To kick off Autism Awareness Month, we look to autism and behavioral coach Rebecca McKee, who started The 13th Child Autism & Behavioral Coaching, Inc. McKee has worked with both children and adults and provides tips on detecting autism in your child, what to do if your child has autism, and the support and resources available.
TNF: How long have you been a child autism and behavioral coach?
Rebecca: I started my company, The 13th Child Autism & Behavioral Coaching, Inc., three years ago; although, I have been working in the field of Special Education/Behavior Analysis for approximately fifteen years. I started my career as a Special Education teacher working in public schools with students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), as well as a behavioral therapist in home programs.
TNF: What inspired you to go into this line of work?
Rebecca: Hmm…I believe it was fate. In my undergrad program, Communicative Disorders, a professor had us watch videos on discreet trials run with children with ASD. She made a point to tell us that we should pay attention because we would definitely be working with this population of children. Like many people with ASD, the children in the videos were quite physically aggressive. I remember making a mental note that “I will never choose to work with those children…” Lo and behold, I am applying to graduate schools, and a school in New York was persistent and recruited me to join their very new autism program. They conveyed how I would always have job security (as sad as that is) with a degree specializing in autism. I agreed…one of the professors in one of my classes was an elderly man – probably around 80 years old. He knew autism like the back of his hand – he had us read a book that completely created a desire in me to begin to understand the mystery of people with ASD, and help them navigate our world.
TNF: I’m sure you may hear this one a lot: what are some signs of ASD that parents might look for in their children?
Rebecca: Most families hear about the lack of language, lack of eye contact, and poor social skills. That can be vague…some specific signs are the following:
1. Your toddler does not point – they hand lead. This appears as when a toddler wants something out of reach, they will not point. Instead they will place their hand on top of an adult’s hand, pick up the adult’s hand and place it directly on top of the object that they want.
2. Your child does not smile upon command – for example, you are taking a picture and you say “smile” – it is difficult for them to follow that command (maybe they smile during other times but not under command).
3. Your child speaks/attempts social interaction with others, but only about very highly preferred interests – for example, everyone is sitting at a table talking about something exciting for all – an upcoming birthday for Grandmom. Your child appears completely disinterested and unaware of the conversation. But all of a sudden someone mentions the phrase “take the train to Grandmom’s” and your child takes that opportunity to “lecture” to the group about trains. Trains are a huge interest of this individual. “Lecturing” appears as not having a give and take conversation – the person may stand up to talk and begin verbalizing about a certain topic without taking a breath and then they sit down.
4. An excellent memory – especially visual memory – they remember such details about certain events that make others say, “that is so amazing” – they may even memorize routines and phrases people use – and they expect the exact same things to occur during a future event.
5. They mimic language from videos; it is difficult for them to naturally pick up language. These individuals may watch a show or commercial – hear a character say something – the person with ASD generalizes that verbal utterance to real life.
TNF: Do you specialize in only children?
Rebecca: I am certified to work with infants to adults.
TNF: What are some tips you have for parents with a child with ASD?
1. Be consistent with social rules – if the rule is that screaming during teeth brushing means no TV before bed and calmness during teeth brushing means TV before bed then make a visual rule about that in the bathroom and stick to it.
2. Learn how to work with your child with ASD at home on socio-behavioral weaknesses – just as you work with your other children on homework or how to dribble a basketball, these individuals need to practice controlling their behaviors and building up their social skills – choose a day and time that is stress-free for you at home (maybe Sunday morning) and contrive (make up) a social situation that you know your child struggles with and positively practice the right way to act (for example, your child cries everytime the doorbell rings – have them take turns with you practicing to ring the doorbell – make a game of it – have the cat sit outside the front door and then ring the doorbell – work on them opening the door and then you are standing on the other side holding up a small present for them – reward them for dealing with with doorbell in a pro-social manner).
3. Reinforce, Reinforce, Reinforce your child when they are behaving in a pro-social manner - make it a point to use your words to reinforce more than to critique or correct.
TNF: What are some of the common misconceptions about ASD?
Rebecca: Some people feel that people with ASD don’t experience feelings the way we do, such as embarrassment or depression or sadness or love. They do. How they express it or their lack of expression is what is different. They may not cry or express themselves if they fall into a depression, but they may lose interest in their favorite activities, begin to make noises more, become compulsive about certain objects or actions. Also, people with ASD are hysterically funny!
TNF: Would you advise a child with ASD be put in a public school?
Rebecca: The term free and appropriate public education is what we always have to keep in mind here, particularly that word “appropriate”. Each case must be analyzed on an individual basis. There are pros and cons to public schools for children with ASD, as well as pros and cons to center-based schools. The pros in public schools may be: having access to other children who talk, learning how to act during an assembly or fire drill, walking down the hallway in a line, knowing how to use a water fountain..etc. etc. (too many to count). The cons would be: lack of time to spend fine-tuning much needed skills, and possibly staff not understanding how to work with someone with ASD. The pros of a center-based school is that your child will learn and master the skills they need to learn for life: shoe tying, toileting, using a fork, etc. etc. – the cons would be lack of exposure to the “real world” and lack of typically developing peers.
TNF: How could you help a family who has a child with ASD?
Rebecca: My company offers Friendship Clubs for teenagers with Autism Spectrum Disorder Level 1 (formerly Asperger’s Syndrome). The goal of these is to make friends with others who have similar interests and personalities. My company can help a family learn how to replace unwanted behaviors into pro-social ones. I can teach a person with ASD how to develop hobbies in order to build upon leisure skills. Academic support is available to people with ASD, as well. Trainings, workshops, and lectures are available to schools, homes, and vocational sites. It is also important for me to teach others how to have the person with ASD enjoy a healthy lifestyle. This includes eating right, exercising, meditating - and other proactive ways of building a positive outlook for life.
TNF: Do you have any special stories from coaching children with autism?
Rebecca: There are so many! People with ASD are so funny and fun to be around! I am going to pick this one…it was with a boy in 5th grade who had gotten suspended from his public school. He was suspended because he started to become frustrated in PE class and threw balls at the teachers’ heads and the other children. When I saw him after the incident, we made a sequence of events on paper using drawings and simple sentences under each. I made my story and he made his – then we compared. He didn’t understand that when the teacher said “everyone help put the balls away” that it didn’t just mean him. (This is an example of how someone with ASD takes in information in an ego-centric manner.) To this boy it was a private conversation between the teacher and him. He lost his temper when everyone else joined in on the cleaning up. When I showed him my version of the event through my story book – he said “No way! I didn’t even see that! Wow, I messed up that one…” It was like a lightbulb went off – his reaction just showed me how cloudy the social world can appear to people with ASD.
Thank you, Rebecca, for kicking off Autism Awareness Month with The Next Family. To find out more about her Rebecca McKee’s coaching, please reference her website and contact information.This article has been sponsored by The 13th Child Autism & Behavioral Coaching Inc.
Photo Credit: Melissa Flickr images
By Rachel Sarnoff
What does autism have to do with the environment? Everything.
Autism is America’s fastest growing developmental disability. Autism rates have risen nearly 600% in 20 years, to the point that now one out of every 88 children—or one out of every 70 boys—is statistically destined for diagnosis, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Why the dramatic increase? Increased identification of the condition comes into play when looking at a data spike. But six hundred percent? More and more, doctors and scientists are pointing the finger at chemicals in the environment.
Last year, a study published in the journal Clinical Epigenetics looked a at how substances such as high fructose corn syrup can lead to mineral deficiencies, how deficiencies in minerals such as zinc can reduce the body’s ability to eliminate toxic substances such as mercury and pesticides, which have been linked to autism.
A group of autism experts published a list of chemicals and heavy metals believed to be behind the surge in autism and other neurological problems, Rodale reported. The list includes lead, mercury, PCBs, organochlorine and organophosphate pesticides, vehicular air pollution, flame retardants, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), BPA and the chemicals in nonstick cookware.
“We have very powerful, very sophisticated tools we can use to measure chemicals at very low levels,”said Phil Landrigan, Chair of Preventative Medicine at Mt. Sinai Medical Center in New York and co-author of the list. “It’s now possible to connect early exposure to problems in childhood.”
“We live, breathe and start our families in the presence of toxic chemical mixtures and constant low-level toxic exposures, in stark contrast to the way chemicals are tested for safety,” said Donna Ferullo, Director of Program Research at The Autism Society said at a conference call organized by Safer Chemicals Healthy Families in 2011. “Lead, mercury, and other neurotoxic chemicals have a profound effect on the developing brain at levels that were once thought to be safe.”
Just to be clear: There is no clear data on why autism occurs. Most scientists agree that there are many factors—from genetic to environmental—which may increase risk for ASD. Environmental factors include chemicals, infectious agents, and various health problems in the parents.
Hundreds of genes have been associated with autism, some of which are inherited and some of which are found in people with autism but not in their parents. Through the study of epigenetics, many scientists are focusing on the non-genetic—i.e. environmental and developmental—factors that cause the genes to behave differently; changes that may be passed on through multiple generations.
As Dick Jackson, Chair of UCLA’s Environmental Health Sciences Department once told me, “The genes load the gun. The environment pulls the trigger.” Unfortunately, we don’t yet know what that trigger is. But I’m guessing it’s man made.
Originally posted on MommyGreenest.com
By Mark A. Largent / Take Part
Vaccines, once the savior of an entire generation, have become a hotly contested issue in American culture, and fears that they might cause autism have dominated parents’ discussions about vaccines for more than a decade.
Parents of as many as one in 10 children refuse to vaccinate their children with a state-mandated vaccine, and more than a third of American parents may delay or outright refuse a doctor-recommended vaccine for their children. To make matters worse, officials have found that vaccine exemptions cluster in particular areas within a state and around the country, so some communities have very high rates of under-vaccinated children.
Claims about a potential link between vaccines and autism emerged in the late 1990s from two independent sources. In Britain, a group of researchers published a paper suggesting a potential link between the combined measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine [MMR] and symptoms associated with autism.
Subsequent researchers roundly rejected their hypothesis, and the journal eventually retracted the paper. At the same time in the U.S., parents learned that many childhood vaccines contained a mercury-based preservative, thimerosal, and they grew concerned about its effects on their children.
Health officials aggressively defend the safety, effectiveness, and necessity of childhood vaccines, and they are dismayed by the resiliency of parents’ fears that vaccines might cause autism. Hundreds of published studies and countless authoritative statements from health authorities seem to have little influence on the debate.
Physicians and public health officials allege that ignorance and anti-science attitudes are to blame, and they worry that science alone is not enough to compel parents to vaccinate their children. Nonetheless, medical professionals continue to attack the claim that vaccines cause autism as they call for increasingly strict laws to compel vaccine compliance.
The fear that vaccines might cause autism is in fact proxy for a complex set of concerns that many parents have about the modern vaccine schedule. Health officials have failed to address parents’ underlying fears, and most parents lack the technical knowledge to effectively parse the many intertwined concerns that they have about vaccines.
What are parents really worried about? They are worried about the high number of shots kids get in the first several months of their lives. Today, a fully vaccinated six-year-old will receive nearly three-dozen inoculations, most of them in the first 18 months of life.
The routine vaccination schedule now calls for shots at almost every well-child checkup, including four inoculations at the two-month appointment and five inoculations at both the four- and six-month appointments. As parents scramble to explain their fears, the only explanation available to them is the claim that vaccines might cause autism. But when their anxieties are carefully and respectfully examined, we see that they emerge from a wide variety of often well-informed philosophical and moral concerns parents have about their children’s health.
The solution for the problem of vaccine non-compliance is not increased pressure on parents or more passionate rhetoric from health officials. State legislatures that have made it easier than ever for parents to opt out of mandatory vaccines and the increasing number of “vaccine friendly” doctors who authorize medical exemptions mean that most American children can be legally exempted from some or all of their vaccines.
The only way to effectively address parents’ vaccine anxieties is to admit them and respect the fact that their concerns ought to be considered alongside scientific evidence as we add new vaccines to the modern vaccination schedule. If our ultimate goal is to ensure that as many children as possible are vaccinated against as many dangerous diseases as possible, it is critical that we preserve parents’ trust in vaccines and in their medical care providers.
This requires respectful engagement with vaccine-anxious parents and careful consideration of their particular concerns and contexts. Pediatricians who kick non-compliant parents out of their practices and health officials who continue to insist that vaccine anxieties are merely the result of ignorance and anti-scientism heighten the growing tension between vaccine-anxious parents and mainstream medicine. Their actions drive parents into the arms of the anti-vaccinators and undermine their own efforts to increase vaccine compliance rates.
This article has been reposted from TakePart.com