Counting Green Stars

Exploring a spectrum of possibilities

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Airport Rehearsal!

Flying is something we take for granted these days, but for children on the autistic spectrum, it can be an overwhelming experience.

Understanding that taking an autistic child on an airplane may require some advance planning and preparation, many airports now have programs that provide them with a flying experience without ever lifting off the ground.

Here is a list of 15 airports currently offering an Airport Rehearsal Program.


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Miami’s Autism Card

The University of Miami Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (CARD) partnered with the Coral Gables Police Department and the Disability Independence Group (DIG) to create ID cards so people with ASD can present themselves as such when interacting with law enforcement.

The idea came about after some young adults with autism were arrested for exhibiting “suspicious” behavior after being pulled over while driving when, in fact, they were simply responding with behavior that is characteristic of ASD.

With the help of the ID card, police officers will be able to know why a person may not be making eye contact, speaking, or reacting in an expected way.

The card features a bio-dot section, which allows drivers with autism to show how they are feeling by pointing to one of four options: relaxed, calm, nervous or tense.

I love this idea because it not only gives people with ASD a tool, but increases law enforcement’s awareness of ASD with that same tool. I think every state needs this!

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Collaborating with Educators

I typically do not post articles as long as the one that follows. However, I saw this article by Dr. DeAnna R. Burt in an autism newsletter I receive and thought it was relevant at the beginning of a new school year. I was encouraged by the information and hope you are, too!

Fostering Collaborative Partnerships with Your Child’s Educators
By Dr. DeAnna R. Burt

School is in session. For a child with autism, this often feels like embarking upon another unfamiliar and unpredictable experience; it’s unnerving and unsettling. This is how it feels for many children with autism who grapple with change.

Each school year presents a new learning opportunity for the child, his family, and his educators. At least that is how it was for my family; a new school year brought with it a new classroom environment, new sounds, a new teacher, a different set of expectations, new school policies, a new set of friends, a new class schedule, and a different lunch hour. Every year was full of change or, as I chose to see it, new opportunities.

Now the mother of a 20-year-old son with Asperger’s Syndrome (among other spectrum disorders), I knew very little about autism nearly 20 years ago when Mark was first diagnosed. But, what I failed to realize at the time was, that was also the case for the educators in his life.

Twenty years ago, we knew much less about autism than we do today. Oh, did I fail to mention that I too am an educator? Perhaps, this (among other reasons) contributed to my parenting journey being one marked by passionate advocacy for my son’s learning.

Still today, I maintain the opinion that everyone can learn within a supportive environment, but not every environment is conducive to learning. Some children require differentiated support in order to learn. We understand this better today in academics, but in those early years of my son’s life, my passion was often misunderstood; my presence resented by some of my fellow educators. But, that all changed. By the time Mark reached 4th grade, a collaborative and mutually respectful partnership had emerged between my family and his educators. So, what changed allowing us to foster such a supportive learning environment for Mark?

Honestly, I think we all changed. My son changed. I changed. And, his team of educators and administrators changed. We were on a continuum of learning, growing, and trusting one another. Perhaps, once we began to realize that we all wanted the same thing — a common outcome—a healthy, thriving, and successful learner—that is when Mark began to reap the benefits. We became partners toward his education.

So, in the category of “Helping Someone Else Along the Way,” I offer these tips toward fostering a collaborative partnership with your child’s educators this school year.

  1. Be willing to teach and be taught. Everyone stands to benefit from the knowledge and experiences of others. No one knows it all.
  2. Don’t stop believing. I raised Mark based on the belief that everyone can learn. My expectations of him and others were strategically aligned to this position.
  3. Be involved. Show up. Be visible for your child and others. Introduce yourself. Get involved so you can get to know the school and the school can get to know you. But, you must also know when to let others do their job and get out of the way.
  4. Use your external resources. There are times when the expertise of others (those outside the family and the school) is needed to offer a neutral perspective.
  5. Align yourselves as a team. Do not promote an “us” (family) against “them” (school) mentality. This only impedes progress and your child will be the one standing to lose the most in the end.
  6. Remember to say “Thank you.” (Can you imagine me saying this in your mother’s voice?) When the school gets something right on behalf of your child, praise them for it. Tell the superintendent of schools. Send the teacher a thank you note. Celebrate the success of your partnership.
  7. Finally, pay it forward. Be willing to share the learning with others. It did not take long before the school began to ask me to share my story, strategies, and resources with other families. Who wins? Everyone wins!

Have a safe and collaboratively positive school year.

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“Autism Balm”

Dr. V. Ruth Pinney has been researching and working with autistic individuals’ brain chemoreception pathways with a view to changing the reactions to the specific sensory perceptions.

About one-third of people on the autism spectrum are hypersensitive to odors, and these reactions can lead to eating disorders and other behavior disorders. Hypersensitive autistic smellers and tasters tend to have poor appetites, gag easily when offered food and eat only a few foods that they can tolerate the smell of. Even normal or pleasant odors may be perceived by them to be malodorous and disturbing.

Dr. Pinney created NOXO Sensory Balm™ to help “tone down” the perception of smells by the brain by providing a scent that is calming to the brain’s emotional centers. When this balm is applied topically, under the nose, an individual can find relief from odors that trigger coping responses.

This balm was first marketed under the name “NOXO Autism Balm” because of the obvious application for those on the autism spectrum with sensory integration difficulties who need to eat a greater variety of nutritious foods. It is reported to be safe, easy to apply, and non-invasive.

I’ve not yet tried this product, so I welcome the feedback from parents who have. Please let us know about your experience. It truly takes a village…

[Click on the image for more company information]

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10 Tips for IEP Meetings

With the new school year upon us, many parents will be working with their children’s schools to implement IEPs. The Autism File Magazine’s Vaughn K. Lauer has compiled and published a list of top 10 tips to help get the most out of the IEP process (I especially appreciated tips #5 and #7). Although he’s written a book on how to conduct a truly collaborative IEP meeting, these tips were actually gathered from parents in a survey he conducted.

Click here to read the article.

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“All About Me”

Michael Dorfman is a Michigan special education lawyer who represents students and their families to resolve conflicts within school districts. He’s come up with a wonderful back-to-school tool for our children that I love!

He reminds us that two children with autism–or ADHD, for that matter–are nothing alike, other than having the same diagnosis. That is why each child with a physical and/or learning disability attending school needs an “owner’s manual” to accompany them. This pamphlet communicates your child’s disability, needs, likes, past successes, and triggers for your child’s school teacher and paraprofessionals.

Click here to learn about how to write an “All About Me” Pamphlet for your child.

It’s going to be a great year!