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Winter months mean getting creative with social and play skills

By Dr. Breanne Hartley, BCBA-D

Winter is upon us, as the leafless trees and cool temperatures will not let us forget. The cold winter months require different kinds of leisure activities for everyone, including children with autism. Children are no longer able to enjoy summer activities such as swimming in the local pool, or playing on the neighborhood swing set. Instead, children are oftentimes required to be indoors engaging in very different types of activities when the weather is cool.

Of course, we do not want the winter months to result in a decrease in social learning opportunities because oftentimes children with autism demonstrate deficits in social skills. These deficits may often consist of failing to make social initiations, failing to sustain conversations and preferring isolated play versus interactive play with other children. Many daily learning opportunities are required in order to help facilitate engagement in more appropriate social behavior. Therefore, although children are required to be inside for much of the next couple of months, it does not mean social and play opportunities with other children need to be put on hold. There are a variety of very fun social activities that you can encourage your child to participate in. For example, playing board games and creating arts and crafts.

Keep in mind that many people can act as “peers” to teach and facilitate social interactions; parents, siblings, grandparents, neighbors, cousins, and so many more!

Here are two ways you can make indoor activities a fun social opportunity for your child with autism:

Playing Board Games

Your child may have never shown interest in playing games like Chutes and Ladders or Hi-Ho-Cheerio, but that doesn’t mean you cannot teach them how. In order to make game-playing successful, start out with a small, easily achievable goal. For example, instead of playing the entire game on your first attempt, simply require that your child try one part of the game-playing experience. Initially, the “game” may be picking a color card from the deck in Chutes and Ladders, and saying “I got green”. Build in social opportunities by taking turns; your child picks a card and states the color, and then their brother picks a card and states the color. This allows your child to learn many new skills such as interacting with someone with a common goal, taking turns, and paying attention to someone else as they take their turn.

Arts & Crafts

Engaging in arts and crafts activities is another great way to encourage social interactions. With winter approaching, it would be seasonally appropriate to make a snowman craft. You can be creative and make a snowman however you’d like out of construction paper, pipe cleaners, cotton balls, “bug” eyes, etc. Once your snowman is complete, provide your child with similar materials that you used, and tell her to “Make a snowman like mine!” Your child will have fun attempting to match her snowman with yours by referencing what your model looks like. As your child puts each piece of the snowman together, start up conversation such as, “My snowman’s scarf is red. What color is your snowman’s scarf?”, “Look, my snowman has a hat to keep his head warm. What keeps his hands warm?”, “My snowman’s mittens are red like an apple. Your snowman’s mittens are green like (have your child fill in the blank).” Once both snowmen are complete, use them to play interactively by pretending they are riding in cars, sliding down slides, and building blocks. This arts and crafts activity allows your child to learn new skills such as copying a craft modeled by someone else, and engaging in conversation.

Enjoy playing with your child, and stay warm this winter!

Breanne is senior clinical director at Little Star Center.

 

 

 

Little Star Center hires Chief Community Officer

Dorron87 resizeDorron (Ron) Farris is Little Star Center’s chief community officer, a newly created position to strengthen the organization’s partnerships statewide. Dorron has more than 20 years of experience in the medical industry. Prior to joining Little Star Center, Dorron has worked for several major companies such as Eli Lilly, Merck and Sanofi.

Here’s more information about Dorron:

  1. What are your first impressions of Little Star Center? I have a brother with special needs, so I instantly felt connected to the mission of Little Star Center. I love that this is a family environment and the needs of learners and their families come first! The staff is exceptional in their field. They have established a quality reputation in the community. I seek to build on that to increase awareness and create new partnerships within the community.
  2. What are your immediate goals as chief community officer? I’ve already begun making connections for Little Star Center, but I also have a 30-day game plan to get to know staff and gain more knowledge about Little Star Center’s programs and services.
  3. Best advice you’ve ever received: My grandmother always said, “One monkey don’t stop a show.” That was her way of saying if you don’t succeed at something, it’s OK. Just don’t stop trying. Keep moving forward.
  4. Activities outside of work: I’m an athlete at heart. I CrossFit and enjoy spending time with my wife, Chamnoni, and our four kids.

Mary Rosswurm shares tips for meeting legislators as leader of Indiana ABA center

 

Little Star Center Executive Director Mary Rosswurm details how to meet legislators and inform them about important issues. Mary’s post appears on a blog for Benedictine University. Here’s an excerpt:

As a leader, there is a very real possibility that you could one day have to meet with legislators, either in your state’s capitol or in the nation’s. Whether it’s in a business capacity, or through a volunteer leadership role, you need to make the most of your limited time with your legislator. Being prepared is essential.

As the executive director of a non-profit agency, it is imperative that local legislators know me and the agency that I represent.  It is my job to make them aware of the important work that my organization does and how it impacts them and their constituents.

Please read the entire blog post here.

LSC therapists unite to raise money for our centers

 

Pizza anyone? How about taking the family out to dinner to support a great cause? Our Little Star Center therapists have been busy this month hosting a variety of events in the Indianapolis and Lafayette areas to raise money for our non-profit organization.  Several businesses, including Ruth’s Chris Steak House, Sky Zone and Hot Box Pizza, have hosted special events to raise funds for Little Star!

There’s still time to show your support for Little Star. Here’s the remaining list of fundraising events:

  • Carmel – All Little Star directors have volunteered to take a pie to the face – to benefit Little Star! Raffle tickets are available for $1 at Little Star-Carmel. Our directors will take the pies to the face at our Independence Day Celebration on July 3.
  • Lafayette – Buffalo Wild Wings, 2715 S. Creasy Lane, Friday, June 27. Present your Little Star Coupon and 15 percent of your ticket will go to LSC.
  • Lafayette – Knickerbocker, 113 N 5th St., Saturday, June 28, is hosting a benefit concert, starting at 9 a.m. This event features two bands, a silent auction and raffle. All proceeds go to Little Star.
  • Sentsy online fundraiser ends Saturday, June 28. To participate, click here
  • Westfield – Big Hoffa’s BBQ, 800 E. Main St., Monday, June 30, dine and donate to Little Star.

Little Star Center family shares their journey to Indiana ABA center in documentary

“We are proud to share our story”

 

By Siovhan Lawrence

In February 2012, upon much research and many discoveries about ABA therapy and insurance mandates, I came across an article about Ryan’s Law, also known as the South Carolina Autism Insurance Reform Law. The law requires insurance companies to cover treatments for autism.

In researching the law, I began to read about the bill’s author, Lorri Unumb, a former law professor and mother of a son with autism. Although she could afford care, she realized others could not, unless something changed. After it became very clear we needed to move from North Carolina to get adequate services for our son, Bradley, I reached out to Lorri on her Facebook page. I basically begged for her guidance, as we were so lost on what to do. I didn’t chat with her or hear from her again until much later when she messaged me about a documentary filmmaker looking to interview families who were moving to other states due to lack of insurance coverage where they lived. About a month or so before our move, we were contacted by the filmmaker, John Block. John and his film crew visited our home in July 2013 as we were packing to move to Indiana.

Nearly six months later, “Sounding the Alarm” which features our family and several others discussing autism issues, debuted in Massachusetts. After several screenings across the country, “Sounding the Alarm” was shown at the Tribeca Film Festival in April in New York City. We were invited to attend and were greeted by John and other families who participated in the documentary. We also met Bob and Suzanne Wright, co-founders of Autism Speaks. Many people asked us questions and said how touched they were by our story. As we left the screening, we chatted briefly with actor Robert De Niro, a founder of the Tribeca Film Festival, who has a son diagnosed with autism. He asked how Indiana was treating us. We spoke for a moment about our children and future plans.

It was a unique experience.  We hope that, in some way, our story helps others to realize (until insurance companies, lawmakers, and the health care system do) that you do have options and there is hope.

The Lawrence family moved to Indiana in 2013 to receive ABA therapy for their son, Bradley, now a learner at Little Star Center. They are 12 families chronicled in the documentary “Sounding the Alarm,” which examines the challenges and opportunities of individuals diagnosed with autism. The film will be available in July on iTunes, Netflix and Amazon Prime. Click here for a preview.

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.

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.

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.