In January of 2014 we posted episode 15 of Special Parents Confidential, in which we learned about Applied Behavior Analysis ABA. Our guest was Conny Raaymakers, who is a board certified behavior analyst. Her interview has become our most downloaded and listened to episode, with nearly double the listens of any other episode we’ve done. It’s even been cited in a text book on applied behavior analysis.
What Is ABA?
Applied Behavior Analysis or ABA is a term parents of special needs children hear a lot in schools, doctors offices, therapy centers, and just about anywhere our kids interact with people. Studies have shown that ABA can be used to help children as early as 18 months learn to cope with everything from social settings to the educational environment. ABA has been proven to be successful especially for children with autism and can be used to help kids with other disabilities and disorders.
New Contact Information.
However, since that interview took place, Conny has had some changes in her career. She is now the Director of ABA services at Developmental Enhancement Behavioral Health. Conny is a Behavior Analyst and Limited Licensed Behavioral Psychologist. She talks about the history of Behavior Modification, the decades of research that has been done to study the effectiveness of the treatments, and clears up the misconceptions people have about Applied Behavior Analysis. Conny also discusses the drawbacks and problems with using alternative or ‘fad’ treatments, how to watch out for misleading claims and how to spot phony success stories.
A Reminder:Please share Special Parents Confidential with your friends, family, and your connections on social media. You can do this easily with the social media buttons located right below this paragraph. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. Add us on Google Plus, Tumblr, Linked In, or other social media sites. You can also sign up for our email service and have new posts and podcast episodes delivered right to your inbox the moment they’re available online. That form is located to the right of this text.
We’re also on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, TuneIN, Poddirectory, Blog Talk Radio, and other podcast directories as a free subscription. Additionally, please consider writing a review about our podcast on any of those services. Anything you can do to help spread the word about Special Parents Confidential will help us be able to continue these podcasts. Thanks for your support!
A few days ago I came across the above video on Facebook called Amazing Things Happen, It does an incredible job of explaining Autism in a way that kids could understand.
Amazing Things Happen, since it was posted online, has had over 5 million views. It’s been translated into 28 subtitled languages, and 10 fully dubbed versions. I wanted to know more about the person who created the video, Alex Amelines, and how he was able to create such a well-done piece.
“I worked in Editorial design for 5 years. Back in Colombia. Then I moved to the United Kingdom to do an animation course after which I ended up settling up in. Both in the animation field and in the UK.
“I now work as an independent animator and director, my animations have gone in all directions: television, exhibitions, installations, games, films, planes, etc. In 2012 I established Studio Tinto in an attempt to become rich and famous.
“I’ve achieved neither.”
This wasn’t quite all the information I was looking for, so I sent Alex a message. He replied that his preference was to not do a podcast interview because he was worried that his accent was a little to hard to understand. But he would be happy to explain the process of how he came up with the animation.
By the way – Alex mentions the term SENCO, which in the U.K. stands for Special Education Needs Coordinator.
The Amazing Things Happen Background Story.
“I must warn you that my story is not an exciting one and that I’d prefer the focus were on the animation rather than me or my family but I’ll try to tell you what drove me anyway:
“A few years ago, my son’s school organised an assembly to help explain autism to the children, which struck me as a wonderful idea. The talk was very interesting and the local expert who led it obviously knew her stuff but it was limited by a lack of clear, visual materials. The children got most excited at a slide of Lego toys and enjoyed a scene from the animated series Arthur, where Arthur meets a boy who doesn’t make eye contact and only wants to talk about trains.
“My immediate thought was, this could all be an animation – and might even retain the children’s interest better that way. I’ve always loved working on creative side projects to distract me from client work and thought this would be both fun and potentially useful for the school. Perhaps even a few more schools, locally. I had no big plans beyond that.
“I met with the school’s SENCO and told her my idea, which she as was excited as I was. I had to do a lot of research, a lot of books, a lot of TED talks, blogs, articles, etc. I met with the SENCO several times to discuss my progress. The hardest part was to condense the script into 5 minutes, as English is my second language, I’m not a trained writer and most importantly, because there is so much to say about autism! The spectrum is so unforgivingly vast it seemed impossible keep it all in, everything seemed so relevant. But I knew from experience that this could only work if it was short enough to be feasible to finish on my own and also to retain the attention of small children.
“My prerogatives were: keep it short, only positive words, keep the language simple.
“It took me the best part of a year to get to a point that I thought I can start animating. But before doing so I ran it past the SENCO and reached out to Prof. Tony Attwood, a leading expert on autism who was really generous with his time and knowledge. He checked the script and storyboards and made some adjustments to the language. So I felt I had a proper seal of approval, which cheered me on.
“As I moved on from writing to animation things got easier. I was in my element. I developed the characters, created the artwork, did some research for the look of the animation. The backgrounds and colours were inspired by old 1940s UPA animations, which I’ve always loved.
“For the music I asked London based musician Chris Harrington, he has always supported my animated projects with beautiful original compositions. The narrator is a Scottish actor called David Gant (Braveheart, Sherlock, Final Fantasy VII), who I’d met while working on the visual effects of feature film, The Fitzroy. He has a beautiful booming voice that is both authoritative and warm. The kind of voice that inspires trust. So I reached out and David kindly agreed to do it pro bono. Mike Avgeros also generously offered to let us use his recording studio for an hour on a weekend.
“We released Amazing Things Happen in time for autism awareness month, then something amazing really did happen. By the second day the film had been seen thousands of times. I was over the moon with that, but after two weeks it was 5 million. It was all very surreal and very moving, as I got many beautiful messages of thanks from parents, teachers and – most importantly to me – from people who themselves have autism. So it has been very rewarding, more than I had ever imagined.
“Right nowAmazing Things Happen has subtitles in 28 languages, it has been dubbed into 10 languages, apart from the French and German narrations, everything has been from contributions from people who’ve liked the project. And there are more foreign narrations coming, the former director for the Icelandic Autism Society has offered to do an Icelandic version, the Executive Director of OC Autism wants to do Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean, Tagalog and Hindu, there are offers to do Finnish, Norwegian, Portuguese, Arabic, Hebrew, Estonian, Japanese and Malay. And an animation studio in Bangladesh, who are connected with the Prime Minister’s daughter are recreating the animation with Asian themes.
“From the reaction it’s clear that there is an urgent need for this kind of material. I would also love to do more, so I am considering a crowd-funding campaign to develop a series in which children could tell their own story, describing their autism to us. Raising funds this way would mean I could work on this full time, rather than finding a spare hour here and there around my usual client work. There’s so much more to be said on the subject. And I figure that the only way to paint a portrait of something that has a million faces, is to paint as many pictures as possible!”
Additionally, Alex wrote the following to me in a separate email:
“In relation to how I visualised it, I think the fact that so many autistic people have felt it is an accurate depiction is sort of a fluke, I mean I did lots of research but I knew it wasn’t going to be accurate for everyone as the spectrum is so vast, so it felt like taking a gamble, I tried to be generic (too much detail in some parts, too little detail in others, too bright, too loud), while showing things that Neuro-Typical children can relate to, so they can put themselves in their shoes. Professor Tony Attwood came up with the idea of removing people’s faces to convey the fact that they can’t read people’s expressions, which I think is a great touch, even if it’s not obvious to people who see it, it is there.
“It helped me a lot that I am a visual person, for instance I can’t remember a phone number but I can remember the pattern my finger draws as it types. Even my mental associations are visual, when I was reading “The Reason I Jump” as part of my research at some point it evoked a scene from The Man of Steel, were Superman as a child starts discovered his powers (well I say discovered but it looked more like they ran him over, the scene is terrifying), suddenly he can hear everyone at the same time, see everything too clear, too bright, too much, that’s how I imagine sensory overload. Unfortunately autistic people don’t have superman’s ability to control this, there’s no filter or off button.”
My thanks toAlex Amelines for offering this explanation of his work.
Amazing Things Happen is something everyone should watch. I highly recommend you share this video with everyone you know!
A new program called the ‘be nice’ campaign has been started in West Michigan to help end bullying. One of the hardest issues to deal with for parents of special needs kids – as well as parents of any child – is bullying in schools and online. What do you do if your child is the victim of bullying? For that matter, what do you do if you discover your child is bullying other children?How far does bullying affect a child? What kinds of impact does this have on a child’s mental health?
Learn About Mental Health.
Did you know that problems with bullying are the leading cause of suicide in children and teenagers? Bullying can also cause issues of depression, drug abuse, and other mental health problems that can affect people for their entire lives.
In this episode we’re going to talk to an expert in the subject of bullying. Christy Buck is the executive director of the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan, and they have a new program that offers a solution. It’s called the ‘be nice’ campaign and it’s designed to to help kids, families, schools, and communities work to understand and end bullying. We’ll also learn about mental illnesses, how to recognize when problems escalate to thoughts of suicide and what to do in these situations.
We also talk about the common myths and stigmas associated with bullying, depression, and mental health issues that can cause problems for kids as well as adults. For example, a person doesn’t need to ‘bottom out’ before they should get help. We discuss ways to overcome these myths and stigmas. You’ll also learn how the ‘be nice’ campaign can be used by your school or other organizations.
Revisiting Special Parents Confidential Episode 06 Special Education Advocacy.
It’s IEP Season and we’re revisiting older episodes that offered information to help with the IEP process. Today we’re Revisiting Special Parents Confidential 06 Special Education Advocacy. Learn about the role of the Special Education Advocate and how they help parents negotiate the Individualized Education Plan, as well as the 504 Special Education Plan, and what the difference is between these two options.
Special Education Advocacy.
As parents of special needs children we hope that our kids will have every opportunity to get a good education, and get assistance when they need it in school. Special Education has changed over the past couple of decades. Special needs children are spending more time in mainstream classrooms and spending only limited time out of the class with their special education teachers for whatever assistance they need.
But what exactly is Special Education? We know that our kids are supposed to get help. Where can we get good advice or assistance when facing the task of getting the educational help for our special needs children? Do we have to see a lawyer? Can we just expect the school to handle it properly? What are the standards? What’s an “IEP” (Individual Education Program), what’s a “504”, and what kind of educational help can we even reasonably expect our children to have in the first place?
Our guest on this episode of Special Parents Confidential can answer a lot of those questions. Kathy Holkeboer is a Special Education Advocate in West Michigan. Advocates for Special Education work with families on understanding what kinds of educational assistance their special needs children are entitled to have, based on need. They can even go with the parents to meet with school officials to put the special education plan in place for each school year.
Links To Websites Mentioned In This Podcast
Pacer CenterThe National Parent Training and Information Center for children with disabilities. They offer publications, workshops, and other resources to help parents make decisions about education, vocational training, employment, and other services for children with special needs.
Michigan Alliance for FamiliesSpecial Education Advocacy for families in Michigan. Note: for non- Michigan residents, you can search similar websites for your state in thePTACdirectory.
Wright’s LawSpecial Education Law and Advocacy, created by two lawyers, Peter and Pam Wright (husband and wife), providing legal assistance and information for parents of special needs children.
Contact Information for Kathy Holkeboer – (note: Kathy is a special education advocate in the State of Michigan, and works primarily in the West Michigan region. Residents of other States or regions in Michigan should consult the PTAC directory for Special Ed Advocates in their area). Holkeboer Advocacy-Facebook page.
Revisiting Special Parents Confidential Episode 10 Special Education.
It’s IEP Season, and we’re revisiting some of our older episodes that have information that will help you with the process. In this episode, we find out what Special Education is all about.
In this episode we take a look at the world of Special Education. What exactly is Special Education? How do teachers become Special Education teachers? How and why has the concept of Special Education changed over the years from isolation and institutionalization to mainstreaming and inclusion, and has it worked? How do researchers determine what works and what doesn’t work? And are the current budget problems that so many state governments face affecting Special Education in our schools?
Our guest for this episode has answers to all of those questions and many other questions. Paula Lancaster is a Professor of Special Education and the Chair of the Special Education, Foundations, and Technology Department at Grand Valley State University in West Michigan. We talked about a wide range of issues including the questions above, as well as discussing some of the major misconceptions about Special Education; the differences in how Special Education is handled by public schools, charter schools, and private schools; how Special Education changes from elementary school to middle school, to high school, and college; to the importance of special needs children learning to advocate for themselves; how to make sure that the information you’re finding is proven to work versus a marketing scam; and a lot more. This is one of the longest episodes of Special Parents Confidential that we’ve recorded, but Paula shares some very important information that you and everyone who is interested in Special Education need to know.
Links Mentioned In The Podcast:
What Works Clearinghouse– The Institute of Education Sciences. Providing educators (parents can use it too) with the information they need to make evidence based decisions.
LD Online– Learning Disabilities Online. The world’s leading website on learning disabilities and ADHD.
Note: Paula’s advice on researching information: Whenever you encounter a site that you’re not certain whether the info is credible, scroll down to the bottom (or check ‘about us’ info), and find out who is responsible for the website content.
The Self-Advocacy Strategy– Paula and Sean Lancaster’s software package that teaches children the strategies of negotiation and self-advocacy. Great for all kids, not just special needs children.
It’s IEP Season and we’re revisiting past episodes on the Individualized Education Plan. Find out what you can do when schools say ‘no’.
Special Parents Confidential Episode 17 When Schools Say ‘No’.
In 1990 Congress passed IDEA, or Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which entitles each student with a disability to a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to meet his or her unique needs. Originally titled Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 (EAHCA), it was based on Congress’ finding that the millions of children with disabilities had educational needs which were not being met due to a lack of services and inappropriate public school placement. IDEA set down guidelines for how schools and states were to implement special education procedures.
Unfortunately, there is a wide disparity across states as to how those guidelines should be implemented, or even interpreted. Similarly, school districts can even have differing standards for services they offer in special education. Simply put, IDEA allowed States and schools a lot of leeway in special education implementation, based on numerous issues including need, population, local economic factors, and other considerations.
The problem for parents is, this leeway in the implementation of procedures can sometimes allow States and school districts to restrict or even deny extra help for students who don’t fit the exact definition of a particular disability or learning disorder. School Districts and States are also cutting certain aspects of special education support from Education budgets as cost-saving measures. While districts and States aren’t outright eliminating Special Education, they do cut budgets for support programs, assistant teachers or para-pros who help in the classrooms, and other accommodations. The result is many parents are finding out that their children will perhaps get minimal help (the least allowed under regulations), but more often than not they hear the word ‘no’ when asking for additional help or support for their child.
So what can you do when your school or State says ‘no’?
Our guest in this episode has some answers.Suzanne Wilcoxis the co-owner ofHope Educational Consulting, LLCa special education advocacy service based in Ohio and Michigan. She is also the mother of four children, two of whom needed special education support in school. She explains how IDEA works, and how schools and states interpret those regulations. She also explains how ‘best practices’ can sometimes be overlooked due to budgeting, or availability issues.
During the time when she and her family lived in Ohio, she and her partners were instrumental in creating and passing legislation that allowed Ohio to become one of the first States in the country to recognize Dyslexia as a learning disability, and implemented official regulations on the kinds of therapies schools must offer to help students with Dyslexia. She has worked with parents, teachers, school districts, and legislators on numerous issues with special education.
Suzanne offers some great advice and information that all parents of special needs children need to know. Please feel free to share this episode with everyone you know who has a child with special needs or works with children who have special needs.
ADHD Nation, Children, Doctors, Big Pharma, and the making of an American Epidemic, is a new book by New York Times correspondent Alan Schwarz, that is putting a lot of focus on ADHD and the way it’s diagnosed and treated in the United States. Alan Schwarz is the Pulitzer Prize nominated investigative reporter who wrote more than 100 articles that helped expose the serious problems of concussions in football players of all ages. His work lead to movies and documentaries about the seriousness of concussions and to the NFL finally admitting the problem and making changes in how they deal with the problems.
Since then Mr. Schwarz has begun investigating ADHD diagnosis and medications, writing a new series of articles on the subject that lead to the publication of ADHD Nation.
Mr. Schwarz has done an intense amount of research in the hard statistical evidence that shows an often higher number of children and adults are being diagnosed with ADHD than what the established rate of diagnosis is supposed to be. In fact, it’s nearly three times the established number, which means millions of people more than expected are being diagnosed, or often misdiagnosed. He also profiles a number of the major names involved in the diagnosis and treatment of ADHD all the way back nearly 200 years when the symptoms we now associate with ADHD were first recorded. Along the way we meet Dr. Keith Conners, who has been called “the father of ADHD”, and we learn his concerns about how his work has been misused.
A Fair Balance.
ADHD Nation is a very well balanced book, in that it doesn’t attempt to deny that ADHD is a valid medical condition. In fact the book opens with the statement, “AHDH is real.” Mr. Schwarz proves that in the correct circumstances ADHD medications work and are highly effective. But, as you’ll hear in this interview, far too many people, especially children, are being put on the medications when they clearly do not have ADHD and don’t need medications. This is an important book and you’ll learn how Mr. Schwarz researched the numbers and compiled the evidence that he presents in the book.