One in 68 Children has Autism

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Tolerating Removal: Part 2

June 11, 2012 6:26 pm Published by
Photo by Tobyotter
A previous blog entry of mine discussed a student by the name of Johnny, who had difficulty tolerating the removal of preferred activities he was engaging in throughout the day. This problem impeded his ability to work and participate in classroom activities with peers, and was taking over his daily agenda. Teaching could not continue following a break or earned time with a reinforcer, as Johnny would immediately become agitated if the break was to end. 
As a brief recap, we initially set out to teach Johnny to play appropriately with requested art materials. Once achieved, we targeted tolerating the removal of these materials. Our initial target was to have Johnny tolerate a simple touch of the item without actually removing it from him. Over time, we achieved our goal of having Johnny tolerate delays in reinforcement and the removal of preferred activities at varying intervals of time. Johnny began accepting alternative items in lieu of his original request, and work tasks became easier to complete. Meeting these goals was ideal, but we soon came up against a new problem: How do you remove items that cannot be physically removed and offer an alternative option for these requests? Although Johnny was learning to tolerate the removal of preferred items, he still had difficulty being denied access to requests that did not involve activities that could physically be removed. These requests included requests such as walking in a specific direction and working with a specific staff member. 
Our new objective has now become teaching Johnny to tolerate changes in his schedule that relate more to routines and daily events. We started off with denying immediate access to walking a specific way. Once Johnny was able to tolerate waiting to go a specific way, we began to build in walking increasing lengths of the opposite direction requested. Currently, Johnny will tolerate being denied access to walking a specified way and tolerate changes in his daily routine. We did the same for working with specific staff members. Since we cannot control staff absences, this has become our biggest challenge. We continue to work towards having Johnny tolerate being told no, and coping. Coping has become our focus, and we are continually strategizing on how we can achieve this end goal. Again, working towards meeting our overall goal is a long term project, but we move towards it every day.

Creativity is alive at the QSAC Day School!

June 5, 2012 4:13 pm Published by

QSAC students at the after-school program at Whitestone used donated foam letters to create a welcome message that will be displayed at the entrance of the building. Each student had an opportunity to design and paint their own letters. The letters were generously donated by the Balloon Depot with the help of Robyn Koven, a QSAC board member.

The Sage Colleges to Offer Degree Designed for Students with Autism

June 4, 2012 3:56 pm Published by

Recently, an undergraduate program has emerged which is specifically designed for students with an autism spectrum disorder and other special needs. The college and classroom experience can be a daunting one, for special needs and typically developing students alike; however, students with an ASD may not have the skills necessary to navigate the stress accompanied with obtaining a higher education, or the appropriate social skills to feel comfortable with campus life. The Achieve degree has emerged as a result of a growing need for a college program which addresses some of the hardships expressed by students with an ASD. For many students, the ability to handle college work is present, but the traditional classroom experience doesn’t work. The Achieve degree gives students with an ASD the opportunity to obtain a higher education within a program which is specifically designed to meet their needs.

Original article written by AD Midd
Students with autism spectrum disorders are usually very fortunate in their K-12 education. Throughout the past few decades, knowledge about the disorders and pressure from the private and public sector has made it possible for a child with autism to receive a high school education tailored to his or her own needs. Through special education research, the learning styles of autistic children have been unlocked and, in many mild cases of the disorder and even some severe cases, the true genius of these children has been allowed to shine.

However, higher education, with its tuition-based funding and non-mandatory status, has struggled to keep up with K-12 when it comes to offering autistic students the opportunity for a college degree. As a college educator, I have had only one student in all of my classes who could be called autistic (she has Asperger’s). Though this student was really a good writer and received a passing grade in my class, she wasn’t really able to engage in her education they way that she needed to. I had a class of 25 students that all needed “traditional” instruction and no training on how to integrate special educational needs at the classroom level (I am only certified as a special needs tutor, which is a different deck of cards). Never mind that there is no book on how to teach special needs students in the college classroom available; most teachers don’t even receive training on how to teach mainstream students for that matter.
But this is all about to change at one school in New York…

A Degree for Autistic Children

The Sage Colleges of Albany, New York are ranked among some of the best private educational institutions in the northeast. Among the schools that make up The Sage Colleges is the Esteves School of Education. It is there that the idea for a new program called Achieve was born in the mind of Dana R. Reinecke, PhD, BCBA-D. Dr. Reinecke is the director of Sage’s online master’s program in Applied Behavioral Analysis & Autism. Dr. Reinecke believed that the ability to perform at the college level was there for many students on the autism spectrum, what was missing was a program designed to meet their needs.
Achieve is a 4-year online Bachelor’s degree in Liberal Studies with an added emphasis in Computer Science applications designed to develop skills that will be in demand after graduation. Under Dr. Reinecke’s supervision, each course is tailored for the specific students in the program. Each educational path is designed to meet the needs of that student in a freeform approach to education that seeks to eliminate the normal “triggers” for autistic individuals (bright colors, flashing designs, unfamiliar faces, etc.).
Students in the Achieve program take classes in six, eight-week terms throughout each year. For each term in the first two years of study, students are required to take one 3-credit academic course and one 1-credit life skills course which emphasizes skills such as finance, independent living, interviewing, and online study skills specifically geared at further educating autistic students about the requirements of everyday life after school. Once the first two years are complete, students will take two 3-credit academic courses each term, leading to a 120-credit degree in four years. Achieve students go to school year round.
In addition, each student is assigned a faculty mentor who is trained in assisting autistic students. This mentor stays with the student throughout their four years, offering advice and counseling as needed as well as feedback designed to help the student learn how to learn at the college level and beyond.
The degree program is the first of its kind and admitted its first students this past January. Five students started the program, which is capped at 15 students per year. Students can begin study in either January or September. This ensures that each student has access to the support he or she needs throughout their time at The Sage Colleges.

Duties and Responsibilities of a Trustee of a Supplemental Needs Trust [Guest Blog]

June 4, 2012 2:45 pm Published by
by Andrew M. Cohen, Esq.

In a previous article, I wrote about the importance of a Supplemental Needs Trust and how it permits a disabled individual, as the beneficiary of the trust, to gain or maintain eligibility for means based government benefits such as Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Once a trust has its funding, the Trustee (the person or persons appointed as the Fiduciary to manage and administer the trust assets) is then responsible not only for the demanding financial requirements of trust management, but to do so in a manner that considers the disabled beneficiary’s financial, medical, emotional and social circumstances.

From the start, the Trustee of a Supplemental Needs Trust has all of the duties of the Trustee of any trust, including appropriate investment of trust assets, accurate bookkeeping and accounting activities, tax reporting on behalf of the trust and distribution of trust property to the beneficiary or beneficiaries, taking into account current and future needs. In addition, the Trustee of a Supplemental Needs Trust must be careful to factor in the special needs and/or welfare of the disabled trust beneficiary, to insure that the trust beneficiary maintains his or her eligibility for public benefit programs. This is accomplished by administering the trust properly and working closely with agencies, family members, social workers and benefit coordinators to make certain that the disabled person is reaping the maximum benefits from the trust and the best possible quality of life.

Perhaps the most difficult of the responsibilities of a Supplemental Needs Trustee is making appropriate disbursements on behalf of the beneficiary. The highest level of awareness as to how the distributions can affect public benefits is required. It is important for a Trustee of a Supplemental Needs Trust to know that if the trust is used for housing or shelter and/or food, then SSI benefits can be reduced (up to a maximum reduction of one-third). Housing and shelter not only include rent or mortgage payments, home insurance and real estate taxes, but also include heating fuel, gas, electric, water and sewer. “Household” expenses do not include such items as cable, phone, internet, cleaning services, landscaping, newspapers and other non-essential items, each of which can be paid for by a trust. Moreover, there are no limits on the amounts of purchases to be made for the disabled beneficiary for clothing, furnishing, electronics or medical expenses that are not otherwise covered by the government. Trustees also need to be keenly aware of local rules as well. In some counties, a First Party or Self-Settled Supplemental Needs Trust requires court budgeting and/or oversight prior to making any expenditures from the trust.

The above is a concise and far from exhaustive look into the role of being the Trustee of a Supplemental Needs Trust. While the responsibilities and tasks may appear daunting at times, a Trustee has the right and is encouraged to work with a knowledgeable team of professionals (financial, legal and/or accounting) to assist in making sure that the disabled beneficiary is having his or her needs met and enjoying life as fully as possible.

Andrew M. Cohen, Esq. is the principal of the Law Offices of Andrew M. Cohen. The firm concentrates on Trusts & Estates and estate planning, with an emphasis on planning for special needs families and disabled persons. Mr. Cohen has a Juris Doctorate and an L.L.M. in taxation. The firm’s offices are located in Long Island and Manhattan and can be reached at (516)877-0595, (212)244-0595 or on the web at


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.