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Dr. Chris’ Autism Journal » Media
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Archive for the 'Media' Category

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! 

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! 

Podcasts

Saturday, July 8th, 2006
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heroshot_ipod_white.jpgDo you own an IPOD or other MP3 player or do you use ITUNES on your computer? There are now many PODCASTS (i.e. reports or stories that you can listen to on your computer or IPOD) about autism.

Check out our new podcast, from an interview I did with Scott Ryan from Autism Speaks in May.V3020062.jpg

AutismOneRadio is a very good podcast to try out, I like this one a lot because it brings in researchers, professionals, and parents and is done in a very professional yet interesting way. There are several different perspectives and the interviews are done by different people so there is a lot of good variety.

53585.jpgAutism Tales is a good one because it is actually real stories from people with autism and other special needs (or their families or people who worked with them) read by Jonathon Singer.

Bartholomew Cubbins is an interesting one that is kind of like a blog that you can listen to, he expresses his opinions about different things going on in the world of autism.host_photo.jpg

Michael Boll, a father of a child with autism and a former teacher, does Autism Podcast which is pretty interesting. In this one, Michael Boll interviews various people associated with autism such as authors of books, etc. You can check out his website too where you can get all of the podcasts and more information: http://autismpodcast.org/

There are courses that you can purchase by well-known people in the field of autism at Autism Education Online. Courses are up to two and a half hours in length and cost $49.97. If you would like to take multiple courses, the cost for a package of three is $99.97 and a package price for 12 courses is $299.

J3089047.jpgAutism Today also offers audio courses for $24.95 each.

Also, if you are interested in watching online videos about autism, I found this interesting site, Autism TV, which provides links.

Mind Reading Computers

Tuesday, June 27th, 2006
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autism.jpgResearchers are now working on technology to read the emotions of others by analyzing facial expressions. Although some people might have concerns about a computer doing such a thing, it could have very interesting treatment implications. Of course, most of us would not even think about computers REPLACING people in therapy, but if a computer could help people with autism to be more AWARE of their facial expressions, this could be very useful. The program in development is based on the work of Simonpr-cartoon-r.gif Baron-Cohen, the director of the Autism Research Centre in England, who is an expert in theory of mind and autism, check out some of the research he is doing, he does some incredible studies, including using technology such as DVDs and computers to teach people with autism. The researchers on this new project for a wearable emotion detector include Peter Robinson at Cambridge University and Rana el Kaliouby at MIT Here is the article from today’s headlines: Mind-Reading Computers Could Help Those With Autism By Jennifer LeClaire
TechNewsWorld
“Would we want computers that can react to our emotions? Such systems do raise ethical issues,” said Professor Peter Robinson of the Computer Laboratory at the University of Cambridge. “Imagine a computer that could pick the right emotional moment to try to sell you something.” British and U.S. scientists are developing an “emotionally aware” computer that can gauge an individual’s thoughts by analyzing facial expressions. The technology could have practical applications for people with autism, researchers said.
“People express their mental states all the time through facial expressions, vocal nuances and gestures,” said Professor Peter Robinson of the Computer Laboratory at the University of Cambridge in London. “We have built this ability into computers to make them emotionally aware.”

Theory of Mind

The ability to determine an individual’s mental state based on behavior and then use that information to guide one’s actions or predict those of others, is known as the “theory of the mind.” This is not a new field. It has been around since the 1970s, but it has recently gained attention in light of the needs of people with autism, who are thought to be “mind-blind.” That is, they find it difficult to interpret others’ emotions and feelings from facial expressions and other non-verbal cues. Robinson and his colleague, Rana el Kaliouby from the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, based their computer program on the latest research in the theory of mind by Simon Baron-Cohen, director of the Autism Research Center at Cambridge. Baron-Cohen’s research provided them with a taxonomy of facial expressions and the emotions they represent.

“Machine versus people testing of this system has shown the computer to be as accurate as the top 6 percent of people. But would we want computers that can react to our emotions? Such systems do raise ethical issues,” Robinson said. “Imagine a computer that could pick the right emotional moment to try to sell you something.”

AUTISM APPLICATIONS

There are, however, applications with clear benefits, including an emotional hearing aid to assist people with autism, usability testing for software, feedback for online teaching, and informing the animation of cartoon figures, Robinson noted.

The duo has been working since 2004 on a wearable system that helps people with Autism Spectrum Conditions and Asperger Syndrome with emotional-social understanding and mind reading functions. El Kaliouby is currently implementing the first prototype of the system at MIT’s Media Lab.

SIMULATING APPROPRIATE RESPONSES

Mary Bellis Waller, Ph.D., a psychotherapist and scientist at the Center for Addiction and Behavior Studies, is cheering on the researchers. Bellis has worked with autistic children and adults in her practice and is encouraged by progressive technologies designed to help autistics live a more normal life.

“Whatever helps autistics develop an awareness and sensitivity — and appropriate responses — to emotional cues, should be done,” Waller told TechNewsWorld. “And from all the research showing how plastic the brain is, the more anybody — including autistic people — practices appropriate responses, the better they get at it, the more natural it becomes to ‘act normal.’”

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