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February 2011



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Archive for February 2nd, 2011

I had always wanted to try my hand at scriptwriting. After the publication of Anne Droyd and Century Lodge in 2002, I approached Gareth Preston, who ran an amateur dramatics group called Fine Line. Over a ten year period, Gareth’s little company of amateur and semi-professional actors had produced a series of Doctor Who audio plays and put them online for free download.

Of the adventures already produced, I enjoyed Present Infinite by Lawrence Ahlemeyer, Trick of the Light by Gareth Preston and Second Chance by Adrian Hudson. The last adventure of that ‘season’, Final Frame by Lawrence Ahlemeyer, saw the Doctor (Joe Binks) parted from his male companion, the mysterious Raman (prn Rah-man).

Gareth secured actress Amy Elizabeth to play female companion Jenny in a second season of adventures, which meant the next batch of stories would feel more like ‘proper’ Doctor Who.

Episode 2 Ready To Download

Gareth Preston of Fine Line Productions has released Episode Two of The Chattath Factor, my not-for-profit tribute to Doctor Who. It runs for 26 minutes, is a full cast drama with sound effects and music, and stars Joe Binks as the Doctor, Amy Elizabeth as Jenny, with John Ainsworth as Dr Joseph Winston.

Schoolhouse, New Jersey

Gov. Chris Christie has proposed creating additional specialized public schools for educating children with autism in New Jersey, a departure from the current practice in many communities of integrating those children into neighborhood schools.

The governor proposed creating “centers for excellence” in every county, suggesting that such schools could save money for districts and ensure a higher quality of instruction. He told the audience at a town-hall-style meeting in Paramus on Thursday night that “the start-up costs of these programs, if you do it district-by-district, are mind-blowing and the quality is variable.”

Parents and advocates are split over the idea of creating specialized schools for children with autism, reflecting a larger debate nationally over whether those children are best served in separate programs or in general-education classes.

Critics of the idea say that children with disabilities gain valuable academic and social skills from interacting with their peers without disabilities, and also develop closer ties to their communities.

“We’re horrified at this suggestion to have another segregated setting for children with autism in every county in New Jersey,” said Diana Autin, executive co-director of the Statewide Parent Advocacy Network, a nonprofit group that assists families. “It would also send a message to parents that children with autism can’t be included.”

But Linda Meyer, executive director of Autism New Jersey, a nonprofit advocacy and educational group, said Mr. Christie’s proposal for specialized autism schools would provide a much-needed alternative for some families. Many districts, she said, lack the staff, training and resources to educate children with autism.

“What I see is the governor has a vision to expand the continuum of options for our students,” Dr. Meyer said. “There are currently not enough high-quality school options for children with autism. Not every child is being educated in an effective program.”

The number of New Jersey students classified as having autism has grown rapidly, to 13,358 in 2010 from 8,490 in 2006, according to state education statistics.

Read in Full: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/17/nyregion/17njautism.html?_r=2

Adding More Schools for Autism Just Might Defeat the Purpose

  • January 17th, 2011 12:26 pm ET

Robin Hausman Morris

It is the quintessential dilemma for parents of autistic children. Public or private. Governor Chris  Christie of New Jersey has made an auspicious proposal to create additional schools specifically for children with autism, as reported in the New York Times.

This notion is music to the ears of parents who demand more speech, more occupational, and more behavioral therapies for their children. To be fair, the parents demand services because their children are in dire need of direct instruction and invaluable and intense intervention that is lacking in a typical public school setting. Nevertheless, the nagging question remains; is isolation the answer?

Read in Full: http://www.examiner.com/autism-parenting-in-national/adding-more-schools-for-autism-just-might-defeat-the-purpose

Tough Teacher Powers Under School Reforms

Thursday, January 27 02:06 pm

SkyNews (c) Sky News 2011
Power is to be handed back to teachers as part of a drive to crack down on bad behaviour in the English schools system.

The new Education Bill sets out Michael Gove’s plans to drive up standards and behaviour.

Schools will get the final say on expulsions – making it easier to expel pupils who consistently misbehave.

The Education Secretary believes his plans will restore discipline and reduce bureaucracy.

He told Sky News: “It seems to me that the most important thing is to say to the teacher is that you’ve got the authority. I think we all want our teachers to get stuck into not just maintaining order but also to raising standards.”

His proposals will allow teachers to search children for things that can disrupt lessons – like mobile phones and video cameras.

Sky News understands that staff will also be able to delete any files or images that they feel are inappropriate.

The government also wants to protect teachers from false allegations made by pupils, by allowing them to remain anonymous until charged with an offence.

Headteachers will be asked not to suspend staff immediately and police officers encouraged to speed up any subsequent investigation so careers aren’t unnecessarily ruined.

Headteachers will also be able to discipline pupils who misbehave on their way to and from school.

But rules forcing teachers to give parents 24 hours notice of a detention will be scrapped – the thinking is that parents may be inconvenienced, but will also be prompted to ask what more they can do to improve their children’s behaviour in school.

Mr Gove added: “This Government backs teachers. All the evidence from those countries with great education systems tells us that nothing is more important than attracting great people into teaching and supporting them in the classroom.

“Teachers will be free to impose the penalties they need to keep order and free from the red tape which swallows up teaching time, so they can get on with their first duty – raising standards.”

Schools rated ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted will be freed from regular inspections in order to focus on the worst performers.

Ofsted will no longer rate schools on areas like community cohesion – instead focusing on just four core elements – pupil achievement, teaching, leadership and behaviour and safety.

With many of the new free schools being set up by faith groups the Education Secretary also revealed to Sky News a new unit will be set up within his department to prevent segregation in communities and combat extremism.

But the bill also includes an unexpected additional clause to make university students pay higher rates of interest on tuition fee loans.

The Government says this has to be included before the new university funding regime begins in 2012.

The General secretary of the University and College Union, Sally Hunt, has accused the coalition of “sneaking” the rate changes out in the bill.

She said: “The general public can see this for what it is – a stealth tax on learning and achievement – and it doesn’t matter what piece of legislation the Government tries to hide it in.”

The bill is likely to include further measures such as plans to overhaul the teacher training process, sweeping reforms of qualifications and the introduction of a reading test for six-year-olds.

Labour says it gives Mr Gove “50 new powers to meddle in education in your area” with Shadow Secretary Andy Burnham tweeting that it “strips councils of any real power and gives it all to the Secretary of State”.

It is part of the Education Secretary’s wider drive to give power and respect back to teachers while returning to more traditional values but could also leaves pupils and parents with a lot less clout.

Source: http://uk.news.yahoo.com/5/20110127/tuk-tough-teacher-powers-under-school-re-45dbed5.html

Granville woman pursuing dream of school for autistic youth

Jan 18, 2011
Written by ANNA SUDAR

NEWARK — Barbara Lechner knows the world can be a complicated, overwhelming place for preteens with autism.

Not only do they struggle with sensory issues and anxiety, but many feel isolated and are picked on because of their social skills and communication difficulties.

Lechner, of Granville, is working to give Licking County children with autism a place where they can feel safe to be themselves.

For more than 30 years, Lechner has been the executive director of the Language Experience Center, a preschool for children with autism or communication issues.

She has applied for a $250,000 Pepsi Refresh Grant to expand the center’s mission and open a school for fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders with autism.

“We want to create a learning environment that is conducive with their learning style,” she said.

A speech and language pathologist, Lechner started the Language Experience Center in 1979 at Licking Memorial Hospital with support from the Heath Sertoma. The school moved to St. Edward’s Catholic Church in Granville in 2004.

The program was designed to help young children develop language skills. Teachers work with a small group of 2-year-olds twice a week, Lechner said.

In December 2009, Lechner volunteered to do speech therapy with a 11-year-old boy with autism.

To prepare for the experience, she started reading books on the autism spectrum, taking classes and speaking with parents.

She said she realized preteens who have autism have a difficult time in school.

“They have inner anxiety plus the fact that their sensory input is either muted or highly accentuated,” she said. “They can have extreme loneliness and (face) bullying.”

Lechner began thinking about starting a school for that age group. When several members of the Language Experience Center board helped the Davis-Shai House win a $250,000 Pepsi grant, Lechner saw a way to possibly fund her new project.

Read in Full: http://www.newarkadvocate.com/article/20110118/NEWS01/101180305/1002/Granville-woman-pursuing-dream-school-autistic-youth

Grant Funding Helps Educators Think Outside the Box

Indian Prairie Special Needs PTA provides $5,000 in grant funding to 11 schools and 18 individuals.

The Silence ...

Published: Tuesday, February 01, 2011, 5:00 AM     Updated: Wednesday, February 02, 2011, 1:36 AM

By The Republican Editorials

It’s been one year since 15-year-old Phoebe Prince committed suicide after what authorities say was the result of persistent bullying by classmates at South Hadley High School.

In the wake of the tragedy, the school vowed to put in place polices to address bullying. The new policies were enacted – a necessary response from the school system that was less than forthcoming in the wake of Prince’s death.

Efforts to repair the school’s image – and more importantly to protect the young people in its charge – are ongoing.

But the school system’s commitment to healing itself suffered another blow recently when a new charge of bullying surfaced at the high school.

Multiple news outlets have reported that advocates for the Payton Spinney – who had been a friend of Prince’s – say the school has been unresponsive to her educational and personal issues.

A lawyer for Spinney said the school has failed to implement a plan that takes into account Spinney’s autism and that it has failed to stop bullying she endures at school.

Just as troubling as the new allegations has been School Superintendent Gus Sayer’s silence on the matter.

Last Friday, Sayer said he will not be issuing a public statement addressing accusations that the School Department did not prevent Spinney from being bullied.

We are very troubled by Sayer’s silence. Parents who have children in the South Hadley schools should also be troubled.

Bullying is an unpleasant topic. But the only way to prevent it is by openly confronting the problem.

Source: http://www.masslive.com/opinion/index.ssf/2011/02/silence_on_bullying_a_troublin.html

Article Date: 28 Jan 2011

The NHS needs to improve how it diagnoses autism in children and teenagers if it is to cope with the increasing demand on services, says new draft guidance out today (Friday 28 January).

At least 1 in 100 children under the age of three years has an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). However, levels of understanding among healthcare professionals vary greatly across the UK. ASD can be difficult to correctly diagnose as there are lots of possible signs and symptoms, as well as coexisting conditions with similar features, such as intellectual disability, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder.

In its draft clinical guideline, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) calls for healthcare professionals in the NHS to work closer together, as well as to improve how they engage with schools, social care, the voluntary sector and other key services which can offer useful insight into this condition. This is to ensure that children and teenagers with possible ASD, as well as their parents or carers, receive the appropriate care and support they need.

Dr Fergus Macbeth, Director of the Centre for Clinical Practice at NICE said: “A correct diagnosis of autism can bring a profound sense of relief to some children and young people from what can be an intense feeling of isolation from the rest of the world. It can also help them and their families or carers to get support from education, health services and voluntary organisations and make contact with others with similar experiences.

“Our draft recommendations outline the best ways that healthcare professionals can recognise the possible signs and symptoms of autism spectrum disorders in children and young people, when they should consider referring them to a specialist team, and how they should then be diagnosed.”

In its draft clinical guideline, NICE advises that:

– A local ASD strategy group should be formed, with representation from child health and mental health services, education, social care, the voluntary sector and parents or carers of children with ASD.

– A multi-professional team should lead the referral and diagnosis of individuals with possible ASD; including a paediatrician, a child and adolescent psychiatrist, a speech and language therapist, a clinical or educational psychologist, and an occupational therapist. The ASD Team should undertake the diagnostic assessments where appropriate and advise healthcare professionals about referrals.

– Every child or young person who is to undergo a diagnostic assessment of ASD should have an appointed case coordinator from the ASD Team who will be their single point of contact and signpost them, and their parents/carers, to appropriate services and support.

– Healthcare professionals should always consider the possibility that the child/young person may have another condition with similar features to ASD. If an alternative diagnosis is suspected, they should undertake the appropriate assessments and referrals.

– Following diagnosis, the ASD Team should create a profile of the child or young person, detailing their strengths, skills, impairments and needs. This will support their education, communication, behavioural, emotional and family needs. With consent from the parent or carer, the profile should also be shared directly with relevant services, e.g. a school visit by a team member.

Dr Macbeth added: “We are inviting anyone who has experience with autism, including healthcare professionals, charities and members of the public, to comment on our draft recommendations via one of our registered stakeholders. In particular, we are very keen to hear from young people or carers of young people to get their thoughts on how our draft recommendations could affect them. This is so that we can ensure the final version of our clinical guideline is of greatest benefit to the NHS and importantly to those who live with this condition.”

The consultation deadline is Friday 25 March 2011. NICE then hopes to publish its final clinical guideline in September 2011. Once published, the recommendations will represent best clinical practice for the NHS.

Read in Full: http://www.medilexicon.com/medicalnews.php?newsid=215087

Have Your Say ...

Have your say on new guidelines to improve NHS services for under-18s with autism

The National Autistic Society (NAS) has today warmly welcomed the publication of a draft guideline from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) on improvements to NHS autism diagnostic services for under-18s in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

These include vital proposals on improving diagnosis and post-diagnostic support, such as appointing a case coordinator for each young person and their family as single point of contact who will signpost them to appropriate services; and creating a profile of each young person who has a diagnosis, outlining their needs.

NAS Chief Executive, Mark Lever, said:

Children with autism are often disadvantaged in accessing services as their condition is not properly recognised. Too often we hear from families who are sent from pillar to post whilst seeking a diagnosis, or who find themselves outlining their experiences over and over again to different professionals. The longer they have to wait, the longer it takes for them to get the right support in place, which can have a negative impact on the whole family and lead to more costly services and support being required later in life.

Once published, I hope that the final clinical guideline will bring about a more consistent approach to referral and diagnosis and recommend comprehensive training for professionals involved. This is something families have long been calling for. We strongly welcome these draft recommendations for NHS healthcare professionals and urge all young people with autism, their parents, and healthcare professionals to make their views heard.

NICE is inviting anyone with experience of autism, including professionals and members of the public, to comment on the guidelines.

Visit the NICE website to have your say before 25 March 2011.

Source: http://www.autism.org.uk/en-gb/news-and-events/news-from-the-nas/have-your-say-on-new-guidelines-to-improve-nhs-services-for-under-18s-with-autism.aspx


ScienceDaily (Feb. 1, 2011) — A study from MIT neuroscientists reveals that high-functioning autistic adults appear to have trouble using theory of mind to make moral judgments in certain situations.

Specifically, the researchers found that autistic adults were more likely than non-autistic subjects to blame someone for accidentally causing harm to another person. This shows that their judgments rely more on the outcome of the incident than on an understanding of the person’s intentions, says Liane Young, an MIT postdoctoral associate and one of the lead authors of the study, which appears in the Jan. 31 online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

For example, in one scenario, “Janet” and a friend are kayaking in a part of ocean with many jellyfish. The friend asks Janet if she should go for a swim. Janet has just read that the jellyfish in the area are harmless, and tells her friend to go for a swim. The friend is stung by a jellyfish and dies.

In this scenario, the researchers found that people with autism are more likely than non-autistic people to blame Janet for her friend’s death, even though she believed the jellyfish were harmless.

Young notes that such scenarios tend to elicit a broad range of responses even among non-autistic people. “There’s no normative truth as to whether accidents should be forgiven. The pattern with autistic patients is that they are at one end of the spectrum,” she says. Young’s co-lead author on the paper is former MIT postdoctoral associate Joseph Moran, now at Harvard.

Most children develop theory-of-mind ability around age 4 or 5, which can be demonstrated experimentally with “false-belief” tests. In the classic example, a child is shown two dolls, “Sally” and “Anne.” The experimenter puts on a skit in which Sally puts a marble in a basket and then leaves the scene. While Sally is away, Anne moves the marble from the basket to a box. The experimenter asks the child where Sally will look for the marble when she returns. Giving the correct answer — that Sally will look in the basket — requires an understanding that others have beliefs that may differ from our own knowledge of the world, and from reality.

Previous studies have shown that autistic children develop this ability later than non-autistic children, if ever, depending on the severity of the autism, says MIT Professor John Gabrieli, senior author of the study.

“High-functioning” autistic people — for example, those with a milder form of autism such as Asperger’s syndrome, often develop compensatory mechanisms to deal with their difficulties in understanding other people’s thoughts. The details of these mechanisms are unknown, says Young, but they allow autistic people to function in society and to pass simple experimental tests such as determining whether someone has committed a societal “faux pas.”

However, the scenarios used in the new MIT study were constructed in a way that there is no easy way to compensate for impaired theory of mind. The researchers tested 13 autistic adults and 13 non-autistic adults on about 50 scenarios similar to the jellyfish example.

In a 2010 study, Young used the same hypothetical scenarios to test the moral judgments of a group of patients with damage to the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPC), a part of the prefrontal cortex (where planning, decision-making and other complex cognitive tasks occur).

Those patients understand other people’s intentions, but they lack the emotional outrage that usually occurs in cases where someone tries (but fails) to harm someone else. For example, they would more easily forgive someone who offers mushrooms he believes to be poisonous to an acquaintance, if the mushrooms turn out to be harmless.

“While autistic individuals are unable to process mental state information and understand that individuals can have innocent intentions, the issue with VMPC patients is that they could understand information but did not respond emotionally to that information,” says Young.

Putting these two pieces together could help neuroscientists come up with a more thorough picture of how the brain constructs morality. Previous studies by MIT assistant professor Rebecca Saxe (also an author of the new PNAS paper) have shown that theory of mind appears to be seated in a brain region called the right temporoparietal junction (TPJ). In ongoing studies, the researchers are studying whether autistic patients have irregular activity in the right TPJ while performing the moral judgment tasks used in the PNAS study.

Funding: Asperger’s Association of New England

Journal Reference:

  1. Joseph M. Moran, Liane L. Young, Rebecca Saxe, Su Mei Lee, Daniel O’Young, Penelope L. Mavros, and John D. Gabrieli. Impaired theory of mind for moral judgment in high-functioning autism. PNAS, 31, January, 2011


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