Saturday, February 20, 2010

A Communications Breakthrough – The “Mid Tech” Movement

By Glen Dobbs
Founder and President, LLC

Communication instruments for non-communicative children used to come in two forms, High Tech and Low Tech. The problem with low tech devices is that the range of words available to the child is limited. Full sentences cannot be formed and even some key words may be missing from the device.

High tech devices come with another serious problem – they’re often too cumbersome for the child to use. Having a user friendly device that provides an unlimited range of words while easily allowing the child to form full and properly formed verses is key to facilitating communication. We could not find this in the high tech or the low tech range, hence the invention of the Logan ProxTalker, named for its first user, my son Logan. This device has the range and flexibility of high tech and while not being so complex to use as to be counterproductive.

The ProxTalker is water resistant, disaster resistant and more. Yet its greatest attribute, the reason why we invented it in the first place, is the ease and range of the communications it facilitates. Here is more about the ProxTalker and the “Mid Tech Movement” in communication devices.

About the Mid Tech Movement in Communicative Devices

AAC is an acronym for Alternative Augmentative Communication. This refers to technological (or non-technological) devices used to enable functional communication for people with communication difficulties. These ‘devices’ can range in complexity between simple choices of pictures (a choice board that one points to an object of interest) to state of the art technological marvels such as computers which track the movement of your eyes to point a mouse – in the event that you are unable to operate a mouse with your hands.

There is so much innovation going on in this technological arena and it is very inspiring to know that the quality of life for people with communication difficulties is on the rise. Many people with autism have little or no expressive verbal ability. While they may have pretty good receptive ability, that is, they can hear and understand – their ability to say anything intelligible can be very frustrating to say the least. My son Logan is one such person.

In a world of Alternative Augmentative Communication it is interesting to contemplate that the industry is largely segregated into two categories, High Tech and Low Tech. The low tech devices range from a one button one word device such as a ‘Cheap Talk’ to the more complicated ones with thirty two pictures and 16 levels, with everything in between. These devices all have appropriate applications for people with certain physical and/or intellectual challenges but the continuous march of technological development goes on.

The High Tech devices are generally based largely on existing computer technology. They are usually a touch screen with a menu-driven system for selecting categories, then words. Companies such as Dynavox, Tobii ATI, Words+, and Cyrano produce such devices. Some systems use a very nifty linguistic system referred to in the industry as MinSpeak or Unity. This system allows a user to get to a large vocabulary with a very small number of choices (keystrokes) – it can be difficult to learn for some but for others it is worth taking a look at. It is good for people with limited motor ability or other access issues to increase time efficiency of communication. Companies that use this approach include Prentke Romich Company and Saltillo.

These high tech devices range in size from palm pilots to full size laptops – in some cases the software can even be run on Smart Boards (large projection screen computer touch screens – in case you have not seen one) for people with low vision. Some autistic people can use these devices readily – but for others, it can be a big struggle or simply not a suitable choice. Severe behaviors such as throwing objects off tables or into water can be detrimental to the device and the complexity of the steps required to form a sentence or sentence fragment can be too cumbersome for some.

Devices in the ‘low tech’ category come in many sizes and shapes. Most of them employ an onboard microphone to record a sound to be associated with a button or location to press. When the button or location is pressed they play back the recorded sound. Many of these devices have a number of buttons or locations, for example, the “Go Talk 20” has 32 square buttons and so up to 20 recorded messages can be accessed. Many of these devices have multiple ‘levels’, that is, the user can remove the picture overlay and replace it with a different one and turn a switch to change ‘level’ so the new overlay’s pictures are now active. In this way, more words can be accessed – but the overlay that was just removed is not accessible at the same time.

These types of devices usually require help from a teacher or parent for the user to access the different levels due to the need to properly load the overlay into the device and select the correct level associated with that overlay – a task not usually performable by a user of such a machine. Some of these types of devices have the ability to employ switch access and scanning. This is used when the user can not actually press the button due to physical inability to do so. In this case, each button or location has a small light (LED) which can light up and scroll across each location at an adjustable rate. The user activates a switch when the light is on the desired location so as to activate it and play the associated sound. This is a very handy feature and you can see that having more locations is better in this application. It is still necessary for a care giver to change the levels in this case.

When considering devices for my son Logan, who is autistic and nonverbal, I had to take into consideration all these different elements of the different devices that were available. Logan was using the PECS system to communicate. PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) is a non-technology system that uses picture squares to communicate. It was developed by Andy Bondy and Lori Frost of Pyramid Educational Systems and is widely used as a communication starting point for many nonverbal autistic people. When we had an AAC evaluation for Logan it was determined that he should stay on the PECS system because there was not an appropriate machine for Logan on the market at that time.

Many people on the more severe autism spectrum find transition from PECS to AAC to be difficult for a variety of reasons. Some kids are quite destructive to objects. For example, Logan would often throw things into the toilet, tub or any body of water – this is a problem for electronic technology. He would also take the TV remote and smash it against the tile floor and laugh out loud as the parts and pieces scattered in all directions. Our TV was mounted inside a wooden structure and bolted to the wall. There was Plexiglas over the windows and locks on all the doors as well as alarm systems to catch him if he tried to escape from the house. He presented quite a safety challenge. Any device for Logan would have to take all these issues into account at the design phase.

When we designed the Logan ProxTalker we decided that the device should not ever break – even if it got wet. It should be able to be run over by a car. It should have a very long battery life, and it should be very easy to use and very easy to customize. We met our own expectations on all these points. The ProxTalker is very durable; it is water resistant’ it runs on four C batteries for about six months. It is very easy to use and very easy to program and customize. Now there is finally a device appropriate for Logan.

Glen Dobbs can be reached at 860-283-0966, email or visit

Making The Most of Your Child’s Occupational and Speech Therapy Services

By Ellen Stern, M.S. CCC-SLP & Monica M.Weller, M.S.OTR/L

As funding within the school systems is being cut, it is becoming more and more difficult for new students to qualify for occupational and speech therapy services. Those students who have been fortunate enough to be made eligible for services are also finding that services are being reduced. In an effort to meet the needs of so many students, OT and SLPs often provide services in groups. Because of this, families often find that outpatient therapy supplements the services being provided within the school system.

The fundamental difference between school based and private or outpatient therapy lies in the long term or ultimate goal of the services. School based therapy goals must be educationally relevant and are specific to the classroom setting they are participating in. Private, outpatient therapies, look at the child as a whole person. This means the therapist assesses the child’s strengths and difficulties within the classroom, home and the community. Outpatient therapists have the opportunity to work with family members and provide training, support and home programming for carry over and long term progress and success.

Therefore, school based services were never intended to replace the need for outpatient therapies. The two can ideally work together to best meet all the needs of the child and the family. At Therapy SPOT Inc, we collaborate with school based therapist, as well as the classroom teachers, to promote the best quality care and consistency between settings. Our therapists regularly consult with school based therapists and teachers to discuss and share strategies and techniques to be utilized in both environments. We also support the families and therapists in attending IEP meetings when needed. School visits are also performed to provide assistance to classroom teachers and support the school based therapist in providing extra time and consultation on such things as, behavior management to support language and social development and encourage classroom participation, sensory integration strategies, organizational and time management strategies, and methods to promote focusing and classroom independence.

Therapy SPOT Inc is a private, outpatient facility in Boca Raton and easily accessible to clients in Delray Beach, Boynton Beach, Coconut Creek and Coral Springs. We provide individual occupational and speech/language therapy services. We also offer play groups and social groups for children preschool age through elementary age. During winter and summer break, we offer a full day social camp to address social development, play skills and independence. Our therapists are highly trained and have extensive experience with a variety of disabilities and diagnoses, including autism spectrum disorder, Asperger’s syndrome, ADHD, anxiety disorders, learning disabilities, sensory integration dysfunction, as well as speech and language delays and disorders . Our clinic is equipped with the most up to date materials and a sensory gym to adequately meet the individual needs of all of our clients.

Ellen Stern, M.S. CCC-SLP (561-859-2010) and Monica M.Weller, M.S.OTR/L (561-859-2100) at Therapy SPOT Inc. or visit

PIECE for Autism: Raising Fashionable Awareness

By Leah Postelnik

Spreading the word and bringing awareness to the fight against Autism Spectrum Disorder has taken new form. One company, PIECE for Autism, has introduced a stylish way to show your support for the cause. The need to make advocacy fashionable, in order to increase the number of activists is true across the board, no matter how worthy the cause. Fashion and palatability bring numbers. That is what makes the work of PIECE so beneficial.

PIECE is a South Florida based company offering high-end fashion jewelry with a charitable twist. Featuring hand made custom Nishi necklaces, PIECE offers a fashionable awareness of autism spectrum disorder, while supporting the fight for a cure.

PIECE for Autism’s signature jewelry represents hope for the cure and desire to bring peace to the lives of those who are affected by autism, mixed with a trendy look that is sure to garner the positive attention needed to win the fight against ASD. It offers fashionable consumers a chance to join the cause and show their support for the cure on a daily basis. Buyers can express their support through a variety of necklace choices. From the custom designed Awareness Puzzle Piece necklace to the “hope,” “peace,” and “cure” inscribed Halo necklaces, there is something for everyone. There is even an option to personalize the “Halo” with your loved one’s name. All of which can be found and ordered on the website.

Founded by Kelly Pritchard, a Fort Lauderdale based speech-language pathologist, PIECE aims at contributing to the fight against autism by donating 25% of their proceeds to the cause. Always having a knack for fashion and a passion for her career, Pritchard jumped at the opportunity to work with a talented and up-and-coming designer, Joanna Bengoa of Nishi, to create one of-a-kind pieces. Nishi is a New York based jewelry design firm whose hand-made, nature inspired, jewelry has been featured in popular fashion magazines across the world.

The collaboration between Nishi and “PIECE for Autism” brings the worlds of fashion and charity together. The idea for the company grew from a personal experience between the therapist and a child. Pritchard works full-time treating children, both within the school system and private setting. She became inspired to help the autism community when a child on her caseload, Jack, was diagnosed with the disorder.

Pritchard learned how important and challenging the road to recovery is for both children and their families. “Given the amount of children diagnosed daily, I was amazed at how difficult it was to get answers for this family. I then realized that it was my ethical and moral responsibility to educate myself and others about autism”, explained Pritchard. Jack’s journey touched her life and inspired her to help other families dealing with autism.

Jack is now well on the road to recovery through a combination of therapies and biomedical interventions. Witnessing his success, it was then that Kelly decided to take a proactive step in raising awareness to this disorder that affects so many families.

Kelly’s long term goal is to help families afford expensive, yet effective treatment for their children, through her efforts with PIECE. "I love my career and I love helping children. Jack’s journey has touched my heart and ignited a passion to help others dealing with autism. Creating this company was so much fun because it allowed me to combine my career with my other favorite interest – fashion!"

Donating 25% of their proceeds to various autism organizations, including Generation Rescue and Autism Speaks, PIECE aims to not only bring awareness to the cause, but to also contributing to organizations that are involved in research and family support. With beautiful jewelry, Kelly hopes to add another piece to the puzzle that is Autism.

Advocating For Speech Services For The Student With An Autism Spectrum Disorder

By Louis Geigerman

The necessity of speech services for individuals with autism spectrum disorders is well documented. The DSM IV criteria for an Autistic Disorder diagnosis includes at least one of the following symptoms:

Qualitative impairments in communication as manifested by at least one of the following:

a. delay in, or total lack of, the development of spoken language (not accompanied by an attempt to compensate through alternative modes of communication such as gesture or mime)

b. in individuals with adequate speech, marked impairment in the ability to initiate or sustain a conversation with others

c. stereotyped and repetitive use of language or idiosyncratic language

d. lack of varied spontaneous make-believe play or social imitative play appropriate to developmental level

Clearly, speech development plays an important role in this population. In my advocacy practice, I have found it often to be a source of disagreement regarding eligibility between school based personnel and parents.

Generally, in the more severe cases where there is limited or the absence of speech altogether in the student, controversies exist more on the how to serve the client through proper methodologies rather than denying eligibility to the student. On the higher functioning end of the spectrum however, I routinely encounter speech pathologist arguing whether students qualify for services. The problem in the higher functioning student centers on speech pragmatics.

Speech Pragmatics is defined as language that is used to communicate and socialize. Most people think of speech therapy as a tool for improving pronunciation, reducing stutters, or simply building the ability to use words at all. Many people with autism do have the ability to talk, and some talk a great deal, but almost all can benefit from therapy focused on speech pragmatics.

Since difficulty with social communication is a hallmark of autism spectrum disorders, literally everyone with an autism diagnosis will need some level of pragmatic speech therapy. According to the American Speech-Language-

Hearing Association, people with pragmatic speech issues may:
•say inappropriate or unrelated things during conversations
•tell stories in a disorganized way
•have little variety in language use (1)

Pragmatics also involves difficulties in problem solving and perspective taking. Unfortunately, these deficits quite often lead to social isolation and bullying if they are not properly identified and treated. A good source to refer to regarding this issue is Michele Garcia Winner’s, CCC SLP, book “Thinking About You, Thinking About Me.” According to Ms. Winner, pragmatic difficulties are at the very root of social difficulties in this population.

The problem that I frequently see in my practice is that many school based speech pathologists do not use the proper diagnostic tools to assess this problem. A frequently used assessment in the ASD population is the Test of Pragmatic Language (TOPL) which unfortunately is a rather poor indicator of the true difficulties. This assessment provides a series of questions that have a tendency to mask the bigger issue of problem solving and social naiveté. The higher functioning ASD student can effectively ace the TOPL leading the evaluator to believe that a pragmatic language deficit does not exist. A better tool is the Test of Problem Solving that provides real world experiences for the student to solve. In the overwhelming majority of cases the student will show significant difficulties in giving solutions to the various scenarios.

Here are a few resources that I recommend every parent with a child with an autism spectrum disorder check out:

Michele Garcia Winner’s website:

The American Speech & Hearing Association website:

Caroline Brown’s website:

As I have stated in my previous articles, it is vital to have an accurate assessment to determine eligibility. If you disagree with the school based assessment, let the school know that you disagree in writing, but you do not have to tell them why you disagree. Parent attorneys will tell you that it is better to not explain the nature of your disagreement as it can complicate your case should it go to due process.

Exercise your right to obtain a second opinion by requesting an independent educational evaluation (IEE) at public expense from someone that is not employed with your school system. After receiving your request the district has only two options:

1. Yes, we will approve your request using our criteria for the evaluators.

2. No, and we will initiate a due process case to prove our evaluation was proper. If that happens, they are the ones that have the burden of proof to show that their evaluation is proper and that may be difficult.

Finally, the district will likely provide you with a list of providers for the IEE. Not only are you not required to use clinicians from their list, but I recommend that you do not as it highly likely that those clinicians are less than objective. You can use anybody you like as long as they are qualified to perform the evaluation.

The importance of properly identifying students with speech impairments and designing appropriate individual education plans is paramount in assuring a successful outcome for the student with an autism spectrum disorder.

Louis H. Geigerman
National ARD/IEP Advocates
P.O. Box 16111
Sugarland, Texas 77496-6111

Key Components of Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP) for Students With Autism

By Torin D. Togut, Esq.

Many students with autism exhibit challenging behaviors at school. Unfortunately, IEP committees often neglect to develop appropriate behavior intervention plans (BIPs) to properly address these challenging behaviors. As a result, instead of using behavioral positive interventions and strategies for the student, educators and administrators heavily rely upon disciplinary measures such as in-school suspension and out-of-school suspension to control the student’s behaviors. Punishment alone, however, will not change a student’s disciplinary problems.

It is important, therefore, to consider the legal requirements for developing a BIP for a student with autism. The components of the BIP should also apply scientific, research-based intervention such as positive behavioral supports and services that ameliorate the challenging behaviors. The following is a summary of the legal components for a BIP and scientific, research-based strategies and interventions that should be employed to address the challenging behaviors of a student with autism.

A. IDEA Framework For Behavior Intervention Plan And Positive Behavioral Interventions, Strategies And Supports

The IEP Team shall in the case of a child whose behavior impedes his or her learning or that of others, consider, when appropriate, strategies, including positive behavioral interventions, strategies, and supports to address that behavior. 20 U.S.C. § 1414(d)(3)(B).

The regular education teacher of a child with a disability, as a member of the IEP team, must, to the extent appropriate, participate in the development, review, and revision of the child’s IEP, including assisting in the determination of appropriate positive behavioral interventions and strategies for the child ...” 20 U.S.C. § 1414(d)(3)(C).

Related services can be made part of a behavioral intervention plan. 20 U.S.C. § 1402(26). These services may include psychological services for assisting in developing positive behavioral intervention strategies; social work services in schools for assisting in developing positive behavioral intervention strategies; and improvement strategies enhance ability of teachers and others to use behavioral intervention.

B. IDEA Disciplinary Procedures

Either before or not later than 10 days after taking disciplinary action . . . if the local educational agency did not conduct a functional behavioral assessment and implement a behavioral intervention plan for such child before the behavior that resulted in the removal. . . the agency shall convene an IEP meeting to develop an assessment plan to address that behavior; or if the child already has a behavior intervention plan, the IEP Team shall review the plan and modify it, as necessary, to address that behavior. 20 U.S.C. 20 U.S.C. § 1415(k)(1)(D).

The IEP Team and other qualified personnel may determine that . . . in relationship to the behavior subject to disciplinary action, the child’s IEP and placement were appropriate and the special education services, supplementary aids and services, and behavior intervention strategies were provided consistent with the child’s IEP and placement. 20 U.S.C. § 1415(C)(ii).

C. Scientific, Research-Based Intervention and Strategies for BIP 1

•Teach more acceptable replacement behaviors that serve the same function as the inappropriate behavior, e.g. using conflict resolution skills, coping strategies, alternative skills.2

•Teach students to deal with setting events such as the physical arrangement of the classroom, seating arrangements, sequence of academic instruction.

•Manipulate the antecedents to the desired behavior, e.g. teacher instruction and directions.

•Manipulate consequences of the desired behavior, e.g. precise praise or feedback, and keeping in mind the principles of shaping and reinforcing incompatible behaviors.

•Implement changes to the classroom curriculum or instructional strategies, e.g. encouraging oral rather than written responses.

•Interventions that offer reinforcement of appropriate behavior, e.g., group motivational strategies.

•Modifying the learning environment.

•Strategies, including positive behavioral interventions, strategies, and supports;

•Program modifications;

•Supplementary aids and services that may be required to address the program behavior.

•Positive interventions that teach the student new ways to behave.3

E. Student Supports That Should Be Considered For A Behavioral Intervention Plan.
Supports such as counselors and school psychologists, can be used as supports to help the student address academic or personal issues that may contribute to the problem behaviors. Other supports include:

(1) peers for providing academic and behavioral support through tutoring and conflict-resolution activities;

(2) families, who provide support through setting up homework centers at home and developing a homework schedule;

(3) teachers and paraprofessionals, who may provide academic and curricular modifications to address and decrease a student’s desire to avoid a task or assignment;

(4) language specialists, who are able to increase a student’s expressive and receptive language skills that can provide alternative ways to respond to an aggressive or stressful situation;

(5) other school staff, including cafeteria workers and volunteers, with whom the student may feel more comfortable with;

(6) community agency service providers, including mental health, Big Brother and Sister organizations, or other social service agency personnel who can provide long-term student and family intervention and support; and

(7) other community organizations such as religious groups, cultural and ethnic organizations, YMCA or YWCA, and recreation centers which can provide therapy and support. An IEP team can make referrals and obtain medical evaluations so that other options can be considered.

F. Common Obstacles To Develop An Appropriate BIP

One or more of the following obstacles may require the attention of school personnel to enable the implementation of a positive behavioral intervention plan and supports:

•Vague definition of problem behavior(s).

•Incomplete data collection regarding problem behaviors.

•Misinterpretation of functional behavioral assessment data.

•Intervention too weak to deal with complexity or magnitude of problem behavior(s).

•Inconsistent or incorrect application of one or more parts of the plan.

•Failure to monitor the implementation of the plan or to modify it over time, as needed, and to adequately evaluate the impact of the plan.

•Inadequate system-wide support (competing building-level priorities) to avoid future undesired behavior.

•The behavior is minor and is not something that distracts the students or others.

•Teachers lack the training, experience, and knowledge to teach appropriate behavior skills.

The Law Offices of Torin Togut may be reached at 678-372-1829, or email torin @

Gluten Free - Casein Free (GF/CF) Diet

By Michele Weppner

Most Autistic children are either allergic to Gluten or Casein or both. Gluten is a protein most commonly found in wheat, oats, barley, rye and triticale. They often cause food reactions, which can result in neurological symptoms. However gluten is not present in other grains such as rice, corn and millet. Unfortunately, a very large percentage of Autistic children have a deficiency in a particular enzyme that breaks down gluten. The enzymes are called DPP4 and important not only as it relates to gluten but as a biochemical catalyst for the digestion of milk products. Casein is the most common of several proteins found in milk, it accounts for 80% of all milk protein.

When the DPP4 fails to do its job, gluten and casein is only partially broken down. One problem with this is Methylation, the removing of toxins from the body. Methylation also helps in the maintaining of proper levels of neurotransmitters.

Gluten and casein are getting a lot of attention in the autism community and from doctors in the "Defeat Autism Now!" biomedical movement. Some parents, doctors and researchers say that children have shown mild to dramatic improvements in speech and/or behavior after these substances were removed from their diet. Some also report that their children have experienced fewer bouts of diarrhea and loose stools since starting a gluten-free, casein-free (GFCF) diet.

GF/CF Diet it’s all about going fresh and organic. Fruits and Veggies!! “Nothing in a box or fast food”. You may be surprised to know that gluten can be found in bath products. For example, bubble bath and detergent, so you should change those things as well.

Before starting any diet always check with your doctor and always document any changes that may occur.

For starters, try easy GFICF recipes:

3 Bean Salad

Fresh Green Beans about a pound adding Garbanzo Beans and Kidney Beans. They can be organic in a can or you can use the dried ones. Just follow the recipe on the back of the bag. Clean the beans and snip the ends. Boil the beans in water for about 5 minutes, drain and cool. Add the green beans, kidney beans and garbanzo beans together toss with olive oil, garlic, fresh herbs, such as basil thyme, or oregano, salt and pepper. Chill and serve. You can always substitute with other beans pinto, lima, black and navy, whatever you choose. This takes approximately about 30 minutes, unless you are using dried beans it will obviously take longer.

Homemade Applesauce

4 to 6 Apples (more if you prefer).You can use almost any type of apples, Rome, Red Delicious or even Granny Smith. Try throwing in some pears as well. I sometimes throw in raisins, craisins, cranberries or even currants too! Peel, core and cut up the apples and put them into a sauce pan. You may add a touch of water just so they won't stick to the bottom, but keep in mind apples create their own juices. You could even use any juice you have in the fridge, such as cranberry juice orange juice or even apple juice. Cook on a low heat until the apples are soft (about 15 – 20 min) Turn off the heat and let stand until you are ready to enjoy. You can serve it hot or cold.

Grilled Chicken Breast

Chicken filets marinated with olive oil, garlic, fresh or dried herbs or whatever your favorite non toxic herbs are. Seasoned with salt and pepper. I prefer using chicken filets by Perdue because they come in individual bags but more important they are free of hormones and antibiotics. Of course you can use organic chickens as well but be sure to stay clear of breaded chicken as they contain gluten, wheat and casein, not to mention all kinds of other yucky stuff.

Be sure to read labels, staying away from Gluten and casein free products. Soon, you will find it a very easy diet to follow. It does take extra time and patience. Shopping at health food stores, such as Whole Foods or Greenwise, is a great source to begin the gf/cf diets. Health food stores will assist you to point out which items are gf/cf. Whole Foods has a printed list of their gf/cf items at each location and Greenwise has a website offering help and suggestion on the subject.

Check out gf/cf diet books at your local bookstore or how about checking with your local public library or the internet. There are so many tools available.

Michele Weppner is the mother and care giver of an autistic child. She is also the President of Fund for H.O.P.E., Inc., a not for profit, 501c foundation dedicated to raising fund in order to assist low income families with autistic children to receive alternative therapies. micheleweppner @

Understanding Your Sensory Defensive Child and Mealtime Challenges

By: Ilene R. Rotman, M.S. CCC-SLP
Director of Language Link Therapy, Inc.

The sense of taste, touch, and smell are all strongly connected when talking about mealtime. How often do you find yourself touching a new food or smelling a new dish before putting it into your mouth? Why do we feel the need to explore the food further before tasting it? The answer to this question is simple. If we dislike how a food items feels to the touch, or how it smells our natural instinct is to avoid the food.

A child with sensory deficits experiences food much in the same way, except the reaction to the new food may be more severe. Some children just from the sight of an undesirable food may begin to gag. Other children may begin to cry or tantrum at the sight. Some children may go as far as putting the food inside his or her mouth and letting it sit there until he or she spits it out. Children who fall under this category tend to favor only a few food items during mealtime. If your child fits into this category, this article will inform you of ways to work with your child at home to reduce their negative reactions to food and increase the variety of foods they will tolerate.

Before you begin working with your child, you should make a list of foods your child naturally avoids. Next to each item, label or describe the smell, taste, and texture of each item. Once you have identified the items your child dislikes, you are going to turn that texture or smell into a playtime activity. The key is to allow the child to interact with the unfavorable texture without the pressures of putting the food item in their mouth.

Once your child becomes used to the unfavorable textures or smells through playtime activities, you can slowly begin introducing the item “near” your child’s mouth. Begin dipping your finger or placing a small amount on your finger and tap it close to your mouth. Laughing and smiling will show your child that this is silly and fun instead of serious and scary. Wait to see if your child imitates your behavior, if he or she places food on your face instead of his or her face that is a good start. If they still seem unsure of the food item you can assist them to dip their finger and put it on your face. Think of when we place icing on a child’s nose at a birthday party, during this stage we are just trying to have the child accept the unfavorable item near their mouth.

Introducing undesirable food into your child’s mouth is the final stage when feeding your sensory defensive child. At this point you can begin by having the child lick his or her fingers after playing with the food item. Modeling this behavior for your child might ease your child’s anxiety about tasting the item. Once your child has licked his or her fingers and allowed the food in his or her mouth, praise your child and resume back to playing with the food item.

For further information about feeding therapy, the sensory defensive child, and other speech, language and occupational therapy needs, feel free to contact Ilene R. Rotman, M.S. CCC-SLP, Director of Language Link Therapy, Inc in Cooper City, FL at Office (954) 689-0730 Fax (954) 689-0732 or by email irotman @ Language Link Therapy, Inc. offers a variety of pragmatic groups, seasonal pragmatic boot camps, feeding therapy, sensory integration therapy, speech therapy, language therapy, occupational therapy, and more. Language Link Therapy, Inc. is a family run pediatric private practice.

New Hope for Twice Exceptional Students

By Ruth Heitin, Ph. D.

It has been more than thirty years since the enactment of the original Individuals with Disabilities Act (first titled The Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 or PL 94-142) and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, a civil rights law, which included Section 504. Both have served to protect the rights of students with disabilities.

As a longtime educator who had the benefit of teaching before and after special education law was enacted, and now as a special education consultant for the past 16 years, I can attest to the fact that federal legislation has globally improved the educational opportunities and outcomes for students with disabilities.

These improvements assure that students with disabilities will become productive, independent members of society to the extent that they are capable. That has always been the goal of special education law in serving the needs of students and our society as a whole. There is one group of students whom the federal laws have failed to protect over time in most states’ interpretations, and that is the Gifted/Disabled group of students.

Most commonly, these students are Gifted and Learning Disabled or Gifted and Attention Deficit/ Hyperactivity Disordered. Research has shown that about one-sixth of gifted students have some disability. These students are gifted intellectually but experience a deficit in learning or in the executive functions necessary for work production. Students of this profile are often some of the most inventive and original thinkers who, given the proper tools and inspiration, can be great forces for creativity and innovation. However, until their dual exceptionalities are identified, too often they are seen as lazy and lacking motivation.

For the Gifted/Disabled students, we have in some cases strayed from the initial intent of the laws, likely as a silent backlash to the demands these laws made on the public schools. Over the years, services for the Gifted/LD or Gifted/ADHD students became harder and harder to obtain based on more stringent interpretations of the regulations.

The case of Board of Education of the Hendrick Hudson Central School District v. Rowley 458 U. S. 176 (1982) lowered the bar in educational standards for students with special needs by declaring that services did not have to be the best or even appropriate for a student, they merely had to be reasonably calculated to provide some educational benefit for the child. This allowed little likelihood for addressing the needs of disabled students who were also gifted.

Additionally, students who were identified as both gifted and disabled by the schools often found themselves in the position of having to forgo access to either their gifted programs or their special education supports since the schools did not combine these services. However, it appears that in the most recent IDEA 2004 regulations and in their interpretation, that trend could be taking a more positive direction..

Throughout its various reauthorizations, IDEA has defined a specific learning disability as a “disorder of one or more basic psychological processes involved in understanding or using language, written or spoken, which disorder may manifest itself in imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or do mathematical calculations.” Federal regulations have, in turn, articulated how the existence of a specific learning disability is determined. It is these regulations that have changed over time, and these changes have served to dictate the access of gifted students to special education services.

In the 1990 and earlier Federal regulations, a student was determined to evidence a learning disability if the student did not achieve commensurate with age and ability in one or more academic area (oral expression, listening comprehension, written expression, basic reading skill, reading comprehension, mathematics calculation or mathematics reasoning) given that the child was provided with appropriate learning experiences for the student’s age and ability level. A child who evidenced a severe discrepancy between his ability and achievement, regardless of his age-level performance, met the criteria for eligibility.

Over time, however, the interpretation of that regulation changed, based on more stringent use of the words “not” and “and.” In order to be identified as a student with a learning disability, a student had to demonstrate that he did not achieve commensurate with both age and ability levels, essentially eliminating eligibility where achievement was far below the student’s ability but still within age expectations.

Schools justified this by arguing that as long as a student was achieving commensurate with age level, a disability did not exist. This was, in my opinion, clear discrimination against the gifted. As I often explained to school administrators, a gifted student could be achieving three standard deviations below the student’s ability and not receive special education support because the student’s achievement was average for his age. Yet, a student of average ability could receive special education support with a one standard deviation discrepancy between ability and achievement. In these cases, the student who experienced the greater impact and thus the most academic frustration received the least support.

More recent federal regulations for IDEA 2004, however, have taken a notable step in rethinking how learning disabilities are defined and determined, reflecting the most recent research in the field. The reauthorized law expands its purpose to include preparing students with disabilities for further education as well as employment and independent living, in essence raising the bar for educational support in readying students for college.

The federal regulations add reading fluency as an area of underachievement in identifying a specific learning disability (SLD) thereby expanding the definition of SLD. The regulations also specifically note that states must not require use of a severe discrepancy model in identifying students with learning disabilities, and they may permit use of a process based on the child’s response to intervention (RTI) or use of other research-based procedures for determining learning disabilities. In the supplemental commentary of the law, there is specific discussion as to whether students who are gifted would be affected by this change in criteria.

While several commentators believe eliminating the discrepancy model would result in the inability to identify gifted students as learning disabled, one commentator states that a scatter of scores would be an appropriate model to use with gifted students. The commentary response notes that the regulations “clearly allow discrepancies in achievement domains, typical of children with SLD who are gifted, to be used to identify children with SLD.”

In determining the existence of a SLD, the federal regulations have changed the wording of the criteria from earlier versions. Now, a student may be determined to have a specific learning disability if the child does not achieve adequately for age or State-approved grade-level standards in an academic area. Use of the word adequately leaves some room for interpretation, suggesting a broader scope of consideration.

Additionally, the regulations state that if the child does not make sufficient progress (likely through RTI) to meet age or grade-level standards or the child exhibits a pattern of strengths and weaknesses in performance, achievement, or both, relative to age, grade-level standards or intellectual development, the child may be identified as learning disabled.

These new standards in identifying learning disabilities may allow greater opportunity for gifted/disabled students to be found eligible for special education services. Now students who evidence uneven information processing skills, relative to their own development, or uneven achievement can be labeled SLD. Students whose classroom performance and not just grades show a pattern of strengths and weaknesses, such as is often the case for Gifted/Disabled students whose work production suffers, can also be considered for eligibility. Additionally, now including reading fluency as a measure of achievement allows measurement of a skill that often is an invisible disability for gifted and other students.

Dr. Sally Shawitz, noted researcher, author and Yale University professor, has defined reading fluency as the hallmark of dyslexia in bright students who can otherwise compensate for their deficits. As has always been the case historically, it will likely be through case law that the applicability of the new regulations in identifying gifted/disabled students will be delineated.

Historically, when gifted/disabled students have been found eligible for special education services, it was not uncommon for the need for LD services to preclude access to gifted or accelerated programming or vice versa. As recently as a month ago, one of my clients was informed in his high-school IEP that even though his current program in school included special education support in general education in all academic areas, that was not possible for next year. The school said it simply did not provide special education support in advanced science classes. If the student needed support in science, he would need to be placed in a lower-level science class.

On December 26, 2007, the Assistant Secretary for the Office of Civil Rights issued a “Dear Colleague” policy letter specifically addressing the issue of access to accelerated programs for students with disabilities. That letter stated, “...if a qualified student with a disability requires related aids and services to participate in a regular education class or program, then a school cannot deny the student the needed related aids and services in an accelerated class or program.” According to this letter, denial of these services is a denial of FAPE (Free and Appropriate Public Education) under both IDEA and Section 504. For gifted students with learning or attentional disabilities, this letter serves as a ray of hope that there is now a clear mandate to meet the needs of their dual exceptionality.

The issues surrounding the education of gifted/disabled students have not been merely academic in any sense of the word for me. Fifteen years ago, my oldest child was identified and provided services as a student with giftedness, a learning disability and AD/HD. I do not know how my son would have made it out of high school without his organizational support and accommodations. Seven years later, his younger brother, who also had AD/HD, was denied special education services because his grades and test scores were average or above. When he entered Yale, their learning support center recognized his profile and offered him accommodations to address his needs.

These accommodations allowed him to take on greater challenges academically than ever before. My son appreciated the fact that with extra time, he could manage his attention effectively in order to, for example, chart multiple variables in calculus. Both my sons have come to realize their potential, if not maximize it, as a result of appropriate accommodations and the recognition of their potential. They are all the better prepared to contribute to society as a whole.

When school systems tell children that achieving at grade level is all that is expected, no matter what their ability or disability, they are sending a message that enforces the attitude that doing just enough to get by is a life goal for them. Rowley may have helped school systems’ bottom lines, but its toll on society as a whole is immeasurable. Schools that strive for appropriate (and no better) as their standard for their educational offerings in turn encourage mediocrity in their students. Mediocrity seldom fosters advancement, and our society has always depended upon its finest and most creative thinkers to make progress.

No mind should be wasted, much less one-sixth of all the best minds. Education must take seriously its mandate to prepare this generation to take its place in society and to create a society where each person is able to contribute to the maximum of his ability. In the most recent interpretations of the laws protecting students with special needs, it appears that we may be inching every so slightly back in that direction as we did pre-Rowley.

Ruth C. Heitin, Ph.D. is an independent special education consultant in private practice in Virginia for the past 17 years. Dr. Heitin was assisted in this article by her daughter, Liana Heitin, M.Ed. who is a special education teacher for Teach for America in Phoenix, Arizona. Liana’s email address is
Ruth Heitin, Ph.D.
100 West Howell Ave
Alexandria, VA 22301
Work: 703 519 7181
Fax: 703 519 4737
E-Mail: info @

An Affordable Proposal for Guardianship: The Special Needs Tax Credit Bill

By Jaret L. Vogel,
Director, Special Needs Tax Credit Alliance

The mom’s anguished question was, “Why do I have to pay $5,000 to speak for my 18-year old with Autism?” I then stood up and asked “Why can’t we get a tax refund for that amount?” The whole room went silent. In that moment, the idea for the Special Needs Tax Credit was born.

It was November of 2006, and my lovely wife, Karen, and I were attending a Guardianship conference in Ft. Lauderdale. The room was filled with a veritable “Who’s Who” of South Florida Elder Law attorneys and professional guardians. We attended as Prosperity Life Planning ( our small, educational nonprofit organization, through which we educate and advocate for parents through the special needs planning process with area attorneys, benefit consultants, tax and investment professionals.

I had been working with these families for just over two years at that time, and found the challenge of implementing the legal, social and financial planning resources for special needs families to be my calling. Unlike New York, where my stepson with Autism, Ricky, lives in a wonderful group home, paid entirely by Medicaid, Florida families of are hard-pressed to find benefits for supports and therapies. The “Med-Waiver” program has 17,000 families on its waiting list. Med-Waiver provides for non-medical but supportive services, such as housing, transportation, therapies, “day-hab” training, summer programs and respite.

Through our numerous free consultations, we met families with one, two, even three young adults with special needs; parents who were surprised to learn they were no longer the legal guardians of their 18-year olds or older kids. Surprise turned to shock when they learned that full guardianship might cost $5,000 in attorney, specialist and court fees.

There they were, with kids who couldn’t speak for themselves, kids who lacked the judgment to make legal, health care or financial decisions for themselves, and parents unable to afford the $5,000 expense to speak for their child. A real “Catch-22.”

We immediately began a petition drive through our planning workshops and our website. Everyone agreed it was a common-sense idea; that MY taxes could come back to me as a tax refund for the legal expenses of setting up a protective guardianship for MY own child.

With Karen being a tax expert and accountant, and having her Certified Financial Planner™ designation, we talked about how this could work. A “refundable tax credit” from the IRS would be available for someone who paid the expense for guardianship and/ or a Special Needs Trust, up to a maximum amount of $5,000. This would reduce their taxes owed dollar-for-dollar, and a check issued for any remaining balance over their taxes due. This method would especially benefit lower income families, who might not pay as much in taxes, and receive a refund for the difference, much like the Earned Income Credit or the Additional Child Tax Credit currently provide.

On September 11, 2008, we went to Washington, DC, and met with the legislative assistant to my local representative, Congressman Robert Wexler (D-19th Cong. District- Boca Raton). We discussed the problem and introduced him to our proposal. In May, 2009, I received notice that Congressman Wexler would sponsor legislation to create the Special Needs Tax Credit proposal as we envisioned. Language for the Bill has been completed, and a Republican co-sponsor has been identified. While Congressman Wexler recently announced his interest to work in the nonprofit sector, other Democratic Representatives are being discussed to co-sponsor the Bill, which would be introduced when finalized.

Simultaneously, in January of 2009, we met with attorney Elaine Bucher in the Boca Raton office of international law firm Proskauer Rose, LLC. She was impressed with our proposal, and shortly thereafter, we were told they would create a Florida nonprofit organization and provide the IRS filing as a 501(c)(4), Social Welfare Organization, for us pro bono, a task we could not have afforded. The nonprofit designation for the “Special Needs Tax Credit Alliance, Inc.” ( was finalized in July of 2009.

We actually see this potential revision to the tax code as a civil rights bill, because “typical “ families are not burdened with the expense of $5,000 to speak for their adult children, or need to spend $1000 to $1500. for a Special Needs Trust, as typical kids may well have the abilities and opportunities to have full-time careers, with pension plans or retirement accounts to build over their working lives.
The First and Fourteenth Amendments were established to provide for Free Speech and Equal Treatment Under the Law. Yet how can our young adults who may have cognitive impairments and cannot speak for themselves, enjoy this equal treatment, if their parents can’t afford thousands of dollars in legal fees? No one is empowered to speak for these millions of Americans.

The Special Needs Tax Credit (SNTC) proposal offers a sensible and affordable “soft-dollar” approach to solving this problem, while possibly reducing expenses to the court system. If more people who need a guardian have one, there may be less expense for Guardians Ad Litem, or court-appointed emergency guardianship, when no one has previously appointed.

We are in the process of raising $500,000, for a four-year program to build awareness throughout state and national disability support organizations, as well as the Elder Law groups and Probate sections of state and national Bar Associations. Groups such as AARP for seniors will be contacted, as seniors with dementia and Alzheimer’s may need their adult child to become their Guardian. Other groups in support of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the ACLU will be called upon to build awareness to their membership, and finally, members of Congress will be lobbied to expand Democracy to those who cannot speak for themselves.

“Everyone Deserves to Have a Voice, or Someone to Speak for Them.”

Please complete the petition (available at and mail to the address below. Your petition will be sent to your local Congressman and your two state Senators prior to voting.

Donations to the Special Needs Tax Credit Alliance are not tax deductible to the donor, but funds are utilized tax exempt by the organization. A petition can be downloaded from the SNTCA website at, and voluntary contributions can be sent to “Special Needs Tax Credit Alliance,” 4673 Brady Boulevard, Delray Beach, FL 33445, attn: Jaret Vogel, Director (561-865-2921,

Functional Uni4m: An Innovative Invention That Truly Encourages Learning

By Christina Wallerstein,

Summer gives us breathing room, autumn can take our breath away as we juggle to organize ourselves and our children to meet all the demands of the season. Between back to school and ushering in the new year, we can find ourselves rushed, overwhelmed and discouraged. Learning to simplify and organize becomes ever more important as we seek balance in our lives.

For parents of children with any developmental disability, re-enforcing lessons their children learn in therapy sessions is essential. Doing so takes time, energy, and dedication, and the better organized and focused the parents, the more successful their efforts. Recently, I learned about a valuable aid for both parents and professionals: Functional Uni4m.

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapist and Master's student Michelle Schondorf designed Functional Uni4m with features that enable her to have all the "ingredients" needed for an efficient, well organized session within easy reach. A versatile vest constructed from breathable, lightweight, stretchy fabric and featuring multiple pockets, Velcro strips and grommets for attaching the necessities of a successful session, Functional Uni4m also serves as a visual reminder to all involved that therapy is serious business. With this in mind, parents will find this Uni4m a useful product when working at home to re-enforce lessons learned in therapy.

Each Uni4m features numerous strips of Velcro across the chest that make the vest a "display board" to which the therapist/parent attaches visuals for programming, picture cards for communication, and tokens for a token board. A floating clear pocket also attaches with Velcro. This pocket can hold small reinforcers that serve as reminders of what the child is working towards and keeps these rewards handy.

Back and front pockets provide ample storage for stimuli and materials used during the therapy session. The pockets are deep and stretchy and securely hold reinforcers, small toys, visuals, index cards, small pads of paper, writing instruments, even calculators and a two-way radio or telephone. Back pockets are ideal for hiding stimuli the therapist/parent does not want the child to see. Many small toys available at, under Special Needs-Distraction Toys fit perfectly inside the Uni4m's pockets for therapy sessions. These toys work well in getting a child's attention and also help the child maintain focus.

The Uni4m also features grommets at the bottom edge of the vest, one on each side, that allow for attaching a carabineer clip and retractable reel. The clip enables the therapist/parent to attach a clip board for data collection during the session. This keeps data sheets readily available and enables the therapist/parent to enter information more accurately during sessions. The board detaches easily. A retractable clip allows for attaching visual aids to the Uni4m and moving the aids closer and further away from the child.

Michelle Schondorf uses the Functional Uni4m to help children with autism be motivated and have a desire to learn from her. Successful therapy, she says, is all about the relationship and connection that the therapist wearing the Uni4m has created with the child.

"The main idea is to get the child to pay attention and realize that reinforcers and rewards are coming from the individual wearing the Uni4m. I get the child to pay attention to the candy inside the clear pocket attached to my Uni4m or to the tokens on my Uni4m. Soon the child makes the connection between the rewards and the person wearing the Uni4m. The child quickly becomes engaged and excited and begins looking at my face to see what fun things are going to follow.

One crucial key to successfully working with special needs children is that they must like their therapist. They must see me as being fun and exciting. If I constantly have new reinforcers hidden in the Uni4m’s pockets and am surprising my students and keeping them motivated, they are going to be more willing to learn from me. If every time I walk into the child’s home wearing a Uni4m filled with exiting reinforcers, and the child sits quietly, looks directly at me, waiting to see what surprises I have hidden in my pockets, chances are I will be more successful in teaching them important skills."

Sounds as if she's on to something beneficial to everyone working with children with developmental delays!

The JennSwing – More Than Just Play, It’s Therapy

Report by the Staff of American Swing Products

American Swing has looked for and found products for special needs children that greatly improve quality of life. The JennSwing and other special needs products offer the means to turn “acting out” into great behavior. Instead of swinging randomly, why not try swinging or twirling on a tire swing? Changing the setting makes all the difference in the world. Instead of climbing things at home that ought not to be climbed, set up a simple rock wall using our rock panels and “acting out” becomes great behavior instead, and builds muscles.

Play for special needs children should integrate the senses: sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell. Our swings are great for improving gross motor skills, hand-eye coordination, vestibular activities and visual stimulation. The motion of swinging restores the feeling of balance to those with balance issues. It soothes them and provides relaxation. It even helps increases concentration.
It is wonderful to find something that is fun and positive on many different levels. Our playground equipment offers an activity that your family can enjoy and improves your special needs child’s quality of life.

The JennSwing, in particular, is designed to help meet the American Disabilities Act guidelines for playground equipment in public applications and makes the term “Handicapped Accessible” means more than just being able to watch. The JennSwing is also convenient because a child can be more easily lifted onto the swing and quickly strapped in. With its partially reclined, body-embracing design and easily adjustable safety harness, the JennSwing offers children a safe and comfortable fun ride.

All of our commercial and residential playground equipment are made from many durable materials and are tested by National Testing Standards. The material that we use is not the material typically used in this industry but it’s our only choice; because it’s the safest, most durable, and the highest quality. There is no compromising when it comes to the safety of our children; and for American Swing there is no compromising on that commitment we made all those years ago.

Please contact us during business hours at 1-800-433-2573 or after hours at or visit us at

Enhancing Playtime With Toys That Teach!

By Michelle Lee

Children gain a tremendous amount of their knowledge and experience through playing. They learn how to problem-solve, how to share, and even how to cope with their frustrations. Playtime can also be a significant tool in helping a child to develop their motor skills, hand-eye coordination, communication, and social skills. To a child, playtime is more than just a time for fun- it is an opportunity to grow, discover, and explore the world around them.

“Every day parents, educators, therapists, daycares, and school districts come to visit our website and consult with our Special Needs Advisory Board to purchase useful and fun educational toys and games for both children and adults of different ages, attention spans, and abilities” says Carol, co-owner of “Educational toys and family games can be used to help to bridge the age and ability gaps and to create a fun and memorable social/learning experience for everyone involved.”

As a parent, introducing educational toys into your child’s playtime can help you to maintain a safe and productive play environment at home. “Every single item that we carry on has been thoroughly tested to ensure its quality and safety” says Carol. “We won’t even consider a toy line if they haven’t undergone rigorous safety testing or if they lack the proper safety documentation. We’re parents too… Our commitment to our customer’s safety and 100% satisfaction is far more important to us than any bottom line.”

When considering which toys to buy, it is important to take your child’s specific needs and abilities into consideration. Selecting a toy based on your child’s age is not always enough when it comes to toys for children with special needs- You will instead want to consider and evaluate toys that are suitable to your child’s particular abilities. When choosing a toy, consider the level of skill that is required to utilize the toy. Can your child handle it without too much frustration? If you don’t think so, pass it up. This will help to ensure that playtime is a safe and positive experience for both you and your child.

Positive stimulation is always encouraging and more importantly, rewarding. In the long run, positive experiences will help to enhance and maintain your child’s physical, emotional, and social well-being. The ultimate goal is for your child to feel challenged, but not frustrated while playing. After all, above all else, playtime is supposed to be fun! Positive playtime experiences will go a long way to helping your child develop both emotionally and socially while still embracing the learning process.

Make time for play time. By taking the time to sit down and play with your child you can follow, supervise, and monitor their progress. Keep in mind that developing imaginations will often disregard the “intended use” a toy and will simply make up their own game instead. One of our favorite toys for imaginative play is the Bilibo.

These colorful shells leave room for your child's imagination while to helping to develop their proprioception, which is the body's sense of itself in space. Instead of imposing any specific play pattern, the Bilibo is open for a wide range of interpretations and even encourages children to invent their own games, play, and just have fun in an active and creative way. Indoors and outdoors, in the sand-pit, in the water, or even in the snow... Like your child, the Bilibo is always full of surprises.

Another one of our toy toys for special needs are Citiblocs. According to GlammaTOYS Special Needs Advisor Benjamin Takemori, “These beautiful wooden building blocks are a great tool for learners and children of all ages and abilities. The simple uniform shape allows children to discover cause and effect and problem solving as a natural learning process. Additionally, the natural wood has a tactical quality that is intrinsically appealing and comforting.“

Remember that the best educational toys are safe toys which will both attract your child’s attention and provide them with a positive learning experience. For more information on toy safety or toys for special needs, please visit us on the web at or call us toll free at 1-866-967-TOYS to speak with one of our toy consultants.

About GlammaToys: Specializing in Toys that Teach, GlammaTOYS is an e-retailer of educational toys, unique specialty toys, games and gifts. Owned and Operated by moms and dads with years of experience in the toy industry, our product lines are carefully chosen to include items that are not only are the best at enriching lives & entertaining kids, but are also the safest and highest quality toys available. For our full catalog please visit us on the web at or call us toll free at 1-866-967-TOYS to speak with one of our toy consultants.

The Gluten-Free Casein-Free Diet (GFCF)

By LynnRae Ries
Gluten Free Creations

Up until the last seven years or so, the words ‘gluten’ and ‘casein’ were not used in every day conversations. But times are changing and those two words are becoming more useful to parents.

According to Theresa Cornelius, MS, RD, CLC, LND, “The GFCF diet is the removal of all gluten and casein products from the diet. Individuals with autism as well as those who are intolerant to both gluten and casein are typically on this diet. It is an unproven treatment for autism. However, some studies have found the diet to be helpful in some autistic children who are diagnosed before the age of three.”
In like manner, many parents have seen positive changes in their child’s behavior at many different ages when s/he is on a GFCF diet. Some children start saying words, some make eye contact and others simply become more responsive overall.
A gluten-free diet means the total elimination of the offending gluten-protein that is in wheat, rye, barley and all of their derivatives.

Initially this may appear as a daunting task. This GFCF lifestyle initially starts with elimination of all gluten. That means elimination of regular breads, muffins, desserts, sauces, coatings, processed foods, many seasonings, fillings, and prepackaged foods.

Reading ingredient labels becomes a part of every day life. Wheat/gluten travels under many names. Words to watch out for include: durum, couscous, gluten, matzoh, farina, kamut, semolina, spelt, seitan, graham, malt, wheat, rye and barley. (This is not a complete list.)

Casein-containing foods to be avoided include all dairy products from any animal in any form. This includes milk, butter, yogurt, ice cream, cottage cheese, and casein-containing ingredients found in butter flavored oil, nougat, whey, whey protein, and sometimes in lactic acid, artificial and natural flavoring, soy products and processed foods. (This is not a complete list.)

“This is a major lifestyle modification and if the child is eased into it, it will be much easier for them to make it a permanent lifestyle change,” writes Ms. Cornelius. According to the Autism Research Unit of the University of Sunderland (Great Britain), initially there may be some negative effects, including upset stomach, anxiety, clinginess and slight ill-temper. These are good signs and precursors of a positive response. The Research Unit recommends a trial period of about 1 year before determining the child’s response to this dietary regimen. The GFCF diet is not a cure for autism, but many have found that it can enhance the quality of a child’s life.
When starting on this diet, look for help from support groups, your reliable health food store, and gluten-free bakeries to make life easier.

Ask Dr. Dolly


Dear Dr Dolly,

Could mild autism in a child result from a physical accident during pregnancy, or is it something that comes in the genes?
Concerned Future Parent


Dear Concerned Future Parent,

Wikipedia defines the autism spectrum, also called autism spectrum disorders (ASD) or autism spectrum conditions (ASC), as a spectrum of psychological conditions characterized by widespread abnormalities of social interactions and communication, as well as severely restricted interests and highly repetitive behavior. In plain language, there are quite a few conditions, from mild to severe, that fall under this definition. ASD are complex neurodevelopmental disorders.

Many causes of autism have been proposed, but there is no clear answer. Definitely, the popular belief in genetics is somewhat true, and genetics do contribute about 90% of the risk of a child developing autism, but the genetics of autism are so complex that typically it is unclear which genes are responsible.

In rare cases, autism is strongly associated with the same factors that cause birth defects. Many other causes have been proposed, including viral infections, maternal stress, maternal exposure to lead or mercury, and even increased maternal participation in the workforce. Is a physical accident stressful, especially during pregnancy? Of course! Could it then cause the child to be born autistic? Possibly, with about 10% probability. But it is just as possible if you are employed, or have had the flu while pregnant.

The frightening fact is that the incidence of autism has risen tenfold during the last 20 years, and there is no one-word explanation. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way at all! Our brain is not “hardwired.” On the contrary, it is very plastic, and responds very well to external stimuli, i.e. different experiences. In fact, our ability to learn depends on neuroplasticity, as this is called. The right treatment program, created specifically to the needs of your child, will create neuroplastic changes, regardless of the cause of your child’s condition.

Dr Dolly Aizenman is one of the founders of Neytz haChochma Exceptional Student Education comprehensive psychoeducational program for children with special needs. She has been its Academic Director since its inception in 1998. Dr Aizenman has presented various workshops, seminars, and other types of teacher and parent training conducted annually on the state, national, and international level. She has over 30 years experience in education and 20 years of teaching pre-service teachers and supervising intern teachers in public and private schools. Dr Aizenman can be reached at 305.945.7443 or by e-mailing

NAET - Relief from Autism Symptoms and More

Report by Health From Inside Out, Corp.

Anne Silva, R.N., P.C.C.N., has been a registered nurse for ten years on a cardiac unit. While working, she suffered an injury and was told that unless she had surgery she would remain in excruciating pain. Her aunt, also a registered nurse, told her to try acupuncture, which she did, and after 3 months she went back to work full duty, never having surgery. Another MRI proved that her injury had gotten better.

With these results, she knew that alternative medicine can work extremely well without any side effects. She enrolled in the Atlantic Institute of Oriental Medicine to be an acupuncture physician. There, many people told her about NAET (Nambudripad's Allergy Elimination Technique) and said that it changed their lives. NAET is needle-free and is as effective and sometimes more effective than acupuncture.

After graduating, Silva flew to California and took the intensive training to get certified in NAET. To this day, continuous training takes very few months. One of the many intensive trainings is on how to treat Autism. Since Anne has begun her NAET trainings, she gets excited about the many miracles that she has seen resulting from NAET treatment.

These treatments are non invasive, drug free and needle free techniques which detect areas of imbalance. They have helped relieve symptoms of Autism, ADHD, Anxiety and an almost endless list of ailments.

Explained Silva: "My first step is to test the patient for allergies and other imbalances by using kinesiology, which is muscular analysis, to help determine what the allergies are, not just the symptoms. We then use an acupressure device at specific locations on the body. I offer a free consultation and treatment to help new patients understand how this works. I am completely sold on what I do and its benefits because of my own positive experience and by seeing the success I have had with my patients." This technique, first used to treat allergies, has been found to eliminate autism, ADHD, anxiety symptoms and much more.

The following is a brief overview of NAET from the book "Say Goodbye to Allergy-Related Autism with NAET" by Devi S. Nambudripad, M.D., D.C., L AC., PH. D. (Acu.):

"Autism is a nutritional deficiency disorder causing biological, neurological and developmental problems in children. The nutritional deficiency is not caused by failing to take enough nutrients by mouth but by poor digestion, absorption, assimilation and utilization of essential nutrients due to allergies. Autistic children are not digesting whatever they consume and their bodies do not receive essential nutrients from food or supplements they take."

"We can help all these children with different intensities of Autism when we identify the toxin and the area that is affected. Using NAET, we can identify the toxin that triggered the chain event in the child even if it happened years before. Then eliminate the adverse reaction between the nervous system and the toxin. Releasing the bond between the nervous system and the toxin will enable the toxin to transport out of the body through appropriate elimination pathways. This will allow the affected area of the nervous system to resume its function to supply the brain or body with appropriate nutrients. Slowly the damaged area will receive nourishments and repair to normal status. When the nerve interferences in these centers are removed, the expected function of the organs will return. Thus these children will hear things again; comprehend again; and manifest communication skills like normal people."

Anne Silva says, "Unfortunately not everyone knows what NAET is. One of my missions is to educate the public that there is a natural treatment which proves to be successful. I am confident that anyone who takes advantage of this benefit will understand that NAET makes sense. We also show the Autism Study DVD, showing children before and after NAET Treatments. The results are amazing."

For more information, go to to see the Autism Study results. Also, read "Say Goodbye to Allergy-Related Autism with NAET" by Devi Nambudripad, M.D.

Call Anne Silva, R.N., P. C. C. N., today for an appointment at 561-414-1587. A free consultation exam and first treatment is available until Dec. 30, 2009.

The Textured Spoon

by Johnson Therapeutic

Dawn Peters and Lori Johnson MS,CCC/SLP are sisters and the co-owners of Johnson Therapeutic, LLC. The company began with the Textured Spoon which was developed by Lori, speech language pathologist. In February 2007, the Textured Spoon was one of 28 products selected by Therapy Times to receive the Most Valuable Product (MVP) award.

The concept of the Textured Spoon is to provide oral-sensory stimulation along with feeding. These spoons are perfect for individuals who exhibit hypersensitivity to certain food textures or decreased oral-sensory awareness while eating. The Textured Spoon features a shallow bowl which offers decreased bolus size and a textured bottom which provides increased sensation to the tongue. The Large Textured Spoon is available in silver to resemble conventional utensils while the Small Textured Spoon has three child friendly colors (orange, purple and teal).

Johnson Therapeutic has now expanded their business to market innovative products designed by parents and specialists that will assist individuals with special needs. Additions to their product line include the Controlled Flow Baby Feeder, Tongue LifteR and Snacker Catcher.

To find out more about the Textured Spoons and additional products offered by Johnson Therapeutic, go to


I would like to thank you for your miraculous product. My little boy spent 6 months in the NICU and other pediatric units during the first year of his life. He was diagnosed with pyloric stenosis at 4 weeks of age and underwent a pylorotomy. Two weeks after the pylorotomy, he began vomiting severely and 8 weeks later, we were forced to do a nissen fundoplication and G-tube placement. He began to refuse the bottle and stopped eating all together. Our speech therapist came across the Textured Spoon and he ate like a different child. He was opening his mouth and utilizing his lips and tongue. We are still working on different foods and textures, but attribute his eating to you and your wonderful product.

Mary is a 3 year old who is primarily G-tube fed. She has poor oral-motor organization and low tone. After using the Textured Spoon I found that she had improved tongue cupping and was able to take consecutive bites more quickly. The Textured Spoon seemed to increase her sensory awareness during eating and improve the overall quality of spoon-feeding.

Have You Planned for the Future of Your Loved One with Special Needs?

By Howard S. Krooks, JD, CELA, CAP

Caring for a child or loved one with special needs carries certain challenges that many cannot understand, and yet too many of us are confronted by these challenges on a daily basis. A Special Needs Planning Attorney can assist you with Medicaid Planning, planning for your loved one with special needs trusts and comprehensive estate planning. A Special Needs Planning Attorney recognizes that caregivers typically do not add up the cost of support and caring for an individual with a disability. Caregivers provide many services “naturally” and willingly to loved ones to help enhance their quality of life. These services might include any one or more of the following:

  • Advocate
  • Social service coordinator
  • Companion
  • Guardianship
  • Job coach
  • Chauffeur
  • Personal care attendant
  • Money manager
  • Recreation director

If you become unable to provide these services or die without planning for the continuation of these services, your loved one’s quality of life may suffer.

An experienced Special Needs Planning Attorney will:

  • Establish comprehensive care plans organized so that monies for your loved one with special needs will not be at risk from estate taxes or the long-term care costs of caregivers
  • Assist with applying for SSI benefits for a person with disabilities
  • Apply and qualify for Medicaid for a person with disabilities
  • Provide for a person with special needs in your Will
  • Apply for Guardianship
  • Set up a Special Needs Trust
  • Set up a Supplemental Needs Trust
  • Assist in the creation of a Letter of Intent
  • Inform you of the estate planning options available to you
  • Assist families with long term care planning for loved ones with special needs

What is a Special Needs Trust?

A special needs trust (usually funded with the assets of the disabled individual) or a supplemental needs trust (usually funded with the assets of a third party, such as the parents of a disabled individual) makes it possible to appoint a trustee to hold property for the benefit of your disabled child after you're gone. A special needs trust provides for the needs of a disabled person without disqualifying him/her from government benefits programs such as Social Security and Medicaid.

Why Can’t I Leave My Assets to Other Family Members?

While it might seem like a good idea simply to leave a certain amount of money to your disabled child's sibling or other close relative, with the understanding that the money will be spent on the disabled child, this approach is not the best strategy and often produces negative consequences. For example, any one or more of the following can occur by leaving your assets to another family member:

Fun, Functional and Safe Ways to Make Meal Prep Therapeutic For You and Your Child

By Denise Meissner
Occupational Therapist, mother of a child with Autism, and creator of QCharm Portable Visual Cueing System.

What do you think a TV talk show or DIY show might look like if the celebrity had to prepare the meals and then clean up the mess…all while caring for children with autism?!

During times when my son with autism wants to “help” me in the kitchen, I imagine Rachel Ray or Martha Stewart incorporating Applied Behavior Analyses and Picture Exchange Communication Symbols throughout their shows. But the reality is that parents must be creative if trying to have a fun kitchen experience while involving their special needs child.

When I learned how to cook, I was not taught how to simultaneously manage the behaviors of a child (or more than one child) who was throwing a tantrum, throwing food, or throwing a punch. So here are some tips that I’d like to share and that I think will greatly improve the home care experience for parents and special needs children.

As an Occupational Therapy Student (back in 1990), I spent 3 months working with children with autism and I found myself feeling overwhelmed, frustrated and exhausted. During this internship, I learned how to use daily tasks, such as meal prep, to help children explore and tolerate various tastes and textures, to encourage them to use both hands together, and to help them improve their ability to focus on a task or work through episodes of frustration. I was supposed to help them reach out of their comfort zone, but in reality they stretched me out of mine.

Ironically, I now have a child with Autism and he too has pushed me out of my comfort zone…thank goodness! Through my son’s behaviors, communication and supervision needs I have been given plenty of opportunities to learn new and exciting ways to work with him, to interact with him and to cherish him.

Today I would like to give you a few ideas that might help you interact, protect and cherish your child when you are in the kitchen:

1. Colors make sense: While researching paint colors for our kitchen and dining room areas, I learned that yellow is excellent for improving concentration, mental alertness, and mood. I even read that yellow is used in rooms to help those with dyslexia. Since we use our kitchen for both meal prep and scheduling, we did indeed paint our kitchen yellow.

2. Smells make scents: Because the sense of smell part of the brain (olfactory) is connected to the emotional center of the brain, aromas have a strong impact on our moods. There are several ways in which you can create a pleasant kitchen environment (to encourage you and your child to get in and stay in the kitchen), such as using flameless candles or plug-ins, scented pine cones and potpourri, air fresheners, odor eliminators, and even odor eating trash bags.

3. Stimulators: Whether your child craves sensory input or avoids textures/colors/ aromas, visual cues can help your child participate in meal prep (and eating). My home trainer and I set up several series of 4-5 visual cue cards in order to show different parts of one task, desired behavior before-during-after a task, rewards for positive behavior efforts, and to show how to be safe and why. To make the cues readily available yet decorative, I placed the cue cards in picture frames. You can easily place cards in the plastic frames that magnetically hang on your fridge. This also keeps the cards clean and in shape.

4. Simulators: To help your child practice slicing, cutting, peeling, serving and handling food items, you can use sets such as “Classroom Play Food,” “Cutting Fruit Plate,” “Birthday Party,” “Peel ‘N’ Play Veggies,” Slice n’ Serve Pizza,” “Hook n’ Loop Sandwich,” and “Cutting Food Box.” I discovered these sets in the catalog Beyond Play ( These sets also give your child a chance to work next to you while you prepare a meal, which has two benefits: a) your child can observe and copy your behaviors and b) you can keep your child safe.

5. “Pairing” knife: To safely engage your child in meal prep, pair this task with something your child enjoys. For example, my son prefers to use “grown-up” utensils and I prefer that he not slice off his fingers. To make us both happy, I use Pampered Chef’s “My Safe Cutter” ($3.00).

6. Carry Out: If your child receives physical, occupational or speech therapy, you may have a home program to carry out so that learning and progress can occur outside of the clinic or school. Work with your therapist(s) and find ways to incorporate the program into the daily routine, rather than adding to your routine. For example, if your therapist wants your child to improve hand coordination, help your child wheel barrel walk to the kitchen (to improve shoulder strength and stability) and then give your child small food items to manipulate.

We can’t always afford a sitter to care for our children so we can prepare meals in peace. But we can use meal prep to foster our child’s development and help us enjoy time spent out of our comfort zones.

To enjoy fun, functional and portable visual cues-no matter whose kitchen you’re in- please visit Let us create our patent pending wristband/removable charms kits for you. (200 Boardmaker images available. Website to be updated.)