October 2010 Archives

October 27, 2010

Simple Steps Autism: The Future of ABA Applications

Currently it is estimated that the average family of a child with autism needs to pay between $28,000 to $36,000 a year for Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy.  Most parents cannot afford this in the current economic climate, and most insurance companies do not cover the Autism diagnosis, let alone ABA therapy. 

But that isn't the only problem.  There is a growing number of children being diagnosed with Autism, so many in fact that current services could be overwhelmed in a matter of years.  This means Behavior Therapists are in desperate need, and there are not enough to go around.  How do we deal with the growing number of children in need of therapy, and finite resources?

In previous posts I have called for services to help parents learn ABA techniques to help their own children.  Someone must have heard, because sites like http://simplestepsautism.com are starting to show themselves.  These sites help parents learn how to not only cope with having a child with autism in the family, but also learn how they can help their child with autism become a productive citizen by learning necessary social behaviors. 

The benefit here is that with parents getting involved, guided by certified ABA therapists, you instantly have a broader base of support and therapy for children and adults with autism, and therefore a broader base for success.  It is success guaranteed with parents and caregivers getting involved with their child's learning.  I know this is kind of a new concept in today's society, more's the pity. 

So I commend the folks at SimpleSteps for their desire to broaden the support base to parents and not just therapists.  The only thing that is currently discouraging is the price tag that comes with the service.  But perhaps private donations, organizations, or Government grants can be made available to lower those costs and make such useful, beneficial services available to the families that need them but cannot afford them.

October 26, 2010

NaNoWriMo and the iPad: The Reasons, and The Apps

Yet again National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is coming, and thousands of prospective novelists are limbering their fingers, oiling their typewriters, booting their computers, and outlining their ideas for novels.  The goal: write a novel during the month of November that is at least 50,000 words long. 

The goal itself is daunting enough, but many who have completed such tasks in the past are looking to a new tool as a new challenge:  the iPad. 

Why the iPad?  Well, some want to use it to prove it can be done.  Others like it because it is naturally distraction free:  with only one app on the screen you can't be easily distracted by email notifications, twitter updates, chats, and an internet waiting to siphon your attention and productivity by reading the latest in Hollywood scandals or political gaffs from the Left and Right.  Instead, you have just your writing and maybe music fighting for your attention.  And in case you were wondering, I'm all for the second reason. 

So, in the spirit of NaNoWriMo, I thought I would outline five apps that would be considered useful in completing such a daunting task on such a tiny platform. 

  1. Idea Sketch (Free, iPhone/iPad):  Idea Sketch is a mind mapping tool, used to outline concepts and build flow charts based on these ideas.  It's very useful for building your concept, working out general plot ideas, etc.  If you are into mind mapping, this is a very useful app to have.
  2. Adobe Ideas (Free, iPhone/iPad):  Perhaps working with a mind mapping tool isn't your cup of tea?  What's that, you would rather draw it out?  Well, Adobe Ideas is a general sketch pad that is done very well.  You can use your finger as a pencil, drawing out your links, sketches, doodles, and erase what you don't like. 
  3. Index Card ($4.99, iPad):  Another method to organize your ideas in sequential order would be to throw them onto index cards pinned to a cork board.  Don't have one handy?  Well, use Index Card.  You can build your ideas, rearrange them when necessary, and then export the new draft outline in RTF form to Dropbox.  From there you can pull it into your editor, or copy and paste the whole document into your editor to get started writing.  The UI was inspired by Scrivener for Mac OS X, which is perhaps the best writing tool for the Macintosh I could find.
  4. Pages ($9.99, iPad): So now you have your magnum opus ready, and need to throw it down into words.  Here is where the newest version of Pages is very handy:  it includes word count.  No longer are you required to guess at the number of words!  This is a long waited-for feature, making Pages now a very useful tool for novelists on the iPad.
  5. My Writing Nook ($4.99, iPhone/iPad):  Need a little more structure to your writing?  Need to jump from section to section quickly for those pesky rewrites?  Don't want to shell out more cash than is necessary for a good writing app?  My Writing Nook may be the app for you.  You can't do anything fancy with the text, but then when writing a novel, why would you?  This app allows you to break down your novel into sections, making it easy to jump through the project and write what you are inspired to write instead of what is sequentially next in line. 

I have four of the five, opting for Pages as my writing medium (for a novel and many other projects), but I would still recommend My Writing Nook for hard-core novelists. 

Are you planning on using the iPad for your NaNoWriMo project?  If so, you have just 5 days from today to work on the outline of the novel before you need to write those first words, so I would highly recommend you start.  Find the apps you like, start with your novel plan, and happy writing! 

October 25, 2010

Hallowe'en and Autism

The holidays can be very stressful for a child with Autism, as decorations and different behaviors start to change the routine of the child.  Hallowe'en can be very stressful because of the need to interact in order to participate. 

But it doesn't have to be very stressful, as long as you have time to prepare your child.  The folks at Rethink Autism have provided a free video for families to help their child prepare to wear a costume, go trick or treating, or even hand out candy if they want.  The tips are grounded in the ABA methodology, and help by modifying the child's behavior gradually. 

If you would like your child to participate, these tips may be helpful. 

October 18, 2010

Mac OS 10.7 Wish List

It's been a while since I've created a wish list for an Apple product, but with the rumor that Mac OS X 10.7 Lion being given a sneak peek on Wednesday, I thought I would throw up a quick wish list. 

  1. iCal Fix:  I've had trouble with some Exchange calendars within iCal.  I would like that fixed.  I've been looking for a fix with each subsequent minor update, but it's not been there.  I really want this to happen, even with the debut of Outlook for Mac in Office 2011.
  2. FaceTime:  This will probably happen anyway, but it would be nice to have it on the Mac. 
  3. Broader File System Support:  I want to be able to browse ext3 files, and have read-write access already built in for NTFS, ext3, etc.  It would make working in a mixed environment that much easier.
  4. VDI Support:  I've been researching a lot of virtual desktop infrastructure solutions, and it would be nice to have such a solution available for the Mac.  Right now the best option is NetBoot with a network-shared Applications folder.  There has to be a better way, making it possible to run apps on a lot of other platforms.  Particularly I would like to see a VDI solution that would incorporate the iPad.  This would probably be a server application.
  5. Run iOS Apps in Dashboard:  This would be cool, though I'm not sure it would be necessary.  It would be nice to be able to download your iOS app and test it out before throwing it on your phone/iPad, as well as have access to all your iOS apps on your desktop when necessary.
  6. Cloud Support:  This means different things for different people.  For me, it means accessing stored files easier using your cloud repository (like Dropbox), accessing cloud-provided applications (like XenApp), and cloud-provided desktops. 
  7. Touch Support:  With the touch pad, the Magic Mouse, and similar things, I see multi-touch becoming very important to Apple. It has been their signature for the iOS devices, and I see it coming to to the Mac more than it already is. 

So that's my list for now.  I'm sure there are other things that would be cool too, but for now these are the 7 things I think would be nice to have with Mac OS 10.7.  We shall see what Apple has in store for us on Wednesday!

October 15, 2010

FDA Finally Cracks Down On Chelation Supplements

Autism is one of those conditions that have gathered together a lot of snake oil salesmen to peddle their wares at the detriment of the recipient.  And the FDA has finally said they have had enough.

As reported by the Chicago Tribune, the FDA is now cracking down on over the counter chelators that are being sold as "nutritional supplements" and cures for autism.  The Tribune has been running quite a few stories on chelation and autism, and this story shows the power of awareness and how it sets investigations in process.  8 chelator vendors were contacted by the FDA on top of the OSR#1 investigation, all notified that their products were in violation of Federal Law.  Apparently chelators were being peddled as not only cures for Autism, but also heart disease. 

As reported by the Tribune, some peddlers claimed the FDA was "stupid", as they did not consider the drug as it was peddled to be dangerous, or so claimed Ron Partain, a pharmacist from Palm Desert, California.  Richard Brooks, of Hormonal Health in San Bernardino, California, also claimed "the products are safe."  Others either said they were not contacted, or declined to comment to the Tribune. 

So who is right?  The FDA, or the peddlers?  Let's look at the facts.  Chelation, as defined by the Princeton WordNet Search, is "the process of removing a heavy metal from the bloodstream by means of a chelate as in treating lead or mercury poisoning."  Chelates , according to Wikipedia, form bonds around the heavy metals, deactivating the ions so the metals cannot react with other molecules, and makes it easier to pass the heavy metal out of the body. 

The problem is, if someone is treated with a chelate without an actual need, it can cause death.  The human body needs certain trace amounts of heavy metals to function, which we ideally get through our diet.  Should these metals get purged through unnecessary chelation, critical bodily functions can shut down causing death.  That alone should warrant caution.

But we still have the question, should we trust the Government, or trust Business?  In the US we have little trust of either, because both have within recent history (within the past 50 years, and from both Political Parties I might add) been prone to misdirection in one form or another. 

Personally (authors opinion follows), I feel that the Government has less interest in forming a conspiracy to "cause" children to develop autism, as it can become quite a burden on Federal and State agencies.  Business, on the other hand, particularly those with little understanding of what they are peddling, are more prone to justify products as safe when it brings significant profitability. 

But I prefer to take both interests into account, and instead look to the Science.  Clinical evidence points to genetic causes for Autism, not environmental causes.  Therefore a drug that is designed to remove environmental contaminants is inappropriate for such a condition.  As such, whether you believe chelation is safe for consumption is irrelevant, as the condition does not warrant the treatment. 

Still, anything that keeps these wrongfully targeted "supplements" out of the stores and away from vulnerable patients or parents of patients is welcome. 

October 12, 2010

Statistics, Reporting, and Flaws: Caution about Jaundice-Autism Link

Recently Danish researchers published in Pediatrics a link between Jaundice and Autism in infants, based on statistical data gathered.  The data suggests a link between children who are born with Jaundice (a yellowing of the skin at birth due to red blood cells dying) and those children with that condition who were subsequently diagnosed with Autism.  The research found that 67% of those children born with jaundice subsequently developed autism. Sounds pretty convincing, right?  Let's look at the numbers first.

Statistics is a simple comparison of data to determine relationships, whether or not any real relationships exist.  In this case, the statistical relationship suggests causation, but that is not what is happening (as I'm sure the researchers would agree).

Currently, one in every 78 boys are diagnosed with Autism in the US and in the UK.  That's almost 25% of the population of boys.  Children in general come in at 1 in every 98 (though there could be more girls who are going undiagnosed, according to other surveys run), which makes it comfortably within the 1% of all children.

Now, according to the Children's Liver Disease Foundation's pamphlet on Jaundice in the new born baby, 90% of all new born babies get jaundice.  So figuring that out of every 100 babies, 90 will have jaundice, and out of those same 100 babies, one will have Autism, it doesn't quite match the research. 

So, why doesn't it match?  Is there a problem with the research, or a problem with the numbers?  The statistics were taken from a baby population of over 733,000.  It represents the results from that statistical demographic, which could in some way apply to the world population as a whole.  Instead, it's quite possible it is one of two things:

1.  There is a link, and Autism rates will be going up based on diagnosis.  But the research is not calling this certain, but rather posing a question that needs to be answered with more research. 

2.  It's just a coincidence that happened to show within this demographic, and is not indicative of the overall population of children with jaundice, or children with Autism.  I'm leaning to this conclusion, if for no other reason than the disparity of numbers and lack of additional research.

Ultimately, it just means the medical community has a lot more research to do on Autism and biological links to the condition.  If you had a baby that got jaundice within days of being born, don't panic.  While it never hurts to learn more about Autism from reputable sources, your child's jaundice is not necessarily indicative of your child developing Autism.  Look beyond the news hype, and look for the facts that will eventually be shown in additional clinical research.

October 11, 2010

Savory Energy Bars: "Italian" Hard Tack

Recently I was talking with a buddy of mine about meals and, more importantly, packaged meals, when he bemoaned the fact that most of your energy or meal replacement bars are sweet.  In fact, there are quite a few bars out there, and they tend to be held together with sugar, or covered in chocolate.  Being a fan of savory, we talked about possible solutions for meal replacement bars that were not sugar bombs. 

Well, this weekend I thought I would give it a try.  I had most of the ingredients already and I wanted to see if it were possible.  So Saturday, before going to dinner, I thought I would throw it together, and here is the recipe:

2    cups    all purpose flour
2    cups    bread crumbs
1/2 cup      corn meal
1/2 cup      oatmeal
4    tbsp     tomato paste
2    tbsp     Parmesan cheese, grated
4    tbsp     italian seasoning
2    tbsp     garlic powder
1    tsp       Kosher salt
1.5 cups    water

I first combined all the dry ingredients and mixed them together well.  I then added the tomato paste and cut it into the dry mix, and added the water so that it would just bind it together.  I then kneaded it together well, and rolled it into a log of about 3 inches thick.  Once rolled out, I cut it into 32 pieces, and baked it for 30 minutes at 350 degrees (could have been longer if I wanted it less chewy and more like a cracker). 

The next day I had two pieces with a large glass of water, and found them very filling.  Two or three fills up quite well, and the flavor is decent.  This isn't a cookie, but there is quite a bit of sweetness in the tomato that it's almost like eating a pizza crust with just the sauce.  And each piece is just 71 calories.  It's nice because I can use this little bar to satisfy those tomato soup cravings I get occasionally, without having to cook anything up.

The recipe was adapted from a hard tack recipe that I found online here. 

October 5, 2010

Flash, iOS, and Android: The Real Future of Flash as I See It

There was a lot of debate earlier in the year about the future of the Flash platform.  It was assumed that Flash would die a slow death because Apple had deliberately blocked Flash movies and files from running directly on their iOS platforms.  Arguments have been running back and forth between Flash developers, Apple haters, Android lovers, Apple zealots, and just about everyone that wants to add their voice to, in my opinion, a narrow-minded argument. 

Those that predicted the death of Flash didn't see the forest for the trees.  Sure, there are thousands of videos out there that were encoded in the Flash Player, and many of those videos are being ported to the MPEG 4 format.  Sure HTML 5 is able to perform many of the same tasks that Flash was able to do, as does PHP, Perl, Python, Ruby, and a number of other programming languages.  But the one thing that everyone didn't take into account was what Flash as a developing platform does:  takes content and packages it for distribution. 

So when Adobe announced the Packager for iPhone, it was pretty much lost in the news, until Apple said they wouldn't allow apps from the platform (or other similar platforms).  That was the case, until September 2010, when Apple changed their app submission restrictions, now allowing Flash to be used as a development platform, or even Adobe AIR. 

But how is this even possible?  Because of ActionScript 3, the programming language used by Adobe to give Flash it's flexibility, and Adobe AIR it's powerful platform environment.  One can code an app using Flash or Adobe AIR, and it becomes available for Android, the Desktop, and now the iOS platform. 

Why is this such a big deal?  Because one no longer needs to learn Java (Android and desktop) and Objective-C (iOS) to do the same thing.  You can write it all in ActionScript 3 and distribute it across the board with minimal changes for each iteration. 

It looks like the power of Flash is finally going beyond the browser, and into the native environment for your mobile devices.  No more worries about battery life or whether or not everything is supported:  it's all native, it all works within the platform.  I wouldn't be surprised if Adobe built in a packager for HTML 5 within Flash and AIR.  They have shown versatility necessary to keep their developer tools relevant in an increasingly mobile world. 

For future suggestions, perhaps a packager for Windows Phone 7 (assuming it pans out), Blackberry's new OS, and MeeGo for Nokia?  That would make Flash and Adobe AIR an extremely attractive mobile development platform.

October 1, 2010

Autism and Sibling Speech Delays

Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis released a study in the American Journal of Psychiatry regarding speech delay patterns of siblings of children with Autism, as reported by Physorg.com.  The report shows a higher number of siblings of children with autism have speech delay when compared to siblings of neurotypical children.

The implications are that children who have a sibling with autism are more likely to show speech delay, whether that sibling is older or younger than the child with autism.  Therefore, the speech delay can show a propensity for autism, though not severe enough for the direct diagnosis.  It also shows that some girls with similar traits may even be considered "autistic," even though the diagnosis was not given to them, therefore showing a possible narrowing in the gender differences in autism diagnosis.

So why is it important?  The current scientific theory that has actually been proven through clinical studies (as apposed to many other claims) is that autism is genetic, resulting from a number of genes, any one of them can cause autistic symptoms to show at some level.  The higher the concentration of "autism genes," the more pronounced the behavior.  Siblings may have inherited some genes, but not enough to cause the behavior needed to be diagnosed "autistic". 

It also explains the prevalence of Autism within certain families and along specific genetic lines.  Unlike other yet to be proven theories that suggest environmental stimuli as the cause, genetic traits that are passed on stand out in the research done in this article. 

So that's great to know, but what does it mean for me as a parent of an autistic child?  It means I need to be alert for any signs of Autism in my other child, in order to catch it early, but also take hope in knowing that anything I see, such as delayed speech, could just be a small marker that is quickly overcome.  It's very possible that any sign of autism in my other child could be so mild as to not be diagnosed as Autism.  And, of course, it takes less of the mystery away from Autism, making it less of a scary diagnosis.  The more understanding we have, the better we as parents can cope.  At least, that is what I feel.

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