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Floortime and a Spiritual Discovery

November 9, 2011 20 comments

Ben G. of Michigan received floortime therapy through The PLAY Project Intervention for Autism, one of Autism Speaks’ first community grant recipients. His mother, Lisa, reports how his progress has led to his writing a sermon that he read at his Bar Mitzvah to his friends and family.


My husband and I have a 13-year-old son, Ben, whose symptoms appeared when he was very, very young.  Ben started getting occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy and sensory integrative therapy at 14 months of age, then at 30 months came under the care of Dr. Rick Solomon in 2001. Still, Ben didn’t speak. In fact, he was a mess.

We were family #19 in the PLAY Project. Thanks to the PLAY Project and excellent speech therapists, Ben is doing well today. He is a seventh grader in a regular classroom, although he gets support through extra study hall and help with his reading comprehension. His grades are good (nothing below a B). He seems to be having a normal childhood.

Ben’s Bar Mitzvah was on October 22nd, and his friends (73 of them, to be exact) were coming.  (Better yet, he is getting invited to the Bar Mitzvahs of other kids that he knows.)  Ben’s Bar Mitzvah fell on the day when Jews read the creation story in synagogues around the world. Because Ben is really interested in weather and space, we were delighted that he was assigned a Torah portion that he could identify with.

But, Ben had to write a sermon.

Here is a copy of Ben’s sermon for you to read.  It’s a real testament to the way his brain works (e.g. I told him we would read how God created the universe, and he expected there to be a recipe!) But, it also shows that autistic children can recover to the point of being spiritual.

Dr.  Solomon, his wife, the PLAY Project consultant who worked with Ben for three years, and the speech therapist who worked with Ben for five years will all be at his Bar Mitzvah—with bells on!  (You should have seen Ben’s face when I used that expression to describe their excitement!) We are looking forward to a great celebration—made possible by the great work that folks do to help autistic children get well and reach their true potential.

If you ever need a child as “living proof” that early intervention works, Ben is Exhibit A. I shudder to think what would have happened without the PLAY Project.

Autism Speaks awarded Dr. Solomon’s institute a $15,000 grant in 2007 for a project called Training Respite Care Providers in The PLAY Project Intervention for Autism.

 The PLAY Project is a practical application of DIR (Developmental, Individual-differences and Relationship). Dr. Solomon and his group have trained nearly 200 therapists and teachers in 70 agencies across 22 states to train parents to implement The PLAY Project with children. This project was a collaboration with Lansing Area Parents Respite Center to train its staff of respite care providers in The PLAY Project techniques. By training respite care providers, they improved engagement and interaction with the children that they work with.

This was a pilot project to develop a new model for respite care for children with autism spectrum disorder.


My child is nonverbal. Anything new that might help him communicate better?

October 14, 2011 30 comments

Today’s “Got Questions?” answer comes from speech-language pathologists Cynthia Green, Kameron Beaulieu, and Jill Dolata (left to right in photo) of the Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network (ATN). Their ATN work at the Oregon Health & Science University’s Child Development and Rehabilitation Center involves individualized parent training using a 24-week program that improves children’s social communication skills.

Today, parents and therapists have many new applications and devices that support a child’s nonverbal communication. First and foremost, however, we strongly recommend an insightful look at how your nonverbal child communicates—in other words, how he sends messages to others.

As you and other parents of children with autism know well, non-verbal does not mean non-communicative. So we always want to start with a good understanding of children’s current communication level before attempting to help them move to the next level.

We regularly use the Communication Matrix, a skills assessment designed to evaluate children’s communication abilities. This tool is unique in measuring all possible communicative behaviors, including: pre-intentional (involuntary actions, including crying when wet or hungry); intentional (actions such as fussing and turning away that are not primarily intended for communication);  unconventional (tugging, crowding to get attention);  conventional communication (head nodding, pointing, etc.); concrete symbols (pantomime, “buzzzzz” to mean “bee”); abstract symbols (single words, manual signs); and language (oral and written word combinations, American Sign Language).

To be successful communicators, children need to see that their actions influence those around them, and they must want to communicate. Sometimes, it’s difficult to determine when nonverbal children are sending intentional messages—particularly when they prefer to play by themselves, engage in self-stimulating behaviors or have difficulty sustaining interactions.

There are several programs designed to initiate positive interactions and increase communication in children with autism, including First Things First, Indirect Language Stimulation, DIR/Floortime, the Hanen program, the Early Start Denver Model, and the Autism Parent Training Program. These programs have many similar components including putting yourself at your child’s eye level, allowing your child to direct activities (following his lead), and imitating your child’s behavior. These strategies help forge a connection of interests between you and your child and can support your child’s desire to communicate.

Once children communicate using concrete or abstract symbols, they may benefit from having access to additional communication tools. It helps to remember that we all use a variety of communication methods, including eye contact, facial expressions, body language, tone of voice and gestures. So you might want to start with a system of gestures or sign.

Other low-tech tools include picture symbols and PECS . Some children seem to respond to tangible symbols such as an actual key for “let’s go outside” or a cup for “I’d like a drink.” From the use of tangibles, families can move to photographs of familiar items and eventually to more abstract symbols. Children at this stage may benefit from Tangible Symbol Systems.

Finally, parents and therapists now have access to a number of technological devices and options, from a tape player with simple buttons for playing prerecorded messages and keyboards for typing messages to sophisticated voice output devices and specialized iPhone/iPad applications.

We hope you’ll have fun exploring these options with your child, ideally under the guidance of a therapist well versed in the best evidence-based practices. And please stay tuned for the fall release of the new Autism Speaks ATN brochure on Visual Supports and ASD. We’ll be posting it for free download on the ATN’s Tools You Can Use webpage.

Readers are urged to use independent judgment and request references when considering any resource associated with diagnosis or treatment of autism or the provision of services related to autism. Autism Speaks does not endorse or claim to have personal knowledge of the abilities of references listed. The resources listed in these pages are not intended as a referral, or endorsement of any resource or as a tool for verifying the credentials, qualifications, or abilities of any organization, product or professional. The contents of this blog are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of Autism Speaks, the Autism Treatment Network and/or the Autism Intervention Research Network on Physical Health.

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