Making Homes Autism Friendly

A Special Contribution from Lucy Wyndham:

For people on the Autism Spectrum, the world is a difficult place, full of sensory overload, unpleasantness, bullying and frustration. School, work and social events are all difficult situations to handle for people with ASD because of their unusual sensitivity to any kind of sensory assault, such as loud noises, bright lights and crowds. Technology can be particularly hard to deal with for people with ASD, as the noises, lights and stimulation associated to it can be too much to handle.

A home is a sanctuary for everyone, where everyone feels a sense of serenity, safety and peace of mind. It’s even more important for a person or child diagnosed with autism and understanding how to make an autism friendly home is very important.

We have already looked at how to make work spaces autism friendly; let’s look at how to make living conditions ideal for those who are on the Autism Spectrum.

Remodel the Sensory Environment

Making a home autism friendly isn’t easy, as it does require some renovating and some lifestyle changes; it can be challenging for siblings and parents who also have needs and would like to invite friends, make noise, choose new foods or otherwise complicate life. Family life is not always calm and changes are sometimes inevitable.

Avoid using fluorescent lights, which can induce anxiety and stress; soft, natural lighting is better for mood and attention. Certain colors of light – such as blue – have also been shown to help with creativity and calmness.

Another good idea is to have one area of the home filled with bright colors and technological activities for the whole family, such as a television and a stereo, and another area with soft colors, blank walls, quiet activities such as books and soft textures.

Technology Can Help

When refurbishing your home to make it accessible for autistic people, technology can be a great help. For example, a white noise machine in the bedroom can be an excellent way to calm down and stimulate sleep while reducing sensory overload. For maximum efficiency, limit the use of electric light after sunset.  Noise reducing headphones can be another solution to reduce sensory overload, whereas normal headphones can be used by other members of the family to listen to music or use other noisy devices such as video game consoles.

Certain types of portable technology, such as smartphones, computers and tablets, can also be useful and can provide an excellent tool to keep in the house. Many people with ASD are stimulated by computers and technology if used in the correct way. Today, there are thousands of applications which provide assistive technology to help communications. These can benefit people with ASD as they stimulate learning and communication while responding always in an expected manner. A computer or app is predictable, as the user knows exactly what the computer’s response will be when a specific action is completed, unlike interactions with people. This consistency is comforting and feels safe to people with ASD.

Keep an Eye Out for Stress

Remember that a person with ASD might not always be able to communicate exactly what the problem is, so a little detective work might be necessary. By remaining always attentive, it is possible to identify the problem and brainstorm simple solutions to fix the issue.  

Memoirs From Halloween – A Pumpkin Became A Classroom Learning Tool by Mari Nosal, Guest Writer Extra-ordinaire

Memoirs From Halloween – A Pumpkin Became A Classroom Learning Tool
Memoirs From Halloween – A Pumpkin Became A Classroom Learning Tool

I would like to thank the amazing Mari Nosal for adding articles to our site. As seen in the article it is funny sometimes how a simple object or statement or situation can really change the dynamics of an environment. It shows how something basic can be a great tool for education and other people.

http://marimouth.wordpress.com/2012/06/05/memoirs-from-halloween-a-pumpkin-became-a-classroom-learning-tool/

The school age children had the day off from school. I worked a nine-hour day. My kindergarten charges joined me for the day as the kindergarten room follows the public school schedule. It was a test of my patience and energy as the curriculum was non academic for the day. I had forgotten Friday was a school holiday. I perused my curriculum and realized I would need to restructure it to keep the children engaged. I had thirty minutes before I was due to leave for work. I searched around my house for supplies I could bring in for added activities. I resigned myself to the fact that I would leave early and grab supplies from the local convenience store. As I prepared to leave, I spied a huge pumpkin on my deck.

My family used it for mere decoration I rationalized. My kids are young adults, they wouldn’t miss it. I grabbed the pumpkin and threw it in my car. Several activities could be had from this one pumpkin. I ran back in the house and found shaving cream. Another Aha moment, shaving cream puffy paint would be enjoyed by everyone. Sometimes I amaze myself at how quickly I can develop a project out of desperation and common household products. Flexibility is a major component in being a successful teacher. Successful adaptation to any situation ensures a lack of chaos in the classroom.

I dropped the pumpkin in my class and scurried down the hall to retrieve my charges that had been dropped off at an earlier time. We sat and broached the day’s activities as a team, killing time until the rest of the class came in. thirty minutes later we had a full house. We went to circle time and I pulled out a book that was on my curriculum. As soon as the children saw it they begged for me to read a book from a series we had used the past week. I took a vote. The Magic School Bus Scours the Ocean Floor Was retired in lieu of a book about children who couldn’t find their shoes and designed footwear out of the likes of meatloaf and bologna!

It was a vacation day for the kids so I decided to let them have a part in the curriculum and go light on them. After reading the book we observed and talked about the pumpkin. The children were enamored by the pumpkin carving kit I brought in. It was safe for children and I believe in a format that allows for independent exploration. In order to teach team work the children were broken into teams and I instructed them to draw four different faces that they would carve. I injected humor by stating that with four different faces we could turn the pumpkin around when we got bored with one face. After drawing their mark, we headed outside with the pumpkin and started carving. The children were extremely excited with the experience of using carving tools. After carving was done we proceeded to dig out the guts. Some children were apprehensive about sticking their hands in the guts so I offered gloves. They dug out and placed the flesh in one pan. The seeds were placed in another.

At this point the children were ready for free time and the pumpkin was temporarily laid to rest. Some children wanted to ask questions about the seeds and flesh. A mini science class ensued for the children who wished to continue our pumpkin adventure. I held the tiny seed next to the pumpkin for comparison. I explained how the pumpkin we cut open grew from a seed just like the one we held in our hand. This went on for thirty minutes or so. I was shocked at the interest. After lunch, I took the class on a field trip to the kitchen. We rinsed the seeds and flesh. The children remarked on the slimy feeling. I explained how the texture would change upon baking the treat. Cinnamon was sprinkled on our treat. We than baked these items.

At snack time I presented the items for exploration to the children. The pumpkin seeds were popular. I assume the children had eaten them in the past. The pumpkin flesh was viewed with a degree of trepidation. I inquired as to who liked pumpkin pie. The majority of the children did. When I explained that what they were looking at was the main ingredient in the pie they looked at me with confusion. I believe in exploration of the unknown, so I pushed the issue. I asked my little pessimistic friends to take one small taste. If it was not palatable they were welcome to spit it out. Most children were pleasantly surprised. A simple pumpkin had afforded the children a new experience.

Mari Nosal M.Ed., CECE

GIVING AUTISM A VOICE: Funding should be geared more for quality of life-Pahrump Valley times

GIVING AUTISM A VOICE: Funding should be geared more for quality of life
GIVING AUTISM A VOICE: Funding should be geared more for quality of life

http://pvtimes.com/community/giving-autism-a-voice-funding-should-be-geared-more-for-quality-of-life/

We were in the Pahrumnp Valley Times news paper today, A mention on the front page as well as on the front of the community section as well.

Here is a copy of the article–>

By Kelsey Givens
One in every 88.
That’s the alarming rate in which children in the United States today are being diagnosed with autism, according to the National Autism Association.
People in every state, city and community are seeing the effects of this developmental disability.
Not everyone touched by it, however, has the financial ability to go out and purchase items to better the lives of individuals living with it.
Knowing the affects of the condition first-hand, one man is trying, with the help of investors, to get his nonprofit up and running in order to actively place technology and the arts in the hands of disadvantaged families with autistic children and young adults.
David Berkowitz, a Las Vegas native, has Asperger’s Syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism, and three children who have also been diagnosed with some degree of autism as well.
A retired veteran currently working in sales, he started his foundation, Autism Advocacy and Technology News Zone, last year with the hope of raising money to buy and donate technology, music and the arts to families and schools working to educate and better the lives of people with autism.
“As an individual with high-functioning Asperger syndrome and the father of three kids who are also on the spectrum for this disorder, I have always felt a need to make a difference for people with autism,” Berkowitz said in a statement.
“As we get funded we intend to help those on the autism spectrum by giving the gift of the arts and technology to make the lives of people with autism better, and to support their families and the educational facilities that serve them. We are determined to make a difference in the lives of people with autism and their families,” he said.
According to the National Autism Association, autism is a “bio-neurological developmental disability.”
Generally appearing before the age of 3, this condition generally affects the development of areas in the brain which control social interactions, communication and cognitive development.
The NAA states autism is four times as likely to affect males as females, and 40 percent of children diagnosed with the disability typically don’t speak.
Sadly, the association also reports that while autism has become one of the fastest growing developmental disorders in the nation, it is also one of the most severely underfunded.
While some organizations exist to raise funds for the study of how autism affects people, Berkowitz said he wants to focus more on helping enrich these individuals’ lives.
“Were trying to help create an autism foundation for quality of life and education because no one is really doing it,” he said.
Berkowitz explained items like iPads, other electronic tablets and musical instruments are very kinesthetic devices, which make learning much easier for those on the autism spectrum.
He hopes by being able to provide these types of learning tools to families and schools, he can help enrich the lives of those with autism, while also giving them another way to communicate and interact with the people and world around them.
“A lot of families with autistic kids aren’t rich, they can’t afford to just go out and buy these things,” Berkowitz said.
And by introducing more music and the arts to people with autism, Berkowitz said he believes it may be possible for these kids to find an easier way of expressing themselves or finding a talent they would have never known they had.
“Half the time you don’t even know if they could succeed in these areas and don’t have the money to even give them the chance,” he said.
By gaining funding through partnerships and donations, Berkowitz wants to not only purchase the tools but possibly sponsor activities such as artist meet and greets, free concert tickets or special events to help raise awareness for autism.
Lack of money is keeping the dream from becoming reality.
“The first help we need is funding for the 501(c)(3), as well as a lawyer or CPA to do the paperwork properly. We also need exposure such as TV, in the newspaper, magazines and web-based as well. We can not do it alone and need support to make a real difference,” Berkowitz writes on his website.
“What we really need is for some other organization or company to partner with us so we can get the accreditation. There’s not much we can do until we can get that and it’s expensive.”
Berkowitz said it can cost thousands to become an accredited organization.
“I’m not rich, I can’t just go out and pay for this myself,” he said. “We have to start somewhere, and maybe by reaching out to the community someone will be willing to help us.”
While the organization seems to be hitting a wall in the way of funding, it isn’t for lack of trying.
Berkowitz has gone on several news shows, Internet radio shows and use of social media in an attempt to get the word out about what he is trying to do.
“There are a lot of people spreading the word about us on Twitter, and we’ve been featured on SpecialNeeds.com,” he said.
While the name of the organization is continuously put out there, “it has been a struggle to reach people able to help,” Berkowitz said.
Currently Autism Advocacy and Technology News Zone have a board of only two people; Berkowitz and his wife Michele. But Berkowitz said he knows several people that have said they would join once the group is accredited.
The group is based out of Las Vegas, where Berkowitz lives, but he said he doesn’t want to be limited to helping only those in the city. He wants to reach out to all surrounding area families as well, areas like Pahrump, to be able to help families dealing with autism.
“Autism affects you socially, and my family understands that, we’re living those lives ourselves,” Berkowitz said.
“I am smart, different and am going about it on my own; I need support so that I can help other people with autism,” he said.
The foundation currently had its own website technewszone.com.
Anyone interested in donating to the organization or trying to help them reach their goal of becoming a certified 501(c)(3) can go there for more information.
Berkowitz can also be reached by email for more information on how you can help at davidb@technewszone.com.

I appreciate it a great deal!!!

Myths And Misnomers Of Aspergers Characteristics – A Light Hearted Observation by Mari Nosal

aspergers
aspergers by Mari Nosal

I am Asperger’s, a brainiac, at times clueless at others. I am hyper aware of many things, do not notice some of the basics. I get it. My 3 kids are on the autism spectrum as well. I can totally relate. I have been trying for over a year to find supporters, donors, and sponsors to help us to help people with autism. We need help with technology, music like instruments, and the arts-tickets, art supplies to help people on the spectrum.

Here is a quirky but cool article by Mari Nosal an autism expert and educator:

Recognition and identification of Aspergers syndrome has skyrocketed in the last decade. Unfortunately, the way it is portrayed through the media venue has provided individuals who do not interact with families or children directly involved with a stigmatized lenses of the syndrome. ie Sheldon Cooper on the Big Bang Theory void of the ability to display emotion, Gregory House of the House series who expresses a diagnosis to a patient with apparent disregard to their feelings, Jerry the Lawyer of Boston Legal who allegedly had Aspergers and was portrayed with comorbid maladies such as grabbing his thighs standing on tippy toes and running away making odd noises.

In my opinion these television characters provide a disgraceful impression to society in regards to Aspergers. Successful Aspergians who work beside you and your peers. Aspergians who are parents, doctors, lawyers, scientists, teachers, students and more.

I wish to present a portrayal of some misnomers regarding Aspergers . I will draw from personal experience that I have acquired both as an educator and interactions with family members on the spectrum from both a serious and humorous perspective. These are merely my personal observations.

1) Individuals with Aspergers are incapable of lying:

This is a mistaken perception due to their penchant for bluntness. i.e. If a teacher wants to know who misbehaved in class the child with Aspergers would be ones best source of information. Bluntness is not the same as lying however. Like any other child, children with Aspergers may stretch the truth to avoid trouble.

If Aspergians can’t lie, than our family was not informed of this fact. I recall picking up my son at preschool. He was four years of age. He had been displaying behavioral issues such as sticking his fingers in his ears and closing his eyes when the teacher gave him directions. He would respond by saying, “I can’t hear you or see you, LALA,LA.”

I used a candy bar as positive reinforcement. This was a treat because candy was not freely available at home. When I picked him up from preschool, I would immediately ask how he behaved for the teacher. If the report was good, he received a candy bar.

I recall picking him up from preschool and asking how his day had gone. His eyes darted from me to his teacher. He replied with a quick, “Mom come on out in the parking lot and I will let you know how I behaved. “I foiled his intent to give me a good report when we were out of his teacher’s earshot.

I responded by telling him that I would ask his teacher directly about his behavior before leaving the classroom. My son disappeared. I heard the bathroom door slam shut in his classroom. He had evidently run in there to hide.

I would consider this an example of the capability an Aspergian has to strategize and to lie with the intent of reaping the reward of a coveted candy bar. My sons plan was foiled by my intervention. However I will add that my son’s actions were within the norm for any child seeking to avoid losing a reward. Heck what adult for that matter has never done something similar such as calling into work feigning an illness to take a day off from work:-0) (cough,cough)

2) Individuals with Aspergers cannot display empathy

I would argue this assumption. Many have difficulty verbalizing emotions hence societies perception of lack of emotion. On the contraire, Aspergians get emotional overload resultant from struggles with compartmentalization of sensory intake. I merely have to look back on the gift my son made at age six for me to confirm his capability to empathize. I had the flu and was bed bound. I woke to queries of “mom are you sleeping”? Well son I am awake now son:-0

There at my bedside stood my son. In his hand, he proudly displayed a paper plate dripping with a rainbow of food color. I will refrain from describing the state that my kitchen was in resultant from my son’s work of art. You can use your imagination to conjure up what a rainbow of food coloring spattering’s did to my house:-0)

Was this a verbal expression of emotions? No it was not. As an Aspergian, he has difficulty with naming his emotions. My son had displayed his concern and yes, empathy for me through his actions instead of words. Expressions of concern were done in his unique way via actions versus words.. It was empathy none the less.

We won’t broach my emotional state when my flu ridden body saw my rainbow colored kitchen:-0)

3) Individuals with Aspergers are not capable of manipulating their environment

I will elaborate and confirm their skill – set with an experience had during homework time in my school age class. I was tutoring a nine year old with Aspergers. Everything was going well during math homework which was compiled of rote facts. He was always compliant when homework required the use of his wonderful rote memory.

We moved on to reading passages. I was attempting to assist the child in answering questions regarding the passage he had read. He was expected to summarize the passage which required processing skills. Rote work being his forte, his demeanor quickly changed. He attempted to stonewall. I persisted. The child looked up at the clock and said, “You know Miss Mari, my mother will be picking me up very soon”. I was silently amused at his comment. What he was stating in a diplomatic manner and silently thinking was, Miss Mari, get off my back will you please? I would surmise that this showcased his capability, and attempt to manipulate his environment.

Recently my son was attempting to draw me in to one of his discussions that resemble a verbal dissertation. These verbal tugs of war always occur when we are discussing a topic that he finds distasteful such as chore requests, manners, behavior, etc. I have realized that his verbal tug of wars is the direct result of his intent to draw me off the topic at hand. My response of choice is to tell him that the discussion is over and walk away. We must pick our battles carefully to reduce what I call the deaf ear syndrome. If the discussion is going in loops walk away. No audience takes the fun out of it.

During the conversation I told my son that I would not be roped into his verbal dissertation. His response was, “you just did Mom. You answered me back”. One can see the manipulative power struggle that is evident here. I ignored my sons comment. His goal was to veer me away from the topic at hand. I continued on my way and held my ground. To continue our debate with have proved futile as we would have gone around in circles repeatedly. I attempt not to get drawn in to a rousing game of lets have a debate until mom forgets what she wanted me to do in the first place. I merely walk away and hold my ground.

4) Individuals with Aspergers have no sense of humor

This belief stems from the fact that Aspergians tend to perceive statements from a literal perspective. Dual meanings or ideas in jokes are difficult to comprehend. I worked with a I was a one on one teacher with a ninth grade girl with Aspergers. I recall excitedly telling the teenage girl that she was on fire because she had comprehended an important concept we had worked on for an extended period of time. The young lady responded with stiffened limbs. She repeatedly demanded to know why I had said she was on fire. She kept saying “I am not on fire, I am not on fire, why do you say I am?”

Aspergians most certainly do have a sense of humor. One would merely have to observe the night I came home from a nine hour shift in a group home. I was extremely tired and fumbled for my keys in the dark night. Suddenly, a figure jumped out of the bush saying Boo I am Mari. I must have jumped 20 feet. My son had apparently downloaded a photo of me, cut a mask out of cardboard, and glued my picture on the front complete with eye holes. Hence, the reason he called it a Mari mask. Upon entering the house my other son was wearing one as well. This was definitely an example of my son’s ability to create a humorous experience.

In closing I would like to convey the fact that individuals with Aspergers present with the same range of emotions as neurotypicals, they merely convey those characteristics that every human being possesses in a way that works for them.

Perhaps we could all start looking at how we are similar versus how we are different. Accept each others differences and harness them to create a more copasetic and positive society. No two Aspergians are alike anymore than two neurotypicals. Like Baskin Robbins ice-cream, humans come in 32 flavors. Embrace that individuality, forget the them and us ideology and replace it with a WE will get more accomplished than a ME. I will leave you with this question and provide an answer to ponder.

Question: Who is more important, the Physician or Trash Man.

Answer: They are both equally as important. Without a physician we could not TREAT disease and we would perish. Without trash men we would HAVE disease and become ill.

This is just a thought to ponder regarding differently abled individuals and society at large.

Regards,

Mari Nosal, M.Ed., CECE

I met the Amazing Jennifer McIlwee Myers at a Future Horizons Event in Las vegas

Jennifer Mcilwee Myers
Jennifer Mcilwee Myers

I attended an Autism Conference recently and met Jennifer McIlwee Myers. I had the opportunity to hear about her experiences with Aspergers Syndrome. In many ways I can totally relate. I am on the spectrum as well. I am kind of a brainiac, was always ahead of my peers in taking tests, doing assignments in school. I was always behind them socially and athletically. It was good to hear her and Dr. Temple Grandin speak, it sheds light on some of my experiences in life. I have never really had any friends other than my wife. Neither of my brother’s in Law ever doing anything with me. I can not really connect with others very well. I get it, what is like to be on the autism spectrum.

A link to Jennifer McIlwee’s Facebook Page–> link!!

Here is an overview from the Autism Resource Center of Florida–>link

It was originally published on the autism digest–>link

Here is a link to Jennifer’s book on Future Horizon’s Website–>http://store.fhautism.com/p-765-how-to-teach-life-skills-to-kids-with-autism-or-aspergers.aspx

I was impressed by the book, and the speech which she gave with regards to the book as well.

Here is a brief overview from Future Horizons with Regards to Jennifer McIlwee Myers–>

Jennifer McIlwee Myers (that middle name is pronounced “Mac-uhl-wee”) was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome in mid-2002 and has since spent much time and energy on absorbing and disseminating information about AS and other autism spectrum disorders. Her interest in researching these topics is driven not only by her own AS but also by her brother’s diagnosis of autism. Jennifer currently lives in sunny Southern California with her husband Gary.