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Dr. Chris’ Autism Journal » 2007 » April
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Archive for April, 2007

TeachTown Receives Federal Funding for Autism Software Development

Saturday, April 28th, 2007
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teachtown cloud background.JPGWith the success of our first program, TeachTown: Basics, we were getting very antsy to start our next product to help school-age children with autism.  We are thrilled to announce that we have received a Department of Education Stepping Stones Technology grant to develop our next product and to do the initial research to help make this product effective, appropriate, and of the highest quality.  Stayed tuned for further updates about this upcoming product, we are anticipating using the new program with children starting in 2008!

To read more about our exciting news, check out the press release at: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/medicalnews.php?newsid=69034

Continue checking back to this site and the TeachTown website for announcements and opportunities to participate in our research and development process.

Autism Awareness Month, 2007

Tuesday, April 24th, 2007
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000_19_Bill_painting.pngAutism Awareness Month was established in 1972 by the Autism Society of America, since then, we are seeeing more and more awareness every year.  When I started my career in 1993, most people I talked to had not heard of autism, or if they had, they had only seen Rainman and thought that all people with autism were savants. 

This year is probably the most productive I have seen in getting the word out about autism!  It is unfortunate though that so many people still do not know about autism, and I have parents tell me all the time, even now, that their child with autism was told to be “fine” by their pediatrician only to find out a few months later that their child has autism and that they have missed out on months (or years) of intervention.

2005_11Nov.jpgI am encouraged by the increase in media attention that autism is receiving, and I was thrilled to see that Oprah FINALLY did a show about it, which included the most active group in the media, Autism SpeaksThe View also did a show about autism, as have many news shows this month.  Jenny McCarthy will also appear on The View on May 3rd to talk about her story and her son Evan.

Many magazines, including Discover, have published articles about autism this month and Oxford University Press released 2 very helpful blog postings regarding autism:

Stress and Coping: http://blog.oup.com/2007/04/stress_coping/

Helping Children With Autism Learn: http://blog.oup.com/2007/04/children_autism/
Awareness is the first step and it is nice to see that more and more people are talking about autism, but, it is my hope that we will start to see more and more people talking about solutions for children today! 

Dr. Laurie Stephens from HELP Group Joins TeachTown Science Board

Wednesday, April 11th, 2007
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We are very excited to announce that AutHope-Frame_sm.jpgDr. Laurie Stephens from The HELP Group Center in the Los Angeles, California region (this picture is from the HELP Group and Dr. Stephens is the one on the bottom far right) has recently agreed to join TeachTown’s Scientific Advisory Board!

The TeachTown Scientific Advisory Board also includes Dr. Laura Schreibman from UC San Diego, Dr. Connie Kasari from UCLA, Dr. Ilene Schwartz from University of Washington, Dr. Geraldine Dawson from University of Washington, Dr. William Frea & Dr. Ronit Molko from Autism Spectrum Disorders, Dr. Aubyn Stahmer from San Diego Children’s Hospital, Dr. Gary Stobbe from ASTAR, and Dr. Brooke Ingersoll from Lewis and Clark College.

Dr. Stephens is Director of Autism Spectrum Disorders Programs and Director of The Help Group Center for Autism Spectrum Disorder, an outpatient program that provides diagnostic and therapeutic services for children.  She is an Assistant Clinical Professor at the Semel Institute of Neuroscience and Behavior at UCLA.  Dr. Stephens oversees the walk-kids.jpgYoung Learners Preschool for Autism and has been instrumental in creating integrated and comprehensive education and social skills programs within the Help Group’s specialized day schools for children in the autistic spectrum.  She established an intensive social skills summer camp program for children with Asperger’s Disorder, which has an international reach with campers coming from the United Kingdom, El Salvador, Japan, Korea, Mexico and other countries.  Dr. Stephens is also the Editor of The Help Group’s Professional Newsletter, the HelpLine.


Before joining The Help Group, Dr. Stephens was a Clinical Instructor of Psychiatry, Director of Child Services and an attending psychologist at the State University of New York,  Stony Brook.  Dr. Stephens received her BA in Experimental Psychology from the UC San Diego, and her Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology from SUNY Stony Brook.  She has worked in the field of autism for more tstj-158.jpghan 20 years, focusing on the early diagnosis of autism spectrum disorders, designing and implementing educational, behavioral and social programming for children of all ages, and as a consultant to numerous school districts on the East Coast.  She co-founded the Early Diagnosis Center for Autism in Suffolk County, New York.  Dr. Stephens has published and lectured extensively, and appeared as an expert in autism on several news, radio and TV programs.  She has served as the autism consultant to TV shows.  Recently, Dr. Stephens traveled to Japan to lecture to 300 educators on the best practices in education for students with Asperger’s Disorder.  She also served as Program Chair of the Help Group/Semel Institute on Asperger’s Disorder, a four day intensive workshop for educators and clinicians.  Her research interests include the differential diagnosis of high-functioning autism and Asperger’s Disorder, and the development of theory of mind skills in this population. 
Founded in 1975, The Help Group is the largest, most innovative and comprecampuspic4.jpghensive nonprofit organization of its kind in the United States serving children with special needs related to autism, Asperger’s disorder, learning disabilities, ADHD, mental retardation, abuse and emotional problems.  The Help Group’s six specialized day schools offer pre-K through high school programs for more than 1,200 students. The Help Group’s wide range of mental health and therapy services, child abuse, foster family and residential programs extend its each to more than 5,000 children and their families each year. With over 800 staff members, The Help Group’s state-of-the-art schools and programs are located on four major campuses in the Los Angeles area.

Schools Need Help!

Monday, April 9th, 2007
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It seems like every week I am reading an article about another school district struggling to keep up with the expenses of educating children with autism and how instead of adding resources, they keep getting taken away!

In South Carolina, $1.4 million were taken away from the already struggling programs.  This means that children might not get the needed treatment that they need, such as ABA.  More than $700,000 is being dedicated to serving the children with autism, which will cover ABA for only 30 students.  It seems to me that solutions must be found which can spread the limited amounts of money further, how can schools serve more children with the same amount of money while still providing the quality treatment that is needed?

000_86_Eric_catching.pngIt is time for researchers to start thinking about solutions for schools, there is a large amount of data supporting ABA and some other approaches as well.  However, I would like to see studies looking at how to develop ABA treatments further so as to be able to serve more children, perhaps in small group instruction, or utilizing technology, or simplifying procedures for less expensive staff to implement, or other creative solutions to deal with this critical issue in our education system.

In addition, I would like to see more funding and grants for school programs and more education for school staff to more effectively educate children with autism spectrum disorders.  This could be done easily through online learning programs or local conferences for educators.  In addition, more funding and research is needed for how to effectively and efficiently educate school staff so that they are empowered and motivated.

The other important thing that is needed for school systems is training and accountability for student outcome.  Researchers should consider designing assessments that are feasible and easy for schools to implement, and standards should be set for what exactly schools are expected to measure and report.  While some school districts require teachers to use standardized measures of assessment, these measures are often not appropriate or informative for measuring the progress of children with autism spectrum disorders.  If measurements are required, they should be scientifically validated for the autism population.  In addition, managable and efficient tools need to be developed and available to teachers to make data collection accurate and consistent.happyboy4_cl1.jpg

Some states are taking measures to address these important issues, such as California and the Blue Ribbon Commission.  I recently served on the task force for education for this group, and was pleased to see that I am not alone in these concerns and that there are initiatives out there that are working toward solutions.  I will post updates on this Commission as they are available.  Please post other initiatives or solutions that you think are helpful! 

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