Monthly Archives: March 2013

The Right Tool For the Job

If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.”
–Abraham Maslow

autism_articleMost days confirm the reality that you really can’t have to many tools in your toolbox. Today I saw a fourteen-year-old “autistic” young man. Zach has been on program for a number of years and has done quite well in most respects. His parents have been quite pleased with his development and changes, particularly the changes that have occurred in the past year and most significantly in the past three months, when the pieces really started coming together at an accelerated rate. Zach has come from being a constantly stimming, DSA (Debilitating Sensory Addiction) out-of-it, unmanageable, difficult, non-communicative child to a boy who goes everywhere with his family, interacts socially, and has become a fun, interactive member of his family.

At NACD we have over 3000 tools (methods and techniques) that we can pull out of our toolbox when we create a program for a child. Our challenge is to look at the child globally, then look at the various issues to be addressed, determine priorities, evaluate the time and manpower that can be dedicated to the child, and then apply what we feel are the best tools for the job. Most programs for children like Zack incorporate tools to address their health and diet, gross and fine motor issues, sensory issues, hearing, vision, auditory and visual processing, speech and language, behavior, cognition, and academic function. We could easily use 20-30 different tools in each program.

Part of the process for us is to constantly evaluate, replace, and add to our toolbox. Our perception as an organization is that we can never help a child or a family fast enough or take them far enough. Being an international organization and being able to view the results of the application of many tools with thousands of children covering the full spectrum of ability and disability aids in this process. Through the years, although we have this huge toolbox, we are constantly identifying issues for which there are no adequate tools and thus set out to create the needed new tools.

During this past year, and particularly the last three months, we have all seen not just a Zachary who is progressing, but a Zach who is changing. His affect is now that of a typical child; his DSAs have diminished dramatically; he is engaged; and his speech and language have improved about 1000%. This dramatic change was started with a recommendation from us a year ago that the family purchase Zach a fantastic new tool, the iPad. Prior to Zach’s discovery of one of the greatest tools ever created for our special needs children, there was nothing that Zach could do independently or appropriately engage with or in. He needed to have someone engaging him every waking minute of the day, or he would fall into his DSA pit. Zach’s family was successful in teaching Zach to play with the iPad, starting off with 5-10 second exposures to basic cause and effect apps and then gradually increasing the frequency and duration of exposure, as well as the complexity and variety of apps. During this period Zach was able to start using our NACD Simply Smarter Kids-Memory app. With the development of Simply Smarter Kids we had for the first time a tool in our toolbox to actively work on Zach’s short-term memory and working memory. Although we have dozens of 1:1 processing activities as well as software and online programs to address these processing issues, we did not have a really great tool to use with a child at his level of function. With the proper tool we were able to really start teaching Zach how to process what he heard and saw and to think and raise his global level of maturity. Simultaneously we used our TSI (Targeted Sound Intervention): Focused Attention program, which helped Zach to separate and isolate words and language from the world of background noise and interference. Once we had Zach really hearing language and getting his auditory processing moving, we were able to use our new NACD Home Speech Therapist—Speech Therapy for Apraxia app with Zach so that he is now developing the ability to speak and even sing intelligibly. Today was a good day. I’m delighted with the changes in Zach and his prospects for the future, and I’m really pleased with the effectiveness of the new tools in our toolbox. All problems are not nails and hammers can’t fix everything; and it is so sad and tragic that so many practitioners are so content to keep using the same tool over and over again and keep trying to pound that nail.

Learning Isn’t Tough

Learning isn’t tough. It actually can and should be fun and easy. It never ceases to amaze me how our schools can take learning, which can be so much fun and comes quite naturally to all of us, and make it all so very difficult, so painful, and fail so many of our children in the process.

I just saw one of our families who came out to Utah for their two “typical” girls to go skiing on the “best snow on Earth” and to get their evaluations and new programs. Both parents work full time and manage the girls and their short programs as they can. Both of the girls have been doing program since they were about two months old. The girls showed me their stuff at their evaluations, and both are doing very well; but big sister GiGi really showed off. GiGi had an auditory digit span of 5, and her reading tested out at the level of the average child in the nation in the middle of third grade. She has excellent language skills, is quite conversational, bilingual, and was skiing independently on her first day ever on the slopes. GiGi, during her little sister’s eval, sat quietly and read to herself, quite the mature young lady. All and all a great child whose little sister isn’t going to let her get too far ahead. One other rather significant piece of data in the equation is that GiGi is only three years old!

I also just received an email from Lyn Waldeck, one of our evaluators based outside of Dallas. Lyn has raised and home schooled five boys, while working with/for NACD since 1993. Lyn’s boys have all done exceptionally well, and she and all of us at NACD are very proud of all of them. Today’s news was that Grant, Lyn’s youngest, will be starting college classes this fall at fourteen! Grant attended school this year for his first and only school experience so he could get his feet wet in a classroom before taking college classes. He will be attending a really cool STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) school and will be off and running, chasing after his very successful big brothers.

We have seen many of our NACD kids enter college at fourteen and go on to have very successful college experiences and excel in their professions. Learning isn’t tough, but school often is. Someday we might succeed in fixing our very broken educational system, but in the meantime, parents, you had better take charge. Whether your child attends school or not, parents still need to assume the primary responsibility for their child’s education, and, of course, a little NACD program and guidance never hurts.

We are really proud of all of our exceptional children and their exceptional parents.

Related links:

“Raising Expectations”
NACD Guide to Child Development & Education – NACD Bookstore

Living the Dream

I had heard about a young restaurateur who happened to have Down syndrome a few months ago, but today I was sent a link to a youtube video about this young man. Take a look:

I have imagined a “Tim’s Place” for years. A business owned by one of my grown NACD kids, a place that can take advantage of their talents, a place where they can contribute, make a difference, make a living, and spend their days doing something they can be passionate about. For a number of years I have been encouraging the parents of children with developmental issues to look toward their children’s futures and start thinking about creating a business to help take advantage of those talents, abilities, and passions. Tim is a good example. Like so many of our kids Tim obviously really likes people and defines a “people person.” I suspect that Tim also remembers people’s names very well, as so many of our kids do, and I suspect that once he has met you that you get added to his list of friends. Tim is ideally suited to be the upfront, greeting-the-customers small business owner.

I have been frustrated along with many of our families with the lack of opportunities for our young adults. I have seen families work hard to help their children develop their cognitive function, the academic abilities, social skills, and to become highly capable and then fail to find meaningful work as adults. I have even had individuals with Down syndrome get regular high school diplomas and even college degrees and still not find decent jobs, let alone jobs that they could be passionate about.

The job world is not kind to our kids. If you look at the reality of employment, you start off with the real unemployment rate, which could be pushing 20%. So what is the unemployment rate for people who are really short, have a speech impediment, have any physical problem, or who just look a bit different? If it were possible to gather these numbers they would be ugly; and add on any type of mental challenge and the reality is truly frightening. Enter the NACD Foundation “Exceptional Entrepreneurs” Project:

Through the NACD Foundation I would like to bring together a volunteer team of parents, business and legal folks to help us create some templates to help our families help get businesses going for their kids. I have also wanted to build some models such as coffee shops and perhaps have the Foundation assist in raising funds to help build some of these businesses for the kids.

I’ve had a dream, and Tim’s Place: Where breakfast, lunch and HUGS are served is the realization of that dream for one deserving, lucky young man. We need to help more of our kids live this dream.