Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Here to Help

When BB was 22 years old she moved in to a residential home at the Autism Treatment Center.  Today BB is 52 years old and she still lives in a home at ATC. Her mom and dad, who are retired, live close by and BB frequently goes home for weekends and holidays. BB has a special room at her parent’s home with many items she loves to collect. She also has a special room at ATC with her treasures. BB recently got an iPad and loves using it for entertainment and learning new skills. On most visits home BB is calm, cooperative, and happy.

However, the holidays are a very stressful time for her. She will raise her voice and ask the same question over and over. With coaching she can usually reduce her anxiety to an acceptable level. This past Thanksgiving though her anxiety was so intense that she started to seriously harm herself. Her parents could not get her calmed down, so BB’s mom called the ATC nurse and Case Manager at 10:30pm Thanksgiving night. They, in turn, called the Residential Coordinator and House Manager of BB’s home. The Coordinator and Manager went to BB’s family home and worked with her until 1am.

They were able to help her calm down, go to bed, and finally go to sleep. The next day, BB’s mom came to the Center and stopped by my office to tell me how grateful she and BB’s dad are that “staff are willing to come and assist in the middle of the night and that they always seem to know just what to do.”

BB remained at home until Sunday evening when she returned to her ATC home without any additional problems. I am so proud to be the Executive Director of ATC for many reasons, but this situation illustrates “Community Services” at its pinnacle. The team at ATC is dedicated, passionate, skillful and has years of experience working with and teaching children and adults with autism.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Meet Daniel.

Daniel first arrived at the Autism Treatment Center a month past his third birthday. Daniel was diagnosed with autism and the symptoms of his autism were affecting his family's everyday life.

Leaving the house to run errands, going to appointments or family outings became very challenging due to his tantrums and anxiety when he had to leave his room. His social awareness of others was very minimal and he did not acknowledge other people nor did he want to interact with his sisters when they played. It was a challenge developing a strong sibling relationship. If other peers got too close to him he could become aggressive and hit them to keep them away. He did not show affection to his family and did not want to engage in family activities. Daniel's diagnosis of autism led his parents to ATC's Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (DARS) program and he was enrolled in a 20 hour/week program consisting of one on one Applied Behavior Analysis Therapy (ABA) and monthly parent training.

ATC's therapists began working with Daniel to increase his social skills, independence, and communication. Beginning by teaching Daniel to notice other people and peers, each session reinforced and increased his motivation to engage with others. His social skills began developing. He was taught to ask for toys and items he wanted from his peers and he learned how to play with toys, pretend play, and role play. Daniel learned how to ask his peers to play and his parents began to see these skills at home as he started to interact with his sisters. He wanted to be a part of their world!

Daniel learned skills to increase his independence as well. He became potty trained and he learned how to brush his teeth, wash his hands, and dress himself. During potty training he would actively seek out others approval running to therapists for hugs proudly yelling "I did it!" He would want to call his parents and tell them the good news. This was an ecstatic moment for everyone on Daniel's team. The boy who came to ATC wanting to sit by himself on the floor, avoiding contact with therapists and peers, and who cried and screamed during transitions became a distant memory.

Daniel now initiates conversations with his peers and helps the therapists teach other kids to interact. He will spontaneously sit down at snack time and ask the other kids what they are eating, ask if they like it, and tell them what he has that day. When a new student arrives he says hello and asks them their name.

Because of his accomplishments, Daniel has recently graduated from the Autism Treatment Center's DARS ABA program and is now attending a general education kindergarten class. His teacher was able to observe and be trained by the Autism Treatment Center's team through the DARS program. 

Daniel has made a smooth transition to the general education classroom. He plays with his sisters and wants to do everything they do and does not want to be left out of any family outing. His parents are thrilled with the progress he made and the foundational skills he developed with the help of the ATC/DARS ABA program.  They are now looking forward to his continued success!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Meet Jalen.

Jalen was diagnosed with autism at age 3.  He attended a DISD elementary school and was placed in the Special Education programs where he displayed typical development and hit all his milestones on schedule despite his autism diagnosis.

As he grew older, he began to display different behavior. Jalen often attended his older brother’s athletic outings, but was no longer able to attend as he had the tendency to run away from his parents. When Jalen hit the teenage years his behavior worsened and he began to be a danger to himself and others. He began to display challenging, destructive, and violent behavior. At school, Jalen began to fight his school peers and other adults. He damaged school property and was a danger to himself and others around him.

During the 2009-2010 school year, DISD officials contacted ATC for placement in the ATC Educational Program for Jalen. His behavioral and academic needs were not being met with the local school district. The day ATC’s Educational Coordinator and Behavior Analyst visited Jalen at his school, Jalen’s behavior grew out of control. While waiting in a classroom with his teacher, Jalen started to throw lunch boxes, computers, and anything he could get his hands on. For her own safety, the teacher quickly left the room and found four athletic coaches who could come into the room and subdue Jalen. Once he was under control, the Educational Coordinator was able to do an assessment of his needs.

Jalen was found to be in need of an autism-specific curriculum and support system to replace his challenging behaviors with positive behavior.  

After Jalen's parents, Chiniqua and Greg, visited with ATC’s Program Director, Dr. Garver, and Educational Coordinator, Ms. Hoover.  They felt enrollment in ATC’s Educational Program would provide their son with the curriculum and support system he needs. According to Jalen’s parents, they “just wanted Jalen to experience happiness again.”

At first, Jalen had no real understanding of his placement at ATC. However, after time, he became familiar with his teachers, behavior therapists, and other staff. More importantly, his behavior changed. He no longer is a threat to himself and others.

Jalen’s individualized service plan was made with involvement from his parents, teachers, behavioral therapists, and DISD educators. His immediate goal is to control his disruptive behaviors and provide for stabilization. Long-term goals include working on Jalen’s preferred diet to work on nutritional habits and for Jalen to learn a vocational skill in the area of cooking or industrial trades.

Four years after enrollment, Jalen has made long strides in controlling his behavior and he enjoys learning.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

From Shoelaces to Braces

by Anna Hundley, ATC Executive Director

While serving as Executive Director of the Autism Treatment Centers of Texas since 1982, there have been many challenges along the way.  As you might guess, most of them have to do with funding critical services for children and adults in our program.  I’ve been around long enough to know that budget issues are never going away and must be tackled head on.  Kicking the can down the road only gets costlier.  That’s the issue the Texas Legislature is dealing with now.

For over twenty years, the Department of Family Protective Services has placed children with autism and challenging behaviors with ATC.  Currently, 29 children are enrolled in ATC programs for direct-care services.  From community-based group homes to one-on-one autism-specific therapies, ATC takes care of their every need providing everything from shoelaces to braces.

Often times, once a child is placed at ATC for early-intervention services, they turn into lifetime services.  Many of the kids placed at ATC by FPS are still with us, but now in Adult Services.  The continuity of services and familiarity with staff members has only contributed to their increased independence and overall quality of life.  To provide a lifetime of quality care, however, requires money.  ATC cannot shoulder the entire cost. 

State reimbursements fund approximately 80% of the entire cost of providing an array of services for each individual.  Private fundraising, wise stewardship of limited resources, and an engaged Board of Directors help us sustain the programs while keeping them affordable to families in the community seeking our services. 

An August 1 article in the Dallas Morning News reported a state contractor for protective children’s services pulled out of a $30 million a year contract due to problems with adequate funding.  Stories like this are not unusual.  While it takes a significant investment for state agencies to appropriately support children, they deserve nothing less than safe and comfortable housing.  When the 84th Legislature convenes in Austin in January 2015, they will decide important state-wide issues, including agency budgets.

As the costs of providing children under FPS custody increase, state leaders will be forced to deal with this issue.  After all, state budgets reveal our priorities.   I remain positive that children removed from their home for neglect, abuse, and trauma will receive the proper funding for them to be successful in their lives. ATC is committed to providing every opportunity for the children enrolled in our programs to learn, play, work, and live in their community.  

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Congrats Class of 2014! What's next?

Thirteen years of education has come to an end.  There were good times, there were bad times, and there were we-made-it-through-the-day times. Whether the child attended "mainstream" classes, special education classes in a public school, or had a specialized education at a place like the Autism Treatment Center, the educational experience for families affected by autism was very different from nearly every other family on the block.  Students with autism are as different from each other as any other student is from the next, and every child has their own best method for learning.  The autism student may or may not have enrolled in AP English, played a sport, learned to drive, or gone to senior prom, but they had their own milestones along the way that are just as worthy for celebration.  Happy Graduation Day!

At the end of this long long road many parents experience the joy and trepidation of sending their child off into the "real world".  Many parents will drop their son or daughter off at the university dorms in the fall.  For the parent with a child with autism, the joy might be quickly outweighed by the nervousness that comes with the question: What next?  Many parents knew that after graduation college would not be the next step for their child.  It is estimated that over 2,000 students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) graduate from Texas schools each year.  While many may be off to college in the fall, there is a large percentage who will not.
As students become adults treatment and program options change.  They were once enrolled in a structured educational environment that filled their day, which was possibly provided by the State.  Upon graduation, or "aging-out", students and parents are left to find their next steps.  This is where many adults with autism fall through the cracks.  Without the structure that was once provided, recent graduates may be filling their time by playing video games, watching tv, or simply sitting in their room.  This may sound like the typical teenage summer, but this behavior can often become a permanent way of life for these adults.  While support services for adults are scarce, there are options to ensure that a student with autism can continue to progress and learn; it just takes a little research and work to find, and maybe even create them.

Though the autism community is growing, it is still a small group.  Chances are parents of children with autism know one another.  The saying goes that it takes a village to raise a child and this is never more true than with a special needs child.  There are many support and peer groups in the community where parents and adults with autism can commune.  Parents are able to seek advice and adults with ASD can practice communication and social skills.  The Autism Treatment Center hosts a peer group once a month where adults in the community can come together for a life-skills lesson, dinner, comradery, and a chance to practice communicating.

Parents can also search for Transitional and Employment programs and services.  There are many employers with programs specifically focused on hiring adults with developmental challenges.  These businesses are committed to working with individuals to help them succeed and be an active member of the community.  Many in the Adult Services program at ATC spend several days a month volunteering at nonprofit organizations like World Vision, Volunteer Center, and Meals on Wheels.  Lora, one of the adult volunteers, says "I deliver food to old people! I like it. My favorite thing is giving people their meals and everything. I want to tell them thank you for letting me help."  Read more about ATC Volunteering here.

Heading off in to the "real world" can be scary, but having a plan and a support group can help make the transition easier.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Meeting the Needs.

Have you ever wanted to take a cruise or even go to the movies, but thought that the needs of your child with autism would not allow such a vacation or outing?

We have good news.  Lately, we have received more and more notices about companies who are paying special attention to the needs of families affected by autism by providing autism-friendly activities and versions of their services.  We are always delighted to hear about these wonderful opportunities for families with special needs.  While ATC has not participated in all of these programs, we do want to share with our readers that there are options out there to experience many of the things you may feel like you are missing. Below are a few of the companies we know about that are taking action to include as many families as possible.

Royal Caribbean - This year, Autism At Sea named Royal Caribbean as the world's first certified autism friendly cruise line. Royal Caribbean offers sensory friendly films and toys, alternative menu options, and autism friendly training for Adventure Ocean staff. You can read more about their programs here

Studio Movie Grill - The SMG Special Needs Screening series presents family friendly movies for free for children with special needs and their siblings with a discounted admission for adults ($6).  Movies are shown with increased lighting and decreased volume.  Children are free to experience the movie as they like, there is no need to worry about attempting to keep them in their seats and quiet.  Click here for locations and information about screenings in your area.

AMC Theaters - AMC's Sensory Friendly Films program offers special screenings on a monthly basis in select communities.  Audience members are invited to get-up, dance, shout, and sing.  Click here for info on movies in your area.

Live theaters are also presenting special performances.  Fans of The Lion King and Mary Poppins can see an autism-friendly performance
of these shows on Broadway that include adjusted lighting and sound, quiet areas, and fidgets - small toys to be held during the show. Volunteers are trained to answer questions and provide assistance during the play.  Not in NYC?  Look up your local theater, more and more theaters have added a special performance to their schedule.

If there's a museum, amusement park, or other business you'd like to visit, just give them a call and ask about their programs.  The AMC Sensory Friendly Series was started because one parent called to ask if they had a program for special needs.  If your local business doesn't yet have a program, you could be the one to get the ball rolling for you and your community!  More and more business are willing and happy to learn what needs there are and how they can help.

Know of any great autism friendly events/businesses?  Leave a comment with your favorites!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Hunt is On...Almost!

Children and adults at the Autism Treatment Center primarily look forward to two events during the year. One is the Roundup for Autism Rodeo in Fort Worth. Unfortunately, we are more than six months away from that event. The other event is the annual Easter Egg Hunt put on by volunteers of The Fairmont Dallas – and that is only days away.

Jenny, age 24, enrolled at ATC 12 years ago for residential and educational services. Once she turned 21, she transitioned to ATC’s Tiger CafĂ© and has focused on culinary skills while continuing to improve daily living skills to increase her independence. Jenny is non-verbal and uses sign language as her main communication; she has to work a little bit harder than others to express her feelings, ask questions, and to carry on with regular communication.

For the past several weeks, Jenny has known Easter is around the corner. Each morning, she has asked several staff members about the upcoming Easter Egg Hunt, to be held April 17th. She does this by signing the word “egg”.

After several days of asking about the Easter Egg Hunt, we developed a calendar system for Jenny. On the box for April 17th, Jenny glued a cut-out of an Easter Egg. Starting with March 26, she has crossed off one day before she goes home everyday. Today is the 8th day she has marked off; 14 days remain for her project to count down the days until the big hunt!

In this simple task, Jenny is doing more than just counting down the days until she hunts eggs. She is learning patience and positive behavior is rewarded. She is also increasing math skills, learning about the usage of calendars, and how fun the different seasons are. At ATC, education is more than learning. It is a fun, interactive, and enriching experience. 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Meet Ethan.

In the summer of 2011, Ethan was in personal health and behavioral crisis. At 6’4” he weighed over 415 pounds and refused to eat most foods, with the exception of fast food. His challenging behaviors were so severe that his family and school were unable to control his temper. After a nationwide search for a program that could successfully meet his needs, Ethan and his family found the Autism Treatment Center.

At the age of two, Ethan’s mother, Willie, began to notice something different about him. What speech he had developed was now gone. Treatment began right away, but Ethan was not officially diagnosed with autism until he was three. At the time, Willie was a stay at home mom and spent the day learning ABA techniques and working with Ethan to keep him engaged. Even though Ethan has severe autism, he has always had a variety of interests and has kept active in the community for most of his life.

During his last few years at home with this mother in Santa Barbara, California, Ethan became more and more limited in his ability to socialize and attend school. Meanwhile, Willie had gone back to work and was using all of her vacation hours to run his treatment program. His challenging behaviors began to increase to the point of being unmanageable; it was during this time that fast food was the only thing that would temporarily calm him. Consequently, Ethan gained a significant amount of weight and his health suffered.

Eventually, the school district decided that they would no longer be able
to provide an education for Ethan and began the search for an appropriate program for him. “It has always been my firm belief that Ethan would succeed best in an environment that was structured across home and school, like a residential school,” Willie said of the search. In the months that followed, the Autism Treatment Center was recommended, and the search was over. “After our first phone conference we were convinced that if Ethan was going to do well in and out of his home environment, that his best chance was at a place like ATC. We were not disappointed,” said Willie.

At the age of 19, Ethan enrolled in the Autism Treatment Center's Educational and Residential Programs. 
Through intense behavioral therapy, Ethan has grown into a healthy, fun, and happy young man. Within a year of enrollment at ATC he adapted to a fitness program and now enjoys eating healthy foods, and therapy gardening. Over the course of his journey, Ethan lost over 220 pounds and is doing so well he began his own cottage business called "ATC Coffee Express", selling coffee and snacks to staff and guests throughout the ATC campus.

Ethan continues to progress and maintains positive social interactions with his teachers and peers at home and school. In October 2011, Ethan was nominated, and won, the ARC of San Antonio’s Achiever of the Year Award!

Throughout this process Willie has been able to watch Ethan grow, “I am so proud of Ethan's progress and I am so grateful that he has a place to thrive and live life to his full potential!”

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Relationships and The Aspie

by Ken Kellam

Rachel & Ken
People on the spectrum struggle to understand the meaning of non-verbal social cues. Unfortunately, this can be very hazardous when it comes to inter-personal relationships, especially those of a romantic nature. I used to think I had a chance at a relationship with someone as long as they didn't flat-out reject me. What I failed to understand was the non-verbal cues, i.e. not returning phone calls, not being receptive to conversation. But while these things may not come easy to the Aspie (someone with Asperger's Syndrome), they can certainly be taught.

Another area Aspies may struggle with is in handling rejection. It used to be whenever a person rejected me, I thought it was all about me and I had said or done something to put off the other person. With counseling I came to realize that it wasn't all in my control. I also came to realize that sometimes when things don’t work out there’s no one to blame. Neither party did anything wrong; it just didn't work out.

Aspies tend to see everything in black and while, which can cause problems given the intangible and ever-changing nature of relationships. For example, two plus two will always be four, and pi will always equal 3.14. But relationships aren't nearly so set in concrete. They are always changing, sometimes daily. But the Aspie may be reacting to how the relationship was before, or at least how he thought it was before, or how he thinks it should be, instead of responding to how it is in the here and now. This can obviously include realizing when the relationship has run its course.

How can the Aspie overcome this? With coaching and counseling. If he can be taught to look at things from the other person’s perspective, he might be able to see things more clearly. But he also needs to be taught the different ways a situation can be perceived. Otherwise, he might not be able to understand that everyone doesn't think the same way he does.

Ken Kellam III was diagnosed with Asperger's in his late 30's. He recently celebrated his 10th anniversary at ATC, where he works as Administrative Assistant to Dr. Carolyn Garver. He has been married for two years, and his wife also works at ATC as a Teaching Assistant.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Planning to Succeed

January was undoubtedly all about your New Year's resolutions and making plans for the year ahead.  We've all heard the saying that if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.  It takes a little organization and forethought to achieve the goals we have set.

Often, for parents of children with autism, long-term plans are made for the child's education and skill development, but it is also important to make short-term goals and plans as well.  What may be seen as a simple trip to the grocery store for most families can be a challenge for a family affected by autism.  Though parents are usually the focus of "tips" articles, if you are an adult with autism you may experience some of the same struggles.  Here are a few tips we hope will help you and/or your family make plans for the new year:

Be Prepared:  Channel your inner Boy Scout and think of anything you might need to have on-hand for a smooth day.  For example, if you or your child is especially sensitive to loud noises, bring some earplugs when you head out to a sporting event, party, or restaurant.  Think of what your day out will involve, and then think of items that can help alleviate stresses and triggers for uneasiness and bring them with you.  You might even call ahead to ask about any special accommodations your or your family might need.

Practice, Practice, Practice:  We all feel a little better when going into a new situation if we at least have an idea of what we're getting ourselves into.  While practice may not give you a perfect dinner out, going through the motions of talking to a waiter, ordering from a menu, and sitting still at a table might provide a more enjoyable experience.

Be Realistic:  Being prepared and practicing activities can open you and your family up to new experiences that were once thought of as off limits.  Even so, it is important to keep in mind that it will take time to build up to these new things.  If you or your child have never been to a sporting event, you probably don't want to get court-side seats to an NBA playoff game.  Try watching a local high school team play first.  You and your family will be able to build confidence and memories together.

Keep Trying:  You can follow all the tips you've ever been given and your day may still hit a few snags. This week you might have a difficult trip to the grocery store, but don't let that deter you from trying again next week.  Make note of the things that went right as well as the things that went wrong, learn from your experiences, then get back out there!  The more you try, eventually you may find the right combination for a successful day out.

And lastly...

Don't Worry:  We know it's MUCH easier said than done.  Many parents have expressed that they prefer to stay at home than risk disapproving looks and stares from strangers in public due to a sudden outburst or meltdown.  Remember, everyone has a bad day now and then, and who hasn't been in a restaurant or store with a nearby toddler throwing a fit.  Try not to let the worry of what others may think of you or your family hinder the fun and experiences you could be having.  So, don't worry and get out there!

We hope these tips will help in planning for a pleasant outing, get-together, or activity for everyone.