The Power of Kind Words

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a major effect on all of our lives. Many children and adults are experiencing stress, anxiety, sadness and loneliness. In fact, 86% of doctors around the world believe that mental health issues and depression will be the biggest non-COVID-19 problem after the pandemic.  Since February is International Boost Self-Esteem Month, now more than ever is a great time to focus on building resilience and confidence in 2021.

As patterns of self-esteem begin to form early in life, it is vital to promote healthy self-esteem in children. Each of us, as parents, can be a positive role model so that our children can mirror our behavior. But, how can we foster self-esteem in our schools?

It all starts with Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS). Elizabeth Lee Black School teachers have designed lessons based on the core principles of PBIS, which emphasize the importance of being kind, safe, and independent. Each week, students focus on a specific skill.

PBIS Student Matrix

Teachers of our preschool students have a number of fun activities that promote self-esteem. The book, Have you Filled Your Bucket Today by Carol McCloud, is used in lessons as an analogy on how kind words  fill your “bucket” and makes you feel good and happy, while negative words take away from your “bucket” and makes you feel sad.

Another activity involves the students filling a container with cotton balls when they say or do something kind, achieve a goal, and listen well. As the container gets full, students receive a reinforcer.

Even the cotton balls themselves are part of the lesson as each child is given the opportunity to feel a cotton ball and a piece of sandpaper. The class then discusses how cotton balls are soft, like nice words, and that sandpaper is rough, like unkind words.

These are two sample lessons that can increase peer and individual self-esteem by learning how kind words make us feel good about ourselves, encourage us and give us strength.

One can never overlook the power of kind words!

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Celebrate School Choice

From Alaska to Erie to New York City, America will light up in yellow and red to raise awareness about K-12 education opportunities during National School Choice Week.

Starting today, National School Choice Week is the largest ever celebration of opportunity in K-12 education… Millions are participating in over 51,000 events and activities from coast to coast.

This week is inclusive, positive and welcoming with the theme of raising awareness of all educational options: public, charter, private, magnet, online and homeschooling. The goal is that families can find schools and learning environments that best meet the needs of their children.

You will see pictures in the future of our students unpacking their yellow fleece scarves, signs and other materials. One of their favorite activities is responding to the question, “Why do I like my school?” Check out their responses over the next few days. The responses are as different and unique as our children. Some write their responses, others use pictures. It’s a joy to read each child’s comments.

School choice week acknowledges the importance of choosing a school based upon a student’s learning preference whether it be Montessori, traditional, or virtual learning. My personal motto is that if a student is not learning, it is our responsibility as teachers and administrators to determine how the student does learn. School choice makes parents part of the decision-making process.

Be sure to watch for pictures of National School Choice Week at the Elizabeth Lee Black School! 

Miss Julie and one of our favorite students are celebrating National School Choice Week!

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Autism Research Updates from 2020

Scientists and researchers are constantly uncovering more information related to autism, offering insights into the origins, possible causes and even at times potential cures. I think back to what we knew or didn’t know in the 1990’s and am amazed as to how far we have come. The question becomes what will we learn in the next five years and how will that impact how we serve children and adults with autism? Read on for those stories that caught my eye in 2020.

Test gauges autistic children’s verbal abilities in natural settings

Researchers and clinicians typically appraise a child’s verbal skills using standardized language tests, which often include questions with predetermined answers. This captures a child’s verbal knowledge, but not their use of language in daily life. A new interactive assessment called the Observation of Spontaneous Expressive Language (OSEL) allows clinicians and researchers a way to evaluate use of language in everyday social situations.

Read the full article here.

Infant hearing test might be sound predictor of autism

The auditory brainstem response (ABR) test is used to screen nearly all babies for hearing impairments. A new study reports that babies who are later diagnosed with autism respond slightly slower than typical babies when exposed to higher-intensity sounds. Researchers say that analyzing more ABR results might suggest other ways to refine the screening specifically for autism.

Read the full article here.

How redefining autism could improve research on the condition

The average age of autism diagnosis—around the age of 4 in the United States—has not changed in over a decade despite research aimed at improving early detection. Ami Klin, director of the Marcus Autism Center in Atlanta, Georgia, says part of the problem lies with how the condition is defined.

Instead of thinking of autism as a collection of traits such as restricted interests, difficulty with social communication, and repetitive behaviors, Klin says researchers, clinician and policymakers should think of autism as a genetic condition that alters how a child perceives and interacts with others and that the severity of core traits can be shaped by early life experiences. 

Read the full interview with Ami Klin here.

Daily living skills influence autistic adults’ education, employment options

According to a new study, individuals with autism who maintain daily living skills–the ability to take care of independent-living tasks–after high school are more likely to enroll in further education than their peers who do not maintain daily living skills.

The study followed 81 individuals with autism and 17 individuals with a developmental delay from age 2 to 26. Daily living skills improved through age 21, but upon reaching age 26, researchers found that half of the participants had less daily living skills and were not as likely to pursue additional education or employment. 

Future studies will analyze which daily living skills are most crucial for success.

Read the full article here.

Alzheimer’s protein turns up as potential target for autism treatments

A study found that lowering tau, a protein known best for its involvement in Alzheimer’s disease, may treat some forms of autism in mice. Researches found the study to be compelling evidence that a link between neurodevelopmental conditions and neurodegenerative conditions exists. At this time, however, it is unclear how the study translates to people with autism.

Read the full article here:

Enlarged amygdala linked to severe behavioral problems in autistic girls

Children with autism who have behavioral problems tend to have an enlarged right amygdala, a brain region that helps process emotions and detect threats. In young girls with autism, the region’s size is associated with the severity of these problems.

Girls with large amygdala tend to have severe internalizing behaviors, such as excessive crying or nightmares, that may signal anxiety or depression, but the same is not true for boys with an enlarged amygdala.

Read the full article here:

Infants’ attention to faces may predict autism before formal diagnosis

By tracking the gaze patterns of infants, researchers could identify significant differences in visual engagement in those later diagnosed with autism. The study also found that not only did those infants behave differently in interactions that involved eye contact, they also expressed different behaviors regarding speech and physical contact.

Read the full article here:

Cerebrospinal fluid: Potential biomarker for autism found

Examining the levels of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) in children may become the first biomarker that could predict autism. Findings showed that babies who are later diagnosed with autism had significantly more CSF than babies who did not develop autism.

The first study only included 55 infants, of which only 10 developed autism. The latest study included 343 infants, of which 221 were considered high risk of developing autism because they had an older sibling with autism. The children who developed the most severe autism had 24% more CSF.

Read the full article here:

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How many ways can you say, “Thank You?”

January is National Thank You Month, the perfect opportunity to pause and express your gratitude.

Research tells us those who practice gratitude report significantly higher levels of happiness and psychological wellbeing.

I confess, I am “old fashioned.” Although a text or email message is fine, nothing conveys heartfelt thanks, or most importantly, leaves a lasting impression better than a handwritten note.

A note can be three or four lines and express why you are grateful. I always try to write the note within 48 hours…if more time passes, I may easily forget to send.

Another consideration is a Gratitude Journal.  Whether you do this at the end of the day or at beginning, it is a great way to start or conclude the day on a positive note.

Ryan and I do this after breakfast every morning and I have found that it does help us begin our day with an optimistic mindset. He truly enjoys reading his past writings! We are on our second journal as we have been writing since Spring when we were struggling in the midst of “early” COVID. He has found this so helpful that he has continued. His “buzz” words are now, Think Positive!

“Thank You” are two little words that can have an enormous impact on our personal and professional lives.

I would like to say Thank You to our many, many friends and supporters who have remained stalwart with us as we work together to combat COVID-19.


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A Heartfelt Thank You

As we “wrap up” 2020, I plan to take a two-week hiatus in writing and will return the week of January 11 when our students return to the classroom for hybrid instruction.

In the meantime, I‘d like to express my thanks to each and every one of you for your commitment  to the Barber National Institute. In this year of so many challenges, your support has been constant and continuous.

We are so fortunate to have you part of our Barber National Institute Family!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!


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Christmastime: Past and Present

As Christmas is now only three days away, I began thinking of Christmas past……

Christmas was always an important day in the Barber household.

Mother LOVED decorating the house for Christmas and she would take days to complete her decorating.

And, yes, we had lots of Christmas birthdays. Joe’s birthday is Christmas, mine is the 27th and JoAnne’s was the 3rd. Since we were close in age, we always had one large birthday party and for many years it was at Evan’s Skateland on West 8th Street.

On Christmas day we would go to Church at St. Peter’s after opening our presents. Then it was on to, as my father called it, the Barber ranch/family home. Santa (Uncle John) always made an appearance. We believed in Santa until we were quite old as we knew that it wasn’t possible for our parents to buy us birthday AND Christmas presents!

Once we were teenagers, we began going to Midnight Mass and then on to our great friend, Louise Behringer’s home for brunch. Looking back, I can’t even imagine brunch at 1:30 AM! But we did!

Our Christmas’ changed as we finished college and some of us moved out of town. However, you could always count on mother decorating every corner of the house and having a “live.” tree. So, fast forward until today.

Christmas Eve will also be very different this year. Unfortunately, no mass at 5 PM at St. Patrick’s. We always get there by 4 PM (at the latest) to be sure that we have a seat with Aunt Jeanne. This year, we will be watching virtually. Sadly, Ryan loves entertaining family and cheffing (as he calls it). But this year, he will be “cheffing” for the three of us. He is already looking forward to Christmas 2021…and so am I!

Ryan and I decorated the house early this year since COVID-19 is all around us; we wanted to smile. So early November on a 60-degree day, I said, let’s decorate outside…and by November 10, the exterior was a sea of red Christmas bows and decorations! The next step was indoors, we could use more smiles! We finished on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, purchasing a “live” tree, as always, and decorating it with over a hundred Christmas bulb memories. Ryan enjoys hearing stories of his very first Christmas bulbs and gifts from our friends from over the years.

I hope that your Christmas is filled with much joy and happiness.

Stay safe and healthy.

Merry Christmas!

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Update on COVID-19 at the Barber National Institute/Elizabeth Lee Black School

COVID-19 has profoundly affected schools across the country and around the world.

We at the Barber National Institute, Elizabeth Lee Black School are attempting to balance the educational imperative to keep our schools open and continue to implement our students’ Individual Educational Plans (IEPS) with the public health goal of keeping COVID-19 infection rates at a low level of community transmission.

After lengthy discussions on alternative instructional models, we are implementing what we believe is the best available model for our school.  We had been offering a range of educational opportunities to our families including In-person Instruction, Hybrid and Remote.  It is the decision of the families in conjunction with the IEP team as to which model works best for each student.

With the significant transmission rates in Erie County at Thanksgiving, we determined that it would be best to go remote for the two-week period following Thanksgiving. We completed the fully remote schedule and have returned to the hybrid and remote instruction. 

Although the rates remain high in Erie Country, we knew that for many of our students, remote instruction simply does not work. They may be unable to stay engaged, sit in front of a computer, have behavioral challenges, or require hands on physical or occupational therapy.  With this in mind, we are offering an alternative instructional model which we believe is the best available model for our school: Hybrid programming or fully remote should the parent so choose.

We are very fortunate that the number of students and staff diagnosed with COVID-19 has been minimal.  I attribute that to our intense focus on the implementation of our Health and Safety Plan ( with the goal of keeping our students and staff safe to the maximum extent possible. I will continue to update you on our status as we return from Christmas vacation.

I know that many of you have told me that you are keeping us in your prayers.  Please continue to do so. I attribute our very limited exposure to infection due to your thoughts and prayers.

Stay safe and healthy,


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Overcoming COVID Fatigue

Ryan participating in the Barber Beast on the Bay, 2016

I know that many of us and our children are experiencing COVID fatigue.  To think that I did not even know what COVID was a year ago!  But since we have been living with it since Governor Wolf closed our schools March 12, it has become a household word, along with COVID fatigue.   Ryan and I pray daily for a miracle (perhaps one by Aunt Tootie/Dr. Barber).   

This has been a very difficult time for all of our children and adults with autism and other disabilities.  Their lives are structured, based on routines, and they do best when those routines are followed.  For Ryan, it is working at Bello’s Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, and at the Barber Institute in the afternoons. 

Ryan’s days are very busy as he performs many jobs, including breaking down boxes, stocking shelves, cleaning the basement, and general maintenance tasks…and that is just his mornings at Bellos!  In the afternoons, he has been busy with outdoor landscaping (when it was warmer) and now he is cleaning and disinfecting our vehicles to ensure compliance with Department of Health Guidelines.  He loves this job!  But this can change dramatically if he has a coworker who is positive with COVID and he must be quarantined.   So, how am I trying to help him (and myself!) with COVID fatigue?

  • Exercise, even more than once a day. Exercise has always released his stress and mine, as well.  Those endorphins do great things!
  • Practice gratitude.  We have so much to be grateful for over and above our health.  Ryan and I are back to writing in our gratitude journal. 
  • Talk about what we are looking forward to once we have a vaccine.  For Ryan, he can’t wait to go to Washington to visit Bryan K., and of course, go to the buffet restaurants that are now closed.
  • Laugh.  Ryan always has a joke to tell me, so I prompt him with, “I need to laugh, tell me a joke.”  He has as much fun telling the joke as I do hearing them!

Each of us have our coping mechanisms. Perhaps you can share what works for you and your child?  Remember, there is a light at the end of the tunnel!

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A Birthday Celebration! Happy 27th, Ryan!

Is it possible? Ryan is turning 27 today! This is one of those special days where I love to take a moment to reflect on my journey with Ryan. I enjoy looking at his pictures that remind me of some of our “momentous” occasions, and I thought I’d share a few with you as well.

Looking back, his first few weeks and months seemed like a blur. I do recall that on his 3-month birthday, he slept through the night for the very first time. What a great birthday gift! Around the same time, I enrolled Ryan in our Happy Hearts Infant child care program. Knowing that he was just down the block from my office was a great comfort, as I’m sure any first-time parent understands.

Ryan’s first birthday

Not long after that he was celebrating his first birthday with his “classmates” at Happy Hearts.

He was around 14 months when I recognized that his expressive language wasn’t developing as rapidly as his receptive language. Based upon my professional experience, I knew that it was time for a speech evaluation, which led us to joining a toddler language group.

Ryan did not make the gains that we hoped for, so I spoke with my brother Joe Barber, MD, a pediatric neurologist, about my continued concerns. It was Joe who then gave Ryan a diagnosis of autism. Our journey had begun……

As I look back on the past 27 years of this journey, with its peaks and valleys, I’m very proud of who Ryan is, how he has grown and matured, and his numerous successes along the way. Today, his days are busy, divided between work at Bello’s Market and BNI. Before and after work, you’ll find him running or swimming, lifting weights, or doing any of his favorite sports, including golf, skiing, and bowling.

Ryan has achieved so much because I set my expectations for him high and always believed that he would reach them. Of course, there have been bumps on the road and I know that they will always continue. But I continue to believe that anything is possible. After all, as Audrey Hepburn said: “Nothing is impossible. The word itself says ‘I’m possible!’”

In closing, I am truly grateful for my family, my friends (especially Jeanne) and the outstanding people who have loved him, nurtured him, taught him, and supported him on a daily basis. Thanks to each and every one of you – we couldn’t have done it without you!

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Happy Thanksgiving!

As we plan to gather for Thanksgiving this year, I know that we as a nation face many challenges, first and foremost COVID-19. However, I believe that each of us have much to be thankful for.  The poet, Ralph Waldo Emerson, said, “Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and give thanks continuously.”

I started thinking, how frequently do I practice gratitude outside of a holiday? Personally, I must admit, not enough.  So, I did a bit of research on the impact of gratitude and learned:

Gratitude encourages giving and giving encourages more gratitude and the circle continues…the pay it forward concept.

Persons who practice gratitude are more empathetic and helpful to their fellow employees which can create a positive culture in the workplace.

Gratitude can help improve sleep.  This is something that I practice when I cannot fall asleep. I think of all that I have to be grateful for, and yes, sleep comes quickly.

Gratitude can also help improve your physical health, including memory, blood pressure and lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and cortisol levels.

If you are worrying now, as I am, that you are not experiencing gratitude as much as you should, there are ways you can “cultivate” gratitude in your life.

These are a few of the actions that Ryan and I are taking:

We are resurrecting the gratitude journal he began in the Spring.  Each morning after breakfast he writes something he is grateful for. He loved this and he filled a notebook, but then it fell to the wayside.

Write thank you notes (Ryan writes emails) to people who do an act of kindness for him.  I find that people love getting a handwritten mailed note.

Have positive notes somewhere in your office/home that makes you stop and feel gratitude.  We post a note on our refrigerator. Every time we open the door it makes us stop and think what we are grateful for.

So, what are you grateful for?????

Happy Thanksgiving!

Ryan and Maureen

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