Adults with ASD Need More Support in Learning to Drive

In a recent study, researchers at Drexel University have found significant differences in the driving behaviors of autistic adults in comparison to neurotypical individuals. With the autism diagnosis rate growing each year, it is important that this study identifies whether the autism population has unmet needs that need to be fulfilled to help them drive safely. Driving is a key element of independent functioning, and it is important to identify what support is needed in order to help autistic adults have this ability.

Dr. Maria Schultheis, associate professor of psychology at Drexel, states, “When we investigate [how] a condition or neurological difference might affect driving ability, as a standard starting point we want to go to individuals and find out from their perspective what problems they are having on the road, in their real-world experience.” She continues, “That question is pivotal to shape and inform the goals of long-term research — and is especially important when we turn to look at a developmental difference like autism, where there has been too little research to establish whether widespread driving difficulties exist.”

The needs of autistic adults are often overlooked, and the few studies regarding driving have primarily focused on adolescents and new drivers, as opposed to experienced adult drivers. This new study by Drexel, published by the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, used a validated survey that had been extensively used in driving research, asking adult licensed drivers with autism about their real-world driving experiences. It focused on reports of 78 drivers with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), in comparison to 94 drivers without an ASD.

Dr. Brian Daly, assistant professor of psychology at Drexel, and lead author of the study, states, “We were beginning to see discussion in the research literature that aspects of autism spectrum disorders, such as neurocognitive challenges and social recognition difficulties, could make it likely that members of this population would experience significant challenges with driving.” According to the study, most adults with autism spectrum disorders reported earning their drivers’ licenses at a later age. In addition, they tend to drive much less frequently, and they put restrictions on themselves, such as avoiding highways, or only driving during the daytime. Furthermore, most of the adults studied reported having experiences with traffic violations.

The violations may be due to reduced driving exposure, a result of their restrictive behaviors, or actual difficulties and deficiencies in their driving abilities. However, the participants on the autism spectrum may have given more honest answers than their counterparts. Dr. Schultheis states, “Because the study relied on self-reported answers, we can’t rule out whether the respondents with autism were simply being more descriptive and honest about their difficulties than the control group.” Furthermore, Dr. Daly and Dr. Schultheis noted was that the difficulties adults with autism reported did not pertain to a particular area. Dr. Daly states, “It suggests that the challenges these individuals are facing are more global than specific.”

This was an essential study to help bring light to one of the barriers that adults on the autism spectrum face in their daily lives. As a result of these findings, more support needs to be given to help autistic adults as they learn the skills needed to drive, as driving provides an opportunity for them to feel independent, and yet included in a societal norm. In the next phase of research, the team is using driving simulation in Schultheis’ lab to capture aspects of actual driving performance in adults on the autism spectrum.

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Program Transitions Autistic Individuals into the Workplace

Interns of Project Search
(photo credit: nih.gov)

One of ICare4Autism’s largest priorities is helping autistic adults enter the workforce. The Global Autism Workforce Initiative focuses on creating a wider acceptance of autism in society, as well as creating diversity in the workforce. Several organizations are beginning to create programs to specifically integrate autistic adult into their workplace.

According to a recent study by the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, more than half of young adults with ASD were unable to find work in the eight years after graduating high school. Project Search is an innovative program that hopes to make the transition after high school easier.

Project Search is a year-long program that uses hands-on learning in combination with a classroom-style lecture to transition developmentally disabled individuals into the workplace. Throughout the program, interns between the ages of 18 and 21 spend a minimum of six hours per day building, and then using, the necessary skills they will need when they enter a certain sector of work. The skill-building enables the individual to become comfortable with the idea of doing a certain task, and allows them to grow in particular categories. Project Search began at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in 1996, and has since grown rapidly – it now is a part of over 200 facilities across the United States.

Dr. David Kuhn, clinical director of New York’s Presbyterian Center for Autism and the Developing Brain, hopes this program will allow the interns to grow and have the ability to thrive in various environments. He states, “The mission is to build the skills necessary for these individuals to move on beyond these doors to get competitive employment”. He continues, “Our interns go through three ten-week rotations for a total of 600 work hours per year where they are placed at different sites across our campus getting a variety of different experiences.”

Geoffrey Straught, an intern that is about to finish his duration at Project Search, likes the structure of the program and the fact that it involves opportunities for him to build multiple skills. Thanks to Project Search, Geoffrey is now employed at a district attorney’s office. Geoffrey is one of the 70% of participants from the program to go on to find work successfully.

Project Search is an excellent example of how autistic individuals can successfully find positions that fit their strengths, thanks to skill-building, following a schedule, and providing continuous support.

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Creating Employment Opportunities for Adults on the Autism Spectrum

 

Konstantin Zobrovsky and Michele Shapiro of AHRC discuss their initiatives in the autism workforce movement in NYC on July 2nd.

The ICare4Autism International Autism Conference focused on several important topics facing individuals with autism, with a major focus on the autism workforce movement. ICare4Autism’s Global Autism Workforce Initiatives were supported by several incredible presentations that discussed the need for work programs that incorporate autistic individuals, as well as presentations from representatives of businesses that are already making strides to successfully employ autistic adults.

Michele Shapiro, Project Manager for AHRC, Konstantin Zobrovsky, AHRC Employment Specialist, and Mark Grein, Executive Director of Specialisterne-USA, gave presentations on two different days of the conference to discuss a business collaboration that is currently providing opportunities for individuals on the autism spectrum. AHRC-NYC serves over 15,000 individuals with intellectual disabilities in the five boroughs, and Specialisterne strives to be an example of how individuals with ASD can provide valuable and high quality service in an employed position. In November of last year, AHRC and Specialisterne launched a cohort that would help demonstrate the strengths of individuals with ASD. Together, they are currently training and enabling employment for 50 individuals on the spectrum, and are working to establish additional opportunities.

Specialisterne and AHRC are focused on enabling more individuals with ASD to participate in working roles, while also expanding their career path options. This partnership aims to reduce the societal costs of ASD, as well as create collaborations among more employers and stakeholders. Specialisterne and AHRC follow a Dandelion Management Model, which views individuals as being unique and having individual strengths. They help enable managers to lead diverse teams and recognize the competitive advantage of employing individuals on the spectrum. Many individuals with autism have various skills that can give companies a competitive edge, such as a detailed focus, an endurance for repetitive tasks, or an ability to spot deviations in data. As a result, they have the potential to be successfully employed in data analysis, media editing, or medical coding.

AHRC and Specialisterne are exceptional leaders in providing opportunities for individuals on the autism spectrum. ICare4Autism thanks Ms. Shapiro, Mr. Zobrovsky, and Mr. Grein for their initiatives in the autism workforce movement, and for providing inspiration to create more inclusive opportunities for autistic individuals in the workplace and in our communities.

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The Power of Self-Advocacy

Car’Melo Grau and Stephen Holden present The Power of Self-Advocacy on the first day of the ICare4Autism Conference.

The first day of the 2014 ICare4Autism International Autism Conference, which took place on June 30th, was focused on Global Autism Workforce Initiatives. These initiatives were supported by a wonderful presentation titled The Power of Self-Advocacy, which emphasized the importance of creating opportunities to empower those on the autism spectrum. This presentation was given by Car’Melo Grau, President of the YAI NYC Self-Advocacy Association, as well as member Stephen Holden. It was introduced by Tom Ott, Staff Support Member of the YAI NYC Self-Advocacy Association.

Car’Melo and Stephen highlighted the tools that permit each person to assist and advocate for themselves, as well as support others in their quest to live a full, happy, successful life. First, they described Personal Outcome Measures (POMs), which analyze if individuals have been given enough choices and opportunities to reach important goals in their lives. Twenty-one specific POMs were identified in interviews of people with disabilities, which were conducted by The Council on Quality & Leadership, in conjunction with YAI. POMs help individuals focus on where they currently are in their lives, and where they hope to be.

At YAI, practice interviews take place to help individuals express their goals and needs by analyzing their Personal Outcome Measures. The outcomes are measured by being “present”, or “not present”; the present qualities mean that the individual has full potential in that area. After the interview, feedback is given to the individual to help better assist them in their efforts to live fulfilling lives, including the goal of gaining employment. The POMS that are measured help YAI better assist the individuals to achieve their desired outcomes, and are used to see if the outcomes an individual wants to achieve improve over time.

In addition, Car’Melo and Stephen shared stories of times where they faced struggles, and how they were able to overcome them with the support of others who helped empower them. They emphasized that everyone should act as an advocate for those with autism disorders and other disabilities. They expressed that advocates should listen carefully, speak up for others, and look out for each other. These incredible self-advocates showed all of the guests at the conference how critical it is to give support to those on the autism spectrum, as it can help them achieve great things and live fulfilling, successful lives.

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Marcia Scheiner, an Excellent Leader in the Autism Workforce Movement

Marcia Scheiner discusses developments in the autism workforce movement on the first day of the ICare4Autism conference.

The first day of the ICare4Autism International Autism Conference was dedicated to Global Autism Workforce Initiatives, and these initiatives were supported by a fantastic presentation that was delivered by Marcia Scheiner. Ms. Scheiner is the Founder and President of the Asperger Syndrome Training & Employment Partnership (ASTEP), and is dedicated to the development of workforce programs that include those on the autism spectrum. Her presentation, Becoming an Autism-Friendly Employer, provided exceptional reasons why it is in every company’s best interest to integrate autistic individuals into their workforce.

Ms. Scheiner’s organization, ASTEP, is dedicated to suiting individuals in competitive-employment roles that highlight their strengths. ASTEP’s mission is to increase the quality of life for individuals with Asperger Syndrome by helping them become successfully employed. ASTEP focuses on solving individual challenges that many autistics face when they attempt to begin work, such as lack of support on the job or lack of understanding from co-workers. At ASTEP, employers are given a business-driven needs assessment and hiring plan, as well as other training models and methods towards becoming an autism-friendly organization. Furthermore, the company provides training for the individual, such as helping them with interviewing and social skills, and ongoing support.

According to Ms. Scheiner, all organizations should begin to develop regulatory and compliance requirements, such as having a specific percentage of their workforce consist of disabled employees. With the autism diagnosis rate being so high in the United States, it is absolutely essential for companies to implement programs that incorporate a significant amount of individuals touched by autism and other disorders.

Marcia Scheiner is an exceptional leader in the autism workforce movement. Her presentation provided the information that some people needed to motivate them to take the necessary steps to create opportunities for those on the autism spectrum. ICare4Autism thanks Ms. Scheiner for her developments with ASTEP, as the organization is incredibly dedicated to providing support for those with autism, and making the strides necessary for the autism workforce to grow.

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Dipper Education: Using Technology for More Effective Learning

 

Dr. Joshua Weinstein, Founder and CEO of ICare4Autism, meets with Sherill Yan Lin at the ICare4Autism Conference in NYC

On Thursday, July 3rd, a special visitor arrived to Shema Kolainu-Hear Our Voices, School and Center for Children with Autism. Sherill Yan Lin, CEO of Dipper Education, a technology company based out of Hong Kong, visited the school to discuss how her programs could be used to further assist those on the spectrum. Dipper Education is focused on becoming a comprehensive service institute in product design and technology for nonverbal individuals. Dipper was both a sponsor and an exhibitor at last week’s ICare4Autism International Autism Conference, showcasing how their company can help autistic individuals learn more effectively. In addition, Sherill Yan Lin gave an informative and exciting presentation regarding communication through technology.

On Thursday, Sherill met with Gili Rechany, MA, SBL, BCBA, Educational Director of Shema Kolainu-Hear Our Voices, to discuss how Dipper can help individuals with autism disorders build better communication skills. Dipper uses communication assistive devices, which can be used alone, or together with an iPad, using a voice output. 

ICare4Autism would like to thank Sherill for her contributions to the ICare4Autism International Autism Conference, and towards the development of programs that help children with autism gain better communication skills. We are looking forward to working with Dipper to collect data for the devices that will most effectively reach children on the autism spectrum.

Sherill Yan Lin demonstrates one of the programs offered by Dipper Education

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Dr. Eric Hollander Makes an Impact at ICare4Autism Conference

Dr. Eric Hollander addressed hundreds of guests throughout all three days of the 2014 ICare4Autism Conference, emphasizing the importance of implementing global initiatives, as well as sharing his recent scientific research. Dr. Hollander serves as Chairman of the ICare4Autism Advisory Committee, as well as a Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, and Director of the Autism and Obsessive Compulsive Program at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Medical Center. Dr. Hollander was an incredibly instrumental figure of the entire conference, as he focused on various critical topics facing individuals with autism at this current time, as well as ways ICare4Autism is planning to move forward to help those on the spectrum.

On the first day of the conference, June 30th, Dr. Hollander was joined by Dr. Joshua Weinstein, CEO and Founder of ICare4Autism, to introduce ICare4Autism’s Global Autism Workforce Initiatives, as well as other global missions that ICare4Autism is working to fulfill. Dr. Hollander emphasized that as Chairman of ICare4Autism’s Advisory Committee, he is there to provide information and support globally, and he will continue to work internationally to reach those touched by autism who lack the necessary information and opportunities for care. According to Dr. Hollander’s opening remarks, autism is incredibly unique to each individual and therefore it has been historically difficult to try to find what can lead to its development. For example, some families have a strong prevalence of autism among its members, while other families may only have one unique instance of an individual having autism. Therefore, there is still much work that needs to be done to determine what genetic factors may lead to autism development, as there are several different gene mutations being studied, as well as duplications or deletions of chromosomal regions that are being examined.

On July 1st, Dr. Hollander gave a presentation titled Oxytocin-Vasopressin, Temperature, and Immune-Inflammation in ASD and Syndromal ASD. This captivating discussion was an eye-opening revelation of how different factors can play a role in the behavior and other symptoms of someone with autism. For example, temperature can have an effect on behavior severity. Dr. Hollander discussed “positive fever response” through an experiment that involved those with autism sitting in a hot tub; when their external temperature reached 102 degrees, they appeared to show less or weakened symptoms common to autism. They were more relaxed and did less repetitive actions, such as stimming. Dr. Hollander also elaborated on how chronic inflammation affects various organs in the body, including the brain. Those with autism typically have less healthy gut parasites which help regulate inflammation, leading to various effects on the brain.

Dr. Eric Hollander was an incredible contributor to the ICare4Autism Conference, and we are grateful for all of his work in autism research. We are honored to have him as the Chairman of the ICare4Autism Advisory Committee, and are thankful for his commitment to helping us fulfill our global initiatives.

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Genetic Mutation May Have Strong Link to Autism

Researchers have recently discovered what may be a contributor to the development of autism disorders. Raphael Bernier, UW associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, clinical director of the Autism Center at Seattle Children’s, and lead author of this recent study, states, “”We finally got a clear cut case of an autism specific gene”. Bernier and his colleagues, in collaboration with 13 other institutions, have stated that CHD8 gene mutations can lead to autism development.

This study focused on over 6,000 children on the autism spectrum, and discovered that 15 of these children had CHD8 mutations. Furthermore, the cases had similar characteristics in appearance, similar patterns in sleep disturbance, and gastrointestinal issues.

To further study CHD8, Bernier and his team conducted zebra fish modeling. The researchers disrupted the CHD8 gene in the fish, resulting in the fish developing large heads and wide set eyes. They then fed the fish fluorescent pellets to view the process, and found that the fish had problems discarding food waste.

According to Bernier, this is the first time that researchers have shown a definitive cause of autism via genetic mutation. Although only a small amount of children from the study were shown to have a CHD8 mutation, “”This will be a game changer in the way scientists are researching autism”, he states. The results can lead to a genetics-first approach, which leads scientists to uncover other possible genetic mutations. Genetic testing could be very beneficial for families to understand what exactly is going on in the bodies of their child, and how to properly care for them. Clinicians can pay attention to the small population with this CHD8 mutation and provide targeted treatment. The CHD8 gene mutation is the first gene mutation to show a very strong link to a certain subtype of autism.

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ICare4Autism Conference Highlights the Influence of Technology

On the afternoons of Tuesday, July 1st, and Wednesday, July 2nd, a dynamic and intriguing presentation was given at the ICare4Autism International Autism Conference, which discussed the influence of technology for those with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD).Technology Opens Doors for Students of All Ages on the Spectrum, was presented by Dr. Dana R. Reinecke, Assistant Professor and Chair of the Center for Applied Behavior Analysis at the Sage Colleges, and Laura M. Stolfi, Director of the Achieve Degree at the Sage Colleges.

This interactive workshop focused on how technology can offer new solutions to some of the limitations of behaviorally-based procedures. The workshop offered some hands-on experiences which showcased how technology can be used to overcome certain struggles in school, at work, at home, or in social situations. Many individuals with ASD suffer from deficits in language, expression, and social skills, and technology has become increasingly beneficial in improving these skills. Parents and educators are beginning to see that certain programs are incredibly effective in helping the child be more organized, as well as more expressive and truly interested in learning.

Dr. Reinecke and Ms. Stolfi emphasized how technology can help students of all ages. For one, learning becomes more engaging and the experience is more consistent with the use of certain programs. Furthermore, educators have the ability to individualize each lesson. Technology incorporates an alternative method of communication, as well as video modeling, and visuals which help those on the spectrum learn more effectively. Dr. Reinecke and Ms. Stolfi also elaborated on the function of learning management systems, as they serve as a place to organize content. These systems are consistent and organized, making it easier to understand the material. For example, Google Drive allows individuals to work together and share content, embracing the importance of collaboration and serving as a safe method for working as a group.

Apps have also become extremely beneficial in building skills for those on the spectrum. Audiobooks and recordings help provide instructions and a unique way to learn material, while communication apps, such as Proloquo and Tap2Talk, provide visual ways to help the individual communicate. Lastly, Dr. Reinecke and Ms. Stolfi stressed the influence of social media, and how it can be very beneficial for teens on the spectrum to participate in certain platforms. After learning the importance of online safety and appropriateness, teens could utilize these platforms to stay current on important topics, as well as join groups with similar experiences and interests. These social media sites serve as an outlet for each individual to connect to others and express their thoughts and interests.

Conference attendees were captivated by this workshop, as it focused on something very current and evolving, as well as how these advances in technology are best used to help those on the spectrum. ICare4Autism thanks Dr. Reinecke and Ms. Stolfi for their dedication to the Autism community, and we look forward to seeing how technology continues to improve the lives of those on the spectrum!

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International Child Development Center’s Special Visit to Shema Kolainu

Ms. Narine Vardanyan of the International Child Development Center meets with Dr. Joshua Weinstein, CEO & Founder of ICare4Autism and Shema Kolainu-Hear Our Voices along with dedicated staff, to discuss Applied Behavioral Analysis in Armenia

Shema Kolainu – Hear our Voices, School and Center for Children with Autism welcomed a very special guest on the morning of July 3, 2014, International Child Development Center Director (ICDC), Ms. Narine Vardanyan.  Ms. Vardanyan recently attended the groundbreaking 2014 ICare4Autism International Conference, which commenced on Monday, June 30th in New York City and included over 500 attendees. As an autism industry professional, Ms. Vardanyan represents ICD Center’s interest in state of the art methods for treating children with autism in Armenia.

Upon major breakthroughs and news in autism spectrum disorder (ASD) research and policy announced at the ICare4Autism conference, Ms. Vardanyan made the special trip to Shema Kolainu to gather insights and methods used in the United States based on the principles of applied behavior analysis (ABA) to treat children with autism in an educational setting.  According to Ms. Vardanyan, “ABA specialized educational approach and awareness for children living with autism in Armenia is greatly needed, especially in small villages where our children are often overlooked.”

Ms. Vardanyan met with Shema Kolainu and ICare4Autism Founder and President, Joshua Weinstein Ph.D., M.B.A. along with staff and students.  As a dedicated school for children with autism, Shema Kolainu-Hear Our Voices offers a broad spectrum of evidence-based education and therapy programs in a warm and nurturing environment. Such a special visit made by Ms. Vardanyan helped further ICare4Autism mission as the catalyst that drives collaborations globally through the organization’s groundbreaking international conference to help deliver awareness and education for families touched by autism worldwide. She is taking the exam for BCBA and all necessary assistance will be forthcoming as well as wishing her success on her mission.

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