Monday, December 27, 2010

Every Kid Deserves The Chance to Go to Camp!

A happy camper takes a ride on one of the camp horses.
Hey, parents! Are you tired of sending your child with special needs to the sitter every day during the summer? Do you ever wish there was somewhere else they could go that offers them more options than sitting in front of the television?

Camp Barnabas, a nonprofit Christian summer camp for children with special needs located in the Ozark mountains of Southwest Missouri understands that every child, regardless of the severity of his or her diagnosis should have the chance to attend summer camp just like kids without disabilities, and just have fun being a kid.

Barnabas runs its summer camp program from approximately late May to mid August every summer with nine week long sessions welcoming campers ages seven to adult with everything from autism spectrum disorders including Asperger's Syndrome, physical disabilities, medical conditions like epilepsy, cancer, and cystic fibrosis,visual and hearing impairments, and many more.

Plus, Camp Barnabas understands that disabilities can affect the family as a whole and not just the child with the diagnosis, so if your child is between the ages of seven and fifteen staff allows his or her sibling(s) to accompany him or her to camp as a sibling camper and join in the fun! Enrollment for summer 2011 is going on now! Click here to go to the camper application.

I attended Camp Barnabas from 1997 until 2009 and it was the one thing I looked forward to all year long. While I was at camp, I felt free, like I could do anything and I never had to hide or be ashamed of anything because everyone else was going through the same things I was.

In all the time I spent at camp, I don't ever remember saying, "I'm bored" once. The campers are busy from the moment they wake up in the morning until the minute they go to sleep at night doing fun things like horseback riding, arts and crafts, swimming, drama, canoe rides, fishing, and so much more but they aren't by themselves! Camper counselor ratio at Barnabas is 1:1, so each camper gets their own brother or sister to hang out with for a week! Plus, every activity is adapted to suit each camper's individual needs and level of functioning so no one is left out. How cool is that?! To see what else Barnabas has to offer watch the video below.

<object width="480" height="385"><param name="movie" value=";hl=en_US"></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src=";hl=en_US" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true" width="480" height="385"></embed></object>

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Fun Arts and Crafts Ideas for Kids with Autism

 A bored or restless kid is not a happy kid, and during the winter months, it's easy for kids to get bored being stuck in the house more than usual. If you're looking for a fun, educational activity to do with the kiddos this winter, visit: and try coloring some snow!

This activity is great for little ones on the spectrum because it encourages sensory exploration by allowing them to go outside and gather a bucket of snow and then color it with food coloring.

 Don't be afraid to let them get their hands in it and get a little messy. It will just wash off afterward. If they have a lot of tactile sensitivity and would prefer not to get their hands wet, try offering them a small shovel like one would use at the beach to scoop the snow into their bucket instead.

Another fun art activity that is inexpensive and readily available is finger painting. Both of these activities allow children to practice color recognition and the descrimination between primary and secondary colors.

Finger painting has the same benefits as the above activity for kids with autism because also works on sensory integration as well as motor development, which can be delayed and difficult for kids with neurological disorders.

Before beginning the activity, put down old newspaper so that the work area doesn't get messy, but if it does don't worry, most finger paints wash out.

Give each child a few sheets of paper to paint on and allow them to have fun exploring the feel of the paint on their fingers. If they don't want to get their hands dirty, it may help to have paper towels available so they can dip the paper towel in the paint and then put it on the paper. Rubber gloves also work well, just make sure they are latex free as latex may induce allergies.

You can also try kitchen sponges or craft sponges which come in many fun shapes. Anything with an interesting texture can probably enhance this activity, even cut up vegetables!

Have Fun!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

So, I realize I've been a bit negligent in posting anything new lately. Sorry for the delay! I've been busy reading up on blogging and trying to sort this whole business of creating a blog out. (I'm not very tech savvy, you know.)

Speaking of reading, I read Lucy T'was the Night Before Christmas and the Christmas story in the Bible last night before bed, and she fell asleep before I finished! The poor thing was spent! Either that or she was trying to get a jump start on waiting for Santa! hehe!

Santa was quite generous this year. I don't think I need to go shopping for clothes for about the next ten years and Lu did pretty well for a dog's first Christmas! She got four new squeaky tennis balls, a chewy bone, a new personalized collar from Grandma, a blanket for her crate, and a Kong tug toy. As an added bonus, I also gave her a day off of training for the holiday. She was a very happy camper! I seriously doubt we'll be needing a trip to Petco anytime within the next century.

We have both enjoyed a relaxing holiday at home with the family in Southern Indiana and are looking forward to what the new year brings. We hope you have enjoyed Christmas as well and find yourself stuffed and in good company! We will see you next year!

-Merry Christmas!
Adria and Lucy
 Cuddling  under the Christmas tree

Monday, December 6, 2010

Thank God for Taylor Swift!

There are some days like today, when I think I must be certifiably nuts training my own service dog. It's like being a parent, I'm watching every move she makes 24/7 and either disciplining or praising her for it. She is my every waking moment As you can imagine, life gets a bit overwhelming sometimes and I do wonder, do I actually have the strength within me to devote another two years of my life to a living being who depends on me every minute of every day? 

I will confess, I have thought of giving this job to an accredited organization and having them return her to me two years later when she is fully trained. On the really bad days I have thought of giving up altogether and of going back to life as it was before without a service dog.

But then at the end of the day, after I'd cried tears of frustration for heaven knows how long, I heard Taylor Swift's new single "Mine" come on the radio.  

As she reached the chorus: "Do you remember we were sittin' there by the water? You put your arm around me for the first time/ You made a rebel of a careless man's careful daughter/ you are the best thing that's ever been mine/ I thought of all the memories Lucy and I have  shared just in the past 6 months we've been together: the first time I held her little creme colored body in my arms, all the games of fetch and goodnight kisses and walks and even the long hours spent training.

And then I realized something, if I let go now, all this would stop but more importantly, she wasn't living at the breeder's house anymore. Summer was over. She was my dog now, Maybe I will never be able to raise a child.  However, I can raise a dog.

If I had to choose between life before Lucy and life now, I would certainly choose life as it is now because when all is said and done, she has allowed me the sense of what it means to have a permanent friend, a real friend who doesn't judge me or ridicule me but just wants to go with me and hang out  all the time, and for someone on the spectrum or someone with any disability that is huge!

Growing up, I have become better and better at knowing which of my acquaintances will remain friends with me in the long run and which will stay friends for awhile but eventually fade away because of my lack of social connection with others and not knowing how to make interesting conversation read social cues, and so on, all hallmark signs of autism.

Thank God dogs don't care about things like eye contact and the latest video games. For every bad day I have with Lucy, there are about a million more good ones. Lucy isn't going anywhere. If there's one thing Taylor Swift does well other than sing, it's help me realize that my dog is the best thing that's ever happened to me.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Let It Snow!

Hi! Hope everyone had a great turkey day with friends and family! Lucy and I thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Big news, today Lucy is officially eleven months old! She's getting bigger by the minute! She is doing great with her training. Recently she has been focusing on learning to sit up straight instead of leaning on things when she sits, because that will be bad for her hips as she gets older and it doesn't look all that great for a service dog to be leaning on something every time she sits either.

Also, Old  Man Winter has DEFINITELY come to Bloomington! This morning, I took Lucy outside for her customary walk and potty break, and tiny little white specks were falling and the grass and sidewalks were dusted!

I don't think Lucy knew what to say about having to do her business in the snow. She more or less wanted to eat it. I doubt she has ever seen snow before, at least not that she will remember. She was born on New Year's Day of this year and I've slept since then, so I don't remember if it snowed.

Today, we were eating lunch and two people walked over and talked to us about where Lucy gets her training from and what a dog can do to assist someone with a learning disability and high functioning autism. One of the best parts about  having Lucy as my service dog is that we get the opportunity to teach the public things regarding disability awareness that they otherwise may not have found out about like the fact that a dog can be trained to assist with not just classical autism but high functioning autism and learning disabilities, too.  We get to open people's minds to the many new possibilities that service dogs can offer, not just for those with physical disabilities or visual impairments, but all sorts of disabilities.

High Functioning Autism and learning disabilities are just the start of what Lucy and I hope to accomplish together. If people see  more people with less visible disabilities using service dogs like me and Lucy, the perhaps the idea of service dogs for individuals with invisible disabilities will continue to become more widely accepted.

Stay Warm!
-Adria and Lucy

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

2010 Gift Guide for People Livng with Paralysis - Spinal Cord Injury - Paralysis Research Center

2010 Gift Guide for People Livng with Paralysis - Spinal Cord Injury - Paralysis Research Center

If you're wanting to get a jump on your holiday shopping and have someone with limited mobility on your list, check out these great gift ideas from the Christopher and Dana Reeve Paralysis Foundation!

Monday, November 22, 2010

What I'm Thankful For "Getting Better"

Every year at Thanksgiving, my family and I all  take turns going around the table mentioning at least one thing we are thankful for. Here is just a peek at what I have to be thankful for this season:

 Larry and Rochelle Golden and all the wonderful Labs at Dixie Run Labradors. Larry and Rochelle bred Lucy from day one and if it weren't for their kindness and generosity we wouldn't be together. After writing letters of inquiry and making phone calls to almost 30 service dog agencies across the country only to be denied because I was either too busy with school or did not match that particular agency's criteria, My mom found out about Dixie Run Labs and Lucy became part of our family.

Even though she has her moments and I have to be a mom and discipline her now and then, Lucy is my favorite part of the day. Just waking up and seeing her waiting in her crate every morning fills me with so much excitement. I know that whatever happens, we're going to be together and get into all sorts of fun and that's the best part!

Furthermore, I have never been very good at social interaction or making friends due to Asperger's Syndrome, but with Lucy around I never feel lonely and I have constant companionship. When I was in school I was bullied a lot, even through college, but I always feel so safe with Lucy. I know she will never judge me because all she wants to do is be my best friend and  love me forever.

We are each other's best friend. We play ball together every day and take long walks and go to the park, out to eat,  to the grocery,  the mall, and even the library! Lucy's favorite book right now is Owen by Kevin Henkes. My mom read that book to me when I was little and I loved it, so I decided to read it to her. She really will sit and listen and look at the pictures, it's funny!

One of my favorite parts of our day is when I tuck Lucy into bed and sing her her lullaby, "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" and listen to her drift off to sleep. (I am a HUGE Beatles fan, so I decided to name her Lucy after their hit song.) When I hear my dog breathing so deep and peacefully, I know everything is right in the world, and no matter how crummy the day has been, I know tomorrow will be better because she is with me.
In the words of The Beatles:

"You've Got to Believe It's Getting Better/
A Little Better All The Time/
You've Got to Believe It's Getting Better/
A Little Better/
Since You've Been Mine/
Getting So Much Better All The Time"/


-Adria and Lucy

Assistance Dogs: No Longer a Guide Dogs Only Game

When I am out with Lucy in public, the most common assumptions people make  are that she is either a guide dog or a seizure alert dog. While I was diagnosed with epilepsy as a young child, my seizures are no longer  severe or frequent enough to require the assistance of a medical alert dog.

I can understand how people would assume that Lucy is a guide dog though, because until about ten years ago guide dogs and dogs for people with severe physical disabilities were just about the only types of assistance dogs. However, times have changed and service dog breeding and training programs are providing dogs to assist with virtually every type of diagnosis from diabetes to depression to hearing impairment.

In addition, people are just getting used to seeing a person who doesn't appear to have an outwardly visible disability   go around town with a service dog. Some people see me walking past and say, "Hey, that's a seizure dog, isn't it?" or "Hey! nice guide dog!" and I stop and say, "Thanks, but she is actually an autism service dog being trained to help with Asperger's Syndrome."

The next time you see an assistance dog in your community, remember to keep an open mind because the dog might not be trained for visual impairment or severe physical disability. There are a lot of dogs out there that help people with a lot more than just those two diagnoses now. And remember, sometimes the disability is invisible, but it's there.

If you would like to learn more about how an assistance dog can help a person with autism or Asperger's, please visit: (a national service dog agency which places autism service dogs with children and adolescents on the spectrum)

Thanks and have a Happy Thanksgiving!
Adria and Lucy

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Service Dog Do's and Don'ts

Yesterday, Lucy and I were out for our morning walk on the trail by our apartment complex when someone came forward and suddenly reached out to pet her. I always make sure Lucy wears her work vest anytime she is outside the apartment so people know that she is a working dog and shouldn't be distracted, but some people just can't help themselves.
I dealt with the issue by saying, "Sir, now isn't a good time to pet the dog she is working," and watched him go on his way. Parents, please remind your children that it is never a good idea to pet a dog they are unfamiliar with unless the owner gives permission.

While a dog may seem cute and engaging, he may not be properly trained or accustomed to people  which may cause him to get aggressive.
Americans like dogs . People like dogs Period. America has the highest rate of dog ownership in any well developed nation worldwide.   Before you  acquire a service dog for your child, be aware that people will naturally want to come up and see the dog.

Once your child understands that the dog is a working dog and not a pet, that the dog can accompany him in public and so on, sit down and ask him something like: "If someone comes up and asks to pet your dog while he is with you, what might be a good way to ask them not to do that?"  If your child is receiving a dog due to autism, consider using a social story or role playing to come up with polite ways to interact with the public when the child is with his dog. If you have another family dog at home whom your child gets along well with, consider bringing him or her into the activity as well.

It may also help to show the child pictures of service dogs in their work vests and explain to him that  when the dog  is in his vest he is working, but when he isn't, people can pet him.  For a child with autism and speech difficulty, many online sites make patches that say things like: "SERVICE DOG AT WORK DO NOT PET" etc. Even if your child is on the spectrum but has normal speech,  these patches often make things a lot easier. Many companies even make patches for specific diagnoses which can be sewn onto the dog's vest.

It may also be helpful to carry a small index card in the dog's vest pocket with the federal regulations regarding service dogs in case the dog were ever to be denied access to a public place. Under the Americans With Disabilities Act, a service dog, and in some states, service dogs in training are allowed full access to public establishments nationwide where any customer or  visitor is normally permitted. Places like Staples and Office Max will mount the card on card stock and laminate it for around $2.00

Saturday, November 13, 2010

A Little About Lucy, a Little About Autism, A LONG Post!

I realize I probably should have included some background information on Lucy in my first post but I didn't, so here goes. Lucy is a ten month old yellow Lab being trained to assist with the challenges  pertaining to my diagnoses of Asperger's Syndrome (a form of high functioning autism) and nonverbal learning disability.
She has about a year and a half to go until she is fully certified.  She will eventually assist with everyday social interactions, reduction of anxiety in loud, crowded areas, and lead me home when I am lost in an unfamiliar place. 

When she is not working her favorite games are ball and Frisbee. She loves going swimming at the lake in the summer and licking  Kongs with peanut butter in them!

It is common for individuals with autism spectrum disorders to exhibit social awkwardness, have difficulty making and maintaining age appropriate relationships, problems with conversational skills, and reading social cues etc. 

Also, people on the spectrum are often predisposed to anxiety and depression due to their difficulties with social interaction   Lucy will act as an icebreaker in social situations and new environments allowing me to feel less anxiety. She is already doing an amazing job! 

The learning disability is a bit harder to explain. In a nutshell, I have a very high verbal ability but a very low abstract reasoning ability so anything that is not verbal, for example: language, reading, writing, etc. is extremely hard like maths, telling time, counting money, or sense of direction, so Lucy will lead me home if I ever get lost, of course, from specific points. I understand not to run away from caregivers and would never be in danger of being found say, 15 miles from home. 

However, some individuals with more severe cases of autism do run away occasionally due to excitement, fear, or overstimulation from their environment. In their case, a  service dog may be taught to find them usually by smell, and return them to caregivers or, in some cases the individual may be tethered to the dog to prevent him or her from running, although this practice is controversial. 

Some service dog trainers believe that a dog should not act as a babysitter no mater how trained or well behaved he is, while others believe that the dog is not being asked to babysit, he is simply trained to accompany the individual  in public in a manner that allows for both parental peace of mind, and  emotional stability and contentment of the individual with autism.  I tend to agree.  Opinions anyone?...

Thursday, November 11, 2010

What Can Ipad Do For You?

IPad Opens World to a Disabled Boy

Michael Nagle for The New York Times
FIRST TIME Owen Cain in August with his new iPad. His mother, Ellen Goldstein, and brother, Nathaniel, helped.
OWEN CAIN depends on a respirator and struggles to make even the slightest movements — he has had a debilitating motor-neuron disease since infancy.
Owen, 7, does not have the strength to maneuver a computer mouse, but when a nurse propped her boyfriend’s iPadwithin reach in June, he did something his mother had never seen before.
He aimed his left pointer finger at an icon on the screen, touched it — just barely — and opened the application Gravitarium, which plays music as users create landscapes of stars on the screen. Over the years, Owen’s parents had tried several computerized communications contraptions to give him an escape from his disability, but the iPad was the first that worked on the first try.
“We have spent all this time keeping him alive, and now we owe him more than that,” said his mother, Ellen Goldstein, a vice president at the Times Square Alliance business association. “I see his ability to communicate and to learn as a big part of that challenge — not all of it, but a big part of it. And so, that’s my responsibility.”
Since its debut in April, the iPad has become a popular therapeutic tool for people with disabilities of all kinds, though no one keeps track of how many are used this way, and studies are just getting under way to test its effectiveness, which varies widely depending on diagnosis.
A speech pathologist at Walter Reed Army Medical Center uses text-to-speech applications to give patients a voice. Christopher Bulger, a 16-year-old in Chicago who injured his spine in a car accident, used an iPad to surf the Internet during the early stages of his rehabilitation, when his hands were clenched into fists. “It was nice because you progressed from the knuckle to the finger to using more than one knuckle on the screen,” he said.
Parents of autistic children are using applications to teach them basic skills, like brushing teeth and communicating better.
For a mainstream technological device like the iPad to have been instantly embraced by the disabled is unusual. It is far more common for items designed for disabled people to be adapted for general use, like closed-captioning on televisions in gyms or GPS devices in cars that announce directions. Also, most mainstream devices do not come with built-ins like the iPad’s closed-captioning, magnification and audible readout functions — which were intended to keep it simple for all users, but also help disabled people.
“Making things less complicated can actually make a lot of money,” said Gregg C. Vanderheiden, an engineering professor at the University of Wisconsin at Madison who has worked on accessibility issues for decades.
Representative Edward J. Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, who wrote recently enacted legislation that will require mobile devices to be more accessible to users with disabilities, said approximately three-fourths of communications and video devices need to be adapted for blind and deaf people. “Apple,” he said in a statement, “is an outlier when it comes to devices that are accessible out of the box.”
The iPad is also, generally speaking, less expensive than computers and other gadgets specifically designed to help disabled people speak, read or write. While insurers usually do not cover the cost of mobile devices like the iPad because they are not medical equipment, in some cases they will pay for the applications that run on them.
In Owen’s case, his grandmother bought him a $600 iPad in August, and his parents have invested about $200 more in software. One day this summer, his finger dangled over the title page of “Alice in Wonderland” on his iPad while his mother hovered over his shoulder in their Brooklyn home. Then, with the tiniest of movements, and thanks to the sensitivity of the iPad’s touch screen, Owen began to turn the pages of the book. “You are reading a book on your own, Owen!” Ms. Goldstein, 44, exclaimed. “That is completely wonderful.”
But while the sensitivity of the iPad’s touch screen makes it promising for Owen, it can be problematic for others, like Glenda Watson Hyatt, a blogger in Surrey, British Columbia, who has cerebral palsy. “When ‘flipping’ screens, sometimes I flip more than one screen,” Ms. Hyatt wrote in an interview conducted by e-mail. “Or I touch what I didn’t intend to.”
Still, Ms. Hyatt said that when she was having trouble chatting with friends at a bar recently, she pulled out her iPad to help communicate and felt normal. “People were drawn to it because it was a ‘recognized’ or ‘known’ piece of technology,” she wrote in ablog post reviewing the device.
At the Shepherd Center, a spinal cord rehabilitation clinic in Atlanta, some teenage quadriplegics have received iPads as gifts, but they do not work well for those who rely on a mouse stick — basically a long pen controlled by mouth.
“It wants to see a finger,” said John Anschutz, the manager of the assistive technology program at Shepherd. “It really requires the quality of skin and body mass to operate.”
For Owen Cain, whose disease is physical, not mental, the iPad has limitations, too. Moving his finger all the way across the keypad remains a challenge, and makes writing difficult. Ms. Goldstein said its versatility and affordability, though, were a boon. He has been experimenting with a variety of applications — Proloquo2Go, which allows him to touch an icon that prompts the device to speak things like, “I need to go to the bathroom”; Math Magic, which helps him practice arithmetic; and Animal Match, a memory game.
“If all you’re worrying about is ‘I can try this program, or I can try that program, I can buy that app or I can buy this app,’ and the investment is so much lower,” his mother said, “then our ability to explore or experiment with different things is so much bigger.”
When Owen was about 8 weeks old, his mother noticed his right arm drooping. It led to a crushing diagnosis: the motor-neuron disease known as spinal muscular atrophy Type 1.A 2003 New York Times article about spinal muscular atrophy said his parents had been told Owen would be “paralyzed for his life, which doctors predicted would last no more than about two years.”
Owen will turn 8 on Nov. 11. While his condition is not expected to worsen, he is extremely sensitive to infection and once nearly died of pneumonia; three specialized therapists and a nurse help keep him alive.
Though he cannot speak, his parents have taught him to read, write and do math. He has an impish sense of humor and a love of “Star Wars.” “He’s a normal child trapped in a not normal body,” said his father, Hamilton Cain, 45, a book editor.
Since he received the iPad, Owen has been trying to read books, and playing around with apps like Air Guitar. And, one day, he typed out on the keypad, “I want to be Han Solo forHalloween.”

Hi everybody!

This is my first post on my SHINY NEW BLOG
about autism and service dogs and just special needs related stuff in general. I’m really interested in becoming an advocate for children with disabilities and their families, especially those with autism spectrum disorders as well as getting the word out about the benefits of service dogs for those with disabilities, so feel free to become a follower if you want to learn more about autism, service dogs, or just keep up with my service dog, Lucy!

Lucy is in the middle of learning to ride escalators, climb stairs and avoid distractions in her environment. The trainers and I purposely set up distracting situations by throwing a tennis ball down a busy hallway and she has to lay down and not chase it. She tried to learn to go through a revolving door yesterday, but she was too big so I don’t think we are going to teach her that, although some service dogs do know how to do them! Pretty cool, huh?