Adults with Autism

I spend a lot of time discussing the importance of early screening for autism, the effectiveness of early intervention, and on statistics surrounding children in general. However, I have frequently had adults approach me with the question, “Might I have autism?” Or: “I think my husband has Asperger’s.”

toleranceAs autism awareness continues to grow in our country, we see teens and adults asking themselves this question more frequently. They are looking for a reason why they act as they do. Could it be autism? We also see parents who, only after their child is diagnosed, begin connecting the dots and believe that they too have autism.

As there is no medical test that diagnoses autism, this determination is typically based upon clinical judgement. Specially trained physicians and psychologists administer those behavioral evaluations, interviews, and conduct personal observations in order to make this judgement.

Currently, there are few psychologists and physicians who are confident in diagnosing adults with autism. Most diagnostic checklists are geared towards children’s behaviors; although there are some under development, there are currently no formal assessments created for adults. And as adults often develop coping mechanisms to deflect some of the observable characteristics of autism, a diagnosis may prove even more difficult to secure.

We’ve come so far in the diagnosis of children, who’s to say where we will be over the next 3-5 years? If you want to learn more, here are some great resources:



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Get Caught Reading

Are you an avid reader? If you are like me, one of your favorite activities on a quiet day is sitting down with a good book; or as I should say nowadays, sitting down with my iPad and iBooks store! So, it should be no surprise that I was thrilled to learn that May is “Get Caught Reading Month,” a nationwide campaign to remind people of all ages how much fun it is to read! Get Caught Reading began in 1999 to encourage people of all ages to read – and that reading can be fun!

Unfortunately, 44 million adults in the US can’t read well enough to read a simple story to a child. And literacy is directly tied to success later in life: children who have not developed some basic literacy skills by the time they enter school are 3 to 4 times more likely to drop out in later years.

I started reading to Ryan when he was only two days old. As he grew from an infant to a toddler, he too had his favorite books that we read so frequently the pages were scotch-taped together!

Here at the Elizabeth Lee Black School, we celebrated National Read-a-Thon day by having our early childhood students join together in the library to read The Doorbell Rang. One of our teachers read, while another signed the story. It was certainly a fun time for all! If you are interested in participating in Get Caught Reading month, here are just a few ideas:

  • Dedicate a half hour each day to reading and call it “Get Caught Reading Time.”
  • Set up a Get Caught Reading event in your community, and invite local radio and television personalities and other community figures to read aloud to children.
  • Set up a club where children and adults read the same book and compare their feelings on it

If you have other creative ways to get involved, I’d love to hear your ideas!

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Not-So-Lazy Days of Summer at BNI!

Some people think of the lazy days of summer, but at the Barber National Institute, we’re actually busier than ever! Over the years, we have initiated a number of programs during the summer to ensure that educational opportunities don’t end on the second week of June for children with special needs.

esyHappy Hearts Childcare

Working moms and dads don’t have the summer off to play with their children. Happy Hearts offers childcare early morning through late afternoon for ages 3-5. Weekly fieldtrips, swimming, and lots of fun activities ensure kids have a great time!

Early Intervention

Ideally, children with developmental delays benefit from year-round education. At BNI, we offer a summer component with short breaks so that the children do have a “summer vacation” but not the traditional 3 months of summer. The children continue to receive education, speech therapy, physical therapy, or whatever service they need while in session.

Extended School Year (ESY)

For children 5-21 with disabilities, a summer program is offered during the month of July to assure that children do not lose skills that they have spent the whole school year building. Whatever services are requested on a child’s IEP are continued throughout ESY.


BNI offers three distinct camps:

Camp Connections is a full-day camp for children with a diagnosis of autism who struggle with social skills among peers.

Camp Shamrock focuses on development of recreational skills for children with disabilities.

Expanding Social Opportunities (ESO) Camp is similar to Connections, but is offered to young adults 18 and over with intellectual disabilities.





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Mental Health Month

MHDid you know that May is Mental Health Awareness Month? It was surprising to me to learn that one in four Americans live with a mental disorder. Fortunately, today’s society is more aware and accepting of mental health issues than ever before. Still, greater support is needed. President Obama’s recent statement reflects this sentiment:

“During National Mental Health Awareness Month, we recognize those Americans who live with mental illness and substance use disorders, and we pledge solidarity with their families who need our support as well. Let us strive to ensure people living with mental health conditions know that they are not alone, that hope exists, and that the possibility of healing and thriving is real. Together, we can help everyone get the support they need to recover as they continue along the journey to get well.”

Providing mental health services benefits not only individuals but also the workplace. A recent example stated that depression costs over $50 billion in office absenteeism. This statistic tells us the importance of wellness programs in the workplace. Accessibility to such programs, as well as feeling comfortable and supported in the workplace is a win-win situation for both employee and employer.BBHI_Logo.png

I’m pleased to announce the opening of the Barber Behavioral Health Institute
at Northgate Commons in Erie, PA. The Institute is designed to offer services to all children and adults for mental and emotional health issues, including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, panic disorders and phobias, and more. The range of services includes comprehensive assessment, counseling and psychotherapy, and medication management.

Recognizing that nearly half of all Americans will have a problem affecting their mental or emotional well-being at some point in their lives, we are pleased to provide quality support to help people learn how to manage their symptoms and successfully complete their treatment.


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Early Childhood Opens Doors

early childhoodLast week, I had the opportunity to visit our Corry Pre-K Counts program, which is located at the Corry Primary School. We are fortunate that we have been funded for the last several years to offer a Pre-K Counts program in both the cities of Erie and Corry, PA. Pre-K Counts, established by Governor Rendell in 2007, offers quality pre-kindergarten opportunities to at-risk children and families across the commonwealth.

The decision to offer this program was a strategic one. We know that a good quality of life, high-quality jobs and a strong economy requires a strong early education foundation. Early education can open the doors of opportunity for every child to do well in school, in the workforce, and in life. Our own statistics support this theory.

I’m constantly reading research and articles that support this approach and only wish that funding was available to expand Pre-K Counts opportunities for all young children. Initiatives supporting quality early childhood education are surfacing across the country. I recently learned that Cleveland has developed a comprehensive plan to transform the district delivers education to its 40,000 preschool children.

As with any major policy shift, we must generate support from the all stake holders: the community at large, business leaders, policy-makers, and legislators to make this happen. Pennsylvania has begun this process – let’s continue to move ahead to ensure quality childhood education for all our children!



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What It Means to be a “Mom”

After reading Maria Shriver’s touching Mother’s Day tribute I began to reflect on what, exactly, “Mother’s Day” means in the year 2016. I think we could all agree that the days of June Cleaver and the nuclear family have evolved into something much more complex. Today, we have single moms, two moms, dads acting as moms, and women who don’t have children but are considered a mother to many. Regardless of how we define this relationship, the love between “mother and child” is deep and unconditional.

With this last description, I think mostly of my Aunt, Gertrude Barber. Although she never had children, she saw herself as a mother figure to hundreds of children who passed through her doors at the Barber Center. Certainly, Mother’s Day had a special meaning for her.DOC120114-12012014143523_003

Long before Ryan, my own mother always surprised me with a Mother’s Day gift because I was helping so many children. I’ve continued that tradition with Aunt Jeanne, a long-time friend and former colleague who has been Ryan’s special aunt and advocate since the day he was born.

I know we all recognize that it’s not the card or the gift that makes Mother’s Day special for each of us – it’s the love that we share with our children.

Happy Mother’s Day!!

PS – Ryan’s 2015 mother’s day poem still brings tears to my eyes! I read it each year!

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Mental Health Awareness for Children

May is Children’s mental health month, a time to shine a light on mental health and mental illness, as well as treatments and services that are available in your community.

At the Barber National Institute, I consider one of our greatest mental health resources the children’s partial hospitalization program. Back in 1998, we realized that a number of our children had both intellectual disabilities as well as mental health disorders. We determined a program was needed that could help to reduce challenging behaviors through a combination of behavioral treatment, pharmalogical management, and changes in environmental structure.

mayWe planned to provide functionally-based intensive intervention in the areas of communication, self-help, and social and emotional skills, thereby facilitating age-appropriate interactions. We would also provide parents with information in training in the effective methodologies to minimize the impact of the disorder on the family. We applied and secured our initial license to offer a children’s acute partial hospitalization program, becoming one of the first school-based partial programs in Pennsylvania.

Our current program serves students who are enrolled in our approved private school. Following referral and acceptance into the program, a psychiatrist observes the student and consults with staff on a weekly basis. A clinical psychologist and mental health specialists are also part of the classroom team. Every 15 days, the psychiatrist and team members meet with families to update them on the student’s progress as well as to discuss any concerns in the home. When the student has met the treatment goals, a discharge plan is developed with the family to assure the continuity of supports, both in the school and at home.

This program has made an invaluable difference for both our children and our families. In most cases, in-patient treatment is avoided and the children are able to remain at home with their families. Although our numbers are small (only 20 children are served at any given time through MH Partial) the intensity of the services yields very positive results. We plan to continue this component of our approved private school program as long as the need exists.

As you continue through the month of May, know that there are resources available to you or a loved one, both in your community and online. Below, I’ve shared some great tools from the National Council of Behavioral Health. Please share other great resources you may have below!

Mental Health Month


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