September 2010 Archives

September 30, 2010

Contagious Yawning: A Marker for Autism

Recently published in the September/October issue of Child Development (Volume 81, Nuber 5, Pages 1620-1631), Molly Helt, Inge-Marie Eigsti, Deborah Fein of the University of Connecticut and Peter Snyder of Brown University showed in their article their research regarding yawns and using yawns as a marker for Autism. 

That's right, yawns.  Why yawning?  Because it is what is called an automatic emotional reciprocity behavior, or in other words a way of participating in society's complex emotional environment.  But, unlike many other methods of showing empathy, yawning is a fixed action pattern that is hidden, and once started cannot be stopped.  It's a lot like watching a chain reaction. 

So what is so special about yawns?  Well, children in early years (under the age of 4) often do not yawn contagiously, meaning if someone starts to yawn, they don't yawn in response.  After the age of 4 that starts to become more common, and soon children are participating in the group emotional response of empathetic yawning. 

Unless the child has Autism.  Unlike neuro-typical children, most children with Autism do not participate in contagious yawning, though the cause is unclear.  They also do not participate in most other facial mimicry while watching others (whether on television or in person).  These sort of missed queues make it difficult for a person with Autism to be welcome within a generally social environment. 

So why even bother with yawning?  Because it could be an indicator for Autism without looking for genetic markers in blood (painful), or running MRI scans (scary for children).  The only drawback:  late detection.  You cannot hope to get a positive identification before age 5, by which time many of the benefits of Applied Behavior Analysis has been missed. 

But still, this is just one more piece of the puzzle that helps fill out the behavioral aspects of Autism, and for that I applaud these find researchers.  I recommend reading the research yourself to get a better view of the impact of this research, and what still needs to be accomplished.  Assuming, of course, you can stop yawning, as even reading (or writing, for that matter) the word can cause the fixed action pattern to trigger.  ^_^

September 21, 2010

Bullying and What To Do About It: Taking Autism Into Account

One thing that frightens me most about my son's schooling is the potential for bullying.  I saw it with my older brother, and often my older brother would be the one getting in trouble for defending himself (hence the reason why I hated Jr. High, and Gym class).  A lot of parents are determined to have their child with Autism mainstreamed.  Others prefer to isolate them within special schools or home-school their children.  The route you take will be completely up to you, but when dealing with Bullying, The Kiowa County Signal has posted ways to deal with it, particularly with children with Autism.

Bullying isn't just hitting kids on the playground.  It's much more insidious than that.  Bullying is harassing children verbally (including texting and instant messages), physically (like forcing them to sit at another table, or move from their spot), or even psychologically (forcing unacceptable and often humiliating behavior, from a person). 

Too often it's too easy for school officials, being human themselves, to dismiss bullying if they can't see it.  Because it often doesn't happen within eye-shot of an authority figure, they fear incriminating another student on "hear-say".  This is understandable, as it underscores the basis of our justice system, innocent until proven guilty (or at least until tried by the media at any rate). 

As a parent, it is also your right to make sure your child, with or without Autism, is in a safe environment.  This starts with contacting the school.  Find out what their anti-bullying policy is, and how it is enforced.  How do they react to reports of bullying, and how is it addressed?  It's important to note that adults in schools are very much out-numbered, and cannot be everywhere at once.  And also losing your temper cannot help any situation.  Accept they are human, and see how you can work with the system. 

But even more important, let them know that your child has Autism, and what that means.  Find out if they are aware of what Autism means, particularly when it comes to psychological bullying.  Do they understand that children with autism are more likely to take things literally, and will often be very trusting of everyone?  Do they know how to recognize a bully leading another child into a bullying situation, using manipulation?  These are crucial to your child's protection, and need to be addressed.

Bullying is a frustrating issue for all concerned.  Often it requires a lot of patience, and sometimes some creative thinking.  Be a help to your school, and I'm sure they will be happy to make any necessary changes to guarantee your child with autism will have a safe learning environment.

September 17, 2010

Autism Weekend Roundup: Genes and Hollywood

A couple of things showed up in my daily news search about Autism that I thought I would share. 

1.  Another Genetic link to Autism has been found, for 1% of those with autism tested.  The Center for Addiction and Mental Health is reporting that that boys with autism, or at least 1% of those tested, are missing a specific gene, PTCHD1, from their X chromosome they get from their mother.  It is believed that PTCHD1 has a role in the neurobiological pathway that delivers information to cells during brain development.  Girls are shielded, because they have two X chromosomes.  While the numbers are low, it is yet another genetic link for Autism.  I think the gene tally is up to 23 now? 

If you are telling yourself that it's a long shot, keep in mind that Autism is a behavioral diagnosis, not a medical diagnosis.  There are a number of possible causes for the behavior, all having to do with the brain.  That is why there are so many genes that can cause the same or similar behavior. 

2.  Benefit for Autism:  The Associated Press has reported Comedy Central's plans for a star-sudded autism benefit on October 21st.  Steven Colbert, Larry David, Tina Fey, Ricky Gervais, Sarah Silverman, Steve Carell, Jimmy Fallon, Tracy Morgan, Joe McHale, John Oliver, Chris Rock, and a number of others are participating. 

This is awesome, and I'm glad so many famous people will be participating in raising funds for autism schools and special programs.  Honestly, there is a reason why I love comedians more than "serious" actors..  Comedians tend to have real hearts, and are not afraid to show it. 

3.  Keeping up with the film industry, AMC has announced plans with the Autism Society of America for a movie night for children with Autism.  There are 126 participating theaters for the event, though the link in the article is broken.  You can find a list of participating theaters here.  If memory serves, AMC did this last year, and my wife and I were upset we found out too late.  Don't miss the event!

September 15, 2010

Book Review: House Rules by Jodi Picoult

There are a number of books out there about Autism, dealing with autism, managing autism, teaching children with autism, and even how to "cure" autism with fad diets and various misinformation.  It's rare, at least in my experience, for autism to center within fiction. 

House Rules is a book about a family of Jacob Hunt, a child with Aspergers, and his obsession with forensics.  Ultimately it leads to getting involved with the police over a possible murder, and how the police react with an autistic child. 

There are a couple of things I didn't like, such as the declared beliefs that vaccinations cause Autism, that children who are on gluten-free and cassein-free diets can be "cured", and that various highly expensive supplements can "cure" autism.  What's interesting is that the author doesn't say he was cured, but rather his behavior became more manageable. 

Oh, and I solved the crime about 33% into the book (but still was riveted to the book).

What I did like was the portrayal of Jacob's thought process as a person with Aspergers.  The family experiences, the daily routine, the overall atmosphere that is Autism within a family.  It's very familiar, and I find it absolutely fascinating. 

I also loved the writing style.  Often, when I don't enjoy a book, it's because of the writing style.  Jodi Picoult did a fabulous job on this book, and should be commended for her writing style.  It was very similar to a serial story, one you would read in a magazine because of the way it was separated into different voices.  Different points of view, from the police detective, the lawyer, the mother, the younger brother, and Jacob himself were all illuminating. 

Ultimately, as Jodi Picoult stated on her website, was to outline how the justice system would react to typical behaviors in someone with Autism, specifically with Aspergers.  I think she did a fantastic job, and would highly recommend the book to anyone in the Justice System, Police, Sheriff's Department, and any parent with a child who has Autism.  It can be found on Amazon, Simon&Schulsters, or any fine book store. 

Thank you Liesl, for your recommendation. 

September 14, 2010

Parenthood: The Autism Diagnosis Moment

Yesterday, after getting some important work done, I was feeling pretty rough.  My wife took the kids with her siblings to the park, and left me and the dog at home so I could rest and relax.  Well, I thought it the perfect time to turn on a show that I've been meaning to watch for a long time now:  Parenthood.

I downloaded the pilot episode from iTunes for free.  I've watched one episode before, after hearing that one of the kids was supposed to be diagnosed with Aspergers.  I thought I would give it a try and see what the show portrayed, and how accurate it was. 

I was blown away.  The opening scene was of a father trying to get his morning workout in, and all of a sudden his family, one by one, call him for advice and help.  One was his wife who couldn't get their youngest son to get into his baseball uniform for the big game. 

As the show progressed, the son's little quirks started showing, with him wanting to wear a pirate suit, getting frustrated easily, and having trouble with his coordination.  He was just not a "regular boy", and was slowly being identified as such.  The Elementary school expelled him for biting another kid (who had called him a freak), and recommended him to an educational therapist. 

The heart-wrenching thing was when they found out that he had Aspergers.  He couldn't believe it, and she just begged him to not leave her alone in this.  Then, right after he found out, the rest of the family started dumping issues on him.  It was a very telling episode, one with which every parent can relate, particularly those whose children have autism. 

So, if you ever want to know what it's like at that moment to know that your child has autism, I highly recommend watching Parenthood's pilot episode.  I fell in love with that first episode, even though it brought back a lot from when our oldest was diagnosed.

September 7, 2010

Dogs and Autism: Why We Got A Dog, and the Long Weekend

There have been a lot of reports on service dogs and children with Autism.  Most, like this article on KSL have been positive, resulting in children with autism coming out of their shell more.  The reason is the less complexity in the dog's social acceptance of people, and therefore the more likely the child will be willing to interact (no longer afraid of doing the "wrong thing"). 

So, my wife and I had talked about getting a dog.  This was quite the debate, as both my wife and I have very different ideas of what makes a good dog, complicated by the fact that we were not sure how our son would interact with a dog.

Then my brother-in-law and his family got a dog, a little lab/blue heeler mix named Scooby.  He is a young dog (3 months), but will eventually grow up into quite a big dog.  Well, we let our son interact with him, and he had a blast.  He was playing, he was getting down to his level, and he was laughing.  It was an awesome sight, and we knew we needed a dog. 

So, we started checking out the shelters.  There were some nice looking dogs, but there were some criteria that we both agreed on:  No fighting dogs (pit bulls, Staffordshire terriers, etc.), because we didn't know what environment they were coming from.  That, and not too long ago we had a pit bull terrorize our neighborhood.  We also wanted a smaller dog, one young enough that our cat could beat into submission.  The big deterrent was the price of adoption, which we did not have at the time. 

So, we thought, maybe in a couple of months we would be in a position to get a dog.  Then my wife and I started looking in the Classifieds on KSL.com, and found four potential dogs: a lab/border collie mix, a blue tick hound, a blue heeler/lab mix, and a border collie/corgi mix.  The border collie/corgi mix was closer to us, and I thought that he may have been a smaller dog because of his corgi blood, so we checked on him first. 

When we got there, he ended up being big, much bigger than I thought.  He has lines similar to a scottish deerhound, with the same face (from the corgi), and a very long body (from the corgi).  But he also has the long legs and primary coloring from his border collie blood.  So he is a large dog, and that made me think. 

But, as we talked about the dog, our youngest started walking around in the previous owner's house, and when I called my son's name to get him to come back, the dog started to "herd" him back to the family.  I was convinced this was the kind of dog we needed, and after a dubious look from my wife (our oldest with Autism was a little apprehensive of his size as well), we loaded up the dog's crate, leash, and the dog, into our car and headed home. 

That day was very busy, with one very excited dog who didn't want to spend any time in his kennel, was very social, and loved to run with me and the boys.  In fact, he probably had far more attention than he had before.  Not because the family was in any way neglectful of him before, but because my oldest with Autism was by his side almost all day.  That relieved any fears my wife and I had about the dog and our kids, and we started to settle down with him. 

We took him for two walks that day, just to get the energy out of him, and had a blast.  Then, that night, we decided we would try to have him shut up in his crate, as he was supposed to be kennel trained.  He got in, but didn't like being in the kennel, and wanted to be out with the family.  He started to whine, keeping everyone awake.  I went out and slept in the same room, just so I could keep him quiet.  Not a good start, I could tell.

The next day, Sunday, went really well.  He behaved while we were at church, and was very excited when we came back.  We took him for another long walk, and he loved it.  This time we went with the whole family, and everyone was quite happily tired after that morning.  So we settled down for the night.  This time I had the dog out of his crate (he doesn't like it, probably because it's too short for his length), and he slept in the boy's room, though I had to be in there with them.  This isn't too bad, as children with Autism generally don't sleep well and try to climb in with their parents, so my son slept really well. 

Last night was perhaps the best night.  After moving rooms around, this time the dog, Toby, was quite happy to sleep with the boys.  He would have been there all night, had the boys not woken up in the middle of the night, thinking it was time to play.  So again, I spent time with my boys, but at least Toby is getting settled. 

He is a very good dog, in that he sits almost every time on command (we are working on that), he plays fetch, and most importantly, if I tell him to get one of the boys, he will run over to them, then along side them, nudging them in the right direction.  He will also stick with them, keeping an eye on them when in the back yard or on the playground.  We are definitely glad we have him.  We just need to work out his position with the cat. 

September 1, 2010

Simplifying Content Development and Delivery: Using The Wiki

One of the great benefits of being here on campus and working with such quality instructors is the collaboration that goes on.  If one of us has a great idea to better the teaching experience, we like to share. 

Christer Edwards, one of our instructors, recently shared his secret for creating and deploying his content.  He uses a wiki.  Now, I've heard of wikis, and I've played around with some in the past, but I've never really gotten into it.  The markup is different, and I wasn't sure if I wanted to take the time to learn it if I found I didn't like it.  So, I waited.

Then Christer showed me the S5 plugin for his DokuWiki page. For those of you who are not familiar with S5, is it an implementation of presentation software, but is run from the web using XHTML, Javascript, and CSS.  And it looks great.  It's simple and easy to use to create a quick presentation, and you can display it from anywhere you have Internet access.   That is what got me thinking. 

See, I really want to simplify the way I show my presentations.  I want to have them easy to get to, easy to deploy, and simple to set up.  I don't want to worry about plugins, software versions, or anything like that.  Just a quick and easy way to get information on the screen.  and S5 makes that possible.  And, as it is essentially a website, you can embed video, audio, just about anything in the page, and it works. 

Does it take the place of just about everything in a presentation?  Not really.  It doesn't have some of the cool animations, the ability to make presenterless presentations, etc.  But that's not really that important for classroom slides.  It's all about the content, the discussion, and getting the information out there. 

So, I gave it a try.  I first installed DokuWiki on my website (a very easy install, I might add), and installed the S5 plugin.  I'm currently transferring the content in my SEO slides to the wiki, and the presentation looks great.  I still need to settle on a template for the slides, but that's something that can be done at any time, after the presentation has been made.  That's what I like about this plugin, it breaks things up.

But, you can't just use a Wiki for slide shows, it would be kind of a waste, right?  The wiki needs to be so much more, providing tools that will help with development.  This is where it gets interesting. 

I've been thinking a lot about project management, as course development for new content seems to drag.  I wanted something to help me break the project into pieces.  I've been told that Agile Project Management is a great way to work if it's implemented well, and a very good friend of mine, Joseph Hall of powerwhisk.com told me how he has implemented it with a wiki.  Eager to give it a try, I started looking for plugins for various wikis to find one I like. 

Well, as luck would have it, DokuWiki has a plugin called AV Task Box.  Basically it's a text box that will add task information like the Title of the task, the priority, the estimated time it would take to complete the task, the amount of progress one has made on the task, to whom the task is assigned, and a description of the task for usage.  The syntax is easy to use, and if you keep all tasks on a main Task page, everyone can see which task is for whom, how far along they are, and when they can expect a task to be completed. 

I love it, and use it already for my course development (as of yesterday).  It helps me gauge the time I need to dedicate to a task, and I can keep myself on task easier with the box sitting there waiting to be updated. 

So, for the past couple of days I have been teaching myself how to use the wiki format.  A couple of other plugins I got were the Note plugin and the ODT plugin.  Note puts in a cool formatted note within the text that does not show in the slides (very handy).  The ODT plugin let me put a button on the bottom of the page to export that page to an Open Document file.

And one more thing..  I want to be able to edit this on the fly.  It is the web, after all.  I should be able to edit it from any web-enabled device, like my iPhone or iPad.  And I can, unlike other Wiki software I've looked at in the past.  I can access the Wiki from both my iOS devices and edit pages without a problem. The only thing left is to get the slide show working with gestures on the iPad, and it will be perfect.  I'm currently looking into that now. 

So that's my experience with Wikis, and why I've started using it for just about everything from note taking to project management.  I can definitely see why they were so popular. 

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This page is an archive of entries from September 2010 listed from newest to oldest.

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