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Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Documentary Film "Aspie Seeks Love" Debuts in Newton Tuesday, June 9 Courtesy of AANE

From AANE.org
The Asperger/Autism Network 

May 3, 2015


As AANE begins its 20th year, we would like to celebrate at our annual meeting by showing the new, not-yet-released documentary film "Aspie Seeks Love" on June 9th at Hebrew College in Newton Center, from 7:00 - 8:15pm.

The annual meeting will follow, from 8:15 - 9:15pm.

Both the Nancy Lurie Marks Family Foundation and the Ruderman Family Foundation have made $500 contributions so that we can offer tickets to members of our community at no charge. In order to figure out how many tickets will be available for these guests, we need to know how many tickets to reserve for board and committee members and guests you might want to bring.

Please RSVP. Your receipt will be your ticket. Please do not sign up to come unless you are sure you will attend -- seating is limited.

When:   7:00pm Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Where: Berensen Hall, Hebrew College
                   160 Herrick Road, Newton MA 02459

For More Info and to RSVP

Thanks to the Nancy Lurie Marks Family Foundation and the Ruderman Family Foundation for sponsoring this movie.

MGH Aspire College Boot Camp Enrollment Now Open

From the MGH Aspire Program

May 18, 2015

Two one-week intensive programs this summer, helping new students on the autism spectrum transition into college.

Read about a young man in college who attended the program: The Courage to Thrive in College.

When:   5:30 - 8:00pm, July 13th - 17th or,
                    August 3rd - 7th

Where: Mass. General Hospital for Children (+ College Visit!)
                   1 Maguire Rd, Lexington, MA

Program Description

Contact information: tel. (781) 860-1900; email: mghaspire@partners.org.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Therapeutic Yoga Opportunities at NESCA This Summer!


May 23, 2015

If you have been considering therapeutic yoga for your child but have had trouble fitting it into your busy school year, summer can be the ideal time to bring yoga into your child's life.

Our therapeutic yoga teachers can introduce your child to yoga, help them develop valuable self-awareness and self-regulation skills and lay the foundation for a lifelong healthy practice.

We offer flexible scheduling in the summer, and do our best to work around camp and vacation plans. Limited spaces are still available for individual therapeutic yoga sessions as well as the Yoga Connects parent-child program for children and young adults with ASD and other developmental challenges.

Special Summer Programs for Girls 9 - 12

In addition to these ongoing services, School Guidance Counselor and Certified Yoga Instructor Ann-Noelle McCowan is offering two special summer programs specifically designed to support girls ages 9-12 and their parents.

Ann-Noelle McCowan, M.S., RYT
NESCA receives many inquiries about our yoga program from families with daughters aged 9-12. This doesn't surprise therapeutic yoga teacher Ann-Noelle McCowan, M.S., RYT, a school counselor who has been working with pre-teens and teens since 2001.

Beginning during the later elementary years, girls experience increased academic expectations, growing awareness of how they compare to others, stronger and more complex social relationships, developing independence from family, and the onset of puberty with its accompanying mood fluctuations and sense of their body and body image. This is a challenging time for parents as well as they navigate how best to stay connected to their child while supporting their transition into the teenage years.

Self-awareness and empowerment group: For girls ages 9-12. This six-week summer class includes yoga practice, mindfulness exercises, yoga games, group discussion and guided relaxation. Participating girls will build a solid toolbox of self-awareness and self-regulation strategies. Be strong, be calm and have fun!

Parent group: For parents of girls ages 9-12. In this four-week evening series, Ann-Noelle will provide invaluable insight from her 14 years of working with pre-teens, teens and their parents into what is happening developmentally, emotionally and socially with your pre-teen girl.

Learn strategies to understand and communicate peacefully with your daughter, enjoy the support/validation from a confidential cohort of parents and then enjoy a chance to relax and take care of yourself. Sessions will include some lecture, group discussion and gentle yoga practice. No yoga experience is necessary.

Hannah Gould, M.Ed., RYT
Both groups will begin after July 4th, with specific times and days TBD based on interest and availability.

Please register early!

To register or for more information about these groups or our other therapeutic yoga services, contact Hannah Gould, at hgould@nesca-newton.com or 617-640-0450.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Why Childhood Anxiety Often Goes Undetected (and the Consequences)

From the Child Mind Institute

By Roy Boorady, M.D.
May 12, 2015

Kids often keep their worries hidden, or express them in ways that are hard to read.

Anxiety is a natural thing. It is normal for very young children to be afraid of the dark, or for school-age children to worry about making friends. But for some kids, normal anxiety morphs into something more serious.

A young girl might be afraid to ever leave her mother's side, even to get on the school bus, or an anxious boy may need frequent reassurance over things that happened a month ago.

Kids can develop an anxiety disorder. Eventually the disorder can start interfering with a child's friendships, life at home, and work in school. Even so, the anxiety still might not be noticeable to parents and caregivers.

For one thing, being anxious doesn't necessarily mean that you can't function—it might just make some kinds of functioning more difficult. A homework assignment that should take twenty minutes might take an hour, for example.

With anxiety, it's important to remember how internal it is. It dominates a child's thoughts, but it might not be obvious to the people around her.

It's also worth noting that in my work as a child psychiatrist I see a lot of anxious kids who are still basically happy and enjoying life. Maybe they are only struggling in certain situations, which may make their anxiety all the easier to overlook.

Outward Signs of Anxiety

When anxiety is expressed outwardly, there can be a wide range of signs, which often complicates identification.
  • Kids may have trouble sleeping or complain about stomachaches or other physical problems.
  • They may become avoidant and clingy around parents or caregivers.
  • They might also have trouble focusing in class or be very fidgety—I like to say, "Not all that moves is ADHD," even though that's often the first thing we suspect from a hyperactive or inattentive child.
  • They may have explosive outbursts that make people think they are oppositional, when their fight-or-flight mechanism is triggered.

The words we use to describe our anxiety can distract, too. People use a lot of different words to describe what they're feeling—kids might say they are self-conscious, shy, apprehensive, worried, or afraid. These words do a good job capturing what they are struggling with, but fixating too much on them can distract from the fact that anxiety is underlying factor—not some personal failure in personality.

Consequences of Untreated Anxiety

If you look at the prevalence rates of anxiety disorders, you'll see that the numbers rise as children get older. That makes sense because anxiety disorders are cognitive, so they develop as our cognitive ability develops. Separation anxiety, for instance, develops early, whereas social anxiety disorder usually develops after puberty.

A study of more than 10,000 kids, interviewed by trained professionals, shows that more than 30 percent had developed an anxiety disorder some time before they were 18.

Anxiety frequently recurs, too, and childhood anxiety is often a precursor for adult anxiety, especially for kids who don't receive treatment. The same study showed that 80 percent of kids with anxiety do not get treatment. Many adults seeking help for anxiety remember feeling anxious when they were younger, which means that they've been struggling for a long time and could have benefited from treatment as children.

Avoidance Reinforces Anxiety

Kids with untreated anxiety also begin to develop poor coping skills. A common example is avoidance—people who are very anxious will try to contain it by avoiding the thing that makes them anxious. It's a short-term solution that unfortunately reinforces their anxiety instead of acclimating them to it.

Similarly, untreated anxiety can lead to lower self-esteem, academic dysfunction and self-medication through substance abuse.

Anxiety Leads to Depression

People living with anxiety for extended periods of time are also more likely to develop depression. It isn't uncommon to meet patients who come seeking treatment for depression or depressive symptoms and it turns out that they have been dealing with lifelong anxiety as well. In cases like this people need treatment for anxiety and depression.

Fortunately, we know a lot about how to treat anxiety. It responds very well to cognitive behavior therapy, and there are medications that work, too. Getting help makes a big difference, and treatment doesn't need to be a lifelong thing—although its positive effects will be.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Let Kids Fidget in Class: Why It Can Be Good For Those with ADHD

From KQED's Blog "Mind/Shift"
How we will learn.

By Anya Kamenetz
May 15, 2015

Are you a pen-clicker? A hair-twirler? A knee-bouncer? Did you ever get in trouble for fidgeting in class? Don’t hang your head in shame. All that movement may be helping you think. 

Allowing kids with ADHD to move around in class
may help them collect their thoughts. (LA Johnson/NPR)

A new study suggests that for children with attention disorders, hyperactive movements meant better performance on a task that requires concentration. The researchers gave a small group of boys, ages 8 to 12, a sequence of random letters and numbers. Their job: Repeat back the numbers in order, plus the last letter in the bunch. All the while, the kids were sitting in a swiveling chair.

For the subjects diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, moving and spinning in the chair were correlated with better performance. For typically developing kids, however, it was the opposite: The more they moved, the worse they did on the task.

Dustin Sarver at the University of Mississippi Medical Center is the lead author of this study. ADHD is his field, and he has a theory as to why fidgeting helps these kids.

“We think that part of the reason is that when they’re moving more they’re increasing their alertness.”

That’s right — increasing. The prevailing scientific theory on attention disorders holds that they are caused by chronic underarousal of the brain. That’s why stimulants are prescribed as treatment. Sarver believes that slight physical movements “wake up” the nervous system in much the same way that Ritalin does, thus improving cognitive performance.

However, he explains, alertness occurs on a “rainbow curve.” You want to maintain a “Goldilocks” level of alertness — not too much, not too little. That’s why moving around didn’t help the typically developing kids; it might even have distracted them.



Lots of popular classroom-management advice focuses on controlling students’ postures and movements, on the theory that sitting still is synonymous with thinking well. For example, Doug Lemov’s “Teach Like A Champion” model, used in many charter schools, uses the acronym SLANT, for “Sit up, Listen, Ask and answer questions, Nod, Track the speaker.”
This is one small study, not meant to provide conclusive evidence one way or another. But in his role as an ADHD researcher, Sarver often finds himself in conversation with teachers who ask him for his opinion.

Sarver tells them that it may make more sense to grant kids with ADHD some leeway — not to get out of their desk constantly or distract other students, but to move around as they need to.

“When I tell a kid, ‘Sit down, don’t move, stop tapping, stop bouncing,’ the kids are spending all their mental energy concentrating on that rule. And that doesn’t allow them to concentrate on what we’re asking them to do, which is their homework.”

Monday, May 18, 2015

Some Young Children With Autism Lose Label, but Retain Learning Challenges

From Education Week's Blog "Early Years"

By Christina Samuels
April 29, 2015

A small percentage of children who had been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder as toddlers no longer showed symptoms of the disorder four years later, but most continued to have emotional or learning disorders, according to a study that was presented at a recent meeting of researchers in child health.

The findings came from a study of 569 children in New York between 2003 and 2013. They had all been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder through an early-intervention program around age 2 1/2. But 38 children—about 7%—showed no further signs of autism as young children when they were 6 years old.

Those 38 children did have normal cognitive function, but many, about 68 percent, also had learning disabilities. Nearly half had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and a quarter had disabilities such as anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, or selective mutism.

Only three of the 38 had no other diagnoses. Nearly 75 percent of the children required academic supports, such as a small classroom or a resource room setting, according to the findings.

The findings were presented Sunday at the Pediatric Academic Societies meeting in San Diego. The research was led by Dr. Lisa Shulman, a developmental pediatrician and a specialist in early identification and treatment of autism, based at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University in New York.

"When an early ASD diagnosis resolves, there are often other learning and emotional/behavioral diagnoses that remain," said Dr. Shulman, in an interview with AAP News, a news magazine published by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

"Understanding the full range of possible positive outcomes in this scenario is important information for parents, clinicians, and the educational system."

Diagnosing Autism Spectrum Disorder Early

You may wonder how clinicians are able to diagnose autism accurately very young children. Dr. Shulman and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine created this video of baby and toddler milestones that offers a good primer on social behavior and language development parents should expect from their children at different ages. What makes this video particularly useful is that it features real children as well.

Alithea Morrison, second from right, sits next to her preschool teacher, Kathy Boisvert, as she and her classmates sing during class at Millville Elementary School in Millville, Mass. The class is one of more than 100 school sites for the Learning Experiences Alternative Program, which immerses children with autism spectrum disorders in classes with typically developing children trained in ways to communicate and work with them.
—Gretchen Ertl for Education Week

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Why Emotional Learning May Be as Important as the ABCs

From KQED's Blog "Mind/Shift"
How we will learn.

By Maanvi Singh, NPR
January 2, 2015

Thomas O’Donnell reads about Twiggle the Turtle to his
kindergartners at Matthew Henson Elementary School
in Baltimore. (Elissa Nadworny/NPR)

Thomas O’Donnell’s kindergarten kids are all hopped up to read about Twiggle the anthropomorphic turtle.

“Who can tell me why Twiggle here is sad,” O’Donnell asks his class at Matthew Henson Elementary School in Baltimore.

“Because he doesn’t have no friends,” a student pipes up.

And how do people look when they’re sad?

“They look down!” the whole class screams out.

Yeah, Twiggle is lonely. But, eventually, he befriends a hedgehog, a duck and a dog. And along the way, he learns how to play, help and share.

These are crucial skills we all need to learn, even in preschool and kindergarten. And common sense — along with a growing body of research — shows that mastering social skills early on can help people stay out of trouble all the way into their adult lives.

So shouldn’t schools teach kids about emotions and conflict negotiation in the same way they teach math and reading? The creators of Twiggle the Turtle say the answer is yes.


Emotional Intelligence 101

Twiggle is part of a program called Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies, or PATHS. It’s designed to help young kids recognize and express emotions.

Matthew Henson Elementary is one of about 1,500 schools around the country using this program, which was first developed in the 1980s.

Every week, students get two 15- to 20-minute lessons on themes like self-control and treating others with respect. Especially for the youngest kids — in kindergarten and first grade — Twiggle often serves as their guide.

O’Donnell says his students are really taking to the lessons. They’re trained, for example, to “do the Turtle” when they’re upset. “That’s when they stop and cocoon themselves. They wrap their arms around themselves and they say what the problem is,” he explains.

O’Donnell’s kids do the turtle all the time — in the hallway and during class.

Right before class starts, for example, one little girl tells her friend, “I don’t like when you touch my hair, because it makes me sad.”

“Sorry!” her friend responds.

While most kids will eventually figure out such strategies on their own, or with help from their parents, O’Donnell says, the lessons help them learn more quickly.

And for some, especially those with troubled home lives, Twiggle is their first and only introduction to healthy self-expression, he says. “Some of them don’t have words to express how they feel before this.”

The Long Game

We previously reported on a national study comparing PATHS and other, similar programs showing positive effects in preschool. They are based on research showing that kids who act up a lot in school and at home — even very young kids — are more likely to have mental health problems and commit crimes years later as adults.

So Kenneth Dodge, a psychologist at Duke University, asked, “Could we do something about that to prevent those problems from actually occurring?” And he has dedicated his career to answering that question.

He and his colleagues launched the FastTrack Project to see if they could change students’ life trajectory by teaching them what researchers like to call social-emotional intelligence.

Back in 1991, they screened 5-year-olds at schools around the country for behavior problems. After interviewing teachers and parents, the researchers identified 900 children who seemed to be most at risk for developing problems later on.

Half of these kids went through school as usual — though they had access to free counseling or tutoring. The rest got PATHS lessons, as well as counseling and tutoring, and their parents received training as well — all the way up until the students graduated from high school.

By age 25, those who were enrolled in the special program not only had done better in school, but they also had lower rates of arrests and fewer mental health and substance abuse issues.

The results of this decades-long study were published in September in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

The findings prove, Dodge says, “In the same way that we can teach reading literacy, we can teach social and emotional literacy.”

Cost Versus Benefit

PATHS and FastTrack aren’t the only programs of their kind. A social-emotional learning program called RULER, developed at Yale University, has shown promising results, as well. And every year, the Chicago-based Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning rates the top evidence-based emotional intelligence programs around the country.

So what’s the catch? Why don’t all schools offer emotional intelligence lessons?

Well, it’s expensive.

The full, intensive FastTrack program costs around $50,000 per student, over a 10-year period. Schools can also pick and choose elements of the program.

For example, the short PATHS lessons about Twiggle at Matthew Henson Elementary cost less — about $600 per classroom to start, plus an additional $100 a year to keep it running.

It’s pricey, but it does cost less per child than juvenile detention or rehab programs later on, according to Dodge. As a society, we spend a lot on remedial services — programs like PATHS are preventive, he says. “This is something that in the long run will save dollars.”

At Clark K-8 School in Cleveland, fifth-grader Tommy DeJesus Jr. says he thinks it’s been worthwhile.

DeJesus has been exposed to the PATHS curriculum since he was in kindergarten, and he says he continues to use the social skills he learned from good old Twiggle.

The other day, for example, DeJesus says, he was quick to step in when he saw that a friend was being teased. “They were making fun of his shoes and how he dressed. I said, ‘Just because you have shoes and he doesn’t, that doesn’t give you the right to bully him,’ ” he says.

And the cool thing was, they listened.