound disability. Autism, Asperger Syndrome, etc are subgroups of an Autistic Spectrum Disorder) have a developmental disorder, which results in them perceiving and understanding the world in a significantly different way. Unless we understand and respect these differences we cannot hope to intervene successfully. Early support for the child will reduce their developmental delays as they get older, which includes appropriate methods of education, therapies, support from the parents and doctors.

Educational intervention remains the primary source of help. Montessori education has been proven to be an effective method of learning for children with ASD. Various specially trained teachers use specially structured programmes that emphasise individual instruction used in the education of these children. Many teachers use a combination of several methods. Some teachers attempt to identify an individual student’s learning style and modify the curriculum to suit the child’s learning style. For example many children with autism are visual learners. Teachers will use pictures, charts and visual representation while teaching these children.

Material developed for children with learning disability are often helpful. Teachers also use concrete materials i.e. Montessori materials for students who learn through the senses and the physical touch. The Montessori Method often uses the multi-sensory approach effectively. Number symbols are introduced in a multi-sensorial approach; arranging concrete objects and then number rods, where it becomes more sensible for the child to relate to the increasing order of numbers, smaller/bigger numbers, equal number and so on.

Tracing of sand paper letters and numbers for tactile and motoric memory lends to use of numbers and words linked with pictures and letters copied under the drawn picture.

The Montessori classroom provides an excellent environment for these children to develop social and communicative skills, which otherwise they would find very difficult to learn. Many activities provide daily opportunities for social interaction. The teacher should be on hand to help the child’s interaction. For e.g. she may need to provide the encouragement and the words that the child needs to join an activity or verbal support in sorting out a conflict.

The interaction helps the development of social behaviour, the set of ground rules which all teachers and children are expected to adhere to. These rules are regularly discussed and practiced through games of grace and courtesy. And they are very important for children with autism who will take longer than most to learn social requirements. E.g. Turn taking skill, greeting, speaking slowly, asking to be excused, and maintaining physical distance while talking.

The Montessori language and grammar materials are heaven-sent for teachers of children with autism. The reading and writing of 'command cards', for example, shut the door, open the windows when demonstrated give children opportunities to watch others speaking and acting out, using appropriate actions, intonations and behaviours to express what they understand from the words on the cards. (The Montessori Elementary Material, Maria Montessori)

In a crowded and noisy group, children can be distressed, so the quiet and calm atmosphere in the class room allows these children to participate in more relaxed circumstances and at their own pace.

These children tend to follow a rigid routine becoming very distressed when these routines are disrupted.

Montessorians know it is good practice to keep a simple daily schedule. Prepare children well in advance for any change in routine. Routines such as school trips, cultural materials such as time lines of the school day, calendars and clocks all provide a concrete representation of time and therefore an accessible reminder of the child’s routine.

These challenged children don’t generalise very well and a technique used to accommodate this characteristic is by giving them opportunities to practice skills in real situations e.g. a real apple is preferable to a wax apple just as real stories and songs to develop concepts.

The multi age group and non-competitive atmosphere advocated by the Montessori system values and encourages all children, not just those with special educational needs such as autism. The curriculum is taught based on the development of each child.

Research indicates that children can learn to overcome some of their autistic tendencies. Thus Montessorians have the skills to help them to do so.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Autistic man at college graduation details hopes

Autistic man at college graduation details hopes

By Allison Lopez, Jeannette Andrade

MANILA, Philippines--David Michael Lopez, 22, graduated on April 12 from the Lyceum Institute of Technology in Calamba City in Laguna, earning a degree in communications.

“I wanted to communicate,” Lopez said, explaining why he took the course.

He is one proof that being diagnosed as a person with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is not the end of the world.

Only a trained eye can detect traces of autism in David. He looks like any other young man his age, but his life is a shining example of the triumph of perseverance and years of struggle against ASD.

ASD, as defined by the Autism Society of the Philippines (ASP), is a developmental disability that severely hinders the way information is gathered and processed by the brain, causing problems in communication, learning and social behaviors.

At age 3, David was diagnosed with ASD. But through years of education and parental care, he was able to overcome his problem. David told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that the early intervention of his parents was a key.

“There is no cure, but through education and training, autism can be treated,” he said at the close of the two-day national conference at the Philippine Columbian Association in Paco, Manila, on “A Life Journey with Autism: Hope After Diagnosis.”

For the ASP, which organized the conference, autism is not a tragedy. Ignorance is. The organization maintains that parents of children with autism should not despair, claiming that 1 in 150 children is diagnosed with ASD.

“There is no one specific cause of autism known yet. But while there is still no cure for autism, it is treatable. Many children with autism, especially with early intervention, make considerable improvements. Parents have to empower themselves to give these children a better life,” the group stressed.

Their vision: “ASP sees an environment that helps persons with ASD to become, to the best of their potentials, self-reliant, independent, productive and socially accepted members of society.”

Based on information from the ASP, autism “typically appears during the child’s first three years, is four times more common in males than in females, and has been found throughout the world in families of all ethnic and social backgrounds.”

“People with ASD live normal life spans and some of the behaviors associated with it may change and disappear over time,” said ASP.

The symptoms of ASD, usually apparent in toddlers, include:

* No pointing by one-year.

* No babbling by one year or no single words by 16 months or no two-word phrases by 24 months.

* Any loss of language skills at anytime.

* No pretend playing.

* Little interest in making friends.

* Extremely short attention span.

* No response when called by name or indifference to others.

* Little or no eye contact.

* Repetitive body movements such as hand clapping or rocking; intense tantrums.

* Fixation on a single object.

* Unusually strong resistance to changes in routines.

Dr. Alexis Reyes of the University of the Philippines College of Medicine, Department of Pediatrics, stressed in her discussion, “Early intervention works. We cannot wait until the symptoms are very obvious.”

She said that treatment within the developmental framework would be most effective to arrest the incidence of ASD, which has been reported to be steadily increasing here and abroad.

In his speech with matching PowerPoint presentation, Lopez recounted his struggles as a child that began when his parents did “lots of massage” on his neck thinking it would help him speak.

“They also put a spoon in my mouth, and had a faith healer work on me. After a week or two, I was talking like a parrot,” he said as the crowd laughed.

A special education program at Cahbriba, an alternative school foundation in Los BaƱos, Laguna, transformed Lopez.

“I learned new skills that changed my attitude,” said Lopez. It was there that he learned to eat properly, to wait for his turn, and to develop teamwork by joining sports activities.

He described high school in Cahbriba as “challenging, full of hard work and fun.” He recalled acquaintance parties with girls and “romantic evenings” at junior-senior proms.

A trip to Thailand, his first foreign visit courtesy of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) was a dream come true.

“I think I gained more self-confidence after this trip,” he said, as he related eating grasshoppers and haggling to buy a black Buddha image down from 600 baht to 300 baht.

Lopez said he was disappointed he failed the entrance exams of University of the Philippines and University of Santo Tomas. “But I did not lose hope in life,” he said.

He was accepted at Lyceum where he chose AB Communication because he “wanted to communicate with other people.”

A vigorous writer, Lopez also started blogging through accounts at Multiply and Blogger.

“Hopefully, I will land a job soon to help my parents, search for the right girl, get married and raise my family,” he said as the audience clapped loudly.

“The future is there waiting for me. I know it will be hard but I have walked those steps. The next step is really not that hard anymore … I will be an eye-opener to everyone to persevere, not to lose hope in case their child is afflicted with autism. I know that not everybody can be like me, but I know in their own time they can duplicate what I have achieved,” said Lopez.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Sm Supermalls support Autism Sectors

The SM Supermalls Accessibility Committee, in cooperation with National Council for the Welfare of Disabled Person (NCWDP), Autism Society of the Philippines (ASP), Autism Pinoy (AP) and Philippine Association of Behavioral Analysis (PABA) conducted a seminar about autism at SM Mall of Asia recently.

The seminar themed "Recovering from Autism: An inspiring talk on a mother's fight to free her child from Autism" featured Ms. Annabel Stehli as the guest speaker, together with her daughter Georgiana. The seminar was attended by different autism sectors and parents of autistic children.

Ms. Stehli talked about how she was able to free Georgiana from autism when she discovered she is autistic. She was unable to speak and remained a silent child. She feared that Georgiana is destined for a desolate future. But, Ms. Stehli never gave up. She did everything to cure her daughter until she found this innovative therapy, Auditory Integration Training (AIT). After receiving AIT, Georgiana was able to change from autistic to a normal person. AIT really helped her to enjoy communication and to excel in school.

AIT corrects sensitivity through concentrated music therapy, which is played at different frequencies for 30 minutes, 2 times a day for 10 days. The frequency from music manipulates the brain and thus, it reduces painful hearing and allows the brain to understand the sounds better. Sounds are important in therapy because auditory, which is a sensory distortion, are common in autistic children and it is the cause of different autistic behavior. Not only autistic children can benefit from AIT but the other children who suffers from other learning and development disorder.

Ms. Stehli is the founder of Georgiana Institute. She is credited for promoting AIT to the world. She presented 2 books that depict stories about autism in the seminar. The book, "The sound of a miracle: A child's triumph over Autism" showed Georgiana's childhood and recovery from autism. Her other book, "Sounds of Falling Snow: Children's stories of recovery from Autism and related disorders" consists of personal stories of the parents whose children recovered from autism with the help of AIT.

Autism gets congressional attention

CLOSE to half a million Filipinos suffer from autism, a highly inherited brain development disorder that impairs social interaction and communication, and causes restricted and repetitive behavior—all starting before a child is three years old.

Luth Lamela, training coordinator at the Autism Society of the Philippines, says the figure is an estimate based on hospital records, and could be much higher.

“It is increasing in numbers at an alarming rate,” she said, adding autism may be detected in a child as early as 18 months, but there is no known cure.

Their disabilities aside, autistics also suffer from a scarcity of doctors and specialist teachers who can help bring a semblance of normality to their lives, says Buhay party-list Rep. William Irwin Tieng.

He has vowed to come up with bills to address the lack of medical specialists and teachers for autistic students, saying the treatment for autism is very expensive at P400 to P500 an hour.

“No wonder many parents no longer bother to put their children under medication,” he said.

Tieng’s interest in the disability grew after discovering that one of his staff, Rommel Dumilon, has an autistic child, but he has failed to seek treatment for Nikko, 12, because he cannot afford it.

Tieng has promised to help Dumilon.

In a recent consultation with the parents and teachers of 50 autistic children in Quezon City, Tieng learned that the teachers have no materials to help them deal with autistic children.

And some parents have to wait six months up to a year to secure the services of medical specialists, Jan Pena, an official of the Autism Society of the Philippines, told Tieng.

Tieng vowed to do everything he could to help autistic children.

Earlier, he asked some business establishments to comply with the provisions of the Magna Carta for Disabled Persons, a law that provides people with disability 20 percent discount on medicines and medical services and on the services provided by hotels, restaurants and recreation centers.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Philippines ABA Project: Tigas Ni Paolo Dy

Philippines ABA Project: Tigas Ni Paolo Dy
By Marisse Reyes

When I was told we would be viewing a TV commercial entitled “Project: TIGAS,” I was immediately intrigued. My fertile mind had conjured up different kinds of images and connotations. Before my imagination got the better of me, someone set up a laptop on a dining table at Hai Shin Lo, a Chinese restaurant along Pasay Road. The screen initially showed the black/white/gray blades of a fan rotating clockwise, & counting backward 5, 4, 3, 2, 1… You hear the cadence of a methodical thud, as though someone were tossing a ball against the wall. Then the camera pans across a pink and blue life-size dollhouse. If you observe closely, you would see the image of a young girl reflected on an antique life-size mirror. It was surreal, as though you were seeing a giant Alice in Wonderland. Something was not quite right. It tugged at my heartstrings to see a little girl banging her head on the wall. As if on cue, her mother gets up from the room next door. All you can see later is the mother’s hand, cupping the face of her child away from the wall, and then cuddling her. The voice-over says, “Wag nang matigas ang ulo. If you see signs of autism in your child, seek help and give them a chance at a better life. Call Project Embrace.” A logo shows a man and a woman embracing a child.

Project Embrace, a multi-media awareness campaign for autism conceived by Jimenez Basic Advertising, was formally launched recently. The officers of the Autism Society Philippines (ASP), headed by Erlinda (Dang) Uy Koe, and PABA, spearheaded by Shanti Kilduff, had a difficult task of selecting from the sixteen campaigns and twenty storyboards. Many volunteers stepped forward when Mon Jimenez, joint CEO of JIMBASIC, called in their Accounts and Creative teams to tell them about the pro-bono project. Which execution would make people more aware of the signs of Autism for families to accept their child’s condition and seek help? The storyboard for the TIGAS commercial was selected to launch the campaign. Nato Caluag and Manny Tirona of Out of the Box Productions volunteered to undertake the TV commercial’s production, which was directed by one of their Resident Directors, Paolo Dy. Optima pitched in for the post-production work. The string of volunteers was not about to end.

ASP President Dang Koe says, “If the advertising can just make people more understanding of children who throw tantrums in churches and show more compassion for the parents who are trying their best to manage them, the campaign would have done its job.”

Autism occurs once in 166 individuals, and is four times more prevalent among boys. In the Philippines, 250,000 to 300,000 are known to be afflicted with autism; however, only 5% are diagnosed and about 2% receive appropriate intervention.

How does one get across such an important message in a 30-second commercial, what’s more in 15 seconds? Director Paolo Dy says his brother Mark had had some on-the-job training in Autism, which brought the task to a more personal level. He had seen how some upper-middle class parents were usually in denial about their child’s autistic condition. Moreover, he could see that the kids really needed help. Because of the economy of story telling, the message had to be simple, compressed, effective, and straight to the point. Using visuals and audio, a well-cared for girl in a typical room relays the message: “This could be your kid. It doesn’t mean this normal kid couldn’t have autism.”

Twenty-six-year-old Paolo Dy is someone my 15-year-old son would probably call ASTIG, slang for impressive. Paolo holds a double degree in Management Engineering and Economics from Ateneo de Manila University. Nevertheless, he was obsessed with film, and decided to forego corporate life for that medium.

In January of 2004, Paolo won First Place on MTV Asia’s THE PITCH screenwriting competition in Singapore, with his screenplay, The Oracle of Avendale U. Paolo’s directorial work for Ayala Corporation has twice won Gold Quill Awards of Excellence for “Someday, Today” and “What Makes a Company Great?” These pieces were finalists in the 2004 and 2005 New York Festivals (Industrial Films Category).

Apparently, Paolo’s laurels have not given him real satisfaction. It comes to a point, he said, that you get a feeling of emptiness doing things for money. “I want to give something back…to do work which makes you feel good inside. And opportunities like this rarely come up.” Executive Producer Nato Caluag chimes in, “This is an act of gratitude for our blessings.”

Paolo Dy believes there are three things one can never have too much of: a passion for beauty, a thirst for excellence, and a supply of fresh 35MM film stock. We may not be cinematographers, directors, or screenwriters, but I have heard it said that we all have photographic memories. Some just do not have film. Perhaps the anonymous philosopher meant that God has given us so many gifts and talents, but some of us have not developed them.