Receiving an Autism Diagnosis: What To Do Next

autism diagnosis what to do next

You’ve just received an autism diagnosis for your child. You may be feeling a mix of emotions, from shock, fear, guilt, overwhelm, confusion, or perhaps relief and clarity. Whatever may be going through your mind, know that you are not alone in this journey. You are one of thousands of parents navigating the reality of having a child with autism. This journey brings both joy and struggle, and we are here to help you through it.

In the meantime, here are some helpful steps to take.

Learn about ASD

According to recent 2021 findings by the CDC, 1 in 44 children are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). ASD can cause social, communication, and behavioral challenges. Yet symptoms of autism greatly differ from person to person.


Social challenges within ASD may include making eye contact, lack of recognition of nonverbal cues, lack of emotional facial expressions and obsessive interests.


Communication challenges may include difficulty developing language skills, understanding others, slower tempo of speech, and making appropriate facial expressions.


Behavioral challenges may include repetitive behaviors such as hand flapping or rocking, sensory processing issues, aversion to touch, rigidities in routines, emotional meltdowns, refusal to follow demands, and self-injurious behavior.

In addition to the above, children diagnosed with autism may also struggle with fine and gross motor skills, such as balance and grasping objects. This can also lead to difficulty acquiring daily living skills like dressing, brushing teeth, writing and more.

If you are just learning about autism or want to continue educating yourself, check out these autism education and awareness organizations:

Autism Alliance of Michigan

National Autism Association

Find support for yourself

Receiving an autism diagnosis can cause stress and worry in parents. It’s crucial to get support for yourself and your partner if you are going through this journey together.

Some ways to ensure you have support include:

  • Reach out to other parents of children with ASD to hear how they have navigated their journey
  • Taking time to process for yourself or with your partner. Maybe have someone watch your child(ren) so you can have space to take in the news of the diagnosis, sift through any information you’ve received, and formulate questions for medical professionals and autism specialists.
  • Seek counseling to help you process. At Healing Haven, we help parents process their child’s diagnosis through our counseling program. In counseling, parents identify triggers for stress, develop goals to manage stress, and learn to navigate relationships. Additionally, we have an ABA Parent Training program, created by our director, Jamie McGillivary. In this program, parents acquire stress management techniques while learning principles of ABA to help support their child’s development.

Seek therapeutic help for your child

Once a child is diagnosed, the evaluation team will often recommend various therapies to support the child’s development. It is important to check with your insurance plan to see what coverage your plan has for an autism diagnosis. The most common therapies recommended include the following:

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) Therapy

ABA focuses on developing social, communication, play and learning skills through positive reinforcement. ABA is one of the most common therapies used in autism treatment and is backed by 50 years of research. At Healing Haven, we provide high quality ABA therapy in our clinics. We believe in a more natural and holistic approach to help the child carry over what they are learning into other settings. We also leverage incidental teaching, utilizing the child’s natural interests and motivations.

Occupational Therapy (OT)

The goal of Occupational Therapy is to increase skills in daily living and the use of everyday objects (such as eating and drinking, dressing, writing, etc.) Benefits of OT for individuals with autism include sensory processing, focus, emotional expression, and independence in everyday tasks.

Speech Therapy

Speech Therapy treats speech and communication disorders. It is incredibly beneficial for those with autism, as ASD contains a wide range of communication abilities, from nonverbal to extremely verbal and talkative. Speech Therapy helps individuals communicate through picture icons, electronic talking devices, reading body language, asking and answering questions, and grammatically correct sentences.


Some children and teens diagnosed with autism do not require more intensive ABA Therapy. However, they could benefit from individual counseling. This provides a space for those with ASD to process life challenges. In counseling, individuals with autism meet with a certified therapist specially trained in ASD issues. ASD clients learn coping strategies for frustration or anxiety, manage sensory processing issues, and developing social skills.

Create structure for your child

Individuals with autism function well within structured environments. If you haven’t already done so, start creating predictability for your child’s day.

Make a visual schedule for your child to refer to if they are anxious about what will come next in their day. You could fill it out together the night before or in the morning, for instance. There are hundreds of ideas and templates for creating fun, kid-appealing visual schedules. (Try these free printables!)

Another way to help your child with structure is giving time warnings before an activity ends. For example, if your child is engaging in play with a preferred toy or activity, give 15, 10, and/or 5 minute warnings. Setting timers might be helpful as well. This helps your child be aware that change is coming. They will also learn to emotionally regulate better with a heads-up, especially if sudden change can trigger meltdowns.

As mentioned before, you are not alone in this journey of raising a child with autism. Above all, the most important thing you can do is make sure both you and your child get the support needed. And it’s our team’s mission at Healing Haven to provide you that support. We are in your corner.

For more information, be sure to check out these blogs!

6 Ideas for Practicing Social Skills with Autistic Children

Communication and Autism: 4 Resources to Help

The Benefits of Organized Space for Individuals With Autism

Supporting Siblings of Children With Autism

Teacher Burnout? 4 Reasons to Consider the Field of ABA

I left teaching just weeks before the lockdown in February 2020. Though left for reasons unrelated to the pandemic, I know I would have said goodbye to teaching sooner or later with the way COVID has impacted education. Increased demands on teachers and school staff, major conflict over mask mandates and safety concerns, and a lack of resources are just a few of the challenges educators have faced, leading to unprecedented teacher burnout. Consequently, a recent survey reports that one in four teachers expect to leave the classroom by the end of 2021.

To leave or not to leave?

Making the decision to leave teaching is not an easy one. One of our exceptional Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBA) and former special education teacher, Julie McGregor, M.Ed., BCBA, LBA, knows the difficulty in deciding to leave teaching. “The decision to leave the schools is a tough one. We went into it because we love kids and want to make positive changes in their lives,” Julie explains. “But there is truly no harder job. There is so much pressure.” That pressure often leads to teacher burnout.

For a job field that was already underfunded, under-resourced, and under-supported, it’s no wonder so many teachers have called it quits. But many former teachers are seeking new careers in fields where they can still utilize their leadership and planning skills. These fields include but are not limited to, writing positions, project management, academic advising, and human resources.

Why consider the field of ABA

If you’re a teacher who recently left your position or are toying with the idea of a career change, you might feel inhibited by uncertainty of where to go next. Julie knows this uncertainty all too well. “If I wasn’t going to be a teacher forever, what was I going to do next?”  We might be biased, but jobs in Applied Behavior Analysis are an excellent option for teachers experiencing burnout.

As one of those burned-out educators, I found my new position as an ABA therapist very manageable and much less stressful. Additionally, I still get to make a difference in young lives. If you’ve left teaching, your experience and skills are not lost. Consider these four reasons for why ABA therapy might be the perfect post-teaching career for you.

1. Utilize similar skills

As teachers, we do so much and wear too many different hats. More than most people realize. Yet, in turn, we develop invaluable skills that are not just limited to life in the classroom. These include patience, creative thinking, and excellent communication skills. Put these refined skills to use in ABA therapy as an ABA Therapist/Behavior Technician or Board Certified Behavior Analyst. Both positions require close communication with parents and alert attention to detail when taking data on behaviors. Because ABA is evidence based, it requires the precise organizational skills and attention to detail that teachers acquire. Additionally, thinking outside the box is helpful in ABA when analyzing and creating behavior intervention plans. Teachers experience a range of behaviors in the classroom so they bring valuable insight when understanding motives for behavior in their clients.

2. One-on-one work versus overpacked classrooms

In ABA therapy, working with kids with high behaviors can be difficult at times. However, ABA therapists work one-on-one with a client and receive supervision from the client’s BCBA. BCBAs often work with 7-10 clients total but not all at the same time; they schedule times to be with each client individually. As teachers, we’ve basically championed managing behavior in classrooms of 20+ kids. So picture the ease of only having to worry about one of those kids at a time—you got it in the bag!

3. Continue making a difference

Teachers quite often choose their jobs because they want to make a difference in lives. Good news—you don’t have to leave that behind in ABA therapy. Our own Healing Haven ABA Therapists very often speak to the fulfillment of helping kids and families, as well as seeing kids’ quality of life improve drastically. When Julie went back to school to become a BCBA, she knew she wasn’t sacrificing making a difference in kids’ lives. “[ABA] was perfect. I still got to work with kids, help them grow and learn, and watch them make such huge gains. But I got to do it in a different setting,” she explains. And as a former teacher, working as an ABA Therapist at Healing Haven is a more supportive and less stressful setting at that! Working in ABA therapy means every day you are actively working toward the purpose of changing someone(s) life for the better.

4. Comparable and/or better compensation

Making a difference in lives is the ultimate fulfillment in being a teacher. Yet, it’s realistic to want respectable compensation for your work. Unfortunately, and as well all know too well, most teachers are extremely underpaid. According to the National Education Association’s 2019 annual teacher salary analysis, the average salary of a teacher in the U.S. was $60,477. In comparison, BCBAs make around $63,000 a year while Registered Behavior Technicians (RBTs) (also called ABA therapists) average $39,000. Since the BCBA position requires a master’s degree and licensing, and the ABA Therapist position does not, this is a justifiable discrepancy.

Though ABA Therapists don’t make quite the same amount as BCBAs, I personally became an ABA Therapist for a similar salary I made as a teacher  because I knew I would have more support, resources, and respect. ABA career salaries line up as comparable and even better compensation to that of teaching. Think of it as making the same amount of money or more as when you taught with much less overwhelm—a commensurate trade-off.

“Teaching is a different mindset. You have to make a lot of adjustments to get into ABA, but it really is worth it. It’s a life changing decision but can be so wonderful.”

Ready for change?

The intensifying issues educators face today are understandably enough to cause teacher burnout. However, the decision to leave teaching and try a whole new career is not made lightly. “I know it’s scary for people that have been teachers for a long time to make a switch, but it can be really amazing,” Julie notes. “Teaching is a different mindset. You have to make a lot of adjustments to get into ABA. But it really is worth it. It’s a life changing decision but can be so wonderful.”

Are you experiencing teacher burnout? If so, take a look at ABA Therapist opportunities as a possible new career path. Still have questions? Head over to the Join our Team page to learn more and apply for a position today! We are more than ready to welcome you to the world of ABA and Healing Haven!

About the Author

Originally from Salt Lake City, Utah, Cara Motzkus earned her B.A. from Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington. She spent a year as an elementary classroom paraprofessional in Utah and was a 2nd grade teacher for another year before re-locating to Michigan for her husband’s PhD program. After a rough teaching experience in a 2nd grade classroom in Michigan, Cara left teaching and became an ABA therapist at Healing Haven in March 2020. She took on the Marketing Assistant position in April 2021 and continues to work with clients part time. An intuitive creative and intellectual, Cara is also a trained singer, an avid yoga practitioner, guitar dabbler, and lover of excellent food. Her passions include travel, the mountains, adventuring with her husband, and cooking too much. Give her a good mockumentary or period drama and some ice cream and she’s a pretty happy camper.

Communication and Autism: 4 Resources to Help

Communication and speech are common struggles for some individuals with autism. Those who do not speak or who have great difficulty speaking may be considered “nonverbal,” while those who do speak are considered “verbal.” However, “non-verbal” is not an entirely accurate term. Those who do have challenges speaking may still understand words spoken to them, or use other forms of communication. On the other hand, those who can speak verbally may still benefit from additional communication methods.

ABA teaches functional communication in a variety of ways. It’s crucial that those with autism learn to communicate their wants and needs. Through learning effective communication, individuals receive the help they need to live their best life.

Communication and Autism

In ABA therapy, BCBAs (Board Certified Behavior Analysts), RBTs (Registered Behavior Technicians) and ABA Therapists teach communication skills based on the behavioral and learning needs of the client. Additionally, Speech Language Pathologists target more specific communication goals and skills. BCBAs closely collaborate with speech and language pathologists to choose what will best help the client. BCBAs provide input on the client’s behaviors which determines the final decision on which communication method will be best. Additionally, BCBAs help parents learn what they can do at home to assist their child in communicating.

Building a Foundation for Communication

A common concern of parents who have a child who struggles with speech is how to teach them to communicate their wants and needs. This is typically one of the first skills that BCBAs work on for a client who is new to ABA Therapy.

We asked one of our fantastic BCBAs for input on this subject. Batoul Dekmak, M.Ed, BCBA, LBA, stresses the importance of working on communication with kids. “All kids that walk through our doors are fairly communicative. However, a lot of time they communicate more with their behavior.” For example, children often get frustrated and engage in problem behavior due to difficulties in appropriately communicating with others. BCBAs take data on this behavior and apply it to the language and communication process. “As soon as a child begins therapy with us,” Batoul explains, “BCBAs, RBTs, and Speech Pathologists immediately start working on multi-modal communication including vocal language, gestures, AAC devices, and PECS® books. We want the child to express themselves as much as they can to navigate their world more independently.”

BCBAs and Speech Pathologists simultaneously model language to promote development of robust communication skills. An example of this is when a child uses an AAC device when playing with toys. The BCBA may comment on the child’s play using their device, such as “play dinosaur,” stating what the child is doing. This shows the child that the BCBA can also communicate using the device and how to comment on something. The goal for communication is to meet a child’s needs and wants, as well as the child gaining the ability to socialize with others.

Tools for Communication

Here are several common methods used to help children with autism communicate.


PECS® stands for Picture Exchange Communication System®. In this system, the child gives a picture or word icon to someone in exchange for what they are requesting. Consider this example within the ABA setting. If a child wants a snack, they hand an icon of a preferred food to their RBT or BCBA who would then give them the item. PECS® icons are often stored in a three-ring binder with pages of laminated icons attached with Velcro. If you stepped inside our clinics, you would see several clients walking around with these binders, often attached to a strap for easy transport.

The goal of PECS® is for non-verbal children and those who are learning to speak to communicate their needs to caregivers in a simple way. To address changing stages of communication development, PECS® consists of six phases starting with exchanging icons through constructing sentences.

Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) device

An AAC device is a tablet or laptop that contains words and images. When a child selects a word or image, the device “speaks” the input requested. Kids with autism who use AACs gradually build skills for how to use the device. They might begin with simple one-word requests then moving to more complex sentences. Kids work on these skills in ABA therapy under supervision of BCBAs and speech pathologists. There are multiple AAC software such as LAMP™ or TouchChat, offering different layouts and ways of selecting words to meet the user’s needs.

Sign Language

Sign language uses hands and facial expressions to communicate, a common form being American Sign Language or ASL. Along with PECS®, ASL stands as one of the most frequently used methods of communication for non-verbal children on the autism spectrum.

Speech therapy

Licensed Speech Pathologists lead speech therapy. Speech Pathologists work with parents, teachers, and BCBAs to determine the best methods of communication for the child. In speech therapy sessions, the pathologist will work with the client on skills such as conversation, articulation, social cues and how to respond. If a client has an AAC device or PECS® book, the pathologist will help them use their device or icons effectively. At our clinics, our speech therapists often utilize games, toys, and fun activities to engage clients in the speech therapy process.

After reading through all this information on communication and autism, you may feel unsure of which  method is best for your child. If you are interested in any of the mentioned tools, talk with your child’s BCBA. If you want more information on our ABA Therapy and speech therapy services, please contact us here.

6 Fall Activities for Kids with Autism

Fall has arrived! It’s time for cozy warm drinks, choosing Halloween costumes, and visiting pumpkin patches. Fall is also a season with lots of change as kids return to school and adjust to new schedules. With all these changes, it’s important to make time for some fun. And as you know, kids with autism often need sensory experiences to regulate well. Here are six DIY fall activities for kids with autism that are easy on the budget and engage the senses.

1. Sensory bins

Fill a small plastic bin with dried corn, chestnuts, pinecones, or any other dry fall goods. Kids with sensory needs are sure to love running their hands through the corn and feel the smooth or rough textures. Incorporate fine motor skill practice by having your child pick up items with a pincher grasp or use tweezers. Visit here for more sensory bin ideas.

2. Bake treats

Baking is a step-by-step process with a yummy result at the end. It’s a great activity for older kids working on following instructions and taking turns. Whip up pumpkin muffins, Halloween cut-out cookies, or a seasonal fruit crisp and see your child enjoy the tasty reinforcement of creating!

3. Apple stamps

Fall often brings an abundance of apples. If you’re tired of baking them into pies and breads, try utilizing them for a fun craft. Cut an apple in half, dip into paint and press onto paper for cute stamps!

4. Leaf rubbing craft

Take some of those leaves covering your yard and turn them into a sensory craft. Cover a fresh or dried leaf with a piece of paper and rub crayons or oil pastels over the paper.

5. Corn squish bag

There are so many fall activities you can design with corn, but here’s a fun one for kids with autism who love squishy things. Fill a Ziploc bag with clear hair gel, corn kernels, and food coloring. You could also draw a fall-themed design on the bag!

6. Carve pumpkins

It’s a classic fall activity but carving pumpkins is full of sensory experiences, from feeling the smooth outside of the pumpkin to smelling the slimy, squishy seeds and membranes as you clean out the inside. You could even extend the activity by baking and tasting the pumpkin seeds or another pumpkin flavored treat! And as always, it’s fun for kids to choose a design, work with an adult to carve it, and then see the pumpkin light up with a candle inside.

In addition to all of these fun fall activities for kids with autism, you may also want to start preparing them for Halloween. If this is their first time dressing up, going trick-or-treating, or they’ve struggled with these holiday traditions in the past, we have some ideas to help you prepare them. Head over to our blog post Halloween and Autism: 6 Tips to Prepare Your Child.

Fall is filled with opportunities to add some sensory fun for your child. Whether at home with these fall activities, or out in the community with cider mills, apple picking, pumpkin patches and hayrides, we’d love to hear your family’s favorite fall activities. Let us know in the comments!

6 Ways to Build a Positive Relationship With Your Child’s Teacher

positive relationship with child's teacher

As a parent of a child with autism, you want to know your child will be cared for at school. You want to send them to a quality learning environment and for their educators to know and understand your child. In order for your child to be successful, a positive relationship with your child’s teacher is a must. And establishing that relationship can also help alleviate stress on you. (This is a foundation of who we are at Healing Haven – providing strategies for parents to help manage their stress when you’re parenting a child with special needs.)

Here are some ways to foster positive teamwork between you and your child’s teacher to ensure a good school experience for your child.

1. Communicate well

This one is intentionally listed at the top—good communication is key to any healthy relationship! It is the foundation to how the school year will play out, how you will work through concerns, and greatly influences your child’s degree of success

When communicating for the first time especially, address your child’s teacher by their professional title and use a friendly tone. Remember to keep communication with your child’s teacher ongoing throughout the year rather than confined to only IEP meetings and parent/teacher conferences.

2. Start communication early

If you haven’t already, now is a good time to reach out to your child’s teacher. Though the beginning of the school year is typically very hectic for teachers, they highly appreciate this. Teachers often reach out first to parents, but you proactively reaching out shows the teacher you want to be on the same team. Establishing a positive relationship early can help ease solving problems later, as previously established trust provides a common foundation. Ask any and all questions you might have for your child’s teacher to solidify expectations. This keeps you in-the-know about what will happen in the classroom. And if your child has both a general education and a special education teacher, make sure to communicate with both of them.

3. Respect and trust

According to an early childhood education researcher, a trusting relationship between parent and teacher helps the teacher better understand the child. Likewise, practicing empathy strengthens relationships. Teachers, just like you in your role as a parent, are doing their best amidst many challenges. Even though it may be hard at first, err on the side of trust with the teacher. Most teachers would not be in their job if they did not want to put their students first and work for their best. Ally with your child’s teacher on the premise that you both want what is best for your child.

4. Go to the teacher first

Another way to build a positive relationship with your child’s teacher is to communicate concerns with the teacher first. It can be off-putting to the teacher when parents skip over communicating with them and go right to the principal. If no resolution is reached, then consider bringing your concerns to administration.

5. Share about your child

You are the one who knows your child best, so communicate that with their teacher. Share helpful info that might not be included in your child’s IEP, such as likes/dislikes and strengths/weaknesses. IEP meetings often take place only once a year, so share any new info on your child with their teacher between those times. Teachers want to know more about their students to better understand and serve them. A great habit to establish is creating an “About Me” sheet introducing your child to their new teacher at the beginning of the school year. This can be especially helpful if your child has limited verbal communication skills.

6. Show appreciation

Showing appreciation is incredibly impactful in building a positive relationship with your child’s teacher. Teachers often hear about the things they are doing wrong, which is very wearisome. Show your appreciation for your child’s teacher throughout the year in small ways, such as sending notes of encouragement and thanks. When the teacher does something you appreciate or value, tell them. Little acts of appreciation mean a lot to teachers as they manage so many pieces.  

A note if your child also does ABA Therapy

Another important person to be brought into this parent/teacher relationship is your child’s BCBA. As teachers become more familiar with ABA therapy and how it benefits their students with autism, introducing them to your child’s BCBA can lead to a collaborative relationship between school and ABA.

Some of our BCBAs attend their client’s IEP meetings. They are another expert voice that can help ensure the proper supports are in place at school so your child can be as successful as possible.  BCBAs may also share with a client’s teacher strategies they use in the clinic. By bringing together all professionals working with your child, you can help create a more cohesive learning and therapy experience for your child.

All in all, cooperation between yourself and your child’s teacher not only benefits your child, but can also benefit you in reducing the potential stress of school, IEPs and supports. Remember that teachers want the best for their students and you want the best for your child. Unite on this premise and your child is likely to thrive.

5 Ways to Manage Screen Time for Children with Autism

Many kids with autism prefer activities in solitude rather than with other peers. Screen use is a big preference among these activities, as you and so many other parents can probably attest. In fact, kids and teens with autism tend to spend more time engaging in screen activity than their neurotypical peers.

Managing screen time is a common battle for all parents, and particularly parents of children with autism. You may wonder how much screen time is too much, or perhaps you are desperate for ideas to avoid the screen time battle with your child. Maybe eliminating screens altogether feels like your only option to ensure your child will engage in anything else interactive. While it’s unrealistic to try and rid screens from kids’ lives completely, there are plenty of ways to monitor time spent on them. Screens don’t need to be demonized, but rather managed and used with good boundaries to preserve physical, psychological, social and neurological health.

Screens don’t need to be demonized, but rather managed and used with good boundaries to preserve physical, psychological, social and neurological health.

Let’s look at the pros and cons of screen time and some methods of management so your child can live their best quality of life.

Pros and Cons

Pros of screen time? It might seem unlikely, but they exist. Technology is an incredible tool that we’re blessed to have in our lifetime. Screen activities offer:

  • Motivation (utilize screens as motivators for performing less preferred activities)
  • Connection with friends and family
  • Educational content
  • Learning opportunities (discussing current events, emotions, communication, how-to videos)

On the other hand, and of which many of us are aware, cons of screen time include:

How to manage screen time

With screens so readily available to us all these days, we often have to set our own boundaries for healthy use. We all mindlessly use them more than we probably want unless we have a clear intention for use. Thus, teach and model intentionality in screen use for your child. Try these specific intentional methods of managing screens for more mindful use and better health.

1. Designate screen use areas

Designate areas of your home for screen use to set physical boundaries on appropriate use. You could establish rules such as keeping tablets and laptops at desks and living areas only. Setting boundaries on the location of use can help kids be aware of social setting expectations and to focus on one activity at a time. (Not to mention, location boundaries keep electronics safe from areas prone to messes, such as the kitchen.)

2. Create schedules

Come up with a schedule that includes slots for screen time or choose a time limit. For example, one hour on weekdays and 3 hours on weekends. Setting timers and giving warnings for how much time is left are helpful tools for easing transitions as well.

 3. Monitor

This is an obvious one to many parents. Manage electronic devices with passwords, know exactly what your child is doing on the screen, and check age-appropriateness of the material.

4. Model healthy boundaries

Kids watch us as adults, and especially as parents, whether we realize it or not. Your screen use behaviors directly influence your child’s behaviors. Model healthy screen use boundaries for them, such as having no phones at the dinner table or during family time. A big one is avoiding multitasking while a screen is in front of you. Kids with autism may already have trouble with focus so demonstrate keeping your attention on one activity at a time.

5. Self-empower with self-monitoring

Ease the burden of managing screen time with your child with autism by involving them in self-monitoring. This way, it’s not just you holding all the power and “keys” to fun. If possible, engage in discussion with your child about what appropriate screen time looks like, including content, time length, relation to other activities, etc. In our technology saturated world, empowering your child to self-monitor is a valuable lesson they could take with them into the rest of their lives.

On a final note, be sure to inform your child’s BCBA or counselor of any screen time rules at home to implement during therapy to maintain behavioral consistency. Screens are a huge reinforcer for many in-clinic kids at Healing Haven so make sure screen time rules at the clinic don’t interfere with home expectations.

Additional Resources

If you’re looking for more help in the area of managing screen time for your child (with or without autism), we have an article over on Metro Parent with tips from our Director of Clinical Standards – Reducing Screen Time (and Replacing with Play!) for Your Child With Autism.

And this post over on MyTutor – The Screen Time Diet: helping your teen find balance with their tech – lists out some “good” screen time options and finding balance as a family.

Addressing Sleep Issues in Children With Autism

Trouble sleeping often plagues many of us due to factors such as stress, physical health, or irregular schedules. But for those on the autism spectrum, falling asleep and staying asleep is a very common and serious challenge. Additionally, sleep issues in children with autism can affect the whole family. It is crucial to address problems sleeping in children with autism not only for the child’s health but yours as well. Sleep is one of our basic needs and if it is not met properly, health issues and poor functioning may occur.

Interestingly, sleep is one of the least studied aspects of autism. However, based on the evidence we do have, we know that poor sleep is twice as common among children with autism than neurotypical children.  According to a 2019 study, toddlers with autism are highly likely to have sleep issues by age 7. Consequently, sleep issues in children with autism are linked to negative behavior and lack of social skills. Needless to say, good sleep is critical for those with ASD, as poor sleep risks a lower quality of life and health.

Why sleep issues in individuals with autism?

Have you ever tried to fall asleep with a lawn mower outside your window, or with the lights on? Unless you’re a super heavy sleeper, it is fairly difficult. For individuals with autism, even a crack of light or creak on a floor can feel like that lawn mower or a fully lit room, therefore disrupting restful sleep. Moreover, sensory processing issues often contribute to sleep issues in children with ASD. Sensitivity to light, sound or touch prohibit full sleep cycles from occurring.

Children with autism often battle other health conditions  which is another large factor for sleep difficulties, such as:

  • ADHD
  • Anxiety
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Medications (stimulants can cause insomnia)
  • Genetics that affect melatonin production

How to improve sleep for a child with autism

So how do you improve sleep issues in children with autism? Consider trying out these five tips:

1. Sensory Input

Minimize sensory input as much as possible. Keep your child’s room dark, cool, and quiet. Take note of any potential distractors that may keep them awake, such as night lights, toys, and clutter. A white noise machine may also be helpful to block out any noises.

2. Limit Screens

Turn off screens an hour before bedtime, as the blue light in screens tricks the brain into thinking it is daytime and thus time to stay awake rather than sleep.

3. Schedules

Stick to a regular schedule for falling asleep and waking up to keep the body in sync. Create a routine that starts an hour before the child needs to be in bed. Set timers as reminders for transitioning to bedtime. Practice relaxing activities such as reading together, a bath, or having a light snack.

4. Try Supplements

According to research, taking low-dose supplements such as melatonin an hour to a half hour before bed can lower insomnia in children with ASD. Controlled-release melatonin can improve falling asleep and stay asleep throughout the night. Please be sure to consult with your child’s Doctor to get their expert input before trying out any supplements.

5. Take Care of Yourself

As a parent, you are the one who is most likely running bedtime routines and dealing with nightly wake-ups, which is exhausting. Make sure to care for your well-being so you have energy to give during the day. However, we realize the great difficulty in helping your child to stay in bed while you and your family are trying to rest. Try incentivizing techniques for your child staying in bed all night, such as a reward chart or using visuals of them sleeping. If they need someone in the room in order to fall asleep, try gradually moving out of the room a little more each night. Additionally, ensure they are getting enough activity and exercise to burn off energy during the day, resulting in better sleep at night for both them and you.

These tips are in no way a miracle cure, but with practice and patience, they have potential to decrease sleep problems and make life a little easier for your child and family alike. Remember to consult your child’s pediatrician with any sleep issues your child is experiencing. They may recommend seeing a pediatric sleep specialist or participating in a sleep study to rule out other potential causes.

5 ABA Myths Explained

Applied behavioral analysis therapy (ABA) is considered the “gold standard” for autism treatment. But is ABA therapy harmful? Or is it helpful? Though ABA is backed by scientific research, misinformation still surrounds the practice. You may be considering ABA therapy for your child but have concerns. You might also simply want to know more about it before choosing it as a treatment option. Here we debunk five ABA myths to ease any lingering worries and to give accurate information so parents like you can make informed decisions.

1. ABA is only for children with profound impairments.

ABA therapy treats individuals with autism across the spectrum, not just those who have an intellectual disability, or those without functional language. Likewise, therapy will be different depending on the person. For example, a verbal person may work on conversing with peers while a non-verbal person may focus on basic communication through a PECS® (Picture Exchange Communication System) book or an AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) device. ABA providers assess the child and discuss working towards goals parents want achieved, regardless of their level of ability. Even if your child has a typical IQ and is verbal, there are a variety of methods within ABA that could help them engage in their environment and learn critical life skills. ABA therapy tailors to the needs and skill level of the client, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach. At Healing Haven, we witness children with a wide range of abilities benefit from ABA. 

2. ABA doesn’t work for older kids

Though many parents begin ABA early when their children with autism are young children, ABA most definitely helps older children and teens, even through adulthood. We know learning doesn’t stop in young childhood. Many older kids and teens on the spectrum may struggle with tasks and communication that younger children usually practice, such as dressing or asking for help. Therefore, ABA has much to offer kids in its wide variety of approaches. Whatever the age of the individual, any progress and success in independence is achievable and is worthy of celebration.

3. ABA is robotic.

This is a fairly common ABA myth. ABA is the most efficacious intervention for children on the autism spectrum when implemented properly. Therapists should give careful consideration to teach functional skills that the child can carry over outside of a teaching environment. When such consideration is not given, robotic behaviors may emerge. Children engaged in teaching programs that are highly repetitive and structured in an unnatural way are at a higher risk to exhibit this behavior.

Parents should look for ABA programming that selects target skills and behaviors that are relevant to the child and their life. They should also provide opportunities for their child to practice the skills in a natural setting. When done properly, children receiving ABA therapy acquire skills that are far from robotic.

4. ABA uses aversive techniques.

This myth comes from controversial practice when ABA first started. Unfortunately, back in the 60s, physical punishment was sometimes a part of the practice in teaching children to behave appropriately. Thanks to progression in science, this is far removed from ABA practice today. Science now fully embraces the importance of a supportive and encouraging teaching environment. Today’s ABA is much more focused on identifying functional behaviors to reinforce and thereby increase.

5. ABA is all the same.

ABA tailors to the child’s needs and goals. What may work for one individual might hinder another. BCBAs utilize a vast array of approaches including rewards, motivators, positive reinforcement, and much more to help a child learn and thrive. Research proves that ABA helps more than just one type of child. If ABA used the same approach for all, it would not hold the effectiveness it has garnered over the past 50 years.

Head over to our What is ABA Therapy page for more information on what ABA therapy looks like. And our ABA Therapy Programs page has details on all the various ABA therapy services we provide.

Supporting Siblings of Children With Autism

Raising a child with autism affects the whole family in both positive and challenging ways.  But so much of your attention as a parent goes to caring for your child with autism, and understandably so. In turn, siblings may struggle with very legitimate challenges that come from having a brother or sister on the spectrum. How do you build relationships with and attend to all your children while still meeting the needs of your child on the spectrum? With some planning and intentional communication, you can manage time spent with each child and tune in to your neurotypical children’s needs as well.

Sibling Stress

According to a 2019 study, siblings of children with autism tend to face more social and emotional struggles than those with neurotypical siblings. Some challenges typically developing siblings may face include:

  • Embarrassment around friends or the public when a sibling with autism displays certain behaviors
  • Jealousy for attention from parents who are often preoccupied with the child on the spectrum
  • Experiencing aggressive behaviors from sibling with autism
  • Anxiety from lack of information about a sibling’s disability, as well as responsibility for their sibling
  • Wanting to make up for the sibling with autism’s shortcomings to ease their parent’s mind

It’s easy for parents of a child with autism to feel discouraged and maybe even guilty upon learning the difficulties their neurotypical children face. While you are doing the very best you can, there are ways to balance your time and attention for all your children.

Supporting Neurotypical Siblings

Tune In

Recognizing the challenges your typical child may face is crucial to their sense of safety and care. Notice how they may react to difficult moments with their sibling on the spectrum or how they respond to you or your partner when around their sibling. Awareness of behaviors and emotions can open up problem solving possibilities that you may have thought were insurmountable.


Talk about autism openly and accurately so your kids understand their sibling. As mentioned earlier, siblings of children with autism can feel anxious if not kept in the loop about everything that’s happening with their brother or sister. Start conversations with your typical children and let them know it’s ok to ask questions or experience difficult feelings. For example, debrief with your typical child after their sibling has a public meltdown. Listen to how they’re feeling and empathize with them, acknowledging the hard moment and how it affected you both. Additionally, keep communication ongoing. Your life with a child with autism is a huge part of your family dynamics so involve all members in honest communication that is appropriate to their age level.


Spending one-on-one time with your children lays the foundation for that open and ongoing communication. Attention doesn’t have to be constant for all your kids, but make sure it is consistent. One great way to maintain consistency is planning special uninterrupted one-on-one time with your typical kids. Perhaps this looks like a short nightly bedtime activity or getting a treat each weekend. Intentionally setting aside time will help your children feel seen and understood. You can even trade off with your spouse or partner if circumstances allow. Whether you plan the special times together bi-weekly, weekly, or even bi-monthly, the important part is that you’re consistently checking in with your children. It will mean a lot to them, more than you may realize.


You may utilize your child with autism’s siblings to care for them from time to time. Avoid overburdening your typical children with too many responsibilities with their sibling. Acknowledge that your child needs their space regularly, just as you need space occasionally as well. Setting boundaries together is helpful, such as asking your child when they feel overwhelmed in caring for their sibling and coming up with a plan on how to communicate that.

Additionally, prioritize safe spaces. Siblings are often targets for aggressive behavior from a brother or sister on the spectrum. Help your child learn how to respond when such behaviors occur, as well as storing valuable belongings in a place inaccessible to their sibling. Uphold the importance of respecting your typical kids’ space and personal items.

Benefits of Having a Sibling on the Spectrum

Let’s not forget that challenges make us learn and become better people. Despite adversities typically developing siblings face, there is a plethora of good things that come from being a sibling of a child with autism. Siblings of children with special needs are more likely to go into helping professions such as teaching, special education, and medical professions. Some of our own Healing Haven staff have family members with a disability, and a few of our families have typical children who have gone on to thrive in such careers.

Likewise, typically developing siblings grow up utilizing skills such as compassion, empathy, and patience. They learn to advocate for not only their brother or sister but for other individuals with special needs they may encounter. Those with a brother or sister on the spectrum can see the world from different perspectives just as their sibling does, developing conflict resolution skills. Finally, the daily challenges that typical siblings face can mold them into a person of maturity, leadership and courage.

Keep in mind that how you respond to your child’s disability will be how your typical children respond. Set a clear example of positivity for your family so your typical kids will see less hindrances and more joy. Amidst all the challenges, siblings of kids with autism are rockstars in life!

Outside Support

You don’t have to support your neurotypical child alone. Support groups such as the Sibling Support Project connect children who have siblings with special needs, allowing a space for kids to process the ups and downs of living with their sibling. Likewise, encourage your neurotypical children to befriend peers who have a sibling with autism. Just like adults, when kids have friends who understand them, they will experience less isolation and more allyship.

More Resources

  • Our ABA Parent Training provides ideas for supporting typical children in how they interact with their sibling. Additionally, we provide counseling for siblings so they have a safe place to talk through their experiences and help them navigate their often complex world.
  • Check out this book on siblings and autism: Siblings of Children With Autism: A Guide For Families

6 Ways to Calm a Child With Autism

calm child with autism
calm child with autism

Raising a child with autism brings surprises and challenges. One possible difficulty is managing meltdowns. While every child has rough moments, for a child on the spectrum meltdowns are different. They often happen when the child is overstimulated and cannot communicate why they are upset. A valuable way to cope when meltdowns occur is to learn ways to calm a child with autism. Through detailed preparation, you and your child will feel more equipped to handle big emotions the next time they experience distress.

Warning Signs

Meltdowns may occur out of the blue or perhaps they come after a specific trigger. This can be very stressful for not only the child but parents and other family members as well. However, certain displays of behavior can cue parents to when their child might be on the verge of a meltdown. Some of these behaviors may include:

  • Increased stimming- agitated hand flapping, body rocking, pacing, hands over ears
  • Loud vocalizing
  • Crying
  • Eloping – running away from a situation
  • Self-injurious behavior (SIB)- banging head, picking at skin, hitting or biting self

Perhaps it is a certain location, a noise, or denied access to something that set off your child. Keeping a log of triggers can help prepare you for future incidents and allows you to be proactive in recognizing and coping with meltdowns. And in the meantime, try some of the following six ways to calm a child with autism when they are in distress.

Addressing Sensory Needs

Children with autism often have many more sensory needs than an average neurotypical person. Deep pressure stimulation such as gentle head or shoulder squeezes can help kids feel secure and move their nervous system into the parasympathetic nervous system, also called “rest and digest.” When we are in the parasympathetic nervous system, our bodies feel safe and secure which in turn calms our minds.

Additionally, learn what objects or toys are soothing to your child and have them on hand. Keep a bag of sensory objects with your child that they can utilize when they are feeling overwhelmed. Fidget spinners, blankets, squishy toys, or chew toys can bring comfort to an overstimulated nervous system.

A sensory friendly “calm down corner” can also help quell meltdowns. At home, designate a safe area for your child that includes soft lighting, calming music or white noise, and comfortable items such as bean bags or pillows. If your child attends school, coordinate with teachers to create a calm down corner in the classroom. If you’re in public during an episode, remove your child from the triggering environment as soon as you can and take them to a neutral location.

The Power of Music

Music can be very therapeutic to individuals with autism. Music increases brain connectivity which in turn helps regulate emotions. Additionally, singing a favorite song of your child’s may help them relax, as familiarity can be grounding. Try softly singing or playing soothing quiet tunes on headphones to help your child self-regulate.

Deep Breathing

Breathing is very powerful in calming the mind and body and can assist in regulating emotions for a child with autism. Sit face-to-face with your child and have them breathe deeply with you. Counting inhales and exhales as they breathe is a helpful technique. The exhale places the body back into the parasympathetic nervous system so make sure your child is releasing all the air. Breathing together will also help you feel more calm during a meltdown.


Moving and fresh air help all of us feel better and is another great strategy to calm a child with autism. Walk with your child around the block, visit a nearby park, or put on a kids yoga video to help them center.

Stick to Schedules

Sometimes unpredictability triggers a meltdown. Pre-planned agendas can provide comfort to children with autism so they know what’s coming next, reducing anxiety. You can even create visual schedules for your child to reference throughout the day, which can help them stay on task. There will obviously be times when the schedule needs to change last minute, but try to give your child as much notice as possible.

Avoid Reinforcing Behavior

It’s natural to become worked up and overwhelmed watching your child experience such high levels of distress. But it’s important to avoid displaying strong emotions in front of your child in the heat of the moment in order to avoid reinforcing their behaviors. Remain as calm as you can and focus on deescalating your child through whichever method they respond best to. But be sure to make space to process your own emotions after the episode so you can regulate as well.

We hope these six ways to calm a child with autism will help you and your child the next time a meltdown arises. Know that you are not alone and that it is ok to feel overwhelmed. Our parent training resources include strategies in addressing specific meltdown situations. For more info, visit our ABA Parent Training page.