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The Autism Network for Deaf/Hard of Hearing
and Blind/Visually Impaired

Autism Research Institute
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San Diego, California 92116 USA



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Welcome to the spring edition of our e-newsletter. We hope you will find this issue helpful from both an intellectual and practical viewpoint. 

Please let us know if you have any suggestions regarding future issues of this e-newsletter. Email: email us

Best Regards, Steve Edelson, Ph.D.
Executive Director, Autism Research Institute 
In Memory of Margaret Creedon, Ph.D.

Dr. Margaret Creedon was a dedicated researcher and true pioneer in the autism field for over 40 years. She passed away last month in Chicago.
Much of her career was focused on sensory as well as abuse issues. Dr. Creedon was also instrumental in creating and maintaining the Autism Deaf/Hard of Hearing and Blind/Visually Impaired e-newsletter and network.
We will miss her greatly!

Deafness with Autism: A School Age
Communication Perspective 

Michelle Leach, MS, CCC-SLP, Valeri LeBeau, MS, CCC-SLP

Michelle Leach and Valeri LeBeau are speech language pathologists with extensive experience working with both the deaf and autism communities. They presented a webinar which focuses on communication difficulties for individuals with a dual diagnosis, with an emphasis on assessment and intervention. As a service to the public, the text version of their webinar is accessible at audiologyonline.com (link at the end of this article).   
Among the points discussed in their webinar:
  • According to the CDC (2008), the average age of autism diagnosis in children with normal hearing was 48 months, whereas the average autism diagnosis in children with hearing loss was delayed by more than a year-and-a-half at 66.5 months.
  •  Assessment is tricky because it is often hard to determine whether the language or communication delay is due to the hearing loss or due to ASD.
  •  As a rule, children with hearing loss have appropriate eye contact. If eye contact is lacking, this would be one of the classic early signs of autism.
  •  Although both children who are deaf and children with ASD frequently show language delay, the child who is deaf would attempt to communicate via gestures and would initiate communication, whereas a child on the spectrum would be less likely to do so. 
  •  If the child is nonverbal, one informal method of assessing the child's desire to communicate is by using Weatherby and Prizant's "Communication Temptations."
  •  Leach and LeBeau cite a 2014 study of children with a dual diagnosis of autism and hearing loss which found that over 2/3 of the children with ASD had a severe to profound hearing loss.
  •  If the child is a candidate for a cochlear implant, then he or she would first be assessed for "tactile defensiveness," that is, how resistant the child may be to wearing the device. The hearing sensitivity of the child would then be assessed to determine what levels of amplification the child is comfortable with.
  •  "Hearing Age" is an assessment tool that refers to how long the child has been hearing. For instance, if the child is three years of age and received an implant at age two, then the child's hearing age is one.
  • Children on the spectrum with cochlear implants progressed at half the rate of typically-developing children with implants.
Other topics covered in the webinar include assessing non-verbal communicative intent; assessing social language of verbal children; intervention strategies that facilitate both socialization and communication; and finding the proper communication modality for each individual child. 


Leach, M., & LeBeau, V. (2014, November). Deafness with autism: A school age communication perspective. AudiologyOnline, Article 13001. Retrieved from: http://www.audiologyonline.com

Wisconsin Man Overcomes Autism, Total Blindness     to Receive State Award     

The challenges that young people with autism have in finding their first job has been well-documented. However, Mitchell Matthiesen, a young man from Howard, Wisconsin, has defied the odds. Not only is he a capable, well-liked employee at two different companies, but in addition to being on the spectrum, he also happens to be blind.

Mitchell has been working as an assembly worker at Aspiro, a company that creates opportunities for and hires workers with disabilities. But Mitchell also landed a job bagging groceries at Olsen's Piggly Wiggly market two days a week, and has been there for more than three years now. His coworkers marvel at his positive attitude, quick aptitude for learning, and ability to take initiative. When he is bagging groceries, he'll listen for the beeps from other cash registers to know when to go over and help out. 

Mitchell's enterprising nature and his enthusiasm for working have been recognized not only by his coworkers, but also by the State of Wisconsin. He received a $500 prize from the Wisconsin Job Honor Awards, which are presented to employees who have overcome major obstacles in finding and succeeding at their jobs.

Early Intervention in Deafness and Autism:
One Family's Experiences, Reflections, and Recommendations

Katharine Beals is an author, teacher, linguist, and mother. One of her books, aimed at caretakers of children on the spectrum, is Raising a Left-Brain Child in a Right-Brain World: Strategies for Helping Bright, Quirky, Socially Awkward Children to Thrive at Home and at School. She interviewed many parents of children with social challenges, and she has three children she describes as left-brained (which she says is a kinder description than nerd or geek). Her middle child not only has autism but is deaf as well.   

In a recent article, Dr. Beals describes how she dealt with the problems of raising a child with co-morbid deafness and autism. She offers an in-depth look at her decision-making process as she tried to make the best choices for early intervention in the treatment of her son. She also describes some of the disagreements among the deaf and autism communities, involving such issues as sign language versus speech and developmental versus behavioral strategies.

Dr. Beals writes that neither deaf nor autism interventions are "one size fits all." Treatment strategies are often trial-and-error and have to be modified to fit the characteristics of the individual child. Having said this, Dr. Beals feels that autism interventions often lack cohesive structure as compared to the deaf interventions. She also writes that many of the experts she consulted were lacking in specific advice, specific treatment interventions, or even specific materials and curricula they could recommend. Thus, Dr. Beals took it upon herself to create her own interventions, doing this by consulting with fellow parents and teachers. She found that those "in the trenches" were much more attuned to specific problems and pragmatic solutions than the "high-level gurus."      

Dr. Beals' paper provides an interesting perspective on the challenges and frustrations often faced by those who are searching for interventions for someone with autism and deafness.
Autism Research Institute, 4182 Adams Ave, San Diego, CA 92116