Many Nonverbal Children with Autism Conquer Severe Language Delays

Speech delay is a core characteristic of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and it’s common for some children with ASD to regress and lose the ability to say certain words or phrases they’d once mastered. Many parents are told that their child will likely remain nonverbal, but an encouraging study published in the journal Pediatrics offers hope that this isn’t always the case.

In fact, the team of researchers in the 2013 study found that the majority of nonverbal autistic children in the study sample went on to overcome their severe language delays. The research included 535 children with ASD who hadn’t acquired the ability to speak in phrases by age four.

The researchers collected and analyzed data from the Simon Complex Collection (SSC), which is a multisite database of biological and phenotypic data on children ages four to 18.

Of the 535 children, 163 were considered to be severely speech delayed, meaning they could only speak in single words (‘no phrase speech’ group). The remaining children were categorized into the ‘phrase speech’ group, and a subsample of this group was considered as the ‘fluent speech’ group since they were given an ADOS (autism diagnostic observation schedule) module 3 or 4.

According to the study results, the majority of the children (70 percent) achieved phrase speech by 8 years of age, and nearly half of the study sample (47 percent) attained fluent speech. These encouraging findings provide hope that many children who are nonverbal at 4 years old can overcome their severe language delays.

Breaking down these findings further, the researchers concluded that the biggest predictors of successfully attaining phrase/fluent speech were nonverbal cognition and showing an interest in social engagement. Repetitive and sensory behaviors, on the other hand, didn’t predict whether a child would go on to attain speech.

“These findings offer hope to parents that their language-delayed child will go on to develop speech in elementary school, or even as teenagers,” Autism Speaks Chief Science Officer, Geraldine Dawson, said in an article. “By highlighting important predictors of language acquisition – especially the role of nonverbal cognitive and social skills – this also suggests that targeting these areas in early intervention will help to promote language.”

Early intervention with Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is a scientifically-validated method that helps children on the spectrum work through areas of severe developmental delay, like language and nonverbal communication.

Although the initial news of an ASD diagnosis can leave parents feeling overwhelmed or disheartened, this research serves as solid evidence that many children with autism have the ability to progress past their developmental delays to reach their highest potentials.

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) or Preschool Program for Children with Disabilities (PPCD)?

When a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) reaches preschool age, many parents ask themselves whether a full-time ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) program or PPCD (Preschool Program for Children with Disabilities) is the best option for their child.

Both programs have value but take a fundamentally different approach.

ABA

After a child receives a diagnosis of ASD, the pediatrician or neurologist will often refer the child to a center for intensive ABA therapy. Based on decades of scientific research, ABA has proven itself as an effective and reliable treatment method for autism. Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs) create individualized treatment plans to cater to the specific needs of each child.

ABA consists of two major treatment methods: Discrete Trial Training (DTT) and Natural Environment Training (NET).

DTT teaches target behaviors or goals through simplified and structured steps.  For instance, teaching a child to write his name could be broken down into a five to 10 step process. First, he might work on properly holding a pencil. Then, he might learn how to individually trace an “A,” and so forth. A typical DTT session is similar to how lessons are run in a typical classroom setting – oftentimes taught across a table or with workbooks.

NET sessions are more about learning through play and social interactions in a natural setting. Multiple children will play together in the room at the same time to provide a social setting similar to that of a typical school. This also helps children generalize their learned behaviors with multiple people.

The combination of DTT and NET helps children with autism gain improvements in a variety of areas of developmental delay, including communication, cognition, social skills, play skills, and day-to-day living skills.

PPCD

Under IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), children with disabilities are entitled to receive a free appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment (LRE).

In order to start PPCD in Texas, children must first be evaluated and approved by the school district, and then if accepted into the program, Individualized Education Program (IEP) goals are set for the child. PPCD services typically happen in a classroom in a public school under supervision of a special education teacher.

PPCD classrooms typically contain around 12 or less students with special needs, supervised by one certified special education teacher and 2 educational associates. Each classroom will include children with a variety of special needs, ranging from moderate to severe disabilities. Based on the level of developmental delay, children will work on appropriate activities to improve language, social skills, pre-reading skills, cognitive skills, and self-help skills.

Breaking Down the Main Differences

  • ABA therapy centers focus specifically on children with autism, while PPCD classrooms focus on children with a variety of special needs.
  • BCBAs and therapists are trained in ABA for children with autism, while PPCD teachers have a background in special education.
  • ABA therapy is conducted in a 1:1 child-to-therapist ratio, while PPCD classrooms typically have about 3 adults to 12 children.
  • ABA programs (typically 40 hours a week) are more intensive than PPCD programs.
  • ABA is backed by decades of research

Parents’ Interactions with Babies May Ease Signs of Autism as Toddlers, Study Finds

Over the decades, ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) therapy has proven itself as an effective treatment option for the severe developmental delays seen in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Moreover, the scientific research suggests that the earlier a child begins early intensive therapy with ABA, the more gains are made in critical areas like communication, social skills, and day-to-day living skills. In a study of over 1,400 children and adolescents with ASD, researchers from the University of Missouri found that children who received more intensive therapy at younger ages saw greater advancements in communication and social skills.

It’s important for children to receive the earliest possible therapy because these early experiences play a critical role in brain development. According to a report by the National Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center (NECTAC), Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child says “high quality early intervention services can change a child’s developmental trajectory” and “intervention is likely to be more effective and less costly when it is provided earlier in life rather than later.”

Parents also play a key role in a child’s success rate. In fact, a recent 2017 study found that parents’ interactions with babies at high risk of autism may help to ease the severity of autism symptoms at age three.

In the preliminary part of the study, conducted back in 2015, parents received individualized training sessions on how to respond to their baby’s facial expressions and gestures. Then, the parents worked these teachings into their interactions with their 9-month old babies over the next five months.

At the end of the five months, researchers measured early autism signs using the Autism Observation Scale for Infants, as well as the quality of parent-child interactions. The data showed that babies in the treatment group showed fewer early signs of autism and better interactions with their parents.

The 2017 follow-up study assessed these same children, now at ages 2 and 3, with the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS). Even years later, the quality of parent-child interactions was better among those who had received early parent training, and the toddlers showed less severe autism features.

 The researchers stress that larger studies are needed to confirm these results. However, they argue that “preemptive” therapy among infant populations can help parents address the early signs of autism and potentially ease the features of ASD during later development. This research solidifies just how important of a role parents play in the very early development of their child.

8 Autism-Friendly Things To Do in Austin

As many families in the special needs community know, it can be challenging to find public places and activities that cater to the needs of a child with autism.

Fortunately, Austin and its surrounding areas have a number of autism-friendly places for family outings.

  1. Thinkery Children’s Museum

The Thinkery Museum for children in Austin offers a number of stimulating and educational exhibits, including the Kitchen Lab, the Lights Lab, the Space 8 technology lab, and a custom-designed outdoors climber for kids to adventure though. The Thinkery hosts special ‘Sensory Friendly’ hours at the museum in which children with autism are invited to enjoy modified museum exhibits with less stimuli than usual. Therapists and siblings are also welcome to join.

  1. Morgan’s Wonderland

Morgan’s Wonderland, just south of Austin in San Antonio, is an amusement park designed to include individuals with special needs. The park is completely wheelchair-accessible and all individuals with special needs are admitted free of charge, no questions asked. “We want Morgan’s Wonderland to be a place where the common element of play creates an atmosphere of inclusion for those with and without disabilities, encouraging everyone to gain a greater understanding of one another,” the website states.

  1. Morgan’s Inspiration Island 

Building a new addition to the theme park, Morgan’s Wonderland had its grand opening in the spring of 2017 for Morgan’s Inspiration Island – the world’s first disability-friendly water park. The park features five play areas with pools, jets, and water cannons, as well as a jungle-themed riverboat ride. One area is equipped with technology to condition the water to warmer temperatures for guests who are sensitive to cold, and the park also has specially-designed waterproof wheelchairs available.

  1. Wyndham Garden Hotel

The Wyndham Garden Hotel in Austin is one of the few hotels in the world with autism-friendly accommodations for guests with autism. The hotel installed autism-friendly rooms with heightened safety features like door alarms, covers on all power outlets, drawers with safety locks, and cushions on the corners of all tables. Each room has a set of soft toys and books for children to enjoy as well. Staff members partake in autism-aware sensitivity training to make sure that families with autistic children receive the highest quality of service possible.

  1. JumpStreet

JumpStreet, an indoor trampoline park located in Cedar Park, hosts a special needs hour on the first Saturday of every month. The park features a large foam pit, maze, bounce houses, tube slide, trampoline areas, and bull riding.

  1. Sensory Friendly Movies

Various movie theaters in Austin, including the Alamo Drafthouse, the Regal Lakeline Cinema, and AMC Theaters, offer sensory-sensitive movie showings. In these movie screenings, the sound is turned down lower than usual and lights left on a bit brighter to accommodate individuals with sensory sensitivities. The screenings are more relaxed than usual movie showings, with guests being allowed to talk and move around the theater as needed.

  1. Chuck E. Cheese’s

On the first Sunday of every month, Chuck E. Cheese’s now hosts a sensory-friendly experience for children with autism and other related disorders. In venues across the nation, including multiple ones in Austin and surrounding areas, Chuck E. Cheese’s ensures the play areas have dimmed lighting, lower music, less crowding and noise, and limited appearances by Chuck E.

  1. YMCA Swimming Lessons, Gymnastics, and Dance

The YMCA in Austin offers swimming lessons, gymnastics lessons, and dance lessons for children with special needs – SNAP Aquatics, SNAP Gymnastics, and SNAP Dance. SNAP Aquatics fosters a fun, non-competitive environment for children with special needs to learn swimming and water safety skills. The SNAP Gymnastics program teaches basic movement skills to children with Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Down Syndrome, and other disorders. SNAP Dance helps children with special needs build confidence through expressive movements.

The “Koaster Kid” is Inspiring Kids with Autism to Conquer Their Fears

11-year old Logan Joiner is traveling around the United States conquering his fear of roller coasters to inspire other kids with special needs to overcome their own fears. His efforts have earned himself the nickname of the “Koaster Kid.”

Joiner is diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder and was nonverbal until the age of four. Children with autism are often hypersensitive to lights, sounds, textures, tastes, and smells. Growing up, Joiner struggled with sudden movements and loud noises. As such, he was never a fan of riding roller coasters.

In the beginning of June, the Koaster Kid bravely took on all 13 of the roller coasters at Six Flags New England in support of other children with developmental disabilities.

“We are riding all thirteen roller coasters here to raise money for Autism Speaks, and donating 113 theme park tickets so all the kids can experience the awesomeness of this park,” he told WWLP News.

Joiner has an impressive following on social media with over 10,000 subscribers on YouTube and over 2 million video views. He uses the outlet to document and share his roller coaster trips.

Above all, he hopes that his show of bravery will help other children with autism build up the courage to face their fears.

9-Year-Old Boy with Autism Heads to Gymnastics Nationals for the Third Time

For Micah Miner, a 9-year-old boy from Illinois, an autism diagnosis hasn’t held him back from accomplishing great things, particularly in the gymnastics world.

When he was five years old, he took up gymnastics at the Edwardsville YMCA in Illinois. Micah’s father, Maurice, says he struggled with “information overload” during his transition into the gymnastics program, but he soon learned gymnastics was a natural fit for him.

“It’s allowed him to blossom as a social individual,” Maurice told Belleville News-Democrat.

After overcoming his issues with focusing and taking orders from his coach, Micah tested into the advanced class at the YMCA and soon entered a competitive team.

According to Micah’s parents, his autism can both help and hinder his gymnastic abilities. Many children with autism engage in repetitive behaviors, and mastering gymnastics requires a high level of repetition. His parents say Micah will watch videos of himself or other gymnasts for hours, becoming fixated on the ways in which he can improve his own performance.

However, this intense level of concentration can also cause Micah to become upset if he notices any sort of stumbling or extra steps in his performances, which “can hinder him in performance later on,” Maurice says. “Autism is a black-and-white world for him. He’s his own worst critic. With autism, that’s heightened.”

Nonetheless, Micah has excelled in the sport over the last four years, racking up an impressive number of awards. In 2015, Micah won first place in trampoline and rod floor at the Southern Illinois state meet. The following year, he placed first in double mini, trampoline and rod floor in the advanced category at the same Southern Illinois state meet. In 2017, he took first place in the advanced boys 9-10 division in the double mini, trampoline, and rod floor competitions, which officially qualified him as an elite athlete.

Now, from June 20-24, Micah is set to compete at the 2017 U.S. Tumbling and Trampoline Association National Championship in Madison, Wisconsin. Impressively, this will be Micah’s third time competing in nationals.

The Madison County Police Department has honored Micah with Sherriff John Lakin paying him a visit to recognize Micah for his achievements. Lakin says “although Micah is only in fourth grade, his accomplishments speak volumes about his dedication and passion to the sport,” the BN-D reports.

Micah is a bright example of how children with special needs can persevere through their developmental challenges to achieve remarkable things.

“How do I feel doing gymnastics?” Micah says. “Happy.”

The gymnastics star plans to take a break from training after nationals in order to spend more time with his family.

12-Year-Old Publishes Book to Help Others Understand What it’s Like to Have Autism

Jordan Keller was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) as a baby, and 12 years later, he’s written and published a book to help others understand what it’s like to grow up with autism.

Jordan’s book, titled Jumbled Pieces: Autism, details the challenges he faced in his day-to-day life as well as the success he has experienced due to early intervention. Plenty of research has shown that the earlier a child receives intensive Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy,  the better the chance of being mainstreamed into classrooms with neurotypical kids.

Unlike many children with autism, Jordan is verbal. He wrote Jumbled Pieces “to help people understand Autism who don’t have it and to help those who have it,” his mother, Rebekah, said in an interview with KSDK TV-5. Jordan tells his mom that he feels very lucky that he can talk, and that people “need to know what scares us.” He hopes his book will give people a better understanding of what nonverbal children with ASD may be feeling. Jordan covers the important stuff – is autism contagious? Does it hurt?

Further, Jordan wrote the book to honor his doctor, Dr. Anderson, who he calls a “hero and personal champion.” Dr. Anderson is an orthopedist. Although his medical specialty isn’t specific to Autism, Jordan says he feels comfortable asking Dr. Anderson anything and knowing he will tell him the truth. According to Jordan’s book, one of the most challenging parts of his experience with autism is building close relationships with others. He says that his interactions with Dr. Anderson, as well as the encouragement and support of his family, have helped him improve in this specific area.

Acting as a voice for all of those who can’t be heard in the autism community, Jordan epitomizes the strength and giftedness that is at times overlooked in those with ASD.

Some other book recommendations from the staff at Action Behavior Centers are Let Me Hear Your Voice by Catherine Maurice, The Way I See It by Dr. Temple Grandin, and How to Think Like a Behavior Analyst by Jon Bailey and Mary Burch.

Brain Scans and Artificial Intelligence Could Predict Which Infants Will Develop Autism

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) tends to manifest at different times and in different ways in each child, but in most cases, symptoms will begin to appear around the age of two.

Now, researchers may be getting closer to pinning down a way to detect autism much earlier. In a new study, which appears in the journal Science Translational Medicine, a team of scientists was able to predict, with 96 percent accuracy, which 6-month old infants would go on to be diagnosed with autism as toddlers. They were able to do so with brain scans and artificial intelligence.

The team used MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) machines to capture brain scans of the neural activity of 59 infants in 230 different areas across the brain. Each of the infants had at least one older sibling on the autism spectrum.

Instead of focusing on differences in brain anatomy, the researchers analyzed how the different brain areas connected with one another. The synchronization of these different regions is known to play a critical role in language, repetitive behaviors, and social skills – areas which often pose challenges to those with autism.

Through this analysis, the researchers identified 974 pairs of connections that were linked with autism. These classifiers were then entered into an artificially intelligent computer program which could almost always accurately predict which six-month-olds would go on to be diagnosed with autism at the age of two.

“When the classifier determined a child had autism, it was always right,” researcher Robert Emerson from the University of Carolina said in a press statement. “But it missed two children. They developed autism but the computer program did not predict it correctly, according to the data we obtained at six months of age.”

However, it’s not likely that single brain scans will be used as a basis to diagnose autism in the future. Presumably, a combination of pre-tested evaluations would be used to confirm results and better predict autism.

“I think the most exciting work is yet to come, when instead of using one piece of information to make these predictions, we use all the information together,” Emerson said. “I think that will be the future of using biological diagnostics for autism during infancy.”

Being able to better predict the onset of autism could help families provide therapy for their children at earlier ages. Plenty of research shows that the earlier a child receives ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) therapy, the better chance there is to improve in critical developmental areas like language, social skills, motor skills, and day-to-day living skills.

“The more we understand about the brain before symptoms appear, the better prepared we will be to help children and their families,” researcher Joseph Piven concluded.

 

An Airline Employee Helps Young Man Struggling with an Autism Meltdown

Russell Lehmann, a young man with Autism Spectrum Disorder, had an experience he’ll never forget at the Reno-Tahoe International Airport.  Lehmann was having what he called “the worst meltdown of my life,” but thanks to an American Airlines employee named David, Lehmann’s nightmare travel experience was transformed into a positive one.

Lehmann had missed his flight connection for the second time in two days, and after hearing his flight would be delayed, he began crying and hyperventilating. David saw just how upset Lehmann was and approached him to find out what was wrong.

As described in a Facebook post, Lehmann said, “I was barely able to get any words out. I believe I mumbled the words ‘I don’t know. I can’t think, I have autism.”

David immediately showed Lehmann compassion, letting him know that he could reroute his flight to make sure he got to Cincinnati that night and even offered to buy him a slice of pizza. About 10 minutes later, David came back over to Lehmann with the pilot of the new flight he could take.

“David had notified the pilot, along with the entire crew, of my situation, and he took it upon himself to clear out a whole row of seats so that I would be able to have a space to myself during the flight,” Lehmann said.

David walked Lehmann onto the plane before any other passengers boarded and introduced him to the flight crew. At this point, Lehmann was crying, but these were “tears of thankfulness,” he describes. “If it hadn’t been for David, I would not have gotten on that plane.”

Lehmann’s Facebook post reached over 95,000 people, and he says the main message behind the post isn’t about autism – “It’s about doing the right thing. About being a good person. About accepting others and reaching out your hand to someone in need, even if they are a total stranger.”

Lehmann is a speaker, author, and autism advocate. He was on his way to Cincinnati to give a speech, and because of David’s kindness, he was able to make it.

He concluded his emotional post by urging others “Show what you’re made of. Give a damn. Stand above all the fighting and arguing. Be brave and open your heart. Fulfill your moral duties as a human being. Be like David.”

Skills® For Autism: How We Track Your Child’s Progress

Between the hundreds of autism parent blogs and parent testimonials on Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) websites, the autism community certainly isn’t short on anecdotal evidence that ABA therapy works.

At Action Behavior Centers, we want to provide parents and physicians with a more concrete source of evidence that their child is benefiting from our provided therapy program. To do so, we collect data in an online program called Skills® For Autism.

Skills, a program which has won multiple awards, provides an innovative platform to create comprehensive, evidence-based treatment plans tailored to accommodate the needs of each individual child on the autism spectrum. Board certified behavior analysts (BCBAs) are able to evaluate the effectiveness of their treatment plans with detailed progress tracking reports.

The Skills curricula covers eight important areas of human functioning: social, language, play, motor, cognition, executive functions (such as memory, planning, problem-solving), cognition, adaptive skills (daily living activities like dressing and bathroom etiquette), and academic.

The software includes a LogBook feature that enables the BCBAs to collect data efficiently and accurately in real-time during therapy sessions. Skills provides reports, charts, and graphs for progress tracking so that parents and physicians can see an easily-digestible representation of their child’s improvements in each target area.

Action Behavior Centers selectively hires only the best Registered Behavior Technicians (RBTs) in the Austin area — they’re all nationally certified and college educated. With the expertise of our BCBAs and RBTs, your child will receive the best possible care. Skills provides us with a data-driven way to keep you in the loop as your child advances to his/her highest potential.

Questions about the Skills program or ABA therapy? Our team is happy to take your call at (512) 572-0157.