One of the most exciting moments for me as well as a family I work with recently was a journal that included a picture and a sentence. What may you ask is so special about a sentence a first grade child wrote? Because this sentence, my friends, was composed completely independently and written quickly and fluently, with requests to spell a word when needed by a child who has written very few independent thoughts/sentences. So, this was a day we rejoiced!
Staying true to some of the challenges faced with autism, one of the biggest concerns is elopement. Elopement is when a child with autism wanders or runs away. It is one of the most terrifying moments for a parent, to realize your child is not within your sight.
There are many new devices and trackers that assist families in keeping track of their child, regardless of where they may wander from, whether it is a grocery store, home, school, etc.
Last year, we shared a story with a local TV station about a child who elopes very frequently and has recently gotten a service dog to assist in his safety. Thankfully, since this time last year, their fundraising goals have been met, but I am sure there are others that need this type of support.
AngelSense has made a GPS tracker to help keep kids safe. You can find out more here. There is also a bluetooth bracelet made in Birmingham, AL by Kulture City. More information about Kulture City’s program lifeBOKS is available here. Other low tech products families use include bracelets with family contact information, temporary tattoes, and shoe laces with contact information. Behavioral therapy can be instrumental in these situations to help understand what the purpose of wandering is and then, how to change this behavior.
JAC is approached a lot to help the community in the greater Jackson area and throughout Mississippi know what to look for in an autism spectrum disorder. Because autism does not always present itself the same way and is purely diagnosed behaviorally, it can be a hard and messy thing to diagnose. We currently do not diagnose autism, but occasionally provide consultations to families who suspect their child may have autism.
It is important to have a professional observe your child and interview you if you think your child may be on the autism spectrum.
Here is an important information sheet that provides helpful insight into autism.
One of the scariest experiences a parent can have is losing their child…in a department store, at home, or in a crowded area…regardless of the length of time. Now, say that child can not communicate his/her name, their parent’s names, or any other pertinent information. This is a fear and nightmare for many parents who have a child with autism. Approximately half of children on the autism spectrum wander or “elope,” according to the Interactive Autism Network. It is important for families, neighbors, friends, police officers, and communities as a whole know about autism and about elopement. Some children with autism are nonverbal or verbal but unable to consistently answer questions when asked, which makes it difficult for someone who is unfamiliar with the child or autism to get any response they can understand from them.
Recently, WJTV’s reporter, Andrew Harrison, took the time to visit Jackson Autism Center and talk with Dr. Rebecca Mullican and parents regarding autism and elopement. You can view that news story video below.
What can someone in the community do? It is important for communities to: post signs if a child with autism who wanders lives in the area, have an emergency plan in place for the child (phone numbers for parents or local police), and STAY CALM. Do what it takes to get the child to stay with you until their parents or help arrives (show them something interesting, let them look at something they are interested in, encourage a conversation, turn on a TV or use a tablet device, etc.) Keep in mind that many children with autism have sensory issues that make touch painful to them, so try not to touch or grab them unless necessary because this could lead to a meltdown.
Parents are doing many things that are unseen to the community to keep their child safe- from privacy fences to extra alarms and locks on doors to hiding keys and remotes. GPS location trackers are becoming more popular as well as items like temporary tattoos/shoelaces/bracelets with family information written on it.
One JAC family has decided they need something else in addition to the above items. Dominic has been escaping more frequently and it has become a major safety issue for him and his family. He will leave when it is dark outside, head towards roads, and does not understand general safety concerns and rules. Dominic’s family is getting a service dog that will be able to stay with him constantly and keep him from darting off. If you are interested in helping them reach their goal and bring Krypto home, you can donate through sdwr.org and type “Brenda Tobin” or directly here. They are also doing fundraisers with local businesses so please ask if your business may be interested. You can follow their story here.
A parent shared this article by the Child Mind Institute with me and it was so great I wanted to share it for other families and professionals in the field. Many times, when a child or an individual with a disability has challenging behavior, it is written off without a second thought as to why the behavior is occurring. Instead, we as families and professionals need to be looking for the reason behind the behavior. The main reasons for a behavior include: attention, getting something/someone, avoiding something/someone, and self stimulatory. The article discusses the root of challenging behaviors can come from anxiety. The article suggests that taking the time to understand the behavior can help explain what anxiety may be occurring and could help prevent meltdowns. And who doesn’t want to help prevent a meltdown?!?!
The Educational Service Center of Central Ohio is providing a free resource for parents and professionals alike- the Autism Internet Modules. AIM is free and provides its members with course materials, videos, case studies, and pre and post assessments. AIM can also be completed for course credits. This is a new resource I just found out about, so I haven’t had much time to explore it yet. Topics include behavior modification, picture exchange, visual supports, video modeling, social skills groups, the incredible 5 point scale, and much more. I am a huge fan of the 5 point scale and have found it very helpful for a wide range of clients and functioning levels. Some of the upcoming modules will focus on specific teaching techniques, toilet training, bullying, and using special interests. I’m excited to see such a great tool that can be used by anyone within the autism community who would like to grow their knowledge!
Here is just one of the materials available for purchase using the 5 point scale.
Talking to your child’s class about autism may or may not be something high on your priority list. There can also be benefits through education and awareness. By explaining about a child’s differences and allowing children to explore the fact that everyone is different, you may find that the children in the class are more accepting and patient with your child.The word autism does not have to be used. Here are a few tips for talking to your child’s class:
If your child is able to, allow him/her to be a part of the talk. This is a good way to teach him/her to advocate for themselves. Knowing what they do that maybe they wish they did not or explaining how they feel sometimes could be helpful to the other students.
Use a children’s book to help explain some of the differences they may notice. Here are a few of my favorites:
Explain how your child is similar to the other students. What does your child like to eat, watch on TV, play with, favorite color, favorite things to do, etc.
By being open about differences and answering any questions the children may have, I have seen more acceptance, understanding, and patience from peers. If you choose not to talk to your child’s class, you could request that the teacher talk about differences between children and how everyone is unique. This could be a way to talk about differences without singling your child out.I have had students ask before “Why doesn’t he do this?” or “Why does he do that?” I find that being open and trying to answer those questions helps the children to have a better understanding. Sometimes, that answer is “he is still learning how to _______.” and sometimes a blanket statement of “I don’t know” may be appropriate.
During April, we have had an overwhelming request to help educate the community about what signs and characteristics to look for in a child or individual who may have autism. This fact sheet was made for those purposes.
Join JAC director Dr. Rebecca Mullican online on Wednesday, September 18th from 2:30 to 4 pm CT as she discusses family experiences with Speech Generating Devices (SGDs) for children with autism. Dr. Mullican will be presenting qualitative research from her dissertation. She interviewed six families regarding their child with autism who communicates with an SGD. These families shared the day to day victories as well as the challenges of using SGDs. This is a special opportunity that parents and autism education practitioners will want to take part in. This webinar is brought to you through Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA). For more information, and to register online, go to ATIA.
With it being “IEP season,” a great question comes to mind: should my child repeat a grade in school? There are many schools of thought about this subject matter. I will share a variety of reasons an IEP committee, which includes the parents, may decide that it is a good idea to repeat a child in a grade in school. I will also share a variety of reasons an IEP committee may decide it is not in the child’s best interest to repeat a grade. This decision is considered an IEP committee decision and parents have equal rights to share their feelings and thoughts regarding this matter. No one knows the child as well as mom and dad.
Sometimes, a child may repeat a grade because he/she is socially immature and needs extra time to mature. This is a common practice in younger grades for typical children as well as children with disabilities. By giving a child an extra year, more practice, and younger peers, the results may work really well for the child. No teacher or principal can ever know 100%, but they try to make their best judgement based on experience and knowledge of the child.
Another reason a child with a disability may repeat a grade is to gain essential academic skills that he/she may have missed for whatever reason during the academic school year. Although children can not stay in each grade two years, there may be some years that they need more time to gain the foundational skills they need to continue to progress alongside their peers. Kids with disabilities may not always be able to gain as many skills as typical children throughout the school year, but it is important that they gain the foundational skills that will be built on year after year.
Sometimes, a child whose disability impacts them moderately may benefit from repeating a grade in order to be included in general education activities more than they would be if they moved to the next grade level. Inclusion in the general class is important for building social skills, relationships, increasing academic opportunities, being a part of a group, and many, many more reasons. For this reason, it may be decided that a child repeat a grade merely to be able to be appropriately included in general education more. As children progress to higher elementary grades, children with disabilities tend to spend less time in general education because the materials become increasingly difficult.
The above are a few reasons why a child may be held back from moving forward. So what are some reasons that a child may move forward and not repeat a grade?
One reason to decide not to repeat is merely to keep a child with their peers. It is difficult sometimes for kids with disabilities to form friendships and when a child repeats a grade, they start all over with building relationships. As we know with kids who have autism, they already have a difficult time building these relationships and if we hold them back, they end up having to start over the next school year. This can be detrimental for some students. Kids not only have built friendships in their current grade, but they have also more than likely built support systems. Support systems are typical kids who assist them in a variety of ways, such as with following directions or advocate for them when they need a break or are having trouble communicating. Support systems are not built overnight and once they are in place can be helpful to a child with a disability.
Another reason to progress a child depends on the child’s attributes. Is he/she already a foot taller than everyone and bigger? By holding him/her back, does he/she stand out in the crowd? If so, this may not be a good time to repeat. All children should feel comfortable with their peers.
The IEP committee should determine which of the following items pertains to the child and make the best decision based on the individual child and situation. Sometimes, there may be extenuating circumstances that require a team to consider other reasons to repeat a child in a grade. However, decisions should not be based on overcrowding at a school, convenience, or fear of moving forward. Remember to keep the “I” in IEP. If you feel uncertain about the decision, you can always request more time to decide or another IEP meeting. Ask your teacher to explain why they feel either way and share your thoughts and feelings. If it is appropriate, ask the child what he/she thinks and have him/her in the meeting.
These are just a few personal thoughts regarding repeating a grade. It is important to keep in mind that the IEP committee comes together to make decisions for one individual child. As long as that child is the focus, decisions should be made that will be in the best interest of the child.