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Date Added: August 17, 2012
Back to School Tips for Families of Children with Special Needs
A new school year means a new grade, new teachers, new goals, and maybe even a new school! This list was created to help you and your child with special needs be as successful as you can be, and to help make the transition into a new school year a little easier.
Send a short welcoming note to the teacher and staff. List some of your child’s issues and “quirks” including likes and dislikes and invite the teacher to contact you for additional information.
Get Everyone Organized
Let your child know what do expect the first few days. Use visuals if necessary. Find some quiet time to discuss any fears or anxieties that your child may have. Keep a family calendar of school events, special education meetings, conferences, etc Set up a box to keep all school letters, mailings, and schedules. Build in time for homework, studying, and recreation. Make sure your child has a clear distraction free area to work at. Set bedtime routines and post where they are visible.
Start a communication log
Keeping track of all phone calls, e-mails, notes home, meetings, and conferences is important. Create a “communication log” for yourself in a notebook that is easily accessible. Be sure to note the dates, times, and nature of the communications you have.
Review your child’s current IEP
The IEP is the cornerstone of your child’s educational program, so it’s important that you have a clear understanding of it. Note when the IEP expires and if your child is up for reevaluation this year. Most importantly, be sure that this IEP still “fits” your child's needs! If you’re unsure, contact the school about holding an IEP review meeting. Make sure that all goals and objectives have measurable outcomes.
Keep everyone informed
It's important that you and the school communicate early and often! If there is anything (concerns, changes, questions about the IEP) that you feel is important to share with the staff working with your child before school starts, or during the year, don't hesitate to contact them! The more proactive and honest you are, the better the school staff will be able to meet your child's needs.
Establish before and after school routines
Discuss and plan the changes in you and your child’s daily routine that will happen once school starts. You can even begin practicing your new schedule, focusing on morning and evening routines, and begin implementing them well in advance of the first day of school.
Stay current on special education news
Being knowledgeable about your child’s IEP and their disability can help you become a better advocate for your child. Try to keep up-to-date on new special education legislation, news, and events. The more you know, the more prepared you will be to navigate the world of special education and successfully advocate for your child! Join your local disability chapter. Know what’s happening at school board meetings.
Attend school events
Take advantage of Open House, Back-to-School Night, and parent-teacher conferences to help you and your child get a feel for the school and meet the teachers, other staff, students, and families. Share the positives about working with your child, and let the teacher know about changes, events, or IEP concerns that should be considered for children in special education.
Make New Friends
Find some other like-minded parents to share activities and conversations with. Help your child get into playgroups or social groups with appropriately aged children.
Balance Your Activities and Trust Your Instincts
Managing a household involving a child with special needs can be daunting. Do your best; do what you can manage without stressing yourself. Balance your (and your child’s ) wants with identified needs, and try to find time each day to relax, enjoy your child, and remember that you need to pace yourself.
Ask for Help When You Need It
We all need to ask others for help now and then. Learn the names and contact numbers of organizations that can offer support, instruction, and council if needed.
Date Added: June 18, 2012
New Evidence That ADHD May Enhance Creativity
The difficulties associated with ADHD have been extensively documented. In fact, such studies comprise a substantial portion of the published research on ADHD. This type of work has helped increase awareness of the struggles experienced by many individuals with ADHD and has highlighted the importance of obtaining appropriate treatment.
What has been lost – or at least overlooked – in most ADHD research is the possibility that ADHD may also confer some benefits. Certainly, many individuals with ADHD manage to thrive and it is not uncommon to hear individuals discuss ways that having ADHD has benefited them. I certainly recall several of my clients reporting that 'getting lost in their thoughts', having different ideas rolling around in their mind when they were supposed to be focusing on one thing, and having their attention easily drawn to things going on around them contributed to their generating lots of interesting ideas and to putting things together in interesting ways.
Is there any evidence that ADHD may actually predispose individuals to become more creative? Russell Barkley, one of the world's leading researchers and experts on ADHD, has argued against the notion that ADHD confers benefits as well as liabilities, stating in a recent NY Times article that "There is no evidence that A.D.H.D. is a 'gift' or conveys any advantages beyond what other people in the general population might have. People with A.D.H.D. are individuals, like anyone else, and may have been blessed with particular talents that are superior to levels seen in most people. But these talents have nothing to do with having A.D.H.D. — they would have had them anyway." However, a study published last year in the journal Personality and Individual Differences [White & Shah (2011). Creative style and achievement in adults with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Personality and Individual Differences, 50, 673-677.] suggests that this is not necessarily true and that people with ADHD may actually produce more creative work.
Participants were 60 college students, 30 of whom had been diagnosed with ADHD and 30 comparison students. Both males and females were well represented and their creativity was assessed in 3 different ways.
First, participants completed the Creativity Achievement Questionnaire (CAQ), a measure where individuals report their creative accomplishments in 10 domains: drama, humor, music, visual arts, creative writing, invention, scientific discovery, culinary arts, dance, and architecture. An example of an item from the CAQ would be 'My work has won a prize at a juried art show.' Thus, the measure provides an indication of real world creative accomplishment. Scores are obtained in each domain and for creative accomplishments overall. Research indicates that this measure provides a reliable and valid assessment of creative achievements.
Students also completed the FourSight Thinking Profile, a self-report measure of one's preferred style when dealing with real world problem solving situations. Four problem solving styles are identified: 1. Clarifiers – those with a preference for defining and structuring the problem to be solved; 2. Ideators – those who prefer to generate ideas for solving the problem at hand; 3. Developers – those who prefer to elaborate or refine ideas that are initially suggested; and, 4. Implementers – those who prefer to put a refined idea into action.
Clearly, these are all important aspects of creative problem solving and one style is not inherently better or worse than any other. The authors predicted would show greater preference for being idea generators, i.e., the Ideator style, while comparison students would show greater Clarifier and Developer preferences.
Finally, participants completed the Abbreviated Torrance Test for Adults (ATTA); this is a standardized and widely used measure of divergent creative thinking. Divergent thinking occurs when we generate many possible ideas about how to solve a particular problem. When we engage in divergent thinking, multiple approaches to addressing a problem are identified quickly; in the process, unexpected and creative connections between different ideas can emerge.
Tasks on the ATTA draw on both verbal and figural, i.e., nonverbal, creative abilities. The Verbal section examines one’s ability to think creatively with words, whereas the Figural tests assess an individual’s ability to think creatively with pictures. Examples of verbal tasks include making suggestions to improve a toy and thinking of as many different uses as possible for a common item, e.g., a brick. Examples of figural creativity tasks include picture construction, i.e., participants use basic shapes to create a picture and picture completion, i.e.,completing and assigning titles to incomplete drawings.
Real world creative accomplishments – Students with ADHD had significantly higher overall scores on the Creative Achievement Questionnaire than comparison students. In addition, their average score was higher for each of the 10 domains. Thus, it was not just in less academic domains like music and visual arts where students with ADHD reported higher creative accomplishments, but also in science, writing and architecture.
An interesting aspect of these findings is that the range of scores was much greater among students with ADHD as was the amount of variability. Thus, it does not appear that creative accomplishments were uniformly higher among these students; instead, the higher overall average is likely to reflect very high levels of creative accomplishment by a subset of these students. FourSight Thinking Profile – As noted above, this is not a direct measure of creative ability per se, but instead reflects individuals' preferred problem solving style. As predicted, students with ADHD showed preference for the 'ideator' style, i.e., they preferred to generate multiple ideas, while other students preferred the 'clarifier' and 'developer' styles.
Abbreviated Torrance Test for Adults – On this validated test of creative thinking, students with ADHD did not score higher than peers overall. However, as predicted, they scored significantly higher on tasks that measure verbal originality.
Effects of medication – Half of the students with ADHD were being treated with medication while half were not. No differences between these groups were found on any of the creativity assessments. As the authors note, however, their ability to detect any differences was limited by the small sample.
Summary and Implications
Results from this interesting study support the notion that ADHD is associated with enhanced creativity in young adults. An important strength of this study is that it employed multiple measures of creativity – real world creative accomplishments, preferred problem solving style, and performance on a lab-based measure of verbal creativity. As noted above, students with ADHD surpassed their peers in their real world creative accomplishments and on the lab assessment of verbal creativity. They also showed a preference for being idea generators as opposed to 'refiners' or 'clarifiers' of existing ideas.
Why might ADHD be linked with creative performance? One possibility suggested by the authors – and which is consistent with recent theoretical work on the nature of ADHD – is that individuals with ADHD are characterized by poorer inhibitory control. Deficits in inhibition make it harder to maintain focus on a single thought or idea and to screen out extraneous stimuli; this can result in having more random thoughts and ideas and spending more time with multiple thoughts and ideas in one's mind provides increased opportunity to draw interesting connections. In theory, this may contribute to the development of less conventional thinking and to enhanced divergent thinking skills. It is also possible that the nature of creative activity is a better match for people with ADHD than activities where success depends on sticking to a predetermined plan and/or working to find a single correct solution. As a result, they may spend more time in creative pursuits and thus get better at them.
The preference that individuals with ADHD show for the 'ideator' style may be important in regards to the type of work environment where they are most likely to thrive. Specifically, this style suggests that they may be especially well suited for entrepreneurial pursuits and careers that place a premium on divergent thinking skills. Of course, other types of thinking skills are also important as even the most creative and motivated entrepreneur is less likely to succeed if he/she is unable to carry out their plans in a disciplined and consistent way.
Another way these findings may be applied is to highlight for children the potential benefits ADHD may confer in terms of creative thinking and creative accomplishments. This could offset the notion of having a deficit/disorder and contribute to the development of talents that enhance self-esteem.
While findings from this study suggest that enhanced creativity may be a real benefit associated with ADHD, replicating these findings with a larger sample, and with children and adolescents would be an important next step. It is also important not to lose sight of the very real difficulties that are associated with ADHD and to recognize that for many, this is a highly impairing condition for which ongoing treatment is required.
That being said, it is a nice change to come upon a well conducted study that conveys a hopeful and optimistic message based on what appear to be solid findings.
Date Added: June 8, 2012
In Praise of Misfits
Why business needs people with Asperger’s syndrome, attention-deficit disorder and dyslexia
Jun 2nd 2012 | from the print edition
IN 1956 William Whyte argued in his bestseller, “The Organisation Man”, that companies were so in love with “well-rounded” executives that they fought a “fight against genius”. Today many suffer from the opposite prejudice. Software firms gobble up anti-social geeks. Hedge funds hoover up equally oddball quants. Hollywood bends over backwards to accommodate the whims of creatives. And policymakers look to rule-breaking entrepreneurs to create jobs. Unlike the school playground, the marketplace is kind to misfits.
Recruiters have noticed that the mental qualities that make a good computer programmer resemble those that might get you diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome: an obsessive interest in narrow subjects; a passion for numbers, patterns and machines; an addiction to repetitive tasks; and a lack of sensitivity to social cues. Some joke that the internet was invented by and for people who are “on the spectrum”, as they put it in the Valley. Online, you can communicate without the ordeal of meeting people.
magazine once called it “the Geek Syndrome”. Speaking of internet firms founded in the past decade, Peter Thiel, an early Facebook investor, told the that: “The people who run them are sort of autistic.” Yishan Wong, an ex-Facebooker, wrote that Mark Zuckerberg, the founder, has “a touch of Asperger’s”, in that “he does not provide much active feedback or confirmation that he is listening to you.” Craig Newmark, the founder of Craigslist, says he finds the symptoms of Asperger’s “uncomfortably familiar” when he hears them listed.
Similar traits are common in the upper reaches of finance. The quants have taken over from the preppies. The hero of Michael Lewis’s book “The Big Short”, Michael Burry, a hedge-fund manager, is a loner who wrote a stockmarket blog as a hobby while he was studying to be a doctor. He attracted so much attention from money managers that he quit medicine to start his own hedge fund, Scion Capital. After noticing that there was something awry with the mortgage market, he made a killing betting that it would crash. “The one guy that I could trust in the middle of this crisis,” Mr Lewis told National Public Radio, “was this fellow with Asperger’s and a glass eye.”
Entrepreneurs also display a striking number of mental oddities. Julie Login of Cass Business School surveyed a group of entrepreneurs and found that 35% of them said that they suffered from dyslexia, compared with 10% of the population as a whole and 1% of professional managers. Prominent dyslexics include the founders of Ford, General Electric, IBM and IKEA, not to mention more recent successes such as Charles Schwab (the founder of a stockbroker), Richard Branson (the Virgin Group), John Chambers (Cisco) and Steve Jobs (Apple). There are many possible explanations for this. Dyslexics learn how to delegate tasks early (getting other people to do their homework, for example). They gravitate to activities that require few formal qualifications and demand little reading or writing.
Attention-deficit disorder (ADD) is another entrepreneur-friendly affliction: people who cannot focus on one thing for long can be disastrous employees but founts of new ideas. Some studies suggest that people with ADD are six times more likely than average to end up running their own businesses. David Neeleman, the founder of JetBlue, a budget airline, says: “My ADD brain naturally searches for better ways of doing things. With the disorganisation, procrastination, inability to focus and all the other bad things that come with ADD, there also come creativity and the ability to take risks.” Paul Orfalea, the founder of Kinko’s and a hotch-potch of businesses since, has both ADD and dyslexia. “I get bored easily; that is a great motivator,” he once said. “I think everybody should have dyslexia and ADD.”
Where does that leave the old-fashioned organisation man? He will do just fine. The more companies hire brilliant mavericks, the more they need sensible managers to keep the company grounded. Someone has to ensure that dull but necessary tasks are done. Someone has to charm customers (and perhaps lawmakers). This task is best done by those who don’t give the impression that they think normal people are stupid. (Sheryl Sandberg, Mr Zuckerberg’s deputy, does this rather well for Facebook.) Many start-ups are saved from disaster only by replacing the founders with professional managers. Those managers, of course, must learn to work with geeks.
The clustering of people with unusual minds is causing new problems. People who work for brainy companies tend to marry other brainy people. Simon Baron-Cohen of Cambridge University argues that when two hyper-systematisers meet and mate, they are more likely to have children who suffer from Asperger’s or its more severe cousin, autism. He has shown that children in Eindhoven, a technology hub in the Netherlands, are two to four times more likely to be diagnosed with autism than children in two other Dutch towns of similar size. He has also shown that Cambridge students who study mathematics, physics and engineering are more likely to have autistic relatives than students studying English literature. Most employers are leery of hiring severely autistic people, but not all. Specialist People, a Danish firm, matches autistic workers with jobs that require a good memory or a high tolerance for repetition.
More broadly, the replacement of organisation man with disorganisation man is changing the balance of power. Those square pegs may not have an easy time in school. They may be mocked by jocks and ignored at parties. But these days no serious organisation can prosper without them. As Kiran Malhotra, a Silicon Valley networker, puts it: “It’s actually cool to be a geek.”
Date Added: November 10, 2010
For Autistic Children, Therapy on Four Legs
SHADOW, a black Labrador retriever, knows how to interact with people without overreacting to them — a necessity for a well-trained therapy dog, said her owner and handler, Ani Shaker.
Considered “bombproof,” meaning she will remain calm in nearly any situation, Shadow, and Ms. Shaker, volunteer at the Anderson Center for Autism in Staatsburg, N.Y., in the Hudson Valley north of New York City.
“As soon as I get her working vest out, she jumps up and her little tail starts wagging,” Ms. Shaker said. “She loves the work. That’s what she lives for, and I can tell she knows she is helping someone else feel good.”
Shadow and Ms. Shaker, an equestrian trainer, are one of six teams that have been volunteering at the Anderson Center for two years. They are part of the Good Dog Foundation, a nonprofit based in New York that provides therapy services throughout the East Coast.
Unlike service dogs who live 24/7 with people with disabilities, therapy dogs visit treatment centers and residential schools. The Good Dog teams go through a nine-week training course, said Susan Fireman, executive trainer and program coordinator for upstate New York, the Berkshires in Massachusetts and Litchfield County, Conn. “These dogs have to be very calm and be able to absorb a certain amount of stress without becoming stressed themselves,” she said.
One in every 110 children in the United States has an autism spectrum disorder, with autism disorder being the most commonly recognized subtype, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Children with autism have mild to severe degrees of difficulty with social, communication and emotional skills. It is usually a lifelong disability with no definitive cause or cure. Autism, which is classified as a developmental disability, is four times more likely to occur in boys.
“We are hearing more and more from families we serve that therapy dogs have had an overall positive effect on their children,” said Marguerite Colston, vice president of constituent relations at the Autism Society, a national grassroots organization.
Because each person with autism experiences it differently, there is no certainty a therapy dog will help, she said, but for certain individuals, a dog “has eased their anxiety and has even helped some to open up to others, as individuals with autism are typically more withdrawn and less likely to socialize.”
The Anderson Center is a year-round residence and school for children and young adults ages 5 to 21 with moderate to severe symptoms, said Dr. Austin Rynne, its director of health and related services. “The children we serve here cannot be served in their own school district,” he said. “They cannot work and have difficulty being managed at home.”
Dr. Rynne said he incorporated the dogs into the curriculum two years ago, not as a playful diversion but to determine whether they could help the educational process.
“We are not trying to make these kids become dog lovers,” he said. “We want to use the dogs as a medium to achieve our pre-existing educational goals.”
Because many children with autism tend to inhabit a private inner world, constructing a bridge to that world is essential, said Dr. Rynne. He said the therapy-dog program was doing just that with some students.
One 11-year-old boy, who has been at the Anderson Center for three years, is nonverbal and makes requests by pointing to pictures (yes, no, bathroom, toys, food and so on). When he was first introduced to Shadow a year ago, he refused to enter the room with her and would run away if she looked at him.
Now, he requests the opportunity to walk, pet and feed Shadow, and the interaction helps him develop communication skills that can be transferred to relationships with peers and teachers, Dr. Rynne said.
And when this boy becomes frustrated and throws a tantrum, Shadow’s calming presence seems to help him regain his self-control, he added.
Dutchess, a golden retriever who loves people, tennis balls and treats, was “born to be a therapy dog,” said her owner and handler, Mark Condon, a biology professor at Dutchess Community College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. Dutchess, who was also trained by the Good Dog Foundation, and Professor Condon have been volunteering at Anderson since August 2009.
One of their students is a 16-year-old boy who has verbal and aggression problems, said Courtney Peggs, an occupational therapist assistant who works with them. Before his therapy with Dutchess, the boy relied on caregivers or teachers to lead his social interaction, a condition called prompt-dependent. Now, she said, the boy is becoming more functionally independent.
Miss Peggs prepares for a dog-therapy session by arranging tennis balls, treats, a pet brush and a water container in the auditorium. The boy “knows he has to come to me to make the request of which object to choose,” she said.
Once the boy is given the O.K., he takes the object to Dutchess, to their mutual delight. “I have seen him carry over what he has done with Dutchess independently,” she said. “It’s been amazing.”
Professor Condon said he believed strongly in the power of the human-canine connection and that Dutchess provided the boy unique assistance.
Professor Condon observed that the boy “just evens out when Dutchess is around, adding: "Some days he seems to be somewhere else, but he likes her so much that he temporarily leaves that place to be with her. That force is stronger.”
Elizabeth Olson, an education specialist at Hope Elementary School in Carlsbad, Calif., teaches students with moderate to severe autism in grades kindergarten through third. Her yellow Labrador retriever mix, Yori, has joined her in the classroom this semester and is a big hit, she said.
She said Yori, who was trained by the Canine Companions for Independence, a nonprofit that provides assistance dogs for people with a range of disabilities, helped bridge the communication barrier in her classroom.
“My students are all functionally nonverbal,” she said. “They are very content as a whole not to speak, but they want to speak to Yori. There is one student who I spent years trying to teach to say hello and goodbye. Then one day he started saying hello and goodbye to Yori. Soon he said it to me, and now he does it with his fellow students.”
- Searching for Roots of Learning Disorders
- Babies’ Brain Development Shows Evolution’s Imprint
- Scanning Babies for Autism
Children with developmental, communication, and learning disorders display altered use of varying brain regions as compared to typically developing children. This knowledge may help clinicians more accurately understand the root problems of these disorders allowing for the development of more effective treatment protocols. Several technological advances now allow us to look at the brain and how it functions, such as: functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI); surface reconstruction; and Brain Electrical Activity Mapping (BEAM).
Research findings published in the Journal of Attention Disorders suggest that dietary patterns of adolescents may be associated with ADHD. Adolescents whose diets trended towards fast-food, processed, and refined foods were twice as likely to have a diagnosis of ADHD as compared to their peers whose diets trended toward fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and fish. Further research is needed to determine the causal relationship – Is ADHD a result of poor dietary habits or are poor dietary choices the result of ADHD?
Date Added: August 2, 2010
New technology allows for improved recording and analysis of infant and toddler vocal patterns in natural environments. Researchers have found distinctively different pre-verbal vocal patterns between children with autism and typically developing children.
Date Added: August 2, 2010
A study published in the May 2010 online version of Pediatrics reported that children with high levels of organophosphates in their urine were twice as likely to have a diagnosis of ADHD. Organophosphates have long been associated with impairment in neurodevelopment (e.g., cognitive functioning levels and behavioral challenges). They were initially developed as nerve gases and are now commonly used in pesticides. These chemicals are absorbed through the skin, lungs, and digestive tract and the biggest culprit of organophosphate is the pesticide residue in food. In this study of 1139 children between 8 and 15 years of age, elevated concentration of DMAP metabolite in urine samples were used as a measurement of organophosphate exposure. Further research is needed to evaluate chronic organophosphate exposure to fetuses, infants, and children.
Date Added: May 10, 2010
U.S. Labor Department Releases New Online Tool to Help Employers Understand Responsibilities under Disability Nondiscrimination Laws
The new online Disability Nondiscrimination Law Advisor helps employers quickly and easily determine which federal disability nondiscrimination laws apply to their business or organization and their responsibilities under them. The law advisor asks users to answer a few questions to take into account variables such as the nature of an organization, staff size and whether the business or organization receives federal financial assistance. Based on responses provided, the law advisor generates a customized list of federal disability nondiscrimination laws that likely apply, along with easy-to-understand information about employers' responsibilities under each of them.
SOURCE Brainclinics Treatment B.V. http://www.brainclinics.com
Date Added: June 19, 2009
Standard IQ Test May Undervalue People With Autism
Study shows they could solve problems faster than non-autistics on a different test
By Jennifer Thomas, HealthDay Reporter
FRIDAY, June 19 (HealthDay News) — The most commonly used test to measure intelligence is underestimating the intellectual potential of autistic people, new research suggests.
People with autism often struggle with the verbal portions of the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale, the test most often used to measure IQ, researchers said.
But when given another test of abstract reasoning abilities, the Raven's Standard Progressive Matrices, autistic people not only had scores equal to those of their non-autistic counterparts, but they answered the questions, on average, as much as 42 percent more quickly.
On the Raven's test, autistic participants scored, on average, 30 percentage points higher than would have been predicted by their scores on the Wechsler scale, according to the study, in the June issue of Human Brain Mapping.
Also, MRIs done during the testing showed that autistic people had more activity in different areas of their brains than those without autism.
"While both groups performed Raven's Standard Progressive Matrices (RSPM) test with equal accuracy, the autistic group responded more quickly and appeared to use perceptual regions of the brain to accelerate problem solving," said Isabelle Soulieres, a post-doctoral fellow at Harvard University and the study's lead author. "Some critics argued that autistics would be unable to complete the RSPM because of its complexity, yet our study shows autistics complete it as efficiently and have a more highly developed perception than non-autistics."
The researchers said the findings have implications for the way in which autistic children are educated.
"When we do the Wechsler test, which is the one that is done in clinical settings, there is a big chance that we underestimate the education potential of autistics," Soulieres said. "If you underestimate someone's potential, you will have less hope and you will lower your goals for this person. … We should make the bet they are more intelligent than they show us on the Wechsler test."
For the study, 15 autistic people ages 14 to 36 were matched with 18 people without autism. Based on their preliminary results on the Wechsler test, all participants had an IQ between 81 and 131, or generally between the low and high end of the normal range.
Each participant was then given the Raven's Standard Progressive Matrices, a 60-item test of abstract reasoning ability. The questions, which are highly visual in nature, ask participants to identify the next sequence of a larger pattern or the missing segment of complex geometric shapes.
During the test, MRIs indicated that people with autism showed more activity in the left cuneus, a region of the brain's occipital cortex thought to be involved with updating working memory and making comparisons among visual images, according to the study.
Compared with people without autism, autistic people showed less activity in areas of the prefrontal cortex of the brain that are thought to be involved in manipulation and integration of information in working memory, managing difficult tasks and evaluating the correctness of responses.
When it came to their answers, those with and without autism who scored the same on the Wechsler test also had similar scores on the Raven's test. But those with autism answered figural questions 23 percent more quickly and analytic questions 42 percent more quickly.
"This study bolsters our previous findings and should help educators capitalize on the intellectual abilities of autistics," said senior researcher Dr. Laurent Mottron, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Montreal. "The limits of autistics should constantly be pushed, and their educational materials should never be simplified."
Autism is marked by repetitive behaviors, problems with verbal or non-verbal communication and social difficulties. Because the condition has a wide range of symptoms and degrees of severity, autism is now often referred to as autism spectrum disorders, said Brenda Smith Myles, chief of programs for the Autism Society of America.
Previously, many experts believed that as many as 70 percent of people with autism also had cognitive and other learning disabilities. But recently, researchers have been finding that perhaps only half do, Myles said.
Studies such as this one show that people with autism are able to problem solve and that visual learning might be more helpful than auditory or language-based learning.
Still, she said, there's a need for more studies to assess how best to put such knowledge into practice in the real world to help autistic people succeed in school and employment.
"What we need are more studies that take this information and apply it in a classroom or community setting," Myles said. "This does not tell us what a child will do in a third-grade classroom or what an adult will do in a workplace."
SOURCES: Isabelle Soulieres, Ph.D., post-doctoral fellow, Harvard University, Boston; Laurent Mottron, M.D., Ph.D., professor, psychiatry, University of Montreal; Brenda Smith Myles, Ph.D., chief of programs, Autism Society of America; June 2009, Human Brain Mapping
Copyright © 2009 ScoutNews, LLC. All rights reserved.
Date Added: June 19, 2009
Autistic people better at problem solving than non-autistics: Research
By Amy Minsky, Canwest News Service
New research suggests that autistic people are 40 per cent faster at problem solving than non-autistics.
Researchers from Universite de Montreal and Harvard University said the results will offer more effective ways to teach people with autism.
"I hope the finding will convince people that autistics have a higher intellectual potential," said lead author Isabelle Soulieres, a post-doctoral fellow at Harvard who completed this experiment in Montreal. "That way, people will expect more and give them more opportunities to learn."
The research involved two groups of people between the ages of 14 and 36 — a test group of autistics and a control group of non-autistics. Both groups were asked to complete patterns while a monitor measured brain activity and time. The pattern test, called Raven's Standard Progressive Matrices, assesses subjects' hypothesis-testing, problem solving and learning skills.
Soulieres, who is also a psychologist, said the test provides a more accurate measurement of reasoning and intelligence than others, because results are less affected by a subject's cultural and linguistic background.
In deciding how to complete the pattern, the subject has to retain information regarding shapes and colours.
Though both groups were found to complete the test with a similar level of accuracy, the autistic subjects responded faster.
"It was such a big difference, we thought we made a mistake," said Soulieres. "The next step is to find out exactly what gave them this edge, find out what made the autistics so much faster."
Brain activity monitors found that different parts of the brain were activated in the test group and the control group when they were working on solving the problems.
"We think the test subjects pay closer attention to visual details," said Soulieres.
It was a 13-year-old autistic patient of Soulieres' who motivated her to start this experiment. "When he walked in, you would immediately think he had moderate mental retardation," she said.
The patient did poorly on all intelligence tests that were administered. "Except when we gave him the RSPM," she said. "He completes it very rapidly, and without any instruction. He scored above average and demonstrated superior intelligence."
Laurent Mottron, a senior researcher and research chair in autism at Universite de Montreal, said this study builds on previous findings. "This should help educators capitalize on the intellectual abilities of autistics," he said.
Soulieres said autistic patients have taught themselves to read using patterns. "They're very good at finding patterns."
The researchers suggest adapting teaching methods to conform with an autistic person's strengths, instead of avoiding their weaknesses.
"We showed that people with autism can achieve much more than they're given the chance to," she said. "We have to work with them instead of simplifying everything for them."
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