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Making the most out of the Autism Society of Illinois

Autism Society of Illinois LogoYour child has an autism spectrum disorder and you live in Illinois or you want to live in Illinois. You start calling friends, joining chat rooms, and asking all over for information on autism, on Illinois, on schools, on legislation, on support groups, and on therapy providers. I have news for you, your research is great but don’t forget how much the Autism Society of Illinois website can do for you. They are here for you, the parents of children with Autism Spectrum Disorders.

 6 Ways To Use The Autism Society Of Illinois

  1. Sign up for the newsletter to stay updated on the latest news and events
  2. Call and email the director, her full time job is being a resource of information for you
  3. Ask for other members or supporters you can call or turn to for assistance, advice, and support
  4. Go to the social events in your area to meet others face to face and build relationships with others affected by autism
  5. Look up support groups in various cities in Chicagoland
  6. Visit the Autism Society of America website for deeper and more global information

Make the most out of your child’s offered and available services, supports, and educational opportunities – they are there to help you!

Good luck!

How to Survive a Day with a Child at Six Flags Great America

Six FlagsWe all have memories of the amazing days as children when we took a trip to the amusement park. Growing up in Chicago, my park was Six Flags Great America. It was so easy for my parents: Plan the day, get some hats and suntan lotion and go! If your child has special needs it can be a little trickier, but there are a few things you can do to make your six flags experience even more enjoyable!

Tips to Prepare Your Child With Special Needs For A Day At Six Flags Great America

1)   Talk to your child about the trip several days in advance.

2)   Show him pictures. If necessary, make a social story about the trip.

3)   Make a list of rules at the park with your child. Create a reward chart or any other visuals ahead of time so they are ready to bring with you for a more successful day.

4)   Create a visual schedule for the day so your child knows exactly what to expect while at the park.

5)   Make sure your child is really ready to enjoy the trip, and if not get a babysitter instead.

6)   Contact guest relations before you go and check to see if there are accommodations for children with special needs.

7)   Make sure to get permission to bring the food and drinks you need for any dietary restrictions before you go. They are very strict with their rules on bringing any food or drinks into the park. According to Six Flags:

May I bring my own food and beverages into Six Flags Great America? No outside food, beverages or coolers are allowed to be brought into Six Flags Great America. However, exceptions are made for Guests with special dietary needs to include food allergies and baby food/formula. Guest should contact Park Security or Guest Relations when they arrive at the Park for approval to bring in special dietary foods. The special dietary food containers will be marked and dated to clearly show that they have been approved for entry into the park.

8)   Enjoy Your Day!

 

 

How Does The Illinois Law For Children With Autism Affect My Insurance Coverage?

In December of 2008, the state of Illinois passed a law that would force insurance companies to provide benefits for children with autism. That law states that all benefits such as co-insurance, co-payments, and deductibles must be applied to the annual benefit Rejected Insurance Claimfor children with an autism spectrum disorder. Autism spectrum disorder, as defined by the law, includes autism, Asperger’s disorder, and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified.

The annual benefit at the time of the law passing was $36,000. This translated to a long lasting year of coverage for children with autism who often receive multiple therapy services. Each year, the Director of the Division of Insurance revises the law and updates the yearly maximum for inflation. For the year of 2011, the annual benefit for a child with autism is $38,527.

What does this mean for my child who has an autism diagnosis?

If you have a deductible in your plan, you will need to satisfy it before benefits will be paid. Once that deductible is met, your co-insurance will take effect. Some common insurance plans have a 90/10 benefit. This means that your insurance policy will pay 90% of the allowable charges and the member will be responsible for 10% of the charges. Other plans have an 80/20 benefit which translates the same way.

Should you choose to seek services from an out of network provider, your out of pocket cost will change. In addition to being responsible for the member’s portion of the co-insurance, you will also be responsible for anything deemed over the allowable amount by your insurance carrier. Where you choose to receive services for your child is your personal choice as a parent, just be sure to verify that you have out of network benefits available for the services you seek.

Are all children with autism covered under this annual benefit?

No. There are a few exclusions to the law, formally known as Public Act 095-1005. The following types of insurance policies are exempt from following the law:

  • Self-insured, non-public employers
  • Self-insured health and welfare plans
  • Insurance policies or trusts issued in other states

PPO vs. HMO

In my honest opinion, many large insurance carriers in Illinois still do not have any idea how to manage this annual benefit for children with autism. Often with the Participating Provider Option (PPO) policies from various insurance carriers, benefits are not paid for children with autism. This causes stress on the parents while they fight with their insurance carrier to get the benefits that are required by law.

As a result of the challenges I have witnessed with PPO insurance policies, I have witnessed the immense care, compassion, and organization that the Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) policies offer to families who have a child with autism. HMO policies have an excellent handle on how to manage this annual benefit. HMO policies have also been able to find providers local to a family’s area that provide the services that children with autism commonly benefit from, such as applied behavior analysis (ABA), occupational therapy, speech therapy, physical therapy, psychiatric care, and psychological care.

There are differences with HMO’s compared to PPO policies. A referral is needed for any service that is provided to an HMO patient, with the exception of those services provided by your primary care physician.

Does this new law improve insurance coverage?

This all may sound like an amazing benefit, and it is, however when I look at the benefit as a whole, only one thing changes from your traditional insurance benefits. Your yearly maximum for a therapeutic discipline may be 75 visits per year. This law changes the 75 visit limit to $38,527 for the annual 2011 benefit for services provided to a child with autism.

More Information

To read the full version of the Illinois Law For Children With Autism click here

To read an easy to understand fact sheet click here

Five Tips For Flying With Kids On Southwest Airlines

Air travel with children is always tough. With children along, you need more prep time, you must be extra alert at the airport to not lose track of them, parents and children are a bit nervous, ear pain may ensue, and you may deal with other perSouthwest Airlpane In Flighthaps loud, rude, or inappropriate fellow passengers.

Enjoy the flight the way Southwest Wants You To

Here are my top five tips for making your flying experience as pleasant as Southwest Airlines claims it will be.

1) Set flying rules with your children ahead of time and stick to them.

These should include rules for behavior from the time you load up the car until the time you arrive at your destination. Outline behavior expectations for packing the car to the airport, in the car, at the airport, and in flight. Have a behavior chart with you with stickers or tokens and designated prizes for every large part of the trip. Read more

How To Motivate Children With Autism Using Reinforcers

Reinforcer SetA common difference between children with autism and typically-developing children is their motivation for social feedback and other natural consequences that occur for learning to take place. Typically, developing children have an easier time learning because they are motivated by social feedback from their parents and teachers. But with a child with autism, it is not always as simple as saying “great job!” to encourage learning. Without motivation, it can be very difficult to gain the attention of an autistic child, and even more difficult for learning to take place.

So, how do you motivate a child diagnosed with autism?

Reinforcers Can Help Motivate Children!

Reinforcers motivate children to learn new skills. Often times, children with autism are not readily motivated by social feedback or other natural consequences received from parents, teachers or peers. Insensitivity to social consequences and signals is a core aspect of the disorder.

How To Find A Powerful Reinforcer: Read more

Basic Principles and Practices for Teaching Children With Autism New Skills

Teaching new skills to children with autism can be very difficult. It is important to first understand the fundamentals of behavior.

Behavior is an important part of teaching because in order to learn a new skill, a child must understand what response is desired and when. A child learns when a response is desired by experiencing a stimulus (i.e. item/request/instruction) and discrimination (Sd- discriminative stimulus).  A child simultaneously learns there is a desired response and discriminates that the response is only desired in the presence of the Sd. For example, if you are teaching a child to say “book” in the presence of a book, the Sd would be the book itself and the desired response would be saying “book.” That child will learn to say “book” only when that book is present. Later on, that child may begin saying “book” in the presence of new books, a pattern called generalization.

So, why is behavior important in teaching a new skill? It is important because a child’s response IS a behavior!

 Descriptions Of Behaviors:

Reflexive Behavior is our bodies’ natural reaction to environmental stimuli (e.g. blinking when someone blows in your eyes, or jerking your leg when someone hits your knee cap). These behaviors are called reflexes and occur without being learned. Read more

Why Does My Child Need a Diagnosis?

-“I don’t want to label my child.”

-“Teachers are biased against diagnosed children.”

-“My son doesn’t act like most kids with _________ (particular diagnosis).”

 

These are statements that I hear on a routine basis, and they are all valid points. Any diagnosis that a child or adolescent may have carries a certain stigma to it. This is human nature. As a neuropsychologist, one of my biggest tasks is to develop the most appropriate and effective diagnosis for any child. My goal with writing this blog is to help identify the importance of an appropriate diagnosis.

How A Diagnosis Can Help Your Child:

First and foremost, an appropriate diagnosis will help explain and answer the “why” questions. Why does my child continue to struggle to read? Why is it impossible for my child to sit still? Why is it that my child cannot make friends? Once we identify the “whys,” we are on our way to solving the problems.  An appropriate diagnosis is intended to help develop the most effective means of intervention. If I diagnosis a child with Dyslexia, I know that traditional teaching of reading and phonics wouldn’t do much good. I would know instead to utilize an empirical approach consistent with the disorder at hand. Read more

Life Skills For Children and Teens With Autism

When a child with autism reaches the age of nine or ten, it is important to start emphasizing life skills within their therapy and classroom curriculum. Life skills have been defined by the World Health Organization as “abilities for adaptive and positive behavior that enable individuals to deal effectively with the demands and challenges of everyday life.” Within the last ten years many special education programs have been veering away from life skills prioritizing an academic standardized curriculum more aligned to the needs of a general education population. While these skills are important when preparing for college or a future job position, it is just as important to know how to perform life skills.

Below are some ideas of ways to practice life skills whether you are a teacher, therapist, or parent with a child with autism:

Take public transportation– Whether in the classroom or on a field trip, taking public transportation provides many opportunities to build life skills. Have the child look at a map to decide what bus or train route is best. Have them count out money to buy a ticket and ring the bell when they have reached their stop.

Make Lunch– Teach your child to make a simple lunch food such as a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. You will need to model this in the beginning, and depending on the child’s fine motor abilities, you might have to provide assistance when spreading the condiments on the bread. But the best thing about making food is that when it is a food the child likes, the end result of eating it is naturally reinforcing.

Grooming routine– Brushing teeth, brushing hair, taking a shower and putting on deodorant are all life skills that become important to master during adolescence and the early teen years. Break each task into steps, and if necessary, provide pictures of each step to assist the child in remembering “what comes next.”

Complete a daily chore– Start to assign your child a daily chore and have them complete that same chore until they have mastered it. It is best to start with a simple two- to three-step chore like carrying dirty clothes to the laundry room (e.g. pick clothes up from off the floor, carry them to the laundry room, drop them in the laundry basket). Whichever chore you choose, you will need to model each step in the beginning and provide prompts to assist with each step.

Joining a social group or life skills group is a great way to have a professional assess which skills your child would thrive at best!

When To Screen Children For Autism And Other Pervasive Developmental Disorders

Popular media is now teeming with stories about the dramatic rise in autism. Several celebrities have spoken publicly and advocated for increased research on assessment methods and treatment options. Parents are now more keenly aware of even minor deviations in their child’s developmental milestones, and they worry that these delays could be the first signs of a debilitating life-long disorder.

With all of the increased attention being paid to autism, many families wonder how to make sense of the myriad checklists and screening tools available online. In addition, parents struggle to decide if their child’s repetitive behaviors and singular fascination with toys and movies are age-appropriate.

The worry is not just paranoia – researchers have repeatedly concluded that early intervention leads to optimal outcomes for children with autism and other pervasive developmental disorders. To determine whether or not to call your pediatrician, you can look at the key variables that clinicians use in assessing autism..Below are some factors we look for when evaluating a young child (2 to 4 years old).

6 Factors To Look For When Exploring A Possible Autism Diagnosis

1. Shared Interest

Children will begin to develop this skill at around 10 to 12 months of age. Essentially, shared interest is the child’s strong desire to share emotional feelings with others. After this age, when children are confronted with novel and exciting stimuli (bubbles, balloons, etc.) they frequently look from the stimuli to their parents and back. While seeming to be a simple action, this reflects a child’s social connection to their parent and desire to engage them. The absence of this reaction is reason for concern. Read more

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