Vaccines and Autism: Science or Hoax?

Boy getting vaccineThe controversy surrounding the relationship of common childhood vaccines and autism has been raging for nearly two decades. However, the debate is comprised of about 10% science and 90% politics and media exposure. In the wake of the most recent revelation that Andrew Wakefield, MD, the original author of the 1998 article linking autism to MMR vaccinations falsified medical history on nearly all of the patients that comprised his study http://www.cnn.com/2011/HEALTH/01/05/autism.vaccines/index.html, many families are left to wonder if they can really trust any medical advice. The impact of Wakefield’s article has done egregious harm to the general health of children worldwide. While the article was ultimately retracted by the publishing journal and Wakefield himself was stripped of his medical license in May of 2010, many countries noticed a precipitous drop in childhood vaccinations in the past decade. Surges of measles outbreaks rose in the aftermath and the CDC reported that 90% of the outbreaks in th US of measles were in children not vaccinated.

In addition to the impact on general medical care for children, popular media sources were quick to raise concerns about the safety of childhood vaccines and the preservatives used in them. With the most recent revelation that the original data may have been fabricated, many parents wonder if there is any way to make a reasonable decision about vaccinations.

The Relationship Between Vaccines and Autism

There is some science that families can draw upon. Large scale epidemiology studies are available that shed light into the relationship of vaccines and autism. In my own practice, I tend to rely upon studies that track live births over long periods of time in several geographic regions. For example, the city of Yokohama, Japan decided to terminate their MMR vaccine program that ran from 1988 to 1993 and institute an alternative program. With the new system, the rates of vaccinations fell to under 2% of the population between 1993 and 1998. This rapid change provided an ideal model to study the rates of autism since essentially the MMR vaccination rate dropped to nothing. Results from the study indicated that autism rates rose dramatically during the 1993 to 1998 time frame and could obviously not be attributed to MMR vaccines (Honda, Shimizu & Rutter, 2005). Studies conducted in Denmark (Madsen et al., 2002) and the UK (Smeeth et al., 2004) also demonstrated no relationship between autism rates and MMR vaccinations. Read more

Is Toe Walking Normal?

child on tiptoe.It is not uncommon for toddlers to walk on their toes or on the balls of their feet. This practice is often referred to as toe walking, a hereditary condition that may be seen when a child is learning how to walk. It is considered appropriate until the age of two, but if your child continues to toe walk beyond this point, it is important to have him/her evaluated by a physical or occupational therapist.

Toe walking is a common sensory-seeking behavior – children receive intense proprioceptive input to the calf muscle in their legs when they do it. This intensified input helps them to better prepare their bodies for play and learning. However, toe walking may be a sign of other sensory integrative difficulties and should be evaluated by an occupational therapist if accompanied by other symptoms (e.g. decreased eye contact, decreased coordination, or difficulty with gross or fine motor activities).

If your child toe walks occasionally, it may be a sign of a sensory issue. However, a child who consistently toe walks may eventually develop shortened Achilles Tendons (also known as tight heel cords) and should be evaluated by a physical therapist.

Toe walking may be considered appropriate if:

• Your child is just learning to walk

• Your child is under the age of two years old

• Your child can walk with normal gait when you ask them to

Seek professional help for Toe Walking when:

• Your child toe walks past the age of two years old

• Your child toe walks the majority of the time

• Your child demonstrates decreased eye contact, decreased coordination, or difficulty with gross or fine motor activities

Saying ‘No’ To Your Child!

Everyone has to learn to live within limits, and it is best when children learn it young. Accepting ‘no’ as an answer teaches children the valuable skill of denying access to achild with "no" sign reinforcer. This is also known as ‘contentment.’ Oftentimes a child develops problem behavior that has been maintained by a history of obtaining preferred items or activities. They may have many manipulative techniques to challenge a ‘no’ answer, including screaming, biting, bolting, flopping and self-injury. If you see these behaviors in your kids, the following DOs and DON’Ts will be of some assistance.

What not to do if the child emits problem behavior when told ‘no’

•Do NOT Give your child what s/he wants

•Do NOT Negotiate with your child

•Do NOT Offer other items

•Do NOT Attend to the problem behavior

If you are doing any of these things, your child will likely continue to react negatively when told ‘no.’

What to do when your child does not obey the ‘no’

• Do Practice! Practice! Practice!

•Do Begin with less preferred items/activities and when the child asks for it, say “no”

  • Make the task easy at first so the child can experience the reinforcer and be successful
  • When the child can accept no for less preferred items/activities, gradually move on to more preferred items/activities. Read more

Preparing Siblings for a New Baby

boy with babyWhile you are busy trying to figure out what color room to paint, picking out the best crib, and preparing for the “big day,” you suddenly remember that you have another child at home that you have to help get ready for the arrival of the new baby.

Suddenly, you panic. You might, think, “How am I going to tell him/her? What am I going to say?”

Relax.  Being the older sibling can be amazing… you just need the right tools!

12 Tips To Help Prepare Siblings For A New Baby:

  1. One of the best ways to help a soon-to-be older sibling is to read books with them about being a big brother or sister. The visuals will help them to understand what to expect.
  2. Remind them what it’s like to be the new baby. Start off by showing the soon-to-be older sibling a picture of him in your tummy, immediately after he is born, taking his first bottle, etc.
  3. Be sure to let your little one lead the discussion. Encourage her to ask questions.
  4. Create a “job” schedule that they can do to help you with the baby (e.g. helping get the diapers when you need it, getting the bottle when the baby is crying). This will make them feel as if they are a part of the whole experience. Dolls and other “life-like” items can be used.
  5. Check out local classes at your nearby hospital. They often hold classes on preparing for a new baby and will have special classes for the brother or sister. They help your child understand what life is going to be like with a new baby, and your child will also develop appropriate social skills with other children their age.
  6. Before your new baby is born, ask another family member to help your child find a “big brother or big sister present.” Ideally, the present will be something meaningful to the older sibling (e.g. a shirt, blanket or stuffed animal). Read more

How to Get Your Child Interested In Reading

Sitting in a cozy spot, sipping hot chocolate, and reading a good book sounds like a perfect January activity to me. On the other hand, children who do not like to read might find this idea rather boring. While it can be intimidating for a child to sit down with a book, there are many alternative activities that are fun and enticing while still offering reading practice.

Fun Reading Activities:

• Many kids love playing on their parents’ electronic devices. Educational apps that enforce reading skills exist at a low cost:

A Great App for Beginning Readers: http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/abc-pocketphonics-letter-sounds/id299342927?mt=8

A Sight Word App: http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/see-read-say/id322313775?mt=8

• Have a family game night with board games that require reading to play (e.g. the cards in Sorry, Outburst Jr., etc.)

• Read simple instructions to cook a fun item or assemble a toy. You may need to create step-by-step instructions at your child’s reading level for them to read. Read more

Recognizing Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) at School: Tips for Teachers & Parents

How teachers can spot signs and symptoms of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder in the classroom, and the important questions parents can ask them.

Girl washing hands

Obsesive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a very challenging disorder that can leave both children and their parents feeling confused, hopeless or out of control. Sometimes symptoms do not show up at school, as some children work very hard to keep it disguised due to fears of embarrassment. During periods of high demand and increased stress, however, it will become especially hard for those children to hide symptoms.

Some symptoms of OCD are very obvious and well-known, while others are not observable at all. Some are observed and are considered misbehavior. It can look like “acting out,” particularly when a symptom causes so much frustration that the child breaks rules in order to do what they feel they need to do.

OCD Behaviors To Watch Out For:

• Obsession with certain numbers, including counting, touching, saying or performing any ritual a certain number of times. This includes believing certain numbers are “magical” and avoiding certain numbers, objects, or places that are considered “unsafe”, “unlucky” or “bad” (e.g. ripping or scratching out certain pages/number items from homework and test papers).

• Rituals related to the use of desks, chairs, pages in books, lockers, supplies, etc. This includes avoiding or excessively checking any objects before using them.

• Visiting the bathroom too frequently (may involve performance of rituals related to hand washing or body waste). Also look for raw, chapped hands from constant washing. Read more

Cyber Bullying | How to make sure it doesn’t happen to your child!

Recent media events have highlighted the issue of bullying. A Rutgers University student, for example, committed suicide a few weeks back due to being bullied over the Internet (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/09/29/dharun-revi-molly-wei-charged_n_743539.html ).Cyber Bullying Girl Crying

Bullying is nothing new. Older movies such as Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Pretty in Pink, and The Breakfast Club have all featured some form of bullying behavior. The key difference between bullying in the past and present, however, is in the level of anonymity – changes in technology have made bullying much more anonymous over time. Almost every child is on Facebook these days. Anyone can create an account, and the identifying information as to who “owns” the account can often be limited. The impact of cyber bullying has lead to a great deal of emotional harm as well as actual physical harm, as shown by cases like that of the Rutgers University student.

Tips to help decrease the likelihood of your child being “cyber bullied”:

1. You must closely monitor your child’s computer face time. Have a central location for the family’s computer. Keep it in a den or office room that is accessible for all family members.

2. Social media tools, such as Facebook, can serve as a great avenue for social relationships. They are not necessarily a bad thing, and you should not have your children completely avoid such avenues of socialization. However, if your child is using Facebook, it is imperative that you know your child’s login and password. Let your child know that you will be monitoring the Web site to ensure that nothing dangerous is there.

3. If your child is going to be on the site, you must be on the site yourself. Also, one requirement that you would have for your child is that he or she must be your “Facebook friend.” This way you can monitor what information he or she puts on the Web site and what information people are leaving for him or her.

4. If you suspect that someone is bullying your child, the first thing you should do is click the “Report this person” link on that person’s profile screen. This is done anonymously and will lead to an investigation to determine if that individual’s Facebook page should be censured. Also, ask your child to “de-friend” the person and find out what the situation with the bullying was about.

Bullying has always been around and likely will always be around in some format. With the changing of the times and vast improvements in technology, bullying can now be done anonymously and on the Web. Parents, you need not shelter your children from new technological advances; however, you must take these advances into account when you decide howyou monitor your children.

Encouraging your child’s speech and language development through the holiday season

You’ve got shopping to do, parties to attend and checklists to conquer. Yes, the holidays have arrived! Amidst the busy schedules and high demands of the season, keeping up with your child’s developmental needs can sometimes feel overwhelming. Worry no more, because the holiday season is filled with natural and enriching opportunities to encourage your child’s speech and language development. So instead of postponing that family getaway or neighborhood potluck, enjoy these parent tips to keep your child learning through the holidays.

Tips to Encourage Speech in Children

Holiday Baby• Take digital pictures during special family events. Whether you’re building a snowman, baking cookies, or packing your suitcases for a getaway, document the adventures! Afterwards, print out pictures and create a construction paper book. Guide your child as you put each picture in order and glue them onto the pages. Talk about what happened. Who was there? Where did you go? What happened first? Encourage your child to share their book with family and friends! Read more

Top 9 Tips For Over-Stimulating Holidays

The holiday season can be a very fun and exciting time, but it can also be overwhelming for some of us and for our kids.  When a child becomes over-stimulated during the holidays, it can lead to stress, anxiety, or behaviors that can make this special time with family and friends difficult.  Here are some tips to help make the holidays more enjoyable. 

  • Make a visual schedule of the events to take place and go over it with your child prior to leaving the house.  This way,  they can better prepare themselves for parties and events.
  • Try to keep their mealtime and bedtime routine as normal as possible. Read more

Potty Training And Autism | The Complete ‘How To’ Guide

potty training rewarded childParents of children with Autism, especially those with more severe challenges like language and sensory issues, often fret about embarking on toilet training. Questions about when to start and how to do it may linger and create anxiety. Also, as a child develops in personality and behavior, they are also changing physically, so it is important to remember the differences among kids and try not to compare your child to others. Your child’s readiness will depend on their own learned skills as well as developmental abilities such as muscle control.

The other half of the toilet training experience depends on the parent’s readiness. It takes time and energy to begin toilet training and may not always be an easy process. However, with some hard work and consistency from the child and parent, it can be done. Remember your goal; having an independent, happy child will be well worth the effort.

Signs that your child is ready to begin toilet training:

• Stays dry for longer periods of time

• Shows visible signs of urinating or having a bowel movement (e.g. squatting, pulling up pants, touching themselves, crossing legs) Read more