The Power of Paws: The Therapeutic Benefits of Dogs for Autistic Students

Guest Blogger, Jeremy Divinity

The classroom is a social environment where student success is dependent on the ability to interact well with others. Whereas, 72% of students on the autism spectrum have additional mental health needs that cause challenges in the classroom.

Although the learning disabilities that are associated with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) are unique to each child many autistic students share the same development problems: social interaction, language, and behavior.Autism can hinder a student’s ability to communicate and share experiences with others. Compared to their peers, autistic students are four times more likely to need extra learning and social support. This lack of social-emotional competence leads to a decrease in their connection to the learning environment and academic performance.

ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) treatments for autistic children have proven that the behavior of autistic students can be changed. Studies have demonstrated that ABA techniques produce improvements in communication, social relationships, and school performance.With the right accommodations, including proper modifications to the educational environment, along with the addition of positive reinforcement, autistic students can overcome the many barriers to learning.To put in place effective ABA techniques, educators need a better understanding of autism and how it may affect learning. Teachers are being called upon to be innovative and creative due to the unique challenges that students with ASD provide, this includes modifying their education programs.

One ABA treatment that is growing in popularity is the use of therapy dogs. If you are unfamiliar with therapy dogs and the benefits of therapy dog treatment, here is a brief history lesson: Smoky, a Yorkshire terrier, and World War 2 veteran was the first official therapy dog whose service on and off the battlefield would pave the way for future therapy dogs. Injured soldiers relied on Smoky, their canine companion, for entertainment to boost their morale. Today, therapy dogs act as a safety net, guardian, and friend who are trained to respond to a child’s most repetitive behaviors. Due to their calming influence, therapy dogs are becoming popular in the autism community. The special relationship between the therapy dog and child stimulates positive changed behavior. For children with ASD, their furry companions are not only their best friend but also offer therapeutic benefits.

Teachers and therapists have found that therapy dogs not only act as “social catalysts” that promote social interaction but also increase the activity levels of autistic students. In a study of 22 children, kids who engaged in therapy dog sessions were more talkative and socially engaged, while also less aggressive.The calming demeanor and influence of therapy dogs aid autistic students in managing the sensory challenges of the school environment. Therapy dogs can mitigate the impact of autism in the classroom by providing stability in what may seem like an unfamiliar environment.The relationship a therapy dog has with a child extends deeper than just companionship, therapy dogs can provide both practical and emotional support. Here are some of the most common therapeutic benefits that therapy dogs provide for autistic students:

Companionship

Therapy dogs show unconditional love, and often times, a loving friendship develops. Both therapy dog and patient enjoy each other’s company in nonverbal ways which assists with everyday life. For example, therapy dogs de-escalate emotional meltdowns by gently interrupting any self-harming behaviors.

Social Interaction

The biggest challenge faced by students with autism is social interaction with peers. When introduced to the classroom, therapy dogs can increase a child’s participation and functional level. After interacting with their canine companions, students with ASD transfer over their new-found social relationships with other students.

Behavior Management

Another benefit of therapy dogs is that they can assist with behavior management by their comforting and calming demeanor. Many therapy dogs are specifically trained to decrease inappropriate behavior by acting as a source of comfort, such as leaning against a child or gently across their lap.

Academic Performance

The most important benefit that therapy dogs can provide for students is an improvement in academic performance. After introducing therapy dogs, you will find that your students are more attentive. While also being better behaved with a new-found self-confidence – which is key to academic success. Autistic students face many challenges in the classroom. To help autistic students overcome barriers to learning school administrators, teachers, and parents must be equipped with the right accommodations. Therapy dogs mitigate the impact of autism and assist in managing the sensory overload of the school environment, and provide students with autism with the stability needed to be successful in the classroom.

Resource Articles

Autism and Pets: More Evidence of Social Benefits

Dogs de-stress families with autistic children according to research

How dogs help children with autism

Pets may help improve social skills of children with autism

 

 is an education blogger for Teach.com and freelance writer from Los Angeles. Read more at http://www.JeremyDivinity.com.

 

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What is a Developmental Disability?

March is Developmental Disabilities Awareness month! Although I blogged  the definition of developmental disabilities here, I wanted to give you more information besides the Federal regulation. Quite often, people are confused between the definition of an intellectual disability and a developmental disability.

A developmental disability is described as an assortment of chronic conditions that are due to mental or physical impairments or both. For example, you may have a child or an adult with an intellectual disability or perhaps a person diagnosed with cerebral palsy and an intellectual disability. It is also considered a severe and chronic disability that can occur up to the age of 22, hence the word developmental. A developmental disability can occur before birth such as genetic disorders (i.e. cri du chat, fragile x syndrome,) or chromosomes ( i.e. Down syndrome, Edwards syndrome); during birth (lack of oxygen) or after birth up to the age of 22 (i.e. head injuries, child abuse or accidents).

The disability is likely to occur indefinitely meaning the person will require some type of ongoing service throughout their lives. Finally, the person must show limitations in 3 or more of the following areas of major life activities:

  1. Self-care– brushing teeth, hand-washing and combing hair independently
  2. Receptive and expressive language-ability to understand someone talking and to also be understood
  3. Learning– ability to read and write with understanding
  4. Mobilityability to move around without any assistance
  5. Self-direction– time management, organization
  6. Capacity for independent living– requiring no supervision
  7. Economic self-sufficiency – having a job  and purchasing what one needs

Here are some examples of a developmental disability:

Does everyone with a disability also have a developmental disability?

The answer is no. there are people with disabilities such as epilepsy and cerebral palsy simply have a disability based on the criteria listed above. However, many people with developmental disabilities quite often have a combination of disabilities. For example a child with autism may also have seizures and an intellectual disability or an adult may have cerebral palsy, intellectual disability and epilepsy. In addition there are many people in the spectrum of autism who also have ADHD and so forth.

So what’s the difference between an intellectual disability and a developmental disability?

A person with an intellectual disability falls under the category of a developmental disability meaning you can have an intellectual disability and a developmental disability. check here for the definition of an intellectual disability, you will see they are quite similar. Below is an infographic created by Centers on Disease Control:

An Infographic on Developmental Disabilities.

 

 

20 Task Box Resources To Use In Your Classroom or Home

Task boxes (also known as work boxes) are structured work systems created by Division TEACCH t the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. This system allows the student to work independently on a task for a specific time in a supportive environment.  Task boxes are now used for students with a variety of disabilities including students required pervasive levels of support.

 

There are 3 types of task boxes: stacking- Helps with eye-hand coordination and fine motor skills; sorting- may break activities by size, color, texture, shape and flavor and fine motor- strengthens the smaller movement in the wrists, hands and fingers.

The following sites include information on how to set up a task box system in your classroom or in your home.

How I Set Up My Task Box System ( Delightfully Dedicated)

How to Set Up An Independent Workbox (Breezy Special Ed)

How to Start a Task Box System (Autism Adventures)

Task Box Set Up- (Autism Adventures)

Websites that will give you ideas on creating task boxes, and the material needed.

Autism Classroom Workbox System (Teaching Special Thinkers)

Fine Motor Morning Work Bins (Differentiated Kindergarten)

Assembly Work Task (Autism Classroom News and Resources)

Free Math Printable Task Box for Special Education ( My Creative Inclusion)

Higher Level Academics in Task Boxes (Mrs. P’s Specialties)

How I Use Workboxes in My Classroom (Creating and Teaching)

Pre-Vocational Work Boxes (SPED Adventures)

Quick and Easy Task Box Ideas (Little Miss Kim’s Class)

Task Boxes: A Hands On Approach to Life Skills (Therablog)

Task Boxes for Autistic Children (Love to Know)

Structured Work Boxes (University of Mary Washington)

Ways to Up the Ante in Your Work Task System (The Autism Vault)

Winter Task Boxes (You Aut-aKnow)

Work Boxes in Autism Classrooms (Noodle Nook)

Work Box Task Ideas (The Autism Helper)

Work Task (Breezy Special Ed)

 

Helping Children Understand Person First Language


Pubished by: ASD
Written By: Nicole Dezarn

Person first language is an important ethical matter often discussed in the field of special education and disability advocacy. The idea that the important descriptor for a person is not their disability but that the disability is something that the person has is fundamental in framing the mindset that having a disability doesn’t mean that a person is less or incapable of success. It can be challenging enough to broach this subject with adults but how do we help children to understand what person first language means and why it is so important? I felt it might be helpful to share an approach with which I have had success. Click here to read the rest of the story

Choking Prevention for People with Developmental Disabilities

Children and adults with developmental disabilities have a higher risk of choking compared to the general population.

Risk Factors Include:

Some medical conditions that increase a person’s risk of choking are:

  • Cerebral Palsy
  • Seizure disorders
  • Neurological and muscular disorders
  • Down Syndrome
  • Brain Injury
  • Muscular Dystrophy
  • Inability to swallow certain food textures and liquids
  • Medication side effects which decrease voluntary muscles
  • Dysphasia (difficulty swallowing)

Other contributing factors include:

Eat or drink too fast

Have poor posture when eating

Swallow non-edible objects (PICA)

The following foods put people at greater risk:

  • Hotdogs served whole
  • Hard candy
  • Popcorn
  • Sandwiches
  • Broccoli
  • Raw carrots
  • Nuts

Teaching Material on Choking

Arizona Department of Economic Security

Eunice Kennedy Shriver-Dysphasia, Aspiration and Choking

Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities

New York State Choking Prevention Resources

Washington State Department of Social and Health Services

State Agencies Choking Alerts

Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities

Minnesota Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities 

New Jersey Health and Safety Alert Choking

Autism and Wandering Resources (update)

Studies show that nearly half of children with autism attempt to wander off or bolt from a safe supervised place (Autism Speaks). Children with Angleman Syndrome also tend to have an obsession with water and will tend to wander if water is nearby. The following resources includes wandering kits, articles and additional resources on the topic of wandering.

What is Wandering?

When a person, who requires some level of supervision to be safe, leaves a supervised, safe space and/or the care of a responsible person and is expected to potential dangers such as traffic, open water (drowning), falling from a high place , hypothermia, heatstroke, dehydration.

Types of Wandering

  • Goal-Directed Wandering- wandering with the purpose of getting to something ( a place of obsession, water, etc.).
  • Non goal-directed wandering- Wandering with no purpose, random from one place to another.
  • Confusion Wandering-Wandering due to disorientation or confusion.
  • Bolting/fleeing- The act of suddenly running or bolding, usually to quickly get away from something, or in negative reaction to an event, anxiety or stress.
 Facts and Statistics
  • Roughly half, or 49%, of children with an ASD attempt to elope from a safe environment, a rate nearly four times higher than their unaffected siblings.
  • In 2009, 2010, and 2011, accidental drowning accounted for 91% total U.S. deaths reported in children with an ASD ages 14 and younger subsequent to wandering/elopement.
  • More than one third of ASD children who wander/elope are never or rarely able to communicate their name, address, or phone number.
  • 32% of parents reported a “close call” with a possible drowning.
  • 40% of parents had suffered sleep disruption due to fear of elopement.
  • half of families with elopers report they never received advice or guidance about elopement from a professional.
Source: Interactive Autism Network research report: Elopement and wandering (2011)
Source: National Autism Association, Lethal Outcomes in ASD Wandering (2012)

Caregivers Information

Autism elopement and wandering kit for families (Parenting Chaos)

Big Red Safety Toolkit (National Autism Association)

28 page toolkit that provides information on preventing wandering. The toolkit includes the following information:

  • Caregiver checklist
  • Family wandering emergency plan
  • swimming lessons tool
  • Root-causes scenario and strategies tool
  • Caregivers log
  • How to get tracking technology in your town.

First Responder Resources

First Responder Checklist– A checklist for first responders developed by the National Autism Association

First Responder Notification Form

First Responder Tips

GPS Tracking Technology

The AngleSense Guardian Kit

  • Comes with a GPS device, embedded SIM card, customized wearables and a magnet key for parents $39.00 monthly service plan.

7 tracking devices to find a lost child with autism (Friendship Circle)

Articles

5 simple ways to prevent wandering in children with autism (Autism Parenting Magazine)

Autism and Wandering (SFGate)

Autism and Wandering: How ABA can help keep kids safe. (HuffPost Parents)

Teaching safety skills to children with autism (Our Crazy Adventures in Autismland)

The autism epidemic that can no longer be ignored (HuffPost Parents)

Wandering: A hazard for more than a third of kids with autism (U.S. News)

Wandering & Autism: Elopement within the classroom (Autism Classroom Blog)

Wandering & Autism: Students who flee, bolt, run and elope (Autism Classroom Blog)

Resources on Teaching Scissor Skills

One of the ways to improve fine motor skills is helping children and adults develop cutting skills also help with pre-writing skills and pencil control. Below are resources that will help in developing and teaching scissor skills.

Cutting Skill Development

2 years- snips with scissors

2.5 years- Cuts across a 6-inch piece of paper

3.5 years- Cuts along a 6-inch line

4.5 years- Cuts out a circle

6-7 years- Cuts a variety of shapes and pictures.

Resources on Teaching Scissor Skills

5 easy ways to introduce scissor skills

How to teach a child to use scissors

How to use scissors

Scissor cutting skills: Why they are important

Teaching kids how to use scissors

Teaching preschoolers to use scissors

The importance of teaching your child how to use scissors

Tips for teaching scissor cutting skills

Practice Scissor Skills- The following links below include practicing cutting straight lines, curved lines and circles, zig-zag lines and mixed lines.

10-page scissor skills packet (Mama’s Learning Corner)- geared towards preschoolers and kindergartners.

12 free shapes and cutting page (www.mpmideas.com)- geared towards preschool aged children

Construction truck scissor cutting practice sheets (MO & MH)- Kids will practice cutting lines.

Cut, copy and glue for spring (Your Therapy Source)- Free 3-page packet in black and white. Includes a butterfly, ice cream cone and a snail.

Free cutting and coloring pack (Tot Schooling)- Cutting pack features straight, diagonal, curved and zig zag lines.

House scissor practice (Teaching Station)- Download free worksheets. Includes shapes of circles, squares, triangles, and rectangulars.

Printable preschool cutting busy box (Fun with Mama)- post includes ways to teach kids how to use scissors and develop cutting skills

Rocket scissor practice (Teaching Station)- Kids will practice cutting and pasting shapes to make a rocket.

Snake spiral worksheet (www.education.com)- Kids can both color and cut out the spiral design.

Trolls, hair-cutting (Tot Schooling Net)- Several different levels of difficulties.

Shopping Center Teaching Activities For Children and Adults With Special Needs

Shopping Centers (or malls as we call them in North America) provide a great way for customers to walk from one store to another without the hassles of having to leave one store in order to go into another. Through the years, Shopping centers  have added on movie theatres, arcades, and food eateries. This has led to a variety of ways of teaching children and adults with disabilities a number of skills.

 

Money Management.

Increasing money skills can be used in almost all areas of a shopping mall. Opportunities include stores such as banking, clothing , restaurants, etc. examples of items to teach include:

  • Will identify coins
  • Will identify money
  • Will count change
  • Will create a budget
  • will fill out deposit slip
  • Will fill out a withdrawal slip
  • Will use an ATM
Sensory

A shopping center provides a low-cost and effective way of arousing more of  more of the five senses (hearing, sight, smell, taste and touch). Yankee Candle offers candles with a variety of fragrances including apple pumpkin, apple spice, beachwood, black cherry, etc.  Bath and Body Works also provides samples for both olfactory (smell) and touch. Samples of fragrances include lotions, cream, massage oils and fragrance mist. Window shopping is an additional opportunity to enhance visual cues with teaching a number of basic skills.  Other places include day spas, massage chairs and nail salons. Examples of sensory teaching activities include:

Window Shopping (Visual)
  • Will describe the color of the outfits
  • Will identify which items cost the most
  • Will describe how many of the outfits are the same, different
  • Will describe the various shapes (circle, square, triangle, rectangular)
  • Will count the number of items in the window
Olfactory (Smell)
  • Will identify a good smell
  • Will identify a bad smell
  • Will identify the smell (i.e. smells like apples)
Tactile (Touch)
  • Will identify the object
  • Will tolerate hand massage
  • Will touch the object
  • Will describe the shape of the object

***  Be mindful some children and adults may have sensory processing issues and can be oversensitive to sights, textures, flavors and smells.

Social Skills

Teaching social skills involves communication, decision-making, self-management and relationship building. Locations in a shopping center to develop these skills includes, eatery and restaurants, banks, department stores and movie theatres. Samples of teaching social skills includes:

  • Will greet the store associate
  • Will say thank you
  • When promoted, will ask for help
  • Will wait patiently
  • Will make eye contact
  • Will use appropriately voice tone
Teaching Prompts

A few guidelines in teaching new skills:

  • Teach a new skill at least 2-3 times. The shopping center allows multiple opportunities to work on a number of skills including money management, and social skills.
  • Allow the person to think for themselves use prompt levels to help navigate levels of independence: Independent, verbal, gestural and physical.
  • Allow for real choice-making. Choice is more realistic when it involves at least 3 items or more. Choosing a new outfit or an item from a menu are perfect examples.
  • Always remember to praise!

 

 

4 Tips On Task Initiation For Children and Adults

Task Initiation is often a challenge for children and adults with an executive functioning disorder. For a child, it may be lack of initiative in doing homework while for an adult, it may include forgetting or putting off paying bills. Children and adults with task initiation issues generally have a diagnosis of autism, ADHD, Intellectual disability or a learning disorder.

Signs of a task initiation impaired executive functioning skill would be someone having difficulty in getting started on a task and keeping the effort needed in order to complete the task. A child or an adult require external cues in order to complete the task. Also, it will require understanding what is expected and understanding the task. Here are a few strategies:

  1. Limit Distractions. In the classroom any type of added sensory input can defer the student from getting started in their school work.
  2. Create a List. Visual support will help to increase getting the work done for a school-age child, you may want to create a to-do list which the steps are broken down into smaller steps. When a person with an executive function is given a task, it may be overwhelming, making it more difficult to get started.
  3. Use Cues. A clock or a timer will help the child or adult stay on time and understanding the amount of time it will take to complete a task
  4. Break task down. Create where the work is done in chunks so that the work will not be as overwhelming for the student.

Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy

Image result for duchenne muscular dystrophy awareness month

February 13th is the first day of Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy Awareness Week. Here are some facts on Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy:

  • It is one of the nine types of muscular dystrophies
  • Duchenne muscular dystrophy was first described by French neurologist, Guillaune Benjamin Amand Duchenne in the 1860’s.
  • It is an inherited disorder
  • It is caused by an absence of dystrophin, a protein that bonds the muscle cell
  • It is characterized by progressive muscle degeneration
  • It occurs in about 1 out of every 3,600 male infants
  • Risks include a family history of Duchenne muscular dystrophy
  • Symptoms start appearing between the ages of 3-5.
  • By the age of 12, most males affected may lose their ability to walk
  • Breathing difficulties and heart disease usually start by the age of 20
  • Very rare are females affected by the disease.
  • Early symptoms include muscle weakness in the hips, pelvic area, thighs and shoulders.
  • By teen years, the heart and respiratory muscles are affected.
  • Duchenne muscular dystrophy carriers are females with one normal dystrophin gene on one x chromosome and an abnormal dystrophin gene on the other x chromosome
  • Most carriers do not show any signs or symptoms.
  • Affected children may have delayed motor skills including sitting, standing and walking.
  • Survival into the early 30’s is becoming more common due to advances in cardia and respiratory care.
  • Duchenne is associated with a heart disease that weakens the cardiac muscle
  • Between 400 and 600 boys in the United States are born with these conditions each year.
  • there are a few cases which results from new mutations in affected males
  • steroid drugs can slow the loss of muscular strength
  • There is no known cure for Duchenne muscular dystrophy