Tip of the Week: Recognizing Fad Autism Treatments

Learning that your child has autism is incredibly overwhelming. You’re under intense stress to make the best decisions possible for your child, and to do so quickly. Add to the fact that autism is a popular topic in the news and social media, so tips and quick fixes frequently show up in headlines and news feeds. Autism is considered to be a fad treatment magnet, and while some of the fad treatments are ineffective, others are flat out dangerous. How is it possible to parse through all this to find reliable information? Here are a few tips to help you out:

  1. Avoid products or organizations that promise a cure or rapid progress. All children respond to intervention at different rates. There is no known cure for autism, and there is no “quick fix” either.
  2. Avoid products or organizations that use scare tactics. Anyone who is trying to scare you into using their products or services does not have your best interest at heart. Instilling fear in parents can make it more difficult to make knowledgeable choices and increase the pressure already felt. Scare tactics are generally used to encourage you to make a snap decision, often at a high monetary cost.
  3. Avoid products or organizations that utilize subjective testimonials instead of data-driven science to measure progress. Testimonials may be compelling, but without scientific research it’s impossible to know what actually caused progress. Research should be completed that illustrates an intervention or treatment is directly linked to progress.
  4. Avoid products or organizations that advertise easy solutions which don’t require a professional’s help. Many of the behaviors presented with autism are incredibly challenging. Approaching those issues without the assistance of a trained professional can be detrimental or potentially dangerous for your child, especially when your child exhibits self-injurious behaviors.
  5. Avoid products or organizations that do not measure progress for the intervention being used. It should be very clear what the expected outcome of a product or treatment is, as well as how it will be measured. Relying on informal reports from either parents and/or teachers does not supply valid information about the effectiveness of the product or treatment.
  6. Be wary of treatments that require “faith” to work. If a treatment is not working, it is not because you didn’t believe in it, it’s because something in the treatment needs to be changed to meet the unique needs of your child.

So where can you find valid information? The Association for Science in Autism Treatment is a reliable source for up-to-date information about the many types of treatment available for individuals with autism. The website is packed with useful information, but you may find “Questions to Ask Marketers of Autism Interventions” especially helpful as you make decisions about your child’s treatment. You may also want to pick up Sabrina Freeman’s book, The Complete Guide to Autism Treatments: A Parent’s Handbook: Make Sure Your Child Gets What Works!



Sam is an ABA provider for students ages 3-12 in NYC. Working in education for ten years with students with Autism Spectrum Disorders and other developmental delays, Sam has developed strategies for achieving a multitude of academic, behavior, and social goals. Sam is currently pursuing her PhD in Applied Behavior Analysis at Endicott College.

NEW Product Spotlight: Independence Day GPS-Enabled Clothing for Kids with Autism

This week, we’re thrilled to introduce you to a one-of-kind clothing line developed by autism mom Lauren Thierry. These unique shirts improve the quality of life, self-esteem, safety, and independent dressing skills of children and teens with special needs. Inspired by preppy American fashion brands, these stylish shirts come with a discrete GPS tracker embedded in the seam enabling you to locate your child at any time. Each pullover features stretch Lycra panels instead of buttons, zippers or laces, and no scratchy tags at the waist and neck, optimizing the shirt for comfort. Best of all, each shirt is double-faced so it can be worn backwards or inside-out and still be on the “right way”!

This week, we’re offering two of Independence Day’s stylish shirts at a 15% discount. We think these shirts offer quite a bit, helping individuals dress themselves appropriately while providing the comfort of knowing that you can locate your child if they should ever wander.

We’re also excited to introduce you to Independence Day founder and autism mom, Lauren Thierry. She’s written an excellent article just for us on her experiences with her son, Liam and how she came up with this ingenious idea. We hope you enjoy!

As Most Autism Moms Know, Revolutions are Relative
by Lauren Thierry

I have just been feted at lovely party in a lovely suburban hotel, where the emcee called my clothing line, Independence Day, “Revolutionary!”

As a former media person, I’m used to hyperbole. I know they have to have a hook, an angle. But I admit this made me blush and, well, made the journalist in me pine for “accuracy.” What I did was not revolutionary. It was simply something that had to be done. Like the moms in the 1960’s who safety pinned mittens to their kids coats before there were mitten clips. The moms did it because those “kittens” might lose their “mittens.” Revolutionary? No, just “mom sense.”
So when I figured out a way to “fashionably” GPS-dress Liam, my son with autism, it was pretty much “the mitten thing.” To the tenth power. No longer are moms talking about frozen fingers. They are talking about saving lives. Finding the one who wanders.

I took a mainstream rugby shirt and tweaked it just a bit, so that my son with autism could wear it easily, and softly folded a GPS into the fabric. That wasn’t a revolution. It was however, the start of a 14-piece clothing collection for those with disabilities. And it did start a “thought revolution.” That maybe those with cognitive impairments, or physical handicaps, could – and should – get dressed independently and look just like everyone else. And be safe and accounted for. So I cringe when I’m called a “designer.” I’m not even a fashionista.

ID Clothing Comparison

So why would someone like me start a “trendy/preppy” clothing line? Why would I carve out a niche in the preppy apparel space already dominated by Gap, JCrew, Abercrombie, Lacoste, Lilly, and Ralph?

Because that’s the stuff I wear, my typical 12-year-old twins wear. But my son with autism – and some 12 million other tweens/teens/young adults – cannot wear. Because tags, buttons, zippers – even collars – make those rugby shirts, cargo pants, and pretty pastel dresses impractical, uncomfortable, inaccessible and sensory-averse to those in that disabilities demographic.

ID Clothing Lauren MomBecause I’m an autism mom. That makes me a warrior mom. An activist mom. Someone who sees a lot of families, like mine, just trying to get through the day with a kid who can’t dress himself, except in baggy sweats and mono-color T-shirts. Even then, my Liam runs a 50% chance of getting those clothes on backwards. Or inside out. Or some other way that embarrasses his siblings and starts our day off under a cloud.

I’m not re-inventing the preppy apparel wheel here. I’ve just made some ingenious (patent pending) tweaks to these classic clothing lines, so that this population can have the opportunity of looking like any other kid going off to Greenwich High School, and the dignity of putting those clothes on independently – without Mom’s help for 30 minutes every morning.

I’m not just some suburban mom with a half-baked “really cool idea.” I’m a Columbia grad with a 20-year career behind me as a Financial TV news anchor. I’ve worked for small TV stations around the country as well as for Los Angeles and New York outfits from ABC/Disney to Time Warner. I’ve learned how to “think small” and “think big.”

ID Clothing Lauren CNNI quit my job as a CNN Financial news anchor to take care of my son and advocate for autism causes. I shot a documentary, “Autism Every Day,” which premiered at Sundance. Shooting that doc, I spent 24 hours in the homes of 8 “autism families.” I saw that, like my son, these kids learned by “rote” the fundamentals of dressing. But due to simple design obstacles like “fronts and backs,” there was a wide margin for error. That was my first “focus group” on the dressing issue, all down on film.

I shot footage of stressed-out, exhausted parents who’d given up trying to dress their special needs children fashionably, just putting their kids on school buses in pajamas.

I shot footage of siblings of these kids, embarrassed to be seen next to their minimally-dressed brother or sister. Their experiences reflected my own.

I’ve seen where my son Liam and millions of others with special needs are forced to adapt to a world that is simply not adapting to them, in some of the simplest of ways. Like getting dressed.

I’ll leave finding a cure for autism to the scientists. But I can put out a clothing line that’ll get these kids up and into clothes just as beautiful and classic as the major designers…and out the door in 3 minutes. On their own, independently. Mom won’t be here forever, you know.

Getting dressed – on trend, and on time – every morning. Now that’s Independence.



Lauren Thierry HeadshotLauren Thierry is the founder of Independence Day/ID, a technology and fashion convergence designed to address a myriad of safety and dressing issues for the special needs population. A graduate of Sarah Lawrence College and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, Thierry was a TV Anchor in local, national and business news for more than a decade before she left her job at CNN Financial News to care for her autistic son, Liam. She became a driving force behind numerous autism education initiatives. Among them, she created the fundraiser known as Autism Awareness Day at Shea – then at Citi Field – for which the New York Mets to devote one game a year to autism education. She brought in strategic partners Hess Oil, Prudential Elliman, Bear Stearns, Royal Bank of Scotland, BNY Mellon, and various hedge funds to the effort.

Thierry produced the documentary, “Autism Every Day,” described as “The shot heard ‘round the world for autism,” when it debuted at the Sundance Film Festival. Shooting the film, she saw that wandering/elopement were major issues for autism families. She also noted that the simple act of getting dressed for these families was a grueling obstacle course of “fronts and backs,” “insides and outs,” zippers, buttons and tags. That was Thierry’s first “focus group,” all down on film. Independence Day/ID Clothing was started to address those issues.

Independence Day/ID is an American Express Passion Project winner for 2013.

Pick of the Week: Emotion-oes – Like dominoes, but for identifying emotions!

This newly added game will put a smile on any child’s face! With 56 domino-like cards, Emotion-oes for 2–6 players is especially useful for students who are nonreaders. Players will learn to recognize emotions and identify feelings in facial expressions. This week only, save 15%* on your set of Emotion-oes by using our promo code EMOTIONO at check-out!

To play the game, each player is dealt five Emotion-oes facedown and must match the face on one end of his/her Emotion-oe to one end of the Emotion-oe displayed in the center. An instruction sheet also includes variations on the game for even more fun!

Don’t forget to use our promo code EMOTIONO at check-out to save 15%* on your set of Emotion-oes this week!

*Offer is valid until 11:59pm EST on January 27th, 2015. Not compatible with any other offers. Be sure there are no spaces or dashes in your code at check out!

Tip of the Week: How to Avoid a Deficit-Based Education

One of the obstacles I face as a special education teacher is that so much of my work is focused on deficits. I am continually required to report on the milestones my students have not met. After assessing a student, I am required by law to report quarterly progress on IEP goals to help bring that student up to grade level.

Teacher and ToddlerAll of these mandates are essential to helping my students to progress, but they also serve to overlook my students’ strengths. There is little space on an IEP to focus on what my student is quite skilled at, or to detail a plan for encouraging those skills. The long-term implications of failing to nurture a student’s strengths range from increasing boredom and frustration in school to failing to prepare students for engaging careers.

Students in the general education population typically have many opportunities for nurturing strengths because they frequently have more free time since their days are not packed with various therapies, and they have access to extracurricular activities and courses that may not be available to students in special education. So how can we, as parents and teachers of students in special education, address this concern?

  • Set aside part of each team meeting to discuss developing student strengths. Your team should be asking questions such as: What activities does the student naturally gravitate towards? What can we do to expand and encourage these activities? What extracurricular groups and classes might be available that are related to this activity? What social skills or academic skills are essential to encouraging this strength?
  • Consider extracurricular activities. Is it viable for your family to add a music lesson to each week? Or to reduce therapy sessions by one hour each week to allow for practice with a track team? Can the school provide support for your learner to have access to the computer design class?
  • Push for access. Most IEPs have social skills goals listed. Consider the context needed for your learner, and push for that to be written into the IEP. For example, let’s say your learner is highly motivated by digital cameras. Request that he/she be placed in a photography class with associated social skills goals, such as “The student will be able to accept feedback about a photo and demonstrate use of feedback in 4 out of 5 trials,” or “The student will be able to work in a group of 3–4 students to take photos related to a theme.” When considering what is an appropriate education for your learner, it is definitely appropriate to outline social skills related to student interests and strengths, especially as these may lead to employment later down the line.
  • Find mentorship. Seek out high school or college students with common interests and strengths to offer tutoring/coaching in that area. Ask people you know if they have friends or family members working in the profession your learner is interested in, because they may be able to set up job-shadowing for you. Don’t rule out the potential of connecting with people via video chatting if you can’t find mentors in your area.

It is essential for the long-term interests of children in special education that we spend more time considering and encouraging their strengths.


Sam is an ABA provider for students ages 3-12 in NYC. Working in education for ten years with students with Autism Spectrum Disorders and other developmental delays, Sam has developed strategies for achieving a multitude of academic, behavior, and social goals. Sam is currently pursuing her PhD in Applied Behavior Analysis at Endicott College.

Tip of the Week: Read Books from the Autistic Perspective

If I were to describe my job in one sentence, it would be this: My primary goal is to increase the independence of my students in ways that are meaningful to them and to their families. With that goal in mind, it makes sense that I would seek out input from my students and their families, but also seek out writings by people with autism, Asperger’s, and other developmental delays in order to gain a comprehensive picture of needs, desires, and issues of which I may be unaware.

Sometimes a book or article written by an individual with autism hits the news in a big way. I encourage you to read more than one book, because you’ll quickly find that each individual’s experiences and personalities are quite different. It is not helpful to read the perspective of one person with a developmental disability and apply it to all people with developmental disabilities, but this frequently happens with autism. Here are a few resources you may want to check out:


The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida – This book was all over the news last year. Set up as a series of questions and responses, Higashida answers all sorts of questions related to autism. His writing is very direct and he shares a lot about the emotions he feels but is unable to convey.



Any books by Temple Grandin – Temple Grandin is a force in the autism community and has provided a wealth of resources. You can read some of her early work, such as Thinking in Pictures to get a view inside the mind of an individual with autism, but I also have great appreciation for her later work as an advocate for people with autism, such as Different…Not Less.



Episodes by Blaze Ginsberg – This is one of my all-time favorite books. Ginsberg sets up his life experiences and relationships as if they were different seasons of television shows. He presents his teen years as if you were flipping through the channels, seeing different episodes of his life. He even has songs for each episode!



Finding Kansas by Aaron Likens – This one is unique because it is written by a man who was diagnosed with Asperger’s in his 20s. Likens is eloquent in his use of metaphor to help clearly define aspects of his behavior.



www.wrongplanet.comWrong Planet is a community forum for individuals with autism and their families. You will see a wide range of questions and opinions here. It also serves as a forum for individuals with autism to express their feelings about topics such as whether or not they prefer people-first language, how people with autism should be depicted on TV, legislation related to autism, and more.


Sam is an ABA provider for students ages 3-12 in NYC. Working in education for ten years with students with Autism Spectrum Disorders and other developmental delays, Sam has developed strategies for achieving a multitude of academic, behavior, and social goals. Sam is currently pursuing her PhD in Applied Behavior Analysis at Endicott College.

Pick of the Week: Fine Motor Fun Deck – Hands-on activities to reinforce fine motor & visual motor skills

Use your hands to be an alligator. Trace the dotted lines to make a mountain. Our newly added Fine Motor Fun Deck contains exercises and writing tasks that challenge overall hand-use and coordination skills. The front side of the card has kid-friendly hand activities for strengthening and dexterity, while the backs contain prewriting, wipe-off activities for reinforcing fine motor and visual motor skills. This week only, save 15%* on your set of the Fine Motor Fun Deck by using our promo code MOTOR at check-out!

Activities in the Fine Motor Fun Deck include tracing and drawing simple lines and shapes, connect-the-dots, mazes, name writing, and finish-the-pictures. There are four additional cards that provide directions, game ideas, and exercises for hand skill development that require the use of simple classroom or home supplies. There are 52 cards, each measuring 7″ x 4″, 4 connector cards (and, or, before, and after), and 4 dry-erase markers, all stored in a sturdy tin. Recommended for children ages 4 and up.

Don’t forget—you can save 15%* this week only on the Fine Motor Fun Deck by applying promo code MOTOR when you check out online or over the phone with us!

*Offer is valid until 11:59pm EST on December 16th, 2014. Not compatible with any other offers. Be sure there are no spaces or dashes in your code at check out!

Tip of the Week: Consider Response Effort in Your Intervention

Several previous posts have discussed how important it is to have a multi-pronged approach to behavior interventions, including definitions for how caregivers will respond to undesirable behavior, the replacement behavior, and reinforcement. One thing I have not shared is considering response effort when choosing a replacement behavior.

Response effort describes how easy or difficult it is to engage in a behavior. For example, I frequently check my e-mail on my phone. Occasionally, I get an e-mail that requires a lengthy reply. The response effort for typing on the tiny touchpad is much greater than sitting down at my laptop and using the keyboard, so I wait until I can go to my computer to reply to that e-mail. Typing on the keyboard requires less response effort.

In general, when we make choices about how to behave, whether we are aware of it or not, we choose the behavior that gets the best results with the least response effort. But if a low response effort achieves poor results, we’re probably not going to engage in that behavior. Let’s look at an example of choosing a higher response effort. Let’s say I live down the street from a hair salon, and I go there once but hate my hair cut. I’ll engage in the higher response effort to drive 30 minutes to a salon that gives me a great cut. I want the lowest response effort, but not if it achieves poor results.

So how does this apply to interventions in your environment? When you’re choosing a replacement behavior, you should try to make it require less response effort than the undesirable behavior. Here are a couple of examples:

  • Every time you teach a math lesson, your learner breaks his pencil and throws it across the room. You’ve identified that the behavior of breaking the pencil functions as escape, meaning that in the past, when he broke his pencil, his consequence was a break, a walk to “calm down,” or a trip to see the dean. You’ve provided a replacement behavior of holding up a stop sign that stays on his desk. When he holds up the stop sign, he is provided with a break. Holding up the stop sign requires much less response effort than breaking a pencil.
  • You are the director of a center for learners with autism. Many of your students are being toilet trained during the day. It is important that the providers working with the students wear gloves during the toilet training process. The gloves are on the wall when you enter the bathroom, but you’ve noticed that several providers are still not wearing gloves. One provider tells you that if she forgets to grab the gloves as she’s coming in and the child is already in the stall, it’s too difficult to backtrack and keep an eye on the child. You decrease the response effort by placing a box of gloves inside each stall in the bathroom.

Decreasing the response effort for the desired behavior while simultaneously increasing the response effort for the undesirable behavior can produce even better results. There have been several studies related to increasing response effort for self-injurious behavior such as hand-biting while providing replacement behaviors with a lower response effort.

As you’re developing behavior intervention plans or thinking of ways to improve your teaching environment, you should think through the possibilities of using response effort to encourage appropriate behaviors.


Sam is an ABA provider for students ages 3-12 in NYC. Working in education for ten years with students with Autism Spectrum Disorders and other developmental delays, Sam has developed strategies for achieving a multitude of academic, behavior, and social goals. Sam is currently pursuing her PhD in Applied Behavior Analysis at Endicott College.

Special Education Students Learn How to Share and Prepare for Thanksgiving

(SGVN/Staff photo by Leo Jarzomb/SWCITY)

In the spirit of the Thanksgiving holiday, we thought we would share this wonderful report we came across on learning how to prepare for Thanksgiving festivities at Dexter Middle School in Whittier, CA. With weeks of preparation for their annual tradition, sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-graders in this school’s special education program learn about manners, responsibility, budgeting at the grocery store, and treating others with respect, especially at the dinner table.

How are you preparing for Thanksgiving with your special student this year? What’s your annual tradition?

Click to read: Thanksgiving comes early for Dexter Middle students

Download our 2014 Holiday Gift Guide today! Find the perfect gift for your special child

Around the holidays, parents often get calls from grandparents, friends and relatives asking for gift ideas for children with special needs. Our 2014 Holiday Gift Guide will make it a bit easier for everyone to find something special for the special child in their life. Our trusted consultant Sam Blanco, MSEd, BCBA has put together some of her favorites that are sure to bring delight. From our Different Roads family to yours, we wish you all the joy and happiness of the season.

Holiday Gift Guide


AND we’re slashing the prices of the toys and games in our Holiday Gift Guide, so be sure to apply or mention our promo code GIFT14 to save 15%* on these featured products!


6 Tips for Preparing for a Smooth Thanksgiving Celebration

Holidays can be challenging for everyone in the family. Your to-do lists get longer, your routines are switched around, and all the little stresses can be especially difficult for your child with autism. Here are a few tips to ease the difficulties related to Thanksgiving.

Tell. Prepare your child for who and what they will see at Thanksgiving. This may include creating a social story or showing photos of people your child does not know or see often.

Help. When possible, have your child help out. This may include prep activities such as helping with decorations or measuring ingredients for a recipe, but it could also include giving your child a job, such as answering the front door or setting the table.

Access. Be sure your child has access to foods he or she will eat and to a designated quiet space for breaks. It’s helpful if other guests or family members understand where this space is and its purpose.

Notify. Inform guests who aren’t familiar with your child or with autism about what to expect and how to best interact with your child.

Keep it fun. Add in a couple of activities during the day that you know your child really knows. This may include family games or traditions.

Schedule. Provide a schedule of the day’s events for your child so they will know what to expect. This can include a visual schedule or a written schedule.

Lastly, remind your child why you are thankful for them and enjoy your holiday!