Kyle at age 3, and Kyle today

Kyle’s Treehouse, originally a resource about autism, has evolved into a community, where hundreds of thousands of visitors learn from each other every year. So, join in the conversation and welcome to Kyle’s Treehouse.

Creative Minds

creative studyThis may come as no surprise to some of the parents reading this post, but a new study has shown that many people with autism are exceptionally creative.

Researchers in the study used the Alternate Uses Test, which asks participants (some who have autism and some who don’t) to think of possible uses for everyday items such as a brick or paper clip. As described, this test is usually used to measure divergent thinking–a thinking style in which creative ideas are generated through the exploration of as many possible solutions to a single problem. And while participants with autism tended to come up with fewer responses, the responses they did come up with were considered more unique and were typically not the common responses to the questions, showing a remarkable level of creativity.

The researchers were, at least, a bit surprised by the findings – the study’s lead author said to the Huff Post that “people with high autistic traits could be said to have less quantity but greater quality of creative ideas. They are typically considered to be more rigid in their thinking, so the fact that the ideas they have are more unusual or rare is surprising.”

Lynsey, Community Manager

 

My Circle of Girls

dawn-dudleyLet’s be honest, we all want our children to make friends. And with autism, finding and maintaining friends can be met with varying levels of challenge. So one mom, Dawn Dudley, took it upon herself to make it a little easier for her daughter – as well as other girls touched by autism – with creation of My Circle of Girls. This group, based in North Carolina, was founded by Dudley to bring girls with autism and their families together – with the opportunity to make friends, know each others’ struggles and celebrate victories.

Each month the group gets together for social and service activities in the community. The purpose is focused on getting the girls to bond while offering them fun experiences. And in just 18 short months since the group was formed, it’s already getting get praise – in fact, Dawn says that parents have told her that the group has been more effective than some of the therapies they’re pursuing for their daughters.

This is such a great concept, and obviously a much-needed one. With autism being diagnosed in boys four times more than girls, there really aren’t any girl-specific programs available. So while My Circle of Girls is based in NC, there is already interest coming in from other states to build similar groups, so we hope this is a format that gets picked up for many other young ladies to benefit from.

Check out more on My Circle of Girls.

Lynsey, Community Manager

Making Friends

Making FriendsSocial struggles are a part of what many people with autism tend to face. While those touched by autism may find making friends to be difficult, the notion that it is impossible for autistic individuals to make friends is exactly the assumption Bryan Chandler is setting out to dispel. Bryan has Asperger’s (high-functioning autism) and – as he shared on The Mighty – feels that “we may have difficulty making friends, but we’re certainly able to make friends. It needs to be the right kind of person who’s willing to understand and accept the individual for who he or she is.” He goes on to say that the “general perception of autism makes me want to fall into my shell and recluse myself from the world. So my advice would be to stop talking and start listening to those on the spectrum.”

To further his important point, he went out and asked his Asperger Syndrome Awareness Facebook community: Do any other ‘Aspies’ struggle making and maintaining friendships?

The numerous heartfelt responses were varied – with some invaluable insights. Here are just some of them:

“I have very few close friends, and many of them also have Asperger’s or another form of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). We get along because of mutual understanding of each other’s strengths and limitations.” – Rhiannon Hartwell

“I can make friends. It’s maintaining them [that’s] hard.” – Evenstar Hebert

“My desire and need for isolation is so great and I almost never feel lonely…nurturing my budding friendship with the time and attention needed is very difficult for me.” – Dymphna Dionne Janney

“I just enjoy being with those few close friends who I have a great bond with. My acquaintances just don’t know how to relate to me completely.” – Chris Buley

You can read Bryan’s full post here.

Lynsey, Community Manager

 

Is Autism Really On the Rise?

www.cdc.gov

www.cdc.gov

Two new interesting studies have come out – one focused on the rate of autism and the other on a possible hormone that is linked with social difficulties.

The rate of autism has been continuously increasing over the years, with the latest figures showing that 1 in 68 children are diagnosed with autism. The rate increase hasn’t been attributed to anything specifically, and questions are mounting as to what has caused the increase. A new study, however, may have provided an answer – the rate is likely due to a change in the way children are being classified and diagnosed. A team from Penn State University looked at special education enrollment and found that the increase in students designated as having autism could be offset by nearly equal decrease in students diagnosed with other intellectual disabilities often seen along with autism. So conditions that were once likely classified as something else are now being identified as autism, probably due to broader awareness.

Another study showed that children with autism who struggle with “theory of mind” – the social skills that deals with the realization that other people have different perspectives, feelings and experiences – have lower vasopressin levels. Vasopressin is a hormone that helps regulate blood pressure and may play a role in social behavior. There are currently no medications that effectively treat social deficits, so this could prove a target for future focus.

Lynsey, Community Manager

Lessons From Daniel Tiger

Daniel TigerI read this article in the NY Times’ parenting section and started laughing to myself because someone else has made the magical discovery of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood – yes, the cartoon tiger that took the helm for Mister Roger’s.

The author talks about how Daniel Tiger – not the thousands of dollars spent on therapy, countless hours of playdates, etc. – but little ole’ Daniel Tiger who should receive credit for her high-functioning autistic son’s newfound ability to connect with others. If you’re reading this – or read the NY Times article – and know Daniel Tiger, then you’ll know why that’s the case. But if you’re new to Daniel Tiger, each program follows Daniel and his friends and covers a specific topic – getting frustrated, sharing your toys, trying new foods, problem-solving, going potty…the list goes on. And not only does it give kids a great visual, each topic has a catchy little song attached to it. We use one of the little jingles – if not several – on a daily basis in our house to remind the kids about something – and they work (ok, for the most part, at least)! For example:

Trying new foods – You got to try new foods ‘cause they might taste good

Going potty – If you have to go potty, stop, and go right away. Then flush, and wash, and be on your way

Taking turns – You can take a turn, and then I’ll get it back

Getting frustrated – When you’re feeling frustrated, take a step back, and ask for help

These don’t look like much, but throw a little music on them and they are catchy and easy to remember.

The topics are so relevant to every preschool age child and they really do serve as a great tool to deal with emotions, social lessons, self-care and many other things we work to teach our children.

Lynsey, Community Manger

 

 

 

Latest Diagnostic Tool – Your Nose?

noseSo this is an interesting one…a new study suggests that it may be possible to diagnose autism by giving children a sniff test. Yes, that’s right, the act of smelling may be able to provide tremendous insight.

Why? As covered in the NY Times, most people instinctively alter their breathing when they come in contact with certain smells – they take a big whiff with pleasant smells and limit their breathing with foul smells. However, as discussed in this research, children with autism do not make this natural adjustment. Based on their sniff test, the researchers – who were not told which participants had autism – were able to correctly identify which children did have autism 81% of the time.

Plus, what they also found was that the further removed an autistic child’s sniff response was from the average for ‘typically’ developing children, the more severe the child’s social impairments were.

Looking back on the impact of odors, different smells definitely affected Kyle when he was younger – like smoking and garbage smells. Those smells would actually make him gag or throw up, which made it a bit tricky being out in public – he would either be holding his nose, or commenting on someone smoking, or even throwing up after walking by a smelly trash can or dumpster! (And speaking of gross smells, if Kyle heard someone let off gas, he would giggle uncontrollably – as Jenifer says, it was something!)
Lynsey, Community Manager

 

Extending Some Understanding

birthday party inviteThe child birthday party invitation. It’s a little piece of paper in the mail – or an email to be opened – but it can be an immediate stress inducer. Stress was likely the feeling Tricia Rhynold would have when she opened invites from her son’s classmates. Tricia – mom to seven-year-old Timothy who has nonverbal autism – explains that they’ve received tons of invites over the years, which she appreciates, but she understandably wonders, “if the parents know what would happen if I brought Timothy?  The interruptions…the meltdowns…how I would hate to take the spotlight from the birthday child.” So, she would respectfully decline every invite.

But that all changed with one simple note. Tricia received a party invite with a note from a mom of a child (Carter) in Timothy’s class – and she made it very clear that she truly wanted Timothy to come to the birthday party writing:

Carter sat beside Timothy at school and he always talks about him :) I really hope he can come. We are renting a bounce castle that we can attach a small bounce slide at the bottom. We will also have water balloons and water guns. Maybe Timothy can come earlier in the day if it would be too much with the whole class. Let me know so we can make it work.

There are a lot of amazing people in this world who are kind and understanding – we hope you’ve got some of them in your life. It’s hard to remember that kindness sometimes when you’re overwhelmed or maybe feeling a little stuck. In Tricia’s case, it took someone else – a complete stranger – to extend an offer with Timothy’s needs in mind that would make all the difference. As Tricia said on her blog, The Book of Timothy, “I don’t know this Mom or even this child personally. I want to. Desperately….The Mom is everything I strive to be.” Agree.

Lynsey, Community Manager

TED2015: Steve Silberman

TED.com

TED.com

Over the years, autism rates have been increasing and today we’re now estimating that 1 in 68 children are being diagnosed with autism. With the prevalence of autism on the rise, we are left to wonder – why are the rates increasing so steeply over the years? Are there really that many more people with autism today than there was 20 or 30 years ago?

This is the question Steve Silberman set out to answer – and this led him down a very interesting path back through the history of autism. He uncovered a series of events that have all led up to where we are today. With a new book coming out called NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity, Silberman shared some of his research findings at this year’s TED. Check out his TED Talk.

Lynsey, Community Manager