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Archive for March, 2020

a guest blog post by Allyson Schwartzman

Last week when I was watching the news and I saw that all schools would be shut down, I felt my heart sink into my stomach.  As a special education teacher, I am always up for the challenge of how I need to design my instruction to teach my students.  However, now that we have turned to remote learning during the COVID19 pandemic, this is a challenge that I and other special education teachers have never imagined having to face, particularly in the time frame of a week!

From the perspective of a special education teacher, remote learning seems complex since we have to differentiate all of our instruction to align with our students individualized education plan (IEP) goals.  Before I delve into the issues of remote learning, the first thing I have been worried about is how my students and families are doing emotionally. Are my students and their families able to adapt and deal with this change in their life?  Are my students feeling overwhelmed, anxious and scared being stuck in their house?  As a special education teacher, I not only care about teaching academics, I care about their emotional well-being which is paramount during this global pandemic.  The first step I took was to reach out to my students’ families to check in on them and to let them know I am here for them. I told my families that even though we are not together in the classroom, we are in this new learning journey together.

Since my twin brother has autism, I know from personal experience what it is like to live with someone who has special needs.  It takes an army of incredible people to raise a child with any type of disability. From the lens of someone who has personal experience and work experience with children with special needs, I want to make sure my students’ families understand that even though the army of people from school (school therapist, occupational therapist, speech therapist and more) are not physically present, we are still here for you. 

There are many questions in my mind about remote learning. The main question is how am I supposed to meet my students’ goals when we are not together in person to work on them?  The answer that I have and that I believe most special education teachers will agree on is that I WILL DO THE BEST I CAN to create strategies to meet students’ individual goals. I know this is a generic answer, but I hope people can understand that during an emergency situation like this one, sometimes we do not have a clear answer right away.  It is going to take a lot of trial and error through a computer during the next few weeks to figure out what works and what does not work. 

We are very fortunate for the academic technology we have access to such as google classroom, video services and different academic websites.  However, I understand along with other teachers and families that this might not be enough especially for children with disabilities who struggle working on a computer.  What I hope for is that as time goes on teachers will figure out the  best way to teach and reach their students.  It is going to be very hard and challenging for everyone, but we all have to continue to work as a team through this experience.  The U.S. Department of Education has a lot of equity concerns and logistical hurdles that need to be dealt with, but I want everyone to understand that we need to stay positive during this very difficult time and teachers are going to do the best they can to service all children with special needs.  

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AN OUNCE OF PREVENTION

by Molly, Reilly, BCBA

Molly Reilly is a BCBA in Connecticut and works with autism families daily

We are amidst a situation in which everyone’s world is being turned upside down as our regular schedules are thrown out the door and we live a life of self-quarantine. The massive changes in our daily lives and uncertainty surrounding the situation is difficult for everyone and is especially so for individuals on the Autism Spectrum and their families. I will describe a number of strategies that are general good practice but will be especially helpful during these uncertain times. The strategies will be presented in two individual blog posts. In the first post I will discuss preventive strategies and in the second I will discuss the importance of helping teach self-regulation and functional communication skills as well as reinforcement strategies. 

Here are some strategies to possibly prevent problems or at least prepare your child for them.  They include:  1) ways to maintain routines and ensure predictability in those routines, 2) use of simple language in directions, 3) integration of social stories to demonstrate the routine, and 4) ways your child can feel that he or she has more control over the situation.   

ROUTINES AND PREDICTABILITY –  it is critical to maintain previous routines as much or possible, or develop new routines during this time.  This can be done through:

Visual schedules.  Visuals are concrete tools  to help reduce frustration by making life more predictable.  They should be built around the basics like waking up, eating meals, preparing for bed, exercise, free time, bath time and screen time.

First you will want to have a draft of the routine, and decide how activities will be represented (e.g. pictures for children who cannot read, text for children who can read).  You will also want to decide how many activities to present.  If the child is not familiar with a visual schedule it would be best to keep it simple such as First-Then Board.  Then move on to Morning, Afternoon, Evening schedules, and finally an all day schedule for more advanced learners.   When creating the actual schedule allow the child to be an active participant by taking pictures, selecting pictures from your smartphone or from google images to print out, writing words, etc.

There are a number of resources with examples of social stories you can use.  It is different than a visual schedule, but they may help you explain things like washing your hands, why school has stopped or how to try and prevent spread of germs:  They are: 

 Movement breaks or brain breaks are key. During the day, you will have alternate periods of sedentary and movement activities.  You can use Gonoodlecosmic kids yoga, animal movement cards or even an obstacle course to help structure activities.  If your child is able you can go on bike rides (making sure to distance 6’ to other people also outside), develop scavenger hunts, and even go on a hike. Games like Follow the leader and Simon Says offer great opportunities to work on following directions.  Parade magazinealso has some ideas of what to do.  

As much as possible, maintain a consistent routine.  Be sure that everyone in the household is aware of what the schedule is and follows it accordingly. This is especially important for caretakers because you need to present a united front so make sure you have everyone’s buy in.  If possible,  try to mimic your child’s school schedule.

Utilize transition cues when transitioning between activities.  Timers help give reminders visually (e.g. sand timer) or auditorily (kitchen timer).  You should also offer warnings to signal a transition is coming (e.g. 5 more minutes, 2 more minutes, 1 more minute, and then countdown from 10).

Remember that the schedule is not set in stone – I have made several modifications to the schedule I made for my daughter will most likely continue to do so :).  Feel free to add in activities that you forgot to include, especially if your child loves them.    Remember:  If a particular activity does not work, that is okay! If your child is really not enjoying it, end the activity and transition to another activity to avoid frustration.

SIMPLE LANGUAGE Avoid too much verbal language, keep it simple and to the point. Also try and state things using First – Then language.

For example, Say “First shoes, then outside” rather than “Bobby, you need to get your shoes on your feet before we can go outside.”

CONTROL Provide your child with opportunities to have some control over their environment.  This is especially difficult because parents feel this loss of control.

There are some things you can do to help them feel in control.  For example, jobs and chores are great ways to help your child feel some sense of control over the surroundings and can include  feeding your pet, watering flowers,  planting something to grow, swiffering, etc.   To help kids feel empowered, share ways that they can help their community such as covering their cough, keeping their hands away from their face, washing their hands, etc. as demonstrated in an infographic from: kidlutions.blogspot.com.    

Offer choices whenever possible – which writing instrument to use doing a writing activity, which seat to sit down at the table, what color playdough to open first, hike in the woods or walk down the street for outdoor time.  Many times the open ended question is not going to help, so you should provide 2-3 concrete options.   For example, during snack time avoid asking “what do you want for snack” because the options are infinite and your child may request  something that you do not have in the house! Instead, ask your child if they would like pretzels or applesauce for snack.   Visuals are always helpful – utilize visual or textual choice boards or menus if appropriate.

Hopefully, the strategies discussed in this post will help prevent the occurrence of undesirable behaviors during this uncertain and unpredictable time.  I will also be following up this blog in the future about how to strengthen skills during the crisis, rather than focusing on building new skills.  Good luck!

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a guest blog post by Scott Badesch, ASF Board Member, Former President, Autism Society of America

I am a proud member of the board of directors of the Autism Science Foundation.

I recently retired as the President/CEO of the Autism Society of America.  I have four adult children, one who is autistic, and a great son-in-law.   I also am a grandfather to the most precious grandson in the world.  My wife and I have been married for 36 years and before this crisis and even now living through this crisis, we know we are blessed in that we have each other, friends and family.  We have started a daily FaceTime call with our kids and grandson and we are actually talking with each other and not texting on our cell phones. 

Like everyone, I am scared and anxious. I see my retirement funds going down drastically and my planning for retirement never ever considered the impact of a global crisis.  I wonder if i will be able to leave retirement if I need to and find work when this is over. I also fear for the future of each of my adult children as well as my grandson. But I also see good coming ahead.

I hope we will get through this crisis with a better understanding of how we all are in this together.  And I think people are seeing that.  It’s what happens during a crisis. In crisis, people often put aside their hate and stereotype thoughts and just give a hand to a person in need.

Let’s admit it.  Before the crisis, we were not really good when it comes to valuing every person, especially individuals who are impacted by autism.  But today, it is different.  Globally, we are all dealing with the same thing. We now are assured that what happens anywhere else impacts us.  We need to start thinking that we are not defined by our geographic boundaries but the boundaries of what we call earth.  Our skin color, nationality, religion, disability, sexual orientation or sexual preference can no longer be the definition of who we are.  Rather we are all similar human beings.

I believe that as difficult as it is right now, we will come out of this crisis much better and I also strongly believe that people impacted by autism will be better off when we exit this crisis.   Today, we are all anxious, concerned about how we can find food for our meals, coping with being out of work, not knowing if work will be there for us and constrained by significant financial issues.  Heck, we are worried about finding toilet paper!   To so many autistic adults, what we are experiencing is unfortunately the life too many impacted by autism live each day. But I am optimistic about our future when it comes to helping autistic individuals in need. As a close friend said to me the other day, “I always have been blessed to have things come easy to me.  Now, they don’t. I am worried that I won’t have food to feed my family, dealing with high anxiety by everyone, and worried about my future unknown.”  He then said that he never has understood the difficulties that so many in need face, but now he has a sense of it and has to be responsive to it in the future. I think my good friend and millions of others will hopefully learn from all they are dealing with now and be more responsive to helping others in need when they return to whatever is defined as the “new normal.”

Our challenge is big but maybe it can start if everyone can get a mulligan and we all stop our hate and begin to listen to each other so we will come out of this as better human beings.  If we stop the denial of opportunities to too many, we can live in a global world where all are equal and included.  When someone has billions of dollars and there is a child who has to wake up in a car each morning; when an autistic young woman is denied access to a job because of an employer not understanding her skills and value; when an autistic person has to wait in some states eight or more years for basic services……maybe we really deserve this recheck.

We can’t fix the problems with the old solutions that if we are honest are temporary and often don’t work.  We must be bold and give all we deal with a rethink. Let’s rethink how we can appreciate our differences and need to be there for each other. Let’s put everything on the table.  Let’s realize that a person sleeping in a car doesn’t benefit from a bail out of the airline industry but we still have to allow commerce to start again. We owe the kid in the car a life of opportunity which can never occur if that kid uses the public swimming pool locker room as his family bathroom. We owe every person with autism the commitment that we will be there for him or her today and not promise we might be there tomorrow.  We owe every person impacted with autism every access to life’s opportunities.  And we owe our society’s help to every person impacted by autism who can benefit from such help.

What we learn from this will be what we can be after this is all over. I am optimistic that maybe, just maybe, we are in for a massive recheck of who we are and we will come out of this so much better. 

As I said, I am optimistic about our future!  On a personal basis, I know as a father of an adult son impacted by autism, that he has been denied opportunity because of the ignorance of others who decide simply because he is autistic he is not entitled to life’s opportunities. Prior to this crisis, I believed change came slowly and incremental advances were what might occur.  Today, I think we can make large changes and advance the wellbeing of everyone.   

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a guest blog post by Gary Mayerson, Founder, Mayerson & Associates

The COVID-19 crisis transcends the obvious health and existential threat, with millions of school-aged children across the country home from school indefinitely as we watch an ongoing and as yet unresolved wrestling match involving Congress, the U.S. Department of Education, state administrative agencies, (e.g. the New York State Education Department), and local educational agencies (e.g. the New York City Department of Education). 

Families are calling with the following kinds of questions.  For example, can unmet IEP mandates give rise to a claim for compensatory education?  Can the local school district provide my child with remote learning opportunities?  If I am thinking about securing private services for my child, can the school district be made to pay for those services?  Before I secure private services for my child, do I need to send my school district a “ten day notice” preserving my right to seek reimbursement for the cost of those services?  Am I permitted to contract with service providers to come into my home if they are willing to do so?  Since I am now spending the entire “school day” with my child, can I get  (or secure funding for) “parent training” hours?  Do I have any insurance coverage that may help to fund any of the supports my child may need?  Should I request that my school district’s IEP team reconvene as a telephonic meeting?

The U.S. Department of Education has published and circulated March, 2020 Questions and Answers that, unfortunately, do not definitively answer these kinds of issues. The crisis has put us all into largely uncharted territory.  However, the Department of Education’s Q and A does suggest that if you are living in a school district that is offering remote learning opportunities, your family may have greater options and rights going forward than families living in school districts that are not offering such opportunities.

Each family’s circumstances will be unique.  For that reason, families should consult with their attorney before contracting for private services or taking other related steps. In the meantime, I am calling on all parents to help stop an ignoble legislative initiative and threat that, if allowed to pass, could easily destroy or at least significantly dilute our children’s entitlements under the federal IDEA statute and related state regulations.

Lamar Alexander’s (R-TN) Shameful Effort To Nullify Or Dilute IDEA Entitlements

 As part of Congress’ response to the COVID-19 outbreak, the bill introduced earlier this week in the Senate — the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act  (to provide an infusion of cash to key industries, support for health care providers/health care systems and more) also includes a provision directingthe Secretary of Education [Betsy DeVos] to report back to Congress within 30 days on any “waivers” needed under the IDEA and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504).The bill also gives the Secretary broad waiver authority over the Higher Education Act (HEA), the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and Carl D. Perkins education laws.

To be sure, these “waiver” provisions jeopardize every child’s rights to Child Find, a free appropriate public education (FAPE), Individualized Education Program (IEP), all procedural safeguards, re-evaluations, related services and accommodations.

As if COVID-19 was not already a serious crisis for families whose children are now not attending a school-based program, this legislative initiative threatens to eliminate every child’s fundamental right to Child Find, a free appropriate public education (FAPE), Individualized Education Program (IEP), all procedural safeguards, re-evaluations, related services and accommodations, and more.  To say the least, Congress should not be giving the nation a trillion dollar stimulus package while at the same time sweeping America’s disabled children under the rug.  It is time for our entire community to sound the alarm. 

My office is following this development closely and undertaking efforts to challenge this shameful proposal.  We urge all families to join us by reaching out to their Senator/Representative today (via email).

Find Your Senators here: https://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm

U.S. Senate: Senators of the 116th Congress http://www.senate.gov _Senators of the 116th Congress 

Find your Representative here https://www.house.gov/representatives/find-your-representative

A sample email follows: 

Dear Senator/Representative:
While the COVID-19 outbreak has placed a tremendous and unprecedented strain on schools and districts, it is imperative that we work together to find solutions that allow children to receive equitable access to an education and the services that support them without undoing all of their civil and educational rights. I am writing as a concerned (parent/teacher/child advocate) to urge you to reject any proposal that would provide waiver authority to the Secretary of Education regarding the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). More than 7 million children and their families rely on the federal IDEA statute to receive special education supports and services. 

I hope you will help schools by providing states with additional funding that can be used to provide teachers and school leaders and families with the tools they need to connect to teach and support students. Schools can also be supported with funding to provide an extended school year to students and other compensatory services. 

COVID-19 does not discriminate on the basis of party affiliation. The IDEA statute came into being as a bipartisan effort that families across the nation have relied upon for decades. Please continue to support students with disabilities and their families who rely upon the IDEA so that they can access appropriate and effective educational programs. Please do not support any legislative initiative that would give any one individual the power to undo and eviscerate IDEA.

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a guest blog post by Erin Lopes, CRNP, MPH, Psychiatric Consult Liaison Service

Information about COVID-19 is evolving on a daily basis. We do know is that COVID-19 is a novel pathogen and therefore we expect that people with autism are equally at risk for infection with COVID-19 as anyone else. If we apply the epidemiologic trends from the general population, there may be a greater likelihood that adults with autism (age >18 years) rather than children will be hospitalized.

1) If Parents/caregivers are worried their child or loved one with autism may have COVID-19, they can avoid going to the emergency department (ED) or urgent care clinic for a test. Parents/caregivers can call their child’s pediatrician or primary care provider and inquire about drive up COVID-19 test sites. Drive-up test sites the advantage of allowing patients with autism to avoid coming into the ED or doctor’s office. The COVID-19 test involves obtaining a nasal/pharyngeal swab that can typically be collected in less
than a minute. Although the test is quick people can experience mild discomfort while the swab sample is being obtained in the nares. Families or caregivers may need to offer reassurance and support to their loved ones with autism while the test is being administered.

2) If a child or family member with autism presents with more urgent symptoms and needs to be seen in the emergency department it’s important for parents/caregivers to assist ED staff to understand:
– The ED may be understaffed, give a clear and concise history of your child or family member’s current symptoms to help staff provide care efficientl
– Be clear about when the symptoms first started
– Explain how your child or family member with autism communicates, particularly for patients with autism who cannot verbalize pain or discomfort
– Explain what approaches can help your child or family member with autism feel calm
– Give clear examples of approaches to routine care tasks that may provoke fear or distress.
– Offer staff alternative approaches to allow for increased cooperation with routine care tasks such as vital signs or fitting equipment that administers oxygen
– Being in the emergency department is stressful. It is very important for
parents/caregivers to remain calm as our children and family members with autism may react negatively to seeing their caregivers visibly upset
– Engage with ED staff to assist them with calming strategies and offering
reassurance
– Caregivers can ask ED staff about bringing preferred tasks, toys, electronics into
the examination room to assist with providing distraction
– Most ED’s are limiting visitors. Families and caregivers should expect that only one person may be allowed to accompany a patient with autism into the ED

3) The points above also apply for patients with autism when they are admitted to the hospital. I often encourage hospital staff, particularly nursing staff to remember that the acute inpatient care setting is NOT the time to try to work on any therapy to treat the autism. The focus needs to be helping patients with autism get through care as safely and effectively as possible. I encourage staff to find out as much as they can about the
patient’s:
– likes/dislikes
– how they communicate
– assistive communication devices – devices can and should be provided in the hospital setting to allow the healthcare team to communicate effectively with patients with autism
– preferred routes for taking medications
– preferred foods
– preferred TV shows
– safety concerns such as elopement, history of removing IV lines or fear of certain procedures
– how they show they are in pain
– how their behavior in the hospital differs from their baseline as this can provide important clues about symptoms that patients with autism may not be able to communicate verbally

4) If a patient with autism is admitted to the hospital we like to have a complete and up to date list of allergies, current medications, dietary supplements or regularly used medical devices such as a CPAP machine or insulin pumps.

5) Sometimes, despite all of our best efforts, patients with autism have a difficult time tolerating the hospital environment and may act out towards themselves or staff. Ask the care team if there is an autism or behavioral specialist on site to assist in their care. If the hospital does not have a behavioral specialist consider inquiring with the healthcare team about including a psychiatric consult to assist in the management of difficult behaviors that may interfere with care.

6) Families may also want to inquire if the care team provide a 1:1 sitter at the bedside to redirect aggressive or impulsive behaviors if a family member needs to step out of the hospital room

7) It is very important that parents/caregivers BE PATIENT with healthcare providers in the acute inpatient setting. Many facilities are likely to be operating understaffed as members of the hospital workforce become ill with Covid-19 and are required to stay home even as hospital census increases during the pandemic.

8) Plan ahead – Hospitals across the country are now limiting visitors. Only one parent or caregiver may be allowed to remain at the bedside with a patient with autism if they are admitted to the hospital.

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