Autism College to present free live Q&A with author Tom Fields-Meyer

Autism College will present a free live Q & A on Monday, September 19, from 6:00 to 7:00pm PST with Tom Fields-Meyer, moderated by Chantal Sicile-Kira. Tom is the author of the recently published book: FOLLOWING EZRA: What One Father Learned About Gumby, Otters, Autism, and Love from His Extraordinary Son, moderated by Chantal Sicile-Kira. Sign up for this webinar at the bottom of this post. The publisher has generously agreed to send a free copy of the book to one of the Q & A participants, so send in a question and you may get more than just an answer!   

About the book, from the Following Ezra website:

When Tom Fields-Meyer’s son Ezra was a toddler and showing early signs of autism, a therapist suggested that the father allow himself time to mourn.

“For what?” he asked.

The answer: “For the child he didn’t turn out to be.”

That moment helped strengthen Tom’s resolve to do just the opposite: to celebrate the child Ezra was becoming, a singular boy with a fascinating and complex mind. Full of unexpected laughs, poignant moments and remarkable insights, Following Ezra is the riveting story of a father and son on a ten-year adventure, from Ezra’s diagnosis to the dawn of his adolescence. An engaging account of a father gradually uncovering layers of a puzzle, it rejoices in each new discovery and exults in the boy’s evolution from a remote toddler to an extraordinary young man, connected to the world in his own astounding ways.

Unlike other parenting memoirs, Following Ezra isn’t about a battle against a disease, nor is it a clinical account of searching for doctors, therapies or miracle diets. Instead, Fields-Meyer describes—with humor and tenderness—the wondrous, textured, and often surprising life one experiences in raising a unique child.

“This story will illuminate the experience of parenting a child with autism for those who don’t know it, and will resonate with those of us who know it all too well,” says novelist Cammie McGovern. “There are blessings along the way, and Tom Fields-Meyer depicts them beautifully.”

About the author, from  the  Following Ezra website:

Tom Fields-Meyer has been writing stories for popular audiences for nearly three decades, specializing in telling meaningful and worthwhile narratives with humanity, humor and grace. In twelve years as senior writer at People, he produced scores human-interest pieces and profiles of newsmakers. He penned articles on some of the biggest crime stories of the day (from the O.J. Simpson trial to the murder of Matthew Shepherd), profiled prominent politicians and world leaders (Nancy Pelosi, Pope John  Paul II, Sen. Ted Kennedy), and demonstrated a pitch-perfect touch writing tales of ordinary people overcoming life’s challenges in inspiring and compelling ways.

Tom also lends his skills to help others to put their compelling personal narratives into words. He teamed up with the late Eva Brown, a popular speaker at The Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance, to write Brown’s memoir, If You Save One Life: A Survivor’s Memoir (2007). Wiesenthal executive director Rabbi Marvin Hier called the book “very significant and meaningful…an everlasting and important legacy…and a reminder to future generations that championing tolerance, justice and social change are everyone’s obligation.”

Tom collaborated with Noah Alper, founder Noah’s Bagels, the successful West Coast chain, on Alper’s memoir: Business Mensch: Timeless Wisdom for Today’s Entrepreneur (2009). Publisher’s Weekly said: “This earnest book shines with Alper’s conviction, business savvy and decency.”

In September 2011, NAL/Penguin Books will publish Tom’s memoir, Following Ezra: What One Father Learned About Gumby, Otters, Autism, and Love from His Extraordinary Son. Full of tender moments and unexpected humor, the book tells the story of a father and son on a ten-year journey from Ezra’s diagnosis to the dawn of his adolescence. It celebrates Ezra’s evolution from a remote toddler to an extraordinary young man, connected in his own remarkable ways to the world around him.

Tom previously worked as a news reporter and feature writer for the Dallas Morning News, where he covered the kinds of stories that happen only in Texas (shootouts in Country-Western dance halls, culture pieces on the State Fair) and once was dispatched to Nevada to investigate a road designated by AAA as “America’s loneliest highway.” As a senior editor at the Chronicle of Higher Education, he traveled the nation’s campuses and once convinced his editor to send him on a 10-day junket aboard a schooner in the Bahamas (an assignment he came to regret, not just because of seasickness). Tom’s writing has appeared in dozens of publications, including The New York Times Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times and Esquire.

A graduate of Harvard University, Tom lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Rabbi Shawn Fields-Meyer, and their three sons.

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Free Q & A on Back to School Tips with Dr. Peter Faustino, moderated by Chantal Sicile-Kira

By the end of the summer, most of us parents are happy to see summer end knowing our ASD children will have routine and a schedule back in their lives (and so will we).  But  we dread the stress related to the start of a new school year.  There are ways to lessen the stress and help prepare both your child and the teacher for a new and hopefully successful new school year.

Autism College hopes to help this year by offering you a two hour free Q & A with Visiting Professor, Dr. Peter Faustino, school psychologist, moderated by Chantal Sicile-Kira. Both Dr. Faustino and Chantal have written on the topic and are looking forward to answering your questions and giving you tips to prepare your child, yourself, and the teacher for the start of a successful new school year! Whether your child is fully included or in a special day class there are ways to prepare and alleviate some of the stress of the transition from summer to school, especially when there are teachers new to your child or teenager.

Join Dr. Faustino and Chantal on Monday, August 22, 2011 from 6:00 to 8:00pm PST on the topic : Tips for Reducing the  Back to School Stress for Children with Autism, Parents and Educators.

Dr. Peter Faustino has been working as a school psychologist for more than 12 years.  He is currently the President of the New York Association of School Psychologists (NYASP).  NYASP – the state affiliate of NASP ( – serves children, their families, and the school community by promoting psychological well-being, excellence in education, and sensitivity to diversity through best practices in school psychology.  Dr. Faustino joined the Bedford Central School District in 2003 to work at the Fox Lane Middle School. Dr. Faustino also maintains a private practice with the Developmental Assessment and Intervention Center (DAIC) in Bedford Hills, NY.  He presents frequently at national conferences, schools, and parent organizations.

To sign up for the webinar, please signup for our newsletter here. Already signed up for the newsletter? Click here.

Free live Q & A on Tues July 19, 2011: Auditory Processing with Terrie Silverman.

Autism College will present a free live Q & A on Tuesday, July 19, 2011 from 6:00 to 8:00pm  PST with visiting professor Terrie Silverman, MS, and with Chantal Sicile-Kira moderating. The topic will be auditory processing and autism, and Auditory Integration Therapy. Sign up below.

Does your child   have difficulty coping with specific sounds; struggle with understanding what he/she hears;or shut down or struggle when there is much background noise? Does he or she hum or talk to himself/herself; have trouble with articulation, sound flat without inflection; or have trouble understanding what you say?   Your child may have auditory processing difficulties.  Tune in to hear what Terrie has to say. You’ll have the opportunity to send in some questions. Sign up below.

Terrie Silverman, M.S. received her master’s degree in speech/language pathology in 1973 from Rutger’s University and was trained in November 1992 as an Auditory Integration Training Practitioner. Ms. Silverman has been working with children, adolescents and adults with autism and developmental disabilities since 1974, in public schools, private schools, state and private residential facilities, group home settings, as a consultant, and with multidisciplinary teams in hospitals, clinics, schools and state programs.

Ms. Silverman and her staff have provided Berard Auditory Integration Training throughout the United States to over 2800 individuals. Ms. Silverman was Director of a Richmond, Virginia nonprofit agency for 12 years, where she created several programs to support families who were raising an individual with a developmental disability. Ms. Silverman was on the Board of Directors and was a member of SAIT, the Society for Auditory Intervention Techniques, and when it developed into a worldwide organization called BAITIS, the Berard Auditory Integration Training International Society, in 2007, Ms. Silverman was elected to the Board of Directors. She is a long time member of the Autism Society of America (ASA) and Developmental Delay Resources (DDR), as well as many other disability organizations. Terrie Silverman is a Berard Certified AIT practitioner. For more information go here.

Will mouthing objects interfere with my son’s speech development?

This was first published in my “Ask Chantal” column in the Autism File magazine.

Dear Chantal,

My son has been diagnosed with autism since he was 3 years old.  He will be 5 years old in June of this year but he is still mouthing a lot of things.  He loves to put his toys likes legos or blocks and any other items around him in his mouth and will bite them.  My son is non verbal although he is currently talking in baby language and making noises.  I have tried explaining to him using sign and facial expression not to mouth the things around him.  I believe he understands what I am saying as he stops doing it and then after a few seconds he starts to mouth the things again.  I have been giving him the chewy tubes recommended by the occupational therapist and he chews them for awhile and then throws them away and seeks to mouth other things.  He loves to feel the water by rubbing some water or even soap with both the palms of his hands and then runs them through his lips to sense it.  I am so worried as I have tried everything even massaging his checks and using an electric toothbrush.  A speech and language therapist that saw my son said that it is possibly his sensory concerns that is stopping his speech from coming on.  I am so worried as I do not want this stopping my son’s ability from talking and am also concern that this habit will not stop until he grows up.

Your advice and guidance on this matter is greatly appreciated. Thank you very much.

With best regards,


Dear Suha,

It is a very good sign that your son is talking in baby language and making sounds- these are precursors to true language. Luckily, from what you say your son is only mouthing, and not eating these other objects, which would be far more serious.  In regards to the oral fixation, all babies go through a period where they are mouthing everything to explore their environment, and perhaps he is going through that developmental stage now, as well. However, you are right to be concerned as these  kinds of  oral hyposensitive issues are common with children with autism, and we can’t just hope our children will outgrow them. Mouthing objects shouldn’t interfere, but you do want to work on strengthening and toning the oral area and articulators. Usually as these areas strengthen the mouthing will decrease. It would be a good idea  to talk about this with an Occupational therapist that is experienced with that age group fo children with autism and with sensory integration challenges. Here is a website that may be helpful with some ideas :  Also, try to find a parent mentor to ask about similar situations and what has helped, by visiting the TACA website I would continue to offer him safe items to chew on, but I would also suggest that you encourage him to use his baby talk, verbal sounds more and more by trying to get him to  sing with you, and engaging him in ‘conversation,’  ie back and forth verbal exchanges even if just sounds. The more practice he has using his sounds appropriately (in a fun way) and using those mouth muscles,  the more possibility of him using his sounds to speak.  Also, if he is busy trying to sing and speak with you, he can’t be mouthing at the same time.


How can we help our children and teens with autism make friends?

From the neurotypical person’s  point of view, it seems as if children, teens and adults on the autism spectrum are not interested in having friends.   They do not show the same type of social cues or social behaviors and body language that indicates to others that  they want to have a relationship. The adults I have interviewed make it clear they enjoy having relationships, including those who are mostly non-verbal such as Sue Rubin (“Autism is a World”).  My son Jeremy often communicates about wanting to have friends.  However, understanding the concept of  different types of relationships and knowing the appropriate behaviors and conversations expected from the neurotypical viewpoint, does not come naturally, and can be magnified for those who are non-verbal.

Ways in which it is difficult for them to make friends:

  • Many children on the spectrum are good at playing alongside, but not with, peers. They may be fascinated with a toy, but not play with it in the way it is meant to be played with, which means that peers may not connect with him.
  • Games are difficult. They need to learn turn taking and waiting.
  • They may be very interested in certain objects or past times that are not usual for the developmental level
  • They have a hard time making eye contact (as discussed elsewhere), and for many neurotypicals, eye contact is important and if you do not make eye contact then you appear rude or shifty.
  • Children and  teens may have poor social skills.
  • They are not good at picking up on non-verbal communication skills, such as social cues and body language, and this makes it hard for establishing a relationship. Those who are non-verbal may have communication systems that are limited and unfamiliar to neurotypicals.
  • Many who are verbal are not good at social chit chat and are frankly not interested in it because they don’t get the point of it. Often they have difficulties starting and ending conversations, or only want to speak on topics they are passionate about.

In my next post I will discuss  tips on how you can help your child  learn skills that will help him / her  have meaningful friendships.

For more information and autism parenting tips on teens and relationships, read my book Adolescents on the Autism Spectrum, or sign up for my course on Adolescents on the Autism Spectrum.

My child has just been diagnosed with autism, how do I cope with this?

Recently I received an email from a mother whose child had just been diagnosed with autism. She was in pain, and she wanted to know how she was supposed to carry on; she felt all alone.

What I told her was that there are moments in time that are forever etched in your memory-  for example –  I will never forget the moment I heard President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated.  Most Americans will never forget what they  were doing on September 11, 2001 when they heard that the Twin Towers in NYC were hit by planes and were going down.

For a parent, the day you receive your child’s diagnosis of autism is the same – you will never forget where you were, how you were told and what feelings overcame you.  The difference is, that you feel all alone in your pain – it is not a national catastrophe, but a personal one that impacts you just as deeply.  When you leave the doctor’s office, you are all alone in your pain. Unlike a national catastrophe, everyone else’s life continues on just the same – only you, your spouse’s and your family’s life has changed. Even if you expected the results because you felt something was wrong with your child, nothing prepares you for hearing the official diagnosis, and for the slew of emotions that follow. It is awful.

However, it is important  to remember at this time, that you are not alone. There are many parents out there who went through what you are going through, or are going through it now, and connecting to them can be your lifeline.  They will understand what those close to you may not.  You will get autism parenting tips from them. At first you may be reluctant to contact the autism  organizations or  attend support group meetings – it is kind of like joining a club you never wanted to be a member of.  However, getting to know other parents you can talk to who understand what you are going through is very helpful.

Of course, you would rather have heard that nothing was wrong with your child.  A parent goes through many emotions at this time.  It is important to focus on the positive aspect that  now that you know what is wrong, you can move forward, when you are ready, to find the treatments, therapies and strategies that will help your child.

Once you are ready, you will need to get educated about autism. We can help you do that at Autism College.  Our free Library will have information you can use.  You may find our Parent Empowerment Course useful.  Or, how about my books, Autism Spectrum Disorders, and 41 Things to Know About Autism.

In my next post, I’ll provide some useful tips for parents new to autism wanting to know how to cope.

“Geek Dad: Awesomely Geeky Projects and Activites for Dads and Kids to Share” Free copy available

Geek Dad book

I’m not trying to out any Geeky moms or Geeky dads for that matter (notice I haven’t mentioned autism or Asperger’s Syndrome). But I couldn’t resist posting this – my publisher offered to send a free book to  a person of my choosing –  and I thought it would make a great present for winter break – lots of time to try stuff out, right?

I am not considered a Geek, yet I have always loved cool activities to do with my kids. I have always completed activities, they just never looked or turned out the way they were supposed to.  Let’s face it, I’ve always been a geek wannabee.  This book, Geek Dad: Awesomely Geeky Projects and Activities for Dads and Kids to Share by Ken Denmead speaks to the inner geek in all of us. Ken is the editor of GeekDad, a blog on Wired magazine’s Web site.  A professional civil engineer, he lives near San Francisco with his two sons, who are both geeks in training.

Here is a great book and I can send you a free copy. Just write a comment below (or send me a private email if you are too shy) within the next 48 hours, and I will pick one of you to get a copy from the publisher for free.

Meanwhile, here is  an  activity from the book – making coloring pages:

Because there are levels to artistic ability and interest, I’ll show you two different coloring pages you can make. First, the classic dot-to-dot, then coloring sheets. They are all made from images you can find online or scan into your computer from sources at home.

Dot-to-Dot Coloring Page

To start, you have to pick the image you want to turn into the coloring page. For dot-to-dots, it’s going to be a lot easier to select simple images, though if you’re patient and want more detail, you can go for the gusto with more detailed pictures. But dot-to-dots are great for younger kids who are learning about staying within the borders. And they love to be amazed by what they can create by drawing a series of lines between dots.

For this example, we’re going really simple—an image of the sigil of the Rebel Alliance.

(Advisory: If you are reasonably experienced with graphics software and know what a layer is, you can skip down a couple of paragraphs to the one that starts “Select a pen . . .”.)

Assuming you’re a geek, we are going to figure you have some manner of graphics software, probably for touching up pictures from your digital camera. Common (and pretty good) examples of such software include Photoshop Elements (the cheaper, easier-to-use version of the industry standard Photoshop) available on Mac or PC; Pixelmator for the Mac; or GIMP, which works on PC, Mac, or Linux and is FREE FREE FREE. Maybe you haven’t played around with the software that much. If that’s the case, here’s a quick lesson about the first feature you’re going to use.

A layer is a standard concept in image editing software. Conceptually, it’s very simple. Imagine if you took a printed picture and laid a piece of tracing paper over it, and then copied the features by hand on that tracing paper. Well, a layer is just like tracing paper, only it works digitally on the computer, and you can have as many of them as you want.

Step 1: For this project, you open your base image in the editing software of your choice. Then you  add a layer. Most of these pieces of software have a menu actually called “Layer” from which you can “Add a Layer.” Once you’ve done that, there is a perfectly transparent layer of digital tracing paper on top of your image, upon which you can now trace, without affecting the original picture.

Step 2: Select a pen or pencil tool and a fairly small brush size to make your dots with. Draw black dots all around the edges of the image, at relatively even intervals. Straight lines need only one dot at either end. Curves need more so that, when they are connected, they will better re-create the curve.

Step 3: These programs should have a separate control window that shows all the layers in the current project. From this window, you can now “turn off” the layer with the original image on it so that you see only the dots.

Step 4: If you want to go all the way, you can also use the program’s text feature to add numbers next to each dot to give your artist a sequence to follow. Or you can just save this file and print as many of them as your kids want to color, letting them be creative and decide how to connect the dots.

Coloring Book Pages

Obviously, older kids and those with more advanced coloring skills are going to be hankering for something a bit more challenging than connect-the-dots. What’s great is that these graphics programs have filters that let you kick out coloring pages by the ream with only a couple of clicks. They require even less work than the dot-to-dots.

Pick an image. For this example, I used a snapshot I took of my classic Nauga ( in my office. I opened the image in Pixelmator and then used “Filter-Stylize-Line Overlay” to automatically find the edges in the image and drop everything else out, making a perfect coloring sheet (there are settings you can tweak to get it “just right”).

In Photoshop Elements, the process is nearly as easy. Open the image, and use “Filter-Stylize-Find Edges.” Then use “Enhance-Convert to Black-and–White” to drop out the colors, and you have much the same effect.

In GIMP, you can try “Colors-Desaturate,” then ”Filters-Edge Detect-Neon” and “Colors-Invert” to get a similar effect. You may need to play with some settings to get an optimal result (and you can save those settings for future uses). GIMP is just as powerful at the other programs in many ways, but it is not quite as user-friendly, so there’s a bit more of a learning curve.

Once you have the technique down, you can whip these out en masse and build your kids (or get your kids to build) their own coloring books, using images they find online (Google Image Search is excellent for this, though make sure you keep an eye out for inappropriate content; or try the Web sites for the cartoon shows they like—Disney or Nickelodeon) or scans from other books or sources.

One other way to do this—with slightly less creativity (and therefore less geek factor) but without the need for special software—is the Coloring Page Maker at the Crayola Crayons Web site: