Monday, August 15, 2011

August Audiology

Monica Brace, seeing patients in the clinic. The clinic is open to the public and serves
the general population from infant to adult
I am beginning to feel the first signs of the end of summer as I am busy already looking ahead to September. This brings the start of another academic school year and a busy time here in the audiology clinic. This is the time when I again start working with many area school districts, teachers and students in the area of educational audiology. We have had an ongoing relationship with the area schools, elementary through high-school, working with their hearing impaired students, those with auditory processing difficulties or attention deficits and their teachers. This involvement is in the area of FM technology and support services.  
FM systems help improve speech understanding in difficult listening settings. The technology often consists of a student wearing a receiver, typically connected to either their hearing instrument or coupled to their ear, while the teacher wears a transmitter (microphone) that wirelessly sends their voice directly to the student. This system allows the teachers voice to go directly to the students’ ear minimizing the effects of background noise and distance. It could also involve a type of system where the teacher wears a microphone but the signal is transmitted to a speaker that amplifies the room instead of directly going to one specific student. This type of system has been shown to improve academic achievement, increase learning behavior and even decrease teacher vocal strain and fatigue. These technologies are of great benefit to hearing impaired students, those that have difficulties processing and paying attention in areas of noise, and to teachers. 

We currently are involved with eight area districts and work with approximately 60 students per year.  In September, I spend time setting up the equipment and directing both students and teachers as to the proper use and care, as well as providing strategies for working with these students. Throughout the school year, I provided ongoing support and checks of the systems to ensure that everything is working and being used appropriately.  At the end of the year, I pick up all of the equipment for servicing over the summer months and then it all begins again next September! 

 Written by Monica Brace, AuD FAAA
Doctor of Audiology
Franziska Racker Centers Audiology Clinic

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Focusing on Children's Mental Health

May is Mental Health Awareness month. It is a good opportunity to reflect on the growing number of children of all ages, including preschool age, who have significant social emotional needs in our communities. We also want to share what we know about the students who participate in our school based counseling programs and what seems to be helpful to them.

First Impressions

So often, first impressions are misleading. Our students with social emotional needs can appear defiant, irritable and confusing to others. What we consistently learn over time is that what looks like defiance may actually be fear, what looks like irritability may be anxiety or depression and what looks like confusion may be shame or hopelessness. Compounding these challenges, our students often do not feel worthy of good things happening to them. Their self esteem reflects the challenges they have experienced when they have tried to connect with others and not gotten what they needed or repeatedly tried a new experience and it has not gone well.

There is always more to understand. Parents often tell us how much they wish their children could be better understood by others and appreciated for who they are.  It is true what our colleagues from “Reclaiming Youth Inc.”  have observed, “that the more we know their story, the more the behavior makes sense”.

When we listen, we learn that their stories can include trauma, neglect and significant family stressors.   There may be learning issues that have been misunderstood or unidentified, biological factors that are hard to pinpoint and the cumulative effects of not being successful as they deal with their world. When we know their story, we are often stunned by their resilience and humbled by their willingness to try again.

What Do We Know
As helpers in this journey, our role is to be curious, compassionate, creative and optimistic. We need to have expectations that positive change can occur and focus on the strengths that are present for every child. While there is much to be learned about what can be helpful, there are truths that we already know can make a difference. Here are a few to consider:

·         Relationships with caring adults enhance self esteem and help develop trust and connection.

·         A sense of belonging is a foundation to learning and emotional growth.

·         It is necessary to consider all aspects of a student’s life; school cannot be separated from family or the community when we are looking for solutions.

·         Needs are complex and thoughtful assessments and good communication are essential to help us understand and plan.

·         Often our students are without the social skills needed to successfully negotiate the demands of their world and get their needs met in healthy ways. These are skills that can be taught.

·         Students need highly motivating opportunities to develop skills and a sense of mastery. They will need support in different forms as they try these new experiences.

Perhaps most importantly, we have learned that the more complex a student’s needs are, the more they need a team of people who are joined by their shared concern for the child and a passion for their success.  Members of a team bring different perspectives, resources and talents to the table. When a child-centered team is working well, the richness of possibilities opens up and the goal of our child living a happy life seems more imaginable.

Written by Mary Hutchens
Franziska Racker Centers

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Access to Evidence-Based Interventions for Autism Spectrum Disorders

Franziska Racker Centers'
Autism Lending Library

April is Autism Awareness Month, and April 2 was World Autism Awareness Day.  Autism is a rich and complex topic, and very political.  Among families, communities and bureaucracies, emotions run high when it comes to autism.  What I’ve done is select a few topics that I think are interesting and that will hopefully leave you with more information than when you started.

Please note, I will use the abbreviation “ASD” to refer to all autism spectrum disorders.  When I say “evidence-based interventions,” I am referring to the methods and principles of applied behavior analysis (ABA). ABA is what we use in the Partnership Program at the Racker Centers.  ABA-based interventions are so effective that they have been endorsed by leading federal and state agencies, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the New York State Department of Health, and the United States Surgeon General. For more information about ABA, here is a helpful website:

I. Access to Evidence-Based Interventions

Throughout the country and throughout Central New York, a family is lucky if they live in a region that offers evidence-based interventions for their loved one with ASD.  Historically, it is the luck of the draw.  That is beginning to change.  There are at least three reputable companies that have created online resources to solve this problem of geography.  As long as you have a computer with an internet connection, you can live anywhere and have access to great user-friendly tools.  Here are the three companies:

1.   Rethink Autism:                                               

2.   Autism Training Solutions:                                

3.   Center for Autism and Related Disorders:         

All three companies provide you with: 1) Training in how to use evidence-based techniques to teach meaningful skills to individuals with ASD; and 2) A comprehensive assessment, curriculum, and progress-tracking system.  Each company charges a subscription fee and offers a free trial.  You can use the free trials to compare them.

We at the Partnership Program have begun using these tools to streamline staff training and enrich our work with students, families and service providers.  I encourage you to check them out.  In my experience, all three companies have good customer service if and when you contact them.  Let me know what you think!

II. Autism Insurance Reform in New York State

As of 2011, 24 states require private health insurance companies to provide coverage for the screening, diagnosis, and treatment of ASDs.  One of these states is Minnesota, where the ASD insurance law has been in effect for nearly ten years.  

New York, on the other hand, is not one of the 24 states.  Autism Speaks ( is fighting for autism insurance reform in New York.  In mid-March, a bill was introduced into the New York State Legislature - Senate Bill 4005 and Assembly Bill 6305 - seeking to effectively end what Autism Speaks is calling “autism insurance discrimination.”  This legislation is important for all New Yorkers with ASDs. 

“There are tens of thousands of New York families – families with otherwise perfectly good health insurance – who are paying huge amounts out-of-pocket to provide their loved ones with the therapies they need and deserve,” said Peter Bell, Autism Speaks Executive Vice President of Programs and Services.

The ASD bill has been revised from 2010 and seeks the following:

·        Requires private health insurance companies to provide coverage for the screening, diagnosis, and treatment of ASDs including behavioral health treatment (including applied behavior analysis), pharmacy care, psychiatric care, psychological care, therapeutic care (speech and occupational therapy) and any medical care provided by a licensed physician.

·        Provides coverage for physical health problems that frequently occur with autism, such as sleep abnormalities, seizures and gastrointestinal problems.

·        The bill has no age caps or dollar caps on these benefits.

·        Does not affect any obligation to provide services to an individual under an individualized family service plan (IFSP), an individualized education program (IEP), or an individualized services plan (ISP). The purpose of this legislation is to require insurance coverage for services provided on a supplemental basis outside of an educational setting for services that are deemed medically necessary.

·        Would prohibit an insurance company from terminating coverage or refusing to renew, adjust, amend, issue, or execute a policy solely because the individual has been diagnosed or received treatment for an ASD.

Autism Speaks needs your commitment and support to help the bill become law.  They will need you to call your legislators and eventually the Governor. Autism Speaks believes that 2011 will be a great year to achieve autism insurance reform in New York.

Here is how you can help:

1) SPREAD THE WORD!  Let everyone know that this legislation has been introduced, and ask your friends, co-workers, neighbors and family who live in New York State to be sure they are signed up at to receive regular updates and calls to action.

 "ATTN New York Friends and Family! A bill was just introduced in the state of New York that when enacted into law will provide individuals with autism with access to appropriate treatment and therapies.  Please help pass this bill into law by signing up at to receive calls to action."

Families need options.  Working together, Autism Speaks hopes we can achieve autism insurance reform in the state of New York this year.

Dr. Karen Fried and Nick at 2010 walk for Autism Speaks

Written by Karen Fried, Psy.D., BCBA
Licensed Psychologist
Director of Autism Services

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Getting our Kids to eat Healthy

March is National Nutrition Month. As we grow up in a society where processed convenience foods are easier and cheaper to purchase; while fresh, wholesome and natural items are harder and presumed to be more expensive, it becomes easier & easier to make wrong choices when it comes to eating healthy.  The accessibility and higher costs of these nutritious choices has many families sacrificing their health to save time, and money.

I am a parent of two young children, one of which attends the daycare program at the Franziska Racker Centers Ithaca site. I have to steer my children daily towards healthier choices. I believe setting a good example is crucial when teaching children about food and its benefits and its repercussions.

Ithaca Preschool kitchen staff:
Sean Clairmont, Melissa Brewer
and Robb Stone preparing lunch.
There are other challenges as well that families and our school food program will continue to need to address like allergies, sensory issues, food addictions, and always children’s fears of trying new foods. Children helping with the preparation of their own meals and making their own plate greatly increases the parents/ teachers chances of them trying something new. Encourage children to explore their options, expanding their understanding and willingness to try fresh, wholesome, and natural foods.

I love other culture’s foods like Thai, Japanese, Greek, Italian, Norwegian etc… Without my love of different foods as a child, it may have changed my life as I know it. I love my work and its constant challenges and rewards that arise.

Ithaca Preschool full cook kitchen

The Racker food program is committed to providing a variety of healthy whole foods and will continue to work on breaking food boundaries and creating goals and opportunities for the children that we serve. The Ithaca preschool site serves approximately 90 children with breakfast, lunch and snack daily. Prior to preparing meals at the preschool, Racker Centers contracted to have meals delivered daily from neighboring school districts. This wasn’t optimal for the children. Often the quality of food suffered from transporting it, and we wanted to be able to offer a wider variety of healthier options for the kids.

The Centers on site food program began preparing and serving meals in March of 2008. Jody Scriber, Director of Clinic and Educations Services has pushed for a long time for healthier food choices for our kids. After receiving stimulus funding and grants through the Office of Children and Family Services, we were able to build a full cook kitchen and produce fresh meals for our kids. From the very first day, the kitchen received positive feedback from staff and students. Shortly after the switch teachers also noticed improvements with attention, behavior, and energy. After much anticipation The Centers opened their second on-site meal program at the Cortland Preschool in February 2011. This kitchen also serves approximately 90 children daily. 

Written by Robb Stone - Kitchen Supervisor for the Ithaca and Cortland Racker Centers childcare and special education preschools. He’s been employed by the agency since 2006.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Turning Point

The New Year marks a turning point for many. In sitting down to write for our agency’s first blog posting, the theme ‘turning point’ seemed like a good place to start. It is a term that is familiar to me because it is the name of one of Racker Center’s many programs, but it also sums up where we as an agency stand as we enter 2011.
Racker Centers is an agency that has had to evolve with the times. We were formed by a concerned group of parents in 1948 and our work began as the Cerebral Palsy Association of the Ithaca area. Needs in our community grew and with those needs our services grew. We became The Special Children’s Center in 1963. Then again in 1999 we reached another ‘turning point’ and took on the name of Franziska Racker Centers.
In 2011 we reach yet another turning point. Although our name and mission will stay the same, needs within our community are always changing, and with that we, as good stewards of our community must do the same.  Our mission is to help people with special needs and their families have good lives. In addition to the many services we provide, we also do this by helping to promote inclusion in our community. The vision of our founding families is the same today as it was in 1948, that individuals with disabilities will be valued members of a caring and supportive community.
One thing I feel is that people are better understood once you begin talking. That is what we hope to do more of as we move into the future.  We are launching a new website ( and are in the beginning stages of developing new ways of communicating with our friends, our neighbors and those we don’t know yet.  We are diving into the realm of social media by launching a Franziska Racker Centers Facebook Fan page . As you know we are also starting a new blog as well, thank you for taking the time to read it.
What is important here is that we need to get to know people, to understand them and therefore to better understand the needs of our community and those that we serve, we need to communicate. I welcome feedback and comments on this post, as well as encourage you to join our fan page. Throughout the year we hope to share some of the success stories of those individuals and families that we serve. We hope to share updates on our growth so we can better meet the growing needs within our community. We hope to have our staff share their expertise and we hope to share the struggles and the achievements we are facing in these tough economic times. Most importantly, we want you to share your thoughts with us on these things as well. If you are close to us already, let us know how our services have touched you or your loved one’s lives. If you don’t know us, tell us what you’d like to learn. We are looking for support, we are looking to help those in need, but most importantly we are looking to get to know you better and for you to know us.
Dan Brown is the Associate Executive Director at Franziska Racker Centers.