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3 Tips for Making Valentine’s Day Special for Your Autistic Child


As store shelves turn to masses of pink and red, some people get excited and others groan. Valentine’s Day, with all of its joy and complexities, is around the corner. Although love and social connection are important to everyone, Valentine’s Day can be tricky to navigate for many people, including some of our autistic loved ones. Different ages bring different challenges: from the drama of classroom valentine exchanges to the heart-stopping anxiety of having a date. Wherever your child may fall on this continuum of V-Day Life Lessons, a few considerations can help them feel cherished on this day. 

Prepare

Consider the potential challenges that your child might encounter that could be helped by some advance skill-building. Think carefully about what your child will encounter that day and what easily-acquired skills might help them enjoy the day more. A younger child whose class is exchanging valentines might benefit from practice; find out how the teacher will approach this (will the kids deposit them into a box or hand them out individually?) and rehearse in advance. A teen attending a dance might benefit from a social story about what to expect, previewing conversation starters, and maybe watching some realistic shows depicting teen dances to help set expectations. If anxiety is a factor (as it can be with anyone of any age!), make sure there is an easy way for them to contact you for an early pick-up. For safety, teens and young adults who are dating should have information about consent and sexual harassment at a level they can understand. Learning about good hygiene practices, manners, and general dating “dos and don’ts” can help to set them up for success.    

Accommodate

There will also be challenges on Valentine’s Day that can’t be solved by skill-building. Consider your child’s experience and be creative about the types of accommodations that might help them enjoy the day the most. If your child is on a special diet, find out if there will be school treats so you can arrange for something yummy for your little one. Some children will not enjoy the “typical” Valentine’s Day activities. Remember, it’s once a year, don’t stress over making them go to a class party they won’t enjoy. There may be accommodations that can help make regular activities okay (headphones), or you can simply ditch the regular valentines’ stuff and think of some fun alternatives instead. Perhaps instead of going to the dance, they can rather invite a friend over to bake brownies or watch a movie with their sibling.    

Love

Valentine’s Day is an opportunity to show others how much you care. As a parent or caregiver, showing affection for our children is one of the most fulfilling experiences. Think about your child’s preferences and give them a token of your love, whether that be treats, attention, a new Lego set, or a special rock. Giving them choices in preparing for the day (e.g., picking out valentines, choosing a special dessert, etc.), thinking about how to include their preferred interests in your plans, and making plans to accommodate sensory needs can communicate your love and respect.    

Some profoundly affected autistic folks will not be affected by the fact the world has turned pink and red; they may not understand or care. But this doesn’t prevent them from receiving your love and affection in the ways they do the rest of the year, so take the opportunity to connect with them on their level. Many autistic folks tend to anthropomorphize; if there are things (e.g., trains, books, electronic devices, etc.) that are the object of your child’s affection, think about how to celebrate these objects that give your child joy. 

For those autistic children who understand the social nuances of Valentine’s Day, it can create pressure around feelings of popularity and acceptance. If your child is experiencing these common hardships, do your best to shift the emphasis away from romantic love and toward other satisfying relationships in your child’s life. For some, that may be a friend, or for others, it may be family. Reassurance that they are accepted at home and loved unconditionally is paramount. 

Have Happy Valentine’s Day!

Last but not least: show yourself some love as well. Parenting isn’t easy and requires many qualities, including patience, empathy, and, most importantly, love. The love we give our children isn’t always returned in the moment, making it hard sometimes to reflect on all the wonderful things you do for your child. Remember, you’re raising a human, which is stressful yet important and incredible work. As you nurture your relationship with your child, you build their capacity to love and show love to others. This Valentine’s Day, take some credit for all you do for your child in the name of love and find a way to treat yourself, whether that means setting aside time to read or exercise, getting an extra hour of sleep, or calling a friend. You deserve just as much love on this special day.    

For research-backed strategies on managing stress, check out “How Parents and Caregivers of Kids with Autism Cope with Stress.” To dive deeper into the topic of love and autism, learn more at “Myth: People with Autism Don’t Feel Love.”

Creating a Successful Holiday for Children with Autism

All Autism Talk hosts Kathrine Johnson and Richie Ploesch, sit down to discuss strategies and tips to support a happy, safe, and fun holiday experience for children with autism. As Katherine shared, “When kids know what to expect, it can really help them regulate… and leaving space to let them have a choice and downtime can really help”.

 

For more helpful family tips all year round visit:

https://www.learnbehavioral.com/parentresources

https://www.facebook.com/learnbehavioral

https://www.youtube.com/c/Autismtherapies

 

Interested in ABA services for your child? Contact Us: https://lrnbvr.com/contact

Interested in a career in the ABA field? Apply Now: https://lrnbvr.com/apply-now

All Autism Talk (allautismtalk.com) is sponsored by LEARN Behavioral (learnbehavioral.com).

Transitioning to Summer: 5 Tips to Make It a Success

by Elizabeth Jeffrey-Arceneaux, M.S., BCBA
Autism Spectrum Therapies (AST), Louisiana

With summer fast approaching, the increased time for preferred activities may be a point for joy and satisfaction, but this can also challenge parents as they attempt to transition kids from necessary tasks and activities. Most children, particularly those with autism, benefit from structure and routine in their schedule.

One of the reasons summer can create a challenge is that routines shift dramatically—or disappear altogether. This is further exasperated by the changing protocols of the pandemic, where we wear masks and stand six feet apart one day, only to loosen the mask mandate and stand three feet apart the next.

There are things you can do, however, to ease this transition and keep your child engaged this summer. Consider these five tips:

Only Take On What You Can Manage

For starters, understand what will allow your child to thrive and what you, as a parent or caregiver, can manage. Professionally, I’ve spoken to many parents who feel tired and frustrated—mostly due to their tendency to take on more than they have the time and energy to manage.

While it’s important to provide opportunities for your child, be careful of overdoing it and creating stress for yourself—and the whole family. Strategize and play to your child’s strengths.

Prioritize Activities

To avoid taking on more than your family can handle, you first need to realize that you can’t do everything—and need to prioritize. Decide the three most important things to you, as a parent or caregiver who knows your child and family well, and plan around those goals. For example, your goals might be to increase education, family fun, and time outside.

With your top three priorities identified, seek out resources to meet those goals. For example, many states offer an extended school year (ESY) option for children with disabilities. This program varies across the United States but provides a way to maintain educational activities at no cost to parents and caregivers in the same school system your child normally attends. Another option might be increased therapy time.

Often, you can find fun things to do with your family by attending events in your city. Many cities, in fact, host particular days in which children with autism or sensory sensitivity are given priority. In Louisiana, where I live, zoos, libraries, and other places host sensory days. These can be a great introduction to new activities. It might take research and planning, but doing so can help your child and family cultivate a wider array of interests.

Spend Time Outdoors

As my colleague, Genevieve Marshall, recently discussed on our blog, time in nature is good for all of us, particularly kids with autism. In fact, many children with autism enjoy water play, which you can set up outdoors, even without access to a pool. Simply fill up bowls or an inflatable pool, and give your child a mix of cups and utensils to interact with water in various ways.

Kids Playing On Beach. Children Play At Sea.

I keep a running list of outdoor sensory activities for my own children that includes:

  • tinting water with food coloring
  • mixing water with sand
  • making mud pies
  • drawing with sidewalk chalk
  • collecting and painting rocks (or simply setting up an easel and paints outdoors)
  • blowing bubbles (and making homemade bubbles)
  • picking flowers or weeds

The list goes on. These activities engage children on a sensory level, while allowing kids to spend essential time outside.

Plan—But Plan Flexibly

Although it’s critical to plan as much as possible for summer, it’s also important to accept and expect that you will need to be flexible. Often, programs like ESY and accessible summer camps don’t last the entire day. You can fill in unstructured time by having a loose schedule in place anchored by sleep, snack, and highly preferred break activities. Consider, too, using a visual aid and timer as you transition between activities, and do your best to stay consistent (and flexible!) across days.

Acknowledge Differences

If you have more than one child, realize and expect that your children are different, and prepare accordingly. For example, I have two toddlers. My youngest, at age two, typically is a wild and reckless toddler who loves new things, fireworks, and getting dirty. At the beach, he holds his father’s hand and loves hearing the ocean and feeling it cover his feet. He doesn’t mind varied environments with different sounds and senses.

My oldest, now three, hates fireworks and covers her ears. All loud noises cause her distress, particularly when unexpected. She loves playing in the sand at the beach but cries that the ocean is too loud. She also hates and refuses to walk across reflective floors. Instead of forcing her to fall in line and like the same things her brother likes, I give her earphones and encourage her to enjoy things from afar. I accept and honor their differences.

As you gear up for what we anticipate will be a more relaxed, open summer than last year, due to the pandemic, keep in mind that planning, prioritizing, and concentrating on what matters most to you and your family are key. Remember, too, that your time and energy are limited. Resist the urge to overschedule your family, and know that downtime is good for us all.

For more tips on helping your child with transitions, read “Easing Your Child Back Into Life Post-Pandemic.”

The Benefits of ABA in Dual Environments

When a child is diagnosed with autism, parents become charged with finding quality treatment – and the evidence-based recommendation is to seek out Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA).  Choosing the specific ABA program that is right for a child can feel daunting, especially if ABA is new territory for a family.  In this article, we look at the benefits of a program incorporating both in-home and center-based programs.

Many proponents of ABA like to state, “ABA can be done anywhere.” It is true – but we shouldn’t overlook another important point: the environment itself is a critical component of therapy.  Controlling the environment to some degree is frequently part of the teaching process.  Selecting a teaching environment is a decision that impacts the rest of the teaching strategy and so also has an effect on progress.

Common teaching environments for young children with autism include center-based ABA therapy, private or public school, a childcare environment, and home programs.   While there is not enough research to prescribe a particular environment or model generally for children with autism, many parents and professionals are finding that a multi-site model of a controlled environment (such as a center-based program) and a natural environment (home, childcare, school) provides the best of both worlds.

Benefit #1 – Social skills can be targeted consistently and with children in the child’s community.

It is necessary for peers to be available regularly for consistent teaching; in this respect, a clinic setting is ideal for having regular access to other children to practice target skills.  Ultimately, the goal is for the child to interact with the other children in their community, their siblings, classmates, and neighbors.  Having a regular home component allows the therapist to work on target skills with the people who will be important in their normal daily life, even if these opportunities aren’t as regular as those in a clinic setting.

Benefit #2 – Controlled Environment vs. Natural Environment: Best of both worlds

A multi-site model allows technicians to address the most challenging skills in a distraction-free environment, but still have access to the home or school setting, with all of its naturally-occurring distractions, to make sure that those learned skills are being put to use.

Benefit #3 – Consistency of the Behavior Plan

When a challenging behavior is treated differently across settings, it is more likely to persist; this set-up can even make the behavior worse in the long-run.  The best treatment involves the same plan being followed across the day.  Having professionals use a consistent plan in both the home and center environments also supports family members to do the same.

Benefit #4 – Assessment of Generalization

All programs must address the issue of generalization, but a multi-site model is tailor-made for this.  Generalization can be specifically addressed right from the beginning, either by teaching in both environments, or by teaching in one place and testing generalization in the other.

Benefit #5 – Ease of Group Work Vs. Ease of Parent Training – You Get Both!

One of the most important aspects of the teaching environment is the people present.  In a center-based program, other children are close at hand for social interactions, peer modeling, and working on group instruction, so these parts of therapy can happen regularly.  When ABA sessions are at home, it can be more convenient for parents to make themselves available for training.  In a multi-site model, the child benefits from both of these types of teaching opportunities.

Whichever provider a family selects, they should be sure to work closely with their team to personalize the child’s program to best meet their needs and the goals for their family.

– Richie Ploesch, M.A., BCBA & Katherine Johnson, BCBA

A New Year to Make Progress 2019

We are happy to re-share this blog from a previous year that received so much wonderful feedback. We wish everyone a year of great moments, memories and progress.

Autism is in the news, social media, and print more than ever. The increasing awareness is great. The influx of research and funding options is even better! The heartwarming stories and success stories are inspiring. Still, misinformation and slanted headlines are annoyingly abound. Such is this complicated, passionate and ultimately very unique autism community. We are glad to be a part of it, and do our best to honor and respect the many contributing voices. As a community, we are making progress and continue to be optimistic that together, we can make great strides. We have no doubt that the most important person to each and every parent, day-in and day-out, is your child with autism.

So what will this year’s 365 days mean for you? We suggest this simple, but powerful idea: progress. When you’re past the notion that there may be a quick fix and come to terms that the pursuit of a cure won’t help you with today’s challenges, progress is the name of the game. Forget quantum leaps; each milestone met will offer its own reward. Know there will be set backs and rough patches, and keep moving forward.

BE PRESENT: There are many amazing therapists, doctors and teachers in the world who have taught so much about development and parenting. However, keep in mind that you are the one who is with your child every day. For real progress to take place, you gotta be in the game. Don’t forget to take time to just BE with your child and appreciate all the beautiful, unique ways they express themselves.

BE CONSISTENT: What is the 12 step motto…”the more you work it, the more it works”? Working consistently with your child’s team to implement strategies, even when it’s hard or inconvenient, propels the process.

BE A FRIEND/SPOUSE/PERSON: You can’t focus on autism 24 hours a day. Remember to make time for yourself, friends and family. When you do, life just has more balance and you’ll likely have more stamina for the work ahead.

BE GRATEFUL: Count your blessings, celebrate the wins and enjoy every single bit of progress. This is what makes it all worth it. No one else will feel joy quite the way you will. It’s awesome.

This year, we will continue to be moved, enlightened and sometimes annoyed by it all. Stick to a plan that works for you and your family, and know that come December 31, 2019, you’ll be able to look at another year passed – and call it good.

For great news and information, visit our blog, All Autism Videos and All Autism Talk.

Successful Toilet Training for Kids with Autism

Potty training, toilet training, toileting… whichever term you use, tackling these skills can be a big deal for kids and their parents. Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are often delayed at the age of successful toilet training, even when compared to children with other developmental disabilities. The average age in which a child is successfully toileting was 3.3 years of age for children with autism in comparison to 2.5 years of age for children with other developmental disabilities (Williams, Oliver, Allard, & Sears, 2003).

Extended use of diapers may diminish personal hygiene, self-confidence and increase physical discomfort, stigmatism, risk of problems later with bladder control and restrict participation in social activities (e.g., camp, after school program, etc.). Extended diaper use for children with autism is also problematic because these children may become so accustomed to using a diaper that they often demonstrate resistance to toilet-training procedures and will prefer to wait for a diaper in order to void (Tarbox, Williams, & Friman, 2004). Teaching independent toilet skill can improve the quality of life for children with autism and their families. Families will definitely benefit from the decreased costs of purchasing diapers, their children will feel empowered to address their physical needs independently all while decreasing the risk of complications associated with extended diaper use.

Before beginning toilet-training procedures, caregivers should check with their child’s doctors to rule out any medical conditions that may prevent their child from being successful with a toilet training program. Upon getting medical clearance, the next step will be to determine whether their child is showing signs that they are ready for toilet training. The following questions will assist with this step:

  1. Does the child act differently or seem to notice when diapers or clothing are wet or soiled?
  2. Does the child show any interest in behavior related to the bathroom, toilet, hand washing, dressing, undressing or related tasks?
  3. Does the child show an interest in seeing other people involved in activities or with objects related to toilet training?
  4. Does the child stay dry for at least 2 hours during the day or does his/her diaper stay dry after naps?

Each child and family is unique; therefore, the toilet training procedure needs to be designed to specifically fit the child and his/her family’s needs. Generally, caregivers and their clinician should identify and agree upon the child’s preferred mode of communication to best indicate when they need to use the restroom. This can be a specific word or phrase (e.g., “Potty”, “I need to use the toilet”, etc.) or it can be as simple as a hand signal or the presentation of an image of a toilet. To increase the potential for success, caregivers should have a preferred item or activity available (e.g. special snacks, video, etc.) and present it as a reward the moment that their child successfully voids in the toilet.  This item should be reserved only for toilet training. The child should also receive lots of praise and high fives when he/she stay dry for a specific duration of time.

Going from using a diaper to using a toilet can be a big change and is extremely difficult for lots of children. If your child has a hard time with transitions, a picture schedule may be a helpful tool to remind him/her of what task are needed to complete the toileting routine. Some things to remember: make sure to have plenty of extra underwear and clothes, a comfortable potty chair, a timer, your child’s favorite drinks, and a positive attitude!

Toilet training may be a lengthy process and require a lot of patience. This is a big commitment but the payoff will be huge!  Make sure to consult with your behavior analyst along the way to ensure the procedure is clear and is tailored to your child and family needs.

Dai Doan, M.S., BCBA

 

 

References

William, G., Oliver, J. M., Allard, A., & Sears, L.  (2003).  Autism and associated medical and familial factors:  A case control study.  Journal of Developmental and Physical Disabilities, 15, 335-349.

Tarbox, R. S. E., Williams, W. L., & Friman, P. C. (2004). Extended diaper wearing: Effects on continence in and out of the diaper. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 37, 97-100.

Preparing for Holiday Meals

The holidays are quickly approaching, which means family, festivities, and food! While the holidays can be fun for the whole family, they can also be a stressful time for children on the autism spectrum due to the changes in typical routines and settings. Holiday meals with extended family can present issues for a child with autism, including trying new foods, sitting among loud family members, and being in an unfamiliar location. Here are some helpful tips to make the holiday experience more enjoyable for the whole family.

Prepare your child for the event.
Use photos, a social story, or show them a video, modeling what will be expected of them. Will they need to sit at a communal table surrounded by family? Will they be expected to try new foods? How about preparing your child for the family members who will be present? You can practice with role play at home with real or fake food so your child is familiar with the expectation of the meal. To make it easier this time of year, you can also bring some favorite foods along that you know will be successful.

Support them during the event.
Bring activities and toys so your child has something to do while waiting for the meal to begin. If your child is very picky with food, bring some preferred alternatives that they will eat so they don’t become agitated while waiting and to remind your child of familiar food routines.

Give them a chance to escape if they need it.
If your child becomes overstimulated by loud noises or holiday lights and decorations, find a quiet place in the home for them to decompress and take a break. Your child can rejoin the family once he or she feels comfortable doing so.

While holiday meals can be stressful, hopefully these tips will help keep everyone’s spirits bright!

 

– Sarah Low, M.A., BCBA

How to Plan for the Upcoming School Breaks

In Tucson, Arizona many of our kids are heading into their Fall Break.  Your child’s breaks may come at different seasons and times of year. School breaks offer opportunities and challenges for all parents and children. These breaks can cause disruption in family routines and increase in down time for the child, which may result in low levels of motivation and higher levels of anxiety and stress. For parents of children with special needs, these may seem magnified. Below are some helpful tips to consider when planning for your child’s upcoming school breaks.

 

Keep Similar Routines
This may be easier said then done however, keeping your wake-up and bed-times similar and filling the day hours with activities will provide your child a predictable, structured environment, a sense of stability, and decreased stress. By reducing the amount of unstructured free time, your child will be less restless and bored. Don’t forget to include the homework routine as you have worked so hard to develop and maintain this prior to the break!  It is still important for children to practice academic skills even though school in not in session.

Keep Busy
Find educational, recreational and social activities to engage in daily. This will limit the amount of time your child is at home watching TV, texting, or playing video games. Ideally, an outside activity such as playing ball, going for a walk or participating in a team sport would be on the schedule daily. Even if your child doesn’t play a sport, any exercise activity has obvious health benefits, and increased physical activity helps reduce repetitive behaviors and improve sleep. Some resources to find community activities are your local Parks and Recreation Department, newspaper, and libraries. Some examples of home activities are board games, arts and crafts, academic tasks, meal preparation, outside games and reading.

Have a Daily Visual Schedule
The whole idea of a school break may be confusing for younger children since they are still developing the concept of time. School breaks also challenge the typical Monday-through-Friday predictable morning, school and after school routines. Utilizing a visual schedule will help your child understand the “what, when, where and why” of their day. It is also important to involve them by letting them choose what activities they would like to do. You can also have them cross off completed activities as well as the days so they can see how many days are left until school starts.

Read to your child
Children are exposed to literacy concepts many times throughout their school day. Continuing to expose them to books while they are home will only increase their language development, listening, and comprehension skills. Reading to your child also stimulates their imagination and facilitates a positive interaction where they receive one-on-one attention from the parent. Research recommends that parents set a side a scheduled time each day to read to their child (Raisingreaders.net).

Limit electronics
Allowing a child unlimited access to TV and computer can lead to childhood obesity, lethargy, difficulty in school, and insomnia. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children be limited to 1 to 2 two hours of educational programming daily. Here are some ways to limit your child’s access to electronics: First, keep them out of reach and out of your child’s bedroom. Have your child earn their time with electronics upon completion of other activities. Specifically allocate times within the day that are appropriate for your child to have access to electronics.

Work on Social Skills
This is the biggest opportunity provided by school breaks. Integrating social opportunities within your child’s day can take many forms such as homework assignments, board games, community activities, sports, and play dates. Some parents forget that activities like swim lessons, apple picking, and vacation trips can all be valuable new settings to prompt the use of social skills.

 

Hey Tucson families! Here are some additional resources to help make your season great for the whole family:

 

– Lindsay Abbott, MA, BCBA, LBA

Wandering Safety

All children wander away from caregivers at some point in time. It can happen in the aisles of a store, at a park, or your own front yard. These instances typically result in a moment of panic for the parent or caregiver followed by relief when reunited with the child. However, many individuals with autism who wander away from caregivers do not have the self-preservation skills to get back to their parent or caregiver. For example, a child with autism may wander away and avoid contact with others or may not recognize the potential hazards of water or a busy street. Wandering also known as elopement is a “high risk” behavior meaning that the risk of injury or harm is great.

At AST we take elopement very seriously and would like to provide families with resources to keep loved ones safe. Below are several websites that have products and resources for individuals with autism who may wander.

AST has NO affiliation with the businesses or agencies listed below. However, AST clinicians highly recommend the use of a tracking device for any individual with autism who has wandered away from their parent/guardian/caregiver/school.

 

Resources:

PROJECT LIFESAVER

TRACKIMO

SAFETRACKS™ 

Planning a Fun and Safe Summer for Kids with Autism by AST 

The National Autism Society Big Red Safety Tool Kit: A Digital Guide for Caregivers

  • Includes helpful strategies, caregiver checklists and family emergency plan.

Autism Speaks Wandering Resources

CDC Safety and Children with Disabilities – Wandering 

Holiday Gift Guide for Children with Autism

By Kelly Namanja

Selecting suitable toys for a child’s holiday or birthday gifts can be challenging, especially when the recipient is a child with autism. This handy list includes a number of popular, age-appropriate toys for children up to five years of age. Parents should keep in mind, however, that every child is unique and will respond differently to certain toys and teaching materials. You can check with your child’s therapist or teacher to determine what’s most appropriate for your child’s needs and interests.

Under 3 years old:
-Shape sorters
-Puzzles (wooden with a peg on each piece)
-Board books (including touch and feel books)
-Stacking/nesting blocks and cups
-Cause-and-effect toys with buttons, lights, sounds, and music
-Dolls and large action figures

Ages 3-5:
-Games (e.g., Candy Land, Chutes and Ladders, Don’t Break the Ice, Hungry Hungry Hippos, Memory, Hi-Ho Cherry-O, Zingo)
-Puzzles (up to 25 piece jigsaw)
-Action figures/dolls and related accessories
-Dress up items and beads
-Pretend play toys (e.g., kitchen, construction, doctor kit, etc.)
-Art supplies (e.g., markers, crayons, stickers, construction paper, glue)
-Play dough and/or Moon sand
-Small building blocks (e.g., LEGOS)
-Cars, trucks, trains, etc.
-Lacing cards
-Sports sets (e.g., plastic bowling ball and pins, plastic baseball, bat, and tee)

All children 5 and under:
-Large building blocks (e.g., Mega Blocks or Duplo)
-Electronic learning toys (e.g. Leap Frog, V-Tech)
-Fisher Price Little People sets
-Plastic animal figurines
-Magna-Doodle
-Musical instruments (e.g. drums, cymbals, maracas, keyboard)

Read Reducing Holiday Stress for Families of Children with Autism

For more tips, check out the Toys R Us Toy Guide for Differently Abled Kids