The iPhone: Lifesaver for Those With Autism by Ethan Hirschberg

People have differing viewpoints about technology; its usage, our over-reliance on it, and the impact that it is having on the younger generations. I believe that most people, however, realize that technology is the new way of life and will stay relevant forever. As a teenager with high-functioning Autism, I use technology constantly every day. I believe that technology can greatly benefit people with Autism. I have used multiple tech products in my life that have helped me tremendously. iPhones in particular have changed my life; specifically the iPhone calendar and clock apps.

When I was younger, one vital thing that I used was a timer. When I was really little and didn’t understand time, I used a visual timer. When the red color was gone, I was done. Then I switched to timers with loud, repetitive noises. While the timer helped me, the noise caused sensory triggers. Next I used a timer that talked to me. During the countdown it gave me prompts at certain intervals of time, which helped to re-focus me after I lost track of time (an issue I still struggle with) while zoning out or stimming. I had used a timer for so many things: to tell me when I had to go upstairs for bed, when I could to take a break, the ending of my time-out, how long I had left on homework, how long I had to stay in the shower, when I needed to finish my morning routine and get downstairs for breakfast, etc.

Now that I’m older, I have an iPhone and use the clock app for my timer. The best part of the clock app is that I can pick what alarm sound will go off. I can even pick a song to use for my alarm, or vibrate so that the alarm doesn’t bother other people. No more loud and obnoxious noises! Having this app on my iPhone also means that I don’t have to carry a separate timer on me. Also, the “world clock” feature helps me a lot as well. Since my dad travels all over the world for work, I can see what time it is wherever he is. If I have to call him, I can now make sure that it isn’t in the middle of the night wherever he is.

The calendar on my iPhone has also been a life changer for me and my family. One thing that really bothers me is when I don’t know what the plan is for the day or when I am unexpectedly asked to go somewhere. The iPhone calendar app is the solution for me. It lists all of the appointments and activities for all of my family members (color coded for each person) so I know the plans for not only the day but for weeks and even months ahead. I can begin to prepare myself for doctor’s appointments or upcoming social outings. This greatly lessens my anxiety. I can also see what others are doing during the day so that I know if I have to tag along with my parents for an errand. Because my dad is gone for days at a time for work, I can also see when he is due back, leaves again, and how long he will be gone.

Having Autism is stressful. Taking even a little bit of stress away really makes a difference. I know that there are so many other apps that can help individuals with Autism, and the clock and calendar apps are ones that I use everyday. Both of these features on iPhones have made a world of difference in my life.

Ethan Hirschberg was born July of 2001, in San Diego, California. Ethan enjoys business, hanging out with friends and family, martial arts, blogging, actively participating in Jewish activities, helping people, and having fun! Through Ethan’s experiences as a teen with high functioning Autism, he provides advice, shares thoughts, and tells his experiences. Ethan truly believes that intellectual knowledge (of actually having Autism) greatly benefits all readers.

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From Our Founder: Autism and Motor Functions by Dr. Joshua Weinstein

childhood motor skill development and autism

 

A toddler just learnt to wave good-bye. Their brain had to formulate a new neural pathway and communicate with their body and use signals of the environment to successfully learn this new trick. Every new motor skill that a child learns hinges on the brain’s capacity to formulate significant networks between very different parts of the brain. Like a machine functioning effectively different neural networks have to work together. The part involved in regulating movement, the capability to use sensory material from the environment and from the body and the ability to calculate what is going to occur next are all necessary in order to coordinate motor activities and adjust actions as needed.

Normally developing children make these brain connections, and acquire new motor tasks, straightforwardly in the development of daily experience. They are inspired to undertake new challenges and constantly discover different ways of attaining their objectives. In anticipation of mastering new skills they engage in constant repetition which provides them with a sense of self-efficacy and confidence.
Children with autism and individuals with developmental coordination disorder, do not learn new motor skills in the same easy way, possibly because of differences in the way their brains form new connections.

Learning and motor skill performance is contingent on developing solid contacts between diverse portions of the brain that connect:
sensory data from the body – skin, joints, muscles, vestibular system
sensory information from the atmosphere: vision and hearing
processing objectives, goals and outlooks

When learning to wave good-bye the child feels their muscles moving, they see their parent’s cues and have a goal to please the parent and get the yummy reward of success. All the various parts of the brain are working synchronously to help the child master every new motor skill. Even after the brain has coordinated all the tasks necessary to learn to wave good-bye it continues to assess the consequence. Was there success? Have I reached my goal? What needs to be altered to improve?

Since there are dissimilarities in the wiring of the brain, individuals with autism don’t incorporate all the material required for task learning, and may use less effective ways and may need to be given additional training and direction to acquire new motor skills.
Nevertheless, if they receive enhanced, clear-cut opportunities, all individuals can progress with their motor skill abilities: it may take time, perseverance and knowledge.

How Early Can You Tell?

Research studies show that the level of early motor impairment forecasts the severity of primary ASD indicators. Delays in early developmental milestones such as lying, sitting, crawling and walking were exhibited by each of the children studied who were all later diagnosed by definitive means when they were age three or older. Some of the findings indicate that motor growth in infancy relates to the frequency of language and communicative deficiencies in children who were later identified with ASD.

Additional studies have taken this research further by looking at babies being treated in neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). They found that babies who had higher instances of abnormal muscle tone and differences in their visual processing were later diagnosed with autism. At one month of age these infants were more likely to show “persistent neurobehavioral abnormalities” than other babies, while 40% exhibited difficulties visually tracking objects. At 4 months, these infants preferred heightened amounts of visual stimulation. Study co-author Ira Cohen explained, “It fits in anecdotally with what we see later-on, kids with autism like looking at moving things in front of their eyes, such as flapping hands or following contours.”

Cohen and his team suggested that more research is needed in this area to confirm if babies not checked into the NICU exhibit the same pattern of behavior because most children with autism are not born prematurely.
Although the existing diagnosis measures have a nominal description of motor impairment in ASD. Motor irregularities and delays in motor indicators often show up within the first year of life and ordinarily appear prior to communicative or social deficits, assessments on children’s motor functioning can help with early identification and monitoring intervention development.

Moving On
Research is currently exploring the positive benefits of physical activity interventions that will improve motor functions in individuals with autism and perhaps carry-over to other areas as well. Nonetheless, every individual should have a specifically designed treatment plan to improve motor control. In some cases, a child may excel in gross motor with significant impairments in fine motor, or vice versa. Some may have impairments in both areas. Each treatment plan needs to address the specific needs of each child.

The most effective approach is to break down tasks into small steps. Once a task is mastered, the child moves to the next goal. The child achieves success in small increments, each building on one another. This method is applicable to gross motor, fine motor and speech therapy. Eventually, proper motor control is acquired through practice.

Children with autism are not as good at exploring different ways to achieve a goal. They have difficulty sorting through and selecting the right sensory information for a task. They also do not extract lessons from the past and thus have a harder time learning through experience. All of these deficits in brain functions hinder motor development. Yet, they can be addressed with proper treatment.
Autism research is experiencing a growth in the immeasurable area that covers the link between the neural circumstances that interrupt motor development and other salient features of autism. Very soon, research may offer more exact early interventions for improving motor functions and development.

Joshua Weinstein has been an educator and administrator for over four decades. He holds a Ph.D., two Masters Degrees in Educational Administration and Supervision and an MBA in Executive Administration. He has been the CEO in healthcare, social services, and business corporations. He’s the president and founder of Shema Kolainu-Hear Our Voices and ICare4Autism- International Center for Autism Research & Education- a global leader in autism research & education. He can be reached via email at jweinstein@skhov.org
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Meet Our Newest Contributor: Ethan Hirschberg

I have been asked a number of times how I learned that I had Autism. I remember some things and I got the help of my mom to remember other things. So, here I go… Ever since I was a toddler I knew that I was different. When I was three or four years old I asked why people called me “weird” and why I was different from everybody else. When I was eight years old my mom tried to read me a book about a boy who had high-functioning Autism. During the first chapter I got very uncomfortable and didn’t want to be read to anymore. My mom then realized that the description of the book was so much like me that I became upset about it and that I wasn’t quite ready to learn about my diagnosis.

IC4A Article 3 Image

When I was ten years old my mom told me. It started out as a normal conversation with me talking about how I was different than other kids. Spontaneously my mom knew it was time to tell me. We sat on the couch and together we made two columns, listing her strengths and weaknesses first and then my strengths and weaknesses. My mom said that some kids have many of the same strengths and weaknesses that I do and kids who have this have something called Autism. She explained what Autism was and gave examples of famous and successful people with Autism so that I could feel okay with it. She said that I can use my strengths to help me and I would have to work harder at things I’m not as good at.

My mom then made a continuum line that showed the low, medium, and high levels of functioning and some characteristics of each level and then she explained where I was on this line. She then proceeded to ask if I had any questions. I asked two. The first was if there were any people that I knew who also had Autism. The second was if other people knew that I had Autism. After answering these questions my mom then explained that this was why I got extra help at school through my IEP, went to social skills groups, and attended speech and occupational therapy. Afterwards I felt happy and relieved knowing that I now knew why I was different, and that I could attach a name to my feelings to better understand myself.

I am aware of the controversy among some parents about whether or not to tell their kids about their diagnosis. I am in full support of parents telling their kids but also realize it is an important and difficult decision. When my mom told me it was beyond helpful. These kids already know that they are different and a conversation like this will help them understand themselves. By prolonging this important talk you may be hurting your child. As a parent, you need to determine when the time is right. For me, my parents tried when I was eight, realized that I wasn’t ready, and then tried at ten. As the maturity level of kids differs greatly, it’s up to the parent(s) to find the right time.

To all of the parents out there that have young children with Autism, I have a challenge: determine the right time to talk to your child. It doesn’t have to be now. It can be in a few weeks, months, or years. If you try it and your child isn’t ready, then wait. It’s only a matter of time!


Ethan Hirschberg was born July of 2001, in San Diego, California. Ethan enjoys business, hanging out with friends and family, martial arts, blogging, actively participating in Jewish activities, helping people, and having fun! Through Ethan’s experiences as a teen with high functioning Autism, he provides advice, shares thoughts, and tells his experiences. Ethan truly believes that intellectual knowledge (of actually having Autism) greatly benefits all readers.

Enjoy reading the book, and feel free to contact Ethan at any point through his website, www.thejourneythroughautism.com or email, thejourneythroughautism@gmail.com.

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Our BBC Debut! by Giuliana Fenwick

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Hello everyone. I’m writing to you yet again in huge excitement!

Remember last time I shared with you that I had achieved my challenge for April and Autism Awareness by getting my son Ollie’s journey into the national press? Well life has gone a little crazy since and this story has really made many people sit up and listen which we are just so thrilled and thankful for. It’s actually a little overwhelming—interest has been considerably huge!

One of the incredible opportunities to come from this was an invitation by BBC Radio Somerset to go along for an interview. The journalist offered to come to our home to conduct the interview so that Ollie felt at ease in familiar and comfortable surroundings, which I thought was just lovely.

Ollie, however, quickly reminded me how far he has come and said he wanted to see inside a radio studio and “get used to this work “because, as he so proudly told me, he wants to do more work like this and use his experiences to help others “like you do Mum”.
I could have burst with pride.

So this morning we set off super early chatting and singing along to music in the car. We wanted to get to the studios early so we could get our bearings and meet everyone beforehand.

They were so welcoming and actually laughed at just how excited we both were. Naturally there were hugs all round!! I can’t help it — it was so abating to be there and have this chance to give a voice to so many by talking about our own experiences. I was uncontainable at this wonderful chance for ollie and I, for the very first time, to do a joint interview and get our powerful message across. So many kids with different abilities suffer like Ollie — the isolation, the lack of true awareness and support,, the ignorance and often stigma of negative connotations surrounding “Special Needs” and the mental health issues that can then develop as a result, all needed to be brought into the open—and above all for the message of absolute gifts and abilities behind the labels to be sung from the rooftops — or into a yellow microphone anyway!!!

We just flowed!!!! I loved it! Ollie was so natural and seemed so confident, even though he later confessed that he had been shaking with nerves. We filled in each other’s gaps and gently supported each other and together we did a grand job! I was so proud of Ollie’s honesty, bravery, directness and openness. We were a good team.

The journalist was very moved as I spoke of so many other children I know through my work whose voices are removed and who are written off. She was floored when Ollie read some of his poetry to her and was horrified that he had been plunged into bottom sets for English just for being autistic — how he was never even given a chance because of his label — yet his gift of writing is so beautiful. She looked physically moved.

At the end of the interview she invited him to read two of his poems which will be played on the breakfast show tomorrow (23 May 6.30 am UK time onwards and we had so much to say — big surprise — that the interview will be spread out across the entire breakfast show in parts).
The second poem Ollie read out was called “The Yellow Dress “and it was written about me, so the entire studio was swimming through my tears.

It was such a powerful moment to hear my son, the boy who was told he would “never achieve “, reading the words he had written so stunningly well, over BBC radio. It was a moment I shall never forget all my life.

And this, I feel, is just the start.

At the end of the interview the journalist asked us what we hoped for the most from today. We both instantly said it was the message of hope, the message to never let others define you, to always hold onto your dreams and to believe anything is possible if you believe hard enough. It’s a message of triumph over adversity, ability over so called disability and strength and tenacity even when you are broken. To believe in your child and to believe they have a future with so much to contribute and above all to make school and society a fairer and more inclusive place.

Ollie could have been broken by the system. So many others do get broken. If we include, support and understand, think how many other gifted children like Ollie will bloom and thrive? Ollie is embracing his destiny at last. Think how many gifts never see the light of day because they are never given the chance?

So please keep believing in your children. Never stop. I promise you it is worth it and you will set them up for life. You must believe that your children can find their voices and follow their dreams too. We all have gifts whatever our labels.

To hear Giuliana and Ollie’s interview on BBC Radio Somerset, follow this link and skip ahead to the 39:00 minute mark.

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Autism + Technology

 

Attend the International Autism Conference coming this November to learn more about this and other topics within the Autism field

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