Autism Public Meeting in Hattiesburg, MS

If you live in the Hattiesburg, MS area and have a child with autism or work with children with autism, you will not want to miss this opportunity to share your thoughts and feelings about what is needed for individuals with autism in the state of Mississippi! The meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, January 22. 2013 from 6:00-7:30 pm at the Trent Lott Center in Hattiesburg. The Mississippi Autism Advisory Committee is seeking feedback from parents and professionals about what Mississippi can do to improve services in the area of autism.

If you are not in the Hattiesburg area, there will be additional Autism Hearings in the following areas soon: Starkville (T.K. Martin Center) and Meridian.

Hopes and Dreams with Autism in 2013

Happy New Year! A new year brings lots of remembering and reviewing a previous year and making resolutions for the year to come. For teachers, therapists, and parents working with kids with autism, the resolutions we make look a lot different than they look for typically developing children. Instead of making a resolution to start a dance class, make all A’s, or win the soccer tournament, we may be considering the following goals- complete toilet training, eat five new foods, make a friend, or complete the state testing without any huge meltdowns. Opposite ends of the spectrum? I think so…

As we look to this wonderful gift of 2013, we should open our minds and hearts to all that “our” children can become. Maybe my fatal flaw is optimism, but I always dream big and hope high for the kids I work with- and it hasn’t served me wrong. I have seen kids accomplish monumental tasks due in part (I feel) to  the hope and faith I place in them. Dream big as we start this year and watch our kids impress and surpass our goals!

As for Jackson Autism Center, I am going to make my own list of hopes and dreams for JAC as we welcome 2013. Not only will I be continuing one-on-one intervention, but small social skills groups will be starting soon for kids and teenagers/adults. I can’t wait to see what this year will bring!

We have a Christmas List – Now…Writing a Letter to Santa

So, you have made a list of possible toys and things your child wants Santa to bring. It’s time to write that letter and mail it off! But, before you do that- does your child know who Santa is? Has school been talking about Santa? What about at home? If you haven’t been talking the big man up…it’s time to start now. Watch movies about Santa, play games on the computer, ipad, etc. that introduce Santa, sing songs about Santa, and anything else that helps your child begin to understand that Santa is the guy that brings presents on Christmas.

There are lots of different writing needs among children with disabilities and how you choose to write your letter should be decided before you start. Choose the letter writing technique that will make your child work a little, but not frustrate him/her. This should be a fun experience, without tears or meltdowns. You may choose to let the letter to Santa take a few days or maybe even a week. Some kids do not have a long attention span and it is almost torture to try and do everything in one day…so spread it out to meet the needs of your child.

Some of the different writing techniques you may choose include:

Having an adult write some of the parts and let the child “fill in” other parts with pictures or words (leave plenty of room)
Make a “rough draft” and then allow your child to write or type the letter by themselves.
Allow your child to cut/paste or write prepared sentences into the letter.
Allow your child to form their own letter after looking at sample letters.

If you are uncertain which approach to take, talk to your child’s teacher and/or therapists. See how he/she usually writes or types at school and whether they use all capital letters or a mix of capital and lowercase letters.

So what should go in the letter? I like to use the traditional sentences you would usually see in a letter to Santa, such as “I have been good/bad this year. I will leave cookies and milk for you.” along with important information such as name and age and what you want for Christmas. Here is a letter from a few years ago:

Letter to Santa

With this child, I used picture choices throughout the letter not only to allow choice, but to also ease the frustration of writing a letter. You can have sentences written on strips that the student could copy or you can also let your child/student sound out words. This is very specific to the needs of the child you are working with. As he wrote each sentence, he would choose the picture he wanted and glue it on. If he chose the wrong age, I would correct him and allow him to get the correct age. However, I allowed each child to select if they had been “good” or “bad.” Since being good or bad is more abstract, it is okay to let them choose whichever they like. Then, we talked about leaving milk and cookies out for Santa. Next, allow your child/student to choose the toys he/she wants for Christmas. Lastly, have him or her sign their name in whatever manner works. You may want to make a copy of the letter to keep before mailing it to the North Pole. Decorate your envelope and make a special trip to the post office to mail your letter to Santa.

As I mentioned earlier, part of the magic of writing a letter to Santa and understanding about Santa bringing presents is to make sure you talk to your child/student about it. Remind them that Santa brings gifts to good boys and girls. Reading books and watching movies about Santa may help too. Even on Christmas day, remind your child which gifts are from Santa. Each year, you will enjoy seeing your child’s understanding—and lists grow!

Autism Public Hearing to Gather Information in Jackson, MS

Families, teachers, therapists, and other individuals who are interested in the well being of persons with autism spectrum disorder should come to this public hearing on Tuesday, November 27 6-7:30 pm at the Eudora Welty Library in downtown Jackson, MS. This is an opportunity given by the Mississippi Autism Advisory Committee to be heard on topics that you believe are important to persons with ASD. I want to encourage you to take time out of your busy schedules to share your experiences with individuals who have autism as well as strengths and weaknesses and areas Mississippi needs to address to better assist these individuals. Every voice should be heard!

Five Ways to Prepare for the Thanksgiving Meal

Thanksgiving generally revolves around food for neurotypical individuals. So what about kids with disabilities who may be picky eaters, be on special diets, or have trouble knowing when they are full? Thanksgiving can be a stressful day for parents of kids with disabilities when you add in all of these factors. How can you be better prepared? Here are 5 different ways to practice and prepare for Thanksgiving to make it a family-filled, fun day.

#5 Begin by visiting the library and reading about different types of fruits and vegetables. If you are not ready for a trip to the library with your child, try and go on your own and bring books home about Thanksgiving, fruits and vegetables, gardens, etc. Talk about fruits and vegetables by color, size (big/little), shape (circle/oval), as well as taste (sweet/bitter/crunchy) and texture (bumpy/smooth).

#4 Take opportunities to play with food- real or pretend food. You can pretend to go grocery shopping, prepare and make a dish, eat, or play in other ways- cut it open and pick out the seeds, use paint and paint with fruits/vegetables, and cook with it. Incorporate something he likes with something he doesn’t like- like apple pie for a child who likes pastries or banana pudding for a child who likes pudding. Be creative and think outside the box. If your child is on a special diet, practice making Thanksgiving items beforehand to judge how your child reacts to them so that you can perfect them before the big day. Eating Right Ontario has a great list of suggestions that vary from exercise with your child to recipes and other ways to play with food.

#3 Play with virtual food. Whether you have access to an ipad or not, there are lots of different computer games and applications that center around food. Spend some time playing some of these games to see what fruits and vegetables your child already knows and which he doesn’t.  For younger kids, games that work on sorting or picking fruits can be simple and enjoyable- play together and use this as a time to talk about the food as you play. For older kids or kids who are reading, check out this word search.

#2 Introduce a few new fruits and vegetables a week. This will depend on your personal preferences and wishes for what you would like to accomplish by Thanksgiving. Having fruits and vegetables in the house is a start. Next, allow your child to see you cutting and preparing the food and of course, eating it. Encourage tasting or even touching, smelling, or licking the fruits and vegetables. If you have a child who has difficulties knowing when he is full, give him small amounts and help him stop before eating too much. Allowing your child to get up and do a preferred activity after eating may help motivate him to stop before overeating.

#1 Hopefully, all of your hard work will pay off today and your child will have a few new choices to eat for Thanksgiving. Prepare them the same way your child liked them originally- don’t try anything new today unless you see some interest. Play it safe. You can provide other foods that your child typically eats as well.

Take time before Thanksgiving to make sure that your family or friends understand your child’s difficulties. This can help avoid additional stress on Thanksgiving day if they understand beforehand that your child is not being rude by not trying their turkey or pumpkin pie. The more you can educate others on your child and his needs, the better off you will be- and less stressed out. Waiting until the day of to discuss your child’s needs may add additional stress and misunderstood.

If you had success using any of these strategies with your child, let me know!

Mississippi Department of Education held Autism Institute on Gulf Coast

I recently returned from a conference sponsored by the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) put on for the Autism Institute which has yearly conferences in MS to train teachers and personnel to better meet the needs of kids with autism in our state. This year, it was our pleasure to have Emily Rubin, MS, CCC-SLP, talk to us about autism and strategies to make us more successful working with this population. Emily talked about how important visual strategies are for the organization of individuals who have autism. One idea she specifically talked about for school settings is the use of a “help box.” This is a visual/written strategy that gives reminders to children when they have many steps to follow. This universally designed help box assists students in an inclusive environment without pointing to learning differences.

Emily is one of the coauthors of the SCERTS model which focuses on goals related to the Social Communication, Emotional Regulation, and Transactional Supports needed to make kids with autism successful. SCERTS allows professionals to focus on the key aspects of development that are important for individuals with autism. Some of the key aspects of SCERTS are child-centered programming in natural situations and settings that are developed based on growth and development. Another great thing about SCERTS is you can use it along with other programs, such as Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), TEACCH, verbal behavior, and with Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC).
SCERTS is a model that I personally have used for over six years with students who have challenges with social skills, communication, behavior, and those who need specific supports in place from the adults they work with. I feel confident using SCERTS because it teaches individuals with autism in a natural, fun environment. You can read more about SCERTS here or you can fill out a contact form to begin a SCERTS assessment for your child. If you are a professional or are interested in purchasing your own copy of the SCERTS manuals, follow the link below:

Parent Blogs Daydreams from the Spectrum

Sometimes I know parents and professionals working with kids who have autism feel lonely, disconnected, and like no one could understand them. I know I have felt that way before as a special educator. The great thing about the internet is it gives us opportunities to look up and around and realize we are not alone. I worry that parents spend a lot of this time in a lonely, disconnected world. So, as a great reminder that you are not alone, I wanted to share a blog that was posted on facebook. Among the challenges we face with autism, there are always rewards. Hold on to the good moments and the times when he or she surprise you doing or saying something new because these are the moments that make it all worth while. One of my recent favorite moments occurred recently when I ran into a student I taught many years ago and he said, “Bye Ms. Rebecca.” Most people wouldn’t think anything of that- but to me, it meant the world. This student didn’t really use my name much, so his sweet voice and remembering me was so special. It made my day!


Certified to work with Children using Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)

I am very pleased to announce that I have completed the LAMP training through the Center for AAC & Autism and am the second certified LAMP professional in Mississippi. The Center for AAC and Autism is helping more and more children learn to communicate using speech generating devices AKA Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC).

LAMP stands for Language Acquisition through Motor Planning and is a therapy tool to help children with autism and other related disabilities to learn and use language to communicate. I personally have been using LAMP in the classroom for over four years and have been excited to help children not only learn to communicate better, but also increase communications by using core vocabulary. Core vocabulary are the words that are most used in every day speech. It helps kids with disabilities get “more bang for their buck” when communicating by teaching fewer words with higher rates of generalization. LAMP has a large focus on core vocabulary such as every day verbs and pronouns with less of a focus on teaching nouns. By focusing on core vocabulary, kids are able to communicate in more settings and with more activities because they are not pigeonholed into words like “cookie, hat, or Elmo” that only have one meaning. A typical core word LAMP may teach instead is “that” which after taught, can translate into many different scenarios and items. What a better use of a word!

To learn more about LAMP, check out or join the Center for AAC & Autism on facebook!

What does this mean for the Jackson Autism Center? JAC will be able to help more children learn to communicate using AAC and LAMP! I am so excited about being able to help teach more children how to communicate. If you are interested in learning more, please fill out the information on my contact page: contact me.

Five great summer activities for children with autism

July is here and by this time of the summer, a lot of parents are saying “Now what? How can I keep my child interested and engaged for the rest of the summer?” If you are one of those parents, I hope this list helps you find something fun to do!

5. Stay cool indoors! Try going bowling- it’s a great activity that not only allows you to interact with your child plus many of the newer bowling alleys have a computer screen that shows silly scenes after you bowl which may catch your child’s attention and even motivate them to bowl again! It usually isn’t too crowded during the day and you might even save a few bucks. Put the bumpers up and if your child doesn’t have great fine motor skills, teach them to granny bowl (put between their legs and roll). The fan by the bowling balls that cools your hands may also be a sensory bonus.
Take turns bowling and move as quickly or slowly as your child prefers! I have even had kids who wanted to take my turn and their turn. We turned it into a great game and cheered each other on. It’s not about who wins or loses- it’s how you play the game…

4. Buy sidewalk chalk with the 3-D glasses. This is a great opportunity to draw pictures, write letters or words, make a hopscotch board, etc. The 3-D glasses just add more fun. Some ways to engage your child: take turns, ask questions about what color they want, get them to tell you what to draw or what color to use, and even “erase” the scene with water and watch it dry in the sun.

3. Another great summer activity is going to the movies. In the Jackson area, Tinseltown and Malco (maybe United Artists too) have weekday showings in the morning at a special summer price. It may be busy, but this is a good time to try going to a movie and not feeling self-conscious about your child being too loud or not sitting still. There are all ages at these showings and everyone is typically friendly. AND, if you have to leave early, it’s much cheaper than usual admissions, so you can always build up a child’s tolerance of the movie theatre while you are not paying full price.

2. A way to incorporate reading with fun in the summer is to set up a tent in the house or in the backyard and get cozy with books. Camping items are great for kids with autism- and add a lot of sensory fun too. You can use flashlights, glow bracelets, and sleeping bags. Step it up a notch and include a little fishing game with the magnet poles and circular moving pond, fishing hats, books about wildlife and camping, and stuffed animals that live in the forest. These toys allow you to interact with your child in ways that may not have occurred on your usual summer schedule. Of course, no camping trip is complete without a special snack like s’mores- and they can be made gluten-free as well. Happy camping!

1. One of the programs that I think is widely overlooked in the summer is the local library reading program. The Jackson Hinds Library System has an awesome summer reading program that not only gets your child reading or you reading with your child, but also plans lots of activities for the kids- almost daily! Activities are free to anyone and with lots of libraries, there are lots of special things going on usually including “The Snake Man,” a real helicopter, plus lots more! This is a great way for your child to not only be included, but be exposed to new and interesting things.

These are just a few things that stick out in my mind from the many summers that I have taken children with autism into the community. I hope you will try some of these activities and find them as enjoyable as I have. If you try any of the above activities or have any topics you would like discussed in news and updates, please let me know what you think by completing the contact form. Happy summer!

Webinar – Family Experiences with Autism and Speech Generating Devices

For those who want to know more about autism and speech generating devices, I will be doing a webinar next Thursday afternoon, June 7, 2012, 3:30-4:30 EST.  I will be sharing my research where I interviewed families about the use of speech generating devices with their son or daughter who has autism. My presentation will be not only informative, but also entertaining as I share family experiences. Registration is $39 through ATIA. The following is a link to register: