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Archive for the 'General Thoughts' Category

TeachTown in Parents Magazine

Tuesday, June 10th, 2008

Parents Magazine
On page 40 of its June issue (on stands now), Parents Magazine discusses computer programs designed as a learning tool for children with autism. In the article is a quote from Carl G. Arinoldo, Ph. D., (a psychologist who works with autistic children) concerning the benefits of computer programs for children with autism. One of the programs specifically mentioned is TeachTown. “This was a major breakthrough,” says Sam Butler, a parent of an autistic child that uses TeachTown: Basics. Buy your copy of Parents Magazine today!

When is my child ready to start using the computer?

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2008

 There is no specific age that a child should start using the computer, but most people would agree that the child should be at least 2 years old. At this age, many children may be ready, but some will not, even at 3 or 4 years old. By the age of 5 years, most children are probably ready to start using the computer in one way or another. There is little research on when a child should begin using the computer, but there are a few signs that your child might be ready:

  1. Your child is at least 2 years old
  2. Your child is interested in visual stimuli such as the computer or television
  3. Your child attends to visual stimuli for at least 5 minutes (with or without your help)
  4. Your child is able to reach for items or point to desired items (so that they can touch the computer monitor or point to items on the screen) (not necessary for your child to use a computer mouse at first) (this one is not totally necessary as there are accommodations that can be made even for those children who cannot point to the screen)
  5. Your child can attend to and follow brief, verbal instructions (e.g. “sit down”) (for this one, it is worth trying the computer briefly to see what happens, for some children, they respond better to the computer than to verbal instructions).

How can I get a child started using the computer?

The best way to get a child started on the computer is to introduce it gradually with little demand on the child. The focus at first should be on showing the child that the computer is fun!

  1. Pick a stimulating program that your child is likely to love (this does NOT have to be educational – just fun for your child!) and have your child sit with you while you navigate through the program. If your child wants to grab the mouse or touch the monitor, let him, but do not give your child any instructions or place any demands on him or her.
  2. Once your child begins to show interest (which could be the very first time!), start placing your child’s hand on the mouse occasionally and physically prompt them to move it around and click. If you have a touch screen monitor, you can have your child start touching the screen to see what will happen. For this step, you should again choose a program that is reinforcing for your child, not necessarily a learning program.
  3. Now you can introduce a simple learning program (you will want to start with content that is relatively easy, but not boring, for the child). Begin with very short sessions such as 5 minutes and do several times throughout the day (2-3 times). Sit behind your child and provide extra reinforcement (e.g. praise, food, touch) to keep your child engaged. You may want to set a timer so the child knows how long they are expected to sit at the computer.
  4. Increase the difficulty of the learning program and increase the time gradually that the child sits at the computer (no more than 20 minutes for a young child, up to an hour for an older child).
  5. As your child gets more independent on the computer, you can fade your presence but it is recommended that you sit with your child for some of the computer sessions to work on expressive language and social interaction.
  6. To make sure it is working, you should collect data on the skills you are trying to improve.

What should I look for in purchasing software for my child?

  1. If only looking to entertain your child, not teach, pretty much anything will work – these kinds of programs are good rewards for your child to earn after using a learning program.
  2. For teaching, look for programs that are specifically designed for your child’s needs. For instance, if you have a child with an Autism Spectrum Disorder, you may want to purchase a program that is designed specifically for this population. Also, be sure to look at the ages the program is designed to teach. If your child is older, you will want to choose a program with age ranges that match your child’s developmental level.
  3. Look for programs that are based on science. Many programs claim to do this, so look at what “science” they are referring to.
  4. Look for companies that have done and continue to do research on their products! This one is extremely important, claiming something is “evidence-based” or “effective” without any research is a false claim. At minimum, the companies should provide a scientific framework that their products are based on.
  5. Identify programs that are visually interesting and have fun sounds – you will want your child to enjoy what they are doing! Most companies provide free demos of their products so that you can check out what the program looks and sounds like. Higher quality products are more engaging for most children.
  6. Programs that claim to be effective should provide a data collection system in the software. Having frequent progress reports on how your child is doing will help you decide if the program is working or not.
  7. One of the biggest issues with computer instruction is whether or not skills will generalize to off-computer activities. Programs that provide generalization solutions in the software and give suggestions for off-computer activities are ideal.
  8. Last, but not least, try to identify programs that will grow with the child so that you are not replacing software every month or so (this gets costly, results in loss of data tracking, and can be frustrating for your child).

Written by:

Christina Whalen, PhD, BCBA

President and Chief Science Officer

TeachTown, Inc.


Autism and Online Role Playing Games

Tuesday, April 1st, 2008

Games such as Second Life may provide a great opportunity for opening social doors for people with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD).  This virtual world allows users to create characters and interact socially with others in an online world.  In a recent article, CNN reports on how this can be beneficial.  Created by an adult with Asperger’s Syndrome, Naughty Auties is a world where people with ASD can interact with one another in a more relaxed, less socially intimidating environment.  This sounds like a great solution for teaching social interaction and working on social skills.

This kind of solution for helping teens and adults with ASD may end up causing more harm than good.  In worlds such as Second Life, there are an unfortunate group of people called “griefers” whose sole purpose is to cause harm to others.  These people literally seek out vulnerable people in these online worlds and deliberately disrupt the world and cause harm, just because they can.  In worlds such as Second Life, there is no supervision, there are no limits, and anyone can get in and do whatever they want and say whatever they want.  This opens the doors for griefers and others will the wrong intentions.  For the ASD community, they are especially vulnerable due to their difficulties with understanding subtle social cues and often, language difficulties.

Although I support the idea of providing a virtual world for working on social skills and understanding, I am nervous about an open-ended world where people with disabilities are completely exposed and open to griefers.  Instead, I would like to see something similar that is not open to anyone wanting to join, and that operates in a more controlled space perhaps with computer players (like in the SIMS) or with invite-only people that have been screened.  The other issue to consider is how effective this kind of environment is for increasing skills, with no data collection or research on the effectiveness of doing this for someone with ASD, I would hesitate.  Research is clearly needed on this kind of program, particularly if it is described as an intervention or skill-building program.
In general, I think the idea is great, but people should be aware of the potential risks before jumping into a world with so many risks.

CNN Announces Global Coverage for First World Autism Awareness Day

Monday, March 31st, 2008

CNN Pressroom - Multiplatform Effort Will Report on Science, Intervention and Resources for Parents on Wednesday, April 2

CNN will use its unparalleled newsgathering resources to report on the global impact and latest science of the developmental syndrome of autism for the first “World Autism Awareness Day.” Online as well as on CNN/U.S., CNN International, CNN en Español and Headline News, CNN will report on medical insights, information on treatments and
intervention, and details about services available for those living with autism for the inaugural international awareness day on Wednesday, April 2.

On CNN/U.S., chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta will report on a range of issues related to autism spectrum disorder beginning on CNN’s American Morning at 6 a.m. through Anderson Cooper 360°. Worldwide, it is estimated that as many as 35 million people have autism and face considerable challenges and often discrimination. In November 2007, the United Nations declared that April 2 would be an annual day to “encourage Member States to take measures to raise
awareness about children with autism throughout society.” 

“Bringing awareness and information to viewers and online users globally on topics of urgency and importance, like autism, is exactly what CNN does best,” said Jon Klein, president of CNN/U.S. “And Sanjay Gupta as our daylong guide for our reporting on this issue is a real differentiator for CNN. It will give depth to our reporting that no other network can offer.”

In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated in 2007 that as many as 1 in 150 8-year-old children in multiple areas of the United States had an autism spectrum disorder. Parents must often navigate their own paths to find helpful therapies and finance expensive education and other services independently.

In anticipation of World Autism Awareness Day, CNN.com will offer expanded coverage of this mysterious neurological disorder. Viewers will be able to access news and information including the latest medical theories and research about autism as well as the stories of people who live every day with the condition. Through multimedia and interactive elements, as well as traditional stories and videos, viewers will be invited to expand their knowledge and understanding
of autism.

Viewers and users are encouraged to share their firsthand accounts of life with autism through video, photo, audio or text submissions to www.iReport.com, CNN’s recently launched user-generated community Web site. Autism-related iReports are available at www.iReport.com/tags/autism; and iReport.com contributors also may gain recognition by having the material they submit to the site – once vetted and approved for use – appear on a CNN network or CNN.com.

On the weekend preceding World Autism Awareness Day, Saturday, March 29, and Sunday, March 30, chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta will devote the full broadcast of House Call with Dr. Sanjay Gupta to explain the latest medical thinking regarding early signs of autism. While most children are diagnosed with autism at about age
two, studies suggest that earlier diagnoses may offer opportunities for critical behavioral interventions. Gupta will explain warnings signs that may be observable as early as 6 to 12 months of age, when early interventions may improve developmental outcomes. House Call with Dr. Sanjay Gupta airs Saturdays and Sundays at 8:30 a.m. Gupta’s investigation into issues related to insurance coverage and educational therapies for families living with autism will be
featured on CNN Radio for affiliates. On CNN.com, the “Paging Dr. Gupta Blog” and “Paging Dr. Gupta” podcast will also feature helpful information for families on autism.

Also on Saturday, March 29, personal finance editor Gerri Willis will offer advice for parents on coping with the tremendous costs of autism for Open House. Open House airs Saturdays at 9:30 a.m. Preliminary coverage plans for World Autism Awareness Day on Wednesday, April 2, include:

· American Morning will introduce CNN viewers to triplets – each with autism at varying severity – born to Lynn and Randy Gaston in Ellicott City, Md. Additional reports will feature adults living with autism and distinguish medical myths from realities associated with a range of therapies and treatments. CNN’s American Morning airs weekdays on CNN/U.S. from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m.

· On CNN en Español, En Familia, a 30 minute program that serves as a guide to parents, and Consulta Médica, a 30-minute prime-time program dedicated to personal health and fitness, will be focusing on the educational needs of children with autism, and addressing the latest controversies examining the link between vaccines and autism spectrum disorder. En Familia airs each Monday at 11:30 a.m. and Consulta Médica airs each Tuesday on CNN en Español at 11:30 a.m.

· A one-hour global simulcast special We Have Autism, anchored by CNN International’s Colleen McEdwards, will air at noon and focus on the experiences of families living with autism around the world and feature an interview with Suzanne Wright, the co-founder of Autism Speaks, an advocacy organization for people and families living with autism. McEdwards will also report on people living with extreme symptoms of autism, with a focus on Tito, a young man who despite his severe autism, has become a high-functioning poet and author. CNN international correspondent Wilf Dinnick will report on Qatar’s state-of-the-art Shafallah Centre that assists autistic children. The nation of Qatar is credited with leading U.N. efforts to establish World Autism Awareness Day as a day of global awareness. Also for We Have Autism, international correspondent John Vause will report from China about life with autism under communism. U.S. affairs editor for
CNN International, Jill Dougherty will report on a family with a child recently diagnosed as autistic as they seek the best help for their child. We Have Autism will air on CNN/U.S. and CNN International.

· Actor, author, parent and autism activist Jenny McCarthy, as well as Bobby Kennedy, Jr., senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council who believes that thimerosal in vaccines is responsible for autism, will be guests on Larry King Live. Larry King Live airs weeknights on CNN/U.S. at 9 p.m. and replays at midnight.

· “Finding Amanda,” a one-hour Anderson Cooper 360° special, features a few of the approximately 600,000 American adults who live with autism. Gupta will introduce viewers to Amanda Baggs of Burlington, Vt., and others, who share with him how they experience the world – from their perspective. “Finding Amanda” will premiere on CNN/U.S. at 11 p.m. and replay at 2 a.m.

· Showbiz Tonight will feature a report on a groundbreaking documentary, Autism: The Musical, set to debut on HBO on Tuesday, March 25. Showbiz Tonight airs on Headline News weeknights at 11 p.m. and replays at 2 a.m.

· CNN Newsource will offer affiliates custom liveshots with medical correspondent Judy Fortin between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m. on April 2 about how families with older children living with autism cope with their challenges. Fortin’s package features a Grayson, Ga., family with a 12-year-old autistic child.

Additional programming focused upon autism will be announced closer to April 2.

All times Eastern.

The above article is available via the courtesy of Arzu Forough, Autism Speaks Legislative Advocacy Chair-Washington State

Help Kids with Autism and Laugh with Dana Carvey in San Francisco on April 25th

Monday, March 17th, 2008

I found out about this event and just had to share it, this is a great opportunity to have a fun night out (and see Dana Carvey!!) and help raise money for autism and other special needs children.


Join the legendary Dana Carvey and friends for a five-star evening of
food, wine, and wit for a worthy cause

Oak Hill School, the Ryder Foundation and the ASHA Academy.

Enjoy a VIP cocktail reception followed by an intimate gourmet dinner prepared by
Bay Area celebrity chefs. Laugh out loud at a private stand-up comedy show
featuring Dana Carvey and friends. Meet the talent at an exclusive after-party with
divine desserts and drinks, and groove to the beat of the Back Burner Blues Band.

Friday, April 25, 2008


1290 Sutter Street, San Francisco, California
Entrance on Van Ness Ave.


Dana Carvey.jpg

5:30 - 6:30 pm, VIP Cocktail Reception
6:30 - 8:00 pm, Celebrity Chef Dinner hosted by Joey Altman
8:30 pm, Dana Carvey and friends (Doors open at 8:00 pm)
10:00 pm - Midnight, Meet the Stars After-Party

- cocktail attire -

For more information, please contact Nancy Frumkes Events at
415.789.1969 or nancyfrumkes@earthlink.net


Oak Hill kids.jpg

Located in Marin City, California, the Oak Hill School is certified by the California State Department of Education and provides an academic and therapeutic program for children from kindergarten through adolescence. Their staff includes special education teachers, speech and language pathologists, occupational therapists, creative arts therapists and psychotherapists.

While the range of disabilities among children is broad, classroom groupings cluster children with similar academic levels and learning styles. Their education program includes groups of children with good verbal skills and strong academic potential as well as groups of children with emerging language and academic abilities. Children who have struggled in the traditional classroom environment have an opportunity at Oak Hill to develop academic and social skills, high self-esteem and become leaders among their peers.


ryder_lake.jpgThe mission of The Ryder Foundation is to provide funding to organizations that research the environmental causes
of autism and effectively treat afflicted children.

The Ryder Foundation funds research that investigates the link between environmental toxins and Autism Spectrum Disorders.
The Ryder Foundation funds research aimed at establishing empirically-proven treatments for autism.
The Ryder Foundation funds programs that assist low-income families in getting treatments, therapies and supplies.
The Ryder Foundation funds programs that help local autistic and developmentally challenged children reach their full potential.


ASHA is a holistic, multidisciplinary academy in Bangalore, India, providing special education to children with severe disabilities, particularly autism. Founded in 1995, ASHA endeavors to “render exceptional love, care, hope, and educational assistance to children with special needs, to help them develop and utilize their potential.” The school also provides family support, community outreach, and training.

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