Teaching Effective Ways to Communicate with Your Autistic Child

Parents you may want to look at a researched and validated therapeutic method of learning how to communicate with your child.  

Group classes teach parents effective autism therapy, study finds

October 27, 2014
Stanford University Medical Center

Parents can learn to use a scientifically validated autism therapy with their own children by taking a short series of group classes, a new study by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine and Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford has found.

The therapy helped children improve their language skills, an area of deficiency in autism, according to the study, which will be published Oct. 27 in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. The study is the first randomized, controlled trial to test whether group classes are a good way to train parents on using an autism therapy.

“We’re teaching parents to become more than parents,” said the study’s lead author, Antonio Hardan, MD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, who directs the hospital’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Clinic. “What we’re most excited about is that parents are able to learn this intervention and implement it with their kids.”

The treatment is not intended to replace autism therapies administered by professionals, but rather to improve parents’ ability to help their children learn from everyday interactions.

“There are two benefits: The child can make progress, and the parents leave the treatment program better equipped to facilitate the child’s development over the course of their daily routines,” said study co-author Grace Gengoux, PhD, clinical assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and a psychologist specializing in autism treatment at the hospital. “The ways that parents instinctually interact with children to guide language development may not work for a child with autism, which can frustrate parents. Other studies have shown that learning this treatment reduces parents’ stress and improves their happiness. Parents benefit from knowing how to help their children learn.”

Rewarding the Child

The therapy used in the 12-week study, called pivotal response training, has been shown in previous studies to help children with autism. To use the treatment for building language skills, parents identify something the child wants and systematically reward the child for trying to talk about it. For instance, if the child reaches for a ball, the parent says, “Do you want the ball? Say ‘ball.'”

“The child might say ‘ba,’ and you reward him by giving him the ball,” Hardan said. “Parents can create opportunities for this treatment to work at the dinner table, in the park, in the car, while they’re out for a walk.”

The method has roots in other behavioral therapies for autism, such as applied behavior analysis, but is more flexible than many such programs and makes greater use of the child’s own interests and motivations.

Fifty-three children with autism and their parents participated in the study. The children ranged in age from 2 to 6. All had language delays. The parents were randomly assigned to one of two groups: The experimental group attended 12 weeks of classes on pivotal response training, and the control group attended a 12-week program offering basic information about autism.

The children’s verbal skills were measured at the start of the study, at six weeks and at 12 weeks. At six and 12 weeks, the parents in the experimental group were video-recorded while using pivotal response training so that researchers could assess whether they were using the treatment correctly.

At the end of the study, 84 percent of parents who received instruction in pivotal response training were using the therapy correctly. Their children showed greater gains in language skills — both in the number of things they said and in their functional use of words — than children in the control group.

Empowering Parents

The researchers were encouraged to see that the group-based approach to training parents was successful and produced results quickly for the children. Rising rates of autism diagnosis have made it difficult for clinicians to meet the demand for their expertise, and groups are an efficient way to train parents. Parents also liked having the opportunity to learn from one another.

“Parents really do feel more empowered when they’re in a group setting,” said study co-author Kari Berquist, PhD, a clinical instructor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences and an autism clinician at the hospital. “They’re talking, connecting, sharing their experiences. It gives them a sense of community.”

The study provided an early hint about which children on the autism spectrum might benefit most from pivotal response training: Children with the best visual problem-solving abilities improved most with the treatment. In future studies, the researchers hope to identify good predictors of which autism therapies fit best for different children and families. They are also testing different lengths and intensities of pivotal response training to see what produces the best results.

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Stanford University Medical Center. The original article was written by Erin Digitale. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Antonio Y. Hardan, Grace W. Gengoux, Kari L. Berquist, Robin A. Libove, Christina M. Ardel, Jennifer Phillips, Thomas W. Frazier, Mendy B. Minjarez. A randomized controlled trial of Pivotal Response Treatment Group for parents of children with autism.Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 2014; DOI: 10.1111/jcpp.12354

Cite This Page:

Stanford University Medical Center. “Group classes teach parents effective autism therapy, study finds.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 27 October 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/10/141027120431.htm>.

Who Am I To Stop It…

I received a letter today and wanted to share it with my friends.  We are in a position to help with this effort and I truly believe whatever we can do to assist in awareness of brain injuries and the cost they have on your life is important and worthy.  Please help us help them…

My name is Cynthia Lopez, and I am an independent filmmaker collaborating with fellow filmmaker and brain injured artist Cheryl Green on ‘Who Am I To Stop It’, a documentary about isolation, art, and transformation after brain injury. In the film, we explore what role the arts play in the lives of three people with traumatic brain injury.

‘Who Am I To Stop It’ is an innovative film in the world of brain injury documentaries. It’s directed by someone who has experienced brain injury. Also, it’s observational in nature, rather than relying on interviews and experts or sensationalizing the traumatic injury events. We see our subjects not as individuals who have deficits or faults. Rather, they are people rooted in society, and many of the difficulties they face–and their wonderful triumphs–happen in the interaction between them and people around them. They are not odd or disordered, even if they experience disability; they are people with agency, drive, and value.

We completed filming in in September, 2014. We are now raising funds via Kickstarter to complete the film. We have raised over 50% of our $12,000 goal with two weeks left in the campaign.

Our intention is to share the completed film widely with the TBI and disability community, as well as with the general public, as a tool for advocacy, education, support, and to engage in dialogue about brain injury and disability.

If the mission of this film resonates for you, we would really appreciate it if you would share the link to this Kickstarter project with your network, through Facebook, email, or any other means. Helping us get the word out helps us amplify the voices and the wonderful work of people who have experienced traumatic brain injury. We are really excited to share this film with the world!

Here is the link to our Kickstarter campaign: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/807526735/who-am-i-to-stop-it

Our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/WhoAmIToStopIt

Our website and community arts blog at http://www.WhoAmIToStopIt.com

We appreciate your time,
Cynthia Lopez & Cheryl Green

Please share…please donate…please watch and empower others to do the same

How Much Would You Pay for Quiet-time?

Most of us work very hard all year long just to get away from it all, we call it a vacation, but to what extent is our pushing ourselves so we can take a break affecting our daily life?  Our brains, never have an opportunity to turn-off, shut-down or calm itself.  We bombard ourselves with sounds, visions, textures, and sensory input day and night.  We go to bed with TV’s turned on, radios playing and even white noise making crackling static noise.  Rarely, do people turn off lights, keeping our brains actively alert through out the night.  We eat late, so our bodies are digesting when we should be sleeping…we are actively alert listening through out the night, so our brains are constantly busy.  We are training ourselves to a new mental state of chronic stress and anxiety versus a relaxed state for sleeping or focused state for learning.

It is incredible how much noise is around us at all times.  We entertain our brain with music, talk radio, TV shows, internal dialogue as we read and converse on the phone.  We say we need a vacation, a break for what?  To go to public beaches, amusement parks, museums, resorts with more people and more activities?  Most of us leave vacation more tired than when we left to start our vacation!   Do you know in Europe most jobs insist you take 5 weeks off during the year to mentally rejuvenate.

The overwhelm of life equates to mental fatigue, less productivity, body illnesses such as high blood pressure, migraines, pain management problems and interrupted sleep cycles.  We are more apt to get sick more often, more visits to the ER and/or the Doctor’s office and much more expense in OTC medications.  We get mentally exhausted trying to organize, anticipate, and discriminate the stimulation, the important information from the mundane background noise.

How much would you pay for quiet-time?

Have you ever tried to turn the TV off and just lay in the quiet and truly do nothing…no reading, no writing, no talking… just sit there.  What would happen if you scheduled into your world a 15 minute ‘noise break’.  A time where you truly didn’t listen to the TV, you were not on the computer, you were not reading, or writing, listening to music or talking to anyone.  Think you could do that?  What if you were to try that once a month, once every few weeks, or maybe weekly, how about a daily regime?

15 minutes a day of not adding to the noise and mental activity would give your brain the ability go on auto-pilot to regenerate, a mental break from auditory, visual, and cognitive stimulation.  You call it mediation, I call it a mental vacation, an internal stay-cation…a FREE “quiet-time”!    Find your quiet spot, claim it as your own and use it daily!

If you need a script…write me at drldelong@cognitive-connections.com or visit me at cognitive-connections.com and I will do my best to make sure the world gives you that much needed quiet-time break!

76 of 79 Deceased NFL Players Found to Have Brain Disease


As the NFL nears an end to its long-running legal battle over concussions, new data from the nation’s largest brain bank focused on traumatic brain injury has found evidence of a degenerative brain disease in 76 of the 79 former players it’s examined.

The findings represent a more than twofold increase in the number of cases of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, that have been reported by the Department of Veterans Affairs’ brain repository in Bedford, Mass.

League of Denial, FRONTLINE’s investigation into the NFL’s concussion crisis airs tonight on many PBS stations. (Check local listings.)

Researchers there have now examined the brain tissue of 128 football players who, before their deaths, played the game professionally, semi-professionally, in college or in high school. Of that sample, 101 players, or just under 80 percent, tested positive for CTE.

To be sure, players represented in the data represent a skewed population. CTE can only be definitively identified posthumously, and many of the players who have donated their brains for research suspected that they may have had the disease while still alive. For example, former Chicago Bears star Dave Duerson committed suicide in 2011 by shooting himself in the chest, reportedly to preserve his brain for examination.

Nonetheless, Dr. Ann McKee, the director of the brain bank, believes the findings suggest a clear link between football and traumatic brain injury.

“Obviously this high percentage of living individuals is not suffering from CTE,” said McKee, a neuropathologist who directs the brain bank as part of a collaboration between the VA and Boston University’s CTE Center. But “playing football, and the higher the level you play football and the longer you play football, the higher your risk.”

An NFL spokesman did not respond to several requests for comment.

CTE occurs when repetitive head trauma begins to produce abnormal proteins in the brain known as “tau.” The tau proteins work to essentially form tangles around the brain’s blood vessels, interrupting normal functioning and eventually killing nerve cells themselves. Patients with less advanced forms of the disease can suffer from mood disorders, such as depression and bouts of rage, while those with more severe cases can experience confusion, memory loss and advanced dementia.

Among the NFL legends found to have had CTE are Duerson, Hall of Fame Pittsburgh Steelers center Mike Webster and former San Diego Chargers legend Junior Seau. On Monday, ESPN’s Outside the Lines reported that a New York neuropathologist had discovered signs of CTE in the brain of Jovan Belcher. In 2012, the former Kansas City Chiefs linebacker shot and killed his girlfriend before driving to a Chiefs practice facility, where he committed suicide in front of team officials.

The new data from the VA/BU repository — once the “preferred” brain bank of the NFL — comes as thousands of NFL retirees and their beneficiaries approach an Oct. 14 deadline to decide whether to opt out of a proposed settlement in the class-action concussion case brought against the league by more than 4,500 former players.

The research helps address what had been a key sticking point in negotiations — the issue of prevalence. Players in the lawsuit have accused the league of concealing a link between football and brain disease. While the settlement includes no admission of wrongdoing, actuarial data filed in federal court this month showed the NFL expects nearly a third of all retired players to develop a long-term cognitive problem, such as Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, as a result of football.

Under the proposed settlement, the survivors of players found to have died with CTE can qualify for a payment as high as $4 million. But some, including the family of Junior Seau, have announced plans to opt out of the settlement. Like Duerson, Seau committed suicide in 2012 by shooting himself in the chest with a .357 Magnum revolver. His family has filed a wrongful death suit against the league, arguing in part that the deal does not include adequate compensation for the descendants of former players. An attorney for the family told ESPN this month that the family was not suing “for his pain and suffering. They’re suing for their own.”

Others have challenged the settlement’s award structure for CTE specifically, claiming it only allows for such payments if a player was diagnosed with the disease before the day that the agreement won preliminary approval in July. This detail, they say, would shut out any player who may be diagnosed in the future.

Brad Karp, an outside counsel for the league, told FRONTLINE in an e-mail that “criticism of the settlement on this ground reflects a profound misunderstanding” of the proposed agreement. “The settlement provides very substantial monetary compensation for players who suffer from the significant neurocognitive symptoms alleged to be associated with CTE and who demonstrate, through diagnostic testing, that they have moderate or severe dementia.”

It remains unclear just how many players will decide to either opt out of the settlement, or choose to file a formal objection. A key test will come in November when the judge in the case holds a Fairness Hearing to consider any such challenges. Final approval would not come until sometime soon thereafter.



Q. Do we Teach our Children Useless Information or Do we Teach Them in a Way they Can’t Remember?

How many of you recall learning information in school that you said “I will never use this again, why do I need to learn this?”  I sure remember that!  However, it is true a broad education is important.  The more information we know the stronger the foundation for our new learning experiences.  Then why is it we can’t recall any of that old information they taught us in grade school?  The “Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader”  questions from that TV show demonstrated just how little most adults remember of what is being taught in our schools today.  So, are the children being taught information that is not necessary to remember?  Or were we taught in a method that didn’t ‘stick’ for most individuals?

The “use it or lose it” philosophy is also a true one…we know repetition and consistency is the key to solidifying new information.  But still many adults can’t recall how to do division of decimals or know World Geography, or who was the President in 1911 or even how to spell specific words, even though they had to write it over and over a 100 times.

Perhaps it is the method we were taught.  For most of us we learn in a variety of ways; visual, auditory, tactile, through a variety of senses even olfactory (sense of smell).  Do you remember what you ate for dinner last night?  You probably have to think, “where was I last night”…this is a locale memory a system triggered by ‘location or place’.   Sadly, 90% of the way we are taught in most schools is lecture based…listening, even reading can be considered a listening skill, because so many people read each word individually in their heads.

But did you know, we learn more information and faster when we learn it in a brain-based method, meaning in a way that honors our brains.  Here is an example…I give you a list of 3 things to remember to pick up at the store; apples, toilet paper and milk.  You could remember arbitrarily those three items, or you could put them in alphabetical order or you could create a story out of them.  The more ‘involved’ your brain is in remembering the information (in other words the stronger your intent is and the more attention your brain has given to the task) the  more likely you are to recall all of the items quickly.

So let’s add another element…that story you were telling yourself about these items…why not make the story more emotionally driven.  ‘The apple had been taken from its family tree and it was sadden to its very core (humor adds to the emotional content). The toilet paper was used to absorb the tears of milk streaming out of the apple’s stem.’

The brain, although extremely intricate and sophisticated is also very primitive.  The more ‘nasty’, colorful, silly, or absurd,  the story the more that brain will remember that information (stimulating all those sense we have!).  Who remembers their first nasty joke?  Or their first kiss, especially if it was a ‘hidden/secret’ kiss?  The first fight you were in with a best friend or spouse that tore you apart for a while?  These were stories driven by emotion or passion and these make strong memories.  Hence, those horrible traumatic events are always a stronger memory than the mundane math facts you need to know for a test.  So, it is more difficult to forget traumatic memories.

Emotion will drive our attention and as we all know when we are attentive we learn new information.  I remember my daughter’s experience in the public school.  (She is our adopted daughter with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder) I went to pick her up from school her first day in 4th grade and as a special needs student she had a folder with 22 print outs.  This is what she had done that day, was sat at her desk and filled out 22 papers.  I can only imagine the boredom associated with these papers, not to mention the lack of engagement and therefore the lack of learning!  She had no way to ‘associate’ this information to what she already knew and so it was not a meaningful experience.  There was no passion driving this new information and it was not in a mode that drove curiosity, therefore, it was not learned.

Renate and Geoffry Caine have been teaching individuals how the brain learns for years.  http://wnmu.edu/old/facdev/files/Natural_Learning.pdf  They state there are 12 basic principles to learning and share these in a visual representation. Principles-Wheel_2014  These learning principles when applied in a school setting can have a major impact on the way we learn and retrieve information.

So, when you are helping your child learn their homework or day to day life time experiences…remember, the way you teach the information is key not what you teach!  For more information on how the brain learns join us in our CogCon courses beginning with our online Introductory webinar. http://cognitive-connections.com/index.php/brain-shop/product/5-an-introduction-to-neurocognitive-processing-webinar

Happy learning, just another thought by Dr. Lise’