A Sentence Can be a Labor of Love

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!

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“The whale is whooshing.”

A Different Perspective on Autism Awareness Month

As April began, I was filled with anxiety, excitement, and eagerness to start and complete all the things I wanted to do. When April 2 came, I read a few blogs parents of children with autism posted. I have to say, a few stuck with me that I wanted to share, regardless of if you, as the reader, are a parent or professional, in the autism world. The one today may seem a bit harsh as you begin to read it, but I think by the end, you will see her perspective.

Kim Stagliano is raising three young ladies with autism spectrum disorders, between the ages of 15-21. She talks about the reality of autism that is mostly not mentioned in the feel-good stories that are reported most of the time that point to autism breakthroughs or special things individuals with autism can do. As the author of “All I can Handle: I’m No Mother Teresa,” she talks about life raising her three daughters. I have this book and am looking forward to reading it cover to cover in the near future.

The best advice Kim gives in her article is to make a difference in someone’s life who has autism…whether that is inviting a child to a play date, birthday party, volunteering your time or energy to help at a local center that works with children with autism, or being a friend to a parent who has a child with autism…there are no little jobs in the autism field. Each and every one make a difference.

In a Different Key: The Story of Autism Book Summary

In January, I had the opportunity to go to a book signing at Millsaps College for In A Different Key: The Story of Autism. I met the authors of the book, John Donvan and Caren Zucker, but the highlight for me was meeting Donald Triplett from Forest, Mississippi. Donald was the first person in the world to receive an autism diagnosis. He was diagnosed by Leo Kanner at Johns Hopkins in 1942, becoming “Case 1” in Kanner’s research. Donald grew up in Forest, under the protection of his family and community. He is now 82 years old. When I met Donald at Millsaps College in Jackson, his brother and a number of his church members had made the trip for the book signing in support of Donald.

In A Different Key describes the life of Donald Triplett but it also does much more than that. It outlines a comprehensive history of autism as a diagnosis. All of the well known names in autism and their stories are there: Hans Asperger, Ovar Lovaas, Eric Schopler (founder of TEACCH), Temple Grandin, Lorna Wing, etc. The field of autism has a complex and divisive history. In A Different Key explains how these differences came about, from professionals to grassroots efforts by parents desperate for services for their children to theories about vaccines, causes of autism, and treatment successes and failures.

In 1942 and for a long time after, most children diagnosed with autism or childhood schizophrenia lived out their lives in institutions. Donald Triplett’s life was unique in that he was raised in the small town of Forest, Mississippi by well-connected parents and a community that came together to look out for him. His story is interesting for anyone touched by autism. I’m so excited that I got to meet Donald and get him to sign my copy of In A Different Key. While I was waiting to get my book signed, I heard someone say that they would get “Uncle Donald’s” autograph at church on Sunday back in Forest.

*This post has been written by a guest author, Lisa Gerard. Lisa Gerard has been a special education teacher at Madison Avenue Elementary in Madison, MS for the past nine years. During this time she has been awarded Madison Avenue Teacher of the Year (2011), Jackson Metro Area Teacher of the Year (2015) and the Arts Advocacy Award from the Mississippi Alliance for Arts Education (2015) for her efforts at integrating the arts into the special education curriculum at Madison Avenue. Lisa is currently finishing her Master’s degree in Special Education with a focus in Autism. She has done contract work in the past for Jackson Autism Center.

Autism Signs to Look For…

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.

JAC_Autism Spectrum Disorders Information Sheet_April 14

News at Jackson Autism Center April 2016

During April, as it is autism awareness month, it is my goal for you guys, my readers, to bring something to you each day of April! This is a pretty big challenge as I am the executive director and only interventionist at Jackson Autism Center currently, mom, student pursuing my BCBA, and recently began my supervision towards my BCBA…as overwhelmed as I am with life right now, I know you are too. I know you are tired when you come in and your child is pitching a fit about the ipad or getting up early or didn’t sleep last night…or has tummy problems. I see it as you fake a smile and say things are going well or you sit down as your sweet little (or not so little) boy or girl walks towards me to start our session.

But, I also see you light up when I tell you the awesome thing your son or daughter just did…or how well they sat to work or listened to directions…or looked at me. We are here for every single thing your child does- from the tiny glance my way to the “Hi Beka” or explanation about Easter weekend. No matter what skills your child is working on, we are thrilled to be a part of it. Even on the tired days. Even on the hard days. We. Are. A. Team! That is what makes it worth doing.

So this April, we may not have as many events as usual. And I hate that. I want to provide those fun things, lots of them, but can’t always do it. But here are some pretty cool things going on at JAC in April. And I hope to see you there!

April 23- 9:30 am Grandview Malco Theatre, Madison MS Sensory Friendly Showing of The Jungle Book. Tickets available for purchase.

April 30- 10 am-12 pm Premier Tumble and Cheer, BOUNCE FOR AUTISM. This event is $10 per child with concessions for sale. Come bounce and watch your child light up. Open to the general public.

Our first ever fundraiser t shirts! T shirts to promote autism awareness will be available for purchase through April 8, 2016. Find out more.

We have a support group meeting open to families affected by autism which typically meets the first Sat. of the month at 10 am, with child care available if signing up by the Wednesday prior to the meeting. This is open to all families affected by autism in the Jackson and surrounding areas.

Success with a Speech Generating Device

On April 1 and 2, 2016, LAMP Words for Life will be half off…that is, $150 instead of $300. What can a speech generating device mean to an individual with autism? I want to share a story of a student a friend of mine works with who used a speech generating device…until he didn’t need it anymore! He became so verbal that he passed it along.

This is not to say that verbal speech is always the result of using a speech generating device (SGD), but it can be a possibility! Research has not shown that kids who utilize speech generating devices are any less likely to become verbal than any other children. SGDs can only help speech development, not hinder it.

“Party” Says a Teenager using His Speech Generating Device

One of the most joyous moments recently was with a teenager I have been working with for 2 years. We have been using LAMP Words for Life for over a year now and he will request where he wants to go eat and tell me step by step what to draw, including what color to use, but no completely spontaneous language beyond that. He reads using WFL and loves to spell.

Recently, he was hanging out before our session started and I was getting another student to tell about his birthday party and how old he was, what he ate, etc. My teenager was standing still or pacing during this conversation.

When we started our session, he kept going to different things on Words for Life, but not settling on saying anything. I could tell there was something he wanted to say and continued to wait and encourage him. After a few minutes, he said “party.” He wanted to talk about the other little boy’s party or perhaps have one of his own. He didn’t give anymore details. This was so exciting for him to take what we talked about as a group, when he seemed to possibly not be paying attention and want to talk about it again with me. This was a huge moment for us!

LAMP Words for Life celebrates April 2 as World Autism Awareness Day and puts WFL, which is only available through Apple, half off for April 1 and 2, 2016 only. This makes such an impact for so many families who are waiting and watching for their child to ask for “popcorn” or “tickles”…or “party.” Party on, Wayne!

New Intervention Service Being Offered through Jackson Autism Center

I am very excited to share a new opportunity that is in the works for 2013! It is geared towards children who are 3-6 years old and are being homeschooled, are not yet in a preschool program, or thrive with small group intervention for learning. Other children may be considered if deemed appropriate. This program, “Stay and Play,” is two days a week for two hours and consists of typical school activities such as circle time, one-on-one work, small group work, social play skills, and snack. It is developed for a small group learning environment, with a maximum of 2-3 children per group. Children participating will be learning new academic, social/personal, and fine motor skills through thematic units. “Stay and Play” meets the sensory needs of children with special needs as well as academic and social/personal needs. This program is offered on a first-come, first-serve basis so please inquire if you are interested. Children participating will be required to complete an academic evaluation through Jackson Autism Center.

More information is available here: Jackson Autism Center Stay and Play March to May 2013.

MS CEC February Conference to include Dr. Rebecca Mullican of Jackson Autism Center

The fast approaching MS CEC conference will be held at the Golden Moon Casino and Resort in Philadelphia, MS on February 6-8, 2013. Dr. Rebecca Mullican will have two presentations that you will not want to miss during this conference! One will discuss her dissertation topic of children with autism who use speech generating devices to communicate and the other focuses on the connection between behavior and communication. You can review the schedule here and the session topics here. If you would like general information about Mississippi’s Council for Exceptional Children, you can visit here.

Dr. Mullican’s first presentation, Linking Communication and Behavior, will focus on the need for all individuals to have a consistent way to communicate. Individuals are misunderstood because of challenging behavior and a lack of communication. Through a better understanding of the connection between behavior and communication, professionals and parents can assist individuals with special needs in creating a communication system that works.

Dr. Mullican’s second MS CEC presentation, “It Is His Voice” Daily Device Use with Children who Have Autism, will share information from Dr. Mullican’s dissertation which focused on families of children who have autism and use a Speech Generating Device (SGD) to communicate. Six families across the United States participated in two interviews to share their experiences with their child who has autism and communicates with a SGD. Dr. Rebecca Mullican will be presenting with Dr. John Bishop, a CISE professor at the University of Southern Mississippi.

These and many more presentations will make the MS CEC conference one you will not want to miss. A variety of information will be presented, from the DORE program to positive behavior support, Mississippi Alternate Assessment, Common Core for individuals with moderate and severe disabilities, and twice-exceptional children. Hope to see you there.

~I was unable to attend CEC as scheduled for personal reasons. However, I will be participating in other speaking events so stay tuned…

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!