Thursday, March 24, 2011

Autistic Artists

Autism brings special talents as well as difficulties, and one area where this is especially evident is in the realm of art. I’m in the process of moving my office this month, and while decorating, I found a number of examples of excellent art created by autistic individuals.

One such talented artist is Ping Lian Yeak, a 17 year old boy, born in Malaysia and now living in Australia. Ping Lian began an art based program as part of a behavioral plan, to encourage him to learn fine motor skills. After a while, rote tracing was replaced by drawing his own works. For the last several years, Ping Lian has been featured in a number of television programs, and he has displayed his work in galleries around the world.

A visit to Ping Lian Yeak's website  shows just how appealing the artwork is. A focus on details is balanced by strong compositional elements. With a quirky sense of perspective and bright, lively colors, the work is energetic and alive. There are many examples displayed online, and a full array of prints for sale. I had a hard time limiting myself to a few.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Book Review: Buzz, A Year of Paying Attention

“Well written, compassionate, interesting” are all words I’d use to describe Buzz, A Year of Paying Attention, A Memoir by Katherine Ellison. But even though I enjoyed it, I struggled with the concept of the book and came away feeling vaguely unsettled.  Ellison describes her plan to devote a year in which she’d “put other work aside, making it my full-time job to seek the best path for a distracted parent intent on helping her distracted child.” I always appreciate well written books that combine information with a chance to really get to know the author’s experiences. Ellison, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, has the ability and the connections to do just that. She meets experts such a Dr Russell Barkley, and authors like Dr Daniel Amen, and Blake Taylor. She quotes from Dr Ross Greene, Dr John Ratey and Dr. Edward Hallowell. (Greene and Hallowell even write blurbs for the for the book cover.)

It’s not surprising that an author who describes herself as having ADHD would take a creative and enthusiastic approach to exploring the different ways to manage ADHD. But it was also not surprising that this style resulted in a somewhat scattered attempt to solve a very challenging issue.  I kept wanting more depth and focus, and I kept hoping the author would stick with something long enough to really give it a chance. I kept looking for more scientific inquiry and less anecdotal evidence.

So often I hear from parents that they’re looking for a clear cut diagnosis, with a solid recommendation on what to do to help their child. Unfortunately, it’s just not that straightforward. Although a one size fits all diagnosis and treatment plan might be comforting, it’s never going to work as well as something tailored specifically. There is no one path, or one best treatment, and dabbling in different solutions over the course of a year is not going to result in the best outcome.

As for Buzz, I’d still recommend it, but I’d suggest thinking of the book as a chance to understand someone else’s experiences with a challenging child, not as a way to learn how to help your own child.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Treatment Options: Reading Programs

Kids with special needs like ADHD, ASDs and learning differences can frequently benefit from specialized tutoring and academic programs. But there are so many options, it’s difficult to choose what’s appropriate. And for adults, it can feel too late to get the help they need.

Today, I’m interviewing Theresa Rezentes, of Dyslexia Connections. Theresa is certified in both Slingerland Reading methods and  Lindamood-Bell methods. She works in schools as well as individual students in Alameda and Western Contra Costa County.

P. R. What are the signs that a child could benefit from working with a reading program?

T. R. As a reading therapist, I tutor kids who read below grade level despite an average to above average intelligence and who exhibit signs of letter direction confusion (b and d or b and p are most common), or who transpose letters (change their order) as exhibited in writing or oral reading.  Also, the child avoids reading for pleasure despite many encouragements.

P. R. What are these different reading programs?

T. R. As these children are three dimensional, hands-on learners, many need to write letters and words in the air with their whole arm to give them meaning.  The above confusions can be so distracting that only by writing the letters in the air while saying them and pronouncing them immediately following give them the scaffolding needed to make sense of words and reading.  This physical relationship is what is needed to permanently bypass the confusions that many children see if they have trouble reading.  Also, both the Slingerland and Lindamood-Bell Methods focus on auditory processing weaknesses which the majority (80%) of these students possess.

P. R. Can this be helpful for adults? 

T. R. Yes, it is but will take longer to make progress. I compare it to learning Spanish as an adult vs. as a child. The reason is that the neuropathways are more solidified with adults compared to children.  Therefore, the letter confusions are more permanent and will take longer to correct.  However, with therapy of three or more hours a week, progress can be made.  The bottom line is that it takes a true commitment of the adult.

P. R. How does this differ from what's taught in schools? 

T. R. For years, the Slingerland Institute had trained teachers using this method with hopes it would reach the schools.  Unfortunately, because most principals are not aware of these methods they are not supported by administrators and many of these children end up in Special Education with an IEP. The Slingerland Method is available in many Catholic Schools in the Oakland Diocese.  It has widespread support of the diocese and I treat children who attend Catholic schools.

The Lindamood Bell method is available in only two schools in Oakland.  The Susan Barton Method is available in the Pleasanton USD and San Ramon USD.  Both Lindamood Bell and Susan Barton require one on one tutoring and most schools cannot afford to have one employee work with one student several hours a week.  It is really through parental efforts and pressure that enable these methods to be available in the public schools, typically through a lawsuit settlement, or through private tutors certified in these areas.  I am certified in both Lindamood-Bell and Slingerland.

P. R. Thanks Theresa.

For those interested in learning more, please visit Dyslexia Connections.