One in 68 Children has Autism

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Redefining Autism: DSM-V Changes

January 26, 2012 4:39 pm Published by

The American Psychiatric Association (“APA”) is finalizing the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the “DSM”), the first major revision in 17 years. Proposed revisions in the DSM-5 may narrow drastically the definition of autism spectrum disorder.

The proposed name change would consolidate diagnoses under one category, Autism Spectrum Disorder, eliminating Asperger’s Disorder, Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS), Autistic Disorder (autism) and Childhood Disintegrative Disorder from the manual.

Under the current criteria (DSM-IV-R), a person can qualify for a diagnosis of Autistic Disorder by exhibiting a total of six (or more) items (out of 12 behaviors) in three categories:
1. Qualitative impairment in social interaction
2. Qualitative impairments in communication
3. Restricted repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behavior, interests, and activities

Under the proposed definition, three domains become two:
1. Social/Communication deficits
2. Fixated interests and Repetitive behaviors

To qualify, a person would have to exhibit persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction in 3 sub-domains and at least 2 (out of 4) fixated interests and repetitive behaviors.

There is much recent debate that this narrowing of domains will have an effect on the incidence of autism diagnoses and potentially services.

Navigating Your Child’s Special Education Program: A Guide for Parents and Guardians

January 26, 2012 3:01 pm Published by

QSAC’s Evening Parent Program has put together an exciting and diverse agenda which incorporates outside speakers able to address issues pertinent to families with children on the Autism Spectrum. One of our guest speakers, Michael S. Kutzin, Attorney at Law, presented valuable information to our parents on navigating their child’s educational future. Many parents and guardians are overwhelmed and confused when facing decisions based on their child’s special education program. Mr. Kutzin put together an informative presentation for our parents that he allowed me to pass along on my blog.

If you would like further information from Mr. Kutzin please email him at

Edna M. Kleiman, QSAC Founding President, Passed Away

January 20, 2012 9:22 pm Published by
Edna M. Kleiman, QSAC founding president, passed away last evening.

Edna was QSAC’s first president serving from 1978 to 2004. QSAC’s first group home was dedicated as the Edna M. Kleiman House in 2000.

“Edna was the catalyst in creating QSAC. She was a force to be reckoned with,” stated Gary Maffei, QSAC Executive Director.

Donations can be sent in Ms. Kleiman’s name to:
P.O. Box 2442
New York, NY 10116

Donations can also be made online at

I’m All Ears [Guest Blog]

January 17, 2012 6:46 pm Published by

by Lydia Wayman

Like many with autism, I am really, really good at holding my ears.
From the time I was wee little, I’d jam my fingers into my ears at fireworks and movies.
Of course, I’ve since upgraded to headphones for such events…
But I still hold my ears closed tight, and not just at auditorily offensive things.
If something is scary,
Or bright,
Or if I’m just not quite certain,
My hands go to my ears.
When we were in Disney World, all the photos that the rides took of us… my hands were to my ears.
And I got to thinking, just now, about how my figurative hands are invariably parked at my figurative ears, too.
Though the story doesn’t matter much, someone said something that maybe, could have upset me yesterday.
But I wasn’t sure.
Hands in my ears, I texted (my friend) Leigh to ask her if I “should” be upset.
And I waited, teetering on the verge of upsetness for more than 24 hours till Leigh had a minute to respond.
She did.
Not upset, it was decided. Hands removed from ears.
And how silly is that? That I had to hold my ears while waiting for someone else to tell me if I should be upset?
Why can’t I say, darn it, that rubbed me the wrong way and I’m a little angry! I should go talk to that person!
Or else, more likely for me, yeah, that wasn’t the nicest thing to say, but it’s not worth getting bent out of shape over.
I have a mind of my own, after all.
Enough with the plugging of the ears.
Experience the world for all it’s worth.

Lydia Wayman is a 23-year-old Pittsburgher who loves cats, writing, more cats, and more writing. She also has autism. Lydia found her voice through typing and uses her writing ability, combined with a degree in education, to blog, write books, speak, and consult for families. She believes that a girl with a dream and a keyboard can change the world and has set out to do just that.

OPWDD is Changing the Way Services are Funded in New York State

January 12, 2012 7:35 pm Published by
As you may be aware OPWDD is changing the way services are funded in New York State. The new model is the 1115 Waiver, also known as the People’s First Waiver. Changes will occur incrementally over the next 2-3 years. There are numerous forums providing families and providers with information regarding this system wide change. We highly recommend that you regularly visit the OPWDD website for up-to-date information.
Please note that QSAC and other providers are receiving these updates at the same time as you , therefore your service coordinators and other program staff will not have answers to questions. Again, we recommend you visit the OPWDD website.

We Have a Guest Blogger on Legal Matters for Special Needs Families

January 12, 2012 7:03 pm Published by
Andrew M. Cohen (J.D., LL.M.)
Andrew M. Cohen (J.D., LL.M.) is joining our blog and will contribute guidance on legal matters that affect special needs families. These topics range from wills and trusts to what to do if your child is arrested. Andrew is the principal of the Law Offices of Andrew M. Cohen located in Manhattan and Garden City, and he is the father of three daughters, one of whom has multiple disabilities and graces the cover of his business brochure. His practice focuses on Trusts & Estates and Elderlaw, with an emphasis on planning for families with a disabled child. Andrew is a charter member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners, a national organization of attorneys who are dedicated to providing high quality legal services to the disabled community and, in May 2010, he was selected by Exceptional Parent magazine to receive its Maxwell J. Schleifer Distinguished Service Award. Andrew was added to the Long Island Board of Directors of Easter Seals New York in February 2011 and he was an advisor to Parents magazine for its March 2011 commentary on special needs planning. Andrew believes that it is crucial for parents of individuals with special needs to make all of the arrangements necessary to protect and provide for each family member, and he is a frequent lecturer on this topic. Visit for additional information about Andrew and his practice.

Teaching Functional Communication Skills

January 10, 2012 1:39 am Published by
Throughout the course of this school year, a major emphasis in my classroom has been functional communication training. Those who are familiar with working with individuals with autism spectrum disorders understand the importance of building communication skills, and how building communication skills can enhance an individual’s quality of life while also decreasing problematic behavior. This year in particular I have a classroom full of students who tend to engage in a high frequency of various problem behaviors. To make it more difficult, most of my students are non-verbal.
Back in September, I remember evaluating all of my students and seeing how obvious it was that most problem behavior exhibited by my students was due to a communication deficit. Of all the verbal operant’s that required work, the most important one to build for my students was manding. This is the ability to request for basic wants and needs. In many instances, Picture Exchange Communication (PECS) is a great way to teach basic manding skills to a non-verbal student. This would require a student to hand an instructor a picture of a highly preferred item as a way of communicating their wants and needs. It is important to understand that a key pre-requisite skill for using PECS is discrimination skills. A student must be able to receptively discriminate two various pictures in order to effectively use PECS. My students have very poor discrimination skills, so PECS was not really an option.
What has been effective for my students has been basic sign language training. Of course sign language is not easy, and it involves a lot of effort to teach. Just teaching my students a few basic signs has significantly decreased problem behavior. For example, I have one student in my class who loves juice, candy and gym. In the past, this student would always pull staff towards what he wanted, or even run and grab what he wanted instead of sitting and asking appropriately. Teaching this student these three basic signs has enabled him to now ask for his preferred items in a functional manner. More importantly, this has increased his overall quality of life.
Another student of mine not only cannot use PECS due to poor discrimination skills, but can also not really use much sign language due to poor fine motor skills. What has worked for this student has been basic gestures. This student has a tendency to constantly get up and attempt to push staff away while searching for a desired toy. Obviously teaching the student to sign “toy” or hand over a picture of what toy he wanted was out of the question so we taught him to just sit and point to the direction of what he wanted. This was very basic but worked because it taught this student a simple way to say “I want.”
Overall, I think I have learned that communication training does not have to be fancy to be effective. Just looking at my classroom this year I can see how the most basic forms of communication training can help students a long way.

Teaching Safety Skills at the QSAC Day School

January 9, 2012 7:58 pm Published by
Like all parents, parents with children with autism worry about their child’s safety. This can be much more stressful for parents the more severe the child’s disability. Unfortunately, teaching basic safety skills are often overlooked as focus on developing language, communication and social skills become the priority. Although some safety issues may be more controllable; such as ensuring a safe living environment, other issues, such as what to do when lost, may not be.

Firefighter George walking with our student
According to the Autism Wandering Awareness Alerts Response and Education Collaboration or AWWARE; “In a 2007 online poll through the National Autism Association, 92% of parents reported that their children with autism have a tendency to wander. In 2011, preliminary data from an Interactive Autism Network study found that almost half of all children wander.” In addition, “more than one third of ASD children who wander/elope are never or rarely able to communicate their name, address, or phone number; two in three parents of elopers reported their missing children had a ‘close call’ with a traffic injury; and, 32% of parents reported a ‘close call’ with a possible drowning.”
At the QSAC Dayschool, four teachers made this their focus at the beginning of the school year. The students ranged from severe language and communication skills deficits to students that required the use of assistive technology to communicate to verbal students with social skill deficits. When the teachers were posed with the question, “What would your student do if they were lost?” the answer wasn’t good. We were pretty sure most if not all of our students would not be able to identify who could help them or provide their personal information when requested. The teachers were asked to begin to develop a safety skills lesson that would be geared towards the individual needs of their students. This involved task analyzing the skill, that is, breaking down the skill into smaller, teachable steps and identifying the skills that their students needed to learn. For all of our students, we wanted to ensure that they would be able to relay their personal identification to a community helper. This was especially challenging for our students that didn’t have any communication skills. We thought it would be best if they carried an identification badge on them that could be easily accessed as needed. Although this may sound like a relatively simple solution, this was not an easy feat for our students who wouldn’t tolerate carrying anything on them. Our students were well aware of the badge’s presence and consistently attempted to remove them. With constant reinforcement for keeping it on for longer and longer durations of time, they were able to keep and tolerate these badges on them. Eventually, they were able to keep these on throughout the entire school day! For our other students that had more communication and language skills, we wanted them to be able to answer personal information either through verbal interaction or through their device. A lot of trials took place for our students to reliably answer their name, where they live, phone number and their age. Although some of our students were able to answer this already, they were able to do this under specific teaching contexts, i.e. during repeated trials, face to face with a teacher, using specific questions…etc. In other words, these skills were not generalized to other settings, other people or other instructional cues. 
The teachers, their assistants and the students worked long and hard on this and eventually, were ready for the ultimate test; we invited 3 different community helpers (a firefighter, police officer and EMT) to come in on separate visits to meet them. Although we have had community helpers visit some of our students in the past, we wanted this experience to be different for our students and from typical visits. 
Our community helper visitors were asked to greet and ask for the personal information from each student. For our students that wore badges, the visitors were asked to look at their badges and pretend to write their information down – something they did not tolerate in previous months. In addition, each classroom worked on additional skills for each of the visits. Some of our students were required to ask each visitor 1 question about what they do. With our EMT visitor, some students took turns reenacting an emergency situation. The students got a chance to learn what questions they might be asked in case of an emergency and how they might be expected to respond. Our EMT also placed band aids on the students of two of our classrooms, a major issue for many of our children.

EMT Ulsheimer reponding to an “emergency”

Each of our students responded extremely well to each of our visitors and some future goals for some of our students will be identifying a community helper when lost, asking for help, reading a map and walking in a group in the community. For children who have a history of wandering, teaching safety skills must also include learning triggers to wandering and ways to be proactive. Children who may wander to get to or get away from somewhere or something may need to learn to tolerate when they can’t have something or tolerate alternatives to things they want or to learn to request to get away from something. Teaching these basic skills is just the tip of the iceberg as we know this will be an ongoing process. As we head into the New Year, we hope that teaching safety skills becomes a priority for our families and teachers for a happy and safe 2012!

Thanks to Firefighter George, Officer Carroll and EMT Ulsheimer for all their help!

Visit the National Autism Association for more information on Autism and Wandering.

Create a Family Emergency Wandering Plan.

Shave the ‘Stache for Cash [Photos and Video]

January 6, 2012 4:22 pm Published by
On December 30, 2011, QSAC board member Paul Halvatzis was joined by local business owners, elected officials, family and friends at Redken Saloon Salon on 30th Avenue in Astoria for the culmination of his Shave the ‘Stache for Cash campaign. Halvatzis parted with his long-time mustache, which he sported for 35 years, to help raise money for the autism community.


QSAC is a New York City and Long Island based nonprofit that supports children and adults with autism, together with their families, in achieving greater independence, realizing their future potential, and contributing to their communities in a meaningful way by offering person-centered services.

QSAC pursues this mission through direct services that provide a supportive and individualized setting for children and adults with autism to improve their communication, socialization, academic, and functional skills.