This month, Pennsylvania passed Act 26, a new law that aims to stop cyberbullying of children by making it a punishable offense. The law makes cyber harassment of a child a 3rd degree misdemeanor, punishable by a maximum $2,500 fine or even up to 1 year in prison. I wrote a blog in 2013 about bullying in general, and at the time briefly referenced cyber bullying. Since then, its prevalence has unfortunately grown by leaps and bounds.

autism parentIn researching cyber bullying and online abuse, I learned that there are actually several types of cyber bullying. They include online harassment, “outing,” (when a victim’s personal information is shared online without their consent), victim blaming, and “trolling,” (faking a social media profile to send hateful messages). I was shocked to read that this is occurring with such regularity.

Even more shocking were some of the statistics. In a 2014 survey of 10,000 young people in England:

  • 7 in 10 young people are victims of cyber bullying
  • 37% experience cyber bullying on a “highly frequent” basis
  • 20% experience “extreme” cyber bullying on a daily basis
  • Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter are the top 3 platforms for cyber bullying

It’s important to be aware of some of the signs of cyber bullying. Warning signs may be emotional, social/behavioral, academic, or any combination of these. In particular, the biggest red flag is a withdrawal from technology. If you notice a sudden change in computer or phone usage, talk to your child. They may be being cyber bullied. For more information on signs of cyber bullying, visit the National Crime Prevention Council.

Technology has opened many doors for our society, but also brings with it great responsibility. It’s up to us to teach our children how to use technology appropriately.

Other resources:

US Dept. of Health & Human Services anti-bullying site:

Center for Safe Schools:

Bullying Prevention Institute:

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Celebrating ADA

This past Monday, an op-ed piece I wrote was featured in our local newspaper. I thought I would share it below, for anyone who may have missed it!

~ Maureen

Every July, we celebrate two anniversaries of independence. One is, of course, July 4th. The second is less well known. On July 26th, 1990, President George H.W. Bush signed the historic Americans with Disabilities Act, a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public.

adaWhile the ADA has led to changes throughout society, perhaps the greatest area of impact is in the area of employment. With passage of the ADA, employers were required to give all qualified individuals equal opportunity in the workforce, regardless of any disability they may have.

Now, 25 years later, we have seen so many wonderful achievements for individuals with disabilities. And we have seen incredible growth in the overall community’s attitude and mindset regarding people with disabilities. No longer are persons with intellectual disabilities hidden away in institutions; rather, we hear more and more success stories every day about what people with disabilities are accomplishing. It really is a joyous thing.

Across the Erie community, scores of businesses have opened their doors to hiring people with disabilities. Over the last several years, the Barber National Institute has assisted hundreds of individuals in securing employment. Currently, 25 local businesses employ adults with intellectual disabilities who have been trained through our supported employment program.

Still, we know that there is always more work that can be done. Too often, I hear of people who are considering opening their doors to offer employment opportunities, but have concerns. I want to debunk some of these more common myths about employing individuals with disabilities.

Myth: Hiring workers with disabilities increases workers compensation insurance rates.

Fact: Insurance rates are based solely on the relative hazards of the operation and the organization’s accident experience, not on whether an employer has hired workers with disabilities.

Myth: Providing accommodations for people with disabilities is expensive.

Fact: Did you know that many accommodations or special equipment are available at absolutely no cost? And for the minority of workers with disabilities who do need some sort of special equipment or accommodation, 56% of these cost less than $600. Employers should know that available tax incentives make it even easier for businesses to cover accessibility costs.

Myth: Employees with disabilities have a higher absenteeism rate than employees without disabilities.

Fact: Studies show that employees with disabilities have a lower absenteeism rate and a lower turnover rate when compared to employees without disabilities.

People with disabilities are wonderful assets to a business. They are typically prompt, work until the job is complete, are not searching for alternative employment, and are dedicated to doing a thorough job.

ada 2I can’t think about the passage of the ADA without recalling a remarkable woman who was seated in the audience.   Dr. Gertrude A. Barber was a member of President Kennedy’s commission on Mental Retardation, involved in crafting and promoting the ADA, and, of course, known for her life’s work on behalf of creating opportunity for individuals with disabilities. In recognition of her efforts, Dr. Barber was invited to the White House to see this landmark legislation passed into law.

I can recall how happy she was to see this step taken to end discrimination, and how proud she was that the Erie region was on the forefront of this battle.

Each year, approximately 50,000 individuals with disabilities turn 18. Nearly half of these individuals will have average or above average intellectual capabilities. Whether you are a business owner or an employee at a business, consider contacting the Barber National Institute to see what steps you can take to become a place of employment for adults with intellectual disabilities.

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Taking Care of Our Refugee Community

A recent Autism Speaks blog discussed serving the refugee resettlement community in Rochester, NY. Our own Erie community has a refugee population beyond 10,000. Over the past decade, approximately 350-475 new refugees have annually resettled in the city, thereby making Erie one of the largest resettlement destinations for refugees in PA. In our school, we have over 20 refugee students enrolled who have emigrated over the last several years from Eastern Europe, Asia, Middle East, and Central America. map

As I read this blog, I couldn’t help but think about the challenges the parents of these children have experienced, not only in moving to a new country, but also in possibly not knowing the language, the customs, the education or social services systems. Most of them have expressed to me that the primary reason they came to the United States was to receive services for their child with a disability. They were willing to live in refugee camps for years if only they could resettle in the United States in the future. Their experiences underline how fortunate we are in America to have the wealth of support services for children and adults with disabilities and their families.

With the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act coming up this Saturday the 26th, I applaud the leadership role the United States has taken in securing equal rights for citizens with disabilities. While there’s always room for improvement, it’s important to acknowledge how privileged we in the United States are, in so many ways.

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Making Eye Contact

Eye contact – a simple concept, but a challenge for many children on the spectrum. From my perspective, eye contact is an important method of communication in social interaction that can provide a wealth of information. Often, many of us don’t even think about making eye contact, it happens so naturally. However, this is not the case for some children and adults with ASD. In fact, it can even be a source of great anxiety and stress. There are many who suggest that we should teach eye contact, as it is an essential life skill. I would say that it all depends upon the child. eye

Take Ryan for example. When he was two years of age, we would work on the drill: “Look At Me.” If he did, he received a reinforcer. It sounds very basic, but it was a starting point. This was pretty easy when he and I were sitting at home practicing. However, with unfamiliar surroundings and people, Ryan had trouble applying the skill. Over time, he improved in his eye contact with others, especially if the topic being discussed interested him. His eye contact definitely decreases when he’s nervous, anxious, or stressed. When he’s “silly,” his eye contact is perfect, because he knows he’s doing something he’s not allowed to do.

Today, I’m not concerned about whether or not he maintains eye contact; I am more interested in his level of conversational engagement, his attention to task, and if he is demonstrating appropriate behaviors. Fortunately, most adults will stay engaged with him even if he chooses not to give eye contact, although this is not always the case with peers.

For parents who are facing issues with eye contact, I encourage you to read this Autism Speaks blog: One tip I’ll pass along that I found helpful with Ryan is to encourage him to look at a person’s shoulder while he/she is speaking, if direct eye contact was too uncomfortable. This worked for him when he was in a job interview situation and was quite nervous. He would look at the employer’s shoulder and it would appear that he was actually giving him/her eye contact.

What has worked in your house? I would love to hear your tips and stories!

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National Therapeutic Recreation Week!

Reading that this week is National Therapeutic Recreation Week, I realized that I wasn’t quite sure what “Therapeutic Recreation” was. So naturally, I decided to do a bit of research. I learned a number of fascinating things! therapeutic-rec-300x126

For example, did you know:

  • Recreation therapy can be a related service according to IDEA legislation
  • It is an umbrella term for four distinct services:
    • Assessment of Leisure Functioning
    • Leisure Education
    • Therapeutic Recreation Services
    • Recreation in Schools & Communities
  • Recreation therapists can work with students on friendship development, applying knowledge learned in school to the community setting, and developing/expanding leisure repertoire
  • Qualified recreation therapist providers are certified, registered, and/or licensed to provide therapeutic services

Recreation therapists engage in a variety of different “interventions,” as they called, during their therapy sessions. Some examples are:

  • Teaching bicycle riding, weight lifting, swimming
  • Offer social skills instruction during recreation activities
  • Develop a “friends book” with pictures and telephone numbers of friends
  • Reinforce self-care skills after physical activities

Keep in mind that related services are only included in an IEP if they are deemed necessary in order for the student to benefit from special education. These services must detail their uniqueness and necessity for the student’s success. Parents are the key drivers in securing this service in their child’s IEP. To learn more, visit:

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Exciting Opportunities!

What a whirlwind start to our week! It may be summer vacation for our students, but we are working hard on several exciting opportunities for the organization this month. As the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act approaches, we have been giving a lot of thought to the wonderful changes this has brought about, as well as the areas where we could continue to grow and push forward. Look for an op-ed in the Erie Times News to appear soon!

disstoryNationwide, we are starting the celebrations early with the arrival of #DisabilityStories on Twitter this Wednesday. We will participate in the conversation by sharing #DisabilityStories in the form of photos, facts, links, videos, and conversation on social media. Read more about this fun mission here:

Did you know that TEDx Conferences are coming to Erie? For those of you unfamiliar, TED, which stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design, is a set of global conferences that includes talks by professionals, entrepreneurs, educators, business owners, and thought-leaders on topics ranging from science, culture, academics, and more. These presentations, known as TEDTalks, are available to watch for free on their site, TEDx conferences are independent TED-like events, which can be organized by anyone who obtains a free license from TED, agreeing to follow certain principles. I am happy to report that we are in the process of submitting an application to the upcoming TedxErie.

Stay tuned!


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BNI in Colorado!

Ann Ellison, MA BCBA, and Maria Brown, MS BCBA, presented “The Next Generation: Social Skills and Video Modeling in the Digital World” for the National Autism Society of America in Denver, CO, this week. Denver draft 2_002 They were honored to be selected from the hundreds of proposals that were submitted!

Key objectives of the presentation were:

  • List essential features of effective social stories and video modeling
  • Identify three digital tools which can be used to create a project
  • Create a basic story board for a project

Social stories and video modeling can be used to teach, as well as reinforce, any skill area. At ELBS, we use these methodologies to develop social/ communication skills, functional/academic skills, and employment skills, just to name a few.

As defined by Carol Gray (1991), Social Stories™:

  • Teach new behavior or strengthen existing behaviors
  • Define expected behaviors (social rules)
  • Explain the behavior of others (perspective)
  • Present information in a concrete, literal way
  • Support sequencing, organization, and planning
  • Provide structure to unknown situations

Denver draft 2_041As part of the presentation, Ann and Maria will discuss how to develop a social story, take effective videos, and develop tutorials. Their motto is: “Be inspired… Create, share, and teach!”

If you would like to view their entire presentation, click here: Denver.

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