Saturday, 30 July 2011

A very special birthday party

Often times my clients report one of two scenarios when it comes to birthdays; either, they are utterly unable to fathom how their child might respond to a b-day bash and would have no idea how to anticipate his or her actions in the novel environment, making it very hard to relax therefore usually coming to the decision to avoid or  that they do not attend birthdays because they simply do not get invited to birthday parties.

Either way, not ideal for the child who at some point, will be exposed to a birthday party type situation and should definitely know what to expect and how to respond and dare I say, how to have a good time.

I have supported several birthday parties over the years; it is something so meaningful for me to be a part of.

I love to be able to demonstrate to parents and family how receptive their child is at any given moment; to demonstrate effective ways of engaging with the child that is on his or her terms,  facilitate peer relationships and most importantly, increase overall understandings and acceptance.

I started this beautiful long weekend off with a birthday party that I just had to write about; from the moment you entered the party you could feel that it was a safe space (from the note on the door that said "come on in we're in the back" to the thoughtfully orchestrated party and visual representations of birthday party fun and the name tags so everyone felt comfortable). The children in attendance, were predominantly accompanied by their parent or parents; some were typical, others were exceptional.

Set up in the backyard was a bubble station, a digging station, a water table, a launch pad (very cool cause and effect toy; when you jump on it, it launches a rocket 20 ft. into the sky), colouring and balloon crafts, pin the tail on the donkey, a pinata, a dress up path and even a mineral science garden. Everything worked so well because it was set up for the kids to explore, without any pressure or timeline in mind. For some it was the first birthday they had gone to, for others it was the first successful birthday they had ever made it through.

Family and friends alike, everyone came together over an outdoor dinner and as the kids played, the parents found support in each other's company and two and a half hours later, everyone was still having a blast. Every child had his or her moments, every parent dealt with it differently, but every child and parent was accepted unconditionally into the party, and it was clear from the get go. The sense of community that emerges when like-minded people gather, is truly inspiring. What an incredible way to begin the long weekend, and can you believe this is my job!? I am incredibly lucky!

Birthday parties are controlled way to expose your kids to a social norm that can be tons of fun when you know what to expect; the biggest injustice you can do is to assume that your child wouldn't want to go, or wouldn't have fun. Whether or not you truly understand the way your child(ren) interact with the world, you owe it to them to expand their horizons and allow them to interact in whatever way they choose, with as many circumstances as life allows.

Again and again, photos from

Saturday, 23 July 2011

It has been a hot, hot summer!

MM Camp is in full-effect! We have been battling the heat by staying cool in our school, and going outside equipped with water, hats and lots of sunscreen. Here are some of the coolest things we did at camp this week and last:

-We made ice-cream from scratch! We practiced turn-taking, following instruction in a group, and reciprocal play. We rolled the ball of ice-cream (yes, the ball!) back and forth and had our campers take part in pairs as well as in a larger group. The more we rolled, the faster it would become ice cream! It was a huge success, and we LOVED to eat the finished product.

-In a heat wave, one must stay cool! We went skating on shaving cream! A sensory experience for the feet, and eye because we illuminated the room with black lights. Pulling back the carper, we had the perfect canvas for sliding around and driving cars, trucks and boats through the gloopy ground. The shaving cream turned a lovely colour of violet, beneath the black light,  and our Art-Shirts glowed as the kids glided around with 1:1 support (their partner) to ensure safety and fun. Even some of our sensory-avoiders could not help but join in on the fun.  We practiced following safety rules, and using our words to invite our partners to play.

-We took a tour of the fire station! It was especially neat when the FANTASTIC fire fighters showed us how they also wear headphones when it gets too noisy. That was a HUGE hit among our group as you can imagine. We sat in the captain chair, climbed on the truck and LOVED to see the pole that the fire fighters go up and down. We practiced answering questions, exploring new places and following community safety rules. We practice using our manners to say please and thanks, and most importantly remembered to stay safe. A huge, HUGE thank-you to the Toronto Fire Fighters who were incredible in the way they interacted with our group.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

What kind of options are out there for special needs kids? TORONTO

Once provincial funding runs out, or expires, what kind of options are available for children on the spectrum, children with down's syndrome, or children who require more support than mainstream education can provide?  In pursuing the future, and moving forward what kinds of options exist for our special kids?

1. Getting in with the public or religious board:
The Catholic School Board is a huge proponent of full integration, so that's what you can expect from a placement therein. Like in most boards, EAs are provided based on need; EAs typically tend to several children in the class over the period of the day.

The Public district in Toronto has several options within it; there are classes specifically for children with DDs, in addition to those which act as academic support during specific times of need. Many schools in Toronto consult with psychologists and support that ABA should be implemented in many cases. (google: PPM 140)
It all looks good on paper but it's up to each school to ensure proper delivery. The public board is strict about who is allowed to work in their school, so supplying your own support is usually out of the question. Sometimes, volunteer support staff will be permitted.

2. Intervention: Intervention usually looks like between 10-40 hours of therapy a week targeting a range of skills from gross-motor to self-help. As the child develops, programs are adjusted and adapted for relevance and maximum functionality. Intervention is useful in cases where group learning is incompatible with development, and/or when goals are best targeted in a contrived way. A success intervention addresses all domains of development, including behavioral patterns which interfere with learning and/or skill acquisition. Intervention is available privately, or through ABA Centers, Educational Centers and Private Schools.

3. Home-school is an option for parent's who cannot find what they are looking for in the school's in their area. For parents that like to take a hands-on role in determining goals, setting standards and monitoring progress this may be an option to consider. Professionals would come into your home, and under your supervision and hopefully as a team, you would develop a course of action. This option is not ideal for a child already struggling to generalize across setting, but may be a suitable alternative for other children.

4. Private ABA Schools are an option for parents who want less strict adherence to Ministry policies (though many private schools do use the Ontario Ministry Curriculum, it is not required). For children that have gone through the ABA and IBI stream, an ABA School program is often the next step to meaningful learning. Tuition ranges from 15,000-40,000 annually
There are a handful of places delivering ABA school based services; to get more information on these places please contact us at

5. Private NON ABA Schools are an option for parents who are not seeking the integration of ABA Therapy into their child's future development. Typically, private schools will allow you to bring in your own professionals to support the overall success of your child within the classroom. This may be useful if your child has sensory or environmental considerations and/or physical considerations. Be weary of assessment procedures which could not possibly effectively evaluate a child's capabilities, I have seen many. Tuition ranges from 15,000-40,000 annually

6. After-Hours Social Skills Academies exist to provide meaningful extra curricular activities to kids who require additional support development relationship and expanding social skills. Programs usually run on the weekend and go for 2 or 3 hours depending on the age group; social skills programs are like summer camp all year long, and gives many of our kids one of their only chances to focus only on supported socialization.

Photos from

Friday, 8 July 2011

Integration, Acceptance other stuff that moves me

Working with children in various learning environments has allowed me to see the way a variety of establishments foster (and I use that word loosely) integration. From nursery school to kindergarten, from camp to centers, it seems everyone is all for inclusion, at least in theory (and a lot of times only if you are willing to make him be quiet, sit still, look at the teacher, and keep his hands to himself).

From what I have seen, being "for inclusion" means actively taking steps to provide the right learning environment, and fostering development on an ongoing basis for each child regardless of diagnosis or learning style. Inclusion means ensuring that a child is not singled out, that acceptance is required and that professionals are trained in each student's unique profile. In the pursuit of integration, we must not forget to allow for our kids, or adults, to be themselves (diagnosis and all!).

It all reminds me a lot of a debate in school, Medical vs. Social model of disability; in short, the medical model seeks to "fix/cure the person that is autistic" while the social model seeks to "fix/cure the society that is intolerant". Prescribing to the social model in practice, it is important also to remember that in preserving the character of each of our autistic students, we are also teaching and instilling coping mechanism to adjust to the natural world (which will likely continue to be overwhelming and uncontrolled for all of time, despite our best efforts). Susceptible to stimulus over load, our learners require us to manipulate our environment to suit their needs, so why can't the same be expected of society?  

I have been profoundly impacted by children with autism (among other diagnoses), who defy the odds on a daily basis, struggling to cope with a confusing and constantly changing world that expects students with autism to act and look normal. I try to explain to my clients to "do away" with whatever preconceived notions they have about autistic children; autistic children can thrive, but it requires us to alter the way we structure certain daily events, activities and developments (its the least we can do to set up success). We owe it to our kids to take these steps to ensure that their futures are bright. In order to provide an ideal environment for a child with autism, all of the variables (from lighting to carpets) ought to be considered.

As a summer goal, our campers work towards developing social skills in a way that is individualized and systematic. Understanding the ways that autistic children socialized, allows our therapists to provide meaningful learning throughout the day, in a way that is controlled, choice based and child-centered. Spending a good chunk of the day on 1:1 or 1:2 basis, provides our campers with repeated opportunities to engage with other people. Art is an especially social time, while our campers sit at one table and all focus on the same activity at the same time; conversation is modeled, but not required. This activity is incredibly motivating for our students. The social needs of children with autism (among other dds) is not the same as for neurotypical people; it seems at least to me, that social interaction is not inherently reinforcing for many children on the spectrum, the way it is for many other children. Having extensive experience with high functioning Aspergers into adulthood, I have seen first hand what can result from a society's inability to adjust its expectations based on evidence of diagnosis and/or other variables that impact functioning. It's sad to me that people with a diagnosis are not entitled to their own set of expectations about life. Equality is a double-edge sword when it means holding everyone to the same exclusive standards (without accounting for variables that are a fact of life); this is the standard upon which success is measured.

When success is measured based on relative gains, that's when society will have it right and in the meantime I will keep speaking for those who would rather not :)

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Summer Social Skills Camp is off to a great start!

Our low-ratio summer camp experience provides the perfect place to develop friendship and social skills. Our staff are university graduates, and then some, with a passion for working with families to create an ideal learning environment for all of our campers. Trained in principle of Applied Behaviour Analysis, our approach is scientifically validated.

We have a private playground, an expansive and secure site, and tons of equipment that is sure to evoke fun! Targeting one social skill each week, we all work towards group goals while simultaneously working towards individual goals developed by camp directors Lindsay and Alley. This week, our group goal is Saying hello! Every morning we say hello during morning circle, sing greeting songs and discuss the daily events; with a little less structure than school, circle time is an opportunity to exercise choice in addition to following instructions in a group. All of our activities are designed as such, satisfying many goals at once.

With campers ages 3+ many of our little ones have never been dropped off before; our low ratio and attention to detail ensures that first-timers are provided with as much, or as little, assistance as required for a smooth transition. We have all kinds of things planned for summer, including increasing communication skills, developing social skills and encouraging team work. With weekly outings to a nearby sensory park, adventures into the community (with 1:1 support as needed) and daily in-center extravaganzas like a bouncy castle, tug of war, 360 teeter totter, mini golf and a brand new sensory experience room. We are looking forward to ensuring your child has the routine and consistency he or she needs over the summer, while still remembering that summer is a time for fun, outdoor adventures and water play!

There are a few spots open for July, and several open for August. Call us today to book a tour of the center, and see us in action! Looking forward to hearing from you!