May 2010 Archives

May 25, 2010

New Service in Salt Lake County for Families with Autism and Alzheimers

Today I got an email from the Utah Autism Coalition regarding Project Lifesaver.  Let me post it below:

The Utah Autism Coalition, in coordination with the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Department, Sheriff James Winder and Captain Teri Sommers, is pleased to announce the launch of Project Lifesaver! Project Lifesaver was made possible in large part by a grant from the National Autism Association for law enforcement equipment and training.

The primary mission of Project Lifesaver is to provide timely response to save lives and reduce potential injury for adults and children who wander due to Alzheimer's, autism, and other related conditions or disorders.

We hope this will be a great resource to our autism community. There have been so many media reports lately and over the years of individuals with autism who have wandered and become lost. Many have been found safe, but others were less fortunate. We hope Project Lifesaver can be a useful tool and bring peace of mind to many of you who worry your child may become lost.

How it works:

Citizens enrolled in Project Lifesaver wear a small LoJack SafetyNet personal transmitter around the wrist or ankle that emits an individualized tracking signal. If an enrolled client goes missing, the caregiver notifies their locally trained agency, and a trained emergency team responds to the wanderer's area. Recovery times for PLI clients average 30 minutes - 95% less time than standard operations.

The LoJack SafetyNet system also includes a database of key information about the client such as a recent photo and insight as to where the person might have wandered if he or she goes missing, and a caregiver support organization that is available by phone and e-mail 24x7 for emergencies.

How to enroll:

There is a $99 initial enrollment fee and a recurring $30 monthly service charge for clients. Families and caregivers can enroll their loved ones by calling 1-877-4-FINDTHEM (877-434-6384). For those families or caregivers who cannot afford the service, they are encouraged to check with their local agency for available options.

For more information, please contact Project Lifesaver at 1-877-580-LIFE (5433) or click here, or LoJack SafetyNet at 1-877-4-FINDTHEM (877-434-6384) or visit here.

A special thanks:

Shanda Ross, the UAC special projects chair, has done an incredible job in overseeing and organizing this project. She made us promise we wouldn't bring attention to her or recognize her in any way. (Whoops, had our fingers crossed). Shanda is an incredible autism advocate, and we appreciate her many efforts in behalf of our community.

May 24, 2010

The iPad, The New Tablets, and Autism

Since I purchased my iPad, I've had a lot of questions come my way.  Is it really worth it?  Do you like it?  Are you just an Apple Fan-boy, or do you have too much money?  Many of them are questions based on media coverage of the iPad, the assumptions made by technologists on the iPad, and the arguments made by others in the industry that feel threatened by the new medium of tablets.  So, I thought I would talk about why I have the iPad, why I purchase Apple products, and how it relates to my son's condition.

First, if you have iTunes, open up to the iTunes Store, and then run a search for Autism.  As of this writing, there are 153 apps for the iPhone that come up, and an additional 7 that are specifically for the iPad.  Most of these are flash card apps for learning to write, read, and speak.  But at the heart of these are augmentative and alternative communication software like Proloquo2go, iCommunicate, iSpeak4U, and so on.  That means any person who has trouble talking or is completely non-verbal can use an iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad as a communication device.  At its most expensive it would be roughly $700.00 for such a device.

There is an alternative to using an iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch, and that is to buy an AAC device.  These tend to run in the thousands, between $5000.00 to $10,000.00.  The software is similar (if not the same), and the results are the same.  So, in the end, Apple, with the help of several third party developers, have managed to mainstream a specialty device, making it more affordable for those families that are in need but can't afford $5000.00 for a device to help their child speak.

Now, you may say that Apple isn't the only tablet on the block, and you would be right.  There are several tablets that currently exist, which are tablet PC's, and can have normal software installed on them.  They generally run at $2,000.00 (roughly), with an additional $200.00 for AAC software to be installed.  So the Apple solution is still a bargain.

But what about the Android market?  Surely I can't spend all my time looking at Apple when Linux in the form of Android is there.  Well, I checked out the Android Marketplace through, and searched for Autism.  I found a total of three apps, one for recording your voice and matching it to a picture, one for learning phonics, and one to give suggestions for treatment of Autism (which I would consider suspect until it is proven useful).  Not one was an AAC system,  Now, this of course is not Andoid's fault, or Google's, but rather the marketplace that Android represents.  Obviously interest in Autism and helping nonverbal people communicate is not a priority for third party developers that want to target the Andriod market.

So where does that leave those families that have a need of some assistance and tools, but don't have the funds for truly expensive devices?  Quite frankly, it leaves them with Apple and their iPhone OS lineup.  At least for the moment.  As Android (as an OS) has finally outsold the iPhone (I don't think the iPhone OS, just the iPhone), the market is expanding.  And with the rumored Tablets coming, it looks like things can get interesting.  If the HP Slate ever gets released with a full version of Windows 7, it could present a huge leap forward for AAC devices in the mainstream.

We are at an exciting period in technology.  Smaller, full featured devices are becoming more common, less expensive, more portable, and easier to use.  That means those with disabilities can and will be better served with even more affordable solutions.  So before you start labeling everyone with an iPad a "fan-boi," perhaps you should consider the real, grown-up reasons for tablets and how they can be used.  That's something that is rarely reported on in the Technology columns, and remains a disappointment for me.

May 20, 2010

Autism and Recognition: Shadows Distract Rather Than Help

The journal PloS ONE has an article submitted by researchers from the University of Torino and The University of Padova in Italy regarding the sensitivity autistic children have to shadows.  Neurotypical children tend to use shadows to help recognize objects while observing their world.  As such, a shadow can be of help in a learning environment. 

The research here recognized a significant measured delay in identifying item by shape and position using shadows.  Basically, because the shadow was adding visual "noise", the children took longer to recognize the objects when compared to the neurotypical control group, and in comparison to the same objects without definite or pronounced shadows. 

So what does this really mean?  Basically, it means when you try to teach your child with autism, you need to make sure you have multiple light sources within the room to remove as much of the shadow as you can.  This will reduce the presence of visual "noise", and help the child better engage with the objects around them. 

For those who have autistic children that tend to be visually sensitive anyway, this is probably already being managed.  For those of us who haven't had a child start going into a meltdown while walking into a badly lit building with flickering florescent lights (which sure bring on migraines for me), this may be something new. 

So how do you get multiple light sources?  Two lamps can do it, one on each side of the room.  Most commercial environments (or industrially built buildings like schools, churches, etc.) will also have multiple light sources.  But how many light sources do you have in your house?  You may have natural light, you may have a lamp or two.  A suggestion that could save some frustration would be to use a glossy or semi-gloss, light-colored paint to help reflect light.  More than one lamp or lighting fixture in a room, and generally at opposite sides.  There are a lot of potential solutions to help maximize the help for your child. 

May 13, 2010

Noisy Circuits vs. Mirror Neurons: A New Study

Recently researchers from Carnegie Mellon University, University of Pittsburgh, and New York University published an article in the journal Neuron regarding the responses of those with Autism using their "mirror neurons", or neurons that fire when a person performs an action, and also views an action being performed.  It has been a theory that diminished action within the mirror neurons would cause autism, supported by the idea that autistic children cannot learn from mimicking others.

This study placed 13 autistic adults and 10 neurotypical adults within an MRI machine and had them perform actions and observe actions being performed.  The results showed that in both the study group and the control group, the performance was almost identical.  Their conclusion is that the study argues against a failure in the mirror neurons as a cause for autism. 

When the researchers were asked by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette as to what could be causing autism, they said, "noisy circuits".  Noisy circuits?  What's that?  Basically it is recircuiting the brain with neurons, a large abundance of neurons, and often times an overabundance of neurons that fire at the same time to the same stimuli.  This would account for the varied symptoms of Autism, along with varying levels of severity within autism.  It would also account for the increased size and/or density of the brain in autistic individuals. 

So, who is right?  I have always sided with the noisy circuits theory, and was not even aware of the mirror neuron theory until the article has come out.  Both, of course, are theories, and require more research to be specific to their cause.  Still, it's good research that is being done, and that alone gives me some hope. 

May 10, 2010

Homelife and Autism: The House Design Matters

Since our son has become more assertive and mobile (having reached the ripe old age of 5), my wife and I have found that many of the traditional tools we have used to help keep our son safe are no longer working.  For instance, the latch on the fence in the back is easily reached and used now, so he is no longer able to play in the back yard on his own.  He has figured out the lock on the refrigerator door, which he has demonstrated quite regularly yesterday.  And he has no problems using the sliding glass door, door handles, locks, dead bolts, etc.  Needless to say, our son has figured out that he can easily get outside whenever he wants, in various states of dress and in varying weather conditions. 

These are things you are never told when your child is diagnosed autistic:  that you need to alter your home lifestyle in order to best protect your child.  Now most parents would need to do this anyway, and promptly baby-proof their homes.  We did, months before our first son was born, and continued with our second son.  But now our son is old enough to circumvent many of the baby proofing techniques (like locking cabinet doors, door handle covers, and power outlet covers), and has begun to explore areas that he has previously been unable to reach.  Some have been a challenge, some a frustration, some I'm actually proud of his achievements (he accomplished it faster than I expected), but some is very scary.

But the most terrifying is when he runs outside, and we do not know that he has gone.  For this reason, we have decided we need a new home.  "What?  A new home", you ask?  Yes, a new home.  It may seem like a very expensive proposition, but let me explain our problem with our current house with regards to our son. 

The first problem:  The back door and sliding glass door are both blocked from view from the front room.  This means if we are sitting in the front room we cannot see when our son leaves through the back door or sliding glass door.  As neither is particularly loud, we cannot hear him either.  That, and sliding glass doors are difficult to set up special alarms that go off with a separate tone based on the door.  The blocked view is caused by the division between the two rooms by what was once the pantry and the stairs.

So, we picked a house plan that we liked, paid the deposit for the land, and we are now in the process of getting approval for the new house.  There are lots of other fun things that can come with building your own house from the ground up, but the deciding factor of this move was the needs of our son, and the sanity of his parents.  Too many times he has run across the street to visit the neighbors yard, completely without our knowledge.  It's scary, because he doesn't look for cars coming and just runs.

Along with the new house we will be able to get fencing and enclose the yard to contain our son to that level (and eventually his dog).  We get to design and landscape the yard from scratch to add trees that will not only provide shade, but perhaps some fruit as well.

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