Posts Tagged ‘children’

Flint, Washington, D.C. and toxic lead in water causing brain damage in children

March 6, 2016

The Flint, Michigan lead in water crisis is in the spotlight now at the Democratic debate between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

Here are a couple of articles about the lead crisis in water in Washington, D.C. and how the CDC lied to the public, while the D.C. government didn’t help the situation by botching the partial replacement of lead pipes with copper.

Lead causes brain damage and developmental disabilities, and fetuses, infants and developing children are especially affected.

Lead, toxic, water, CDC, Washington, EPA, Congress, plumbing, pipes, copper, fetuses, infants, children.


Flint, Michigan lead in water crisis: other articles

January 20, 2016

Flint, Michigan, outside of Detroit, is having a serious crisis about lead in water, which is catastrophically toxic to fetuses, infants, and developing children. It can cause serious brain damage for them – and is merely very unhealthy for everyone else.

Here are a couple of articles about lead in water – about how the Centers for Disease Control lied to the public about lead in water in D.C., and about how even a few years ago there may have been lead in D.C. water.


Tips to keep children with autism and other disabilities safe from sexual abuse

July 8, 2012

Keeping children and adults with autism and other disabilities safe from sexual abuse is a critical topic that people don’t like to talk about, but warrants more attention than it often receives. Several studies have indicated that children with disabilities face a higher risk of sexual abuse than those without disabilities. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, women with disabilities are sexually abused at a rate at least twice that of the general population.

Children with autism and other disabilities can be especially vulnerable because of communication problems or a lack of fear. Incidents may go unreported because children with disabilities may not be able to convey what happened, may not fully understand what is inappropriate, or may not be seen as credible because of communication problems.

To see the rest of my article on, click here.

Teaching kids with autism is not only rewarding, but also tons of fun

September 10, 2010

Helping children with autism learn social skills is fun for everybody involved.

I just wrote an column on about how people often react to what I do for a living with a strange mixture of pity and admiration. They patronize me by telling me what I do is great, but they don’t understand that it’s more than that — it’s simply a lot of fun.

I work with kids with autism, to improve their skills in academics, social skills, and sports.  As I point out in the article, it’s not without challenges.  I’ve been hit, scratched, and had my shirt grabbed so hard it tore in half.  But the great moments outweigh all that, and I’ve got enough memories to last a lifetime, and at least enough for a book.

The main point of the article is that it’s a lot more than rewarding to work with these kids.  It’s a huge amount of fun and I look forward to every session.

How could you not like teaching kids how to read, do math, make friends, play sports, and have fun?  How could you not love jumping on the trampoline, taking them swimming, or taking them sledding?  How could you not like running a play date for kids whose social skills don’t come naturally?

If I seem a little bitter in the article, it’s because there are a lot of women out there who seem to value someone who works in a boring but successful career over someone who would be a great father (not to mention a great husband).  But not everyone has their values upside down.

In “Authentic Happiness,” Martin Seligman writes that when we do things that are both kind and fun, when actions are meaningful, those acts result in true happiness.

Educational DVDs may help children with autism over age two read, count, learn concepts

August 21, 2010

Educational DVDs may help children with autism over the age of two learn basic concepts, but parents should check with their physicians for guidance on what age is best to allow their children to begin watching TV. Consulting with other parents, teachers, and therapists can also contribute to an informed decision.

Parents should note that TV should be limited or not shown at all to children under the age of two, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.  Several studies, including one published in the February 2010 American Journal of Epidemiology, have concluded that hyperactivity and inattention are associated with TV exposure before the age of two.

Picture books and books on emotions can be used to introduce reading to children too young to watch TV.

To read the rest of my article on, click here.

Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) can enhance speech, social skills for kids with autism

June 27, 2010

Last month the top 10 mistakes and lessons learned from therapy programs for children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) were examined in this column.

Now here’s number 11: Parents (or teachers) refusing to try augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) for non-verbal or minimally verbal children or adults with autism.

People with autism often have delays or deficits in communication, especially speech. However, many children and adults with autism have considerably better receptive than expressive skills. That means that they understand a lot more than it appears.

AAC systems can take the place of, or supplement and enhance speech by enabling people who don’t have typical verbal abilities communicate better. AAC systems can improve the ability of children and adults with autism and other disabilities to initiate requests and respond to questions.

To see the rest of my article on, click here.

Top 10 mistakes, lessons learned from therapy programs for children with autism spectrum disorders

May 13, 2010

Parents of children with autism, along with the children and adults who have autism themselves, are the real heroes when it comes to improving the lives of people on the autism spectrum. Home therapists, teachers and other professionals also contribute greatly to the quality of life of people with autism.

It is a monumental undertaking to raise children with autism and to make decisions regarding their care and education. Recognizing that fact, below are ten common mistakes made, or lessons learned, in the management of home therapeutic programs for children with autism.

For the rest of my article on, click here.

Progress of Children with Autism

December 23, 2009

How much can children with autism learn?  It’s a question I get a lot, as a person who provides therapy to kids with autism to improve their academic, social, and athletic skills.  The answer is that all children with autism can learn.  Some make amazing progress; for others the progress is much slower.

I’m listing below a couple of examples of students who have made excellent progress in all areas.  They are an eight-year old boy and a seven-year old boy I worked with who both made amazing progress in a short period of time.  (The greatest example of improvement that I am aware of is a teenage boy who I have been working with for five years.  I’m going to compile a before and after list of skills and behaviors.  This kind of progress is truly inspiring for parents who have young children who are worried about what the future holds).

It’s always the child himself or herself who deserves the most credit for learning.  The parents, of course, also play a huge role.  Other than that, it’s a team effort, with teachers and home therapists making contributions to the child’s success.

Experience has shown that children learn best when subjects are integrated, rather than splitting them up into different areas.  I believe that in the future, a typical session will be run like this:  one-third academics and cognitive skills, one-third social skills and functional life skills, and one-third sports, exercise, and motor skills.

Each area builds on the others and makes all learning more effective so that the child can use skills in a natural environment.  Pathways in the brain are developed to work in conjunction with each other, not in separate areas.  Interventions should be meaningful to the child, rather than just memorizing information.  Kids aren’t robots and neither are the people who work with them.  It’s not the number of hours that are spent learning.  It’s how efficient those hours are.

Area Progress for a high functioning 8-year old boy with autism during a 7-month period
Math Improved ability in:

  • place value
  • addition, subtraction and early multiplication
    • addition:  he improved from mastering sums of 9 to sums of 14
    • subtraction:  he improved from mastering 5 –x to 12 – x
    • multiplication:  he improved from nothing to up to mastering 3 x 4
    • Expanded notation
    • Word problems – he was terrible at them at the start, and by June he had mastered several different types.  He learned to draw to find answers to problems.
    • Learned the basics of fractions
    • Addition carrying the one
    • Counting mixed coins
    • Skip counting
    • measuring
  • Learned how to do opposites
  • Improved reading comprehension (I had time to work on this with him 20 min. a week.  The other company had 20 hours a week.  He would have made more improvements with me with the same amount of time).
  • Improved on capitalization.
  • Improved on spelling.
Maps Improved ability to find spots on the map.  Learned directions better than before.  Learned most of the states, which he didn’t have before.
Time Improved ability to tell time by counting by 5’s on clock.
  • The neighborhood kids respect him a lot more now than before because he can play sports a lot better and can handle his emotions better.
  • He had major tantrums at the start but improved a lot.  Showed him how he looks through video, helping him see how others see him.
  • He became very competitive, really wanting to win.  At the start he didn’t care if he won.
  • He learned to play defense where his role was to stop the other team so he became less reliant on needing to score to be happy.
  • He understood the rules much better in soccer, hockey and basketball, than before and he improved in his knowledge of football and baseball though he still has a long way to go.
  • He became interested in local pro sports after reading about them on the web and going to the Freedom game.
  • Learned not to run into the street after the ball.
  • Ice skating – though he can’t glide, the first time he fell 100 times, the most recent time he fell less than 10 times.
  • We did exercises based in yoga, relaxation, and balance to help him focus.
  • Most of the sports we did happened from April through June – we accomplished most of this in three months.
  • He learned that mistakes help you learn.
  • He can self-regulate better by taking deep breaths, counting, exercising, or talking about it.  This is a very important skill to have.  One that many kids cannot master.
  • He knows he can’t sit in the lap of anyone except his parents.
  • He still has a long way to go but has learned that you can’t say hi to adults who you don’t know.
Pretend and Abstract Play Improved spontaneity, imagination, and creativity by using jokes and pretend stories.  He improved his ability to make up stories and use symbolic play.
Games Improved ability to sit down and play scrabble.  He had a terrible temper at first but now can play an entire game somewhat independently.  Improved spelling through scrabble.  Introduced other games.
Social skills
  • Improved social skills through play dates.
  • Talked about bullying
Overall He had his best session ever on 9/21.  We had a lot of momentum and things were only going to get better.

Area Progress for 7-year old boy with autism with severe developmental delays including language
Overall He has made a lot of progress.  I have only been working regularly with him doing two-hour sessions for 3 months.  Before then we did 1.5 hours sessions sporadically.
Books He is able to sit for 15 minutes at a time reading books with me and is interested in looking at books (colors, foods) by himself.  Before he would not sit still at all.  He can now read different books with help, looking at words instead of just pictures.  Once we read 7 books back to back.
Flashcards Here are words he has mastered from my flashcards or bean bags.  They were not on the Verbal Behavior Team’s list of words he’s mastered (I realize he may have known a few of these before, especially the foods) – desk, table, chair, TV, fridge, wall, door, sink, soap, mirror, stairs; crackers, chips, salsa, nuts, onion, goldfish, beans, taco, broccoli, cheese, carrots; triangle, rectangle, square, oval, circle; three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten; Mom, Dad, his name, his sister’s name; sleepy, (he hasn’t learned sad, mad, happy, or sick, but I’ve made those flashcards because they are very important).

I also reinforced many of the words from the VBA team’s list by having him review flashcards.

Though he can read the words “Mommy,” “Daddy,” etc., he’s having trouble associating them with the pics on the flashcards, showing how important it was to make those flashcards.

Typing He wouldn’t do it at all at the start.  Now he has no problem sitting for 15 min. The work paid off as he knows where the keys are now.  Typing has helped him read his name and understand that the answer to how old he is is 7.  It has helped him learn to read Mommy, Daddy, his sister’s name and his name.  He has taken my finger and guided me to the letters before, showing joint attention, which is crucial to learning. Typing is NOT meant as an alternative method of communication for him, but it will help him spell and read words, then phrases, then sentences, and will ultimately help him speak better because he will understand language more.  Typing is one way to help kids generalize language – to learn words in several different ways rather than just reading sight words.  It also helps with fine motor skills.
Intraverbals In Aug. he mastered saying his name and 7 in response to “What’s your name?” and “How old are you?” but he lost them because of confusion with what VBA program has done.
Soccer He can kick back and forth on the grass. He can dribble the length of the field and then kick it hard into the net.  He can kick it into the goal over and over.  During the last two sessions I had him kicking back and forth with his brother, which is a huge milestone socially.
Basketball He can now shoot from several feet away rather than just dunk.
Trampoline He can play catch while jumping, kick the ball back and forth while on the trampoline, and stop and do imitative exercises, which he could not do before.
Imaginative and Pretend play He has a much stronger interest in stuffed animals now.  At first he had no interest.  Then he would smile and laugh and say “frog” or “bug.”This is very important to learn how to play and think abstractly.
Oral Motor He learned to imitate by using his tongue and lips.  In June he was able to blow bubbles but before he couldn’t.
Handwriting He is getting better at tracing numbers and letters.  Before he couldn’t do it at all.  He can’t do it independently but he in some cases is doing part of it himself.  He shows more interest in it.
Math He is very interested in counting though he loses track/needs help after about 15.  He has started addition.  His attention span has increased during math.
Numbers and shapes He has completely mastered numbers 1-10 and shapes with beanbags.  Determined he may be partly color-blind.
Spelling Spellmaster – He has chosen the right tiles to spell certain words. Using different ways to read is helping generalize (flashcards, books, typing, spellmaster, etc.)
Other He has been very engaged, with lots of two way interaction.  The rapport we have is very important to learning because kids will learn more when they are motivated and having fun.  He shows a lot of joint attention: Joint attention refers to the propensity of a child to engage another’s attention to share enjoyment of objects or events. Children display joint attention skills by initiating bids to others to pay attention to what they are attending to and by following the line of visual regard and point gestures of a social partner (Mundy & Thorp). Thus, children both initiate and respond to joint attention bids.

Joint attention behaviors represent a critical area in typical development. Joint attention skills have been found to be concurrently related to receptive and expressive language skills among typically-developing children. In addition, research indicates that joint attention is important for the development of a host of other, later-emerging, skills, such as more complex expressive language, symbolic play, and theory of mind.

Initiating joint attention, shared engagement, two-way interaction, connecting on an emotional level is how kids learn – this isn’t just from Greenspan but this is well known – this is taught at Johns Hopkins – and the relationship a child has with the therapist is very important to learning.  His words are very emphatic after we do something he enjoys.  He shows a lot of enthusiasm, also helpful to learning.  He has the ability to go with the flow.  These are all elements of RDI that he has shown for the past four months.  We have been doing RDI type games in a natural environment already.  He has not cried significantly with me since 6/21.

Rewarding AND Fun

April 4, 2009

I was going to wait until I start my autism blog for this, but this is as good a place as any for me to address something here – and it is about a misconception about what I do for a living.  I provide therapeutic services to children and adults with autism in the areas of sports and exercise, social skills, and academics.  It’s not that people always misunderstand what I do, but they often have some preconceived notions about it. 

The reactions I get are sometimes very positive – some people really appreciate what I do and find it very interesting.  For every time that I have received that reaction, though, there have been many times that people have had reactions that fall into one of the categories below.  Surprisingly, it’s often women who have these reactions – sometimes on a first date or upon an initial conversation that starts with “What do you do?” Then after I answer, the follow up response is something like: 

“Oh, that must be so hard.”  They say this with a really pained expression on their face.  (Remember those commercials a few years ago – the Bitter Beer Face?)  They say it as if to say, “Wow, I would never be able to do that, and I would never want to do that.  How unfun and boring.”  Their body language gives away the fact that the last thing they would want to do is work with kids on the autism spectrum.  I try to explain that it is hard sometimes but it’s also a lot of fun. 

Kids with autism are like neurotypical kids except that they have different skills and abilities.  They are just more extreme.  To put it simply, if you don’t like children with autism, then you don’t like children.  And I’m surprised at the number of women in the Washington area who don’t like children.  Your job, whether it is being a lawyer, a pharmaceutical sales representative, or a consultant, would be unfun and boring to me.  While you’re watching the clock, I’m in the flow and time is flying.  So have fun with your spreadsheet. 

(I don’t mean to imply that career oriented women aren’t good with children.  You don’t have to be a teacher, a pediatric nurse, or a volunteer to be good with kids.  And people need to make money, and careers should be important.  But if you think that your career is more important than anything else, and you don’t value the idea of having any experience with kids, that’s a little extreme.)

There is also an attitude that people have about children and adults with disabilities that they are to be felt sorry for.  While this may be a normal initial reaction, once you get over it, you can’t feel sorry for the kids too much because if you do then you’ll spoil them and let them get away with just about anything. 

“Wow…what you do is really great.  That must be really…rewarding.”  However, they say this with a hushed tone, and look at you as if you are from another planet.  How could someone want to do something like that?” I usually follow this one up with, “Yes, but it’s also a lot of fun.”  One time, I actually had someone reply back to me, “No, you mean rewarding, but not fun.”  I responded back, “No, I mean fun. 

The tone with which they say, “That must be rewarding,” again, seems to imply, “Wow, that must be so tough.”  “Rewarding” happens when you help a charity when you don’t really want to, but you make a sacrifice in order to achieve some good.  Like serving food to the homeless.  For me, that would be boring and tedious, though certainly honorable.  What I’m doing isn’t unselfish – it’s selfish – because what I do is highly enjoyable.  

“Oh, you’re a do-gooder.”  Usually they just think this instead of say it outright, but recently someone I met said that exact sentence to me, in a condescending tone.  She followed it up with, “I work in the hotel industry.  I get people drunk for a living.”  The implication seemed to be, “Oh, you’re a goody two-shoes.  I like to party and have fun.”  Now you might say that was just being self-deprecating and was actually putting what I do on a pedestal.  But no, in this case it was condescending. I agree that partying is fun.  I did it from the time I was in college through my early 30s.  Is that not enough?  I partied with the best of them and had a lot of fun.  But you can only do so much of that. 

Playing sports is also fun.  Catching a touchdown pass in a coed football game, hitting a backhand winner in tennis, scoring a goal in soccer, or throwing a long pass in ultimate Frisbee are all fun.  

Going to a great concert is fun.  So is seeing your favorite team win a big game.  Traveling to new places is fun.  Being at a party when things are rolling is fun.  Seeing a great movie is fun.  

And teaching kids is also fun.  If you can’t appreciate teaching a child to learn to read, converse, do math, play sports for the first time, develop a sense of humor, learn to make friends, and make progress in all these areas, all the while improving behaviors, then I feel sorry for you.  If you think that working with the coolest kids in the world isn’t fun, then what kind of a parent will you be?  These kids are miracles and miracles are happening, although slowly.  

It’s like trying to explain music to someone who doesn’t get it.  If you like Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run,” the Eagles’ “Hotel California,” Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven,” or any number of inspiring songs, and you try to explain that to someone and they don’t get it, then, well, they just don’t get it.  So if you don’t like kids, then you don’t like kids.  Just admit it.      

Of course, many people say these things with the best of intentions and really do admire this type of work, but many women have a high regard for men who work in more traditional roles such as lawyers or salesmen.  I’m not looking for admiration – I just don’t want someone to look at what I do as a negative.  You don’t have to love my job, but don’t hate it.  

My point is that this work is not only rewarding, but it is also fun.  In his book, “Authentic Happiness,” psychologist Martin Seligman says that using your strengths to forward knowledge, power, or goodness is great.  Doing all of that while you’re having fun is the best of both worlds.  So doing kind and fun actions creates a lot more satisfaction than doing things that are only kind, or things that are only fun.  

Or you can sit in your office and do neither.