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Little Star Center staff shares their thoughts about autism for Autism Awareness Month

During Autism Awareness Month, members of Little Star Center’s staff shared their thoughts about autism by completing the sentence, “One thing I want people to know about autism is ……..” Here’s what they shared:

“…that it does not mean a child’s life cannot have meaning.” ~ Shelly

“…the prevalence rate is 1 in 68 people.” ~ Taylor

“…that a diagnosis does not define a person.” ~ Angela

“…it is not an excuse for poor behavior.” ~ Mary

” …that each child is unique and has their own personality.” ~ Shaina

“…kids with autism grow up to be adults with autism and older adults with autism. Transition planning is crucial.” ~ Lindsay B

“….ABA helps individuals across the entire spectrum to maximize their independence, fulfillment, and enjoyment of their life.” ~ Tim

“…that autism is a spectrum and not all children with ASD are the same.” ~ Victoria

“…if you’ve met one person with autism…you’ve met one person with autism!” ~ Vince

“…that it doesn’t always make you anti-social, doesn’t make you quiet, doesn’t make you a math-genius, and it doesn’t make you unable to speak.  Just like anyone off the spectrum, people diagnosed with autism come in all shapes and sizes and have their own unique interests and skills that make them wonderfully interesting individuals.” ~ Casey

“…everyone can learn, we just may need to change the way we teach.” ~ Amanda

“…..it is a neurological or biological disorder.  It is not a psychological condition.” ~ Carrie

“….it is not a limiting diagnosis.” ~ Meg

“…..autism is not just one thing.” ~ Beth

“….it’s a spectrum disorder therefore each case is different; each child displays different strengthens and challenges.” ~ Brooke

“….that not all kids with autism are non-vocal, in fact a lot of kiddos with autism are very vocal.” ~ Kaitlyn

“…communication comes in many forms.” ~ Kasey

“…that every kid has a unique way of learning.” ~ Jackie

“…even if they cannot speak, they are still listening!” ~ Ashley

 

 

 

 

 

 

Help us recognize Big Stars for Autism Awareness Month Indiana

Little Star Center is honoring Big Stars for Autism Awareness Month Indiana and we need your help! In the Indiana autism community, we know it truly takes a village to ensure our children receive the care and attention they deserve. Among our Little Star Center team, these friends, neighbors and professionals provide support to our families and our Indiana ABA facilities in Carmel, Bloomington and Lafayette.

Who are your Big Stars? During April’s annual Autism Awareness Month we will recognize these people and their contributions on your behalf by sending an appreciation letter and a small gift.

If you know someone you’d like to recognize during the Big Stars for Little Star campaign, please forward their name, address and reason why to [email protected] by Feb. 13. We’ll be sure they are included and recognized on your behalf.

“We are here for each other and for all our children living with autism” — Our final word for Autism Awareness Month

By Mary Rosswurm

I remember when my son was diagnosed in 1994 like it was yesterday. At the time, though, the prevalence rate was 1 in 10,000 births. Here we are, two decades later, and the diagnosis rate is 1 in 68. Autism has changed the face of childhood worldwide and, I guess, parenthood as well. Little did I know that we were on the front edge of an epidemic.

As I look back over the last 20 years, I can categorize my journey into seven distinct “stages of autism”:

Alarm – That came right after the diagnosis. I was in a panic. It was a crisis for our family.

Anguish – I remember feeling that my world, as I knew it, was over and that I would never feel happiness again. I wondered if I had done something to cause his autism. This was by far the worst of the stages for me. My mom really helped me through this.

Anger – Then I just was mad. Why did this happen to my beautiful little boy? What did we do to deserve this? I remember reading an article in Rolling Stone magazine and Courtney Love was talking about the drugs she did while she was pregnant. I didn’t even take Tylenol when I had a headache! This did not seem fair!

Action – This stage was about pulling myself up by my bootstraps and finding out all I could about autism and treatments.  Unfortunately, there was no autism welcome wagon that was going to pull up into my driveway!

Acceptance – This crept in slowly, but I began to realize that autism was the hand that life had dealt me, and that I was going to have to make things happen for my son. It was up to me.

Advocacy – I learned that the squeaky wheel got the oil! I had to be on top of everything! Soon there were other autism parents like me – and I saw that when a lot of autism parents got together, things started to happen!

Admiration – I am truly amazed each day at what our kids with autism can do. I know that for many of them, getting up each day and facing a room full of people is so difficult, yet they do it day in and day out. I am blown away by what the parents of children with autism have done – they have moved mountains!

Right now, my moments of alarm, anguish and anger are few and far between, but they happen. If you are an autism parent and are struggling with alarm, anguish and/or anger, please reach out to somebody! You are not in this alone – we are here for each other and for all our children living with autism. It’s a journey, but thankfully, one that we are not on alone.

Mary Rosswurm is executive director of Little Star Center, Indiana’s first ABA facility.

 

Technology & the autism community – Little Star Center, Indiana ABA therapy

 

By Tim Courtney, MS, BCBA

We live in a very exciting time, where technology is rapidly changing the world around us. For individuals with autism and language/communication deficits, technology has had a sudden and dramatic effect. Individuals with autism that are non-vocal account for about 25% of this population, based upon recent research.  Technology has assisted this population with communicating, either via exchange of pictures, text to voice output, and speech generating devices.

Speech generating devices have changed dramatically from devices larger than most current laptops to devices like the iPad, iPad mini, or iPods that can achieve the exact same thing, and more, all while looking very typical. Look around most areas and all of us are using our devices to navigate and access our real and virtual social communities. Individuals with autism are not being left out.

The beauty of the recent tablet devices is the ease at which we can expand their functionality. Most everything we could ever want a device to do is available in an app. As of October 2013, the iOS app market now includes 1,000,000 apps. Fortunately, there is help with finding the right app to help individuals with autism. AutismSpeaks offers very helpful information for navigating the app store. The webpage even allows for searching the Android play store.

I can’t wait to see what the future brings. We are currently getting a glimpse into some of the possibilities. The Enable Talk glove which enables ASL signers to speak through a Bluetooth enabled phone, or the Hapifork that collects data and encourages either slower or faster eating through tactile feedback. Virtual reality through headsets like the Oculus Rift could provide for interesting ways to teach social skills, community skills, and even desensitization from situations that have evoked fear.

Tim Courtney is research and training director at Little Star Center, Indiana’s first ABA facility.

Conversation with a big star for Indiana’s first ABA center

 

In recognition of Autism Awareness Month, we will feature comments from our Little Star Center Board of Directors. This week’s Q&A is with William (Bill) Bower, board president.  Bower has served on Little Star Center’s Board of Directors since 2006. Senior vice president of the commercial lending group at M&I Bank.

What makes you most proud about serving on Little Star Center’s Board of Directors?

How much we have grown as an organization.  When I first joined the LSC Board, we were just one center with only six learners.  Since that time, we have grown to three centers, with a fourth one opening soon, serving over 100 families.  I can only imagine how overwhelming it can be for a family with a new diagnosis of autism and by continuing to grow our centers we are able to be available to help serve more families.

During your time as a board member, what do you think has been one of Little Star Center’s biggest success stories?

Our striving to provide the best quality ABA services in the state.  I think Mary and her team are the best at providing ABA therapy in Indiana, in fact we have more BCBAs per learner than anyone else in the state.  We really strive to set the best standard of care of any center.

What is one thing you want people to know about individuals with autism?

How much can be accomplished with the right help.  At the beginning of every board meeting, Mary brings in a team member to present a specific case to help educate the board.  So many of the examples are of learners who have been really struggling. Within six months to a year of ABA services, their advances are amazing.  It makes us so proud of the LSC team, and happy for the parents.

What do you see for the future of autism services in Indiana? Which  areas of service are in need of growth?

It really has improved in the last 10 years.  We all struggle with adapting to a constantly changing insurance environment, but it is important for us to take a step back and remind ourselves how far services for children with autism has come in just the last decade.

I think we are doing so much better at early diagnosis and early childhood intervention. I think the next step will be working with older children on transitioning to adulthood and some level of independence.

How has being a part of LSC impacted you personally?

I take great pride in what we do at LSC.  I see how hard Mary and all of our team members work each day.  Just spending a few hours in a center is exhausting; I don’t know how they do it each and every day.  I am glad I can contribute in some small way to the great work that they do.

 

How my cousin directed my career path to Little Star Center

From a Little Star Center employee

There are 17 grandchildren on my dad’s side of the family. Sixteen of us live without autism, but there is one who does. My 9-year-old cousin, Q, lives on the spectrum.  All of my cousins have affected my life in various ways, but the only one who has dramatically changed the course of my life is Q.

He was 5 years old when I accepted the official title of his “personal babysitter”. I needed a summer job between my freshman and sophomore years at Indiana University, and my aunt needed an extra set of eyes to watch him. It seemed like a win-win for all parties involved, which it undoubtedly was. From day one, Q had an eye for adventure, and a penchant for the mischievous. Since he was non-verbal at the time, there were a lot of communication barriers to work past. However, I quickly learned that McDonald’s French fries were his favorite foods, and swinging at the park was his favorite activity.

Over those few summer months, my bond with Q blossomed. Although we spent hours running around the house playing, there were also many moments of extreme frustration and sadness.  Nevertheless, it’s the joyous times that I remember the most vividly. By babysitting my little cousin, I learned the value of patience and compassion.

Working with my cousin helped me discover my passion for supporting those with disabilities.  I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to work with kids with autism at Little Star Center, and I’m forever grateful to my cousin Q for leading me to this point.​

 

Living in the moment with Gentry – Inspiration from the founder of Little Star Center

By Amy Groshell

April rolls around like a lion each year for us.  The low pressure systems bring explosive weather changes that are only predicted by our daughter’s agitation and explosive behavior.  Most people aren’t aware (even in the autism community) that three times more children, teens and adults with autism celebrate their birthdays in the spring.  My two girls (both with significant development delays), are no exception.

When I write about my experience with autism, I am referring to Gentry, my bright, bold and beautiful daughter who will turn 18 this month.  Yes, children with autism (even those like her with multitudes of early intervention) turn into adults.  Recently, my husband and I spent our morning at the courthouse gaining legal guardianship of her.  Basically, she will be considered a minor the rest of her life. The beauty of this is that Gentry’s autism is so severe that she won’t even have a clue that we ever did this.  She is so “in the moment” that she is driven only by who she’s with, what she is doing, and what she wants to do next. There is a sweetness to this, although, I must admit, that spending time with her (we call it “Gentry time”) is like being Pac Man gobbling up the minutes of the day.  My husband affectionately calls it the autism marathon. There is a beauty in being with Gentry.  She forces you to be in the moment.  You must drop everything on your list – mundane chores included – and be present with her.

When you choose to engage your attention with a person with autism, often doing what they care about, you are helping their autism quiet down. Their bodies are constantly being bombarded with sensory input signals that often they have no control over.  Many of the unusual behaviors of autism are merely an attempt to block these signals out. In essence, the behavior is a coping mechanism to help the person with autism survive.  By engaging in a positive activity – like swimming or throwing a ball – you are giving the person with autism a break from their hyperactive sensory system.  The person with autism is also giving you the gift of living in the moment.  After all, aren’t you sick of your list?

This month is autism awareness month.  Instead of giving pity to the person with autism, engage with them in a meaningful activity.  Just observe them or ask their caregiver for ideas.  Connecting with a person with autism is a true gift.  It gives them a break from their overactive sensory system and gives them a sense of belonging.  I can’t think of a better way to celebrate autism awareness!

Amy Groshell, and her first husband, Steele Gudal, founded LSC in 2002. Steele Gudal died in 2006. Amy and her family now reside in Florida.

Good-bye Alabama, hello Indiana ABA center

 

By Jamie Vandiver

Shortly after my son Camden’s diagnosis, I began checking into different therapies.  Living in a small, rural Alabama town, I quickly found my options and resources were limited, and almost non-existent.  I knew that in order for my son to receive the therapy he desperately needed, my family would have to move out of state.

After discovering Indiana has the necessary mandated insurance laws, I inquired about ABA centers in the state.  I chose Indiana since I have family members living within the state.  Luckily, this is how I learned about Little Star Center. I quickly scheduled a tour. I knew as soon as I completed the tour, it was the place for Camden. So, without hesitation, we packed up and moved 500 miles to Lafayette!

Little Star turned out to be a true blessing!  From the very first day, Little Star went above and beyond to make us feel welcomed. Every morning, as soon as Camden entered the building, he was greeted by his therapist(s) with a big warm “hello”.  Every morning made Camden feel right at home.  It touched my heart to see his eyes light up every morning.  The enthusiasm the staff carries cannot be matched!  I knew they truly cared about my son, and his progress.  They were always delighted to work with my son.  And, the atmosphere was always warm, inviting, and fun.

I liked the fact they included me, as a parent, in meetings.  They worked with me to develop a personal goals plan for Camden.  They also taught me many skills to use at home. I now have the skills needed to help Camden during his most difficult times.  The ABA therapy he received has improved his behavior tremendously.  He acquired many skills needed for everyday living.

Camden truly made great strides during his time at Little Star.  He has since transitioned successfully to a Pre-K program back in Alabama.  We often think about Little Star, and keep in contact with many of his friends and therapists. I can honestly say that Little Star was there for us each step of the way.  Above all, we were blessed to find an ABA center that truly understood the dynamics of our struggles.  They helped turn Camden’s struggles into achievements.  I will always give credit to Little

Star, along with the great people that make up their staff, for giving us hope, and for laying the foundation for Camden to have a better and brighter future!

Thank you Little Star!

Conversation with a Big Star for Indiana’s first ABA center

 

In recognition of Autism Awareness Month, we will feature comments from our Little Star Center Board of Directors. This week’s Q&A is with Dr.Rose Wolflin, who has served on Little Star Center’s Board of Directors since 2007. Wolflin is a senior corporate certified paralegal for J.D. Byrider.

 What makes you most proud about serving on Little Star Center’s Board of Directors? 

The Board of Directors is comprised of interesting, insightful individuals that tremendously care about the services and needs of Little Star.  I am proud to be associated with this open-minded group and most proud of Little Star’s positive impact on the community and our ability to help the children develop and blossom.

During your time as board member, what do you think has been one of Little Star Center’s biggest success stories? 

One of Little Star Center’s biggest success stories has been the improved efficiency and array of services provided in Little Star’s Carmel center and with the expansion to Lafayette and Bloomington.  Little Star’s staffing has been a critical component to this success.  I appreciate and admire the Little Star employees’ dedication and qualifications.

What is one thing you want people to know about individuals with autism?  

One thing I want people to know is that individuals with autism are brilliant and can shine in various settings.

What do you see for the future of autism services in Indiana? Which  areas of service are in need of growth? 

 The future is bright with an increased awareness and understanding.  Educators need to continue to diligently conduct and review case studies and share their findings with policymakers.

How has being a part of LSC impacted you personally? 

 I have an increased appreciation for caregivers and a better understanding of the challenges involved with autism.  I am more aware of societal needs and opportunities.

 

Why I chose Applied Behavior Analysis Indiana

 

By Angela Vargas, M.S., BCBA

Like most other kids, I went through my list of what I wanted to be when I grew up: a lawyer (…too boring), a law and order SVU detective (…too scary), a wedding planner (…I probably wouldn’t be much good at that). This all changed when I learned that my younger cousin was diagnosed with autism. Initially, it didn’t affect me much. He lived in Colombia and my family had already moved to the United States by then. It was only a label. Then, my cousin’s family came to Wisconsin for a visit. Although he was only about 3 years old, I noticed slight differences in the way he interacted with others. “This must be the autism,” I thought.

As I got older, I heard my parents talking about the different hardships my cousin and his family faced in Colombia; limited resources and knowledge about autism being the two most prominent ones. My aunt and uncle tried to find a logical reason behind the diagnosis. Was it the Coke they gave him to drink when he was a baby? Whose side of the family did it come from? How was his birth different than that of his brother’s? All of these questions, left unanswered, only increased the familial tension. Finally, my aunt decided she would get her certificate in ABA at the University of North Texas so that she could be better informed about autism and hopefully guide my cousin’s treatment. Additionally, my cousin would make several trips to Florida to receive the needed therapy.

As it may come to no surprise, I ultimately decided that I wanted to pursue a career in the field of autism. After doing some research and talking to those in the field, I was given two recommendations: become a behavior analyst or a special education teacher. “Behavior analyst it is!” I thought, and I haven’t looked back since. Choosing to become a BCBA, while on a whim, was the best decision I have ever made. I have a profession, which I not only love, but one that constantly challenges me. Very few individuals can say that they are excited to get up and go to work every day; I am fortunate to be one of those who can. Each learner teaches me something different about life and resilience. Every milestone met, no matter how big or small, is groundbreaking. We all have a reason for pursuing a career in this field. Many of us have likely been affected by autism personally. Each and every time I work with a new learner, my cousin comes to mind. He may not have received the needed services. His family may not have been provided with the necessary support and information. He may not have had access to a service provider like LSC, something unheard of in Colombia. Luckily, I have the opportunity to be sure that his story is one never told by any of the families I work with. For this, I am eternally grateful.

Angela Vargas is a program manager at Little Star Center.