Nutrition and Autism

March is National Nutrition Month. For parents of children with autism, the idea of ensuring adequate nutrition to a child who may likely have many food issues such as allergies, sensory issues, or even behavioral challenges, can be daunting. school-dinnersa-460_781013c

Unfortunately, these worries have a basis: studies confirm that having inadequate nutrition is more likely in children with ASD than in typically developing children, particularly in low intake of calcium and protein. Both of these nutrients are important for growth, and protein is especially important for mental health and development.

Some parents may choose to prepare “alternative diets,” such as removing gluten from a diet. It has been reported that some children’s symptoms and even related medical issues seem to dissipate with these changes in diet. Conversely, diets such as this may only increase the challenge of ensuring adequate nutrition.

It is really important to discuss changes in diet with your child’s physician, and to evaluate potential risks, costs, and impact to your family before introducing dietary changes into your routine. Ultimately, you and your child will figure out what helps and what doesn’t. Don’t be afraid to try a new diet or introduce a new food, but if you don’t see a clear improvement in a few weeks, you may want to consider stopping it. Also, before you introduce any new supplements into a diet, be sure to consult with your doctor about appropriate combinations and dosages.

I recognize that I am very lucky in that Ryan is not a picky eater, nor does he have any rituals about meal times. I did not consider a gluten-free diet because I felt there was not sufficient research to support that extreme change in diet. However, I do see many of our school students with gluten-free lunches. Fortunately, there are a number of gluten-free products now available commercially at your local grocery store, which should make it easier should you wish to try this diet.

Some simple ideas I’ve come across for improving nutrition include:

  • Digestive issues are common among children with ASD. If your child has digestive issues, talk to your physician about digestive enzymes and probiotics, as they can be a way to restore the balance of gut bacteria.

Try: A probiotic yogurt.

  • Watch blood sugar. For children with autism who show signs of hyperactivity, this is a must. Regular snacking and drinking sugary substances – even natural sugar, glucose – without a balance of fiber to help proper absorption can trigger issues with concentration, focus and behavior.

Try: Water with a splash of cranberry juice (not cocktail!) for a little added sweetness without all those sugar grams.

  • I have written before about reported positive results from introducing a variety of vitamins in the diet of children with ASD, from Vitamins B and D, to magnesium, to zinc. There are plenty of research papers sharing signs of improvement after the regular use of certain vitamins.

Try: Discussing the idea of introducing some level of vitamins or minerals into your child’s diet with your physician.

Many of these tips are great not just for individuals with autism, but for all of us. Nutrition is one of the most important factors in an overall healthy lifestyle. Do you have any great nutritional tips? Please share below!


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Women’s History Month

March is Women’s History Month. There are certainly numerous women throughout history that are worthy of a moment’s recognition. In the world of children and adults with special needs, I’m grateful for the contributions of these four women below, who truly have made history.

GABDr. Gertrude A. Barber

Gertrude began her career as an educator and administrator in the Erie City School District. Frustrated by a lack of options for children with intellectual disabilities, Dr. Barber, along with a small group of local teachers and parents, opened a one-classroom school in the local YMCA. Today, the Barber National Institute serves over 4,000 children and adults with disabilities throughout Pennsylvania.

HKHelen Keller

Although an illness left 19-month-old Helen deaf and blind, she overcame these enormous challenges and went on to become a world-famous speaker and author. She is remembered as an advocate for people with disabilities, amid numerous other causes. She was a suffragist, a pacifist, and a radical socialist. In 1915, she and George Kessler founded the Helen Keller International (HKI) organization. This organization is devoted to research in vision, health and nutrition, with a mission to save the sight and lives of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged.

EKSEunice Kennedy Shriver

A longtime advocate for children’s health and disability issues, Shriver was a key founder in 1962 of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), a component of the National Institutes of Health. In 1968, Shriver founded the Special Olympics, for which she is perhaps best known. She has also assisted in establishing numerous other health-care facilities and support networks throughout the country, including the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Center for Community of Caring at University of Utah, Salt Lake City.

TGTemple Grandin

Diagnosed with autism at age 2, Grandin is a prominent and widely cited proponent of the rights of persons with autism and of animal welfare. Based on personal experience, Grandin advocates for early intervention to address autism and supportive teachers, who can direct fixations of the child with autism in fruitful directions. She is the best-selling author of many books and was the subject of HBO’s 2010 documentary, “Temple Grandin.”

Are there any special women in history that you would add to the list?

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Absolutely Incredible Kid Day!

Celebrating its 19th anniversary, Camp Fire’s Absolutely Incredible Kid Day honors our nation’s youth by asking adults to write, post, tweet, and tag (#AIKD) notes of encouragement and inspiration to the incredible kids in their lives. It is a simple, meaningful way to let youth know how much they are appreciated. Lives are changed by this simple act of love and kindness._DSC1633

With this in mind, I decided to write a letter to my own absolutely incredible kid.


Did you know that:

  • You motivate me to get out of bed at 5:30 AM, when its -10 below to go to LECOM, because you’re already up and ready to take off
  • Your sweet exclamations of “You’re so pretty” make me smile on a day when I’ve had more challenges than I can count
  • I’m proud as I watch how you always remember the importance of being polite and considerate, whether it’s holding a door open, saying ‘thank you’ for each small item, or always asking how I’m doing
  • It brings me so much joy to see how much you enjoy exercising, skiing, swimming, and golfing
  • I smile to myself when you repeat the same question numerous times because I know that’s how you deal with anxiety

I’d encourage you to take part in Camp Fire’s Absolutely Incredible Kid Day and take a moment to celebrate and recognize the amazing kids in your life. You can also follow Camp Fire on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to share the story of your #AIK with the world.

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Theater at ELBS!

Since the time of the Greeks, theater has been used to help people cope with their emotions. It is a powerful tool not only for self-expression, but also to better understand the feelings of others.

Save the DateThis Thursday, ELBS students will be performing in their annual collaboration with the Erie Playhouse. This year’s show is Dolly Parton’s I Am a Rainbow. Based off of her book, the play is a fun way for children to understand and talk about their own feelings. After all, we each have rainbow of feelings inside… from being tickled pink, green with envy or even feeling blue!

Our partnership with Erie Playhouse has proven to be a wonderful addition to our arts program in the school. Theater therapy, as it may be referred to, provides numerous opportunities for the students to learn and grow.

Much like modeling, theater gives students a chance to practice skills in communication, movement, pretend play, and social interaction, as well as help them identify key social cues such as recognizing facial expressions – a deficit we see often in children with autism.

In my reading, I came across a study in which 8 children with autism were paired with a typical peer to evaluate the effects of theater therapy. The group, Social Emotional NeuroScience Endocrinology (SENSE) Theatre, a community-based intervention program, hypothesized that children with autism would demonstrate improvement in social perception (memory of faces, the expression of emotions, and theory of mind) skills and adaptive functioning.

The results showed promise in using a theatrical approach and setting, along with established behavioral science methods, to facilitate the development of core areas of challenge in youth with autism.

We have enjoyed our collaboration with the Erie Playhouse over the years and hope that it will continue to grow and flourish! And if you have a chance to stop by ELBS on Thursday at 10:00, come watch I Am A Rainbow!

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Digital Learning Day 2015!

Did you know that March 13th is Digital Learning Day? This day is a nationwide celebration that encourages the use of technological devices to improve children’s learning experience in schools in the hopes that one day all students will have access to high-quality digital learning opportunities no matter where they live.

Started in 2012, Digital Learning Day has provided a great opportunity for teachers to showcase their innovative technology programs that improve student outcomes. More than just a chance to celebrate technology, it’s a chance to celebrate learning.

Digital Learning Day was also started as a chance for schools to connect and share all of the creative ways they use technology in the classroom as well as in the community.

DLD_TreasureMapAt ELBS, we are celebrating throughout the day with several fun and unique activities centered around technology. The first is a scavenger hunt through the school. Classrooms must use their iPads to access the treasure map that leads them to various stickers. Once they find the sticker, the students must take a picture using their iPad. If they successfully find all the stickers, they win an app of their choice!

We are also hosting a free 30-minute digital yoga class. Our preschool yoga experts will lead the room in a series of beginner-level animal poses, all projected from an iPad to the screen!

For adults in our Basic Education classrooms, we will have a Listening Station set up. Designed to help students monitor their own progress in reading, the listening station records the student reading a story, allows the student to listen to their own reading, and then offers them a chance to read the story aloud again. The instant results give the students a sense of accountability for improvement, as well as confidence in their ability to read out loud.ABE_Listening Station

To get started on your own #DLD, or even to track the activities of schools like ELBS, visit:

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Celebrating Music in Our Schools!

March marks the 30th anniversary of national Music In Our Schools Month! This is a great time to celebrate the wonderful ways that music enhances learning.MIOSM2015_Logo_color_lrg

Several years ago, we made the commitment to boost the music program in our school. We began by introducing monthly visits from the Erie Chamber Orchestra, led by GM Steve Weiser. Called “petting zoo day,” students have the opportunity to learn about an individual instrument first-hand, holding it, hearing its unique sound, and perhaps even trying to play it. This day is concluded by a mini concert, often played by Steve and another member of the orchestra.

Soon after, we began holding weekly visits from the Young People’s Chorus. Every Friday, students meet in the forum to participate in several sing-alongs, some that include hand/body movements along with them. The children sing a great blend of familiar and new songs, allowing them to feel excitement at the familiarity of a song they know, as well as enjoy hearing new songs each week.

Since then, we have seen first-hand the positive impact that music therapy has in our classrooms. Students request to listen to the music the musicians bring to the school each week, and often times want to listen to them repeatedly. As a result of attending these music sessions, students have improved their listening skills and their ability to remain on task for longer periods of time.

This April, thanks to the Erie Chamber Orchestra, we will have another wonderful opportunity. Renowned concert pianist, Martha Summa-Chadwick, will be coaching some of our therapists and teachers in one of her most advocated musical therapy concepts, known as biomedical music techniques.

Unlike standard music therapy based on social sciences, biomedical music techniques result from evidence-based research (developed at Colorado State University) that shows how music and rhythm can actually help redirect neural networks. Clients are actively engaged in goal-oriented sessions where the rhythmic drive of music is added to nonmusical therapeutic tasks, such as walking with a normal gait or maintaining the ability to focus attention. When music is introduced to such tasks in a population that is already “in tune” with music, the results can be remarkable.

Below is the link to a YouTube video of some of our children performing the classic, “Here Comes the Sun.” I hope you enjoy watching it as much as we enjoyed filming it!

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Proposed PA Budget Includes Increases for Education

AppleYesterday, Governor Tom Wolf proposed his plan for PA State spending for fiscal year 2015-16. I was pleased to see that he is including some significant new investments in education, both for early learning as well as K-12.

Some of the noteworthy proposals include:

  • Adding $494 million in Early Childhood Education funding, including:

$197 million to Pre-K Counts, a $100 million increase. Currently, only about 1 in 6 of PA’s 3- and 4-year-olds is enrolled in publicly funded, high-quality Pre-K. If the governor’s proposal is enacted, access would increase to about 1 in 4.

$238 million to Early Intervention, for services for children under 5 years old with developmental delays

  • Special Education would increase by $100 million, to about $1.147 billion total

This would be a nearly 10% increase, providing much-needed funds to programs that have only seen budget increases one time in the past 6 (fiscal) years.

  • $45.9 million to reduce waiting lists and expand services for individuals with physical and intellectual disabilities and autism

Included in this total is an additional $19.3 million to provide home and community-based care to 1,050 individuals with intellectual disabilities and autism, as well as $12.8 million to fully annualize the 2014-15 program expansion.

To read more about Governor Wolf’s budget proposal, visit the PA Office of the Budget site:

I certainly agree with Acting Education Secretary Rivera, who said: “The education of Pennsylvania’s children is paramount to our future success and to strengthen the middle class.” Governor Wolf’s proposed budget will propel Pennsylvania onward in its commitment to quality education for all children.

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