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Language Development and the 30 million “word gap”

17 Oct

Recently in the news there has been several stories about the research of psychologists Betty Hart and Todd Risley about the huge discrepancies between the language and interaction experiences of children from high income families vs. low income families. The news stories reference a “30 million word gap”, which is the gap between the number of words a low income child will hear by the time he/she is 3 years old versus the number of words a high income child will hear. Follow-up studies have shown that this gap has tremendous impact on vocabulary, language development, and reading comprehension during the school age years.

I think the most important information to be gleaned from the studies is not that we need to be focusing on the amount of words a child hears before age 3 but on the quality of the interactions and conversations that parents/caregivers are having with their small children.

I recommend these two articles for reading more about how to provide the best quality interactions and language stimulation for young children:

Good Talk: Raising Smart Learners Through Rich Conversations from MindShift

Stop Talking – and Start Listening To – Your Baby from Time

Both have excellent information and sources of additional information.


Autism coverage mandated in California under bill signed by Brown –

9 Oct

Autism coverage mandated in California under bill signed by Brown –

Great news for families with children with autism! Very interested to see how this law will be implemented though, I’m sure insurance companies won’t make it easy!

To mainstream or to not mainstream…

23 Sep

Earlier this week an episode of  NBC’s Parenthood focused on Max, who has Asperger’s, and his first time mainstreaming into a general ed classroom. In my opinion, Parenthood continued to do a great job depicting another issue that many parents of children with special needs will probably face during their child’s school age years. The question of whether to mainstream or not is a complex one and one that I believe truly needs to be dealt with on a child by child basis. Mainstreaming can undoubtedly be beneficial for the development of  a child but it also needs to be approached cautiously.

There are many philosophies on mainstreaming varying from full inclusion of children with special needs into the general education environment to virtually no mainstreaming with children with special needs being isolated to their own classrooms or campuses. In my caseload of preschoolers, I have children who run the whole spectrum of mainstreaming options and it seems to work fairly well. Our most impacted preschoolers with autism are in classrooms specifically for children with autism that are set up in a reverse mainstreaming system. Reverse mainstreaming means that while the classroom is set up for the students with autism, peers without special needs also attend the class with the goal of them providing good models of language, behavior, etc. We also have preschoolers that attend special day classes that consist of students with a variety of special needs. These students mainstream daily on the playground and for varying amounts of time in the general education preschool classrooms based on their needs. We also have student’s with autism who are fully included in the general education preschool classrooms with some extra supports like behavior specialists and speech therapists supporting them. I may be biased (I am) but I think we do a fairly good job of matching a student’s needs and learning styles with the amount of mainstreaming they receive. Of course we are not perfect but we are always trying to provide more and more mainstreaming for our students under the restraints of what we can do in a public school system in this day and age with budget cuts restricting some flexibility.

The aspect of Max’s mainstreaming experience that struck me the most was the lack of support for both Max and his teacher. A child with special needs should never be dropped in a classroom without loads of support that can be backed off when the time is right. Modifications and accommodations can be made to help a child navigate the classroom and his school work successfully. While I am generally not a fan of providing a “shadow” or “one on one” aide to a student, providing some classroom support in the form of an extra adult in the room trained to work with the student can be very helpful to both the student and teacher. I also feel that one of the aspects that is most lacking is training for general education teachers on strategies for working with student’s with autism. Even some basic training on behavioral strategies can go a long way with helping a general education teacher provide the best learning environment for a child who is mainstreaming in her classroom.

I look forward to future episodes of Parenthood to see how Max’s first year of mainstreaming progresses! Just like with my students I hope that the right mainstreaming setup for Max will be found and that he will have the best school year possible!


LA Times Article: Putting Ezra First

21 Sep

Autism: Putting Ezra First – LA Times

Today I read this great op-ed piece in the L.A. Times by Tom Fields-Meyer who is a dad of a teenager with autism. I absolutely love the attitude that he takes towards his son and his autism. Instead of mourning his son’s autism, he embraces his quirky qualities and views his autism in a very positive manner.  I understand that every parent’s situation is different and that kind of perspective may not apply to all families of children with special needs. However, I try to maintain a similar attitude to that of Mr. Fields-Meyer while working with all of my students. My goal everyday is to help my kids develop their speech, language, and social skills to the best of their ability but my goal is not to “fix” them.

I plan on reading the book written by Tom Fields-Meyer: “Following Ezra: What One Father Learned About Gumby, Otters, Autism, and Love from His Extraordinary Son” and will post my impressions of it when I am done!

CA insurance companies to cover therapy for autistic children

17 Jul

Anthem, Blue Shield to cover therapy for autistic children –

In what would seem to be good news for families of children with autism, two major insurance companies in California have agreed to cover ABA therapy for children with autism. I hope this means that more families will have access to services without having to pay thousands of dollars out of pocket. I hope that it does not mean that the state will continue to cut its early intervention services.

Verbal Victor iPad App – AAC for beginning communicators

20 Jun

Father finds his calling through son’s disability –

The link above is a story from USA Today about the creator of the Verbal Victor iPad app. I have not had a chance to see the app in action but it seems like a great AAC app option for use with kids who are considered emerging or beginning communicators. I also like the $6.99 price point because it is significantly lower than some of the other AAC apps available. The app uses real pictures of objects and also is reported to allow for easy addition of your own pictures.

This app looks like a great, budget friendly resource for kids that may not be ready for more advanced AAC apps like Proloquo2Go or Look2Learn.


A Father’s Love – Ernie Els and his son

19 Jun

A fabulous story today from ESPN about the professional golfer, Ernie Els and his son who has autism. Ernie and his family are doing some tremendous work for kids with autism.

Happy Father’s Day!

Simple checklist may spot signs of autism by age 1 –

28 Apr

Simple checklist may spot signs of autism by age 1 –

Reports of this exciting study have been on many news websites today! If we can get more pediatricians to use this screening tool then many more children with autism would be identified much earlier. The earlier intervention services can start with children with autism the much better the outcome.

The other important aspect of this news is getting out information about early signs of autism that is easy for parents and caregivers to understand.

As the article states:

For now, what should worry parents? Pierce’s top concerns:

  • Lack of what she calls “shared attention.” Around age 1, babies should try to “pull your attention into their world,” pointing to a bird and watching to see if you look, for example, or bringing you a toy, she said.
  • Lack of shared enjoyment, where a baby may smile at mom but not engage if other people try peek-a-boo.
  • Repetitive behaviors like spinning a car wheel rather than playing with the toy.

Language delays are worrisome if they accompany other problem signs, she said: “If they wave and they point, that’s a good sign the brain is readying itself to be ready to speak.”

‘Best’ places to live with autism all in major metro areas – USA Today

19 Apr

‘Best’ places to live with autism all in major metro areas

USA Today recently ran an article about an Autism Speaks study that found that the best places to live with a child with autism are all major metropolitan areas. It seems that the main determiner in what is a good place to live is primarily access to services that a child with autism needs. Families that live in rural areas have a much more difficult time accessing the services that their child needs.

It seems unfair that a family living in a rural area would have to completely uproot their lives and move to a more densely populated area just to receive necessary services. It doesn’t seem like this problem is going to improve anytime soon with funding being cut nationwide to early intervention and other services.

Film gives voice to autism’s silent minority –

7 Apr

Film gives voice to autism’s silent minority –

This film sounds like an interesting look into the lives of some adults with autism. It seems to be focused on “facilitated communication” which is a very controversial communication style in which a person with autism types messages with the help of an aide or “facilitator”. Most research has discredited the use of facilitated communication so hopefully the film looks into other areas of the adult’s lives also.